Warren Ellis’ Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis

jFrom the title of this one, you might guess that Warren Ellis hasn’t finished with the genetics theme that he started with Ghost Box and continued in Exogenetic. Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis is a stand-alone miniseries that finds the X-Men haring off to a remote village in Africa on getting a news of a spate of “mutant” births. Children are being born malformed, with strange powers — some hover in the air, some are insubstantial, some just explode. Calling on Mutantes Sans Frontieres for medical assistance, the team arrives to find the village occupied by elements of the army, led by the president, Dr. Joshua N’Dingi. He intends to kill all the babies, evacuate the villagers, and put the area under interdict.

McCoy, who insists the children can’t be mutants, discovers something that holds up an even worse possibility than the X-gene run amok: ghost box radiation. There may be another invasion in the offing, which no one wants to deal with.

I have to confess, on my first reading my reaction was disappointment: it looked like Ellis had fallen off his stride on this one. On re-reading, though, the story’s fine, if not stellar. There’s enough motivational complexity to keep the interest on the interactions of the characters as much as on the action, which is also abundant. And Ellis takes time to broach some moral issues in more depth than is usual in superhero comics. He also gets in a few not-so-subtle digs at what counts as news and how the “have” countries react to disasters in the Third World — or don’t.

I realized that my objections to the book were founded on the art, which is rare for me: I’m pretty accepting of different styles, as long as the story is clearly portrayed. And, looking back over it again, Kaare Andrews’ art is pretty much OK — faces are expressive, and the drawing is very clear, even in the crowd/fight scenes. However, I have major objections to some of the character renderings, which verge on caricature. Grace Jones could have been the inspiration for Storm, who plays a major part in this story, which is not much of a problem — I happen to think Jones is a knock-out. The men are somewhat exaggerated physical types, especially Cyclops, who takes “bishonen” to a whole new level — very tall, exaggeratedly broad shoulders and chest, small head. Wolverine is the same, only shorter. Unfortunately, Emma Frost looks like Barbie by way of Betty Boop — it’s really hard to take her seriously, which, considering that she has a couple of key scenes, sort of undercuts the story.

On the whole, it’s a fairly good effort, but I can’t quite make myself give it a top rating. I guess your reaction is going to depend on how much you like Barbie and/or Betty Boop.

(Marvel,, 2011) Collects Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1–5.

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.