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Astonishing X-Men #1

Posted: Tuesday, June 1, 2004
By: Kelvin Green



“Gifted”

Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday:

Publisher: Marvel

...and it's okay. The hype is enormous on this one, so it's actually quite hard to review it from an objective viewpoint. What makes the exercise even harder is that this is being treated as the heir apparent to Grant Morrison's run on whatever New X Men is called nowadays, and to be honest, doesn't fare too well in the comparison. Morrison started off with a bang, while this starts off with more of a yawn. A well-written and witty yawn, but a yawn nonetheless.

I must admit to some bias here. I've never been a fan of the X-Men. I have a number of conceptual problems with them that prevent my enjoyment of the stories, plus there's the fact that for most of my life, you've needed to read about seventeen different X-comics a month to follow the story, which is just ridiculous. Grant Morrison changed all that and got me interested for the first time. Morrison introduced mutants who didn't automatically have superpowers as a result of their mutation. He put the tired racism angle to rest. He refused to cross-pollinate with the other X-books, meaning I only had to get one of them per month. And he stopped them from being superheroes. You can't have them being hated and feared and have them running about in brightly coloured spandex at the same time. They're superheroes because Stan Lee invented them as superheroes back in the Sixties, but that series failed. All the interesting stuff about genetic bigotry that came a lot later and made the X-Men a success just isn't compatible with Lee's setup.
So I'm not particularly enthused about the decision to make the X-Men into superheroes again, costumes and all. It's part of a conservative, backward trend that's spreading all across mainstream American comics right now. For the past five years or so, we've had forward-looking, genre-hopping, expectation-confounding comics, but since sales haven't improved as a result, the companies are lurching back the other way. So the "Image-style" artists have all crawled out of the woodwork, multiple-foil-remarked-polybagged-holographic covers are turning up, crossovers are rearing their ugly heads here and there, Hal Jordan and Supergirl are back from the dead, and the X-Men are superheroes again. Quite how Bendis is going to survive all this, I don't know.

Anyway...so they're superheroes again, and they're back in costume. I would give it a chance if the explanation was good, but it's not. Frankly, it's a little idiotic. Whedon has Cyclops claiming that if they looked and acted like superheroes, then the general population would accept them as they accept the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. Putting the almost-out-of-continuity-X-Statix aside, this is like saying the Nazis would have been lenient on the Jews if they'd only dressed like Wagnerian opera singers. Just because you put some spandex on, it doesn't change your genetic makeup, which is the thing Marvel-Universe-people don't like about mutants. And besides, even the Avengers have had their fair share of public relations problems due to having one or two mutant members. The argument just doesn't make sense, and isn't helped by the fact that it's the exact opposite of Morrison's argument against costumes, without giving any justification why it should defeat it. And who did Morrison use to deliver his anti-spandex rant in that first issue of New X Men? Cyclops...Perhaps that's why Cyclops ends up with the so-called pervert-suit. His constantly-changing attitude to costumery probably ran the X-tailor the wrong way. "We have to astonish them," says Cyclops as he minces about in his body-condom. "Astonish" might be the wrong word. At least Wolverine looks suitably grumpy at having to dress like a canary again.

As a set-up issue, this is pretty well-done, but it just seems so conventional and...well, dull. Whedon enjoys himself with the dialogue, but doesn't seem to want to get the plot going until the end, and only then as an afterthought. For such a high-profile project, I'd have preferred a more exciting opening rather than endless pages of people sitting about chatting and a couple of almost-fights. Whedon comes from television writing, where the pre-credits "hook" is almost ubiquitous and yet does not apply it here. Unless this comic is going to be twelve issues of spandex-clad people having a chat, it should have opened with more of a bang.

Perhaps some of this is down to John Cassaday's artwork. Yes, it's meticulous and each panel is individually gorgeous, if somewhat sparse, backgrounds especially. But there's very little in the way of movement and dynamism. I don't know if Cassaday uses photo reference in his art, but it does have the static feel that often plagues that style. As a result, the action sequences, such as they are, lack excitement. I don't have an issue of Planetary to hand, but I'm sure his work is better there.

I'm sure that a lot of my dislike of this comic comes from my various biases against its content and philosophy, and I'm sure there's an element of going against the hype too. However I'm equally sure that what I say here won't make a difference, as this'll sell shedloads anyway. I'm going to give this a few more issues to prove itself, but this isn't the best start, especially for such a high-profile event.



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