In the next seven issues of The Astonishing X-Men, two writers (Daniel Way and Cristos Gage) contributed two story arcs and whose issues were published in alternate succession of each other. The first story arc penned by Way is entitled Monstrous and has four installments (issues #36-37, #39, and #41). Meanwhile, Gage has Meanwhile (a rather dull title for an arc that was better handled than the aforementioned former) composed of issues #38, #40, and #42. Now, the reason why I'm combining their reviews in one official post in my X-Men blogger is because there isn't much to stay about them separately. One was an entertaining yet excusably average story while the latter was nothing but a disappointing trite and a colossal waste of my time. So I decided to just unite them here in a single post, just to save myself the pain of discussing and elaborating on specific points in either story that ultimately don't warrant that much of my attention span. On the other hand, for my Goodreads review counterpart, this post will be divided accordingly between the volumes, but I will still shamelessly copypasta this introductory paragraph because fuck it. Some X-Men stories are just plain awful that reviewing it causes me actual headache. I had three or four or those already, and Daniel Way's baffling Monstrous is one of those unfortunate few.
THE ASTONISHING X-MEN VOLUME 7: MONSTROUS
Here is what you need to know about Monstrous: it's an underwhelming spectacle of C-level narrative (illustrated quite terribly too; I was not a fan of the artwork that came along with this arc) that featured some throwaway villain you never would have remembered unless you googled about him. Heck, I googled about him and I could only recall him in passing and even then I think I have mistaken him for somebody else. The villain's name is called Mentallo who is a telepath and a mercenary, flip-flopping his way through villainy by being a backstabbing bitch, serving for S.H.I.E.L.D one moment, and then HYDRA the next. There are other organizations he belonged in but I don't really give a racoon's feces fuck about his credentials because for Way's story, he was absolutely flavorless. Even a week-old bowl of soggy noodles in the darkest corner of my fridge has more flavor than Mentallo. He even stated it himself--in a brilliant moment of self-awareness and self-deprecation--that everyone thinks he's a fucking joke. SPOILER ALERT: HE TRULY IS. In the most pitifully boring way possible, he's a joke.
He hijacked an oil-drilling operation headed by a man named Roxxon just so he can demand ransom money. The island where this operation was being conducted in is the infamous Kaibutsu Jima or Monster Island. One of the monsters was sent to Japan to wreak havoc but I'm not really sure. The X-Men composed of Emma, Cyclops, Wolverine and Armor (the lovely Hisako who really should have gotten a better character arc for this story) responded to the emergency. They were in Japan in the first place because Hisako's mother and brother were killed in an accident. She has to attend a very awkward funeral ceremony where her father was a total lukewarm bastard who was grieving the fact that he lost the son and got stuck with the daughter instead. This allowed Hisako some room for character development when she took on the monster by herself. With the death of her close relatives, her power surged and allowed her to become a bigger armored mutant equipped to go head to head with a Godzilla-like monster. Good for Hisako, but her character arc was unjustly overshadowed by the stupid main plot concerning Mentallo and his evil plans to get money while mind-controlling monsters to do his bidding. Seriously, HE IS SOOOOO LAME.
The four installments were mediocre, presented with visually unappealing art (the characters look so weird and facially elongated in the most unflattering ways possible), saved only by those tiny moments with Hisako and her father in the second part and the last. But those faint touches of humanity don't make this story arc any less disappointing or silly in the most upsetting manner possible. Hisako whose loss and grief should have felt more meaningful and resonant in the pages, was also inconsistently characterized. Way's attempt at humor by making her say such cliché things that a teenage girl would say does a disservice to her obvious emotional maturity after experiencing so much, starting from the death of her close friend Wing back in Whedon's run. I would much rather have Hisako confronting her father about his biased treatment of her, or her sparring words with Wolverine during fights, rather than read her whine about her weight (that brief exchange about her taking offense when she misconstrued Scott's harmless comment about her heaviness as proportional to him calling her 'fat' was not only deeply sexist but a pointless drivel that served nothing regarding her character). Another grating characteristic is the exaggerated way of speaking pertaining to Logan's Canadian roots. Rogue's Southern way of speech has proven to be endearing at times but Logan's way of talking here in Monstrous was too much and often distracting as I try to understand what he's saying during conflict.
