RSS Feed
Jul 5

Astonishing X-Men #7-12: “A Man Called X”

Posted on Thursday, July 5, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

The second half of Charles Soule’s run – which, I know, I know, finished a month ago – is one of those arcs that gets a separate title for TPB-bracketing purposes, but really is just the continuation of a single story.  We left off with the X-Men having apparently defeated the Shadow King, and Xavier having returned to Earth in the body of Fantomex… or something like that… and calling himself X.

It’s an odd approach, and quite an intriguing one.  Soule knows perfectly well that bringing a beloved character back from the dead looks like a reset button, and that simply restoring Xavier to his pre-death status quo isn’t all that interesting.  Putting him back as the leader of the X-Men feels like a backward step for everyone; and he’s already done the coming-to-terms-with-his-past bit under Mike Carey.

So Soule goes in the other direction, by bringing Xavier back almost in name only.  X doesn’t look like Xavier (he’s still dressed as Fantomex, for a start), he doesn’t especially act like Xavier, he doesn’t even want to be called by Xavier’s name.  Nobody else is entirely convinced that he is Xavier.  Calling himself “X” seems to be at once a denial of his identity and a passive-aggressive insistence that he’s still the centre of the X-Men’s universe.  And he speaks in inverted-colour speech balloons, though heaven knows what that’s meant to sound like.

Oh, and as issue #7 begins, the UK government is still planning to drop an enormous bomb on everyone to sterilise the area, which is a plot thread left dangling from the previous arc.  That gives everyone something to do as X sorts it all out in a disturbingly casual way.  He’s talking about giving people “gifts” from an early stage, and making reassuring comments about how he’s definitely Xavier and you should definitely trust him, but he just isn’t, and the X-Men respond accordingly.

Somewhat randomly, this all results in the return of Proteus, for reasons which are rather less clear than one might have wished – there’s a bit of handwaving that the Shadow King was using him somehow, and that’s about it.  But after some initial staggering around killing people to charge up his energy supply, Proteus calms down a bit and starts complaining that he was a child when the X-Men fought him the first time round, and really just wants to be left alone.  X, naturally, has a stab at killing him anyway, which gets us into the good old reality-warping stuff…

Which is a useful thing for this book.  After all, Astonishing X-Men has the unfortunate gimmick of changing artists with every issue, which is not desperately conducive to consistency.  Issues #7 and #8 come across alright, since Phil Noto and Paulo Siqueira aren’t too far distant in style, even if Noto’s issue has a bit more personality.  But if you want to make something of the rotating artists, best to have some drastic tone shifts built into the story.  Matteo Buffagni, in issue #9, isn’t that radically unusual, but he gets to have fun with weird stretching, and Giada Marchisio, colouring that issue, makes things look appropriately sickly.  Still, Buffagni’s probably better at the sense of place when the story decamps to a Highland village for Proteus to hijack it for his experiment.

The idea here, I think, is that X’s talk about gifts – which recurs in the final issue – is being played off with Proteus’ rather odd idea of turning the village into a place where his reality-warping powers mean that everyone can have anything they want.  In Proteus’s eyes, this is apparently some sort of gift, because he’s letting everyone else rewrite reality the way he can.  But because everyone has entirely inconsistent ideas about what they’d like to achieve, the result is chaos.  Aco, pencilling issue #10, gets to do an issue of everything going completely mad, and takes full advantage of that.

Proteus’s ideas here are odd, and it’s had to avoid the feeling that he’s not a character so much as a counterpoint for Xavier.  (Then again, it’s not like Proteus was ever what you’d call rounded.)  He insists he hasn’t killed the villagers, he’s just given them the chance to choose.  But he also makes another point: that Xavier’s dream is ultimately based on an optimistic view of humanity, where the majority of people are basically good.  Proteus argues that if this view is correct, then the good intentions of the majority of his villagers ought to prevail and bring about paradise.  It’s not clear whether Proteus actually expects that to happen, or whether he’s just trying to provoke Xavier by proving that the majority of people, left to their own devices, will do something awful.  Xavier/X’s only real responses is to deny that they’ve made an informed choice.

