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Astonishing X-men by Whedon and Cassaday Appreciation Thread (Spoilers!)

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guek

Banned
Oh X-men. You wayward children of the atom, long neglected by your caretakers, the forgotten sons and daughters of Lee and Kirby, how I adore thee. The franchise is currently toeing the line of irrelevance in the comics but it wasn't always that way. The X-men have some of the best characters and stories in the superhero genre, from the immortal run of Chris Claremont to the more recent romps penned by Jason Aaron. So rather than dwell on the sorry state of X-books, I wanted to take the time to look back on one of the best runs in the history of the book's publication - Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-men.



Before Whedon directed the two biggest comicbook movies of all time, his relationship with Marvel began in 2004 picking up where prolific comicbook author Grant Morrison had left off. Morrison's lengthy run on New X-men was controversial to say the least (though mostly excellent and absolutely worth reading), and Whedon was an unproven talent in the comicbook world. He had created a few original titles and developed books based on his TV works such as Buffy but had yet to try his hand at long established characters such as the X-men who had decades of history and baggage. Morrison had heavily altered the landscape of the X-men universe with a plethora of new characters, teams, and major changes to established character arcs. Jean Grey had just died (again), Magneto was evil once more, and Charles Xavier was no longer the illustrious headmaster at his school in Westchester. Whedon hopped on board at a time of major shift in the X-men and he took full advantage of that fact.

There were several changes that Whedon implemented right from the start to differentiate himself from Morrison's run. The most obvious at first glance was the reduction of cast members and the return to a core team. While Whedon still took the opportunity to create several new mutants, it was immediately apparent he would be focusing more on returning to legacy characters in place of the large selection of young (and occasionally bizarre) mutants Morrison had established on New X-men. Instead, the team would be comprised of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Beast, and Kitty Pryde. Colossus would eventually join the team as well but we'll get to him later. In typical Whedon fashion, the book would focus not only on what happens to these characters but also heavily on their interplay amongst each other. Every character provides a unique perspective to events that's informed by their individual checkered pasts. In addition, Whedon created his stories by drawing from the X-men's previous arcs to create something brand new. In that way, his characters drew from history and prior story arcs but never felt reliant on nostalgia, rewarding both newcomers and old stalwarts alike.

So let's get to some of the meat of what I loved about this run.

Cyclops



Mother-fucking Cyclops. Scott Summers is often unfairly viewed as a boy scout, a teacher's pet, basically the Leonardo of the X-men, the defacto leader that's the leader because that's how it's always been. I blame the bland portrayal of the character in the X-men movies and the one note take of the 90s cartoon (JEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAN!!!!). All of this is a shame because the character is secretly awesome. Scott Summers is not the pretty boy preppy kid who grew up as Xavier's favorite like people tend to believe. Scott's childhood is all kinds of fucked up, which then translated to a fucked up adult life as well. Whedon picked up the character shortly after it was established he had a telepathic affair with Emma Frost and immediately following the death of Jean Grey. The Scott/Emma pairing was created by Morrison but I don't think it was until Whedon got his mitts on the characters that we really saw why they were great together. What I love most about Whedon's Cyclops is how it explores the character's inherent insecurities of unworthiness, his fear of losing control, and how his natural strengths as a leader come to the surface whenever the situation demands. This was the last time I really felt like I could relate with the character and the last writer who made Scott Summers into a total, unadulterated baddass.





Nowadays, Summers is mostly playing revolutionary
when he's not dead
, and though I find his cause sympathetic, the character's newfound zeal is a lot less likeable.


Beast




Beast has turned into a complete jackass. But before he was ruining timelines and catching shade from The Watcher, Beast was an immensely sympathetic character. Gifted with both a genius level intellect that flies in the face of his increasingly feral appearance, Beast has his own share of insecurities that Whedon deftly explored. The mutant cure storyline was the basis of the abysmal X-men 3. Before Brett Ratner got a chance to ape material from his betters, Whedon laid the groundwork with the Hope Serum and effectively used its creation to explore Hank McCoy's desire to regain his lost humanity. Beast also strikes a relationship with new character and director of S.W.O.R.D. Abigail Brand, one of the better love interests in the history of the character. She's pretty awesome in her own right.




