Like I said, it feels like the first season of a favorite show, filled with stellar moments in the plot construction and the character arcs that make it float and stay on course. Both riveting in execution of story and delivering some of the most emotionally meaningful moments about characters (especially two female superheroes), Joss Whedon's The Astonishing X-Men is something I will recommended readily to a fan of the X-Men films but has yet to read them in comics. This is a great starting piece to ease newbies in while at the same time pleasing the long-time crowd of fans.
The twenty-four issues are divided into four story arcs which are composed of six installments each. We have Gifted where a scientist develops a cure for the mutant gene, and the new team of the X-Men band together to prove that they can be just as loved by the public and the media as the other superhero teams such as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. In Danger, the X-Men faces the threat of their most formidable foe yet; a sentient being who has lived in the Xavier School and watched them fight during combat simulation and is therefore more than informed regarding their weaknesses. For Torn, Emma Frost (a reformed villainness) commits the unthinkable, fracturing her teammates and certain important relationships within their group. The last arc, Unbreakable, ties together all three previous plot stories with its own primary focus on the alien planet Breakworld which, according to some prophecy, is destined to be destroyed by an X-Man. The conclusion of that arc continues to the Giant-Size edition whose ending was the most unexpected and stomach-churning pay-off I have ever been subjected to. Just thinking about it again makes me very sad and very mad. That being said, Whedon performed consistently in his writing for each issue, holding back no punches and making sure that each blow hurts enough to give you a lingering ache.
But like most of Whedon's work, he knows how to take characters to places and then he breaks and molds them into something better and enthralling, even if it's fragmented with the kind of holes you can never mend.
The two stars of his series are Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost. Whedon's first issue began with seeing Kitty Pryde again as she walks back into the Xavier School for the Gifted, bags in hand but looking as if she has never left the place at all. What I enjoyed about Kitty in her appearances here in the series is the fact that she's a darling. Really, she is. Inquisitive, selfless but clever, and brave to a goddamn fault, Kitty always becomes the star of a story when a writer really knows how to commit her stellar characterization on paper. I thought she had an impressive run so far, taking on the responsibility of becoming an X-Man head-on even if she maintained that "being an X-Man does not always suit me". In spite of whatever insecurities she had about her skills and role in the team, she never lets it get to her and performs under pressure quite creatively and adamantly. This isn't really the first time Kitty caught my attention. In Claremont's X-Men: Forever, she accidentally phased through Wolverine while a mutant got them stuck and when she separated from him, he got a piece of his adamantium claw on her knuckle. The way she dealt with that physical transformation was so riveting to watch because at her core, Kitty remains the resourceful and compassionate kid she is through all of it. In her first appearance after the Dark Phoenix Saga, thirteen-year old Kitty is inexperienced in so many ways but was eager to learn and prove herself. This is around the time Days of Future Past hit, and her older self and younger self merged to save the day. It's such a shame that the movies don't put her front and center (alongside Wolverine if they must insist, considering Logan and Kitty have a good brother-sister thing going on anyway), especially when they cast a talented actress like Ellen Page for the role. In any case, at least in Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, she truly got to shine.
Meanwhile, the White Queen has always fascinated me since her very first appearance in the Dark Phoenix storyline as one of the formidable henchwomen of the Hellfire Club. It's worth noting that she and Kitty were introduced together especially here in Whedon's tale where the two are obviously at odds with each other. Kitty has made it no secret that she has no love for Emma and does not and will probably never trust her. And Emma knows this. She understands people way more than we give this cold-hearted woman credit for. The reason why she brought Kitty into the fold in the first place (as revealed in issue #18), is because Emma is losing her mind because parasitic Cassandra Nova hijacked her telepathically, and she knew Kitty would be the only one who won't hesitate to kill her. That's a powerful thing to entrust someone with, and it didn't help her already temperamental relationship with Kitty either. But Emma had revealed to Kitty that she is capable of murder if she's motivated for the right reasons, and such a startling revelation, I know, has shook Kitty, but she's not able to deal with that for now. Still, I think, in a twisted sort of way, Kitty began respecting Emma and what she can do after that incident. With little empathy and people skills, Emma can be so easy to dislike and cast aside as a woman forever trapped in the villain role, but Whedon had composed her here in such a validating perspective where she's finally vulnerable and in love with a man she feels she doesn't deserve. That broke my heart as much as Scott Summers has thawed the frost in her heart. She's so entralling in the story arc TORN that I can hardly keep up with her! I really like Emma, more than I ever thought I would. Her relationship with Scott is also worth shipping. They're an intriguing pair.
That's not to say that the male characters are slacking. Cyclops was allowed to truly shine as he rediscovers his purpose as the leader of the team while Colossus takes on fate itself and tries to bend it to his own will. Meanwhile, we have Beast, who gets to contemplate about his mutation and whether or not he wants to go through another painful physical transformation as Wolverine finds yet another young girl to become a promising protégé to train. The variety of villains for this series has served their respective purposes, short-lived as they may be whole a few were certainly impactful, and they only enriched the tapestry that Whedon has painstakingly and with great love care weaved for us readers. There was even a motion comics series because everyone apparently came to an agreement that this is meant to be shown visually in another medium because it's just that damn riveting. I recommend for you to check out said motions comics yourself which has copies online. As I finish this review, I literally can't think of a single disappointing thing about this series. Well, except for the Giant-Size's ending concerning Kitty Pryde but even that wasn't enough to lessen my adoration for the entirety of the series. I am still so duly impressed by the quality that Whedon has produced here. This remains as a strong contribution to the X-Men universe nonetheless!
Overall, Joss Whedon's The Astonishing X-Men has accomplished what it set out to do when it started: to astonish the world. A perfect mixture of sustainable action, relentless twist and turns and resonant character insights and relationships, this is a series that you will be a fool not to start reading at once. The majority agrees that this is just bloody brilliant and a worthy addition to any fan's X-Men collection.