Sunday, November 04, 2007

Astonishing X-Men #23 Advance Review

Writer: Joss Whedon

Artist: John Cassaday

Colours: Laura Depuy

Marvel Comics

It's a grueling task doing a spoiler-free (Marvel's strict rules) advance review for this issue, trying to avoid the elephant in the room, namely the aftermath of Cyclops' death in the previous issue; there has been a lot of discussion about the death and how this arc lines up with the Messiah CompleX continuity in the rest pf x-titles. All I will say for now, is that most of the questions will be made clear by the end of this issue.

or more succinctly:

and now this issue:

When Whedon first launched the title, I resisted the hype as much as humanly possible, trying to bad-talk the book as much as possible and discover the cracks in every page. Talk about hopeless. For once the hype is right, and there can be no denying it.

In the first draft of the review, I had decided to skip all the usual routine about how "this is the best an X-Men book will ever be, so enjoy it for one month more while you still can". But, it's hard to resist: it is true, after all. Marvel realizes this as well, thus giving this title the special deadline-breaking privileges to make sure the art is the best it could possibly be to fit a volume of work that will be re-read and references back for decades to come. I wish they had made the same realization earlier, back when Morrison's New X-Men run was in full-swing and the book was shoved into a bi-weekly schedule and fill-in hell. Whedon and Cassaday certainly benefit from that experience.

Some persistent nay-sayers might retort 'Hey, the guy's only writing an X-book, it's not like he's reinventing the wheel'. Well, that's where they're wrong: in this issue he actually does.

Joss Whedon rewrites the book on comics (well, more like adds an appendix, but allow me my hyperbole this once), introducing a brand new tool in the arsenal of the medium, something unique to comics alone which no other medium could reproduce. I wish I could do more than tease, but this ties into the major twist in the storyline ('oh no! now he's said there's a twist!'). I knew Whedon had a talent for revisiting classic scenes from X-Men history and shedding light at them from a new perspective, but I never imagined he'd be doing the same with his own X-Men stories!

Enough Whedon hype for this review though! Instead, let's talk up John Cassaday.

When Ord of the Breakworld first showed up in the opening arc, I had found him a visually unimpressive alien villain. No distinctive costume, no catchy colour scheme, no cool headgear (seriously, what was up with the metal nose-muzzle and those funky eyebrows?). He just looked poor to me. (wait, here comes the 'but' again). Now I get it. See now, the X-Men have visited Breakworld and we got to see Cassaday's brilliance in design. He hadn't created a throwaway one-note villain; he had designed a entirely new alien race: their bone structure, their facial features, their body language, their materials and their fashion, their armour and their architecture. The kind of thing Jack Kirby (i.e. the Skrulls, the Kree) would make seem effortless, yet we hadn't really seen since Dave Cockrum created the Shi'ar for Uncanny X-Men. An alien civilisation designed whole cloth for the sake of one storyline.

Whedon does love to break loose once in a while and indulge himself in a new alien landscape for a closing chapter; here he doesn't have the budgetary hindrances when creating Pylea for the wrap-up of Angel Season 2, but instead has the only limitation of John Cassaday's pen and imagination. Cassaday is the perfect fit for this, having proven himself in this area from his previous work with Warren Ellis in Planetary --which called for this kind of feat only every other issue.

Before I wrap this up, a small tease without breaking spoilers taboos. By the end of the story, you'd have gone guaranteed WHOA over at least 4 scenes, before the shocking double geek-gasm finale, starting with a Thundercats moment and finishing with a splash which rivals in coolness 'that' Kitty cliffhanger from #15.

Grade: 10/10


Tom Daylight said...

Messiah Complex takes place between Astonishing X-Men #12 and #13.

Manolis Vamvounis said...

where was the confirmed?