The last comic I bought was the hardcover collection of The House of M story arc; an 8 issue mini-series by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel where the Scarlett Witch went bonkers and changed the entire world, giving everyone their heart’s desire so that they would leave her and her family in peace.
It kind of sucked.
It’s not that the piece wasn’t beautifully drawn (Coipel has been a favorite of mine since his Red Zone arc in Avengers) it’s more because of the fact that this has been done so many times in so many ways, and done better. Days of Future Past, Forever Yesterday (New Warriors), Ages of Apocalypse, Earth-1191 (home of the XSE), hell even the Marvel Zombies universe all differentiated themselves from each other. Reading Bendis’ arc, I never really felt that anything was really fundamentally different in his newly created corner of the multi-verse.
Feeling let down and feeling that modern day Marvel comics didn’t hold a candle to those “back in the day” (my day being the two decades; 80’s and 90’s), I’ve been hesitant to buy another Marvel book since then, keeping mostly to other the houses. But then the Astonishing X-Men Omnibus went on sale at Amazon.com for less than $50.00 US with free shipping. I basically saved about 40% off the cover price which is frankly, quite awesome.
After picking it up, I couldn’t wait to read it. I mean this was JOSS WHEDON, the guy who wrote many of the shows that are part of the geek infrastructure of my being; Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, etc. To make things even greater, he was paired with one of the best artists currently in the business. I fell in love with John Cassaday’s art when I was introduced to Warren Ellis’ Planetary. His pencils there were beautifully simple and strikingly cinematic. Reading that book was like watching Ellis’ story jump right out at you. It was better than 3D.
Cassaday doesn’t disappoint with this book either, and Joss’ spectacular wit that is so evident in the writing of his TV series is just as recognizable on the page. Reading the set is like watching a reboot of the Singer’s X-Men movie franchise like it should have done. I liked X-Men: First Class as much as the next guy, but it didn’t really feel like the same characters I loved as a kid. The characters that Joss and John present DO feel like that. That fact makes me very, very excited to see Whedon’s entry in to the Marvel Movie pantheon, Avengers, next year.
The first story arc that the book collects is Gifted, or Astonishing X-Men numbers 1-6 which began in 2004. It deals with the discovery of a “mutant cure” which is traced back to an extraterrestrial named Ord. Ord has made a deal the shadow organization known as SWORD (Sentient World Observation and Response Department); His planet, The Breakworld, will not destroy the Earth, if the people of Earth can get rid of its mutant population. The people of The Breakworld believe that one of the mutants is destined to destroy their own planet.
The second story line is Dangerous, which appeared in issues 7-12. In it, the Danger Room AI is revealed to have gained sentience and focuses its attention on the group of mutants it’s been programmed to kill; the X-Men. The arc feels a lot like Steve Seagle’s Children of the Atom storyline where Cerebro came to life, but Danger (the anthropomorphized Danger Room) feels more like a character than she does a computer program.
Unstoppable is the third and final arc in the book and spans the issues from 19-24, and Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men. This covers the teams visit to the Breakworld and the resolution of the threads that started in Gifted.
SPOILERS AHEAD, FOLKS.
Each of these stories has its own pros and cons. I felt Dangerous was probably the weakest one because though Whedon indulges his penchant for surprise instances of massive trauma to his main characters, I never felt any real suspense. Maybe it’s because I already knew the basic story behind the arc thanks to several geek acquaintances explaining the history to me. Maybe it’s because the action never really gets going. There are however some wonderful panels thrown in that stuck in my brain for hours so I’m quick to forgive.
I’m a little off put by the ending of Unstoppable. I’m a big Shadowcat fan and bringing Colossus back and then getting rid of Kitty Pryde seems kind of silly to me. Plus the manner in which The Breakworld decides to destroy the Earth seems ridiculously complicated for an advanced civilization. A giant bullet? Really? But then, Whedon has admitted that he’s not a hard science fiction kind of guy. Though Firefly is ostensibly part of the genre, they never pretended that the science behind anything there was realistic.
My favorite has got to be Gifted, but for an entirely biased reason. Colossus has and always has been my favorite X-Men. When they killed him off, I cried. I read that scene over and over again and bawled.
In Gifted, Whedon and Cassaday bring him back in the most awesome way (well, the background reason behind the return is as silly as the giant bullet, but the execution is awesome). The scene is two pages of silent panels where Shadowcat struggles to open a set of doors buried deep underground. When the doors slide open, Pete’s standing there, mad as fuck. He runs through Kitty as she stares at him incredulously. The whole thing is breathtaking for a fan.
And I think that’s why these books work so well for me. Both Whedon and Cassaday seem like fans of both The X-Men and the comic book medium. It doesn’t feel like they’re phoning this in. It feels like they’re trying to do an homage to those outlaw days when the team was feared and hated by the general population.
If you’re feeling the same way I felt about today’s comics (that they’re mostly written by 3rd generation comic book geeks whose inspiration comes from weak sources like video games and pop culture rather than literature and current events) I suggest you read this book.
If you’ve been away from the medium for a while and not sure where to start, then I suggest you read this book.
If you’re a fan of Beast, Colossus, Shadowcat, Wolverine, Cyclops, or the White Queen, then I suggest you read this book.
Hell, if you know nothing about the X-Men I still suggest you read this book. It’s a hell of a way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and a great introduction to the best team in the Marvel Universe.