Astonishing X-Men #36

Written by Daniel Way
Penciled by Jason Pearson
Inked by Karl Story
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel

This is going to sound strange, but I feel a little bad for Daniel Way, Jason Pearson, and Karl Story. Stepping onto Astonishing X-Men—a book that was once the flagship title of the X-Men family, but has since fallen in stature due to increasing delays and stories drifting further away from the other titles—has got to feel like a bit of a poison pill. Expectations are simultaneously high and low, and after watching the wheels fall off on the book over the past few years, they just have to know that most readers are going to assume more of the same.

So with that in mind, reading the start of their run on the comic? It’s surprisingly average. Way’s working with a reduced cast (Cyclops, White Queen, Wolverine, and Armor) as he and Pearson mix a story about Armor returning to Japan after the death of family members, with one involving the Roxxon corporation deciding to drill for oil underneath nearby Monster Island. It’s not a bad idea, but in a trend that is happening with increasing regularity these days, this first issue is slow. I’m not against a comic taking its time and building up to a crescendo, but this comes across more as the pacing being slightly off. For a book promising a lot of monsters, we’re getting cameos and a final-page looming silhouette. This in its own right might not be so bad, but the other half of the title—Armor’s return to Japan—feels just as glacially paced.

The thing is, I think there’s a spark here that shows a lot of potential. Way’s reducing the cast is a smart move, doubly so with using the shortened number of characters as an attempt to focus more on Armor. Considering she’s been a member of the title for several years now, she’s still a blank slate. Way is giving her a past, a family, and examining how else her power could be used. They’re all obvious steps, nothing revolutionary, but it’s more attention than she’s been paid by previous writers Joss Whedon or Warren Ellis. So if nothing else, it’s a start.

I am happy to see Pearson attached to the book; he’s one of those artists that pops up every now and then (I’ve loved his art ever since Legion of Super-Heroes in the ’90s, and he’s continued to improve since then) but not often enough. For the most part, he and inker Story do a solid job here. Pearson’s pencils are open and clean, with a slight cartoonish exaggeration as part of his style. There are moments in here which really sing; Cyclops and the White Queen giving each other "oh really?" looks, for instance, or Wolverine turning around to show off a Brood-infection.

On the other hand, some moments don’t work quite as well. When Armor breaks down in the Danger Room, it’s supposed to be a dramatic two-thirds page image as her three teachers stand over her crumbled form, with nothing but the dent in the wall for a background. It sounds great, until you look a little closer and notice that Wolverine isn’t looking at Armor, but instead staring at some point on the horizon, or maybe even the ceiling. It’s these kinds of little glitches throughout the comic that keep it from shifting from good to great.

Here’s the truly strange thing about the new Way and Pearson team on Astonishing X-Men, though; someone editorially seems to have lost a bit of faith in it, or at least their timeliness. So after part two of this story, the comic will alternate between issues by Way and Pearson, and a new storyline by Christos Gage and Juan Bubillo (and starring Storm, Colossus, Shadowcat, and Beast). And once again, I feel a little bad for Way and Pearson. I understand that Marvel wants to keep this book on a regular schedule again, but this looks like something that will ultimately undercut the creative team’s new position. With all of the delays leading up to this moment on Astonishing X-Men, surely there was enough time to line up a creative team and give them plenty of breathing room to finish their run?

At the end of the day, Astonishing X-Men #36 is a strange comic, in part because it feels like it’s moving far too slowly out of the gate, and in part because Marvel seems to have started backing away from it before things even began. I wish Way and Pearson luck, and I think they’ve got some strong potential here to deliver a thoroughly entertaining book, but if this review was a Magic 8-Ball it would be stating, "Outlook Cloudy."

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