Astonishing X-Men (4th series) #2

Issue Date: 
October 2017
Story Title: 
Life of X – part 2

Charles Soule (writer), Mike Deodato jr (artist), Frank Martin (colorist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Mike Deodato jr & Marcelo Maiolo (cover artists), Ryan Stegman & MArte Gracia, Elizabeth Torque(variant covers) , Leinil francis Yu (villain variant cover), Jay Bowen & Anthony Gambino (graphic designers), Christina Harrington (assistant editor), Mark Paniccia (editor), Axel Alonso (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
X-Men created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Brief Description: 

The five X-Men are immediately trapped on the astral plane, distracted by a play about the X-Men that Farouk puts on for them. The other player, Xavier, tries to wake them up and finally manages to do so by having a dead Phoenix throw herself at Logan. When the X-Men begin to realize this is fake, the actors turn against them and a battle ensues. Soon, only the X-Men are left standing. After Logan reveals that Beast is really Mystique, they slowly realize that there must be another player beside the Shadow King in this. They find three doors and split up to go through them. Elsewhere on the astral plane, Farouk and Xavier still vie for victory. In London, Psylocke, Angel and Bishop worry about their teammates, while the department of defense has its eyes on them.

Full Summary: 

Say what you will about the X-Men. They fight. They win, they lose, they die.

A closed theater curtain. Multiple Man stands in front of it. He welcomes everyone and announces the story they are about to see is not one but many. To stress this, he creates one of his dupes. A tale of heroes and villains, they both continue, of power, of sacrifice, of love and loss. It is not one story but many. It is the story of the X-Men. They point to the stage, which shows Professor X, the original X-Men and several of their enemies. The audience consists of Rogue, Gambit, Old Man Logan, Fantomex and Beast.

Raffling through a program, Fantomex wonders aloud if they haven’t already seen this play. Making something new is risky, Logan opines. Better go with something familiar. Comfort food. If something works, do it again until it doesn’t.

Gambit doesn’t care if it’s new. He just hopes it’s good. Four dollars a ticket! Rogue points out that’s cheap and bets they are barely breaking even. They paid full price? Beast scoffs and laughs at them, for he snuck in. But it does look a bit fake, he opines. Is that a vampire? He refers to Punk Storm facing Dracula on stage. Fantomex suggests they just try to enjoy themselves.

The Astral plane:
A cozy room full of cobwebs. At a table, two men sit facing each other. One of them is Amahl Farouk the Shadow King, the other – chained to his wheelchair – is the late Professor Charles Xavier.

He thinks he’s got Fantomex at the very least, Farouk remarks. Xavier warns him not to count Fantomex out. He is very resourceful. They all are. Farouk agrees as he calls Xavier his old friend. That’s what makes this all so amusing. They struggle like the worm on the hook, twisting, twisting. Worms do not know that there are only two ends. Either it is swallowed by the fish or dies from the impalement. But he does hope he gets to swallow some of them. If not, what a waste! He supposes Xavier agrees but that’s the game. And a fine game it is, playing with living minds! Farouk laughs, but then Xavier knows that.

Xavier agrees that pushing against the surface tension of a person’s delusions is exhilarating. Always has been. Especially with this group.

They watch the show where currently the original five X-Men face Magneto. Xavier knows them, the Shadow King admits, but that doesn’t mean he will wake them. He’s sunk them deep. Of course, if he can, they’ll move on to the next round. But if he can’t… Then the big fish swallows them, Xavier agrees. He admits this is exciting. It’s been too long since their game had actual stakes. The stage is set and now it’s his move.

Atop the Shard, Psylocke is guarding the five X-Men whose minds she has sent to the Astral Plane. With her are Bishop and Angel, who asks if she can tell what is happening to their friends on the Astral Plane. Bishop tells him not to distract her. Betsy assures him it’s alright. She can neither move nor fight but she can talk while maintaining the link to the Astral Plane. As for Rogue and the others, they seem… engaged. Interested.

