As part of the ramp-up to writer Warren Ellis’ taking over writing duties of Astonishing X-Men from Joss Whedon in the summer of 2008, Marvel released a Sketchbook to promote the visualizations of new regular artist, Simone Bianchi.
Bianchi’s renderings are both profound and immediately accessible. After a brief introduction by X-Men Group Editor, Axel Alonso, Bianchi’s artwork becomes the way in which the story of the X-Men is unfolded. With a keen eye, Bianchi is able to clearly express the emotional core of each character both in his thought-process blurbs, and the costume design itself.
But Bianchi’s Sketchbook offers four areas that go largely untouched in Ellis’ subsequent “Ghost Boxes” storyline. Three of these areas are the characters Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler. The fourth is X-Men’s new base of operations on the West Coast. These new headquarters emphasize the radical break with the very different cultural of rural intellectualism as identified by former X-Men HQ in Westchester, NY. The new urban culture of the X-Men, resulting from their relocation, is a point emphasized by Alonso as well.
Despite Bianchi noting his earnestly hard work in redesigning Colossus’ costume, in modernizing it to a state-of-the-art 21st century look, it makes sense not to including Colossus in the storytelling. With Whedon’s run so heavily tilted towards Kitty Pryde and Colossus, another storyline focusing on the Russian giant might tip Astonishing away from being the single standalone X-Men title. The one X-Men title anybody could just pickup and read right away.
Similarly Dazzler’s costume is barely as well-defined as the other characters’. Not including her makes a certain amount of sense also. And having the “Ghost Boxes” storyarc begin in San Fran, but quickly go global? That makes a certain amount of sense too. But not including Nightcrawler?
At its heart “Ghost Boxes” is a story about the character interactions of the team-members. Ellis excels in character study, and with Astonishing he has an opportunity to refocus Whedon’s excessively action-oriented take on the X-Men. For Ellis the characters can be defined by their relation to each other. Can they still trust each other after all that’s happened? Or has too much history passed between them? Benching Nightcrawler, a character that has always been the spiritual center of the team, seems like a Missed Direction. How might Kurt Wagner have behaved? Would he have attempted to play peacemaker and attempt to reconcile the various factions? Or would he himself have been forced to pick sides, emotionally wounding himself in the process?