Monday, March 10, 2008

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men

Non-Buffyverse Related

What Is It?: Astonishing X-Men Volume One-Gifted TPB

Timing: No idea. Frankly, Marvel's continuity is too convoluted and haphazard for me to care about in the slightest.

REVIEW (and Art): Most of the people checking out this review will be Buffy/Angel/Firefly fans. People who follow Joss Whedon, but find themselves weary about getting into an X-Men series. That's pretty much how I felt, and I'm very glad I got over my skepticism and bought this trade paperback.

I can't speak for X-Men fans, as this ("Astonishing X-Men: Gifted") is the only item in the series I've ever read as of yet. However, the story is great and the characters are interesting and, though they are mutants, each one of them is very human. Kitty Pryde is particularly done well, which is not surprising as she was one of the characters who inspired Whedon to create Buffy Summers. The villain, Ord from Breakworld, is interesting in enough, though his appearance is a lot cooler than his personality.

Everything you can expect from a Whedon story (plot twists, complexities, humor, crisp character banter) is all here, and it's all very clearly in his style. One minor problem that I did come across is that there is most certainly an extensive X-Men background story, and the references to certain events from previous story lines is a little confusing, though not to the point where it messes the story up. WARNING: Reading this Astonishing X-Men series will make you want to check out other X-Men volumes written by other writers, so if you just want to read Whedon and that's it, you'll have a bit of trouble with that.

I wouldn't recommend this to someone who has never read a comic before, but Cassaday's beautiful art makes it an easy read. It's just that there is so much going on, that I'd recommend a simpler story to pop your comic cherry. Perhaps one of the older non-canonical ANGEL comics from IDW? Again, I can't speak for the die hard X-Men fans, but I can for the Buffyverse lovers. Get this trade paperback, it's a great story and--if you like Whedon--you'll like this.

Rating: 8/10

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What Is It?: Astonishing X-Men Volume Two- Dangerous TPB

Timing: Short while after "Gifted."

REVIEW (and Art): While I had nothing but praise for mastermind Joss Whedon's first X-Men trade paperback (Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1: Gifted), I found the second arc of the series ("Dangerous") to be problematic. The story threads started and unfinished in "Gifted" were hardly touched at all in this arc, and a whole new, very confusing story starts. Those unfamiliar to pre-Whedon X-Men are going to find themselves lost when the mythology of "the Danger Room", Professor Xavier, and Genosha come into play, as they were hardly even mentioned in "Gifted."

This trade paperback collects the entire "Dangerous" arc, made up of six issues, and there are certainly many good points to be spoken of. The first and some of the sixth issue read very well, and--as with any Joss Whedon work--the character interactions are done perfectly. The character of Wing and his situation had a lot of potential for a great story, but what was done with him was convoluted at best. The baddie in this issue (a personification of the Danger Room itself) spends more than half the issue explaining itself, and I'm simply left saying "Huh?" Whedon even admitted his mistakes in this arc, saying that he was "so fascinated with the idea of new intelligence that (he) neglected the action and thus prevented the story from flowing well."

Overall, don't let this trade paperback change your view of Whedon. He was the best writer television has ever seen, and he's making a crater sized dent in the world of comics with this Astonishing X-Men, his arc of Runaways, and his Buffy: Season Eight series. Every writer has a bit of a slip up. This is Joss's. (NOTE: This was written before I read "Sugarshock," which was considerably worse than this. So allow the man two slip-ups. It's less than most writers have, I promise)

RATING: 5/10

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What Is It?: Astonishing X-Men Volume Three-Torn TPB

Timing: Short while after "Dangerous."

REVIEW (and Art): Let me preface this by letting everyone know what kind of review this is going to be. Joss Whedon is my favorite writer. His television series (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly) are what I consider to be some of the best stories ever told. He's captivated me in ways that no other storyteller has. Before Joss started on this series, I've never read any X-Men, so the only back story I had while reading this was the first two volumes of "Astonishing" which were, as this one is, written by Joss.

