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Astonishing X-Men

Astonishing X-Men is the name of three X-Men comic books from Marvel Comics, the first two of which were limited series. The ongoing series began in 2004, its first run written by Joss Whedon with art by John Cassaday. It will be continued by writer Warren Ellis and artist Simone Bianchi in future issues. It was a critical and commercial success, focusing on a roster consisting of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Shadowcat, Colossus, Beast and Wolverine. This roster has also been the focus of various limited series, such as X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong, X-Men: Phoenix - Warsong and World War Hulk: X-Men.

Volume one (1995)

The original Astonishing X-Men was a four-issue series that replaced Uncanny X-Men during the 1995 alternate universe storyline Age of Apocalypse, in which all X-Titles were given new names and issue numbers. In this storyline, Professor X was murdered 20 years in the past by his own son, Legion. Magneto, witnessing his friend's death, committed himself to Xavier's dream and created his own team of X-Men. However, he was unable to prevent the rise of the despotic Apocalypse and hence the series primarily dealt with the X-Men's battle against him.

Astonishing X-Men, written by Scott Lobdell and illustrated by Joe Madureira, featured a team of X-Men led by Rogue and consisted of Sunfire, Blink, Morph, Sabretooth and Wildchild.

Volume two (1999)

The second limited series to bear the title Astonishing X-Men was published in 1999 and occurred after The Shattering storyline. In this series, most of the regular X-Men left the team over a conflict with Professor X. The three-issue series, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Brandon Peterson, featured an interim team consisting of Cyclops, Phoenix, Wolverine, Archangel, Cable and Nate Grey.

This team protected the Mannites (a group of super powered, genetically engineered children) from Death, a horseman of Apocalypse. Wolverine was apparently murdered by Death in the final pages of the series but it was later revealed that "Death" was actually a mind controlled Wolverine, and that the "Wolverine" who was killed was an imposter, a shapeshifting Skrull.

Volume three (2004-present)

In 2004, Marvel used the title Astonishing X-Men for the ongoing X-Men series written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by John Cassaday. It is a continuation of the first New X-Men title and features a similar line-up of characters, including Cyclops and Emma Frost (as co-team leaders), Beast, Shadowcat, Colossus, Lockheed and Wolverine. This team became the usual focus for most X-Men limited series from then on as well.

Whedon/Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men introduced a number of original characters into the Marvel Universe including Special Agent Brand, S.W.O.R.D., Hisako Ichiki, Ord of the Breakworld and Blindfold.

Also many large scale events in the Marvel Universe such as House of M, Decimation, Civil War and other Marvel crossovers have been ignored almost completely during the run, due to the long delays between issues and Whedon's own stated desire to remain away from big cross-overs, which he personally dislikes, and what he saw as hectic and unfollowable X-men continuity (Wizard Magazine #165, 2005).

Vol. 3 Plot summary

"Gifted" (Issues 1-6)

The first story arc focused on the introduction of several key characters and their involvement on the team. After a brief altercation between Cyclops and Wolverine, Cyclops states that the X-Men have strayed away from their main objective. He explains the goal has been to bridge the gap between mutants and humans by performing heroic deeds, which allow mutants to be recognized in a positive light. With the redesigned outlook, the team is assigned new costumes and engages in their first mission. While trying to save a group of hostages, the X-Men encountered the outworlder named Ord. Simultaneously, a press conference held by Dr. Kavita Rao to announce the discovery of a "cure" for mutants took place. During the press conference, the entire team succeeds in securing the hostages but fails in defeating Ord. However, Kitty's miniature dragon sidekick Lockheed shows up and manages to vanquish Ord.

Curious after learning of Rao's cure, Beast infiltrates Benetech undetected until Rao herself discovers him lurking in her lab. After Henry is given a sample of the cure, he discovers that Benetech may have been involved in foul play while conducting experimental research which prompts an investigation.

During the X-Men's reconnaissance at Benetech, Ord invaded the mansion with the intention of "curing" one of the X-Men. To his dismay he was only able to find two students. One named Wing and the other named Hisako Ichiki reveal to Ord that the X-Men are absent, presumably on a mission. Being that Ord is unable to penetrate Hisako's armor, Ord pursued Wing and succeeded in curing him. Meanwhile at Benetech, the X-Men were reunited with Colossus, who had been resurrected by Ord's alien technology to help find the cure. With Colossus' help, the team took down Ord, but not before it was revealed that a mutant (most likely an X-Man) would destroy Ord's home planet, — the Breakworld — within the next three years.

