I was a huge fan of the X-Men during the late 80’s and early 90’s, but then I fell out of reading any of the titles from this corner of the Marvel universe regularly. But because I know most of the characters pretty well, I sometimes seek out particular stories that sound interesting, and the Astonishing X-Men title is meant to be an easily accessible comic whose stories are self contained and won’t require additional reading in order to understand what’s going on. With the new X-Men film coming out, I figured this might be the kind of title a moviegoer would be interested in, especially being written by Warren Ellis (a name that might be familiar even to the non-comic reading crowd).
Exogenetic starts in near-Earth space, where Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D. (like the S.H.I.E.L.D. of outer space) is on a mission to a nearby asteroid to investigate a potential threat. But the threat turns out to be mutated Brood, alien bug creatures, who turn the tables on Brand and wind up making their way back to Earth with her aboard her damaged escaping ship. Fortunately, the X-Men are nearby and manage to rescue her, but then other odd genetic mutations begin cropping up – Sentinel robots sprouting organic growths, dead friends and foes brought back to unnatural life. The X-Men team of Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, Armor, Storm, led by Cyclops must track down the cause of this. It will lead them to a secret laboratory, as well as a true child of the Atom who holds a grudge against all mutantkind.
I first became interested in this book when I heard it featured the Brood. If these creatures sound like the Aliens from the Alien films, you’d be right – but I’ve always enjoyed their appearances in the Marvel universe (usually as an X-Men foe) because it’s like having an “Alien” film mashup whenever they’re on the scene. Because of their presence, and the strong characterization of the X-Men, my attention was held throughout the book.
But it isn’t all great. The book opens strong, but then it seems to lose itself somewhere along the way. There’s no connection that I could see between the asteroid location at the beginning and the laboratory later in the book (why weren’t they the same place?). The “villain” has an interesting origin of sorts, like Warren Ellis wanted to really explore some interesting territory with some deeper questions about mutants, but then he shies away from it at the last minute. There’s also a couple of needless plot points, like the computer being forced to help in this scheme and even the way in which the plot was linked back to some of Beast’s research – it was just unnecessary.
However, the artwork is fantastic, there’s plenty of action and a lot of good dialog, with some genuinely funny moments (such as this quote directed at Wolverine “Don’t be such a baby. You’ll almost definitely probably not die this time.”). Just don’t expect a life changing comic experience, this isn’t one of the greatest X-Men stories of all time, it’s unlikely you’ll remember much about it soon after you’ve read it – but it’s entertaining and that’s all I was really looking for.