Thursday, March 17, 2005


Astonishing X-Men vol 1: Gifted
Writer: Joss Whedon
Penciller: John Cassaday

I’d heard good things about Whedon’s X-Men. It was supposed to be following in the footsteps of Morrison’s X-Men, if not in content then at least in quality. However I wasn’t really sure about X-Men comics anymore. I used to read X-Men comics. Or more specifically I read a number of the X-Men spin off titles (complete run of Excalibur! Um, the first one, not the new one) and watched the X-Men cartoons and so forth.

However last time I bought a new X-Men comic it was after the X-Men 2 movie. I’d enjoyed the movie and wanted to read more X-Men comics. So I picked up the 25cent issue Marvel put out. Unfortunately it was an issue by Chuck Austen. It was so bad I wondered why I’d liked the X-Men characters in the first place. I wasn’t willing to give up though, I also picked up Essential X-Men volume 3, and while it’s not as strong as the first two volumes it’s still pretty good. Claremont didn’t seem to be as bad a writer as he apparently is now (I really can’t comment as I think I’ve only read a few scattered issues of his comics online and then completely forgotten about them). I really enjoyed the fact that the issues were so compressed though. Wikkid.

So I liked X-Men comics again, or at least the idea of them. I think I’ve read about half of Morrison’s run, but that was while it was still coming out. The last X-Men related comic I think I read was the Wolverine: Snikt miniseries put out by Nihei Tsutomu, one of my favourite manga creators. Although that was hardly X-Men related at all and was really just another of the post apocalyptic comics that Nihei does so well.

So I’d heard Astonishing X-Men was good, but would it be good? The creators seemed pretty solid. I’ve liked John Cassaday’s art on Planetary. While on the writing side Joss Whedon wasn’t an unknown either. I’d thought that Buffy was generally a pretty good show, and I bought Fray, the comic he did about a future slayer, for my girlfriend in an attempt to get her to read comics. It was really good. So both creators could work on good comics, but just because someone’s done something I’ve liked in the past doesn’t mean I’ll like something else they’ve done.

I figured that Astonishing X-Men would, at the least, be pretty fun.

The story is about the X-Men becoming a superhero force again. Ditching the black costumes because they scare civilians and going back to garish superhero costumes. The X-Men are once again there to save the world. Also included are attacks from some sort of alien creature who wants to destroy the X-Men (and all mutants), and a supposed cure for the “disease” of mutancy. These storylines are well developed with different characters reacting differently when new information arises. Will Beast, who appears to have further mutated into some sort of cat creature during Morrison’s run, take the cure? Will Wolverine and Cyclops fight for beer?

The writing which Whedon is known for is present here. The dialogue is well written, and at times really funny. There where a few times I laughed out loud, I didn’t expect that. The story also features more serious scenes and carries off the characters emotions. Expanding onto the characters without apparently erasing anything that had come before.

I wasn’t sure if continuity would effect by enjoyment of the comic. I mean I hadn’t read a recent X-Men comic in a few years. Thankfully Whedon and Cassaday have created a work that doesn’t seem to rely too heavily on prior storylines. Or at least it’s stuff I don’t have trouble dealing with. Jean’s dead? Happens (quite a lot really). Colossus is dead too? Is that his first time? Scott’s hooked up with Emma? A bit surprising, but it works. Beast’s a cat thing now? Ok, it looks neat. Perhaps if I had no prior experience with the X-Men this would have created a larger problem, I can’t really say.

There are references to older storylines, some of which I probably missed, but others that I caught because I’d read those Essential collections. The book opens with a number of scenes of Kitty Pryde remember past things that had happened to her while living at Xavier’s mansion. Professor Xavier is a jerk. Additionally there’s a later scene where a reference is made to “two words” before a fairly famous manoeuvre involving multiple X-Men is made. It doesn’t actually give the name, which might confuse some new readers, but caused me an amount of joy.

Cassaday’s art is generally strong. There are a few places where it seems a bit weak, but usually this is only the art in one panel. This does however cause a slight problem when all, or part, or a panel is digitally duplicated several times on the page, meaning the same ugly Emma Frost is staring up at you for three panels. Gah. The colouring, by I believe Laura Martin, is really excellent and helps make Cassaday’s art look even better.

Overall I enjoyed Astonishing X-Men more then I thought I would. I enjoyed it enough that I viewed the announcement that Whedon and Cassaday would be doing a second full year of the comic as a good thing. However I didn’t enjoy the comic enough to want to buy the next eighteen or so issues. Hopefully someone I know will get them so I can borrow them.


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