That’s good, right? Angel asks hopefully. Better than if they were terrified. Betsy is not so sure. The Shadow King usually begins by creating a realm for you the moment you arrive on the Astral Plane. Sometimes it’s horrifying, sometimes it’s your greatest fantasy. But it’s always real. If you don’t realize it’s an illusion, that’s it. You wake up here under his control.

Bishop decides this was a bad idea and orders her to pull them out. Psylocke refuses. Gambit, Logan and Rogue have all been on the astral plane before. If they get past this first stage, they’ll be okay. She can guide them to the Shadow King. They just need to give them time!

How long will that take? Bishop asks. As long as it takes, Angel replies simply. Betsy points out, as long as they are in there fighting, the Shadow King isn’t taking over any other psychic. They won’t be coming out before this is over.

Bishop reminds them they are atop London, like sitting ducks. And Psylocke tried to destroy the city not ten minutes ago! She was possessed by the Shadow King! Betsy snaps. He gets that, Bishop replies and then points at the black helicopters circling around the building. But they don’t.

The men in the choppers inform their superiors at the Ministry of Defense’s Superhuman Crisis command center that the subjects have gone quiet. Five of them lie atop the roof of the Shard, the others are standing around. They are also getting a strong energy signature. They are still trying to analyze it. They are told to keep trying and keep their positions as well as post them of any changes.

In the meantime, the police are busy keeping up the evacuation efforts around the Shard, regarding the X-Men present they are torn. Commander Keene is not happy with those X-Men’s presence after that attack and he has plans…

The astral plane:
In the theater, a balcony scene is performed of Colossus wooing Kitty Pryde, telling her that they must be together. Laying it on a little thick, Rogue in the audience criticizes. Nothing wrong with a little romance, Gambit chides her.

On the stage, Kitty has become Rogue, who laments they can never be together for her power would take his life. Colossus assures her he does not care. His life is worthless without her.

In the audience, Rogue asks if that is supposed to be them. Remy criticizes Colossus trying to do his accent.

Colossus on stage has now changed to Gambit, insisting they must be together forever! Elsewhere on the Astral Plane, the Shadow King laughs that they didn’t even notice the changes Xavier made. Has his time here left him weak? Just getting started, Xavier replies. Probing his defenses…

In the audience, Rogue points out that eternal love isn’t their thing. They are past that. Gambit agrees. They always have that spark, but… this don’t feel right. Not anymore.

Farouk tells Xavier they were dead the moment they entered his realm. Why not let them go instead of prolonging the horror? They were once his students, Xavier replies. He will choose another path. More importantly, that’s not what they agreed to for this game…

On the stage, Cyclops shouts in pain as a formerly Phoenix-powered Emma Frost lies dead in his arms. That’s not how it went, Logan mutters in the audience. She knows. It just seems wrong, Jean Grey comments next to him.

He thinks he’s got him, Xavier tells Farouk.

Phoenix moves on Logan, telling him sometimes wrong can be right.

So confident, Farouk grins. He’s not done yet.

Jean kisses Logan. “He’s mine,” the Shadow King announces in triumph. Not yet, Xavier replies.

Jean changes into a corpse. Logan withdraws repulsed, then remembers that back where he comes from she is gone. Everywhere she is gone. He’s sorry. She’s dead. He strikes her with his claws.

They will not break free! Farouk shouts enraged. The actors attack the X-Men, who remember. Rogue warns the others that, if you die here, you are trapped forever

Beast muses they are fighting themselves or at least their closest colleagues. What do they think that means? Battling, Rogue orders him to stop analyzing and fight. Logan chimes in it ain’t no secret. Shadow King’s showing them the future. They don’t kill him, they’ll kill each other!

Soon the battle is over and only the five heroes are left standing. Rogue marvels at how real it all seemed. Even though they were braced for it, the Shadow King got them. Except Logan. How did he know? He’ll tell her in a second, he replies and starts sniffing out Beast. Can’t believe he didn’t notice before, he announces, but then he was distracted. But then he saw the way Beast fought, or didn’t fight. Lots of fake things around here, seems like. Beast shows his true form - Mystique. Hooray he got her, she announces miffed.

