Astonishing X-Men is one of those series that caught me immediately — after all, the first series was written by Joss Whedon, and then Warren Ellis picked up the reins. Ghost Box is Ellis’ first offering in the series, and it’s a good one.
The team (at this point composed of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine, and Armor, while Storm rejoins them early on) have an anomaly to investigate, courtesy of the SFPD: the police have discovered a burning body. The problem is, they can’t put out the fire. And he’s floating. Turns out he was killed by someone he was following. It also turns out that he’s an artificially created mutant. (This is after M-Day, when the Red Witch eliminated the powers of all but 198 mutants on this earth, and possibly others as well.) The search leads to a “spaceship graveyard” in Indonesia and another mutant — not artificially created, but even worse, from a different universe. Guess what: Earth is about to be invaded. The “ghost box” of the title is the enabling mechanism that opens a gate between universes.
Full disclosure: Warren Ellis can do no wrong. Every series I’ve read by him has been excellent — edgy, sharp, dark, funny, and a little off the wall. Ghost Box is no different. We might expect the exchanges between Storm and Emma Frost, but the zingers fly all over the place, and no one is spared. One ongoing gag that I enjoyed: Armor remarks on how heavy Wolverine is; he claims it’s the adamantium skeleton; she thinks it’s the beer. And let’s not forget Armor’s obsession with a new code name: “Armor” doesn’t really have a lot of cachet, in her eyes. It’s a nice running gag, and also catches the character perfectly. Figure that as an across-the-board item: characters are vivid and subtly drawn and really make the whole thing work.
It took me a bit to adjust to Simone Bianchi’s drawing style. I’m very much an advocate of the John Cassaday-Jim Cheung sort of comic realism, with its nice, open feel and confident lines. However, Bianchi’s art, which makes use of ink washes and detailed renderings, is very rich and ultimately very appealing. The big plus in my eyes is the layouts: fluid, intuitive, strongly echoing the best of shoujo manga, there are pages and spreads in this collection that are absolute knock-outs. The one drawback is that Bianchi’s style is so rich that some of the frames are hard to read, a fault reinforced by the color, which tends toward the dark side, with strong highlights. It’s a chiaroscuro effect that is very beautiful, but sometimes veers close to illegibility.
There are two side stories, “Ghost Boxes #1” and “Ghost Boxes #2,” that give new meaning to the phrase “alternate universe.” They go into some very strange places indeed — pretty dark, in fact — and offer some intriguing variations on the characters.
(Marvel, 2009) Collects Astonishing X-Men #25-30 and Ghost Boxes #1-2.