In Astonishing X-Men #1, there is something happening to the telepaths around the globe. They are seizing up, experiencing intense pain, and then dying. Eventually, this phenomenon reaches the X-Man, Psylocke, and, in her pain, she sends out a psychic signal to her former comrades. It's received by Bishop, Logan, Rogue, Angel, Gambit (his is working with Fantomex), and Beast. The team converges on Psylocke, finding her in a mindless rampage in London, having conjured a massive telekinetic moth construct. They must work together to stop her and figure out what happened.
This is actually the first X-Men book since Extraordinary X-Men, which was an anomaly in this regard, too, to have the X-Men be united by a specific threat instead of the usual assumption where these characters are usually just hanging around with one another. In X-Men: Blue, they're young friends, and in X-Men: Gold, they're all hanging around the Xavier Institute anyway.
That takes something away, but it also adds something. It doesn't feel like a family like most X-Men books do, but it also reiterates that these people do have their own lives. However, it does show that they would literally cross the world for one another.
This book also brings more of the disparate and loner X-Men together. When I first saw the previews, I was thinking more X-Force than X-Men. Fantomex, Gambit, Bishop, Psylocke, Mystique: these aren't exactly the "let's play some softball" X-Men.
That does make me curious how writer Charles Soule intends to keep this team together. He may not intend that, and this will just be the group for the first phase of the comic. That would be interesting.
Astonishing X-Men was most certainly an engaging read. The events felt character-driven: Psylocke reached out to these people specifically, and they made the choice to help her. Fantomex isn't there for Psylocke's sake, but he comes along because Gambit owes him a debt. Speaking of which — I find the thief duo of Gambit and Fantomex very appealing.
Some things remain unspoken, at least for now. By my memory, one of the last times Bishop ran across the X-Men, he was outright fighting the X-Men and put Charles Xavier in a coma. This may come up when a later issue, but for now, it does seem odd that they are trusting him implicitly. Beyond that, the somewhat distant yet professional relationship most of the characters have is actually a nice change of pace for an X-Men comic.
The narration is actually really cool and eloquent. It turns out to be a certain character watching over everything, but its ominous yet flatly delivered tone benefits the reading experience.
Seeing these X-Men work together and coordinate their powers is definitely really cool. It being brought to life by the talented Jim Cheung makes it better. This is a great-looking comic, and he knows how to draw his X-Men. The fact that he won't be sticking around is a disappointing caveat, and the fact that this book plans on cycling artists is outright insulting. That's still something that has me very wary of Astonishing X-Men.
The color art of Richard Isanove and Rain Beredo complement the artwork very well, balancing lights and darks in a manner that fits Cheung's at-once gritty and sleek style.
The inking work is a bit off-putting, believe it or not. You can tell that three people did the inks for this. Some scenes have the shaded sections difficult to interpret, while other shaded scenes do not have this problem at all.
To move into spoiler territory, you don't get any prizes for guessing that the Shadow King is behind this attack on Earth's psychic mutants as well as the dark narration. That's a great villain to kick things off with, and you get to see him in the Astral Plane towards the end of the comic. He has a prisoner that I actually won't spoil, because it won't really add or take anything away from this review. I will say, if things are what they seem, I will be pretty disappointed and it will push X-Men comics back a few years.
That being said, Astonishing X-Men is a great read and has potential to be the best X-Men comic on the stands right now. It's fun, engaging, and the art (for how long it will look like this) is mostly great. Give it a read.