It's Astonishing

One of the advantages of going home for Thanksgiving was getting to finally pick up my issues of Astonishing X-Men, the last vestiges of the days when I used to get my books directly through Marvel. Because Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi only produced a few issues of that book in between July of 2008 and June of 2009, I still had seven issues left on my subscription when the Ellis/Phil Jimenez run began a couple of months ago.

Two (#31 and #32) of those issues were sent to my house in Chicago's suburbs, and there they sat- until this weekend, when I took them, brought them back to school with me, and read them.

They blew my mind.

I think that, at this point, it might be something of a cliche to say that Warren Ellis is a genius but I'm going to say it anyway: Warren Ellis is a genius. These two issues may be the most perfect comics I've read in a long time- maybe not the most interesting, maybe not the most fun, maybe not even the best- but certainly the most perfect. Everything that's good about comics, and about the X-Men in particular- action, adventure, soap opera, one liners, air harpoons-is in these issues.

From these pages it's clear that Warren Ellis gets the X-Men and furthermore that he gets what the X-Men are currently missing. The story (which is set in the near past, before Scott leads his people onto Utopia) is exactly what a comics story should be- that is, it's not trying to be something it isn't. It's big, it's bombastic, there are lots of explosions and cool aliens and spaceships and bio-sentinels and giant air harpoons and everything that makes comics wonderful, but at the same time it doesn't really stretch into absurdity.

Now, I understand that I can get in trouble saying something like that- comics are inherently absurd (did I mention that the book has air harpoons?). While it may be absurd, however, it takes itself just seriously enough. It's not too grim n' gritty, but at the same time it's not too ridiculous either.

Furthermore, Ellis gets the team dynamic just right. While Uncanny sometimes feels like a Scott Summers solo book, Astonishing really feels like a team book, like every member is contributing something and isn't just some mean to an end in Cyke's grand plan. The dialogue, the back and forth, the bickering, it's all there and it's all brilliant.

Phil Jimenez's art helps. While Simone Bianchi is an excellent artist, I think his work is just too pretty to make really good comics. It lacks that energy that Jimenez brings to the book in spades, and I think that such an energy was sorely needed- it pushes the book from fantastic to near-perfect. While certain artists seem to do static or dynamic but not both, Jimenez makes both look easy, and he transitions between the two seamlessly, page to page and even panel to panel.

If you're unhappy with the current X-Men status quo, pick the book up. If you like Warren Ellis, pick the book up. If you want to see crazy shit go down, pick the book up. I can't emphasize enough how unbelievably cool this stuff is, because it's a near perfect comic book. Ellis and Jimenez clearly have a story worth telling on their hands, and you're going to miss out if you aren't there to see it.

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