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Astonishing X-Men has been on a weird path since Joss Whedon gave up the reigns. While it has continued to provide interesting stories that veer more into the science fiction realm of the X-Men universe, it seems to have fallen into a strange no-man’s land where the you can’t really tell where it fits in the continuity, but its stories do end up affecting continuity. For example, new fan-favorite Broo in Wolverine and the X-Men first debuted in a recent Astonishing X-Men story. But the book has long had the feeling that if you don’t really care too much about the X-Men you can just read this book and forget about the other dozen X-Men books. For example, Armor, one of my favorite new characters from Whedon’s run, essentially only appeared in Astonishing X-Men until Schism sent her to The Jean Grey School.
This book has, in general, really been adrift ever since Schism. The current story arc, of which this issue is the third entry, almost seems to be filler until Marjorie takes control and completely changes the focus of the book to Gambit and his posse. This story arc, Exalted, seems tailor-made for me. It involves alternate dimensions, and I’ve always enjoyed the way Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular have handled that. Some of the most classic X-Men stories come from alternate dimension plots. I also tend to love the slightly different variations we see on our favorite characters.
The first issue of this arc had a 1990s-style Mohawk-sporting Storm come to ask for Cyclops’ help. She ends up kidnapping him and they spend the entire next issue finding out that they’ve kidnapped hundreds of Cyclops and other X-Men in order to produce power for some city. The last issue ends with the reveal that Savior is an alternate universe Professor X.
This issue has Scott and alternate versions of Wolverine, Emma Frost, Nightcrawler, Shadow Cat find out the reason behind Savior’s actions. Unfortunately it’s the cliche of the ends justifying the means that so many grey hat villains use. There was a huge catastrophe and of course only the energy that could be found in heroes was powerful enough to contain it! And that had me yawning. It also reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy 6.
Unsurprisingly, the mutants in this issue didn’t hear this and decide they should just got back into captivity and become living Duracells. So the team decides to fight their way towards a special jet that can travel between dimentions. I don’t want to give away the ending in this review, but the pacing also seems way off – this story arc will probably end up being about two issues longer than it needs to be to tell this story. And that decompression is what gives off the feeling of Marvel directing the write to leave the story in a holding pattern until Liu’s turn at the helm comes.
Of course, the issue does have some redemptive qualities. The comparisons and contrasts between Scott and Logan in this universe reveal a lot about who Scott is as a person. There’s also a scene that involves Cyclops wearing a Magneto helmet and I found it to be quite symbolic of where Scott has come in the past decade. He’s gone from being a teacher’s pet to kicking Professor X out of the X-Men to almost using Magneto’s methods and justifications in his leadership of the X-Men before and after the Schism. The battles are well thought out and involve some neat twists and thinking that go beyond the lazy direct fights that happen so often in super hero books.
The story also still has a lot of room for an interesting resolution. This issue just seems a bit repetitious in an effort to pad out the arc’s length. It may well work as better as a trade because Astonishing X-Men seems to be the only X-Men book left that’s not biweekly. I think that having to wait a month and then not moving the story forward by much is part of what contributes to my frustration with the pace. Still, I’ve read much worse X-Men stories.