Logan, Gambit, Fantomex, Beast, and Rogue have decided it's as good as day as any to go out to a theater, where Multiple Man is putting on a play of the greatest dramas in the storied history of the X-Men!
Nah, just kidding. They're in the Astral Plane under the dominion of Farouk, the Shadow King. He and Professor Xavier (?) are dueling over the fates of the Astonishing X-Men. The Shadow King wants the X-Men to fall for his illusion, while Xavier is working to break them free of its grasp. Meanwhile, Psylocke, Archangel, and Bishop are in the outside world attempting to protect the bodies of their comrades. The UK government isn't too happy about the impromptu attack from a Shadow King-controlled Psylocke which the X-Men just halted. They are concerned about what the mutants could do next and if they should launch a strike to prevent whatever it could be.
In the Astral Plane, the five X-Men must fight off Farouk's control and prevent him from attacking and/or weaponizing anymore psychics.
This issue attempts to be something of a mind trip for the Astonishing X-Men and the audience. They witness some bizarre acts on display, such as a Romeo and Juliet-esque depiction of Kitty Pryde and Colossus, which turns into both dressed as Rogue and Gambit — both respectively and irrespectively. A skeletal Jean Grey attempts to make out with Old Man Logan. While this is all odd, it is somewhat conventional in its bizarreness. There's nothing super shocking or mind-bending here. It's tokenly surreal.
That being said, the adventure is still interesting enough. The final plan of the Shadow King and this Xavier are hinted at but still clouded in mystery. The characters are themselves and get to be on full display. There is a pretty sweet fight scene between the five in the Astral Plane and macabre constructs of other X-Men.
Mike Deodato Jr. has long been among my favorite artists. His ability to assign depth and detail is fantastic, and he gets to strut his stuff in this comic. He's often most at home in stories that have darker and more ominous environments, like Jeff Lemire's recent Thanos series. Shadow King's manipulation of the Astral Plane here allows Deodato the perfect environment for his style of heavy and semi-photorealistic characters and detail. The dark and gloomy color work of Frank Martin here is a perfect complement to Deodato's style, and the two make for a great team.
It's just a shame that they won't necessarily be back next issue with Astonishing X-Men's baffling revolving door artist idea.
This is a solid issue of Astonishing X-Men. While the machinations of the Shadow King don't really go to particularly unexpected places, they're still brought to life well by the team of Deodato and Martin. The dialogue between the characters is enjoyable, and the plot does move itself at a decent pace. This book is quickly becoming my favorite X-Men book on the market, and it is easily recommendable to the seasoned mutant fan.
Also, if you were wondering what Beast is doing here, it's explained in this issue. It's probably exactly what you thought it was.