Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Astonishing X-Men: Monstrous (comic)

Writer: Daniel Way
Artists: Jason Pearson, Nick Bradshaw
Collects: Astonishing X-Men #36-37, 39, 41

I've never been a believer in the notion that some titles should end when a story ends or a creative team leaves - serial superhero comics do not work that way for one and it just creates another damned "volume" to keep track of when it's inevitably relaunched for two - so I never had a problem with Astonishing X-Men continuing once Joss Whedon and John Cassaday finished their acclaimed run. It certainly helps that Warren Ellis put forth a pretty good effort, even if he didn't always hit the heights of the books past. With Ellis now gone, Astonishing marches on as the accessible, continuity light X book*; for this period Marvel figured the book should switch off creative teams telling their own story. This volume collects one of those stories.

I've always liked the idea of an island filled with monsters, so I'm always down with seeing Monster Island. Apparently, there's a bunch of oil under it too. Roxxon - whom you may know as Marvels version of a cartoonishly evil corporation - naturally wants it. So, of course, they go and hire an unstable supervillain to team with their employees tasked with blowing up Monster Island so they can get at it. They are then shocked when the villain turns on them, takes control of every monster there and then holds them for ransom. Meanwhile, some of Armors family has died, which is how the X-Men end up in Tokyo for the monster related shenanigans.

Daniel Way, the writer for the arc, is about as hit or miss as they come, in my estimation. I've liked some of his work - at one point I read a big hardcover of the first year of his Deadpool run, which was pretty good - and did NOT care for others. Monstrous sits somewhere in the middle. For every one thing I like, there's one negative to match it. I like that Way sticks with a theme of family, which is almost foreign these days. But then we have Armors dad, the stereotypical Japanese father**. Bunch of monster wrecking Tokyo? Tempered by the fact that things go laughably wrong when Way attempts to write an accent for Wolverine.

One problem that stands above the others is the fact that the book doesn't seem to give enough time to the things it probably should. Either things needed a bit more shuffling around or the book needed another issue. For instance, the story ends on Armors father finally accepting her life as a hero, but it doesn't feel earned; the last time we saw him prior, he was urging her to stand with her family and the moment where he realizes how important her other life is - when he watches her save others during the monster attack on television - happens off panel.

Then there's the fact that not nearly enough time is spent on Armor actually dealing with the loss of some of her family. We don't see much of the wake or her interactions with her father outside of it. Considering Armors powers draw from her deceased ancestors, it almost feels as though that half of the story only happened to give her a power boost.

Ah, and the villain. Some Z lister named Mentallo. I've never seen him before and had no idea what his deal was prior to this story. I can't say I would feel too bad if we never saw him again either. Aside from controlling some monsters to smack the X-Men around, he doesn't have a lot going for him.

I don't know; I didn't hate it, but the more I think about it the less Monstrous did for me.

Also problematic is the art situation. Mostly because we have four issues here and it switches artists after two. Why? It's not like this story is structured like a typical arc, with consecutive issues. Both #38 and #40 - not collected in this volume - belong to a different story, giving a month extra per issue to get the job done. What happened?

Regardless, Jason Pearson handles the first half; like the writing, there are things I like and things I don't. I'm fond, for example, of his Cyclops. The lines on Cykes suit are drawn much thicker here, which looks pretty great. Also a keeper is the fact that the colorist for his issues decided on black and gold for his costume as opposed to the typical blue and gold. They're small, simple alterations, but I thought they were improvements. On the downside, his Wolverine needs some work; the near constant bug eyed expression he's drawn with is downright odd. If he worked on his expressions somewhat, I wouldn't mind seeing Pearsons work again.

Nick Bradshaw handles the other half of the story. There's much less for me to talk about here. Whereas Pearsons work is stylized, Bradshaw gives us something a bit more standard. It's some rock solid art; nothing outstanding about it but nothing to dislike either.

Oh, on a final note, apparently Marvel threw in an old issue of Strange Tales to help justify the seventeen dollars they want for this four issue collection. I guess the official word would be that it's there because it has Fin Fang Foom. Like most old issues thrown in to pad a small volume, it's fine as a curiosity but you can never get past the knowledge that it's there for no other reason than to scam a few more dollars out of you.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

It's alright. I wouldn't recommend a purchase, but if you see it at the library and need some X-Men it might be worth a read through. This volume is far from Astonishing X-Men's finest hour, but I must admit I'm glad to see Marvel is sticking with the idea of an X book that's light on continuity.

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: Immediately upon finding out the monster raging through Tokyo is under mind control, Cyclops figures they may as well just kill it anyways. Captain Kill'emall himself, Wolverine, is the one who steps up to say "hey, wait a minute, this is not his fault". Sure, it's a practical move - obviously they're out to save the lives of others as well as their own - but he doesn't even bother to consider another option before deciding. Not particularly heroic.

*This is a GOOD THING, mind you. I personally think it should be standard for every big franchise - Batman, Avengers, X-Men or so on - to have a book that strives to be accessible and keeps continuity wrangling to a minimum. They should also be books the companies put some of their best talent on, but I'm probably asking for too much with that one.

** I'm not sure if this is on Way or if her dad was always like that. I'm admittedly not as big a Marvel guy as I am DC, so my knowledge is a bit lacking in that area. For all I know Daniel Way is just following his established personality here.

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