Colossus and Kitty Pryde



For those not in the know, Colossus had tragically died in order to save mutant-kind from the deadly legacy virus. In true comicbook bullshit fashion, he's not dead after all and was in fact resurrected for nefarious purposes. But who cares, Colossus is back! Ok, I know he's the X-men's #1 jobber, but even so, his return in Astonishing was very welcome. On top of that, his relationship with Kitty Pryde was wonderful, particularly how it eventually plays out
with their final roles reversed and Kitty sacrificing herself for the Earth.
Kitty is somewhat a victim of Whedon's "strong tiny girl" trope he tends to plug into all his stories but that doesn't make her one dimensional. Kitty's rivalry with Emma Frost is entertaining throughout the entire run and is concluded perfectly.


I'm going to stop here because this post is already longer than I originally intended. I'd be remiss though if I didn't mention a few other things I loved about this run including the creation of Danger, Wolverine's mentorship of Armor, and Cassaday's phenomenal art. This is one fine looking book! Both Cassaday and Whedon knocked it out of the park. I've said it before but it bears repeating, this is the last time I can remember rooting for the X-men as a whole. No petty infighting, no stupid grudges, no horrible character assassinations, it's just a great team book where every character is able to reach their potential. I don't know when we'll get another X-book of this caliber but hopefully it's sooner rather than later. Considering the recent output though, I'm not too optimistic about Inhumans vs X-men and the eventual fallout from yet another massive event.
 
Literally the only comic I ever subscribed to, and the crazy delays to it kind of turned me off of the whole process.

But I loved what they did with it, and it cemented Colossus and Shadowcat as 2 of my favorite X-men, and put me permanently on team #Cyclops forever.
 

Viewt

Member
It's a great run, no doubt. And it's the prime example for why comic book delays ultimately don't really matter. Does anyone still care that this series took like nine years to get to 25 issues? Doubt it.
 
"I never get gang-raped on a first date..."

Yep, that's Joss Whedon alright.

I keep meaning to give this run a read, largely because I have heard such praise for it over the years. The love for it here is obviously genuine. But man, a lot of the dialogue I see (and not remotely only in this thread) is hard to get past.
 
It got me back into X-Men, the trade paperback was on display in every bookstore I visited in the UK during my year there, Marvel really pushed that book. And I followed it by reading Morisson's run. Whedon definitely did a lot for Cyclops and Emma Frost and to this day the joke about Wolverine thinking about beer in the second arc still gets me.

But I didn't think it held up that well the second time I read it. It's neat but it always loses me starting with the danger room stuff and the villains were really weak. Still, I would definitely recommend it for newcomers to the X-Men franchise, it's a lot of fun with the right amount of nostalgia.
 

Viewt

Member
"I never get gang-raped on a first date..."

Yep, that's Joss Whedon alright.

I keep meaning to give this run a read, largely because I have heard such praise for it over the years. The love for it here is obviously genuine. But man, a lot of the dialogue I see (and not remotely only in this thread) is hard to get past.

There's definitely a lot of Whedon in the dialogue, so if you're not a fan of his writing, this isn't going to sell you. But for what it's worth, knowing the context of those panels, they look good to me.

It got me back into X-Men, the trade paperback was on display in every bookstore I visited in the UK during my year there, Marvel really pushed that book. And I followed it by reading Morisson's run. Whedon definitely did a lot for Cyclops and Emma Frost and to this day the joke about Wolverine thinking about beer in the second arc still gets me.

But I didn't think it held up that well the second time I read it. It's neat but it always loses me starting with the danger room stuff and the villains were really weak. Still, I would definitely recommend it for newcomers to the X-Men franchise, it's a lot of fun with the right amount of nostalgia.

Yeah, some arcs were definitely better than others. I think they stuck the landing, but the Danger arc in particular took a little while to get going.
 

guek

Banned
There's definitely a lot of Whedon in the dialogue, so if you're not a fan of his writing, this isn't going to sell you. But for what it's worth, knowing the context of those panels, they look good to me.
At end of the day, it's still Whedon. You can't get around that. I've personally never had an issue with his dialogue though.