"Dangerous" (Issues 7-12)

The team immediately jumps into action once again, this time assisting The Fantastic Four in stopping what is believed to be one of the Mole Man's minions. During the X-Men's mission, Wing, who had fallen into a deep depression since the loss of his powers, is seen talking to a stoic and exceptionally detached Hisako, who further increases his doubts. Ultimately, he decides to take his life, knowing he can never accomplish his dream of becoming an X-Man. After the X-Men's mission, a mysterious psychic attack renders all the telepaths unconscious.

Later, a battle-worn, rogue Sentinel attacks the mansion and claims to be a messenger/assassin for a higher power. Cyclops brings the brief battle to an abrupt end by removing his visor, which leaves devastating results. The team soon discovers that the Danger Room had become sentient and Emma ambiguously states that it had become "angry."

During the team's fight with the Sentinel, Kitty learns that the Danger Room had created a hologram of Hisako which prompted Wing's death and allowed for the overriding of its safeguards. After Wolverine frees the Danger Room from its command core, the team ends up fighting a murderous, self-aware personification of the "Danger Room" training facility, dubbed "Danger."

The fight ends with the entire team out of commission leaving Xavier now at the mercy of Danger. After Elixir revives most of the team, it is revealed that Professor Xavier had been in Genosha. Xavier, with the help of the X-Men, is able to neutralize it for the time being. Xavier confesses to having been aware of this possible scenario, as well as Danger's imprisonment, which leads the team to express their disgust and disapproval. The X-Men and Xavier part ways and it is revealed that Emma is aligned with the newly formed Hellfire Club.

"Torn" (Issues 13-18)

The X-Men are manipulated by a new Hellfire Club, consisting of Cassandra Nova, Emma Frost, the enigmatic Perfection, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and Sebastian Shaw.

In Astonishing X-Men #13 (February, 2006), it is revealed that Frost's survival of the destruction of Genosha in New X-Men #115 was due to Cassandra Nova creating Frost's secondary mutation, her diamond form, in return for her allegiance.

In the beginning, Perfection was revealed to be identical to Emma, in the exact form/costume that she wore when she was first introduced to the X-Men as the White Queen. Later issues clarified by explaining that Perfection, like the rest of the new Hellfire Club, are all psychic projections created by Cassandra Nova in order to manipulate and trick Emma Frost into freeing her from the form in which the X-Men had trapped her. The final panel of issue 15 was an homage to the final panel of Uncanny X-Men #132.

As part of her scheme, Emma appears as Phoenix to Cyclops, which prompts a telepathic session between the two. Throughout the session, Emma reveals many truths about Cyclops that he denied and even repressed. In the end, it is brought to light that Scott's uncontrollable optic blasts were not the result of brain damage but rather because of conscious choice he made in his youth. He chose not to control his power due to the traumatic events of losing both parents, separation from his brother Alex and the manifestation of his power. The memory was so deeply repressed that apparently Jean and Xavier either missed or overlooked it. The outcome of the session leaves him temporarily comatose and powerless from this point on.

During this attack, Nova's psychic projection of herself turns Beast into a feral state and attacks a mentally regressed Wolverine who has now become entirely childlike in behavior. Negasonic Teenage Warhead disrupts Kitty's phasing abilities, forcing her fall toward the center of the earth. Colossus fights Sebastian Shaw but forgets that Shaw's power allows him to absorb Colossus's every blow. Shaw in the end knocks him unconscious by unleashing all the stored energy with a blow to the head.

Later, with the help of Blindfold, and Hisako Ichiki, Cyclops succeeds in temporarily halting Nova's plans from completion. However, Nova has abandoned hopes of possessing Emma Frost, and, sensing great power within Hisako, plans to possess Hisako. But before the conflict can be resolved, the X-Men are forcibly teleported away by S.W.O.R.D. to a spaceship headed for the Breakworld. Blindfold comments that not all of them will return.

"Unstoppable" (Issues 19-24, Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men 1)

Emma, along with Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Beast, Shadowcat, Hisako, Ord, and Danger, are taken to deep space by S.W.O.R.D. and Agent Brand. The psychics on the S.W.O.R.D. ship don't detect Cassandra Nova in Emma's shattered psyche. Though emotionally wounded, Emma recovers fast enough to be present for the team's departure to the Breakworld. On their way there, where they aim to disable a missile capable of splitting the Earth in half, they are attacked by Breakworld vessels. After using a diversion, the X-Men, alongside Agent Brand, land on the planet.

