Bane of Kings reviews the first volume in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men series, entitled Gifted, published by Marvel Comics.
“A wonderful read, proving that Whedon can master not only films and TV shows, but graphic novels as well. A must not just for X-Men fans, but for graphic novel readers in general.” ~The Founding Fields
Writer: Joss Whedon | Art: John Cassady | Publisher: Marvel Comics | Collects: Astonishing X-Men #1-7
The X-Men are quickly becoming my favourite comics team. With a wide variety of cast, a rich history – and a wealth of potential ideas, you can throw them into any situation with almost any writer and most of the time it’ll be enjoyable. This is because I haven’t read a bad X-Men comic. I’ve seen a bad X-Men film – that honour goes to X3, but in the list of comics that I’ve read so far, I still haven’t encountered a bad X-Men book. Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People by Mark Millar, Wolverine and the X-Men: Regenesis by Jason Aaron and the first few issues of every Marvel Now! title that I’ve read focused on the X-Men have proved to be really enjoyable, and with someone like Joss Whedon writing the book, the man responsible for not only The Avengers but also the awesome cult TV show Firefly, I got the feeling I wasn’t going to be disappointed. And whilst it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, the first volume of Astonishing X-Men certainly hits the ground running and delivers a stunning first installment into the series that I will certainly strive to pick up the next volume when and where I can, especially as I seem to be reading too few second volumes of series – my entire print comic collection is only first volumes. I blame this for the fact that there’s too much stuff out there, and not enough money.
Dream-team creators Joss Whedon (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and John Cassaday (Planetary, Captain America) present the explosive 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?
The first thing that leapt out at me when I read the blurb was this – wasn’t Emma Frost a villain? After all, I’d only encountered her in First Class before coming to Astonishing X-Men, where she took the side of Sebastian Shaw and the Hellfire Club and later Magneto following the end of the film. So naturally, I was a bit confused to see her not only as part of the X-Men, but in a relationship with Cyclops, which Wolverine doesn’t seem to be too happy about, especially illustrated early on – when it becomes apparent that without Xavier at the school, things aren’t all kept in line.
It’s also interesting to note that it appears that Joss Whedon has used a similar thread found in X3 - that of the breaking news regarding the mutant gene hitting the airwaves. It’s a cure, but Whedon manages to handle it in a very different and much better way than the mess that was the concluding act of the X-Men Trilogy. It’s interesting that not all of the X-Men are opposed to taking the cure, and the book itself is very much about internal divisions in between the X-Men as much as their enemies. It’s like the first volume of Astonishing X-Men was used as a test run for the Avengers film, as both of Whedon’s works have seen dysfunctional teams fighting each other. The action here in this book is plenty and whilst I was confused in places, Whedon’s storyline flows neatly as well as delivering a satisfying resolution that at the same time creates a mystery particularly regarding Emma Frost – but I won’t go into anymore details for obvious reasons.
The X-Men are brought to life by John Cassaday who is a really strong artist. This book is another graphic novel that you can tell is quite clearly a Marvel title, and it lacks the dark and gritty, atmospheric artwork that I’ve found in DC’s comics. The Trade Paperback collection is worth your money as well, you can get it for under £10 at Amazon.co.uk, and it contains seven issues. The book itself is certainly worth a read – and it’s arguably one of my favourite comics to date, with The Dark Knight Returns, which I read for the first time yesterday – being one of the few comics ahead of Joss Whedon’s stellar first graphic novel.
Another of Whedon’s strengths in Gifted is that he manages to flush out the characters a lot. They never seem entirely one dimensional here and I’ve grown to appreciate Kitty Pryde whilst reading this graphic novel after only having encountered her again in the X-Men films, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Whedon takes the characters in future installments, which I will do my best to pick up.
A great graphic novel, strong character development and some superb artwork with some great action scenes and an awesome storyline, but can be confusing at times.
The Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, Dangerous, Torn, Unstoppable, Ghost Box, Exogenetic, Xenogenesis, Monstrous, Children of the Brood.