Astonishing X-Men #14
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Frank D’Armata
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Banshee might be back with a mighty sonic scream, but after reading Astonishing X-Men #14, all I can hear is Keith Giffen and J.M DeMatteis’ “bwa-ha-ha” ringing in the background. Mixing together action with interpersonal comedy, Matthew Rosenberg winds up channeling more than a little bit of the classic Justice League International sense of humor to his run of Astonishing X-Men. While I do think Greg Land’s artwork occasionally runs at cross-purposes with Rosenberg’s quirky cast of characters, this book’s viability kicks into higher gear as more X-Men are introduced.
What I think separates Astonishing X-Men from a lot of Rosenberg’s recent Marvel work is that he’s been freed from any sense of expectation, given the hodgepodge nature of his cast — whereas characters like Hawkeye and Winter Soldier, the New Mutants or the Punisher all have previously established voices and relationships he’s expected to riff upon, Rosenberg’s got essentially a blank slate here with a brand-new team, allowing him to build all-new dynamics in a way that suits his unique voice as a writer.
In particular, Havok — essentially a blank slate after his ret-ret-retconing post-Uncanny Avengers/AXIS — feels like the perfect point-of-view character for Rosenberg’s sensibilities, and his chemistry with the already quippy Beast is a great touch. But pairing them with a drunken, heartbroken Colossus, or a Dazzler who’s battling against irrelevance and sexism? You can sense the sparks already starting to fly, and I’d argue it has little to do with the action sequences — let’s be honest, the Reavers feel about as interchangeable as any bad guy goon army in comics at this point, and the choreography feels pretty hazy as is. But like the classic Justice League International, watching these largely discarded characters interact with one another is where it’s at, even if it proves to be a sharp detour from the spacefaring, sci-fi epic civil rights metaphor storylines that the X-Men franchise is typically gunning for.
That said, similar to having superhero wunderkind Howard Porter on Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League 3000, I can’t help but wonder if artist Greg Land’s style works at cross-purposes with Rosenberg’s joke-heavy script, or if it’s a shrewd way for Marvel to maintain continuity with Charles Soule’s bombastic previous storyline, at least until Rosenberg’s audience can find their feet. I will say that Land’s strengths feel like polar opposites to what Rosenberg is writing — for example, Land plays up big moments like Banshee’s shrieking resurrection, but never captures the running joke Rosenberg has set up about how this mutant zombie really isn’t speaking or paying attention to anyone outside of battle, making last issue’s cliffhanger feel like an unresolved cheat. Additionally, Land’s photoreferenced artwork just feels like a pure stylistic counterpoint to Rosenberg’s naturalistic writing — one style rests on spontaneity and the unexpected, while the other feels repeated ad nauseum.
While the execution isn’t necessarily flawless, Rosenberg is bringing something different to Astonishing X-Men that I think bears watching — something that, in many ways, plays to the strengths of the franchise dating back to Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont’s original run. While we’re not seeing the sort of wild concept work of living islands or galactic forces gone awry, part of the reason why the lineup of Giant-Sized X-Men succeeded was because of the way the cast interacted and gelled with one another — and that’s the sort of sparks I’m seeing with Rosenberg’s work here. Like Justice League International before it, Astonishing X-Men eschews the iconic in exchange for the irreverent, making for a surprising and engaging read.