Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon #1

There are many reasons I love the month of October. First off, there's Halloween on the 31st which I normally celebrate by candy overload and horror films. Then we have the consecutive birthdays of two idols of mine, rapper Eminem and writer Oscar Wilde on the 17th and 18th respectively, and now, hopefully for the best, it's the month when I first read and review Joss Whedon's promising series, The Astonishing X-Men. I've cleansed my palette from last month's series and I'm ready to embark on a fresh, exciting journey that extends to the content, style and quality of my reviews. Written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by John Cassaday, this 2005 series is composed of a grand total of sixty-eight issues and one of its major storylines has been used as one of the three inspirational material for the pitiful mismatched narrative that was X-Men: The Last Stand movie, and, to a lesser extent, the much more superior 2011 adaptation, X-Men: First Class

Before we begin with the first issue, let's introduce the main players of this series as seen in the debut. The cast, for now, is small which I'm expecting to grow as the series progresses because what is X-Men without its multiple arcs starring ensemble characters? Before Lost started the grueling ensemble of characters on screen, X-Men has been doing it in the last 50 years, so one can only imagine the strenuous amount of writing and characterization it took several writers over the decades to build the rich tapestry of its canon. But don't strain yourself; it's essentially unimaginable in breadth and girth. For now, let's all narrow it down to these primary players:


[from left to right]

  • Emma Frost (a. k. a "The White Queen") ==> Reformed villain, Xavier School teacher and Scott's gorgeous squeeze
  • Kitty Pryde (a. k. a "Shadowcat") ==> The youngest member of the X-Men recruited after the death of Jean Grey
  • Scott Summers (a. k. a "Cyclops") ==> The designated, default leader who is not as frigid and distant as he'd like to project
  • Logan James? Howlette (a. k. a "Wolverine") ==> Fan-favorite anti-hero in love with Jean Grey and never got along with Scott
  • Hank McCoy (a. k. a "cat-Beast") ==> Brainy scientist whose physical mutation never stops evolving, much to his chagrin

TIMELINE: There was a brief mention of a scene from Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever (the first series I reviewed here) when Kitty Pryde was reminiscing about her stay at the Xavier's School and this is how the issue opens. I'm guessing that we start in the aftermath of Kitty's graduation and her departure, and as Emma Frost gets a second chance to be one of the good guys. Scott and Jean were married for a time and then she dies (again and more permanently this time), leaving both her husband and could-have-been and definitely-almost-lover Logan heartbroken and in grief. Scott, luckily, moved on to another beautiful telepath and have been together since. Professor X is also a no-show here but Scott still speaks of him fondly so this is definitely pre-Deadly Genesis where he uncovered an upsetting secret that Xavier has been hiding from him. This is pre-everything major that I've read like the decimation of the mutants in House of M, followed by the Hope Summers-centered epics Messiah Complex and Second Coming. Storm, Psylocke, Rogue, Colossus, Magik and Nightcrawler were missing here so far but as I said before, I'm sure they'll be making their appearances too; just not as part of the main roster of the above five. 

FUN FACT: I think I should mention that as I was browsing through my comics folders, I realized I've managed to download copies of the motion comics for this series. I plan on watching them some time after finishing this series or, better yet, after finishing a specific arc before I start with the new one. I've heard there is a varied voice cast for every character and the animated slides of the comics pages were greatly rendered, so I'm definitely going to check it out. Heck, I'll start watching the first episode now right after posting this!


An unnamed child has nightmares, haunted by gruesome images of a past she can't comprehend. A doctor comes to her aid, holding her close and the shot of them in an embrace pulls out to reveal that the girl was inside a observation room of some sort which immediately gave me a sinking feeling of dread as to the identity and purpose of the young girl and doctor in the story. Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde arrives for the first time since her graduation at the Xavier's School for the Gifted.

She explores the halls of her old home and remembers specific moments in her life there that made her nostalgic and slightly embarrassed, before she phases into the nearby wall and accidentally finds herself in the middle of a lecture hall where new teacher Emma Frost was just giving a speech to the students. She tried to make herself inconspicuous as she sat near her old friends, Beast and Scott. Emma acknowledged her presence only dismissively as she ended her speech by accessing the Danger Room and showing the new blood a brood of Sentinels tearing their way through their roof. The simulation proved to be both horrific and exciting as students disperse among crowds of their own, probably still in shock of what they just witnessed even if it wasn't real. The White Queen knows how to keep things spicy.

Scott wasn't that happy that Emma didn't consult him when she decided to play her hand at a magic trick like that, but he forgives her easily enough for it. They ended up tangled in the sheets together as the dawn approaches. It wasn't going to be a pleasant morning for Scott, however, when an old rival wakes him up from his rest, making snide remarks about his late wife and his grief over losing her. Logan perches by their bed, a cruel look in his eye, as he goaded Scott, "What stage is this then? Denial?" And Scott retaliates by shooting him with a blast that took Logan out of the window, breaking glass and waking up the students who hurriedly tried to see what the commotion is about.

