Astonishing X-Men #11 Review

by Charles Martin on May 02, 2018

Astonishing X-Men #11 Review
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Ron Garney
Colourist: Matt Milla
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It's time for the Astonishing team's final assault on Proteus to begin. And the story bends toward a mother of a twist that's slightly undercut by being insanely predictable.

Am I snobby/smug/bitter about the fact that I totally called this twist three months ago? Trying not to be. But if you want it spoiled, hit my review of Astonishing #8: My less-likely bet (the thing I "took a flyer" on) turned out to be bang on the money.

After last issue's psychedelic show finished up looking a lot like a Proteus blowout, it's time for the X-Men to retaliate. They swing into action like a well-oiled machine. The obvious contenders for taking down Proteus - Archangel and Old Man Logan - are just wave one, and subsequent attacks prove shockingly effective.

Meanwhile, X and Psylocke are occupied with containing the global spread of Proteus's reality-warping garden. Or that's where their mission starts out; it bends considerably on its way to the twist ending.

This issue opens with some double-page spreads ahead of the title page as a way to link to the previous issue's visual style. It's a nice attempt to add consistency to the artists' carousel this title's spun us through, and it's a gesture that most of the previous artists didn't bother with. 

It's cool in theory; unfortunately, in practice, Ron Garney isn't really cut out for sort of mind-warping dayglo madness ACO revelled in. In those initial spreads and throughout the front half of the book, it's our own sense of narrative momentum rather than the visuals on the pages that convinces us the setting is still the same crazy wish-world that Proteus's garden was portrayed as in #10.

The good news on the visual front is that once Ron Garney turns the art to his own strengths - superb dynamic action and minimalistic but wonderfully expressive faces - this issue does wind up looking impressive.

Matt Milla's colours also help a great deal. He drenches the Proteus fight in greens that modulate to sickly yellow as the tide turns to the X-Men's favour, and he keeps that battle distinct from the psychic struggle by tinting the latter in chilly purples. But purple also leaks into the Proteus fight in important, symbolic ways; the colour looks to be a thematic signal that appears whenever the X-Men stage a pre-planned anti-Proteus trick.

To head back to the plot, everything comes down to a question of planning. The fight against Proteus unfolds in a way that the team clearly prepared for ahead of time, and the million dollar question is whether or not their preparations encompassed the scenario delivered by the twist ending. I'm hoping and expecting that they did.

A quick example of how carefully-crafted the long-term plot is: Remember in issue #4 when Bishop saved himself from becoming sidewalk pizza through a showy demonstration of his energy-modulating powers? Seven issues later, that little scene stands revealed as foreshadowing designed to remind us that Bishop's capable of a lot more than his usual gun-shooting apocalypse-predicting Cable imitation.

If Charles Soule is exercising a watchmaker's care with the delicate moving parts of the plot, he's a lot less precise when it comes to characterization. The heroes function here mainly as delivery systems for superpowers and clever quips. The quips are cute, but this story isn't going into anyone's biography as a major event. (Unless, of course, Fantomex is still stuck in the Astral Plane after #12.) By this point, it should be clear to us all that Mr. Soule wants to use this title to tell a tricky story, not explore tricky characters.

Thanks to the smooth meshing of plot points laid down since issue one, Astonishing X-Men #11 delivers a pretty satisfying read even though its big twist is eminently call-able. There's plenty of peril and uncertainty left for the final issue. I have a terrible suspicion, though, that all the questions will be answered a little too neatly and this arc's overall impact - on its characters, on the Marvel universe's status quo, and on readers' memories - will be minimal.

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Charles Martin's picture
My final line really gives away the twist if ya think about it. So, uh, don't think about it too hard?