Astonishing X-Men quickly was able stand out from the X-Men family pact with its first issue. Charles Soule gave a clear direction for the members of the Astonishing X-Men team to follow. That direction felt much fresher from than the other X-Men titles as we saw a team of fan favorites who haven’t been seen together on the same X-Men squad before. Kicking things off with the Astonishing X-Men going up against the Shadow King instantly opens this book to have a crazy, weird adventure in the Astral Plane. Additional this Shadow King-centric arc could possibly lead to an even bigger development as Soule teased the return of Professor Xavier at the end of Astonishing X-Men #1. Will that actually happen? Let’s find out with Astonishing X-Men #2.
Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Colorist: Frank Martin
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Multiple Man is on stage welcoming a crowd to tale called “The Life of X” starring the X-Men.
In the crowd Logan, Gambit, Rogue, Beast and Fantomex go back and forth about if “The Life of X” play will be good or just a rehash of old material.
As they watch the play, Shadow King tells a chained up Professor Xavier that he already has Fantomex in his illusion’s control and can’t wait to get the others in order to consume their minds. Professor X comments how their new game is exciting now that there are actual stakes involved.
In London, Angel, Bishop and Psylocke watch over their friends bodies. Angel asks Psylocke how their friends are doing in the Astral Plane. Psylocke says that their friends are currently in Shadow King’s illusion and that if they don’t break it they may fall under his control.
Bishop voices his concern over how much time they have to defeat Shadow King. Psylocke believes in their friends ability to break Shadow King’s control. Bishop then mentions that they don’t have a lot of time with the UK military flying around them.
At the Ministry of Defense’s Superhuman Crisis Command Center Commander Keen tells his forces to continue monitoring the situation with the X-Men and if anything happens to act. Another soldier informs Commander Keen that the evacuation in London is almost complete and wonders if these X-Men are heroes or villains.
Commander Keen goes over how the X-Men were involved in the psychic attack and have not tried to communicate with them, leaving him in tough spot of how they should actually respond.
Back in the Astral Plane, the X-Men continue to watch “The Life of X” play, which is currently highlighting the romances of Colossus and Kitty Pryde and Gambit and Rogue. This causes Gambit and Rogue to actually talk about their past relationship, much to Shadow King’s glee.
Shadow King tells Professor X to give up on his students but Xavier says he has faith in the X-Men to overcome Shadow King’s game.
When the play gets to the Phoenix Saga, Logan notices it is wrong as Cyclops is holding Emma Frost not Jean Grey. Jean as Phoenix suddenly shows up next to Logan, much to his surprise. Jean mentions that wrong can be right and leans into kiss Logan. As they are about to kiss Logan, now wearing old Wolverine costume, sees that Jean has turned into a corpse.
Logan suddenly remembers everything and helps the other X-Men realize that Shadow King is affecting their memories. The X-Men start fighting Shadow King’s illusions.
As they regroup Rogue asks Logan how he figured out Shadow King’s game. Logan says he will tell Rogue later.
Logan then approaches Beast, commenting how he should’ve known that Beast is actually Mystique in disguise. Mystique transforms to her normal form. Rogue wants to know what Mystique is doing. Mystique says she knows what Shadow King can do and wants to stop him but since the X-Men wouldn’t of trusted her she disguised herself as Beast.
Suddenly the room the X-Men are in transforms and they see three doors in front of them. Logan mentions that while Shadow King is controlling things there are two minds involved in whatever they are in, which is how he figured out the play was fake.
Fantomex questions who is actually in charge of the game and who is helping them out. Logan says they need to keep moving.
Fantomex opens one of the doors and Mystique decides to go in order to figure out what is going on. Gambit kicks Fantomex in and closes the door. Logan tells Gambit they don’t have time to waste on grudges and opens the door in order to keep the team together.
Shadow King reminds Professor X that when he wins their game he gets the X-Men’s bodies and souls. Professor X understand but says that he knows that the X-Men are a united force. End of issue.
The Good: Astonishing X-Men #2 takes the ball and continues to run it towards the endzone. Charles Soule carries the momentum of the first issue to create a scenario that made it intriguing to see Shadow King and Professor X battling it out in the Astral Plane.
Adding the new wrinkle of the X-Men being pawns in this game and that Professor X was not doing much to help them made it even more interesting to see things play out. Professor X was smart in not trying to engage Shadow King right away. It showed the confidence he has in the X-Men to not quickly fall prey to Shadow King’s manipulation. This allowed Shadow King to build up his confidence in winning so that when Professor X did make his move hit with the impact it needed to. It’s a sly way to show that Professor X is more than up to take down Shadow King at his own game.
At the same time, the play that Shadow King had the X-Men watch was a nice call back to all the old X-Men stories. This framing helped to catch new and old readers up on things that have occurred. It at least helped to create a few sub-plots, like the relationship between Rogue and Gambit, for Soule to slowly develop as the series moves forward.
Mystique showing up disguised as Beast was a nice surprise. This was a bit unexpected turn but helped to give Mystique an opening to show that she is trying to turn over a new leaf. With her popularity from the recent X-Men movies, it was imperative that Soule explained why Mystique would suddenly want to be part of the team. The explanation Mystique gave showed that she is trying to be a hero but does not forget her past. Emphasizing Rogue’s anger over Mystique’s presence is a good reminder of how Mystique will need to work to gain the X-Men’s trust.
The secondary plotline of Angel, Bishop and Psylocke having to defend their teammates bodies from the Ministry of Defense does create a sense of urgency in Shadow King’s game. This situation also puts into question what the status quo of the X-Men is now. With Commander Keen willing to wait to see what the X-Men’s next move is we have to question what the UK’s Ministry of Defense motives are.
Will we possibly see the X-Men set up a secondary home in London? Or is there something else going on in the country that the X-Men will get involved with in the future? It’s an intriguing sub-plot that Soule has created a lot of room to explore in future issues if that is his intention.
Mike Deodato added to the Shadow King’s game as he was able to nicely transition between all the scenes from the X-Men’s history that did not make any change jarring. Deodato got over how “The Life of X” was a play with the way he staged each part of the X-Men’s history. He also helped deliver a strong impact to when Logan discovered what was really going on with how he transformed Jean from her iconic Phoenix form to a corpse. The spread page was also nicely framed to give Astonishing X-Men #2 a good looking action sequence, even though it was quick.
The Bad: With how Professor X has been away from the Marvel Universe for a while we are still missing explanation as to how Shadow King got a hold of him. That is an explanation that this story needs and could make or break this latest return of Professor X from the dead. Not getting some clue into how that is being handle does hurt Professor X’s part of the story for fans have followed the Avengers and X-Men comics in recent years.
Overall: Astonishing X-Men #2 was another strong entry in what is already the best current comic book in the X-Men franchise. Charles Soule showed his clear understanding and respect towards the X-Men’s history in how he used that history to develop Shadow King’s latest plot against the X-Men. Having Mike Deodato’s talent to help elevate the danger the X-Men are faced with in Soule’s Shadow King story. If you are an X-Men fan, Astonishing X-Men is one comic you should be reading.