Now about this book. There are really great things going on here. The comedy is great (Wolverine is hilarious when he... 'reverts'), and there were a few very powerful emotional scenes. Joss is at his best when he's handling Kitty Pryde, who was not only the focal point of this arc... she was also the driving force. If I took anything away from reading this trade paperback, it's that I would do anything to have a Joss scripted "Kitty Pryde" ongoing series.

Now... the not-so-good things: The plot, especially to someone unfamiliar with the complicated X-Men back story and mythology, has a lot of very confusing elements. While it's certainly an improvement over Astonishing X-Men Vol. 2: Dangerous, which had me confused nearly 100% of the time, there were some plot lines that really bugged me out, and the reveal at the end... exposition heavy and ultimately unsatisfying. It added some new depth, but it also sacrificed a bit of the coherency of the story. Joss Whedon's fan base is large enough that I feel 50% of the readers will be Joss-fans unfamiliar with Marvel back story and the other will be X-Men fans. Sometimes, I felt like this was trying to please those who intimately know the Marvel mythology, because a newcomer just wouldn't get some of this stuff. Joss should have made it a bit easier to grasp.

Rating: 6/10

Non-Buffyverse Related

3 comments:

Loki said...

I actually liked Sugarshock. Not the first time around. First time around, I went "w...t... ...huh?" And had that been any other writer, that would've been the end of it. But seeing as it's Joss, I tried it again. Suddenly, it was a little better. So I read it yet again. And third time I read it? I found it to be hilarious. Really odd, sure, but that's kind of the point, I guess. Third time I managed to get a grip enough about the weird plot (read: managed not to obsess with trying to make sense of every little thing every step along the way and actually read the story) to be able to follow the jokes.

AXM, I've only read the first two. I think we're pretty much in agreement on them.

Thomas said...

I think Pat accurately identifies the problems with the second and third six-issue arcs of Joss's stint on AXM. I think I'd give both of them higher ratings than Pat does, because for me, the great dialogue and character moments -- and the lovely art --outweigh the weaknesses. But I certainly agree that less convolutedness and less exposition would have really helped.

I'm reading the final six-issue arc now, as it's being released, and I'm enjoying it greatly. (Five down, finale to go.) There's some of that same tendency towards complication and exposition, but I think less than in the last couple of arcs, because this one involves the X-Men flying to the Breakworld and dealing with a mostly new set of antagonists, rather than running around the X-Mansion and wallowing in their history as in the previous arc.

PatShand said...

Thomas said... "I think I'd give both of them higher ratings than Pat does, because for me, the great dialogue and character moments -- and the lovely art --outweigh the weaknesses."

It's funny that you say that, because I lifted these from my Amazon page, and the only thing I tweaked on them was the scores. For the last two arcs, I took one point off. I originally rated "Dangerous" as a 6/10 and "Torn" as a 7/10. I took a point off for each on this site for this reason: On Amazon, I was reviewing them as run-of-the-mill comics. They were better than the mean modern comics have set, so they got higher scores. However, on this site--a Buffyverse site--I hold them to the standard of what Joss has written. If "The Gift" is a 10+/10, most of "Season Eight" is a 9/10, "The Freshman" is an 8/10, and "When She Was Bad" is, let's say, a 7/10, I just don't feel right grading the latter X-Men arcs as equal to that.

That being said, I didn't hate them. I was critical, yes, but that's because I love Joss, and I do expect better. Like in "A Beautiful Sunset." That was as good as anything he's written for the show. "The Chain," however, was not, so I kinda ripped into that one (more in subsequent debates than the actual review). If a writer like Christopher Moore--competant, but not astounding--messes up a bit, I won't take off that many points. But if one of my favorite writers (Whedon, Thomas, Rowling, King, Ball) messes up, I'll do one of two things:

1. Ignore the faults and force myself to like it (see my review for "The Chain") and then re-read it and realize how wrong I was and come back to tear it a new asshole.

2. Be really critical of it from the start. I kinda just expect better.

Wowwwww that was a long explanation for a really small question (lol).