This is really not what I intended.
Originally, this installment was to be called Speed of Hype, and present capsule reviews that examined the ability of certain well publicized titles to meet their considerable expectations. We were going to dive into Whedon and Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men, dissect Azzarello & Lee’s Superman, peel a few layers back on the Identity Crisis, delve into The Gray Area, maybe even gaze upon Ex Machina if we had the time. Started writing one of the sections, and a couple hundred words later, wasn’t anywhere near finished, so just wrote until I was, the focus quickly shifting and holding onto one topic…the start of Astonishing X-Men in relation to New X-Men. Didn’t have a chance to review the highly anticipated first issue last month, but who knows, maybe subconsciously I was just saving up for this, or something very much like it. Two issues down, and this is the state of the X-Men. Are we truly being astonished, or is there another adjective more appropriate?
Let’s get the obvious outta the way first…
Beware the shadow of Grant Morrison, for within it often lies unintended mediocrity. While the idea of choosing to enlist a writer like Morrison, someone widely considered one of the greatest talents that the industry has ever produced, was likely met with little or no resistance, there is one particular downside that a company should always remain moderately conscious of. Despite the quality and inherent marketability of whatever material said legendary creator generates, there may (and likely will) come a point in time that marks the end of the creative partnership, and illustrates just what makes a good writer great…the ability to ruin anyone that dares follow. A scorched earth of creative possibility that instantly puts a new creative team at an immediate disadvantage, forced to carve out their own path, after someone else has done it so well. The situation is unavoidable of course, and something that likely seems incredibly remote whenever a memorable creative run is in its relative infancy, but as we all know, all good things must come to end, so here we are, with X-Men no longer New, and hopefully Astonishing.
I told myself I wasn’t going to directly compare the first issue of Joss Whedon’s run with that of his predecessor, but after a couple readings, probably trying to trick myself into liking it more than I did honestly, it didn’t take long to figure out what the deal was.
Not that Astonishing X-Men #1 was a terrible effort by any means, the art was typical Cassaday brilliance, and the story and dialogue were both clever and well-executed, but it just didn’t have that initial feeling you know? That crackling sensation of a first page with Wolverine ripping into the back of a Sentinel, while Cyclops casually lobotomizes another commenting, “Wolverine. You can probably stop doing that now.” Seriously, from the first look, you knew it was gonna be on. Miniaturized Sentinels shat out by a giant Ecuadorian Master Mold. Cassandra Nova, with her funny shaped head, and horrible dreams of mutant extinction. Millions of innocent mutants snuffed out in a matter of seconds. E is For Extinction, homie. Reading the admittedly solid inaugural issue of Astonishing, and I kept having this thought over and over again…where did all of the New run off to?
Straight up, I was sporting a Kool-Aid grin on my face when Scott Summers wakes up to an irritable Wolverine perched on his bed, the only logical response to blast the overrated little runt onto the lawn outside, but it didn’t last, because with clockwork precision, the spandex of tradition returned in earnest. But that wasn’t even the worst part mind you, what was even more ridiculous than Scott’s gigantic new visor, was that they tried to explain it. Now, I’m not going to argue for the wholesome eradication of the brightly costumed superhero, because seriously, that’s just silly, but attempting to incorporate it as a reasonable discourse within the context of the story didn’t work in the slightest, and if Whedon couldn’t make it fly, not many could. This is the man that named his series lead Buffy Summers, and then proceeded to build her into one of the most memorable characters to ever hit serialized television, you understand. Joss Whedon knows what he’s doing, but even he can’t make this “explanation” for a return to form make any sense.
Cyclops campaigning that wrapping themselves in latex (lambskin if allergic) will aid in facilitating some manner of acceptance from the general public only works if you’re willing to ignore anything you’ve ever seen in any X-Men comic, ever. The X-Men have always worn spandex and appeared as “superheroes,” and people still managed to hate them quite passionately, throughout their many spin-offs and permutations. What kind of messed-up Jedi mind trick does Marvel think it can manage, by wrapping this rationalization in gorgeous Cassaday/Martin created art? If they’ve decided to consciously sprint away from Morrison’s wake, and when you combine this with the revelation that Xorn is actually alive and well, and that the Magneto featured in the Planet X storyline was actually an “impostor,” that appears to be exactly what’s happening, things might be better served by simply turning and just running like hell. Get as far away as fast as you can. No one blames you. Morrison does this to everyone. Any great writer makes this situation difficult. But just run. Don’t come to a dead stop halfway down the street, only to turn and explain to us why you’re doing it. Just go, we’ll forget about everything within four months anyway. By drawing unnecessary attention to it, you’re only forcing us to compare one to the other. “Get out of my head or I’ll fire.”
I was seriously down for this though, sight unseen. Whedon. Cassaday. Martin. The game was easily on lock for twelve solid months, but incorporating this theme into the main narrative makes the characters appear rather foolish, sacrificing their natural reactions for plot progression…about costumes of all things. I’d rather have seen a couple big ideas introduced in the second half of the first issue. But you get it by now, I wasn’t too crazy about issue one, and before reading the second, was holding out hope that my mind could still be changed.
To a certain extent, chapter two quieted a large portion of my initial disappointment, likely by virtue of its ability to forego explanation, and just get right down to business. The prospect of a mutant “cure” isn’t a new one, but as with anything, it’s not the idea, but the execution that proves most relevant. Whedon is building a nice scientific foil for Henry McCoy in the form of Kavita Rao, and the blue furred scientist is falling into a comfortable role as comic relief, teasing Wolverine post-battle that, “you’re always so grouchy when you get cut in half.” Wolverine, by the way, is still quite pissed at how quickly Scott hopped into bed with Emma Frost, following yet another tragic Jean Grey death. In addition to bedding the hottest mutant on campus, Scott is also easing into his role as co-headmaster, until he begins doubting himself, which makes no sense considering his rep. Perhaps it’s Emma’s fault, a bit of well-placed mind control hidden between the sheets? Probably a good thing that Kitty Pryde is there to keep a close eye on the former villain then. Wait, that’s what Frost brought her there for?
This characterization here is excellent, everyone falling into their roles, a new mysterious adversary, and a few interesting sub-plots set into motion. This is the proper course of action if you’re going head to head with an excellent departing writer. Don’t try to tell me why Hank is wearing a leather diaper, just give me the X-Men taking down a roomful of bad guys in less than two pages, Kitty phasing hostages through the floor, Scott opening his eyes and knocking walls down, and Emma clothes-lining some fool that thought he was getting away. Cassaday’s artwork is every bit as beautiful as you’d expect, and the action sequence where the mutants clear a room, like some highly trained military squad, is worth the full price of admission by itself. I hazard to speculate that if Marvel had released a double-sized issue of Astonishing, and cut back on the wind-filled argument that Cyclops presented for returning back to the tights, they’d have had a bulletproof first issue on their hands. Instead, we got one that really needed a companion to make a creative impact, and while it’s not attempting to reinvent the wheel at this point, it does take care of the primary concern of any comic, proving more enjoyable than not. Now, if Whedon could just throw some evil twins and psychic affairs into the mix, we’ll be
good to go, I think.
What about you good folks out there, thumbs up or down on the new flagship X-title at two issues in? Has Grant’s shadow struck again? Is it unfair to even compare the two? Does John Cassaday art just make everything better?
Feel free to hit me with your thoughts.