Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artist: John Cassaday
Issues: Astonishing X-Men #1-12
Ironically the last time I tried to get back into comics was right when Marvel was splitting the X-Men up into three separate, ongoing series and teams (2004). I was in the middle of college at the time and the desire proved fleeting. Skip ahead ten years and I find myself right back in the same place, only with a much stronger desire and the right frame of mind and lifestyle.
I knew I wanted to first jump in with X-Men as they’re my favorite of Marvel’s creations, thanks in large part to the superb animated series that ran for an incredible five seasons in the early 90s.
I’d read really good things about Astonishing X-Men. Written by nerd-famous (now mainstream famous) Joss Whedon, it focuses on the X team that still hangs around Xavier’s school while the others go have zany adventures.
The Astonishing team is made up of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Kitty Pryde (and Lockheed), Wolverine, and later, Colossus. Whedon very much likes to focus on the relationships between his characters, namely Kitty and Piotr’s budding young love and Cyke and Emma’s complicated but lusty romantic entanglement.
Book 1 is the TPB containing the first two major six-issue story arcs (originally released in TPB form as Vol 1 and 2). The first, “Gifted,” deals with a weird prophecy about the destruction of an alien planet by an X-Man, and the resulting battle with a not-so-friendly alien ambassador that wishes to preemptively stop it. The bigger plot point is that Colossus is brought back from the dead in a completely inexplicable way (seemingly captive in a research lab the whole time). I never cared much for Piotr Rasputin, and only vaguely heard of his death in comics years before.
However, Whedon is damn good with leading women roles and presents the story (and series in general) from Kitty’s point of view. Newly returning to the Xavier Institute, Kitty’s phasing powers are a fun way to solve many issues, and it’s refreshing that she uses it in a myriad of ways, from rescuing people from a burning people to discovering the holding cell deep underground where Colossus was held.
Overall the first story is super meh and the alien villain Ord is lame, but Whedon does a fun job of sprinkling in future story and character arcs (like Agent Brand of SWORD) as well as introducing recurring students. It’s easy to forget that one of the X-Men’s primary roles is to provide a safe haven for young mutants, and here we get to meet Armor, Blindfold, Wing and the triplets. Armor and Blindfold particularly get to play crucial roles in future storylines.
The second story arc, “Danger,” is much more interesting – the famous X-Men training room, the Danger Room, reveals its sentience and it’s none to happy to have been cooped up for so long. Violence is all it knows and it soon unleashes hell on the students and the team, culminating in an epic battle where she (it eventually forms into a feminine robot) flies to the destroyed remains of Genosha in an attempt to kill Professor Xavier (who’s currently involved in the Excalibur story line, see my Final Thought soon). At one point Xavier goes all Terminator and rams into her with an 18 wheeler. It’s pretty awesome.
Kitty gets to save the day by phasing into the wild sentinel that Danger summons and overall it’s an exciting and much improved story. Emma teases some underlying sinister plan to set up the next story arc, we get to see everyone fight a pretty awesome new villain and Whedon grounds everything with a vulnerable yet resolute Kitty at the helm. I honestly never cared much for Shadowcat before but Astonishing has instantly made her one of my favorite X-Men.
Unfortunately one of my all time favorite X-Men is not given such a great treatment. You can tell Whedon is just not a big fan of Wolverine as he’s mostly used as random comic relief, both in combat and with the students. It works well enough most of the time but very little is given to his character. The same could be said of Beast. I still can’t stand his new cat-like appearance (thanks to a secondary mutation) and he’s also given little to do. The spotlight is very much centered on Kitty, Cyclops and Emma.
Overall I was happy with these 12 issues, though I vastly preferred the second story arc to the first. As a jumping-on point I respect that they didn’t feel the need to break down the last few years of craziness the X-Men weathered under Grant Morrison’s run, and the smaller cast gave us much bigger insight into our heroes while being able to introduce new ones. I enjoyed it enough to pick up Volume 2, which concludes Whedon’s run with another 12 issues – look for my Final Thoughts soon!