Warren Ellis (Writer), Simone Bianchi (Pencils & Ink Washes), Andrea Silvestri (Ink Washes), and Simone Peruzzi (Colorist)

The second chapter of the Ellis/Bianchi run on Astonishing X-Men is all about deepening the mystery surrounding “Subject X,” the suspect in the bizarre murder that kicked off the storyline. While enjoyable to read, not a whole lot actually happens that can be readily understood due to the nature of the plot. The team investigates Chaparanga, a spaceship graveyard constantly being scavenged for parts, and (far too quickly) locates and confronts the suspect. That’s pretty much it.

I think I like what Warren Ellis is attempting to do with his first Astonishing arc, but too much is left up in the air at the end of this issue for me to be completely certain. Things could really go anywhere from this point on because Ellis piles on the questions without offering anything resembling an answer. That said, his writing is effective and entertaining. The team interaction is well done (if a bit heavy on the clever quips) and he does an excellent job building the sense of mystery surrounding Chaparanga, Subject X, and whatever the hell else is going on. Ellis has me hooked, but I hope that he offers a few explanations for what’s going on next month.

While Simone Bianchi can produce some truly spectacular looking work, the visuals in this book are ridiculously inconsistent. For every great looking scene (the spread of Chaparanga) or character shot (Subject X and Wolverine have a few), there are a few things that bother me. The action is poorly choreographed, the panel layout is occasionally annoying, and worst of all, the characters’ faces seemed to change throughout the book (Emma’s face looks to be made of putty at times). It is almost as if Bianchi just can’t keep up with the story Ellis is trying to tell. I was shocked to see that this book made it out on time, but I would be more than willing to wait longer if it meant the visuals would improve.

Astonishing X-Men #26 is tough to grade because so much rests on what comes next. The groundwork is in place for a compelling story, but I have no idea what story might wind up being. For the time being I am willing to give Ellis the benefit of the doubt and grant him one issue to do nothing but raise questions without penalty. That said, I can’t possibly let Bianchi off the hook quite so easily. The inconsistent visuals are honestly weighing the series down. I give Ellis a B+, but the book gets a…(Grade C+)

-Kyle Posluszny