By issue #11 we’re on to rather sketchy Ron Garney art as Proteus tries to spread his grand idea around the world.  This all looks rather rough, and boy, it’s an issue that’s heavy on the lime green.  And there’s a twist – sort of – as the Shadow King turns out to have been hiding inside X all along.  Hardly a huge surprise, given that he was so obviously dodgy and was talking in Shadow King’s inverted-colour speech balloons.

Except…  that doesn’t seem to be where it ends up.  The X-Men naturally beat Shadow King in the final issue – which is drawn by Gerardo Sandoval and is decidedly lacking in subtlety compared to everything we’ve seen before in this arc, with lots of very stagey posing and angularity, and pages that don’t flow at all well.  There’s even a big panel of Gambit holding a deck of cards where something is just horrendously wrong with the hand, the cards, and the relative sizes of the two.  (In fairness, his Archangel on the next page is much better.)

But even after all this, Xavier still wants to be “X” and still doesn’t go back to behaving all that much like Professor X.  He’s not quite as sinister as before, but he rounds off the arc by giving everyone the “gift” of what he considers some enlightening ideas to plant in their minds, and then wiping their memories of him – well, except for Psylocke – so that he can wander off to do his own thing.

It’s a strange arc, which does at least succeed in its core mission of bringing Xavier back, while making him so radically different from before as to avoid the feeling of backsliding.  It does suffer from devoting quite so much space to Proteus without really making him convincing as a character as opposed to a plot point – and it does seem to want us to treat him as a character.  But if it’s a slightly mixed affair, it’s at least interesting.

Bring on the comments

  1. Thom H. says:

    Yes, the plot mechanics of Xavier’s return and Proteus’ revival were pretty murky. I couldn’t tell if that was on purpose to set up future storylines or just bad storytelling. For instance, X keeps insisting that Fantomex *wanted* to give up his body and stay in the astral plane. But we get no outside confirmation of that, and the X-Men eventually just stop asking about it. Really weird little run, which is too bad because the first issue was great.

  2. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    We don’t get outside confirmation because we, the readers, are supposed to suspect X, just like the X-Men.

    The fact that they just stop asking about it can be attributed to priorities – Proteus is a more immediate threat than whatever X is.

  3. SanityOrMadness says:

    Proteus seemed pretty clear – Shadow King says at one point in the first arc that he was stronger than ever because he’d found an extra energy source to tap into. Second arc, it turns out that source was Proteus and that by tapping into it, SK had effectively reconstituted him.

    “X”, on the other hand… how exactly did he remake Fantomex’s body into a young Xavier body anyway? (Since we’re told he did, that’s why OML’s stab nearly killed him). And that’s before we ask just how he managed to stand up and put his head back together in the last issue.

  4. Thom H. says:

    “We don’t get outside confirmation because we, the readers, are supposed to suspect X, just like the X-Men.”

    That totally makes sense in terms of keeping suspense going for the 12-issue run, but to not address it even in an epilogue? It just seems like an anticlimactic way to go out for Fantomex, especially since I have no idea where to look for the continued story. Because Astonishing is moving on to the Havok/Dazzler team now, right? The whole thing just felt like a dropped detail when it would have been so easy to give us Fantomex fans a little something to hold onto.

  5. Ni-D says:

    Fantomex has fans?

    Geez, I am really a fogey.

  6. ASV says:

    I’ve mostly gotten used to the padded and drawn-out nature of modern Big Two comics, but this whole run should’ve been four issues.

  7. Chris says:

    Never got into Fantomex…

  8. Ben says:

    Fantomex is the best!

    Xavier in any form is not.

    Unfair trade.

  9. Moo says:

    I’m sorry, I can’t get past his name sounding like a pharmaceutical.

    “Do not take Fantomex if you have a history of depression. If you begin having suicidal thoughts, stop taking Fantomex immediately and notify your doctor. Fantomex may cause skin irritation, rashes, blurred vision, heartburn, lousy taste in comic book characters, sudden uncontrollable urination, and nasuea. If you exhibit any of these symptoms after taking Fantomex, stop taking Fantomex and consult a physician.”

  10. Taibak says:

    Each his own. I like Fantomex, but he seems to be a better character when used sparingly.

