The X-Men, a team with just as many monikers as members. Amazing, Uncanny, X-Treme, New, Young, Ultimate, and that’s not even counting all of the splinter teams. While the Avengers may be Marvel’s “premiere super team”, the X-Men have certainly been involved in some pretty big events themselves, for better (The Dark Phoenix Saga) or worse (Anything from Chuck Austen’s run).
I could sit here all day and recount why the X-Men are one of if not the most prolific group in comic history, but that’s a comic rant for another day. Today we’re here to talk about a certain X-Men run that ran from 2004-2008 and why it was, in a word, Astonishing.
Originally beginning as a limited series that sporadically appeared in the 90’s, Astonishing X-Men saw a rebirth in 2004 under the care of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.
Joss Whedon, a friend to fanboys and girls alike, was no stranger to writing for the big two or comics in general. He has written an issue of Batman/Superman, took over the reigns of Runaways when series creator Brian K. Vaughn left, and even wrote comics cenetering on some his own properties like Buffy and Firefly.
John Cassaday was also a really popular artist at the time who had illustrated issues of Captain America, The Flash, and the critically acclaimed Planetary. Most recently Cassaday drew the first few issues of Uncanny Avengers.
Marvel brought back Astonishing X-Men specifically for Whedon to work his magic to pick up right after Grant Morrison’s legendary New X-Men. Whedon and Cassaday not only managed to follow Morrison’s narrative, but in some ways even surpassed it.
After a leave of absence, Kitty Pryde AKA Shadowcat has returned to the Xavier School in order to help mold the young mutant minds of tomorrow. Things aren’t all fun and grading though as a scientist named Kavita Rao has discovered a supposed cure for the mutant X-gene. At the same time as the good doctors announcement, a mysterious man named Ord holds a group of wealthy socialites hostage. As the X-Men take action on both fronts, they soon find themselves entangled in a web of lies, mistrust, betrayal, revelations, and tragedy that prove to change the team forever.
What Makes It Great
If I had to use two words to describe what made the first 24 (and the Giant Size) issues of Astonishing X-Men so great, they would have to be chemistry and history. History due to Whedon’s obvious love and homages to Chris Claremont’s historic run on the team, and chemistry due to not only Whedon and Cassaday’s cohesion as a creative team but also the team dynamic of the characters Whedon has written.
As I said before Astonishing X-Men kicks off almost exactly where New X-Men ended. The wound’s left from Magento/Xorn’s attack and Jean’s most recent death are still fresh. So along with Kitty we have the remnants of Morrison’s team: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, and Wolverine.
Along with it’s great dialogue, action, and pacing, another thing that made Whedon’s script unique is that it doesn’t focus on just one character, every one of team gets the light shone on them in different ways and they all benefit from it. Cyclops actually has a likable personality and his relationship with Emma is given more depth and meaning here than in more recent stories. Beast is at his most intelligent and humorous, he also gets some pathos when he questions his humanity when the cure is discovered, but it is written in a way that really makes you feel what he’s going through (this is helped by Whedon drawing upon Morrison’s New X-Men again). Emma Frost is shown to be both commanding but still emotional, and Wolverine:
He also had got in some pretty good cameos:
The team dynamic is well balanced and Cassaday excels at crafting good scenes that need no dialogue:
Another leg up that Astonishing X-Men had over other comics was it’s overall avoidance of crossover events (which was half due to Whedon’s dislike of them and half due to book delays because of Cassaday’s artwork). There was also one last thing, actually characater that made this series so phenomanal
Now it’s no secret that Joss Whedon loves him some badass, well rounded female characters (just look at anything he’s ever written), and Katherine Anne Pryde was certainly no exception.
Initially only seen as the X-Men’s happy go lucky rookie (a role later taken by Jubilee in the 90’s), Kitty slowly started coming into her own over the years through encounters with the mutant Marauders, travelling and learning martial arts from Wolverine, saving the future, joining the British mutant team Excalibur, and even leaving the school to go to college.
Whedon not only added to aspects Kitty’s character, but helped shape the current version of the character that writer’s still follow today. He portrayed her as confident but still nervous, intelligent but still naive, and as an adult but still having her sense of childhood wonder. Also, she wasn’t afraid to kick ass when she needed to:
And while Kitty has a lot of great moments during Whedon’s run, her crowning achievement was when she PHASED A GIANT BULLET THROUGH THE EARTH! An event that still holds weight to this day as being one of the most emotional and most badass moments in not just X-Men, but Marvel history. Showing everyone that Shadowcat was and is a valuable and powerful member of the X-Men
Astonishing X-Men introduced new characters and orgainzations that are still used in Marvel today. AXM was reposnsible for the creation of: Young X-Man Hisako “Armor” Ichiki, The danger room A.I. Danger, the clairvoyant Blindfold, scientist Kavita Rao, the Breakworld and its inhabitants, and perhaps most noteworthy Abigail Brand and S.W.O.R.D.. AXM also saw the reemergence of Cassandra Nova along with the triumphant return of fan favorite X-Man Colossus in one of the greatest reveals/returns and one of the most emotional scenes in comics.
Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men is the type of epic that only comes along every few years. Packed with emotion, humor, action, but most of all fun. It borught back the kind of fun and excitement that comics had mostly been lacking at the time and the ramifications of events in that run are still being felt today.
In short…JOSS WHEDON’S RUN ON ASTONISHING X-MEN IS FREAKING AWESOME! And it should be read by both X-Men fans and comic fans alike.