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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/01/2004 Archived Entry: "Joss Whedon's "Astonishing X-Men #1""

Astonishing X-Men #1
By Joss Whedon
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Chad Denton

I don't envy Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" who has recently been tapped to write "Astonishing X-Men," here. After acclaimed writer Grant Morrison was allowed to take the tired franchise that was X-Men into strange and exciting new territory, Whedon, as experimental as his assignment onto "Astonishing X-Men" may seem, is being asked to force the X-Men franchise to return to its crusty, frozen home base.

In his run Morrison worked to treat X-Men not as "another superhero title," but as a mix of superhero sub-genre conventions and more 'pure' sci-fi. Instead of as a thinly veiled metaphor for racism and homophobia, Morrison took the unique turn, almost untouched in the decades of the X-Men's existence, of treating the concept of mutants in its own right. He invented the idea of a 'mutant culture' struggling for its existence and, although his storylines had roots in old X-Men themes, he expanded the premise into new directions: a murder mystery with complications caused by suspects with mind control powers; the X-Men as an international peace keeping force; and hellraising young mutant activists.

In the start of Whedon's run, we have one of those bizarre instances of metacommentary gone wild as the X-Men openly talk about becoming superheroes again (yes, the words 'tights' and 'superheroes' are thrown around). Whedon has inherited Morrison's surviving central cast - Emma Frost, Scott Summers, Wolverine, and the Beast - and, although he adds in longtime X-Men character Kitty Pryde who has mostly existed as a traditional superhero character (both in the X-Men books and in sometimes-British superhero book, sometimes-X-Men satellite title Excalibur), it is a bit jarring to followers of Morrison's run. Eschewing the leather outfits inspired by the recent X-Men films, the characters revert back to traditional superhero costumes. While retaining a certain edginess, the outfits, unfortunately, do look a bit silly, despite Cassidy's best efforts (Scott Summers in particular looks like he's three steps away from becoming somebody's gimp).

To be completely fair to Whedon, if this is going to be traditional superhero fare with a little twist from the groundwork Morrison laid down, it's better than average. Whedon, who made his career with supernatural soap operas, is a natural with this stuff, laying out wry, slightly cynical dialogue and impromptu dramatic moments between the protagonists. He even does surprisingly well with the iconic Emma Frost, the character Morrison most made his own. Fans, 'traditional' and otherwise, will be likely pleased with the earthy take on Kitty Pryde, a popular character who has suffered much over the years from writers' hands. So far it doesn't seem like he's going to ignore the changes Morrison applied to the Beast and Scott Summers and, naturally, he pulls a good Wolverine.

The only drawback is with one of the story's two villains, so far unnamed, who looks like he escaped from a 50s b-movie. But Whedon more than makes up for this by introducing another potential antagonist, Dr. Rao, who starts the story by looking like a benefactor before one sinister turn of phrase alters our perception of her character entirely.

Naturally Cassidy's art is gorgeous, and is arguably a match for the recent work done on "New X-Men" by Frank Quietly. He still can't seem to get Quietley's redesign for the Beast, but makes a good college try.

All in all, not as bad as it might have been, and, considering that the whole project is an editorial step-back, Whedon does an excellent job of making the most out of it. Hopefully he will manage to keep it up.

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