Have you ever gotten the impression that Cyclops is a bit of an idiot?
It's not that Scott Summers is a moron, but he just seems to miss a lot of obvious clues. In the last issue of Astonishing X-Men, Storm showed up in Utopia out of the blue, rocking a mohawk that she hadn't worn since the '80s and Scott didn't question her drastic change in appearance. Having now found himself trapped in an alternate world and used as a living battery, Scott says that he started to suspect she was from a parallel world "when Storm kissed me."
Really Summers?! Only then?!
This issue opens up with a dream/flashback sequence that shows how Magneto and his renegade mutants (including Jean Grey and Wolverine) overthrew humanity and enslaved them. The non-mutant people of this Earth were only saved by the X-Men; who are led on this Earth by a man calling himself Savior. Soon enough, Cyclops finds himself back in his battery containment prison alongside a few of his fellow mutants from alternate Earths. And "mister quick-on-the-uptake" has to be told more than once that the Wolverine and Emma Frost held with him aren't the people he knows.
The Wolverine analog is particularly fun, with his old-timey mustache and sideburns, as well as his title: "Former Governor General James Howlett of the Dominion of Canada and Viceroy of her Magesty's expedition to Shangri-La." As for Emma, think of her as the Steampunk White Queen.
There's also an alternate Kitty Pryde who calls herself Shadow and a young boy who looks like Nightcrawler and answers to the name of Kurt. An interesting theory has popped up online that Kurt is actually the son of Spider-Man and Rogue from Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever. And there may actually be evidence to back that up. Kurt seems to be able to stick to surfaces and Spider-Man figures into Kurt's unspoken painful memory late in the issue.
For his opening arc on Astonishing X-Men, Greg Pak seems to have made the right call by separating Cyclops from his normal team in order to reestablish what Scott can do when he doesn't have the burden of protecting mutantkind on his shoulders. Aside from certain moments of obliviousness, Cyclops once again proves to be an effective leader and he's even willing to go up against the alternate Wolverine despite the fact that this James Howlett has more tricks than our Mr. Logan has at his disposal.
Another central aspect of this story is the identity of Savior, whose counterpart in our world is definitely someone we've met before. Artist Mike McKone actually lays the groundwork early in the issue. If you look closely at Savior, you'll get it. There's no cheat there. McKone's style also seems to be well suited for this book. The pages are crisp and clear and the characters are distinct from one another. The best looking sequence is the early double-page spread of the battle between the alternate Magneto and the X-Men of that world.
McKone's art isn't needlessly flashy, but it is very enjoyable to look at. He and Pak are clearly having a lot of fun even though they're only two issues into their storyline. The ending of the issue suggests that Savior is much more formidable than he appears… and that he is more than able to deal with Cyclops' tiny rebellion.
Astonishing X-Men isn't required reading if you're an X-Men fan. But if you want a fun diversion from the angst of Uncanny X-Men and the bizarre art of Wolverine and the X-Men, then Astonishing X-Men may be the title for you.
Crave Online Rating: 7 out of 10.