Current Reviews


Astonishing X-Men #12

Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2005
By: Kelvin Green

“Dangerous” 6 of 6

Writer: “Joss Whedon”
Artist: John Cassaday

Publisher: Marvel Comics

You're reading the fourth complete rewrite of this review; I've had a hard time putting into words quite why this comic is so awful without going on and on for ages. Suffice to say that I’ve failed. While not quite as nonsensical as #11, there are so many fundamental writing errors in this issue that I can no longer treat the ghost writer rumours as a joke; there are basic mistakes here that no one listing "writer" as an occupation should make.

For example, Beast tears Porno Grip Ultron apart on his own while the rest of the team holds off the mega-Sentinel. This is the exact same Porno Grip Ultron that almost killed the entire team two issues ago, and the exact same mega-Sentinel that wiped out sixteen million mutants in a matter of minutes back in New X-Men, but no explanation for the X-Men's sudden prowess is given; we haven't seen the Beyonder boosting their powers, and we haven't seen them planning any new tactics either, so it's left unexplained how they can suddenly convincingly beat foes that previously completely outclassed them.

Although to be fair, the X-Men don't fight the Sentinel to a standstill; instead it develops a conscience and flies off to have a think about what it's done. Yes really. Not only is this touchy-feely gibberish of the worst sort (and in keeping with the comic's ripping off of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, this is "I, Borg"), it's presented in a staggeringly inept fashion; why show any of this happening "on screen" if you can just have Kitty Pryde explain it after the fact via narrative captions? Apparently whoever's Being Joss Whedon this issue hasn't read any one of the thousands of books and articles on writing that stress "show don't tell" as a fundamental principle.

Similarly, the revelation of Emma Frost's secret is an ill-judged waste of one of the more interesting X-characters of recent years, but might have worked if the details weren't so devoid of creativity and imagination; all the secrets she could have been hiding, and it's that she's a bad guy after all? I suspect that there's more to this twist than meets the eye (I think Emma's probably hallucinating her masters), but still, it's not particularly compelling, is it? But the biggest howler of all is also the big twist of the storyline as a whole, as Porno Grip Ultron finally reveals why she's trying to kill Xavier. It turns out she's actually alive and sentient and Xavier knew all along, but enslaved her anyway. Um. One of the core concepts of the whole X-Men mythos is that Xavier's a humanitarian; take that away and the whole thing starts to crumble, and yet "Whedon" suddenly has Xavier literally condoning slavery, and for the most inane reasons. Forcibly mindwiping Magneto in order to save Wolverine's life was a difficult decision for Xavier, but one he made for the greater good. Deliberately enslaving a sentient being just so the kids can have a training partner would not be a difficult decision for him; it wouldn't be a decision at all. The stakes just aren't high enough in the latter case, and the action is just as reprehensible. The idea that Xavier would happily do it isn't a clever character development, it's just laughable. Portraying a humanitarian as a bit of a bastard on occasion (as many writers have done with Xavier) is an interesting further dimension for the character; having the same character actively, and without being mind-controlled or suffering from some form of insanity, subjugating sentient beings merely because it's useful to do so suggests that the writer hasn't been paying attention. I'm no big fan of the X-books and the characters within, but even I can see that this is just wrong, and having the other characters comment as such doesn't make that go away.

And if all that's not bad enough, the confirmation that Porno Grip Ultron is in fact alive and sentient makes me ask AGAIN why Xavier couldn't have just mindwiped or mindblasted the thing last issue, saving everyone (characters, creators and readers alike) the hassle of turning up for this tripe.

Finally, as a climax to the "year" long story (a Marvel Year is roughly equivalent to sixteen Earth months) this is an utter failure; there's no sense of conclusion, as if the story will just pick up again next month as per normal. For a comic going on a lengthy hiatus, a more definitive ending is needed, rather than this half-hearted non-commital murmur. The pace of this second storyline has been far too slow and as such six issues have been wasted on three issues of content, leaving no room for a proper conclusion; this is not a case of plot threads carrying over into the next "season." This is a case of unfinished work. One and a half stories in twelve issues is just not good enough.

So if this is such a sloppy puddle of vomitous filth, why the bullet? Well, it's not all bad; Cassaday and Martin continue to show that they're much too good for this comic with some wonderful action scenes and cracking fight choreography. There's a real sense of movement and energy in these pages, particularly in the fight between Beast and Porno Grip Ultron. Cassaday's Wolverine is a bit too, er, stout though; he looks more like Puck from Alpha Flight. Also worth mentioning is that single panel of Beast crouching over the shattered remains of Porno Grip Ultron and growling "Mine"; it's an intelligent and slightly creepy use of the character's cat form and psychology that hasn't been seen since Morrison's era (and as such, all the more surprising for its inclusion). Good stuff. But some nice art and one panel's worth of decent characterisation can't save this shameful mess. This has been an Astonishing (ha!) waste of time, effort and money for all involved. For the art team, who could be illustrating some stonking Avengers issues; for Whedon, who could be spending his time better elsewhere (oh wait...) and for me, who could be going all the way to the comic shop to get something that isn’t so disastrously inept.

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