Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Astonishing X-Men #19

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2006
By: Keith Dallas


Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassady, Laura Martin (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Average Rating:

Geoff Collins:
Shawn Hill:
Kevin Powers:
Ray Tate:

Geoff Collins

There’s a lot to like about this book. All that I dislike is that since I have to review it, I need some point of criticism or point where I can compare one part’s value as being better than another part’s, but I cannot with this issue. I’m not excited about this title like I am with many others, but everything in this is done really well.

The pace has changed from last issue. Television shows often die because they build up a big climax each episode and then are unable to sustain it. For various reasons, a comic can get by even after losing those build ups. Movies sometimes have ten minutes of slower pacing after a big scene (consider in X-Men 3 the point right after Phoenix “kills” Xavier). Because it’s a movie and not a television episode, those lulls can slip by. Since comics are generally episodic, they run into the same overall pacing problems as television, but Astonishing X-Men is more like a movie where one problem leads into the next without resolution. That’s what draws me to the comic so much. Even though the characters aren’t running around clubbing each other in this issue and the team faces a whole new problem after the first was resolved, there are still threads left dangling and issues—like the relationship between Colossus and Kitty— that have not been completed.

I like Whedon’s subtle humor which helps break tension at times. It doesn’t have me laughing out loud or telling people about it like I do with most of Nicieza’s Cable and Deadpool books, but I do enjoy it. In this issue, he reveals that Ord, a prisoner from Breakworld who goes around trying to kill mutants and smashing up the place, is in fact an ambassador from Breakworld. While it shows exactly how brutal they are and is completely plausible in the context, it still makes me smile to think of an ambassador running around like the Hulk.

One point I thought hilarious was Colossus’ joke. The team is being briefed on why Breakworld wants to destroy Peter and Agent Brand asks him if he’s puzzled by why Breakworld would think he is the mutant destined to destroy Breakworld (the story is really much more complicated, but it’s too much for just a review), Peter responds with, “No. I’m not. I have been planning to destroy the Breakworld since I was a child.” After a pause he says, “This is why I don’t make so many jokes. I never know when is good.” What’s good about its timing, in terms of it as a story, is that it helped to shift from the sadness caused by the previous scene between Kitty and Peter.

That joke might not have come off well if not for the art by Cassaday. There is no one page in the story to point to and say, “This is great,” because that’s how every page is. Even the emotion of the ugly Breakworlders is captured well and helps the story. It has its own style, but is still realistic. The colors are used to create a darkness on the ship that mirrors how dark the story is, but more fiery colors in Breakworld invoke hell.

What’s more, Whedon opens with a bit of story about Breakworlders who are opposed to what their government is doing, which complicates how the enemy is viewed in this story. Instead of them all being bad people, you see that there are good guys as well. So the X-Men can’t just go around killing them all in defense, because readers will go, “He just killed Timmy, who was doing what I think I would do in his shoes,” instead of, “He just killed some alien, who’s gross and totally different from me.”

Shawn Hill

Plot: Breakworld is weird, alternately victimized and violent. The X-Men don’t know why they’ve been kidnapped to their very own space war. Nobody has noticed where Cassandra’s hiding.

Comments: I admit to not looking forward to this arc. I’m afraid Colossus may die again. And I’ve been quite unimpressed with Ord forever. He’s much more fun as part of the comedy team that includes the chastised and stymied (if always resourceful) Danger-bot. I mean Porno Grip Ultron.

Still, the first arc was probably the best, introducing Whedon’s students and the mutancy cure idea. The second with Danger was wobbly, but with a few cool moments. The third with the return of Cassandra was sneaky and crafty and surprising, but really required way too much patience and relied on nothing but misdirection. Though it did do a good job of mentally destabilizing the team.

So maybe “Unstoppable” will be an all-out action fest, though this issue is actually a bit of a breather. We needed an explicative one, as we didn’t get a break last issue at all. Whedon’s been keeping all of these stories in something like real time (another questionable decision, considering their infrequency of publication due to his other commitments), and when you do that, you have to keep track of what everybody would be feeling at that moment from month to month. Which he does in spades this issue, showing a very troubled assortment of highly trained fighters competently and quickly assessing their situation, which includes their emotional states.

Cassaday is an indivisible part of the success of this project, and he impresses here with a vision of Breakworld that is ornate, complicated and possessed of an exotic grandeur. The story better live up to that, but so far so good. He also does a lot of clever things with the characters, such as the bored expression on Emma’s face even when weighted down to the floor by a gravity field, or a sheepish expression from Piotr at a funny moment.

