[SPOILERS for Astonishing X-Men #6 ahead.]
Professor X has formally returned to the X-Men comics in Astonishing X-Men #6. When Charles Soule launched his Astonishing X-Men run earlier this year, he took fans by surprise. We had expected the return of the Shadow King, but what we hadn't expected was the return of Charles Xavier! Soule revealed that Xavier's mind had been trapped on the Astral Plane ever since 2012's Avengers Vs. X-Men. Naturally, fans immediately suspected that this was setting up a resurrection.
In today's Astonishing X-Men #6, those expectations were finally fulfilled. In a surprising twist though, Soule brought Xavier back from the dead in what seems to be a homage to X-Men: The Last Stand.
The Surprising Return Of Charles Xavier
There's long been precedent for the most powerful mutant minds surviving on the Astral Plane. The Shadow King himself was cast to the Astral Plane when he was defeated in battle with Charles Xavier years ago. So, it came as no surprise to realize that Xavier himself, a more powerful telepath than even the Shadow King, had suffered the same fate. When he was killed by the Phoenix's fire, Xavier's mind fled to the Astral Plane.
Unfortunately, the Professor fell foul of the Shadow King. The two have been locked in battle ever since, with the Shadow King growing in power and influence. To the Shadow King, these have been games. To Charles Xavier, they've been a matter of life and death. Ultimately, these games led to a group of X-Men entering the Astral Plane, and Xavier prepared his winning strategy.
He manipulated the Shadow King into overextending himself, and as a result emerged triumphant. That was when things took yet another surprising twist. It turned out that Xavier had entered into a deal with Fantomex, a mutant thief created by the Weapon Plus program. Fantomex would allow Xavier to return to the land of the living, by possessing Fantomex's body.
A Homage To X-Men: The Last Stand
Fans will recognize the idea as one Fox toyed with in X-Men: The Last Stand. That film saw Xavier killed by Jean Grey, and for a time he was believed dead. In the end, we learned that Xavier's mind had made its way to a coma victim, and possessed that man's body. It was one of many plot twists that was conveniently forgotten by the X-Men franchise, as Fox wanted Patrick Stewart to reprise the role rather than to hire a new actor.
In this case, Soule looks set to make a major change to the X-Men canon. It's clear that the experience of death, and his subsequent time on the Astral Plane, has changed Charles Xavier. The comic makes it visible by coloring his speech bubbles black, the same approach taken with the Shadow King himself. His dialog has seemed strange and slightly out-of-character, harsher than anything we've seen since the Claremont run and lacking the sense of morality that has frequently been a core component of the character.
Even the decision to possess Fantomex's body is frankly disturbing. Is Fantomex's mind still in there? Or has Xavier stranded Fantomex on the Astral Plane in his place? Xavier claims a new identity as the issue ends, telling Psylocke she can simply call him "X." As he says it, he gives a smile that frankly seems chilling.
Charles Soule's next arc is titled "A Man Called X", and he's clearly focusing in on the resurrected Charles Xavier. In an interview with Marvel, Soule explained that time runs differently on the Astral Plane. For Xavier, he's been stranded there for millennia, and he's emerged a changed man. Ominously, Soule hinted that Xavier's cure for the Shadow King may be worse than the disease. We're headed into the second act of a three-act drama, and Xavier's resurrection will be the driving force for everything that follows.
Astonishing X-Men #6 is now available for picking up.