Graphic Detail takes an in-depth look at a new graphic novel or trade paperback released each week.
A month ago we looked at the Astonishing X-Men Ultimate Collection Book 1, the first half of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's fantastic run on Marvel's merry mutants. Book 2, which contains the final 13 chapters of their epic, dropped yesterday, and if you like the X-Men and haven't read this story, you should probably get on that.
Like the last book, this collection's divided into two halves. In the first story, a resurrected Hellfire Club—including Emma Frost, who's been acting like a good guy for the past 12 issues—strikes against the X-Men, making plans to take them out one by one. What do they hope to gain from this assault? That's a secret only Emma knows, but to come out on top she'll destroy each and every one of her teammates, like Cyclops (whose powers are neutralized), Beast (who devolves into a feral state) and Wolverine (who's made to believe he's a small child living in rural Canada again, to much comedy).
Then in part two the X-Men are whisked away from Earth to confront an alien civilization called the Breakworld that's convinced the X-Man Colossus is destined to destroy them. To make sure that doesn't happen, they've aimed a giant doomsday weapon at Earth… which obviously is a bad thing. But even if Colossus isn't the agent of destruction he's prophesied to be, will anyone believe him?
A mere plot synopsis doesn't quite do these two stories justice, but rest assured, in Joss Whedon's hands the X-Men are as good as they've ever been. Everything you love about Whedon (and will probably continue to love in this summer's Avengers) is here, from the sharp humor to the deep interpersonal relationships between characters to the overarching plots that come together in the cleverest of ways. His writing's met head-on by the art of John Cassaday, which is about as realistic as you want in a superhero comic before things start getting creepy. These characters look like you could know them, especially in the way that their faces express emotion, and that's good, because there's a surprising amount of emotional content here.
You guys probably all know how Whedon likes to kill characters, right? Well, Astonishing X-Men is no exception. There's a death in the last chapter of this book that hits surprisingly hard. It's not especially violent or brutal—in fact it's quite understated—which might make it more difficult to process. Of course, this being a comic book, that death has already been undone, but this story's so good you kinda wish it hadn't been.
Another thing Whedon loves to do is build up his female characters, and we've got to mention how much love Astonishing X-Men gives to Kitty Pryde. If she's not already your favorite X-Man (and, come on, she probably isn't), she might be by the time you're done reading this. She's definitely Whedon's point-of-view character, the relatively normal, level-headed voice we experience the far-out events of this comic through. In the 25 chapters that comprise Whedon's saga, we're treated to her reintroduction to the X-Men team, her finding her (presumed dead) boyfriend Colossus, her stepping into a role as a teacher and her many intense confrontations with Emma Frost, who she just does not like. It's too easy to say that Kitty's a straight Buffy Summers clone, but as far as being strong, relatable, emotional and compelling, the two have a lot in common.
It's not often that big-time Hollywood types come down from their money towers to write superhero comic books; it's less often still that what they write is any good, let alone great. Astonishing X-Men is great. It shows that Joss Whedon has a strong love of comic books that's sure to serve him well come Avengers time. Check out this look at how he treats some of Marvel's most famous characters on the comics page before getting a look at how he treats them on the big screen on May 4rd. A
What's your favorite Joss Whedon creation?