Astonishing X-Men 1: Gifted by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday: A

From the back cover:
Dream-team creators Joss Whedon and John Cassaday present the explosive, all-new flagship X-Men series—marking a return to classic greatness and the beginning of a brand-new era for the X-Men!

Cyclops and Emma Frost re-form the X-Men with the express purpose of “astonishing” the world. But when breaking news regarding the mutant gene unexpectedly hits the airwaves, will it derail their new plans before they even get started? As demand for the “mutant cure” reaches near-riot levels, the X-Men go head-to-head with the enigmatic Ord, with an unexpected ally—and some unexpected adversaries—tipping the scales!

While I’m by no means an X-Men aficionado, I can at least claim that I was familiar with the characters before the movies came along, courtesy of a high school boyfriend with a small comic collection. I remember reading some of his X-Men issues with genuine, though ultimately fleeting, interest. I’d never considered buying any for myself until Joss Whedon got involved. I cannot, therefore, attest to whether this volume achieves “a return to classic greatness,” but I can say that it’s excellent.

A small group of X-Men have reopened Xavier’s school and taken up positions as professors. This includes Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), who is returning from a long absence to teach a computer course and serve as a student advisor. Also on staff are Scott Summers (Cyclops) and his girlfriend Emma Frost, which guarantees much inter-team conflict when Logan (Wolverine) is around, owing to their extensive personal history. Rounding out the quintet is Dr. Hank McCoy (Beast), who provides some conflict of his own when he expresses interest in the new mutant cure that has just been announced.

If the notion of a mutant cure sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because this arc was one of the inspirations for the 2006 film X-Men: The Last Stand. Besides the cure and the doctor responsible, however, very little remains the same. There’s no Phoenix or Magneto here. Instead, the story focuses on how and why the cure was created, what it represents to the mutant community, and how to keep it out of dangerous hands. There are some terrific scenes in which McCoy must weigh the potential to have an ordinary life with the message it would send if one of the X-Men should opt out of his powers. Too, there’s a lot of emotional goodness for Kitty as she struggles with her distrust of Emma (a former villain) and Scott’s seeming compliance with her suggestions.

That’s not to say that all is drama and tension. This is Joss Whedon, after all, who is adept at injecting humor into such moments. I giggled more than once and, even though I don’t know these characters near as well as the Buffy cast, I’d argue that this is better written than the Buffy comics.

Speaking of Buffy, a Twitter conversation about Kitty Pryde revealed that some feel her characterization here is too similar to the Slayer. I must admit that Kitty has several lines of dialogue that I could easily imagine coming out of Buffy’s mouth, and the way her grim sense of purpose gives way to raw emotion in a pivotal moment is also similar. The thing is, though, that I like Buffy (possibly more than many fans do) and I like Kitty, and if they both happen to be extremely strong, sad, and lonely young women, I think I’m okay with that.

I am more than okay with John Cassaday’s art, which is the most gorgeous comic book art I have ever seen. In addition to being markedly consistent, it’s also extremely expressive and he does marvelous things with perspective and shadow. What really blew me away, though, is his depiction of Emma Frost in her diamond state. I swear I marveled at one particular panel for a solid minute. Can this guy draw the Buffy comics, too, please?

I’ll definitely be reading more of this series, and it’s got me intrigued about the franchise as a whole. Could it be I’m becoming an X-Men fangirl? What else should I read?

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  1. […] fortified myself with some small exposure to Marvel-style Kitty Pryde, I felt equipped to tackle the first volume of Del Rey’s X-Men: Misfits for Manga Recon. […]

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