Friday, July 15, 2016

Crabby Mini-Marathon: Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday Ultimate Collection, Book 2

 Whedon & Cassaday conclude their Earth-shattering epic.

 ASTONISHING X-MEN BY JOSS WHEDON & JOHN CASSADAY ULTIMATE COLLECTION, BOOK 2 collects ASTONISHING X-MEN #'s 13-24 and GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN #1, and completes a run that is, is this day and age, somewhat astonishing in it's own right: an unbroken twenty-five issue run on a title without any other creators ghosting, filling-in, or pinch-hitting. I remember this book as suffering from frequent delays when it was published as a floppy, which was incredibly frustrating, but the consistency of having one creative team telling their story, uninterrupted, really pays off when read in a collected edition(s).

 This volume picks up where the first left off, with The X-Men about to be attacked by The New Hellfire Club. The six-issue Hellfire Club arc is filled with twists and turns, and leads directly into the seven-issue finale that finds The X-Men on The Breakworld, hunted by hostile aliens determined to see that the prophecy that a mutant will destroy the world is not fulfilled.

 Much has been made about the cinematic feel of the Whedon/Cassaday collaboration, and that is very true, in more ways than one. John Cassaday's art does evoke a huge summer blockbuster, and Whedon wisely lets the artwork do the heavy lifting. Large sections of the book are silent, as Whedon steps back and lets Cassaday's visuals tell the story.

 On the other hand, this book is also reminiscent of a film that has had a bit too much edited out of it to be entirely coherent. There are a lot of dangling plots that are never addressed again, at least in this book, by these creators. The Cassandra Nova threat is pretty much just dropped as Whedon moves on to the ridiculous menace of The Breakworld. Ditto for Danger, and the promise of vengeance against Charles Xavier that she makes. (Indeed, an X-Man promises Danger that she can HAVE Xavier, which is never brought up again either.) I cared about these questions in the context of the Whedon/Cassaday run, but I don't care about them enough to dive into the morass that is X-Men continuity to see if they were ever resolved elsewhere.

 Another beef I had with this collection, as well as the first, was the lack of context. The mutant genocide in Genosha, Magneto's destruction of New York after his masquerade as Xorn, Cassandra Nova, The Hellfire Club, Kitty's past with Emma Frost, the death of Colossus...all of these things are brought up and given absolutely zero context, which means that if you didn't know about them before, you're going to be left scratching your head when you read this book. I really do miss the brief little footnotes that used to sit at the bottom of a panel when I was a kid that referred readers to the issues that were being referenced. Someone like Whedon coming into a comic is huge, and could potentially bring in an influx of new readers...the book should, therefore, be as new-reader friendly as possible, and make newcomers feel welcome as they get up to speed.

 Something that made me chuckle was seeing just how much the world has changed in the decade-plus since these issues were originally printed. In the last volume, one of the students asks Kitty if she is "retarded", and in this volume, Victoria Brand tells a group of threatening Breakworlders that "I never get gang-raped on a first date..." Wow. Neither of these would ever fly in the overly politically-correct world of 2016. I love it!

 Overall, this was a fun read, but I never really warmed to the overarching Breakworld plot, which I found ridiculous to begin with, and by the time they revealed their ten-mile-long bullet, I was ready to check out. Again, Whedon manages to hold things together with excellent character interactions, which was amazing, considering that I find Cyclops, Colossus, and Professor Xavier to be some of the most boring comic characters ever. Well done, sir!

 I'm sure Whedon is way too big to dabble in comics again, but if he ever did, I'd buy whatever he wrote, especially if he was partnered up with John Cassaday again.

 (Marvel seems to have let this volume fall out of print, while the first one seems to be readily available...weird.)