Writer: Joss Whedon
Artists: John Cassaday(p), Laura Martin(c)
This is the best issue of Astonishing X-Men we've had in a long time, and the book reveals all of the strengths in Joss Whedon's astonishing abilities that led to two successful television phenomena and a cult favorite that created the subculture of fandom known as Browncoats.
The book opens with Emma Frost the White Queen giving a performance worthy of Meryl Streep. With a single forced tear and displays of overt concern, she lures the X-Men to Scott whom she took down last issue by inexplicably convincing Scott to shut down his own power. As I stated in the last review, Scott cannot shut down his own power, but I won't belabor the point. The plot twist doesn't hog the spotlight, and the lion's share of Astonishing X-Men fulfills the promise of the damn good writing we've come to expect from Joss Whedon.
Emma does not convince all the X-Men of her sincerity. Kitty has never trusted her, and it is in her suspicion that Whedon exemplifies his ability to understand characters and let them direct his writing. That's what has mostly been missing from previous underwhelming issues--especially that awful bastardization of a Star Trek plot "Dangerous."
As Whedon did with Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, he shows that Emma has been affected by her time with the X-Men. Unlike Spike, Emma's time with the X-Men is not powerful enough to overcome what can be described as an addiction to evil.
Attracted by the Hellmouth, Spike with his consort Dru comes to Sunnydale and through ego and arrogance eliminates the potential of the second Big Bad. He causes lots of trouble, but in the end he throws his lot in with the Slayer. He doesn't want to destroy the world. It's the only place that has "Happy Meals with legs." As the seasons pass, Spike changes. He eventually falls in love with the Slayer. "I know I'm a monster, but you treat me like a man." When Buffy died, Spike did not revert back to his evil ways. Instead, he became an autonomous force for good. He was Buffy's sister's protector. He gave his word to "a lady," and he kept his word. When Buffy resurfaces, he attempts to rape her because Spike is a monster, and in Joss Whedon's universe evil is an addiction that can suck in even the most wholesome of characters, such as Willow, at her weakest moment. Spike realizes the only way he can truly love the Slayer is to be human. So he fights and regains his soul. It is only with his humanity that he can feel the difference between right and wrong rather than as a monster merely make observations on the sideline.
The Joss Whedon universe always offers the chance for redemption. Many of his characters redeem themselves. Some characters remain evil throughout the series and usually pay for their evil ways by facing the Slayer and her friends. Others redeem themselves only to once again listen to the whispers of evil and embrace the wickedness that once gripped their lives.
In Astonishing X-Men Whedon takes the superficially odd tack of taking a character that Grant Morrison successfully redeemed and reverts her back to her evil ways. It's only when observing Whedon's patterns in his past writing that you can see how easily she fits into his scheme. Emma is addicted to evil, and what makes this issue interesting is that though she is surprisingly weak, there's a part of her that's still fighting the addiction. Like Spike, a part of her does not want to be what she is, and that's why she placed Kitty in the team. She's the one person who will not trust her, who will stop her if she fell victim to the addiction.
Other moments give testament to Whedon's abilities. Whedon's known for giving so-called third-tier characters such resonance that they slowly become important to the plot and the fans. For lesser writers third-tier characters usually provide hollow canon fodder or decoration. Not for Whedon. The third tier is a rung meant to be explored. Though this issue focuses on a life and death battle between the X-Men and a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that are filled with familiar faces it's one of the wittiest battles seen in this comic. The dialogue crackles. Some moments in the fight exhibit a comprehension of continuity. Others give insight into the X-Men's greatest fears. A few remark on the cross-pollination of pop culture. Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine, but for this issue it's also important to recognize that he also portrayed a seriously gay man in Boy from Oz.
Whedon did no favors for John Cassaday or Laura Martin when writing at his lowest ebb in previous issues. Cassaday's ability to create a tableau of photorealism within the framework of traditional comic book action has always evidenced itself, but this time out Cassaday brings to Astonishing X-Men a gamut of artistic sensory gems. He creates a sense of old school fun in his battle between Peter Rasputin and Sebastian Shaw. He creeps you out when Kitty meets a dangerous cuckoo in the nest. He makes you burst out laughing when we see that Wolverine is indeed the best and what he does. His homage to Byrne at the end of the book makes one smile. He gives the third-tier character's actions incredible weight. Laura Martin's colors vividly deepen the emotions at play--Emma's tear-jerking--and gives depth to the settings--such as the fiery hot Kitty trap. This issue of Astonishing X-Men lives up to its name. Whedon, Cassaday and Martin have a right to be proud of this one.
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