One of the things I loved most about Christos Gage's Avengers Academy was his deft touch when it came to examining what life is really like for people who live in the madness of the Marvel Universe. There was plenty of adventure, but there was also a lot of day-to-day, which really allowed us to connect with those characters on a very human level. The same goes for Astonishing X-Men Annual #1, which focuses on the disastrous honeymoon for Jean-Paul Beaubier and Kyle Jinadu.
Nobody seems to be able to have a normal life if you're on a superteam or even connected to one. Jean-Paul, aka Northstar, has the gift of super speed, and instead of finding his string quartet and lobster dinner, he finds a bunch of X-Men in his honeymoon suite browbeating him into helping stop the latest incursion of the Friends of Humanity, resurgent in the wake of all the new mutants, and who are now targeting loved ones – like Jean-Paul's new husband Kyle. However, the focus is not so much on the slam-bang action of that whole thing, but rather on Kyle interacting with the X-folk assigned to guard him while Northstar is zipping around the world fighting jerks.
First, there's Karma, who is fretting over her siblings who are in danger, frustrated that this life will never end for them – a life they had no choice in leading, which is notably different from what Kyle has chosen to commit to with this marriage, a point she raises when asking him point blank if he'll be charitable about it after it's been going on for ten years. That starts his gears turning. Then there's Gambit, who somehow looks even douchier without the trenchcoat than he does with it. He tells Kyle to try to convince Northstar to quit the X-Men, because he thinks it's doomed to fail when you marry into the X-Men family. Iceman tries to give a pep talk but accidentally brings up Jean Grey's death, which doesn't sit well, either. Warbird encourages him to learn how to fight, which he has no interest in.
Then, the FOH find their way in anyhow, and Kyle has a moment of grace under fire, and it's one final pep talk from Wolverine that gets him over this crisis – Wolverine, a guy who's lost more loves in the line of fire than he cares to remember.
It's just a great bunch of character work from Gage, and I love this kind of thing. It makes you feel like you're right there with everybody, and maybe Kyle will ask you for advice next. Focusing on an issue like 'significant other in distress' and giving everybody's unique take on it shows how great Gage is at handling different voices and perspectives, and that always makes for fun storytelling. The art from David Baldeon is pretty solid as well, making a talky issue still look visually interesting.
Actually, the art is astoundingly good when you compare it to the rest of this issue, which reprints the landmark Alpha Flight #106 by Scott Lobdell and Mark Pacella, wherein Northstar came out as gay for the first time. It's a very important issue,sure, and I like how it's almost an afterthought that he comes out, but Pacella's art is painfully '90s.
It's the Gage story that makes this issue a great read, though. He loves these characters as much as we do, and he likes to use lots of them at the same time. The more, the merrier, I say.