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Sunday Slugfest - Astonishing X-Men #7

Posted: Sunday, December 26, 2004
By: Keith Dallas

ďDangerous: Part OneĒ

Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday, Laura Martin (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics





Average Rating: 8.5/10

Jason Cornwell:
Kelvin Green:
Shawn Hill:
Ray Tate:






Jason Cornwell

Plot: In a bid to raise their public profile, Cyclops has the team embark on a mission to stop a giant monster who is tearing a path of destruction through the centre of Manhattan. However, given the mission involves a giant monster in Manhattan, the Fantastic Four make their expected arrival, and the two teams work together to drive the monster back below the ground. Meanwhile back at the school, a distraught student comes to a decision that is sure to make life difficult for the X-Men.

Comments: One of the biggest complaints that Iíve always had about the X-Men is that with the exception of Wolverine, the X-Men rarely venture out of the confines of the X-titles, and this has made them into a rather insular collection of characters who always feel a bit like outsiders within the Marvel Universe. Now I realize that regular interaction with the other heroes of the Marvel Universe would make it more difficult for writers to sell the idea that the X-Men were hated and feared, but since Grant Morrisonís run pretty much dismantled this element of the book, I have to say itís issues like this one that leave me hopeful that the X-Men are going to be joining the party. Plus, this issue also does an effective job of selling the idea that just because the X-Men have been pushed on to centre stage, the barrage of tomatoes and rotten eggs that Joe and Jane Public like to throw at mutants hasnít exactly stopped. However, Joss Whedon puts a little more effort into the whole concept of unreasoned hatred, as thereís a nice little scene where Johnny questions the wisdom of hanging with the X-Men, and Cyclops offers up a surprisingly jaded opinion regarding the news coverage that their heroic efforts received. However, the reason why this issue earns itself my recommendation is due largely to the simple fact that it offers the X-Men teaming up with the Fantastic Four to do battle against a giant rampaging monster, as how can one not love the Whack-a-Mole scene, or the equally entertaining exchange between Wolverine and the Thing that deftly skirts the idea of a mutant cure.

John Cassaday may not be the fastest artist, and the erratic schedule that is starting to surface likely means that the lead time this title had has been pretty much eaten up, and we can expect future issues are going to have increasing trouble meeting their shipping dates. However, John Cassaday fits into the same category that I place Bryan Hitch, in that while the lengthy waits are annoying itís next to impossible to be overly annoyed when one gets a look at the work theyíve brought to the table. I mean thereís several wonderful images in this issue: the opening page spread of Colossus on top of the Blackbird, the battle that follows which has the X-Men working alongside the Fantastic Four against a giant rampaging monster, and the one page shot of the two teams working together to topple the creature being the highlight image. The art also does a wonderful job conveying the full impact of the final page, as we pull back to see why this scene is so important to the story.




Kelvin Green

Nope. Still not astonished. But I am rather impressed by this solid, yet surprisingly old-school comic. It seems that Marvel is finally allowing creators to play in the shared universe again, and while this title doesnít wallow in it to the extent of the current Wolverine arc, or New Thunderbolts, itís still nice to see the X-Men interacting with their surroundings. It makes a great deal of sense to have the team actually going out and doing some super-heroing if thatís what theyíre trying to be seen as, and it makes you wonder why Claremontís ďhang around the mansion until something attacksĒ format stuck around for so long. And of course, if the X-Men are going to go around doing super-heroic deeds, theyíre going to tread on the toes of Marvelís other heroes, and so Whedon gives us a wonderful Fantastic Four cameo. Reed shows a humourous side, which regular readers will know is a big mis-step in my eyes, but otherwise the Fourís characterisation is spot-on, especially that of the Thing. Whedon nails the working-class superhero aspect, as well as the feeling that Ben is in this for fun as much as anything else. Great stuff.

We also get some clever power displays, and Iím a big fan of that. Weíve all seen Kitty Pryde phase through floors and walls, but having her grab people who are in the way of flying debris and allowing the debris to phase through her and the civilian is a great idea. Emmaís clever use of her telepathy is another highlight. Nothing here is quite as smack-your-head-why-didnít-anyone-think-of-that-earlier clever as Peter Davidís conceptual breakthrough over in Madrox, but itís getting there.

Not everything works so well, however. The subplot with Wing and his suicidal depression comes across as a bit garbled, but since thereís obviously a mystery at the heart of whatís going on here, thatís not so much of a problem, as Iím sure itíll become more clear as the arc progresses. Thereís also a frankly horrible bit where the team psychoanalyse Colossus in a manner which is horribly unsubtle and very uncharacteristic of Whedonís writing; it comes across more like one of those enormous Claremont thought balloons from the old days. The irony of this is that just a couple of pages later, Whedon engages in what looks to be a very funny spoof of Claremontís overblown internal monologues. Weird. Similarly, Cyclops goes off on a rant about the American media, which despite being quite true does seem more like Whedon soapboxing than something Cyclops would actually say.