Fantomex points his guns at her and berates himself for not noticing. He uses illusions himself. He should have seen it. Mystique retorts, people who are sure they can’t be fooled are easiest to fool. Rogue tells Fantomex to shoot Mystique.

Unnoticed, Farouk and the bound Xavier watch the scene. Round one goes to Xavier, Farouk admits. Xavier told him, nostalgia as a tool has its limits.

Brilliant, Mystique mocks. Start a war with her, while the Shadow King is on the verge of stealing their souls. Nice way to treat her mother! Rogue spits Mystique isn’t her mother. She kept her alive when she was young to use her. Any debt Rogue owes her is paid.

Gambit asks Mystique came along instead of staying back with Angel and Bishop. She had to know she’d get caught by them. Mystique scoffs. Does he remember the night in Phoenix with the twins? Both of them? he asks confused. How could she?

Mystique spells out she is here because she knows the Shadow King. He is vile and she does not want his vileness to spread into the world. She knows they are not up to the task of stopping him so she had to get involved. And finally, she showed them Beast, because they wouldn’t have accepted her help. Calling them idiots, she suggests they now focus on the actual problem.

They study their surroundings. In the blackness stand three doors with images on them showing that one of them is intended for Rogue and Gambit, one for Logan and one for Fantomex and Mystique. “Ah oui, Le prochain cauchemar. Fantastique!” Fantomex exclaims ironically.

Mystique muses it wasn’t coincidence Farouk gave them that play. This is all a performance. Logan chimes in. It wasn’t a solo performance. There were two minds trying to dominate. That’s what made him realize at the end. The whole thing was full of red flags, like someone was screaming at him to wake up. Fantomex agrees, it was all rather clumsy. Like the battle at the end was an effort to drag them back into the scenario. And were not most of the actors dead? Even before the zombies arrived.

Lots of dead things end up on the astral plane, Rogue remarks bleakly. For all they know, that was Scott and Jean and Jamie. Gambit mutters he doesn’t like that at all.

Fantomex figures this is not a game at all, but a competition. And they aren’t the players, they are the pieces. A disturbing realization. They are but pawns. But there is something more. Who helped them? Who tried to wake them up? Against whom is the Shadow King playing? This person interests him very much. He thinks they must help him win. He accepts his lot. He is but a tool. As he cannot change this, he must accept the only way forward that presents itself. He walks towards his door and opens it. Pink patterns swirl behind it. Does she not agree? he asks Mystique. She does. He is a tool. Let’s go!

Fantomex turns around and warns Gambit not to use this as an opportunity to escape his obligations to Fantomex. He will find him in this life or the…

He’ll risk it, Gambit replies and kicks through his doorway. He turns around and asks the others what. Nothing, they agree. Good riddance.

Elsewhere on the Astral Plane, Xavier points out Farouk seems frustrated. If Xavier does win, will Farouk honor the terms of their agreements? So little trust? Farouk mocks. He thinks he is offended. He points out that if he cheats, Charles will never play with him again. He would never risk that. No one presents a challenge like him.

Elsewhere, Logan opens his door. He decides that Fantomex may be a bastard but he is right. Someone is fighting the Shadow King. They are not alone in this. Try to remember this, he tells Rogue and Gambit.

Farouk repeats: When he wins, his souls are his prize and their bodies his vessel. But if Charles wins somehow… Xavier continues that Farouk will let him kill them. Grant them the mercy Farouk would not give them. He thanks him. After all, they are his X-Men.

They are all in this together, Xavier and Logan state at the same time.

Characters Involved: 

Angel, Bishop, Psylocke

Members of the ministry of defense

On the astral plane:
Fantomex, Gambit, Mystique, Old Man Logan, Rogue (X-Men)

Shadow king
Charles Xavier

Apocalypse, Angel, Beast, Colossus, Cyclops, Dracula, Gambit, Kitty Pryde, Marvel Girl, Multiple Man, Phoenix, Professor X, Rogue, Storm, White Queen (all illusions)

Story Notes: 

Psylocke’s hair is mistakenly colored black this issue

“Ah oui, Le prochain Cauchemar. Fantastique!”
French for: “Ah yes. The next nightmare. Fantastic!

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