Stew’s Reviews: Astonishing X-Men
Andy has recently taken to giving me crap about the way I review books.
Apparently, I am too vague and not precise enough! Which is fair. Sometimes I am more into reviewing a run or an overarching arc than I am , like, a single trade collection. Like when I reviewed Fear Agent, I reviewed the ENTIRE SERIES. And when I reviewed Savage Dragon, I tended towards a commentary on the entire run of the book that I had read. I’ve done the same thing with my m8nga weeks. I’m not… world-renowned for my focus is what I am saying. If I’m reviewing something I am not reading for the first time, I just want to discuss everything I have to say about it. I review arbitrary amounts of comic.
I don’t know if my overarching reviews have gotten anyone else’s goat besides his, but look… I’ll try to knock it off and stick to reviewing singular trades. Let it never be said I’m not willing to try new things.
TITLE: Astonishing X-Men: Gifted
Writer and Artist: Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.
Antagonists: Ord of Breakworld!
The book that brought me back to the X-Men Universe. Even if temporarily.
Before Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men, I had been out of the X-titles for quite a while. When I first got back into comics after the few years in high school where I had quit, the X-Men were mired in some terrible storyline called “The Twelve”, which was just the pits. Apocalypse and the Skrulls and a dead fake Wolverine and Wolverine was Death… meh! I ended up jumping back out of my previously beloved X-books, and this resulted in my missing Grant Morrison’s era on the book. Since I was already not reading, the sudden shift towards leather garb and Frank Quitely artwork (which I just do not care for) did nothing to lure me back in.
So it was Whedon’s post-Morrison tenure on the book with a new title, Astonishing X-Men, that brought me back. Gone was the leather and the art that wasn’t my personal flavor. In its place were the iconic X-Men designs and absolutely gorgeous John Cassaday pencils. Honestly, I would love this book no matter what because it’s that fun, but Cassaday’s pencils are a treat here. Everyone is incredibly expressive, there is depth to every image, and the action sequences are breath-taking. It’s not often that an artist makes me think “Wow, this person draws really good hair”, but… here we are.
So this series really picks up where Morrison left off. Jean Grey is recently deceased, Emma Frost and Scott Summers are in the beginning of their full-on relationship, and the team decides right at the beginning to lose the leather and dust off the tights (much to Wolverine’s chagrin). Morrison’s run is almost essential reading before getting into this series, though Whedon does explain everything that’s been going on well enough that you can easily get by with just a cursory base knowledge of what Grant accomplished.
With Kitty returning to the fold, the X-Men face two primary threats in Gifted. The first and more physical of the threats is the mysterious alien Ord of Breakworld, who is capable of standing up to the whole team and has hidden motives. The second of the two is the newly developed and highly publicized cure for mutation. Ord surprisingly would be the more long-term relevant of the two in Whedon’s run here, but remember: I’m trying not to discuss this entire run! So what we get from Ord here is a terrorist attack to draw out the X-Men and study them, and then the realization that he is backing the mutant cure research. It seems that Breakworld has a prophecy that an Earth-born mutant will destroy their world, and Ord has come to nip that stuff right in the bud.
Unquestionably, the biggest event of Gifted is the return of Colossus, who had been dead for a few years at this point after sacrificing himself to stop the spread of the Legacy Virus. It… doesn’t make tons of sense, as Ord needed mutants to study to develop his cure, and in particular, he needed some dead mutants. So he took Colossus’ body for study, but also used Breakworld technology to restore him to life, but did not actually administer the cure to him. So really… if the mutant needed to be alive for some reason, why were they taking dead bodies to begin with (Piotr Rasputin was not the only dead mutant in the facility)? And if they were curing mutants to save their world (and knew in advance that the X-Men were a potential threat), why didn’t they strip Piotr of his power? In a flashback, Ord threatens to kill Colossus for curing the Legacy Virus, but… he was already dead! It’s the biggest plothole in an otherwise fantastic story, but it does altogether seem like it was just storyline convenience.
And it’s literally the only bad thing I have to say about this.
Top-to-bottom, this book is a treasure. It’s funny and heartfelt and full of intense, face-blistering action (especially for Ord at one point). This is the book that makes me wonder if Chris Claremont is really the best X-writer on the planet (I’ll still give him the title based on longevity, but if Marvel wants to hire Whedon to do 200 issues of X-Men to see if they are equals, I’d buy every single one of them). Kitty Pryde is re-established as the single best X-Men character here, Emma Frost is wonderfully complex and complicated, and there’s just no characterization complaint to be found. The new characters like Hisako, Ord, Kavita Rao, and Abigail Brand are all great additions to the Marvel Universe. Great, great, great stuff. I’m gushing, what can I say?
Talking Point: Characters return from the dead all the time. Colossus did so here, and it felt poignant. So it’s not always bad when they do. What are some of your favorite stories where a character slipped their mortal coil back on?
I can not say enough good things about this series, and Gifted is a glorious way to kick it off.