Agent Brand’s role is crucial to this issue, and Whedon effortlessly morphs her from more annoying than S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Hill (whom she already outclassed mercilessly in a previous issue) to a woman doing her job in true Nick Fury style. Why did she kidnap the X-Men? Because she needs super-heroes to save Earth from aliens, and didn’t have time to ask politely. And it’s not even against the Kree or Skrulls, but new aliens created just for this tale. Fingers crossed for bringing on the epic!

Kevin Powers:

There’s a virus sweeping Marvel Comics. It seems to have the heaviest effect on mutants, and it has been around for a few years now. I’m not referring to a re-emergence of the Legacy Virus, no. Rather, I refer to the lackluster and inconsistent stories plaguing the X-books since the end of Grant Morrison’s reign. The best X-books you are going to find today are any by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost and the “flagship” Astonishing X-Men. It is unfortunate that Joss Whedon did not replace Bryan Singer on X3, but comic fans were treated to the next best thing: For the past 19 issues and roughly two years now, Joss Whedon has produced the best ongoing X-book on the market and sadly enters into his final arc. Whedon’s run on Astonishing has been such a success that one of the major plotlines of X3 was taken directly from Whedon’s first arc.

We have seen some strange things in the past 18 issues of Astonishing: Colossus was been brought back from the dead by a crazy alien named Ord; S.W.O.R.D. has been monitoring the X-Men and Ord; the danger room became a sentient humanoid being and Cassandra Nova wreaked hell on the minds of all of the X-Men, specifically Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost. Not to mention Cyclops doesn’t have his powers (prediction: he will soon have control over the optic blasts). It’s been a crazy ride, and like all good things, it must come to an end. However, one of the central storylines that Whedon has been developing over the past two years will finally come to a head. For the uninitiated, supposedly one of the X-Men is going to be responsible for the destruction of the Breakworld. Allegedly, that X-Man will be Colossus. Agent Brand needs to keep the Breakworlders from invading Earth, and thus she intends to take the X-Men to the Breakworld itself.

The X-Men have been through so much since their original inception, countless memorable and not-so-memorable stories have run their course and weaved themselves, one way or another, to the overall canon of the X-Men. Some of the best X-stories have been those that involve the cosmos. For a group of characters that were created to universally represent minorities all over America and all over the world, they still fill the role of superhero very well. Joss Whedon is a master of sci-fi, just look at Buffy and Firefly, even his run on Astonishing has been laced with many sci-fi elements. For Whedon to take his final arc (and one of the most memorable X-stories) into space just seems fitting not only for himself but for the X-Men as well.

S.W.O.R.D., under the command of Agent Brand, has recruited the X-Men and Ord to travel the Breakworld. Her motivations? To keep the Breakworlders from starting a war with Earth in order to get to Colossus. The Breakworlders learn of Colossus’ whereabouts when Brand allows Ord to contact his homeworld, specifically to divert them from Earth.

In a nutshell, that covers this issue. And before the X-Purists go insane, that small summary just overviews the general set-up and general happenings in this issue in regards to the “A” storyline. Every now and then a single issue of a comic book features so many little moments that create one hell of an entertaining and exciting read. This particular issue is filled with said moments. I’m sure there are plenty of reviews addressing this issue’s overall plot and story; I feel the need to focus on the smaller moments that really stand out, small moments of genius that have made Whedon and Casaday’s run so worthwhile.

It starts with Agent Brand utilizing the gravity surge and stopping Ord and the X-Men from waging a war on board the S.W.O.R.D. spaceship. Agent Brand, trying to act all “Nick Fury”-ish, finds herself confidently thinking she has the upper hand until Astonishing X-Men major player Kitty Pryde holds a gun to her head. So what, you may say. It’s not until Kitty phases the gun through Brand’s head that the true genius of this moment shines. Kitty has gone through a lot during this arc and she has definitely developed an edge that could possibly have some repercussions as this arc comes to a close.

The next great moment also features Kitty and is definitely one of the most emotional X-moments since Jean Grey died. After Cassandra Nova threw Kitty through a mind-loop with her hallucination of her fantasy future, she is very uncertain about herself and her life, deepening the aforementioned edge. She confronts her lover, the other central character of this arc, Colossus. In a nutshell, the one couple in the X-universe for which most fans have the greatest liking has broken up as soon as they got back together. With everything Kitty’s been through already she tells Colossus she can’t be with him at the moment.

And briefly, two other standout moments come when Colossus cracks a poorly timed joke and then admits his folly, conceding that he doesn’t tell jokes for that very reason. The second moment comes in one of Agent Brand’s lines of dialogue that sums up the Astonishing X-Men and reinforces an earlier point I made: “I did it because right now, I need superheroes” (In reference to kidnapping the X-Men). Just that one line of dialogue reiterates my earlier point, some of the best X-tales come in the form of interstellar battles because beyond the persecution and minority classification, I think many often forget that the X-Men are superheroes.