Brand, Cyclops, Emma, and Beast land together while Wolverine, Hisako, Colossus, and Kitty land elsewhere. Wolverine's spacecraft begins to disintegrate in mid air and thus they are forced to abandon the ship. Kitty and Colossus phase through the pod and through to the planet's surface, where they land unharmed while Hisako and Wolverine land with the impact burning Wolverine's skin.

Hisako adopts the code name "Armor" and the three groups alongside another team composed of Lockheed and S.W.O.R.D. troops converge upon a place called "the Palace of the Corpse" which supposedly is connected to the prophecy stating that Colossus will destroy the planet. Ironically, Colossus was resurrected by Breakworld technology.

While flying, several Breakworld fighter jets approach, attempting to knock Emma and Scott out of the air. The couple successfully repel the Breakworld onslaught, exchanging heated words in the process. Amidst Emma's protestations that Scott was "acting as though [he knew] what [she's] been through," he finally professes his true love for Emma. Stunned, Emma can barely speak, except to utter an apology. Before her reasons behind apologizing are discussed, Scott notices a blip on their radar. Danger appears, utterly decimating the S.W.O.R.D. cruiser. Switching to diamond form in the nick of time, Emma is spared, however Scott is injured. Cradling Scott in her arms, Emma sheds a tear for the man who truly loves her.

As Danger approaches, ready to finish Frost as well, Emma turned and faces it, asking Danger to kill her. Emma then reveals to Danger that she's fully aware of Danger's secret: it is, in fact, incapable of actually committing murder due to the failsafe inherent in her programming. She analyzes the fact that Wing killed himself, and Danger has sought out accomplices (the rogue Sentinel and Ord) to do what she cannot. As Cyclops recovers, Emma proceeds to make a deal with Danger.

Meanwhile, Kitty and Colossus bask in the afterglow of their night together. Kitty explains to him that happiness is fleeting and she intends to grab it while she can. Everyone reaches the conclusion to regroup and head for the missile located on the moon. Cyclops and Emma pick up the remaining S.W.O.R.D. agents aboard Danger's ship, and assemble everyone together. Agent Brand finally informs Kitty that Lockheed is working for her.

When the team reaches the missile, they discover it to be heavily armed (Beast even makes a Death Star reference). The ship takes fire from incoming warships and Cyclops decides to take the onboard repair ship to create a distraction. He realizes its a suicide mission, but remarks that as he is powerless, he is the most expendable. Scott places Emma in charge before proceeding to fly into open fire. He causes a few ships to destroy each other, before his own ship is destroyed. Scott floats adrift in space, as Emma feels him dying. Scott flashes back to an image of the professor when he offered him to be the first X-Man and an image of his first encounter with Jean Grey, before succumbing to the airless void of space.

In issue #23, Scott is brought back to life by the Breakworld technology and is questioned by Kruun about the whereabouts of the Leviathan, which he mentioned before dying was the X-Men's "ace in the hole," a secret weapon. Meanwhile, Wolverine and Armor are captured as Emma and the remaining X-Men try to free Scott. It is then revealed through a flashback that the Leviathan is a fake and that Wolverine and Armor were told to be captured so the X-Men would have men inside Kruun's palace. Kruun only captured and brought Scott back to life so as to question him about the fake Leviathan. Scott then uses his newly-regained powers to knock out Kruun and free Wolverine and Armor.

In issue #24 the X-Men and their allies are reunited at the Breakworld stronghold. Scott orders one group comprising of himself, Emma, Colossus, and Aghanne to stay on the Breakworld while the rest try to return to the moon base and destroy the Breakworld's doomsday missile before it launches towards Earth -- the plan being that if the away team can't stop the weapon directly, and Scott's team can't bargain with Krunn to save his world by sparing Earth, they will have Colossus fulfill the Breakworld's prophecy, enter the planets power core, destroy it, and the entire planet in the process. Before the team splits up though, Beast tells Scott that he's still suspicious of Agent Brand and thinks that she wants to destroy the Breakworld no matter the outcome, Colossus tells Kitty that he is still adamant about not becoming a destroyer of a whole planet despite the prophecies, and Emma reveals to Danger that she still intends to give Danger what she had earlier promised in exchange for her cooperation: Professor Xavier.

