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Astonishing X-Men vol 5: Ghost Box s/c

Astonishing X-Men vol 5: Ghost Box s/c back

Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi, Alan Davis, Clayton Crain, Adi Granov, Kaare Andrews


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Some of the wittiest dialogue Warren's ever come up with. The man rarely coasts these days even when playing with someone else's properties, and here Emma Frost, The Beast, Wolverine, Armor, Cyclops and the newly rejoined Storm tease each other senseless on every page.

"Dr. McCoy, are you singing again?"
"I am indeed."
"And what did I tell you about the singing?"
"You said you'd wait until I was asleep and then shave Japanese obscenities into my fur."

Emma Frost isn't what you'd call a morning person:

"Darling, I think my eyes burned out. You'll have to drive."
"I thought you liked the new car."
"I can barely see. If I drive, we'll end up somewhere in Oakland, and then I'll simply have to kill myself."

She's not at all sure it's Wolverine approaching:

"That could just be a wild ferret seen from afar, dear. Is it pawing itself as it walks, as if it has great heaving nests of fleas in its more private areas?"
"... Yes."
"Then it's Logan."

Above all, what Warren brings to any book - no matter how old - is new ideas and science: spintronics, computational substrate and two-zettawatt quantum lasers! One-day telepathic downloads of languages local to their mission theatres! And then, to find their foreign needle in that local haystack, Emma performs a telepathic search: "I'm looking for the one person who's not thinking in Indonesian."

So who are they hunting and why? They've been summoned by the San Francisco police department to the scene of a crime behind a fast-food trough where there's a dead man on fire, floating three feet off the ground. The victim's notes lead them to believe he was tracking his killer who was heading straight to Chaparanga "where spaceships go to die" in an effort to get off-world. Genetically neither of them fit the human or mutant profile. Here's The Beast, Dr. Henry McCoy:

"Basic mutant science: we all have two sets of chromosomes, and they're full of genes. The term for this is diploid. The X-gene always sits on chromosome 23, and uses exotic protein to send chemical signals to the other genes, which mutates them. Hence, us. Our dead man has three sets of chromosomes. The third set is artificial. He has something like an X-gene in the third set -- what would be chromosome 26. He's a triploid. Functional triploids do not occur in human nature."

Someone has been trying to create new mutants. What they find when they reach Chaparanga is a man powering up a large cube of sophisticated circuitry crackling with energy. He is a diploid mutant but with his X-gene on the wrong chromosome, a puzzle which becomes clearer when they realise what the cube is. It's a Ghost Box opening doors between parallel worlds...

Now, before we return to that war and the exceptionally effective restructuring of this book from the periodicals, let's talk about Simone Bianchi. I was highly sceptical before this series was published, and the stodgy old cover here muddily demonstrates why. It's a far cry from my favourite where the are hollow shapes of white, replicated on the interior. Although there is a certain amount of self-indulgence going on inside which must have frustrated Ellis, there's also an interesting eye for unusual layout which hops on the Neal Adams train then rockets it right off the rails. Indeed the neo-classical figure work, particularly when the Beast starts to flex, is often a joy whilst the uniforms stretch and pull with a perceivable width like effectively protective leather. The palette's restrained, and if you likes yer monsters there are plenty of those gruesome giants on offer too. Also, finally, when the X-Men reach Tian ("the dead five miles of China") there's a whopping double-page spread of the floating city there which reminds one of Maxfield Parish and Rodney Matthews, albeit through a pair of brown sunglasses.

And so to the final 48 pages, the two-issue GHOST BOX mini-series by the other four artists listed above. This now comes right at the end, with four scenarios of what might have happened had Cyclops failed to immediately authorise lethal force to stop the Ghost Box from opening. Marvel have in the past taken more spurious ideas built out of other series (HOUSE OF M) and given several four-issue mini-series to them, but Ellis does in each half-issue what none these have managed with four: chill you to the bone. The last one in particular sees youngest recruit Hisako (Armor) travelling on foot across a devastated wasteland with a crippled Wolverine in a wheelchair and a Dr. McCoy whose mental capacity has degraded so far that he can barely comprehend his surroundings. Months it has taken them to get that far and they've long since run out of food or water. They're heading for a place Kitty Pryde is supposed to have created as a haven and then final escape from the carnage around them. But they know it's a trap. They almost hope it's a trap - a lethal trap would in fact be a mercy. But the punchline is far, far crueller than that.