Friday, October 2, 2015

The Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon #3

Is everybody familiar with Freytag's pyramid or more commonly known as the Dramatic structure of narrative? Composed of five parts, it outlines a story's plot, most notably used for Greek and Shakespearean plays. We have the exposition ( + inciting incident), rising action ( + conflict), climax, falling action and dénouement (resolution, revelation or catastrophe). Critically speaking, Freytag's pyramid doesn't always fit the more contemporary dramas of our time, but it's still a handy structure that I use as a writer and as an English teacher when helping my students understand the plot elements of a story better. I'm thinking of using it for Joss Whedon's The Astonishing X-Men and see if his narrative can fit into Freytag's outline. We're officially three issues in so this is what our pyramid should look like as divided in the parts the plot is currently in. Based on what we have seen in the three issues, here are the first two parts:

If you can hardly read the descriptions provided, rest assured that I will be posting a bigger one by the end of this review. I plan on combining the two parts together to form the pyramid structure. I gotta say, it's been an exciting endeavor reading and reviewing this series, mostly because I like the fact that we only have five X-Men characters to focus on and their relationships with each other provide us readers with a lot to chew on. The obvious tension-filled one is between Scott and Logan considering the death of Jean Grey still hover above these men, causing them to be slightly antagonistic toward one another, especially Logan with Scott. While the latter has moved on from the heartbreak and loss, the former gets judgmental about it, considering Scott's way of moving forward is my shacking up with Emma Frost who used to be a villainess from the Hellfire Club, and Sebastian Shaw's White Queen who manipulated them during the prelude issues for the Dark Phoenix. In addition to that, Kitty is also not on board with Scott's relationship wit Emma because she doesn't believe Emma has really changed. Meanwhile, Hank is having a crisis over his mutation again which has personally got me worried. In any case, color me very, very intrigued.

TIMELINE CHECK: While I was reading the argument between Scott and Nick Fury in this issue, there was a brief mention of Magneto and one of his legendary tantrum fits that destroyed Manhattan as well as Cassandra Nova and the Sentinels laying waste to Genosha. I've been wondering where Professor X has been in all of this, since Kitty also talked about asking for his help in this issue and Emma stating that they can't just whine to the professor now that's he's no longer their team leader. So I had to research the year of release of Chris Claremont's Cherik-festive title Excalibur Volume III and was pleased to see that it was back in 2004 while Whedon's own series was published a year after. I've read and reviewed Excalibur 3 because that's essentially Claremont's love letter to Cherik shippers where Charles and Erik eloped to Genosha to try and make their second marriage work. The Magneto who destroyed Manhattan (and subsequently also killed Jean Grey) was a clone, by the way, and the real Mags is alive and well and whom Charles decided to ran away with in Excalibur, leaving the X-Men behind just so he can be husbands with Erik. In a nutshell, Whedon's The Astonishing X-Men is smacked between that Cherikfest and the mutant decimation that happens soon after. It's noteworthy to contextualize that because the mutant decimation courtesy of a crazy Scarlet Witch occurs just years right after Dr. Rao proposes a mutant cure here in Whedon's series. That's a chilling association of events, really.


The issue opened with Kitty Pryde counseling one of the young students in school who had expressed interest in taking the cure. She was more than happy to help him through the difficult process, offering him a positive advice about mutants and how they are a community. She said, "We're a people and there's no way anybody can make us be what they want. We stick together and don't panic or'll see. We're stronger than this." It really was a touching piece of insight.

The boy in question, however, was baffled by that sentiment and gives her this gem of a response: "Miss Pryde...are you a fucking retard?"

As awful as that answer was, I had to laugh. I feel bad for Kitty because she belonged to a different time and had a very different experience about being recruited into the X-Men family. Kitty Pryde first appeared in the comics right after the Dark Phoenix Saga came to a close. She was introduced in the preludes as a thirteen-year old girl with phasing abilities, and she encountered Emma Frost (working for the Hellfire Club at that time) in her own home, being asked to study under her tutelage. Ultimately, Kitty chose to join Professor X because she felt like she could trust him but didn't arrive to the school itself until the death of Jean Grey (the second death). Kitty was a fresh-faced recruit who was eager to learn and help out, and one day while she was training in the Danger Room, she was possessed by her future self who came from a place where Sentinels have depleted mutantkind and the only way to prevent their rise is by traveling back to the past and confronting Mystique and the Brotherhood before they instigate an all-out war between humans and mutants. Kitty then became an important key player in Days of Future Past and afterwards became a fan-favorite for comic book readers. She was relatable, charismatic and easy to root for, all youth and hopeful countenance. That's the life that Kitty has had as an X-Man, one that is  a contrast to the new young mutants who are attending the Xavier School.

