Astonishing X-Men #19–24 and Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1 by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
After the first three trades, Joss Whedon brings to a conclusion his X-Men story in rousing fashion, and his tribute to the Claremont/Byrne days is complete. Not that this is a negative – there is nothing wrong with being inspired and dedicated to a particular era, and Whedon uses it (and Morrison’s work beforehand) to create new and interesting stories in their own right.
Agent Brand of SWORD has taken the X-Men (Scott, Emma, Hank, Logan, Kitty, Peter and Whedon’s own creation, the student Hisako) on her spaceship heading to Breakworld, the natives of which believe that Peter will destroy their world, and have a weapon that will destroy Earth. This is a big story of a cosmic scope, in keeping with the X-Men of old, but it is also about the characters themselves and the way they interact with each other in a crisis situation – exactly the sort of ingredients for good entertainment.
Whedon displays his understanding of the characters but also his excellent dialogue – this isn’t crowbarred into the action for the sake of humour, but it relevant to the situations. ‘Did he teach you the handshake?’; ‘I’m thinking of calling myself “Claws”’; You know, I thought I’d have a lot more fun if I ever got to say this: that’s no moon.’; ‘Annnnnd, shrinkage.’ People are funny but in direct correlation to what it is happening – this is impressive.
He is helped in this by the excellent art of Cassaday – he has a solid, clear style, without flashiness that is still beautiful. He sticks to a grid layout for the most part, only bringing out unusual layouts for big moments, but he has a great eye for panel composition, using the camera to emphasise the action. He also has a wonderful way with emotions: in issue 21, where Kitty and Peter have an intimate encounter, the lower three panels are all about facial reaction, and the two looks on Kitty’s face speak volumes about what is going on in her head, and it is brilliant. And he does this all the way through every issue.
On the story front, Whedon brings some great moments, my favourite being Scott sacrificing himself in a perfectly executed plan (with a lovely callback to the same scene but with the telepathic dialogue this time). I’m not spoiling things by saying that the X-Men save the day, but it’s not without the biggest moment: having Kitty, his favourite character, doing the most noble thing as she saves the Earth – well, it had to be for a big reason – which unfortunately seems to becoming a signature of his now. I’m not sure I like the way he left Kitty, although it is the perfect ending to the story, but that’s just my sentimental side. These four trades have not been consistently brilliant, but this final collection comes together to provide almost perfect traditional superhero comic book action. Highly enjoyable.