It’s an eXciting X-Men eXtravaganza this week! Marvel has been teasing something big regarding the original five time-displaced X-Men with Extermination! This week, we’re touching on the debut of the newest X-Men event, and checking in with the fully-grown founding X-Men in Astonishing X-Men Annual #1! Welcome to the Marvel Rundown!
Written by Ed Brisson
Illustrated by Pepe Larraz
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Alexander Jones: Hey guys, did you remember that the time-displaced X-Men are still in continuity? Extermination #1 appears to be the final curtain call for the younger heroes, but was it any good?
AJ Frost: Well, it’s nice to be back in The Beat’s Marvel Rundown continuity after a few weeks off. This book was… interesting to say the least and I think its ambition was better than its execution. While Ed Brisson laid out these little nuggets of intrigue, the overall affair was really mixed. There were some great action scenes, some nice callbacks to deep X-Men lore, and some passages that had charisma, but the whole book tried to go for a grimdark view of the X-Men and it petered out by the end.
Joe Grunenwald: I’ve been keeping tabs on the original five X-Men since Bendis left the X-books, with fingers crossed that all questions would be answered and the characters’ story will get a satisfying ending. I read Extermination #1 with enthusiasm, and for me, it got off to a good start, though I’m with AJ that there were some very dark bits which put me off. But with a name like Extermination, I also didn’t expect sunshine and roses for our heroes.
Frost: It’s lights out for the ‘X’ puns from here on in.
Grunenwald: Challenge accepted!
Jones: Pepe Larraz, you guys. He’s seriously great! You know, I liked almost everything going on in this issue. The younger X-Men were so naive and brought this retro-tinged pastiche to the line which did not need to be there because the main books are already soaked in that feeling. Extermination feels like a break into something else to me and it looks beautiful. The scenes with Cyclops were particularly fantastic for me.
Grunenwald: The art is really great here. It’s fitting a story wrapping up a series originally drawn by Stuart Immonen should have an artist on it with a style reminiscent of Immonen’s. An Immonen-esque look seems to have become the house style for most of the X-books, and I’m into it.
Jones: His art is pretty close to Immonen. The work has a really fluid look. He definitely has a strong influence and might even be too similar to the artist. However, I definitely think Larraz has a more stylistic, cartoonish flair setting him SLIGHTLY apart from Immonen’s work.
Frost: The scene with Cyclops was a highlight of the issue and one where the emotions seemed a tad more natural than in other spots. The art struck a pretty good balance for the most part, with some spottiness here and there. Quite understandable for a big book like this. Some of the villain design was too stereotypical and, as you say, a bit cartoonish. It worked in context.
Grunenwald: What’s cartoonish about a cyborg pirate with a robotic peg-leg?
Frost: And, oh yeah, he’s from the future!
Grunenwald: X-MEN! I’m quickly becoming X-trash again.
Jones: It looks like AJ and I aren’t seeing eye-to-eye this week! What about the issue do you think was executed poorly, AJ?
Frost: There were certain turns of phrase and narrative tricks which didn’t really satisfy me as a reader. There’s this bizarre passage near the beginning of the issue, which without giving too much away is about the X-Men saving some young French mutants in Chicago. Instead of just calling these kids “French,” Brisson describes them (or I guess Kitty Pryde does) as “France French.” An awkward passage. And, then, just following the through-line of the issue, I was turning each page waiting for the final reveal, and about halfway through I guessed it… correctly. The book tries to wear its cleverness on its sleeve, but it’s not as daring as it thinks it is. Do you think I’m onto something or totally wrong?
Grunenwald: I actually liked the “France French” description. I also definitely read the issue waiting for the reveal, but I only guessed it a few pages before the end. I don’t think it’s that shocking a twist – we’re talking about time travel, after all – but I do like it as a different look at a familiar character. I appreciated Brisson laying interesting groundwork for the rest of the mini in this issue. I agree that it’s not particularly daring, but I found it entertaining, and I want to see what happens next.
Frost: That’s a fair assessment. I wasn’t thrilled overall with how the material was handled.
Grunenwald: That’s also a fair assessment. I can absolutely see why it didn’t grab you.
Jones: I thought this had a good balance of fun and bleakness. I think the character scenes rang true and I like how Brisson managed such a large cast. Compared to some of the recent material we have seen with the franchise, I definitely think there is something there. I love the idea of killing off some of the characters in this franchise as well–that should tell you what kind of X-Men fan I am!
