Ellis and Bianchi deliver a pitch-perfect issue
On the second issue of their Astonishing X-Men run, Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi absolutely perfect the sparse, mature vibe of Astonishing set by Whedon and Cassaday before them.
Story & Script
In the last issue I was concerned that Ellis was merely aping Whedon's clever wordplay. Here he flexes his scripting muscles, and shows that he appreciates continuity. Plus, he's still clever.
On page one we get Emma loading the team with the local language, a nod to Grant Morrison's New X-Men Annual. I enjoyed both the reference and the non-combat use of Emma – she's always positioned as a more tactical character, and it's a delight when writers employ her powers that way. Her pinpointing Subject X because he wasn't thinking in the local dialect was similarly smart.
Also, how can you not adore psychic dialog like, “it's probably only the teensiest bit toxic, darling,” and her feelings on the local restrooms?
Ellis also gets Armor right in limited use, having her studiously suggest a Fastball Special to get Wolverine airborne (note Cyclops's restrained glee at the idea and watch his subsequent exasperation when she throws him too hard). Also, her teasing Logan about his beer-consumptuon goes beyond being a one-liner, because we really did see him drink a lot of beers in Whedon's run.
The clearest Ellis victory here is Wolverine. Despite his ubiquity, most of the X-writers either ignore him in dialog (figuring he's put to use elsewhere) or play him with one-note ferocity or sarcasm. Ellis somehow balances the two, and lets him get his ass kicked without seeming ineffectual. Also, I always respect a writer who remembers how damn heavy he is.
Despite all the strong scripting, the plot barely advances. Basically, the only revelation is that Subject X is trying to power up an eeky box. No complaints about that here – I'm happy to see Ellis take time to settle into the team.
Simone Bianchi's artwork was impressive in the prior issue, illustrating constrained control rooms, cockpits, and alleyways. However, he didn't have much room (or light) to work with, and no powers to put on display.
He proves himself here in broad daylight and with impressive displays of flame and lightning. Having white backgrounds and rays of sun to play against makes all the difference with his art, which loses the sometimes-murky quality of the prior issue. The bolder reds of the flames are a vibrant touch against colors cooled by their underlying ink washes.
This could easily devolve into frame-by-frame praise, but I'll stick to a few highlights. Bianchi continues to sketch Wolverine as a scruffy young Jack Nicholson, which seems utterly perfect to me. Three full-page splashes of Chaparanga Beach and its space shuttles are stunners; the one of Emma gesturing skyward is prettier than any comic book has a right to be. Finally, Subject X is an utter creepshow, in profile suggesting Freddy Krueger.
Just one nitpick: why use a Beast pinup for the cover when he's completely absent from the issue? It's a minor quibble, but Beast fans were surely disappointed when they picked up the book.
If you're skeptical about Ellis and Bianchi, this is the issue that could change your mind (and if it isn't changed you're probably not going to like the subsequent issues any better).