Shortly thereafter, the away team manages to land on the surface of the moon base, fighting their way through numerous soldiers to reach the missile and its controls. During the battle Agent Brand dives in the path of a laser cannon aimed at Beast. Brand uses her last words to explain that as a genius he is the one with the greatest chance of disarming the missile and to "save the damn world already" before appearing to die.

Back in the planet's power core reactor Scott tries to bargain with the captured Krunn, asking that he disarm the missile, restoring the safety of the Breakworld for the safety of Earth, but Krunn tells him that the missile will launch as scheduled and there is nothing that can stop it. Suddenly, Ord, who had escaped his restraints, barges into the reactor room and blasts Aghanne off the walkway before anyone can save her. As Breakworld soldiers begin to overrun the S.W.O.R.D. soldiers holding the defenses outside, Scott orders Colossus to enter the energy core.

The X-Men on the moon base face similar problems as the flood of Breakworld soldiers close in on them. Beast and Danger try to hack the missile system through the base's computer, but find that there is some sort of foreign code that neither can comprehend or penetrate. Kitty quickly realizes that the weapon is also mystically shielded and thus can't be hacked electronically. As a last ditch effort she phases into the missile to try and disarm it from within.

In the center of the Breakworld's energy reactor Colossus approaches the center of the energy field where the core is floating. An armored figure enters behind him and Colossus states without turning to face them that he finally understands what has been happening all along and how it must end: he must rip out the energy core and destroy the Breakworld, just as the figure planned, who is then revealed to be Aghanne.

Outside the energy core, Emma and Scott are surrounded by Breakworld soldiers, Ord, and a freed Krunn, who informs them that the Retaliator fires in mere seconds and can't be stopped. Inside the Retaliator missile, an exhausted Kitty finds herself floating through solid metal, noting that she's moved at least a mile into it without finding a single thing. She then finds herself in a space near the top that is entirely hollowed out and empty. The entire structure begins to rumble and she is briefly knocked out as the launch begins.

On the surface of the base, the other X-Men watch helplessly as the large projectile fires into space, towards Earth with Kitty still inside. Beast then realizes their mistake. The Retaliator was actually a simple giant rod of metal with a hollow point in the end; "It's not a missile, it's a bullet".

In its concluding issue, Giant-Sized Astonshing X-Men #1, Emma and Scott follow the bullet in a ship while signaling Earth to gather its heroes to come up with a plan to stop it. Emma, meanwhile, maintains telepathic contact with Kitty, reassuring her that they are trying to find a way to save her.

On the Breakworld, Agent Brand reveals that not only does she have superpowers (heat-generating hands) but also that she is deeply attracted to Beast. In the reactor, Colossus realizes that Aghanne is the mastermind behind the "prophesy," driven mad and wishing Colossus to destroy the Breakworld for its violence and hoping death will bring peace to her world. Colossus refuses but is overpowered by Aghanne. Ord runs into the reactor unshielded, stopping Aghanne, allowing Colossus to kill her by ripping her protective suit apart. Ord burns away, Colossus stating that he saved his world. Colossus then attempts to decipher a weakness in the bullet by assuming leadership of the Breakworld and threatening Krunn with an invasion and occupation if Earth is destroyed.

Though Earth's mightiest heroes have joined together at S.W.O.R.D.'s headquarters to formulate a plan, they are prevented from doing so due to the magical protection on the bullet; when Dr. Strange attempted to stop the projectile using magic, he triggered its booby trap. As a result, the heroes present are held in a magical delusion of grandeur wherein each of them has "saved" the Earth on their own, leaving them entranced and inoperative.

Emma continues to encourage Kitty to phase herself out, but Kitty is adversely affected by the metal, and chooses to remain in order to act as a failsafe. In the final moments, Emma and Kitty manage to reconcile their relationship. In a last-ditch attempt, the Genoshan Sentinel given sentience by Danger enacts suicidal penance by trying to alter the bullet's course, but is only destroyed. Kitty then gathers all her strength and phases the bullet through the Earth itself as the X-Men, Earth's mightiest heroes, and civilians stare in amazement.