Yeah, some arcs were definitely better than others. I think they stuck the landing, but the Danger arc in particular took a little while to get going.

Danger vs Xavier was money
 

bengraven

Member
I'm a huge X-men fan and it's getting worse. I've gotten more and more back into comics and seeing how the X-men are not the huge, badass team/family they used to be really gets worse and worse.
 

Iorv3th

Member
Just started reading it on marvel unlimited. Am a few comics in and taking a little to adjust to the art style, really different.
 
This artwork had me setting the issue down, taking a sip of my coffee and saying...

"alright alright alright"

Tin Man and Pryde are my favorite next to Cage and Jones.

 

TAJ

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
It's the only thing by Whedon that I don't like. The plotting is just horrendous.
 
After reading the entire Astonishing line, I have to say that it's one of the weirdest X-men series. It feels so out of touch with pretty much every other series running alongside it.

Not really my cup of tea, but I can see why some people like it. Interesting follow-up to Morrison's X-men.
 

Pau

Member
I had fun with it even though Kitty is the only one I typically like in the cast and not particularly liking Whedon. The art helped.
 

Dalek

Member
Last time I loved the X-Men. This was a hell of a series but man reading it in real time with those delays was a killer.


This single page is more effective and memorable than anything the X-Men have done in years. Bendis's All New X-Men started strong but fizzled out.
 

Sean C

Member
There's a lot of very entertaining stuff in there, particularly in the first and third arcs.

The umpteenth "Xavier's dark side"/"Joss Whedon has daddy issues" plotline was incredibly tired, though.
 
Something you can't appreciate if you read this book much later: back in 2004, "which dead character will return in Astonishing #4" was the biggest tease of the year.

Marvel pulled something they've never repeated since then: produced a fully drawn and lettered page showing Jean Grey returning from the dead, in order to fight leaks and throw people off the trail. I can't even find that page anywhere online now.

After reading the entire Astonishing line, I have to say that it's one of the weirdest X-men series. It feels so out of touch with pretty much every other series running alongside it.

Astonishing was launched to be the flagship X-Men book - the high concept was that "name" creators like Whedon would be calling the shots for the entire X-Men line. That quickly proved impossible when the massive delays meant Astonishing was permanently behind all the other books in terms of story.

And that's why the book fell "out of touch" with all the others, in the long run.
 

VAD

Member
I love it and will re-read it asap.
So glad Kitty is with a good guy now
The StarCat ship is so forced, if you want her to date outside the X universe, at least pick Peter Parker, it felt right in the Ultimate universe.
 

Sean C

Member
Astonishing was launched to be the flagship X-Men book - the high concept was that "name" creators like Whedon would be calling the shots for the entire X-Men line. That quickly proved impossible when the massive delays meant Astonishing was permanently behind all the other books in terms of story.

And that's why the book fell "out of touch" with all the others, in the long run.
I don't think AXM was ever intended to be guiding the entire line. That would be impossible for an isolated storyline from a single creator. AXM was definitely high-profile, but by its very nature it was always going to be isolated from everything else, because Whedon wasn't really part of the X-Office collaborative group (or the larger Marvel one) and didn't do crossovers, etc. Things like House of M almost immediately relegated AXM to a little bubble of its own.
 

LosDaddie

Banned
Not reading the thread due to spoilers, but I just wanted to say I'm still holding out hope for an omnibus reprint.

The New XMen omnibus just had a reprint. So hopefully Astonishing gets one soon
 

calder

Member
A great run, loved it completely and without reservation, and I say that as someone who's been a big X-Men fan for 30 years or so.

Also, a good chance to link to an old article about Scott from the sadly defunct Grantland: Difficult X-Men: A Defense of Cyclops. Sadly some of the images are broken now.

It touches on some of Whedon's run and is a fantastic read about the character that really had me reassessing the character and the books I read as a kid.
 

Currygan

at last, for christ's sake
absolutely fantastic run. One of my faves, especially since my boy Colossus just drops bodies like the beast he is

love when he basically lifts the entire Danger Room and crashes it on Shaw's head
 
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