Friday, May 13, 2011

Astonishing X-Men: Exogenetic (comics)

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Phil Jimenez
Collects: Astonishing X-Men #31-35

It's funny how in the back, Astonishing X-Men is referred to as Grant Morrisons legacy. Really, the only reason for that is because Whedon was the only one who didn't seem to wipe the slate clean of what Morrison did; you know, considering Marvel shat on Morrisons run immediately after it finished. He kept the characterization of several characters, but it was a far more conventional book than what Morrison did. Which isn't a knock; Astonishing is generally good and one of the few X books worth reading.

Then Warren Ellis came on board; thankfully, the good times have kept rolling with this one.

After M Day, there was that whole "No More Mutants" thing going on, so most of what followed that was a bunch of "mutants band together" stories, dark secrets from long standing characters and so on. After a while, someone figured, hey, the mutants are in one place now and no one has tried to commit genocide in the past three months. Why not take a crack at it?

Except this time, said genocidal maniac is pretty good at manipulating genetics. Expert at raising the dead is apparently on his resume as well. Thus, we have dead X-Men returning to try and kill the ones that are still breathing and somewhere along the way the villain decides it would be a slammin' idea to drop a clone of a living island on them. As you can probably guess, the X-Men find all this to be in really bad taste, so it's time to give the villain a stern talking to!

If all this sounds familiar, congratulations, you've read a few X-Men stories. Typically, a plot like this would be a sign of trouble; it's been done so many times before that it can be pretty difficult to imagine anyone wringing anything new out of it. How many times have the X-Men faced a foe who wanted nothing more than to wipe them from the face of the Earth? I lost count a long time ago.

Apparently, there's still things to do with the concept and Ellis opts for subversion of the typical way this kind of thing plays out. There's no high minded validation for this, no excuses or delusions of protecting humans or the like. This attempt - this complex, planned attempt on their lives - stems from nothing more than sheer pettiness from a source close to home. It's a very human reaction, when you strip away the flesh and blood sentinels and the zombified islands. Jealousy and spite leading to unreasonable backlash.

In the midst of it, the notion of just how outside they really are is tackled. As pointed out, the X-Men aren't exactly wanting. Most of them are beautiful or handsome specimens in colorful spandex with fantastic powers. As much as they bemoan being freaks, do they truly even know what it means? It's an interesting question, despite how far the villain took things. But it's one that's even arguable from both sides. Cyclops himself asks Wolverine, bemused, "There are people who hate us because we're not outcast enough?"

As for the dialogue and writing, you know what you're getting into with a Warren Ellis scripted comic. Somehow, some way, he's going to get in his traditional brand of snark. To varying degrees, he manages it across most of the cast here, but unlike other writers, he manages to work it so they still feel in character. That's something some writers struggle with, even popular ones.

The scripts obviously tailored to give the artist plenty to draw, as well. The hook of the story - dead mutants being reanimated and controlled - allows for a bevy of typically unavailable foes. This is played to the hilt, with Jimenez getting to draw the Brood, Krakoa, flesh based Sentinels and more. There's even a crazy rescue from the wreckage of a ship in the midst of atmospheric re-entry from space.

Do I really need to say Phil Jimenez does well with it? Oh, alright. Seriously, he's fantastic. Great at illustrating the large scale, the small and everything in between. Seeing him tackle things like the Brood is a treat and overall a fair amount of what makes the whole thing worthwhile. Oh, did I mention he's good at facial expressions, too? Jimenez was a perfect fit for the arc; overall, Ellis writes a sharp script, but it's the artwork that helps push the book that much further.

All this in mind, I must grant that this volume isn't exactly going to shake the Earth or anything. This is a solid, enjoyable read, for sure. Still, many seem to see Astonishing as a strictly marquee, high tier title. It comes with high expectations for some. Personally, I enjoy Astonishing in that it gives me a relatively self contained fix of the X-Men, away from all the bull the franchise is frequently embedded in. It hasn't really done me wrong yet. But some seem to view it different - hell, some think it should have ended with Whedons departure, which is retarded, because could you imagine if Thor ended when Jack Kirby left? - and it's worth bearing in mind.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

I doubt it will win any awards, but as a continuity light, contained dose of the X-Men, this is hard to go wrong with. Worth a read if you're sick of all that mutant messiah mumbo jumbo and just want to see the team fight a bunch of superpowered zombies. Even if you're not, it might be worth it just to see Cyclops get a bit of a verbal smackdown.

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