After sticking it out through multiple titles featuring the “Inhumans” and the “IvX” crossover, it appears that Charles Soule’s reward is his own “X-Men” title. It’s a team book featuring Old Man Logan, Rogue, Psylocke, Bishop, Gambit, Fantomex, Angel, and… one more character featured on the cover but not properly introduced until the second issue. They’re not together at first, but circumstance forces them all to team up to fight one of their oldest foes: Amal Farouk, a.k.a. The Shadow King. Farouk is looking to escape his imprisonment on the Astral Plane, and he thinks that he’s found the way to finally do it. Now, the Shadow King just has to get past this new X-team and the special guest he’s been entertaining for so many years now.
The biggest selling point of this series, for me at least, is that it looks like Soule has a story he really wants to tell. Granted, “X-Men vs. The Shadow King” has been done many times before, but it’s mainly a pretense to the actual point of the story which is revealed at the end of the volume. You’re not being strung along over the course of the six issues collected here as the fight against Farouk is handled quite well, with complications in both the Astral Plane and real world. Soule also has a good handle on the large cast he’s assembled and balances things so that it becomes an ensemble piece where no one feels neglected. It was also good to see that while the story does focus on the return of a certain character, attention is paid to said character’s benevolent and sinister sides while the actual business of the return is interesting in how unsettling it feels.
“Astonishing” got a fair amount of flack when it was announced for not featuring a regular artist, choosing instead to have each issue illustrated by a different one. The good news is that it means this first volume features a Murderer’s Row of talent in the form of Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato Jr., Ed McGuinness, Carlos Pacheco, Ramon Rosanas, and Mike Del Mundo. This means that there’s no stylistic consistency to be had in the art for this volume, but each issue looks really good on its own terms with Cheung, Deodato, and Rosanas being the standouts here. There will be another six artists lined up for the next volume, and I’m fine with that. “Astonishing” has an interesting enough story to support that approach and I’m genuinely curious to see where Soule is going with his story and whether or not it’ll have any long-term ramifications for the X-books.