Not everyone in the school gets to be an X-Man; some of them just need a safe place where they could learn and grow without the danger of being ostracized and bullied. The boy that Kitty was counseling may have been one of these, and so he is unable to comprehend the sense of duty and loyalty that comes along being a defender of one's race like Kitty was at such a young age. There was also a two-paged spread where we see a large line of mutants gathered in front of BeneTech laboratories to get the cure which we have seen before in the movie: X-Men: The Last Stand. A scene later, we see Kitty entering the kitchen and asking Emma, "How much detention are we allowed to give? What's the maximum amount of detention a human body can withstand?" indicating her displeasure about the boy's untoward response to her earlier. Emma wasn't being helpful either, and so the two women continue to be unpleasant with each other in this exchange:

Casually strolling in looking like a miserable chap, Hank declares without any punctuated emotion that he's just spent an entire night examining a sample of the mutant cure which Dr. Rao was kind enough to provide as seen in the previous issue where Beast was caught breaking into BeneTech Labs. Emma and Kitty were just too damn speechless to react properly so Hank left them there after he got his cup of coffee, proclaiming that he hoped to get more precise results pertaining to effectiveness of the cure, if the strain really is the genuine thing. Emma does not look pleased at all especially since Hank didn't even think it was important to let the rest of them know about the fact that (a) he knows Dr. Rao personally; (b) he has access to the mutant cure all along and didn't even bother volunteering the information until they had to ask. Meanwhile, we have the scene that reveals Dr. Rao's association with the alien thug Ord who seemed to be working with her but readers aren't sure to what purpose and to what end. I'm very bothered about this relationship because I despise Ord at first sight (because his ugly face matches his even uglier personality) and Dr. Rao is still giving me mixed feelings about her character. I know she's not an evil person. She seems to show genuine concern and emotional investment on the welfare of the mutant child Tilde after all. 

On the other hand, Scott goes to the S.H.I.E.L.D agency to seek for their help and instead encounters useless office politics of some sort. Nick Fury was incredulously dismissive of the effects that the news about this 'mutant cure' has on the general public, acting like him and his agency couldn't be bothered about it as if the welfare of the masses isn't at stake--well, if mutants did decide to take the cure, they stop being an endangerment to the other percentage of the population so I guess Fury is waiting for the whole thing to play out first before he steps in? I'm not entirely sure what his gameplay here, and neither is Scott, and both of them are getting annoyed by each other; Scott for Fury's undisguised apathy, and Fury for Scott's peskiness. Also, sometimes I forget that this is how Nick Fury looks like in comics. When he appeared for the first time in the pages, I knew it was Nick Fury, sure, because of the eye patch and the uniform, but I'm just so into the movie version with Samuel L. Jackson that every time I see this Nick Fury now, I just can't take him seriously. Anyway, here are two dialogue exchange that were noteworthy; one expressed Fury's candor concerning mutant cure, the other was a passive-aggressive taunt about Scott housing a known villain and how Fury informs him that he's been keeping tabs on whatever is happening in their so-called school:

Now my favorite confrontation of this issue had to be the one that occurred between Beast and Wolverine. While Hank was back to investigating the sample of the mutant cure his former colleague Dr. Rao was generous enough to provide, Logan walked in and told him to destroy it or that he will destroy it for him. Unpleasantness was unavoidable as they had an honest discussion as to whether or not Hank himself intended to use it because he can't deal undergoing any more physical transformations that slowly rob him off his human features and perhaps even his intelligence and mentality. He's afraid of devolving. Logan, who can sympathize to a certain extent, still argued that this isn't just about Hank anymore; it's about him being an X-Man and what that represents. If he takes the cure, he is sending a message than even the strongest of their kind can't fight back and that will dishearten the common mutant masses, and they themselves might take the cure because they see no other option than to surrender and let themselves be abolished of their uniqueness. 

Things are getting a little out of hand between the two friends so Emma put a stop to all this nonsense by telepathically taking over and then moving the rest of the team inside the Danger Room. After the Hawaiian-themed simulation, we now have the Dollhouse simulation which has to be the highlight of this issue (that, and Wolverine sitting contentedly on the big purple teddy bear behind him). I hope this becomes a recurring thing in the series. I wonder what else kind of absurd simulations the Danger Room has in store for us.

Scott, who had just finished a heated discussion with Nick Fury scenes earlier, is totes not in the mood for more confrontations, so he immediately addressed Hank's concerns regarding the mutant cure, and Wolverine's worsening habit of violently fighting his teammates when he's having an argument with them. He tried to arrive into an acceptable compromise for Hank's situation by stating that they should first figure out if the mutant cure is authentic or not and if it is, then they will cross the bridge when it's there regarding or not Hank has a right to take the cure for himself. Scott requested as gently as he could that they should at least talk about it before Hank makes that decision and Hank acquiesced and went back to work. Meanwhile, Scott told Logan to just get a beer and stay out of Hank's way and Logan just let it go as commanded. Kitty wondered if they should contact Professor X for help but Emma answers her that he's no longer the team leader and that they should learn to deal with things like proper adults from now on and not resort to asking Xavier for help every time they encounter a setback. So the five of them went on their separate ways. A scene later, we see Hank in panic as he realized what measures were taken in order to produce the cure, and he hurriedly informed Scott about this development.

Hank afterwards looked away and asked softly, "Why can't things stay buried?"

To which Scott replied in horror and disbelief, "Jean?"

I'm definitely giving this issue a higher rating of 8 than the last two issues because it had more substance and revelations than the last two issues. Things are also starting to move forward to more exciting conflicts and with that cliffhanger, I certainly had to read the next issue immediately because that revelation was disturbing enough. So let's see where we are now in Freytag's pyramid of dramatic structure so far:


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