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.
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)
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.