Overall, after finishing, I felt like I should have spent what precious time I had to do more important things than read this.
NOT RECOMMENDED: 5/10
THE ASTONISHING X-MEN VOLUME 8: MEANWHILE
Cristos Gage's story arc only had three installments but it was infinitely more interesting than Way's piece-of-shit story. I thought it was unfairly presumptuous to name this Meanwhile as if this was merely a bonus story squeezed in while there is a far more superior main attraction. I suppose that was the intention when this was released alongside Way's Monstrous, but let me assure everyone that such a concept proved otherwise in reality. Meanwhile was fun and refreshing in a few ways that Monstrous has not been. In face-value, there are some common threads between the two arcs. First, there is a presence of monster figures in both stories. For Meanwhile, it's the Brood, parasitic alien creatures that the X-Men have had the displeasure of fighting over the course of canon history. What elevated this arc for me had to be the welcome addition of Kitty Pryde. It was shocking for me because I have never stopped complaining about the fact that Whedon entrapped her inside a giant bullet, unable to phase out. I never found out how she managed to get out of that torture chamber. It may have been featured in another title. I'm not that eager to find out how; all that mattered to me was that she's back, and so is Colossus. We also have Storm again which is always nice. Kitty's best friend/alien pet Lockheed assisted them in their mission as well after a very touching and humorous conversation with Kitty where they eventually patched things up. Meanwhile was a nice break between issues for Monstrous because its main plot actually had more meat and bones than the latter.
While Emma, Scott, Logan and Hisako are busy having the most boring confrontation with the lamest villain ever in Monstrous, the other X-Men are rocking it in space. Hank McCoy, who recently left the team due to some more complicated arguments with Scott regarding important decisions, sought their help when his girlfriend S.W.O.R.D Agent Abigail Brand was captured by the Brood. He explained that there is a division in one of the agency's research facility for alien lifeforms called Pandora's Box. Essentially, it's a place of discovering hope amidst the horrors of unknown universes. According to Hank, S.W.O.R.D had just found a way to separate Brood larvae from its host without killing the host which is great progress, but somehow the Brood hive was able to hijack Pandora's Box while Brand and a couple more scientists were still inside. The X-Men immediately agreed to help Hank as a favor, and they went to the Box only to discover that Agent Brand and the others may be alive, but they also now serve as hosts for the Brood. To make matters worse and more disgusting, the Brood has found a way to infect their hosts multiple times with their larvae; meaning that Brand and the others can keep getting impregnated by ugly Brood progenies for as many times as possible. Yes, it's so gross that it brought to mind that infamous alien chestburster scene from Aliens.
Later on, as Brand's infection got worse and she is slowly but surely mutating into a Brood creature, she was adamant that the X-Men will not kill the Brood race and so they had a serious discussion regarding genocide which should not be casually practiced in any way even against the gross monstrosity that is the Brood. Brand justified that the Brood are predators to even worse species and completely eradicating them will affect the interstellar ecosystem dramatically and they may have more serious alien problems in their hands if that ever came to pass. Reluctantly, the X-Men tried to reach a compromise but they were timely attacked by the Brood hive. Colossus, Storm and Beast were captured and were infected as well and only Kitty and Lockheed were able to escape. Brand had explained to them early on that there is a Brood creature who was unlike his kind; said Broodling has compassion and he may be the only key in preserving the lineage, as long as said Broodling could possibly reproduce a new kind of Brood race that is less savage and more humane. A novel idea, and one that Kitty and Lockheed rush to see into fruition. In the end, the Broodling was secured and his kind was not completely terminated. The surviving larvae were kept under supervision by S.W.O.R.D but Storm was not pleased about it. She argued that these larvae need not suffer under cruel experimentations in the name of scientific discovery and urged the Broodling to care for them and teach them to fight against their biological wiring of destructive and parasitic ways. She also promises that there is a place for him in the Xavier School if he ever wants to visit Earth and have an actual life. The Broodling considers this thoughtfully and this may not be the last time we see him again.
In a nutshell, the deceptively named Meanwhile was a decent story that had a heart underneath the gritty parts, and was composed with enough conflict and character developments in along the way that it was able to sustain my interest and investment. It was engaging and definitely a bright spot in contrast of the gratingly subpar writing present in Monstrous.