Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Astonishing X-Men by Warren Ellis, Volume 5: Ghost Box

From this point forward in my The Astonishing X-Men reviews, I'll be doing a collective analysis of a story arc instead, much like this one which is comprised of issues #25-30 and penned by Warren Ellis who is generally an awesome comic book writer. This is due to some time constraints in RL stuff at my workplace. I simply can't find enough time to write individual reviews anymore, at least for the time being. As a compromise, I'll finish The Astonishing X-Men with the consistent format of collective reviews because since Whedon's run, I honestly just ran out of steam for this title. It's not because it left a bad aftertaste in my mouth (well, there is that fucking goddamn shitty Giant-Size issue about the conclusion of Unstoppable concerning Kitty Pryde's fate). After all, I was irreconcilably in love with the entire twenty-four-issued run (that I actively try to forget that Giant-Size even happened). It's mostly because of my RL obligations taking most of my time so I was forced to read more than pause to construct reviews for the blog. However, I also think it's because I don't know if anyone can top whatever clusterfuck awesomeness Whedon has accomplished in the first run. Mind you, Ellis has done a fine enough job in his story arc Ghost Box (which I will discuss in detail below), but I simply can't find enough strength in me to devote individual reviews for each issue so I think it was a really wise choice in my part to post one official review for each volume. We're now at the fifth. Let's get on with it.


This segment of the AXM is composed by a new writer and artist, and picks up in the aftermath of the Decimation which is the historical event prompted by cuckoo Scarlet Witch when she re-wrote Marvelverse and expunged the mutant gene for good to punish her daddy Magneto for being a world-class jerk. Also known as M-Day, this crossover big event can be read in its glorious coverage in Brian Michael Bendis' House of M. For its second season, The Astonishing X-Men is back with the heroes that Whedon established in the first run: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine and Beast (minus two other members) and with the addition of the recruit Hisako and the visitation of now Queen Ororo Munroe who got married to the former superhero Black Panther so she's both a wife and fellow ruler of Wakanda in Africa.

Before we head on to the story, let's first talk about Simone Bianchi's illustrations first. I don't think I ever once commented on the visual style of X-Men comics until John Cassaday's in the first run of AXM. I may have complimented Stuart Immonen once or twice for his art in Bendis' All-New X-Men, but generally I don't pay attention to the visuals which is weird because I often indulge in describing the artwork for the current run of Batman titles in DC specifically when it came to the work of artists Greg Capullo and Patrick Gleason. Still, I was heavily critical of Age of Apocalypse because it's visual style was too period-particular for my taste and honestly, the most of nineties comics back then for me were ugly to look at so I'm biased on that front. For Ellis' run, I think Bianchi's illustrations didn't exactly fit the narrative until the third installment. The entirety of the art is just too pretty with a lesser pronounced depth to convey motion, even when it came to more action-oriented scenes. Still, when it's expository, Bianchi managed to draw some intriguing panel choices that can even be comparable to Capullo's rendition for Snyder's Batman. I think that most of the time Bianchi's art can be distracting when I'm focusing on the action part. But when it's all just characters conversing and sitting around contemplating and planning among themselves, her illustrations bring dimensions to these interactions, enhancing the more subtle psychological messages implied in the dialogue. And for that, I can commend Bianchi. I think his artwork for action scenes did improve, however, when we got to the last two installments, particularly on #30 which was loaded with lots of creative fight sequences and landscape panels depicting explosions and the like. It was beautiful composition which was splendidly colored as well. Overall, Bianchi's work for Ellis' arc Ghost Box is a mixed bag but when it does shine on the most special places, it blinds.

Here are some sample pages that I liked in issue #30

Now let's talk about the content itself. After M-Day, there are only less than two hundred mutants that are active globally and the X-Men are determined to defend and protect those precious few in any way they can. After the birth of the the so-called mutant messiah in Messiah Complex, said baby carrying the X-gene post-M-Day was then  whisked away by Scott's son Cable (Nate Summers) who traveled across dimensions to keep the baby safe from harm. Now the X-Men are just waiting for any sort of sign from Cable and this unique specimen he is safekeeping, so they decided to keep working cases in the meantime. Hisako is a former student of the Xavier School recruited back in Whedon's Unstoppable last arc and she was still in her adjustment period, mostly keeping close with Wolverine who is now her go-to mentor, and cracking up jokes in his expense to lighten the mood in their group every so often. I find her readily endearing especially when she makes it easy to forget sometimes that Kitty Pryde is gone, and so is Colossus. The reason why these two lovebirds aren't even here anymore (when they took up a good 70% of what is going on in Whedon's run) is because GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN IS CRAP. Kitty is left inside the hollow center of the giant bullet that would have murdered Earth if she didn't phase it. So now she can never be removed there because she's intrinsically part of the weapon, physically-speaking. But it begs the question: If M-Day happened and the mutants were de-powered, was Kitty the lucky few who retained her powers much like most of the veteran X-Men? I mean, that should be the case. Otherwise, the bullet would have stopped phasing and broke earth's core already. Ah, fuck it. Let's not talk about this anymore. I'm just getting angry again.

