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Nov 21

Astonishing X-Men #13-17: “Until Our Hearts Stop”

Posted on Wednesday, November 21, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

We’ve just had a relaunch of Uncanny X-Men last week, positioned back in its flagship role, and clearly the title that we’re meant to look at and go “ah, there is the direction for the line”.  But there are some signs of incoherence in here as well – not least that Astonishing X-Men and X-Men Red are both running “gathering the team” arcs which wind up being overtaken by the next relaunch before they’ve even finished.

So Matthew Rosenberg’s first arc on Astonishing X-Men – solicited with “A new era begins now!” – is also the last, even though he’s going to be writing Uncanny X-Men going forward.  It has the distinct look of things being made up on the fly.

The main point of this story, it seems, is to rehab a couple of characters who needed to get back in circulation. It’s basically a team that forms around Havok, after his “inversion” was cured in X-Men Blue a few months back.  Havok is trying to get back into being a superhero again, only to find that his assistance isn’t especially welcome – partly because people don’t really trust him, but mainly because he’s still a bit erratic, off his game, and generally a bit of a loser.  So Kitty is very much not down with him leading an X-Man team, and he’s off using the name without permission.

This is the sort of thing that would work a bit better if we didn’t already have multiple X-Men teams running around without reference to each other, by the way; at least this book makes a big thing of the fact that they have no real claim to the name.

For the rest of the group, we have Beast, who’s decided that he’d really rather just go and teach in a regular university, only for Havok to bring the bad guys to his doorstep; Banshee, who’s been in suspended animation since Uncanny Avengers #23, and spends most of the story shuffling around as a zombie until he can be properly restored through a bit of handwaving in the final issue; Warpath, taking his Weapon X role as the straight man sent to keep an eye on the wonky team; drunken rebound Colossus, who’s a bit disappointed that the X-Men actually did leave him alone when he told them to leave him alone; and Dazzler, back in failing retro disco act mode (even though the last time we saw her, she was into punk… but whatever).

The bad guys are a revived version of O*N*E, now in anti-mutant mode (which makes some sense given that you-know-who probably appointed the current leadership), and the Reavers, pressganged into working for O*N*E but more interested in stealing the new technology for themselves.  They’re engaging enough here, pretty much treating the whole thing as just business, and given enough personality as backstabbing mercenaries to play entertainingly off the X-Men.

The original concept for this series was a different artist on every issue, which didn’t exactly contribute to a visually coherent storyline.  Now we get a single artist for a whole arc… and it’s Greg Land.  Of whom I am not a fan.  And, look, this is actually some of his better work.  It’s not as awkward as he’s often been; he’s given plenty of oddball tech stuff to draw, which tends to bring out the best in him.  It’s bright and clean.  And aside from Dazzler, there are virtually no women in the comic, so he doesn’t really have the chance to be at his most obnoxious.

But this is still a story that makes heavy use of character comedy, and plays its central cast as loveable losers.  It feels like a script designed to be drawn by someone like Kevin Maguire, who has the nuance to really give it some charm.  And while Land does better on that side of things than you might expect – there’s a wider range of facial expression than I’m used to seeing from him – charm is not his strong suit.  There are scenes which are clearly trying to write Alex as puckish, and it’s not landing.  Plus, frankly, it’s pretty obvious that Land’s back to tracing different expressions from entirely different models, without actually smoothing them together into a consistent character design.  It’s glaring on Alison and Alex in particular.

The arc here is broadly about Alex’s seemingly haphazard approach kind-of bonding his team, and at least proving himself in some degree by the end of the arc.  Obviously that’s rather undermined by the fact that they don’t stick together because we’re going into another relaunch, but at least we’re shown that Warpath is won round to the idea that Havok knows what he’s doing.  And the final issue has a good epilogue scene with Havok explaining to Dazzler that he’d rather be the butt of the joke than end up grim and depressed like Scott did.

There’s a good story in here, but it’s not well served by the art, which can’t handle the comedy.  But with a different artist, this could actually have been the start of a promising series.

Bring on the comments

  1. JCG says:

    Who is “you-know-who”? Presumably not the one from Harry Potter.

  2. Chris says:

    @JCG

    Voldemort there is Donald Trump …

  3. Michael says:

    I wasn’t entirely sold on this storyline… everyone, as usual, feels a little off-model personality-wise under Rosenberg’s pen. The constant snark between the characters was more grating than ingratiating.

    But this annoyed me less than New Mutants or Multiple Man… probably because the plot actually made a minimum of sense, and it actually lurched to a proper kind of resolution.

    And you know, Alex Summers has -always- been at odds with the life of the X-Men. How many times have he and Lorna walked away, only to get sucked back in? He’s always been a sub-par leader, no matter what team he’s working with–the X-Men,X-Factor, Starjammers, Unity Squad–and it often feels like writers struggle to make him interesting and consistent yet different from Scott. They tried making him evil, and no one liked that, so it got fixed at last. And now he’s the guy who makes impulsive, often bad, choices, and who takes the hit for the team. Fitting for someone named Havoc. And I’m sure we’ll see him again soon, but if we don’t, I won’t shed a tear.

