Observant followers of my comic articles here on the Fort will realize that I promised more coverage of Marvel's Point One line this month. However, roughly half of the books in the line for this month will not reach my local comic shop in time for my article, and which ones that have, well...the less said of them, the better.
Who doesn't love the X-Men on some level? When I was in the third grade, I don't think there was anything that seemed cooler to me than the X-Men. This was a bit before the 90's animated show came out, so to know the X-Men, who they were and what they're about, it was like being in a secret club. At that age, the fact that there were girls i that club was oddly fascinating. For me, as I'm sure was the same for any generation before or after mine, the X-Men felt so fresh and different from all the other comic book characters out there. Mutants were not born out of the fears of the atomic era, they were just born and born different. What kid drawn to the world of nerdom doesn't find that easy to identify with?
Yet there's plenty to not love about the X-Men. Most significant for me is the continuity. The team has a long, sprawling, and confusing history that's on the level of DC's Multiverse (and that's company wide!). How many times has Jean Grey died? Is she dead now? Where did Rachel Summers come from? Onslaught? When is my local comic book store going to finally divide the new comics racks into "Indie," "DC," "Marvel," and "Books that feature Wolverine?" It's some dense,frustrating, sometimes silly stuff, to say the least.
Which brings us to Astonishing X-Men. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday set out to make something readable out of the X-Men's messy continuity, and completely ignored the major crossover events that happened in the Marvel Universe during the series' run. I've now read the series three times, most recently in the excellent Omnibus edition. The result is an absolute home run, difficult to put down. largely accessible, and as far as I'm concerned, the best X-Men story to have ever been published.
Astonishing X-Men breaks down into four parts. Gifted introduces a "mutant cure," which may sound familiar if you were unfortunate to have seen X3. Forget all about Rogue and her, "I can't make out with teenage boys!" crap and think about Beast. A bit of previous continuity that comes into play with Beast is that he seems to be de-evolving, becoming more savage and cat-like. There's some great moments built up throughout that make you seriously wonder if he's going to go for the cure, and he did, you can't really blame him. Also established in this first arc is Ord, an alien from the planet Breakworld, who comes to Earth to find the X-Man who is prophesied to destroy the Breakworld within the next 3 years. To make matters worse for the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s extraterrestrial division claims the prophecy is true.
The second arc, Dangerous, seemed a bit jarring at first, and to some extent, still does. This story reveals that the technology Professor X used to create the Danger Room has become sentient, and that the AI was actually programmed to kill the X-Men, with essentially only a simple safety lock in place to keep it from doing so. It's a killer concept with some unforgettable moments, but it at first seems to abandon the questions left lingering at the end of Gifted. It eventually picks it back up as well as tie the events in Dangerous into the overall story, but it does feel a bit like an attempt to set up other important elements rather than being something more cohesive. The final two arcs, Torn and Unstoppable are nothing short of a tour de force. I refuse to spoil what happens in these final parts. Just be ready for Cyclops to go way beyond being the dickhead leader and becoming someone understand, sympathize with, and root for. His handling stands as my favorite part of this series.
I almost didn't review this book. It's no secret here on the Fort that I'm a fan of Joss Whedon's work, and I thought my opinion of the book would appear biased. So I went into the massive Omnibus edition (which collects all 24 issues and the "Giant Sized" issue) with the criticisms made against him in mind. The most major of those being that all his character talk in exactly the same way. Yet he understands the way the X-Men talk and behave, as well as what motivates them, and he uses this with each and every character to the fullest potential. He does a superb job with Kitty Pryde. There's a bit of the traditional Whedon humor here and there, but it always fits and is genuinely funny stuff. While I've applauded him in the past for utilizing the death of a character to lend a sense of believable danger in his own work, the last thing I wanted to see was Whedon taking one the X-Men, who are characters that aren't of his creation, and kill them as he has a history of doing so (I fear for you, Hawkeye!). I'm not going to say whether he does or doesn't, but I was content by the time all was said and done. Say what you will about Joss Whedon, but he undeniably has an understanding of characters and team dynamics, and that makes him a natural fit for the X-Men.
The bottom line is that if you ever liked the X-Men at any point in time, Astonishing X-Men is a MUST READ. If you like Joss Whedon, great, if not, don't let his writing it stop you. It taps into the most beloved aspects of the X-Men, injects them with the intelligence and sophistication expected from modern comics, and defines several characters in ways that surpasses even the seminal work of Chris Claremont. Being familiar with Grant Morrison's New X-Men would be a help as far as accessibility goes, but it isn't entirely necessary. Only time will tell, but I have a feeling that this may become a go-to book when it comes to the X-Men.