Astonishing X-Men #12 // Review
Astonishing X-Men #12, by Charles Soule, Gerardo Sandoval, Erick Arciniega, and Clayton Cowles, presents the X-Men’s last stand against the Shadow King. Will they be able to triumph or will the Shadow King cloak the world in his darkness?
The Shadow King attacks the X-Men using the darkness of their own minds, defeating all of them but Psylocke. X is able to repair the damage to himself and comes up with a plan to defeat Shadow King. After the battle, he gives the X-Men gifts and erases the memories of everyone but Psylocke of what has happened. He wants her to watch him, to make sure the Shadow King comes doesn’t come back. He then leaves, off to pursue his own dream.
There’s not really much good to say about Astonishing X-Men #12. Gerardo Sandoval’s art looks like the worst of Humberto Ramos and Joe Madureira blended together. His perspectives are weird, his proportions are bad, and his anatomy is exaggerated in the worst possible ways. It gets better in some places, but the first half of the book is muddled and ugly. It feels like he’s much better on panels where not a lot is happening or where there are only one or two characters. Anything more, and the detail is lost and the whole thing degenerates. Sandoval’s art would work better on a solo book. Here, in what’s supposed to the climax to 12 issues, it’s underwhelming at best. At worst, it’s a hodge-podge of the worst excesses of pencillers with a more cartoony style.
Soule’s scripts doesn’t do it any favors either. The scenes where the Shadow King is using the X-Men’s minds against them could have been cool and impressionistic, filled with interesting visual representations of the X-Men battling the horrors of their pasts, but instead are bland panels of the characters talking to themselves about their worst moments. Soule also falls back on a trope he’s been using this entire book: X comes up with a plan and him and Psylocke implement it while the rest of the X-Men get beat on. In fact, the plan in this installment isn’t even a new one, it’s just a modification of the old one they used to defeat the Shadow King.
There’s also a lot of underwhelming payoffs in this issue. Bishop’s Mindkiller Apocalypse, which felt like it was being set up to be something much bigger, is paid off here as he realizes that the Shadow King is trying to bring it about. It gets a panel or two. X proclaims Gambit’s mysterious debt to Fantomex paid, although that debt is never revealed. X’s villainous actions are just revealed as the Shadow King being in partial control of him instead being part of X himself. It feels like Soule had a lot of ideas for this series, but instead of focusing on that stuff, he chose to do a big 12 issue story that was bland and repetitive. Soule seems to know the X-Men very well, but his execution is flawed. In the hands of another writer, these 12 issues could have been a lot better. There is a lot of lazy writing in this book, and a lot of following the plot to the detriment of the characters and story.
Back in the days of Whedon, Ellis, and Liu, Astonishing X-Men meant something. It was the X-Men book where big things happened, the ones readers picked up to get the big stories by some of the best talent in the industry. Marvel seemed to want this iteration of the series to feel the same way, but failed at that. Soule is not a strong enough writer with the X-Men to pull that sort of book off and a lot of the art on the book has been so-so. Soule is leaving with this issue and it definitely feels like it was because the book underperformed so hard. He barely used any of the characters in the book in any unique way that warranted their inclusion, focusing on X and the villains. This could have worked, but X was too abrasive to be likable or interesting and the Shadow King and Proteus aren’t really great villains to begin with. They have their uses, but they’re nothing special. Astonishing X-Men #12 takes all of the problems the book has been having and bundles them up. Misuse of characters, uninspired visuals, repetitive storytelling, and art that fluctuates wildly in quality are the hallmarks of this series and they’re all on display in Astonishing X-Men #12. If this was Soule’s big X-Men story, it would have been better if he would have stuck to Daredevil and Darth Vader.