Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Astonishing X-Men #32

Never ones to turn a blind side to a friend in need, the X-Men were quick to aid Abigail Brand, the green-haired, green-goggled, green lip gloss lovin’ SWORD employee you may remember from a few key issues of Secret Invasion. As long as you’ve got your color code in order, I guess, you needn’t look far for an assist in the Marvel U. It should go without saying, then, that when the dashing Miss Brand crash-lands aboard a disintegrating spaceship, she probably won’t be alone. And, sure enough, no sooner does the team get her back on terra firma than they’re assaulted by the latest revision to the Sentinel line. This round, the towering robots have stretched a patch of human skin over their surface, and its original owner isn’t exactly unknown to the team.

Writer Warren Ellis doesn’t draw the line there. What’s worse than a Sentinel all decked out in flesh and bone, Terminator-style? How about one that can fire Brood monsters out of its fingertips? If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for an extended fight scene to you, it should, because that’s exactly what’s on the menu for this issue. Faced with the new peril, half the team dedicates themselves to tackling the big, fleshy robot while the others concentrate on wiping out the sharp-fanged alien beasties it’s fired into the crowd of onlookers. How to deal with a public nuisance? Let’s start with closed fists and work our way up from there. Not exactly the brainiest thing he’s ever written.

It’s also not the most captivating. Ellis seems to think more of the fight’s importance than carries over to the printed page, spending full spreads on the movements and slow fall of the defeated Sentinel (whoops, spoiler, they defeat the Sentinel) and the regurgitated battle with its Brood offspring. It’s a nice effect, one that draws his readers’ attention to a few climactic moments and broadcasts them in slow motion for added impact, but the watering-down effect it has on the story itself is profound. The Day After Tomorrow used the same tricks in place of good storytelling, but I expect that of Roland Emmerich. I hope for more from Warren Ellis.

Of course, the seeds of success for any good fight scene are really planted by its artist, and Ellis lucks out in this respect. His partner, industry regular Phil Jimenez, delivers a great showing that realizes every intricacy of the script. While his compositions and storytelling are undeniably solid, it was Jimenez’s concentration on the little atmospheric touches that really made me stand back and take notice in this issue. The cluster of gulls he suspends in the air, providing the magnitude of the attacking Sentinel a point of reference, also grants us a constant reminder of the story’s seaside locale. The effects of Storm’s lightning onslaught on the Brood, still seen in the distance as the scene shifts to her teammates’ struggles with the giant robot across town, establishes the sheer size of the battlefield. Jimenez’s work is beautiful on the surface, but its real power is hidden in the details.

As far as Warren Ellis contributions go, Astonishing X-Men #32 is very light reading. It’s quite a bit more mainstream than any of his other works, even his run with a more family-friendly team in Ultimate Fantastic Four, which is a disappointment. It’s more off-center than the rest of the mutant family, admittedly, though not by that much. I would’ve liked a briefer skirmish, a few more unexpected developments and a different flavor than what I got. It’s not a terribly bad showing, particularly on the artistic front, but it also didn’t leave me very hungry for the next issue. Flip through it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.5

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