  11. Anya says:

    I don’t like fathomed, but I think Soule was trying give his fans some hope in the last issue. With X’s ‘gifts’ he said he was giving Gambit a ‘purpose’ which was to find fathomex. Though, it made absolutely no sense because Xavier has his body and his mind is stuck on the astral plane, how exactly is Gambit going to find anything?

  12. Thom H. says:

    Thanks for the info, Anya. I’d totally forgotten that part.

    Maybe Gambit just needs to meditate a lot?

  13. Dazzler says:

    Quick review of the X-editorial office:

    In X-Men Red, according to Tom Taylor, Gambit is off on his own and has his own sort of “re-introduction” to the team before joining up with Jean’s squad.

    But in X-Men Gold, according to Mark Guggenheim, he’d been hanging around Kitty’s team in the issues leading up to the wedding, presumably to make it a bit less awkward for he and Rogue to be randomly married in that book.

    And that leads directly to his new status quo adventuring with his wife in their book, written by Kelly Thompson.

    Yet, somehow, Charles Soule has HIS own idea for what the character should be up to… by sending him to look for Fantomex.

    Do you see where I’m going with this? It is impossible to explain how this all fits into a workable timeline. At least with Wolverine they’re making bank by overextending him, and I doubt they ever made such a dramatic change to his status quo that it was impossible to explain how the stories fit together.

    (The first thing this reminds me of was that X-Men Declassified one-shot from Claremont’s return: Gambit, Wolverine and Kitty go on a mission together, but Gambit was off doing his own thing and only formed his own team at the same time Kitty went missing, never to return in that era. But that issue may not even be canon, and you can always just lie to yourself and say that it happened some time during the six month gap. Gambit’s recent timeline is actually impossible.)

  14. Thomas says:

    This series was okay, I have my usual quibbles with Soule and characterizations plus I guess we have just made it cannon Betsy has TK now ( this first happened in Woods XX-men? Was it ever explained?). I really want to talk about this weird relationship Soule has with the X books. Soule comes in for big event books and I always expect he will be announced as the regular writer in the launches after and never is. A year will go by and he’s back for setting up the next big change, he has seeded the x universe with a ton of characters and unresolved plots. Feels like he is being set up to be the big writer guiding the books but I don’t know what the deal is. Does he know he can’t handle them in his schedule, is marvel not ready for it? I just find it strange.

  15. ASV says:

    Wood went even further and effectively made her Purple Lantern. I seem to recall one scene where she was tying TK “ropes” around something.

  16. wwk5d says:

    Wasn’t Claremont the writer who initially gave TK powers to Psylocke? During his first return to the titles? Something about how Jean gave her those powers or something. He then killed her off when be began X-treme X-men, then brought her back to life with both TK and TP powers during his second return to Uncanny.

  17. SanityOrMadness says:

    She had TK-only from 2000, through her death & rebirth under Claremont, to her “back to original body… lol nope” in Fraction’s UXM run, when she got some limited TP back. Then, in Uncanny X-Force, she suddenly had full telepathy again and that’s how it stayed.

  18. Taibak says:

    What I want to know is if anyone has ever brought her precognitive powers back.

  19. Christopher says:

    Psylocke had TK in… X-Men Legacy…. that was basically purple lantern powers…

    In fact she even fired her tk ropes around a falling plane using a purple crossbow and I gave up….

    I think the theme of the issue was Rachel Summers badgering Storm or Rogue or something about how Rachel was the only X-Woman not considered for leadership ever….

  20. sagatwarrior says:

    I thought she gained her TK powers and lost her TP powers during the “six months gap” time period when Claremont came back to the X-Men during the second time, which was never explained. During the time she couldn’t pick up a dime with powers. Then I believe she was killed by Viceroy in X-Treme X-Men, and her brother brought her back to life with her powers intact.

  21. Krzysztof Ceran says:

    @Christopher: That was Brian Wood’s X-Men. Half of his run was the heroes arguing whether they’re a team or not. The other half was weird power use and Rachel having a crush on Sublime of all people.

    Psylocke didn’t appear much in X-Men Legacy. She was a part of Rogue’s team battling Proteus in the ‘Necrosha’ tie-in, but that was it if I recall correctly.

  22. Chris says:

    I sit corrected

Leave a Reply