In the aftermath, Cyclops tells Colossus that Dr. Strange and other superheroes have attempted to locate and free Kitty as the bullet continues in space. They failed, and believe that Kitty has merged with the bullet, and they are unaware if she is alive or dead. Kitty's loss devastates the entire team. Armor attempts to console Wolverine by forcing him to fight/train with her. Cyclops begins to lose his ability to control his optic blasts, and Emma fits him with his visor, once again. Brand speaks to Hank and offers him a position working as her foil at S.W.O.R.D. due to his tendency to scrutinize her decisions. She also reiterates that she is fiercely attracted to Hank and reveals that her powers, ability to speak alien languages, and green hair color is due to her being half-alien on her father's side. Meanwhile, Colossus reflects on his final intimate moments with Kitty now that she is gone, and the bullet continues to hurtle through space.

Warren Ellis, Simone Bianchi

Marvel announced at San Diego Comicon 2007 that following completion of the Whedon/Cassaday run on Astonishing X-Men, the series will continue with the new creative team of Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi. This run was expected to debut in early 2008, but due to the delays in the releases, pushed back to the summer of 2008. Ellis and Bianchi's first issue, Astonishing X-Men #25, was released in July 2008, and features the team relocated to San Francisco, with a base in the Marin headlands. The only addition to the team is Storm. A recent Astonishing X-Men sketchbook was released and showed costume redesigns by Bianchi for the upcoming "Astonishing X-Men: Second Stage". The characters showcased were Dazzler, Beast, Nightcrawler, Archangel, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Storm, and Wolverine.

"Ghost Box" (Issues #25-)

Now based in San Francisco, the X-Men have begun to adjust, not only to their new scenery and base of operations, but to the concept of being police consultants as well as the outright defenders of San Francisco. The city, being home now to the majority of the remaining mutants, and having rejected Stark's Initiative, is in dire need of this protection. Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine and Armor are on hand. With Storm's timely arrival, taking leave from her 'boring' "guilt free shopping and constant lovemaking" as Queen of Wakanda with her husband Black Panther, the team are launched into an investigation, at the request of SFPD. They uncover a plot of mutant synthesis from an unusual murder. The victim was not a mutant, as suspected, but an artificial human triploid with three sets of chromosomes, the third artificial and mutant-based.

Using information compiled by the murder victim, who was aware of and tracking his eventual killer, the X-Men travel to Chaparanga, a secret spaceship graveyard to track down the murderer and investigate his actions. The killer (designated 'X') is located, fixing and restarting a "ghost box" in the only operational spaceship. A confrontation demonstrates that X has the ability to cause combustion, which was used to kill the triploid victim. He is defeated, and the ship is destroyed, but X kills himself rather than surrender information about his intentions and "the Annex." Meanwhile, Storm questions the more violent change in the team's tactics, Cyclops telling her that times have changed and that killing is now a more acceptable last resort.

Lineups

Issues Characters
1-3 Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Lockheed
4-19 Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Lockheed, Colossus
20-24, Giant-Sized Astonishing X-Men 1 Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Shadowcat, Lockheed, Colossus, Armor
25-future Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Armor, Storm

Reception

Astonishing X-Men has been subject to criticism regarding the delays between the issues. Whedon's initial contract with Marvel Comics was for twelve issues for one year but the final issues were four months late. After a break of several months, the title resumed in February 2006 with the new story arc "Torn". With issue 13, the comic temporarily went from monthly to bimonthly to allow more time for Whedon and Cassaday to finish each issue and avoid further late releases. The book resumed a monthly schedule in September 2006 with issues 16 and 17, but was delayed once again for issue 18. Delays have continued to the present for a variety of reasons, including Cassaday's last minute assignment to pencil the fifth issue of Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America. The delays have also gotten the title out of sync with the other X-Men titles. X-Editor Nick Lowe says that where the story fits will become clearer after its end.

The film X-Men: The Last Stand can be seen as being influenced by the first arc of the series, which is entitled "Gifted" drawing on the cure storyline and related character Dr. Kavita Rao. Whedon has said that while he knows "many people have done cure scenarios before me", he wasn't familiar with any of those earlier stories at the time he started working on "Gifted".

In Wizard #173, Whedon admitted to making mistakes in the second story arc, saying he was so fascinated with the idea of the "new intelligence" that he neglected the action and thus prevented the story from flowing well.

The third volume of the Astonishing X-Men comic book series has generally been well received with comic sales normally being very high. Whedon's run was nominated for several Eisner Awards. In 2006, the series won the best continuing series award and in 2005 and 2006, John Cassaday won Best Artist/Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team (tied with Frank Quitely for 2005). Also, in 2004, Astonishing X-Men's first volume, "Gifted", was given the accolade of Wizard magazine's Book of the Year.

References

External links

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