Astonishing X-Men Annual #1

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Travel Foreman
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover: Rod Reis
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review by Nico Sprezzatura

Charles Xavier and his original X-Men —and I’m talking about the original original ones here, not the time-displaced youngsters— are in an interesting place right now. For the first time in over a decade, all but one of them is alive and accounted for, and this week’s Astonishing X-Men Annual #1 unites the surviving members for a class reunion… but because this is the X-Men we’re talking about, things go slightly off the rails. Should you find out how for yourself?

As mentioned, all but one of the founding X-Men lineup is living and breathing in current continuity. Jean Grey, who last died during Grant Morrison’s New X-Men in 2004, was resurrected yet again earlier this year —it’s kind of her thing— while Xavier, who was killed in the climax of 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men, came back (in Fantomex’s body, no less) during Charles Soule’s twelve-issue Astonishing run over roughly the same timespan.

But where’s Cyclops? Killed by the M-Pox, indirectly leading to 2016’s Inhumans vs. X-Men. While there have been vague teasers of his impending return, possibly in this week’s other big X-Men title Extermination, Scott Summers remains six feet under.

But that’s not the focus of Astonishing X-Men Annual #1. As a matter of fact, I don’t think Scott’s death ever comes in the issue itself. Instead, the main plot thrust here is Xavier revealing himself to the surviving X-Men founders, now boasting a younger, hipper body with an anti-pacifistic attitude to match. Crashing their little reunion under altruistic pretense, our uncanny bunch soon realizes there’s more to Xavier’s intentions than he’s letting on.

While Soule’s aforementioned run on Astonishing was a mixed bag for me, the return of Charles Xavier definitely opened the door for some genuinely interesting developments — namely, him facing the realization that years of pacifism have borne little fruit for the advancement of mutant equity, and that he should perhaps reevaluate his methods. It might seem like a jarring pivot for his character, but if you’re familiar with Xavier, then you should know he’s done some seriously shady shit in his time. Him deciding it’s time to get his hands dirty actually seems like a natural progression for his character, and writer Matthew Rosenberg has some definite fun with that concept here.

Generally speaking, Rosenberg seems to be having a blast writing this issue, and it comes through as a reading experience. While Xavier is undergoing a personal reboot of sorts, each of the founding X-Men is portrayed on-brand: Jean is empathetic, Bobby is silly, Angel is stoic, and Hank (who he’s already been writing in his post-Soule run) is his sesquipedalian self. So while Xavier may be enjoying his post-Fantomex oats, all the others involved are precisely how we expect them to sound and behave. There’s also some fun continuity deep-diving that unravels as part of Xavier’s scheme; Rosenberg clearly did his homework.

On the art side, I’m not always Travel Foreman’s biggest fan, but I really enjoy his work here. Astonishing X-Men Annual #1 is, tonally, all over the map, and Foreman sells each moment as it happens. Whether it’s Iceman being silly, or Xavier getting intense, it all usually lands as was probably intended. The issue itself isn’t heavy on action sequences, but when they happen, they look good.

Colorist Jim Charalampidis is a good match for Foreman’s linework — their collective interpretation of Beast in particular is fantastic. He’s big, he’s furry, he’s brilliantly blue — Beast is a good litmus check for any art team’s ability, and they both come out on top with him here.

Verdict: Buy it.

Boasting the long-awaited reunion of Charles Xavier and his original students, Astonishing X-Men Annual #1 is a breezy one-off tale.

Nico Sprezzatura
Nico Frank Sprezzatura, middle name optional. 24. Schrödinger's writer.

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