Grunenwald: I was a little surprised to see Brisson write so openly in the end-note about using the event to cull some of the duplicate characters. It’s a very utilitarian approach. I think it was fine here but I hope it doesn’t end up feeling like ticking off checkboxes on a list of names.
Frost: Alex and Joe, I wonder if the killing will just be used for an arc before the time travel concept is used to reset everything back to normal?
Jones: I think the upcoming crossover points to the publisher using some of the baggage and not completely resetting all of the continuity back to the Chris Claremont/John Byrne peak.
Grunenwald: It would be a huge mistake to jettison the baggage. At this point the X-Men aren’t the X-Men without their baggage.
Jones: Which is why I think cleaning house is a good idea. However, solving a continuity problem is not a good reason to tell a story if there is no backbone behind it.
Frost: I want to see how this story develops. For all the clunkiness I felt was present here, there is enough intrigue to sustain interest for the next issue!
Grunenwald: (I’ll admit I did pause a few pages into the issue to look up who a character was, and I wasn’t really able to figure it out entirely, and then a few pages later that character was dead anyway so it ultimately doesn’t matter, but I like that I wanted to know who the character was in the first place.)
Jones: At the end of the day, what are everyone’s final thoughts on the issue? Do you think this is ‘seasoned’ X-Men readers only?
Frost: A little bit. If you’re going into this green, you’re probably gonna leave extremely confused. For that reason, I’m giving this one a WEAK BROWSE. X-Fans will dig more of what’s happening, while others would probably be lost.
Grunenwald: I think it might be. I consider myself a pretty casual X-Men reader, and I only knew who Ahab was because I had his action figure as a kid, but I also have years of knowledge base from when I was into it regularly. I wouldn’t want to jump into this without knowing at least a little bit of what’s come before with the Original Five. I’m going to go with a solid BROWSE, neither strong nor weak.
Jones: I don’t think you should hesitate to pick this one up if you are X-Men reader right now. Cyclops’ character moments were great and the book has a wonderful vibe. BUY.
Frost: An interesting reaction bag this week!
Grunenwald: True works of art provoke differing and equally valid reactions, and also feature time-traveling cyborg pirates.
Jones: Let the past die.
Final Verdict: Joe says BROWSE, AJ says WEAK BROWSE and Alexander says BUY!
Astonishing X-Men Annual #1
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Illustrated by Travel Foreman
Colored by Jim Charalampidis
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
While Extermination may be the big to-do this week for the time-displaced founding X-Men, the original versions of the characters aren’t exactly resting on their laurels either. Resurrections, reunions, and anger issues take center stage in this week’s Astonishing X-Men Annual #1, and while it may not be as action-packed as the latest mutant event book, it more than makes up for it with strong character work.
Writer Matthew Rosenberg does an excellent job of establishing each character’s personality pretty quickly. From their initial gathering to when they later split off into pairs, the relationships between these old friends are all given space to shine. Their history can be felt throughout the issue, but the story doesn’t depend on knowledge of every detail of the lore in order to appreciate what these characters have been through and how they ended up where they are today. The inclusion of a resurrected Charles Xavier in the form of X – a familiar character now acting as a wildcard – makes for some really great character drama. On the subject of X, while elements of the story tie in to things that have been happening in the various X-titles, the main plot is entirely standalone and accessible for new or lapsed readers. I admit that I haven’t been following Astonishing X-Men at all, but I was able to enjoy this comic nonetheless.
Travel Foreman provides the art for this annual, and he does a fine job with the material. The story is light on action and heavy on dailogue, and Foreman’s storytelling keeps things visually interesting. From the moment X arrives, there’s an underlying tension to Foreman’s work that I can’t quite put my finger on but that enhances the mood of the story. It could be the sketchiness of his linework, or simply the visible discomfort of the characters in their surroundings. Whatever it is, it works really well. The coloring by Jim Charalampidis complements Foreman’s style well, and overall the art on the issue is done well. It’s moody when it needs to be and always easy to follow.
In all, Astonishing X-Men Annual #1 is a solid X-Men comic, filled with entertaining character interactions and featuring an ending that somewhat turns on its ear the notion of what readers have come to expect from an X-book. It made this casual X-fan want to read more. What more can you ask of a comic?
Final Verdict: BUY for strong character work and a done-in-one story that’s told well all-around.
Next week, everything is old is still old! Prepare for the return of the West Coast Avengers and Frank Castle!