Cassadayís art is impressing me more and more with each issue. His Reed Richards is a bit too old, and there are a couple of moments where his panel composition is a bit weird, but on the whole, itís great stuff. They say that you can measure the ability of an artist by how well he or she draws the Thing, and Cassaday does a good rendition of the character, so thatís got to be a good sign. Not sure why he drew Colossus as Joe Fixit on the cover though.

Good solid superhero storytelling, thatís what youíre getting here. Thereís still a feeling that this title is lacking something, but when what is here is so well done, it seems a bit churlish to complain.




Shawn Hill

Plot: The X-men face a non-mutant threat, earning some respect and teaching a few lessons along the way. Unfortunately, many of their students are still damaged children.

Comments: Itís interesting to see Cassaday take on a straight-faced depiction of the Fantastic Four here, considering his history co-creating the diabolical villains of Planetary. In a rare encounter with the X-men, our family of four have a mostly bemused reaction to aiding the X-men combat an FF-sized threat.

This part of the issue is strong, especially with some compelling, efficient glimpses into the psyches of our heroes (Wolverineís inner turmoil? Heís thirsty) during the battle. But the real action is elsewhere, as we learn that the director of S.W.O.R.D. is a harass who will get the job done (protecting Earth from alien threats) with no qualms. Meanwhile, a vulnerable student copes with the fallout from the first arc.

Thereís both success and failure all around here, and perhaps some lesson gone unheard in the contrast between the X-men seeking positive press while a child suffers. Of course, it may not all be their fault, as there are hints of a nefarious presence at school. Whedon hasnít dropped any of the threads from his first arc, remaining intent on examining what it means to be gifted, or cursed, by power. Cassaday backs him up with epic style. Heís quite gifted himself at dramatic compositions and unique point-of-view shots.




Ray Tate

Joss Whedon always made Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly extremely accessible to a new audience. He never did this by talking down to his viewers or over explaining. Giles though could be and was used when heavier exposition was needed. Astonishing X-Men feels like a clean slate even though it is not.

Whedon up front continues the storyline involving the so-called mutant cure by focusing on Wing who lost his powers in battle against Ord, the alien from Breakworld. New readers donít need to know that because Whedon and Cassaday imbue the scenes with enough emotion that the audience will understand the more important aspects of the trauma. The specifics on how the trauma occurred are not really necessary, and Whedon does not dwell on them.

The scenes involving Wing segue to the X-Men on their way to do battle. The first panel shows Colossus riding the hull of the Blackbird, and this just emphasizes what Wing has lost while breaking cleanly to the star cast whose conversation centers on the formerly dead Peter Rasputin a.k.a. Colossus. Here, Whedon through dialogue establishes the personalities of the X-Men.

Once the castís personalities are anchored, Whedon pits them against a problem that will seem familiar to any student of Marvel continuity. Itís a pure delight for this student when her deductions on the origins of the creature prove correct, and the scene shows that Whedon pays attention to cohesive Marvel Universe.

The X-Menís battle with the creature promotes the overall theme of Astonishing X-Men etched in Whedonís premiere issues. In order to promote mutant awareness as well as the possibility of coexistence between homo Sapien and homo Superior, the X-Men have returned to their super-hero roots. Part of being a super hero means to face menaces whether or not they be mutant in origin that threaten innocent lives.

Whedon and Cassaday with Laura Martin pitch an exciting battle that never forgets to put a face on whatís at stake. The strength of Colossus, the ferocity of Wolverine and the power of Cyclopsís optic laser beams become the obvious spotlight, but the creative team also shows how the traditionally more passive of powers becomes vital to such a situation. Kittyís and Emmaís efforts to save lives in the midst of the carnage shows the whole point of this heroism, and in a way Kitty is the most powerful of the X-Men because her powers are the ones that are the most useful in preventing the most loss of life. Itís one of those deliciously insightful Whedonesque observations akin to Buffyís recognition that as the Slayer she may be powerful and the Chosen One, but itís Willow who is the most powerful of all of the Scoobies. Later seasons made this obvious, but originally the Slayer was the first to see it even before Giles and the rest of the audience.

I can just envision the complaints lodged by people saying that the presence of the unadvertised guest-stars is more of a marketing decision than Whedonís personal choice, but I have to say their inclusion makes historical sense, as they were the first super-hero team to meet the X-Men, as well as continuity sense. The Avengers are unlikely to appear in Astonishing X-Men or anywhere else because the Avengers have been disbanded. So that leaves very few possibilities. The guest teamís presence needless to say gives Whedon even more liberties to create fun character interaction.

Joss Whedon, John Cassaday with Laura Martin introduce a new storyline, make it obscenely easy for a new audience to be enticed and justify the faithful fanís attention span all in one neat package that while not necessarily astonishing still entertains through meaty characterization, a fine battle and a surprise super-hero team-up.



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