“What is it about love? On the scale of regret, nothing else can compete. It makes us more foolish than the Greeks, and more vengeful than the Romans. And it makes us give ourselves up entirely for others.”
So begins Marjorie Liu’s run on Astonishing X-Men. Liu holds no tender topic back in her first issue, and in doing so captures a large part of what has made the X-Men so popular since Stan Lee created them: finding acceptance among the persecuted and prejudiced. Here, Liu takes on persecution in relationships. More than half the book revolves around both a gay couple (Northstar and Kyle) and an interracial couple (Gambit and Cecilia Reyes), and they’re treated the same as any other comic book romance.
What makes Liu’s use of this theme better is how subtle it is: she doesn’t make them seem out of place, nor does she take a “holier than thou” approach. The characters are just written normally, like there isn’t anything different at all, which, too, is a big part of why the X-Men are so popular. Characters that are different, whether in their sexual identity, race, or culture, aren’t treated as different in a group of people who are all outcasts.
Where the story falters, though, is in the actual plot. We get a lot of the “what,” but not nearly enough of the “why.” Love is a major theme, but at this point it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the plot itself. Warbird shows up holding a severed head, hinting at the fact that some crazy s*** is about to go down, but we don’t get any motivation behind it. Not yet, at least. For now, we just see that it happened, and that it will have something to do with the “love” theme later on. The book asks for your faith in it as a reader, because the scene isn’t completely set by the last page. For that, it looks like we’ll have to wait for next month.
Mike Perkins’ art relies on shading and detail rather than definition. It isn’t flashy, but all the basics are there. Perkins’ rendering of the characters is consistent, and his layouts are well thought out.
He mostly uses standard rectangular panels for the portions of the book with more dialogue than action, and uses a few splash pages, irregularly spaces panels, and overlapping panels for the action scenes. The static feel of the dialogue pages is useful, though, since the looser nature of the action sequences create a distinctly different feeling. They’re much more kinetic, like the action in the story itself.
To subtly use theme, especially one as heavily debated as gay marriage, is an accomplishment on Liu’s part. Hopefully the next few issues will fill in the holes left in the plot in this issue. With all the books coming out in the coming months, it’s asking a lot of readers to buy the next issue when this one is incomplete plot-wise. Liu’s writing, if the beginning of this book and her whole X-23 series is any example, is full of emotion. That alone isn’t enough to carry a book, though, so Astonishing X-Men definitely needs to get readers deeper into the plot by next issue. Astonishing X-Men #48 is definitely worth a read for the thematic elements as long as you have the patience to wait until next issue to get into the plot, which isn’t necessarily guaranteed even then.