Astonishing X-Men #1–6 by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday
Here’s the strange thing – Joss Whedon is a good writer but he is also a major X-Men fanboy. It’s an unusual combination; it makes for fun, geeky comics. Why else would Kitty Pryde and Peter Rasputin be back in the book?
This is the perfect example of superstar comic book creators – the Claremont-inspired old-school stories from Whedon and the muscular, stylish, pure art from John Cassaday. Even the cover for issue 1 is exquisite in its design, with Wolvie’s claws taking up the centre and the light gleaming off the middle claw in the shape on an X. His facial expressions are spot on, perfect for Whedon’s script.
Whedon brings the X-Men back to the times when he was reading it; the glory days of Claremont and Byrne. The costumes, Logan and Scott hate each other, Kitty (proto-Buffy) being smart and funny – he wants things back to the way things were but following on from Grant Morrison’s great run on the book. And his trademark great lines: ‘I was busy remembering to put on all my clothes.’ ‘Did I miss the sorting hat?’ ‘The teachers spend all their time here trying to kill each other? This place is so cool.’
Cassaday brings the biz; the great double-page spread of the Reservoir Dogs moment in costumes for the first time in the hanger (‘We have to astonish them.’) – the angle, the poise of each character, the reflections, the perspective of the shot, the skewed look of all them on the right side of the spread. (He’s not perfect – the first issue in the Danger Room, where Kitty holds up her hand to say she is not a fighter; her hand looks awfully big and her arm looks like somebody else’s in front of her body.) All this and perfect covers for each issue.
The action scene in issue #2 is beautifully stage and executed, with the cute joke of Lockheed beating the villain, Ord. The story: a top geneticist has found a cure for mutancy (we later find out that it is due to the extraterrestrial help of Ord) – the situation is inherent with drama and dilemmas within the X-Men. The team go to the labs of the company behind the cure. When they get there, Kitty finds Colossus – a lovely wordless full page, four-panel job of surprise and emotion – and we get the classic X-Men mix of action/character/dialogue.
When Petey steps in to beat Ord (great reaction shot of Hank, Logan and Emma seeing him for the first time), he is stopped by SHIELD and SWORD – he’s got diplomatic immunity. Ord escapes in the confusion of an invasion by mutants looking for the cure. This leads to the biggest geek moment in the book – a two-page spread of Colossus and Logan and the Fastball Special (but without saying the words – only for ‘real’ X-fans. The story finishes but obviously just the start of the over-arcing plot – someone mysterious talking to Emma about Kitty …
This is very enjoyable stuff, especially for an old-time fan like me. Whedon is a big X-geek (Kitty was an inspiration for Buffy; the setting up of storylines like Claremont; the Dark Willow story was basically Dark Phoenix) but he is having a lot of fun telling his stories and he is matched by the peerless Cassaday. A delightful combination for a delightful confection.