Pictured here: Scott Summers grieving Jean Grey

It seems like if Logan is unhappy and still heartbroken over the loss of Jean, and he believes that Scott should feel just as miserable about it still, and it better stay that way or else. Having this sense of entitlement and ownership of the way Scott should grieve is something quite douche-y for Logan, but misery loves company, and as much as both men never got along, their grief actually binds them together because no one else in the world could understand their heartbreak and despair. I think Logan is just seeking somebody else to feel the overwhelming power of never being able to see or love Jean Grey again. Scott is having none of this; he refuses to bond with Logan over his wife's death. After all, Jean's last words to him was that he should live his life after she's gone since all she ever did was die on him anyway. This was a selfless last act of love and Logan could never understand that, as far as Scott is concerned, since Jean was never in love with him. But Logan knew that Jean loved him back in her own way and a selfish part of him feels like shoving it in Scott's face. But he fails because Scott is obviously in the process of moving a lovely, intelligent and powerful woman who shares the burden of responsibility of leading this school and helping restore some dignity in their line of work and vocation as X-Men. Still, Emma has a different perspective about it and had no problem speaking out her mind in Beast's presence concerning her insecurities about her blossoming relationship with Scott:

Ever the pacifist, Hank tries to make things better for everyone by putting the adults concerned inside the Danger Room where he produced a rather cutesy simulation of Hawaii islands and then they started sitting on each one as if it's furniture. The scenic view helped calmed everyone down though which was the point. But Beast still couldn't help but scold them. After that, Scott opened a serious discussion regarding their status as superheroes, how he wishes to get themselves some positive media coverage and publicity by showing the rest of the world they are using their gifts and powers to help maintain the peace and to seek justice for the oppressed. Scott was quite determined and passionate to showcase a new brand for the X-Men which will simultaneously inspire students and new recruits to join them once they're old enough and ready to face the same battle. Surprisingly enough, Logan listened to this without offering any kind of counter-argument. It would seem that Logan has learned to put aside whatever personal qualms he has with Scott and just follow his lead. Not that he hasn't been doing that over the years they've worked together; but I can tell there's a change in the air somewhat now that Logan is still grieving and may need some productive way to divert his attention which was probably why whatever Scott is suggesting they should do is a promising venture for him. Kitty willingly joins the team as well, though wary of the White Queen being by Scott's side. Hank only cares about the new costumes they were going to put on which is understandable because so am I!

Elsewhere, two major events are happening as the new X-Men prepare for their first mission. A group of armed men led by a mysterious monster held hostages inside a private event somewhere in the city. Meanwhile, the doctor and child from the opening pages of this issue now step into the spotlight, surrounded by an eager crowd of journalists and spectators as the doctor named Dr. Kavita Rao stood in front of everyone to announce how she defines a mutant. Unlike the Purifiers, she doesn't think they are an abomination that needs to be ethnically cleansed for religious purposes. Unlike the government-sponsored Sentinels program, her way is not to punish these mutants and imprison them for being born the way they are. No, what Dr. Rao believes is that mutation is A DISEASE.

"Mutants are not the next step to evolution. They are not the end of humankind. The mutant gene is nothing more than a disease. A corruption of healthy cellular activity. We have found a cure." 

I'll probably have more fleshed-out insights regarding Dr. Rao's belief by the next issue. But make no mistake: I'm offended. Now this is a familiar one because we have seen this so-called 'mutant cure' as the major plot in The Last Stand which was handled poorly, actually, because there are some contradictions and inherent consistencies in that script. I want to see how Whedon approached the idea here in the original source material. Speaking of loosely based adaptations, the poster for X-Men: First Class, particularly the costume choices of the characters there were definitely inspired by this panel, including the haphazard way it was shot where the camera angle tips to the corner a little bit. Go ahead and search for the posters online and see for yourself. Also, Emma Frost's appearance here is also the basis for the costuming choices for January Jones in the film. The resemblance between the way the character was drawn here and the way the actress looks in the scenes of the movie is unmistakable so I feel like bringing it up, especially since I love January as herself (even if her portrayal lacked life in the movie) and the White Queen and her journey towards being a heroine after being such a badass villainess for so long. 

Wolverine: Time to make nice with the public, eh, Summers? 
Cyclops: We have to do more than that, Logan.

I'm going to rate this issue in pragmatic terms. I don't want to start with a high rating already since this is just the introduction and as evenly paced as everything was including the reveal at the end, and as amusing were the interactions among our heroes, I still want to start my review of this series by saving for my high ratings which is why I'm giving this one a seven out of ten because it was better than I expected but not quite there yet. As a fan of most of Whedon's work in television, I know that he's one writer who does know how to take his time formulating his stories so I'm confident that he's going for the kill once he knows the time is right and pieces are set in motion as flawlessly as he could manage. So far, the premise is teeming with potentials. I like the main players selected and I'm all on-board for the trip!


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