Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Mike Perkins and Andrew Hennessy
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel
Marjorie Liu and Mike Perkins taking over Astonishing X-Men—a book that has floundered for a direction, creative team, and publishing schedule ever since the tail end of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s run—should have been a great thing. Their debut with issue #48 was not without its problems, though, and the highly-publicised engagement issue of Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle for #50 felt like things were getting worse, not better. But curiosity got the better of me for the big wedding issue this month. Because, after all, in fictional works everything always works out just fine once the wedding itself arrives. Maybe the real world would follow suit?
Astonishing X-Men #51 is actually part four of an ongoing storyline in the title that began with Liu and Perkins’ arrival, although most of the main storyline is turned into a bookend framing the wedding. Readers who have come in for this as their first issue might be a little surprised at a five-page sequence set in the sewers with Karma having apparently betrayed the group (especially since they won’t have read the installment in #49 where she’s taken over by the villain of the piece), although Liu herself doesn’t dwell on it again until the end of the story. It’s probably just as well, since no one seems to point out that in a comic with a same-sex wedding, the person who betrayed the team is the sole lesbian character. Instead it quickly turns into a strange exercise of how many wedding cliches can be crammed into a single issue. The family member who’s afraid that things are being rushed into. The acquaintance who won’t come to the wedding. The friends popping out of the woodwork to help at the last minute. The problem is, none of these feel particularly compelling.
Take, for example, a sequence in which Warbird (now a member of the Astonishing X-Men cast) tells Northstar that she doesn’t recognize his wedding and won’t be attending. Northstar replies, "Please stay. Stay as my friend and teammate." An emotional moment? Well, not really. This is a relatively brand-new character, introduced in the pages of Wolverine and the X-Men less than a year ago. The two have now appeared in Astonishing X-Men #48-51… in which this is the first actual conversation the two have had with one another. For the vast majority of this storyline, they haven’t even appeared in the same scenes together. It’s a moment that ends up ringing hollow because Liu is looking to invent drama where none logically exists; a need to have someone object to the wedding but ending up with no candidates that would actually be close to the character. And that’s the problem with Astonishing X-Men #51 in a nutshell. None of this feels logical; it’s a group of characters being assigned roles for the sake of a wedding issue, not because these are characters who would actually say any of these lines or do these actions. (I suppose we could discover in an issue or two that the entire cast of Astonishing X-Men #51 was being mind-controlled—since that’s what was going on to other characters in #48-50—although the idea of doing that to their big marquee wedding issue feels so ridiculous that I’m not sure that would be any better.)
The art for Astonishing X-Men #51 feels a little underwhelming. Jumping back to the Northstar/Warbird scene, the basic staging is good; Perkins certainly knows how to lay out a page and I appreciate that. But the finer details are off, here; their faces both look continually pinched and crushed. Why are Warbird’s eyes closed for her entire second page? Why are Wolverine’s eyes closed on the very next page? Why is nothing falling out of Aurora’s box of trinkets that she’s holding open at an 80-degree angle? And is Northstar passing gas when talking to his sister Aurora? Something is never quite right with every other panel, and I’m not sure why this book looks so odd the closer you examine it.
Then again, that’s a problem with the entire Liu/Perkins Astonishing X-Men run to date. At a glance, it seems nice enough. But the second you look a little closer? Nothing comes together. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I want to like this book. It’s probably why I’ve given it multiple chances. And if anything, I’m predisposed to like a same-sex wedding in a comic. Astonishing X-Men #51 will probably make a lot of casual readers happy, especially ones who haven’t read the issues that led up to this. But the more you think about Astonishing X-Men #51, the less enjoyable it becomes.