As a whole, this issue continues the story from the entirety of Whedon’s run, and it also serves as a great set-up for the final arc. But it is really the small moments that take this issue from being good to great.

Ray Tate:

Once again, I feel it only fair to warn the gentle reader that I am a Joss Whedon fan. I expect a helluva lot from Mr. Whedon. So maybe I am being overly harsh, but this is the man who gave the world Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He can do a lot better than this disposable issue of Astonishing X-Men.

The story consists of a series of leftovers from previous plots, heavy exposition, and an uninteresting alien culture. Whedon’s dialogue is lifeless, and the character interaction, barring one or two, is practically non-existent. Blessed little wit graces the pages.

At last issue’s cliffhanger, S.W.O.R.D., a spin-off defense agency of S.H.I.E.L.D. teleported Kitty and the whole caboodle from Xavier’s mansion. Kitty, who has become a pissed off Dirty Harry type with petite boobs, makes one of the few creative moves in the book that makes sense. Agent Brand engages the other move that makes sense. The method Brand uses involves a very plausible manipulation of gravity, doubly so given that the X-Men and company now reside on a S.W.O.R.D. warship.

The rest of the issue sadly fails to live up to the dramatic promise in these two scenes. We get heavy-handed reminders that Peter Rasputin will destroy Breakworld. Given its state, I say good riddance to bad rubbish. Whedon slaps egg to Peter’s face when he has him misfire a joke. You’re supposed to find the funny in Peter’s embarrassment, but I felt this quip to be out of character and unnecessary. It’s as if Whedon was desperately looking for something to do with the character.

The soap opera between Peter and Kitty drivels on, and it doesn’t work for me since it’s predicated on the stupid, stupid virtual reality Kitty imagined for herself and, given her experience and her training, should have recognized as fiction. I also caught the insinuation that El Cassandra Blobbo just may be residing in Kitty’s mind. If this is the case, it’s an inane, contrived twist.

Speaking of contrivances, Danger, as I pointed out previously, was just a mechanized Star Trek trope. Robots are devices, and I objected to how powerful Whedon made this creature. The way Whedon essentially dumps Danger in this issue makes me wonder if my original supposition wasn’t true all along; that the whole Danger Room plot might have been ghost written from a Whedon outline. This would explain why Whedon treats the all-mighty Danger like a Windows operating system.

The way Whedon deals with Danger unwittingly opens another line of questioning. Danger was pure Star Trek. Whoever wrote her, whoever created her had no problem borrowing heavily from Star Trek, yet for Astonishing X-Men, Whedon doesn’t borrow some simply sensible starship construction hints from Star Trek. This is quite infuriating.

S.W.O.R.D.’s spacecraft doesn’t have shields or a cloaking device. How can a warship not have shields? Force fields are common in the Marvel Universe.

S.H.I.E.L.D. was an organization expert in subterfuge. I don’t know what it is now thanks to Marvel's Big Stupid Event, but the old S.H.I.E.L.D. used Life Model Decoys and mastered holographic technology. S.W.O.R.D. is an offshoot of S.H.I.E.L.D. Why doesn’t the spacecraft have a cloak, which strikes me as a logical offshoot of holographic technology?

Due to protocols detailed in a treaty with the Romulan Empire, Federation craft are forbidden in normal circumstances to have cloaks. Even if I assumed that S.W.O.R.D. took part in a similar treaty, it still doesn’t explain why Agent Brand gives the enemy the proper co-ordinates of the spacecraft so that the bad guys can blow it out of the sky at the cliffhanger.

The given explanation is that Brand and her men are gallantly leading an alien armada away from earth. Well, this is just stupid. Yes, protect the Earth, but no, do not endanger yourselves while doing it. This is as bad as blocking a death ray with Paradise Island rather than utilizing a lifeless rock like Ceres. Why didn’t Brand give out false co-ordinates to lead the armada on a snipe-hunt? Why didn’t Brand give out false co-ordinates to the farthest reaches of space to thereby protect Earth and her men? Why didn’t Brand give out false co-ordinates that led the armada into an asteroid field? Why didn’t she give the co-ordinates to the Brood Homeworld? Why not send them to the Shiar Empire and let Lillandra and the Imperial Guard take them out? Giving the enemy your actual position doesn’t make any sense.

Had it not been for Agent Brand’s tactical idiocy, I may have given this issue of Astonishing X-Men , but Brand’s apparent lack of intelligence, which reflects Whedon not thinking things through, forces me to knock another bullet out of the chamber.

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