All you need to know is Colossus is gone because how the fuck does anyone expect him to keep on fighting after losing his soulmate in such a horrid, depressing way? So yeah, we got Hisako as a new member and the pleasant return of Ororo Munroe whom Bianchi, to his credit, drew so ethereally and appealingly that you never forget that she is supposedly a self-made goddess. It shows in the way she hovers in the panels, all silver-haired beauty and deadly strength. My favorite moments in issue #28 have to be when she and Emma were trapped together with a mutant whose sole power is to inhibit other mutants' powers. So Storm had to do it the old-fashioned way and freaking knife-attacked the bastard to near death like the pro she is. I will always enjoy that scene because she got to work with Emma and both ladies do not back down especially when they are pushed against a corner by some enemy. I'm already rambling on about characters when I haven't even discussed what Ghost Box is all about. Well, the X-Men are investigating the murder of a mutant, but further scientific findings revealed that this mutant's genes were tampered on, meaning that his X-gene sits on the wrong chromosome. They follow a set of clues which led them to the spaceship graveyard called Chaparanga where people are literally taking apart spaceships for metal scraps they can sell to parties and places interested in acquiring them. The setting has a very haunting look to it the moment it was shown and this is where they found another modified mutant who killed himself rather than to reveal his group's plans to the X-Men.

This dead mutant had been trying to get a machine called a Ghost Box to operate but Storm messed up the electrical currents and so he was unsuccessful. The team brought the Ghost Box with them and it got the attention of Special Agent Brand who is now Hank's "lab partner" o the side (and by lab partner, we mean they are sexing each other; or, as Scott likes to call it, the two are committing "crimes against nature"). Brand's first name is Abigail, and Scott is not happy with her and even said a bad word in her presence which amused everyone because no one has pissed of Scott enough to make him say the F-word. Through Abby Brand, they discovered that a Ghost Box is a portal between parallel dimensions. Later on, they went to Tian which was apparently the headquarters of Chinese X-Men who were left for dead the moment M-Day hit the shores. That was when they encountered three more modified mutants (dubbed by Beast as Triploids). So, this Triploids have Ghost Boxes and they came from several dimensions that have their own mutants but with X-genes resting in a different chromosome. Somehow, they figured out that M-Day doomed the mutant species in our world, and now are interested in conquering ours because...well, why not? Unfortunately, former X-Men Forge disagrees. And when Forge disagrees with something...bad things follow.

Goddammit, Forge. Must we always meet this way?
Before we get to that, I'd like to post this great exchange between Scott and Ororo in issue #26 which spoke volumes of how much they differ in handling their leadership roles, and the fact that Scott was kind of a hardass on Ororo and I actually liked that because he was more committed in his making the difficult choices he has now more than ever. Ellis has done a phenomenal job keeping the established characterizations from Whedon's previous run intact, making readers feel at ease because these people are the ones they can recognize and still relate to as if the writer hasn't changed at all for this title. So here's Scott being straightforward with Ororo regarding deaths:

Now let's go back to Forge. Apparently, the asshole has once again lost it, most especially after M-Day occurred. I mean, the guy is already hanging by the thin line and now it has gotten so worse. How worse? Well, he operated on mutants and transformed them into his own version of Triploids. And now he planned on using a Ghost Box to travel to those other dimensions and attack them. Because in Forge's demented, decaying mind, that solves everything. And, of course, since this is an alien invasion, it's the territory of S.W.O.R.D., much to Scott's chagrin. Agent Brand stepped in in the nick of time and fired a concentration of lasers to destroy the parallel dimensions on the other side as soon as the Ghost Box went online, so to speak. But before that, we get this harrowing conversation between Forge and Ororo who already have a complicated history God, let's not bring up The X-Tinction Agenda. It's sad and I feel a little bit bad for Forge here:

The five-issued arc Ghost Box was nice. Nothing that special or memorable but it made up for its superb character interactions and small moments of humor and poignancy. The appearance of Storm is a welcome treat. The last two series that I read where she was a central figure was X-Men Forever and the goddamn X-Tinction Agenda. I hope she stays around for the next arc. STORM IS MY THIRD FAVORITE FEMALE CHARACTER from the X-Men and I love reading more of her. I expect Ellis to deliver some Storm-centered scenes my way in his next arcs, hopefully. A girl can dream. Overall, Ghost Box was not a bad start. I'm still very much invested with its character roster.


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