Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men
Medium: comic
Year: 2004
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday
Keywords: superhero
Series: << X-Men >>, << Wolverine >>
Format: Astonishing X-Men 1-24 + Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men 1
Website category: Comics
Review date: 27 March 2022
I love Joss Whedon. But he's a horrible person. But I still love him, because of Buffy and Angel. But he's a dick. I had to talk about that, but I won't go there again in this review. I'd rather discuss the comic, not its creator.
It's a continuation of Grant Morrison's New X-Men (which bored me and I dropped it) and it's been collected in four volumes: Gifted, Dangerous, Torn and Unstoppable. Whedon's a superstar writer, so Marvel gave him a free hand. He got no crossovers, straightforward continuity and an initial core group of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Wolverine and Kitty Pryde. (Whedon loves Kitty Pryde, as do all right-minded people.) That's a fun line-up.
1. Emma Frost used to be a villain and still is, really. She gets some awesome villain faces and evil dialogue, but she's joined the X-Men, is shagging Cyclops and is trying to be a goodie. Probably. We assume. "You're so unpleasant even I'm impressed. Do you visit orphanages to explain there's no Santa?"
2. Kitty Pryde is arguably the lead character. If you look carefully, sometimes. The book's an ensemble, obviously, but Whedon's run starts and ends with her, in a big way.
3. Beast and Wolverine are both animalistic fighters with an inhuman sense of smell, except that Beast is a genius scientist and Wolverine is a short-tempered thug.
The plot's nice and straightforward. Someone says they've invented a mutant cure, which I remember from the X-Men movies except that Whedon's version actually pre-dates that. Some mutants (e.g. Wolverine) see this as the first step towards genocide. Others (usually the ugly-looking ones who can't pass for human) are desperate for it. Then there's the question of who organised this research, what their motives are and who they used as their experimental test subjects.
The dialogue's why you'd read this book. Damn, it's good. Lots of quotable lines and humour, no matter how serious the story might be getting.
Dead characters may or may not return. At least two of this book's core team are in love with a deceased former team member... and of course both Marvel and Whedon are famous for their reluctance to let the dead stay dead.
"Jean Grey is dead, Agent."
"Yeah, that'll last."
There's Nick Fury, SHIELD and an invention of Whedon's called SWORD that fits so well that I was surprised to learn that it hadn't existed before. There's some superb, delicate art that's a perfect fit for Whedon's writing, which would be sunk without good "acting" from the artist's faces. (Mind you, there's a certain jaw shape that pops up occasionally on characters who don't fit it.)
It's a calmer, quieter book than I'd expected. The plot's relatively understated and (thanks to the X-Men movies) familiar territory, for a while. Whedon avoids lurid soap opera twists. (Mostly.) Don't expect the weirdness or the ideas of a Grant Morrison. It's just a straightforward, well-paced story with fun characterisation and dialogue.
The run gets good here.
It's still got fun dialogue. ("I meant Canadians.") It's got sinister things under the surface and an interesting enemy for the X-Men to face. It's got a huge fight. It's got the death of a friend and the plans of enemies. It's got Kitty Pryde talking to the Big Bad, which is great. Above all, though, what makes this book compelling is that Whedon's starting to dig into the dark sides and hidden agendas of these people. I'd already thought Emma Frost was sinister, but now we're getting a sniff of secrets. There's a mole. There's a terrifying bitch, if we can be sure of what we're seeing. "Well, if I had any real guts at all, I'd jump off a cliff."
This builds up to an electrifying argument in issue 12. There are unexploded mines in this conversation and everyone's smart enough to put their finger on the problem. Especially Scott Summers. Also, this follows on from the murder of 16 million people in Genosha in Grant Morrison's run.
After reading 'Gifted', I thought it was quite good but didn't feel the need to keep reading Whedon's X-Men immediately. After reading this, I promptly went online and bought all the rest of his run.
13-18: TORN
Psychics are scary. Wow. I'm amazed the X-Men aren't all dead.
(What happens to Wolverine is amusing, though. There's even a Japanese character, Hisako/Armor, who very occasionally speaks Japanese with him. I appreciated this, obviously, but it's handwritten for some reason and so a bit harder for me to read than the standard computer-font Japanese one expects in manga. The odd character here and there is missing a stroke.)
19-24 & Giant-Sized 1: UNSTOPPABLE
Completely different from the preceding 18 issues.
We go off-planet, to the world of the Alien Tyrant Bastards. They don't have a word for "hospital", for instance, because they don't believe in them and their only attempt at one is a one-off. That's memorable. There's also a prophecy that one of our heroes will destroy this planet, to which Whedon's been building up since the beginning.
There's a death with no impact, because we know it'll never stick. Marvel + Whedon = d'oh. The only question is whether it gets unhappened by Whedon himself or by someone else after him. That said, though, the finale's stirring and emotional.
Don't let Whedon's name make you expect brilliance. It's just a good, solid X-book with occasionally laugh-out-loud dialogue. It was a back-to-basics run after Morrison's more innovative approach, but I think it worked better. It's full of fun relationships you'll want to see again, e.g. Wolverine-Hisako (which for obvious reasons reminds me of the old days), Beast-Brand (improbable though it seems), Pryde-Frost (despite their epic bitching in the early issues) and of course the romantic pairings. I enjoyed it.