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Joss Whedon - "Astonishing X-Men" Comic Book - Issue 01 Hard Cover - Ign.com Review

Richard George

Friday 19 May 2006, by Webmaster

Astonishing X-Men HC Vol. 1 Review

The best X-Men run ever?

May 17, 2006 - X-Men fans are an abandoned, abused group. Aside from Grant Morrison and perhaps the recent New X-Men series, there has been little reason to be happy. Marvel publishes and has published at least five mutant titles per month for over a decade. Searching for a good modern X-book yields few results. Most fans accept the situation and satisfy their hunger by reading comics from the ’70s and ’80s. Writers just don’t seem to understand how to write the X-Men. Anyone can understand the theme of the brand, but to write a good story is a different matter altogether.

Joss Whedon understands what makes the X-Men good. In fact, he not only understands, but he knows how to translate that into solid, original stories. He knows how to write a team book with humor, action and drama. He knows how to handle team dynamics while allowing each character to have a unique personality. He knows that Wolverine is to be used sparingly. It is rare to find an X-Men writer as good as Joss.

Astonishing X-Men is the best X-Men title published in over a decade. Whedon absolutely nails the interpersonal dynamics. The team is small - Shadowcat, White Queen, Cyclops, Wolverine and Beast - but this lets the spotlight shine on everyone. No character dominates the page, which will come as a relief to some who were tired of certain Canucks dominating plots (Whedon has even said that Wolverine works best in limited doses as opposed to an omnipresent star). The characters starring in Astonishing complement each other perfectly. Whether it is Emma Frost’s cold, ruthless demeanor, Wolverine’s cranky grandfather attitude or Beast’s charming wit, Joss manages to mix and match the best dialogue at the best moment. The characters truly come to life; interaction is crisp, perfectly timed and incredibly witty.

The first plot, "The Cure," is remarkable. The first issue of the arc (and the collection) contains a final page so powerful I doubt it can ever be replicated. The words "we have found a cure," are absolutely stunning. The fallout from that phrase is equally as epic, as an X-Man long thought deceased returns to the team to stop the evil intentions of otherworldly villains. As a villain, the alien Ord is not all that compelling. It’s partly his design, but also the fact that he never really seems to pose much of a threat. He picks on children and makes a lot of noise, but never lives up to what he claims. He does dispatch the X-Men in a brutal action sequence, but there never seems to be a great amount of jeopardy after the team’s ranks grow.

The second arc is shakier, and this is again because of the villain. Joss has a brilliant handle on the X-Men, but his zeal to create originals stories does not translate to menacing villains (until the very end of this collection). The "Cure" as a villain, works incredibly well. As an "agent" of that plot device, Ord doesn’t work so well. The second arc revolves around the Danger Room. The concept of a sentient device that seeks to kill is fine, we have Sentinels, but there is something about the Danger Room being alive that seems silly. The plot itself comes across well, the threat feels real and the action and dialogue is intense but... the Danger Room? The Danger Room is alive and is mad at its oppressors? It doesn’t come across as well as it might sound conceptually. Again the story is still powerful, but the villain is a little silly for my taste.

John Cassaday’s art is leagues beyond any other artist I have seen on the X-Men. He captures every moment perfectly; there is an infamous sequence in the fourth chapter of "The Cure" that exemplifies this. Jim Lee and Joe Madureira typically come to mind as standard-setting X-Men artists, but John makes their work look simplistic and boring. It’s not that they are bad - Cassaday is simply that good. My only faults with the art are the designs of Ord and Danger. Neither is particularly imaginative. If both had been a little more "fantastic" in design, perhaps they would have been slightly more interesting.

Astonishing X-Men HC Vol. 1

Written by: Joss Whedon Art by: John Cassaday Publisher: Marvel Genre: Action/Adventure Price: $29.99 Suggested Age: 12+ Release Date: Now Available

Learn more about IGN Comics’ rating system. Rating: Must Have

Astonishing X-Men has faults. There’s no arguing that the book suffers from a concept-to-execution problem, but despite those issues, this collection is brilliant. Joss Whedon perfectly portrays the mutants, and has managed to create two of the most original arcs I have ever seen. Even more amazing is his ability to craft and develop plots that snowball into big events. During the "Cure" arc, you see developments of the "Danger" arc. Currently we are seeing the "Cure" and "Danger" stories develop into a new threat. Each chapter is satisfying, fun, and stacks into something bigger. It’s almost picture-perfect storytelling. All of the bitter fans longing for the quality they once read now have hope. New readers who have never read X-Men would be wise to try this title. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday are crafting a remarkable and monumental title that stands above anything X-related in the past 20 years.