Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Almost As Astonishing As Ever!

It's not just good, it's...
Ah yes, Astonishing X-Men. Hardcover. Volume 1. I had already bought the first before the Omnibus was announced, and therefore didn't get the omnibus. However this is one of my favourite X-Men collections to date (and I know I have enough). For those not familiar with this particular book, it's what you get when you take Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog, The Avengers movie et al,  fame), give him the writing duties of a new X-Men title, give him John Cassaday to do the art, and Laura Martin to do the colours. The first arc, "Gifted" (issues 1-6 of this book) was good enough for the 2006 "Best Continuing Series" Eisnser, and the whole book (all 320 pages) can be yours from $18 US (again Amazon are out of stock, so you'll need to hit the Amazon marketplace). Alternatively just lay down about $45 US for the omnibus, since this is good enough to warrant getting the second volume anyway.

The story (really the whole of Whedon's run was one big story) picks up after Morrison's (shudder) conclusion to New X-Men (though it ignores the whole time travelling Jean Grey thing as much as possible, and really just gives a few nods to the finale with Magneto), and moves forwards. We have the introduction of Ord from the Breakworld who believes an X-Man while be responsible for the destruction of his planet, Kavita Rao and her "cure" for the "disease" that s the mutant species, the return of Shadow Cat, Lockheed, Colossus, and... costumes, and the awakening of the sentient being that has been the core of the danger room for decades of our time (not so much continuity).
Personal favourite shot from the book.
As you can tell from the above list the story, for 12 issues, is a bit decompressed, or at least it's deceives you into thinking that. Certainly there are plenty of larger than normal panels, plenty of splash panels or pages, and plenty of panels without words. A 1960's issue of X-Men it isn't. That said, there's a lot o detail, and a lot of nuance in the art. The body language, and facial expressions makes a statement that a dozen $100 dollar words couldn't do. It isn't annoying, and you don't feel like you're being ripped off because you read through it too fast. You soak in the detail. Yes it feels like a movie (heck the whole "cure" lot thread was picked up for the horrible X-Men: The Last Stand) with it's lovely art, and well paced dialogue, but given Whedon's background that's not surprising. The joy of it is that it's clear that it's not just some unknowing movie writer coming into make a few bucks, nor is it Joss aiming to get a movie deal by writing a superficial but well received comic. You can tell that he's at least read the X-Men periodically (if not been a long time fan) from his references to classic Kitty Pryde moments from Claremont's time on the book, his use of Colossus, and his references back to New X-Men. His writing is just as good as it was on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. The drama is appropriate. The action is required by the story, and not tacked on or left out entirely.

And another classic shot.
Then we come to Cassaday's and Martin's contributions. To say that the art is gorgeous is an understatement. Obviously it's the kind of thing you could never have done before digital inking and colouring. Obviously it's got the modern norms of big bold visuals with amazing levels of detail. But as I said above, it's not just there to show off. It adds to the story, it tells the story by itself. You could likely use much of this book as a "'Nuff Said" book if you wanted to take the dialogue out entirely. There's one thing I will say about the art that's not complimentary, and it goes for many modern comics: we've lost the motion lines that indicate where a punch is coming from, where some debris fell from, or just how quickly someone ducked. I understand it doesn't work well with the highly detailed art (leave alone art like Salvadore "photographs'll be fine thanks" Larocca's), but I miss that.

Over all this is a great read. It's still very relevant, it's still exactly what an X-Men book is meant to be, and given the time that's passed, I think we can safely say it's not going to be another Iron Man Extremis.

If I were you I'd get the full Whedon run on Astonishing in one form or another. It's a great story, and likely one that will hold up about a thousand times better than X-Men Second Coming.

Next Week I aim to challenge myself: finish this book, or wait until the week after for a review.
To be honest I'm mostly done, but it's a long slog.

1 comment:

  1. Another great review, and phew! Something I already own. :)

    This is such a great volume. It has to be one of my favourite X-Men runs ever. It's a shame the book has kind of lost the significance it had at the beginning.

    Whedon and Cassaday were a fantastic match - I'd love to see them do more together.