    And hey, this brought Banshee back into circulation at long last and hopefully now he can work his way back towards normality. I’m okay with the reset button on this, as it’s long overdue given how his fellow Horsemen–Daken, Sentry, and Grim Reap-(oh, whoops)–got on with life afterwards.

    Still, I honestly don’t understand how Rosenberg keeps getting these X-related storylines, and why they’re handing him Uncanny after the Disassembled arc concludes. Is he really that popular?

  4. Thom H. says:

    This arc felt a little manic to me, but I guess Rosenberg’s thing is “having too much going on.”

    I did really like his use of Dazzler — he upped her powers considerably in a couple of ways.

    Still don’t like Havoc’s costume, especially when rendered “realistically” by Greg Land. How hard would it be to ditch the headgear and design something based on a circle motif on the chest?

    Honestly, I think a lot of Rosenberg’s appeal is that he doesn’t just jettison past character history (in most cases). Instead, he uses it in new and inventive ways while also making the characters more light-hearted. His scripts are fun to read.

  5. Gary H says:

    I was very disappointed by this as the outback era is my personal fav, but this review has made me wonder if a lot of my unhappiness was due to the broadness of the art.
    Alex felt very out of character as he’s never been the loveable loser. He’s the guy who tries to hard but without Scott’s orphanage baggage. It did not feel like the same Alex from x-factor or Uncanny Avengers. And I am really annoyed that it was sold as an ongoing when just a mini.
    But I love those characters and there were great moments so i’ll stick with rosenberg (especially as New Mutants was so good).

  6. Chris J says:

    I love how #13 had a big #1 on it, with a BOLD NEW ERA that lasted 5 issues.

    The banter felt like it was trying really too hard to be funny. It would have been nice to acknowledge that Alex was, you know, in X-Factor working for the government for a considerable amount of time.

  7. Chris V says:

    I don’t think Rosenberg is a big enough name to carry the relaunch of the main title in the X-line, no.
    However, I don’t think that Marvel have many writers who have that sort of appeal anymore.

    It’s more a matter of Marvel rewarding writers who agree to sign contracts with the company. Marvel is willing to give them big name titles.
    It’s meant to appeal to other freelance writers, who may go on to be big names in the industry, that they should sign a deal with Marvel too.

    Marvel isn’t going to reach out to some huge name in the comic industry, and pay them a lot of money, when they have their own core roster of writers already working for them.

    Marvel has been hoping for quite some time that their characters will be the draw to bring in fans, regardless of who they have working on the project.
    This doesn’t seem to be a successful model though.

    I’m not attacking Rosenberg, in any way. I am a fan of most of his comic work.
    I’m just saying that no one had really heard of Matthew Rosenberg before he signed with Marvel, and he hasn’t had any breakout hits at Marvel that would make you think that he should be the writer assigned to Uncanny X-Men.
    It’s just how modern-day corporate Marvel works.

  8. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I, for one, don’t mind that at all. Big name writers on X-Men have not turned out well for years. Lemire had potential that was never fulfilled. Bendis went nowhere. Aaron wrote a very Aaron title, but not much of an X-Men one.

    Honestly, since Morrison and Whedon I don’t think there was a big name writer who delivered a quality run on a main X-Men title.

    (And sure, that leaves a lot of grey areas as to what we consider a main title and a big name writer… For example, I liked Carey’s and Gillen’s runs, but Carey’s wasn’t the main title and Gillen wasn’t a big name writer when he started.)

  9. Col_Fury says:

    re: Thom H.
    Ack! Havok’s original suit (especially the headgear) is one of my favorite superhero suits. I was super jazzed to see it back. Agreed on Dazzler.

    re: Michael
    I’m also glad Banshee’s back. Or at least usable. Remember when his daughter was CONVINCED he’d be back and everyone thought she was nuts?

    I must be one of three people that like the Reavers as villains. Happy to see them actually being used.

    If nothing else, we find out that Beast is a Devo fan (in #16). Yay!

  10. Chris V says:

    Well, I wouldn’t say it’s just that big name writers have been a disappointment on X-Men. What other writers have done a commendable job on X-Men, outside of a few runs like Morrison or Mike Carey?
    Especially if we’re just talking the main title, and not including spin-off books like Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force.

    The Guggenheim run wasn’t that successful either.

  11. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I mean, the ‘X-Men Gold. It happened’ that Paul gave in his final review was the best summation one could come up with.

    But that’s sort of my point. If you want good mutant books you need to look for it in the plethora of spin-offs and secondary and tertiary titles. The main book has been a mess for many years now. But there were good books among the other x-titles.

    And to be honest for several years there was an additional title in that after Schism the X-Men didn’t even have a main book and the whole line started drifting. They only corrected that after Secret Wars, and even then the main title we got was Extraordinary, then Gold.

