Tuesday, October 9, 2012

ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 - September 1999

Call to Arms
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Brandon Peterson (penciler), Tim Townsend and Dan Panosian (inkers), Liquid! (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

Summary: Following the dissolution of the X-Men, only Cyclops, Phoenix, and Wolverine remain. When Nina of the Mannites sends a distress call, Phoenix calls upon Cable, X-Man, and Archangel for help. They travel to Bastion’s former headquarters in New Mexico, only to discover that all of the government agents stationed there are dead. Inside the complex, the team finds the Mannites, along with the dismembered head of Bastion. When a mystery figure wrecks havoc through the facility, Nina teleports the Mannites away and then leaves with the team. Eventually, Death emerges from the rubble, holding Bastion’s head.

Continuity Notes:
· Cyclops questions how Bastion is still alive, following the events of the Machine Man/Bastion annual.
· The Mannites have returned to Bastion’s former base because they couldn’t deal with the outside world. No mention is made of Renee Majcomb, who was last seen caring for them. As for the Mannites that go missing in the final pages of the story, Nina claims: “They didn’t want to be here, Jean. They had to go…somewhere else.”

Review: Astonishing X-Men was hyped months in advance as a mystery project that would have massive repercussions for the entire X-line. Long before its release, Marvel ran a series of house ads, teasing all of the potential members of the all-new X-team. Polaris? Sunfire? Forge? Longshot? Sabretooth? Blink?! What did it all mean? All the audience knew was that Brandon Peterson was assigned as the artist, and Magneto Rex aside, this indicated at the time that Marvel was pretty serious about the project. Then Howard Mackie was announced as the writer. And then the readers saw that the team consisted mostly of current members of the X-Men, or other mutants with their own books. Plus, the story centered on the Mannites. And the collective response seemed to be “Forget it!” (or any vulgar variation of that phrase you can think of.)

So, yes, Astonishing X-Men turned out to be largely filler, designed to run simultaneously with the “Shattering” crossover. There is a “major” event during the miniseries, one that could’ve easily run in the regular titles, and it was hardly a great surprise by the time the story was actually published.

The first issue of the book sets up the premise, as clumsily and blandly as you might expect a Howard Mackie story to do the job, reintroducing us to Bastion and Mannites. Bastion’s back to life without explanation, and the Mannites have apparently returned to the facility that created them with barely a reference to their ongoing subplot in Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. Apocalypse’s Horseman Death seemingly wants them dead, and somehow they’re able to hide from him during the numerous hours it takes the “new” X-Men team to assemble from across the globe and arrive. Conveniently, he returns right after the team lands, and this time manages to destroy the entire facility. That’s not much of a plot, but it could’ve been salvaged if Mackie could somehow create an entertaining dynamic for the team. Instead, they’re generic heroes just going through the motions, waiting for the shocking event that’s allegedly going to justify this miniseries. Even if Brandon Peterson was at the top of his game (and, judging by that cover, he clearly isn’t), he couldn’t do enough to save this.


Anonymous said...

I actually bought the Shattering trade Marvel recently released just for this story lol

While I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much, I did enjoy the mini overall. Decent art and some good action scenes with some of my favorite X-Men, although I'm also a bit of an apologist for this whole era of the X-Men lol

I will admit the dialogue and character interaction was a bit bland, and I actually enjoyed the UXM/XM issues prior to and including the Shattering quite a bit more.

Matt said...

I honestly don't recall if I liked this story or not. It didn't leave much of an impression on me, other than one thing -- I really, really liked the way Peterson drew Cyclops's costume, removing the "Gambit"-style headpiece. There was just a flat neckline, and the only element of the costume on his head was the visor. It was a really nice look, but it didn't catch on.

I also recall being a little confused that Howard Mackie wrote this one. He had always been around the periphery of the X-universe, and wrote a few mini-series, but he seemed an odd choice for a project this mainstream. I would've expected the regular X-scripter of the time to do it (Terry Kavanagh?), or just someone more associated with the core titles.

Anonymous said...

I remember this. It wasn't much of a secret at all, was it? People were calling out the Death reveal online for weeks before the final issue hit (much in the same way Nightcrawler and Xavier were both recently predicted in advance by absolutely everyone - yet Marvel keeps on trying). And "The Saga that Changes Everything"? Was anything, besides what happened to Cyclops, even changed in the short term? This was just setup for The Twelve.

In all fairness, the seeds for Death's identity (or at least that something was amiss) were planted in a pretty clever way, I'll give it that. But who knows if that's what they intended to do with it.

wwk5d said...

I dunno, the Death reveal was pretty shocking at the time, and nowhere near as leaked as spoilers are today.

I remember at the time thinking that this was the weakest out of the 3 "Shattering" storylines, but forgot why. Now that I know Mackie was the writer, it all makes sense.

Matt said...

Yeah, the Death reveal surprised me too. But I wasn't really tuned in to the online fandom and I never followed comic book press outside of browsing my friend's issues of Wizard, so maybe I just wasn't looking in the right places.

Also, it still amazes me that Howard Mackie, a guy who I considered a decent Spider-Man writer, regularly turned in such tepid X-Men work. Though I know I'm pretty much alone in my assessment of his Spider-Man material anyway.

Teebore said...

I too was surprised by the Death reveal, but like Matt, I wasn't really hooked in with fandom at large, beyond reading Wizard.

I do remember the hype preceding it, much of which got deflated as soon as it became clear it was just a three issue limited series. I have no idea if that's something Marvel revealed or something that got "leaked", but it was hard to buy into the idea that this would feature an important new team when you knew it was only going to last three issues, and that was even before we saw the actual lineup.

Plus, as you say, it featured the Mannites, so what could we expect?

@Dan: In all fairness, the seeds for Death's identity (or at least that something was amiss) were planted in a pretty clever way, I'll give it that.

Agreed.That was probably the one thing I liked about the whole "Twelve" storyline. The setup to that felt very retro, very "classic X-Men".

Anonymous said...

@ Matt

Yeah, Mackie isn't regarded that much better as a spider-man writer, although I don't think any of his Spidey runs get even half the hate his X-Factor does (I'm also with you on him being a decent Spidey writer).

However I know a lot of people regard his Danny Ketch Ghost Rider work very highly, I think the only run on the book in the past twenty years that surpasses it is Jason Aaron's. I remember a lot of people bringing this series up when Mackie was announced to write Ravagers as a way of saying there was a chance it wouldn't suck (and so far I'd say he hasn't sucked, I'm currently enjoying the book).

ray swift said...

- Hearing all the fuss around this series.
- Pulling the first issue, curiously.
- Reading Howard Mackie's name on the first page.
- "Ok, I'll just look at the pictures then..."
- Also, wondering to myself what the hell did Marvel think to themselves in this era, giving Mackie another series... It's like: "Hey, we got this really bad writer who keeps screwing stuff. Let's give him more series and spin-offs to handle then any other writer we have!"

Also, the entire premise of this series is based on the fact that Jean, Scott and Logan encountered an upcoming menance several minutes after the X-men went on vacation, yet Jean couldn't just call the rest of the X-men back?

So you got a team of the world three most powerful telepaths, so powerful they make Cyclops and Wolverine seems worthless, and also - you got Warren... Yeah, that seems like a balanced team.

They way these random character assembeled, out of the blue, without almost any reasoning to explain why these guys and not anyone else... It's like X factor all over again.

Anonymous said...

This issue always reminds me of the song Drinking in L.A. by Bran Van 3000. 1999 was the last good year for X-Men IMO.

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