Astonishing X-Men 25ASTONISHING X-MEN #25
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Simone Bianchi
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka  Optimous Douche)

With this latest issue of ASTONISHING X-MEN, for the first time in fifteen years I can I feel a sense of cohesion within the X-universe. This phenomenal inaugural issue by STORMWATCH savior Warren Ellis coupled with Brubaker’s latest run on UNCANNY X-MEN, make me feel like I’m part of an X-Men Renaissance reminiscent of the early 90’s. While there were a few minute editorial speed bumps surrounding this issue, I’ll forgive any trespasses to watch Ellis meticulously craft the foundation that moves the X-Men in a familiar yet all new direction.

In the early 90’s the X-universe ran like a well oiled Blackbird. There was never a question as to the roles played by each title. You had the main team in UNCANNY, the spillovers for the disciples of Xavier found a home in X-MEN (yes, I know there were like five covers for issue one, but lets move on), the rebels operated under the X-FORCE tag , and X-FACTOR, as it does today, wove tales on its own plane of existence.

There was a glimmer of hope in Morrison and Quitely’s run on X-MEN for continued success, but then out of nowhere we were bombarded with the mass bedlam of mutant explosions, mystical genocides and some horseshit about a mutant messiah (where the hell is that kid anyway?). I give the team at Marvel credit for trying to shake up forty years worth of status quo, but in the process they turned their universe into an utter state of disarray. Each title was embroiled in a battle of crossovers, never able to tell its own story, and relegating the mutants we have grown to love to fountains of exposition or catch-up dialogue. What had been lost were the diverse and rich characters, the unique voices possessed by each member of the team. Every fan knows that Scott Summers should be stoic, The Beast, flip, yet wise. Bobby Drake, douchebag, etc…when you take away this element, frankly you take away the X-Men.

ASTONISHING up until this point relished in its ability to be apart from other X-titles in every sense. From the bi-annual publishing schedule to flinging the team halfway across the galaxy in the Breakworld storyline, it was assured that they would be separate from all other X-shenanigans. No more. Ellis brings ASTONISHING back into the fold full force. In fact, unless you read the last trippy issue of UNCANNY you might wonder what the hell is going on.

I know this is supposed to be a review of ASTONISHING, but thanks to this title being ahead of schedule for the first time ever, we need to do a brief recap of the events in UNCANNY and piece together the rest since all will truly be revealed in the yet to be released UNCANNY #500.

Ellis shows us in this issue that the team can have fun somewhere other than on the softball field. Actually, the X-Men finally smarten up and decide to forsake the annihilation-prone Graymalkin Lane residence altogether to set up camp in San Francisco. In the issues leading up to the landmark #500 of UNCANNY (maybe, I’m hoping), the X-Men had thwarted the dealings of a nefarious individual that wanted to keep the city in a permanent acid flashback to the summer of love. In gratitude, the city establishes a pro-mutant policy and offers the team a safe haven on its golden shores. In return, Xavier’s brood must help in times of crisis.

Naturally, crisis ensues. What set the crisis in this issue apart from the norm was the casting away of the mutant-of-the-week storyline. In the first true first acknowledgement of mutants being once again the minority, the only ones carrying the X-gene are Cyclops, Storm, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Armor and Beast. Apparently the central danger is extraterrestrial in origin and all of the clues to unraveling the mystery involve a trip to a spaceport scrapheap nestled in some third-world toilet.

Again though, while I find the story engaging, what truly hooked me is the fact that Ellis has brought personality back to the X-Men. Scott broods and laments his seeming happiness, Emma acknowledges the disdain felt towards her by returning teammates, Armor pines for a new name while also trying to conjure one for the team’s new base of operations, and Wolverine is…surly. And all together they once again feel like human beings instead of plot devices.

Simone Bianchi paints a damn pretty canvas. The cover art is just short of astounding and each panel of the book follows suit. The heavy lines used to render each panel harmoniously jived with the team’s new subterranean lair and the fact that mutant existence has been thrust back into the shadow of humanity.

To finally see ASTONISHING and UNCANNY have their own voices yet still offer cohesion outside the context of an “over-arching” event or convoluted cross-over is not only refreshing, it has restored my faith in the altruistic concept of just delivering a damn good story. Sales be damned.