    Fingers crossed for Uncanny, though! And hey, if I read the February solicitations correctly, it’s actually going to be the only X-Men ongoing. There’s an unexpected change that I was not expecting.

    (There will still be X-Force and Mr & Mrs X, but other then that – just solo titles and miniseries).

  12. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    *an additional problem, not ‘an additional title’

  13. Joseph S. says:

    I think I read that Rosenberg cold pitched an idea to Ed Brisson and he liked it and got him hired.

    Alex is basically the X-Men’s Hawkeye in a lot of ways, especially if you consider X-Factor as roughly analogous to West Coast Avengers. Endless loop of is-he-a-leader-or-not? Maybe he’d benefit from a solo title about his normal life, as an ABD PhD student trying to finish the endless slog and constantly being sucked into superhero melodrama.

  14. SanityOrMadness says:

    > Fingers crossed for Uncanny, though! And hey, if I read the February solicitations correctly, it’s actually going to be the only X-Men ongoing. There’s an unexpected change that I was not expecting.

    Well, that’s largely because “Age of X-Man” is apparently tying up most of the characters for half a year or so, and also contributes most of the minis you mention (one of which has “X-Men” in the name).

    Let’s see again in August or September, once AoXMan has wrapped.

  15. JCG says:

    @Chris

    Thanks, don’t know how I could miss that!

    Just started thinking about in-universe characters.

  16. sagatwarrior says:

    I always imagined that the X-Men has been in a creative rut for a number of years was due to Fox owning the movie rights to the X-Men and letting them wither on the vine until Marvel/Disney could get them back. Also, you had a number of X-Titles on the shelves which dilutes the brand, and many of the popular characters being being reduced to villains (Cyclops), or put out of commission (Wolverine). With those two set to comeback, hopefully Marvel can right the wrong and get the X-Titles and X-Characters back on track.

  17. Voord 99 says:

    Having now finished reading Peter David’s first run on X-Factor, I now feel convinced that Havok is as bland there as he is everywhere else, and that he’s never had a good definitive treatment. He’s been in good stories (some of them even in David’s X-Factor run, although it’s not anything like as good as people say) – but he’s not what’s good about them.

    I think it’s just possible that there is no there there. Can it be that Alex Summers really is just a boring late ‘60s character, who by dint of having been around for a long time seems like he’s a significant part of the X-line, but really has no good reason to be there?

  18. Thom H. says:

    @Col_Fury: I have to admit I actually like the classic Havok suit, but pretty much no one can draw it. Land made it look like he was wearing a 5-pound steering wheel on his head most of the time.

    @Voord 99: I think Astonishing was supposed to act as a reboot of Alex’s character after “boring” and “evil” didn’t stick. Too bad the series petered out before we could see more of the new Alex.

    Rosenberg seems to like rehabilitating characters between this, Madrox, and New Mutants. It’s been years since I’ve thought about Karma at all, for instance, and now I’m interested to see where she’s headed. Hopefully, he can parlay that sense of purpose into the ongoing title.

  19. Loz says:

    I never thought I’d say this but I think the line could do with something of a return to the Harras era, ONLY in the sense of defining a target and going for it. At the moment every book seems to be left for itself and it’s hard to care about anything. You have a number of characters like Glob who regularly turn up in at least one title a year and are always reset to the way they were when they were first introduced decades ago, then you have other characters who fluctuate wildly because editors don’t seem to feel a need to tell their writers to pay attention (Dazzler, Mystique who seems to vary between outright terrorist and anti-hero, the clear confusion over the return of younger Wolverine). Continuity shouldn’t be a cloying trap but on the other hand I’m sort of expecting the next reboot will start with Cyclops calling the team to assemble, the mansion back where it always was, and none of the characters will mention anything because that is the way it has always been, Central Park what?

  20. Si says:

    I always liked Havok, and thought he was good in X-Factor. His personality is he’s practical and pragmatic, but at the same time he’s a sucker for people who take advantage of his white knight instincts. He’s immensely powerful, with control issues similar to Cyclops, except he actually has good control and merely has to keep it up all the time, which is frustrating and nerve-wracking. He doesn’t want to be a super hero, but the white knight instinct again. That’s a lot to build a story on.

    Oh, and he also has this weird inferiority thing going on sometimes, comparing himself his big brother – despite barely knowing him until both were adults.

  21. Jpw says:

    It’s really difficult to get into any new title at Marvel when you know it’s going to be 6-8 issues of “gathering the team,”then axed at 12-18. If you know the book likely won’t survive two years (and the past 15 years show that it almost certainly won’t), get the team together very quickly. One or two issues, tops. Lengthy stories team-gathering stories are really just inexcusable at this point.

  22. Si says:

    I agree with Jpw. An alternative might be devoting maybe a page per issue to flashback scenes, but the story proper being straight into the action. Or frankly just ignore it completely, you don’t really need to have an excuse for a group of superheroes who all live in the same house to be working together.

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