I’m a little conflicted about this issue. On my first reading, this was a fairly confusing comic. A lot happens in this, and most of it is given very little space for explanation. On the other hand, there’s a lot of meat in this issue – more so than any other comic I’ve read this week. It was much easier to follow on my second reading (and by extension, more enjoyable), but that doesn’t make this one easy to recommend.
Before this review begins, let’s look at Marjorie Liu’s Astonishing X-Men run so far. The first two issues (48 and 49) brought a number of various X-Men characters together to fight the recently returned Marauders. The Marauders were being controlled by Karma’s half-sister, Susan Hatchi using technology that is now being used on the Astonishing X-Men. She’s vengeful for a number of reasons, mostly to do with her absent father, her mother being executed in front of her as a kid and the loss of her telepathic mutant abilities on M-Day.
Issues 50 and 51 were related to Northstar’s gay wedding, and didn’t affect the current storyline that much. 52-54 was about Susan taking control of the X-Men using nanotechnology that can disable their mutant powers and even kill them. She then ordered them to take over Madripoor simply to prove that her technology can control anyone. If they fail, not only will they die but a good number of people in New York will as well. At the end of the last issue, Northstar accidentally pushed Iceman into a pool of liquid metal and seemingly killed him.
Issue 55 begins immediately after Iceman was seemingly killed. The X-Men are obviously under stress as conflicts between different members spark out of control. It takes a reminder from Susan for them to focus on their mission. However her plan isn’t simply to cripple Madripoor, but to make the X-Men look bad. She even hires several fake X-Men to destroy the Airport to accomplish this. There’s so much going on in this comic that you have to read it slowly, otherwise you’ll miss several very important details. There are so many plot twists packed into 20 pages that it’s hard to feel any emotional connection to any of them. It certainly doesn’t hurt to re-read several previous issues either. This story arc is written more like a compressed novel than a comic in that sense.
There’s plenty of action, and for the most part it’s easy to follow. There’s a quick fight between Gambit and Tyger Tiger that doubles as a morse code conversation, the previously mentioned fight between the X-Men and the fake X-Men, and the second explosive cliff-hanger in this story arc.
The art is alright, but nothing special. In the darker scenes it’s sometimes difficult to tell some of the characters apart. There’s one panel where Gambit almost looks like Northstar, and it’s often hard to tell the difference between Karma and Tyger Tiger (ignoring their outfits). It’s much easier to tell characters apart in brighter light. Also like I said, the action scenes are easy to follow.
I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this comic – I kind of like it, but it’s not without problems. Perhaps this storyline will read better as a whole rather than each issue individually. Perhaps it should have either been simplified or spread out into two separate arcs. It’s possible that Marjorie Liu is better suited with a solo title – she did a great job with X-23.
If you only read each issue once as they release, this storyline is incredibly confusing and the recap pages will not help in the slightest. If you’ve enjoyed this series so far, you’ll probably like this. If you haven’t enjoyed this series, this issue won’t help. This series has been too polarizing and confusing so far to recommend it to new readers – at least until this story arc ends.