Friday, August 24, 2007

Guest Review: Astonishing X-Men #22

My good friend Tyler from US TV is filling in for reviews today.

As the biggest Whedon fan I know, he's far better qualified to talk about Whedon's latest X-Men issue:

ASTONISHING X-MEN #22
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday

Colorist: Laura Martin

Marvel Comics


Up till now I've had my reservations regarding this final act of Joss Whedon's run on the title, but this issue finally picks up the glacial pace and delivers an emotional punch unlike any so far in the series. (And yes, that includes the moment Kitty laid eyes on the very much alive Colossus.) These babies definitely take their time, but with pay-offs like this one, really... who cares? Let's take things one step at a time.

Last issue saw Scott seemingly blown to death by Danger and, in an amazing cliffhanger twist, Emma asking it to take her life, too. This is quickly resolved here, but not in a manner that feels as though we, as readers, were cheated. The explanation for last issue's finale is nothing short of revelatory, and it leads to another fascinating question whose answer could even lend itself to a last minute twist in the upcoming (so to speak) series finale. At the same time, Emma's dialogue in both this and last issue's scenes with Scott feels unbearably true and brings in mind the cynical nature of Buffy and Spike's relationship in that show's final years; two souls who found in each other what they were looking for at this moment in time, and one of them wanting more but knowing they'll never get it. (Hence, Spike's terrific line "No, you don't, but thanks for saying that" to Buffy's faintly uttered "I love you" in the finale, and almost all of Emma's lines here.)



In contrast, Kitty and Peter manage to steal away a few moments of true bliss in the midst of all this mess; usually in Whedon's work this is a sign of death and destruction to come, but in the context of this Emma/Scott-centered second year it could merely exist only to underline the difference between the main two couples of the series. Therefore, it comes as both exhilarating and painful at the same time: Kitty and Peter have been through hell and to see them finally live the dream is a gift from heaven, even with doom looming in the corner. As Kitty points out in one especially poignant sequence, "You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize this is it; the dust is your life going on." And she has.

There are several more notable moments before the conclusion has been reached: Beast is reliving the tragedy of Genosha, explaining away his now infamous joke as a defense mechanism; Agent Brand reveals more layers of bitchiness, destroying a perfectly sweet reunion between Kitty and Lockheed (she will make a great Dirk Anger stand-in for Warren Ellis to play with); Emma delivering this issue's funniest line, in response to Brand's spiteful previous moment ("Do you visit orphanages to explain there's no Santa?"); Kitty quietly fading out in the background and into Peter's arms, in this exact sequence. And of course there's the ever present view that no culture can ever be as one-dimensional as we foolishly expect it to be. This is evident in both the opening pages, where Kruun lays down his morality for us readers, and especially in the particularly Why Had I Never Thought Of That? revelation from Brand that Lockheed isn't the sweet little puppy (or, erm, kitty) we've always considered him to be.



Minor spoilers/hints: All this leads to a mesmerizing final sequence, perhaps the best yet in Whedon's run; believe me when I say that it justifies what has come before in this arc, and even the previous one.(Not that the excellent "Torn" needs any kind of justification. I'm merely pointing out the fact that together they seem more like a 12-part story rather than two 6-ers.) In Astonishing X-Men #14, Whedon explored what makes Cyclops tick and how can such a man be unable of tapping onto his full potential. He finally managed to turn Scott into a full-blown leader only by taking away what theoretically made him special. This isn't terribly original on its own, but the execution of this idea is what elevates the piece; space's stunningly poetic and deadly silent nothingness (as portrayed by the ridiculous perfection that is John Cassaday's pencils and Laura Martin's colors) provides Whedon with the means to look into Scott's psyche in a way no writer has ever done before. The final two pages of this issue are pure perfection, in their own gut-wrenching way.

I have no idea where (or when!) this will take us, but it's moments like this that make me simply not care and just enjoy the moment. After all, as Kitty would have said, in reading X-Men comics (as in life) you have to accept the fact that "you can't wait for the dust to settle, ever. If happy comes along, you grab it while you can." And only then, may I add, you worry about stuff like continuity.



Grade: 9/10

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