Spoilers in review

There was a big surprise concluding the opening volume of Charles Soule’s Astonishing X-Men. Despite all indications that he’d died in Avengers vs X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier was actually trapped on the Astral Plane, and has now returned to Earth, displacing the essence of Fantomex from his body. It was cleverly arranged in Life of X, if dragged on too long.

Is this actually Professor X? It’s open to question, as from an opening request that he just be called X now, the dialogue Soule provides the revived character doesn’t ring true at all, and neither does the casual way he uses his mental manipulation to mindwipe most of London in the first chapter. He’s also responsible for unleashing the menace of Proteus on Earth once again, yet snottily berates Bishop for making a far smaller error in tackling Proteus. The dialogue Soule writes for some other characters isn’t any more convincing, with a form of bantering flirting between Mystique and Wolverine strange.

Still, accept old mind-twisting psychic vampire Proteus being back on Earth, and put the odd characterisation to one side, and what Soule does with Proteus is interesting. Proteus has a plan, its origins in explanations provided during Life of X, and the way it plays out is unpredictable.

An inventive elegance is the order of the day for the artwork, which again changes penciller with every successive episode. Phil Noto’s refined style starts things off (sample art left), and most other artists follow his lead. Ron Garney (sample art right) isn’t as well suited to the mind-expanding aspects, but his action scenes are good. Aco draws his chapter entirely as a successions of large illustrations occupying a spread with smaller panels filling in story details, but Gerardo Sandoval’s work on the conclusion has the look of an artist who overdosed on the poorer superhero comics of the 1990s.

Soule’s plan for his Life of X/A Man Called X arc was to present a twelve chapter X-Men story occurring over a single day. It’s required some padding, although not as much here, quite a bit of repetition, and playing fast and loose with the cast. The ending is ultimately unsatisfying and the big revelation two chapters before then hardly much of a surprise at all considering the dialogue. Despite all that, most of the art elevates the thrills, and anyone wanting a flavour of the X-Men could do far worse than pick up this selection and its prequel.