Monday, July 02, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 2

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run. For more posts click the Astonishing X-Men label.]

Cassaday does a really knockout job here, especially rendering the monster the little girl gives life to, and all the X-Men attacking in separate panels. Also the cover is just stunning, especially Laura Martin's colors. Ord is a little weird looking, with that metal thing across his nose. I wonder if Whedon thought up the design, because it seems like something from Buffy, something from a medium where you have to think about practical issues with monster design.

We begin here to see one of Cassaday's worst habits, that will become more prominent in future issues -- though he is incredibly talented, he can be lazy. Give him a chance to use the same drawing twice, and he will take it. Case in point in this issue -- the cop's face is copied exactly from on panel to the next, there are three panels in a row of one of Ord's henchman that are again nearly exact copies, and a group shot of the X-Men talking is almost exactly recopied a panel later. So is a panel of Kitty and Emma talking. This is used for dramatic effect, and it is not awful, but it does not make it any less lazy. It does not seem too bad until you see how many times Cassaday resorts to this device -- stay tuned and I will grab all the ones I see.

Whedon's trademark serious-silly combination -- his main device that for some reason I simply never tire of -- is used to great effect here in the battle with Ord. His serious, violent, and nearly successful battle with the X-Men is ended by Kitty Pride's pet dragon, who appears for the first time simply breathing fire on Ord and saving everyone. "You are the best X-Dragon ever" says Kitty. "I think we should make him team leader," says Wolverine. You just don't get this kind of scene in Morrison, or anywhere else, and I am a sucker for it. I can, in all fairness, understand someone who thought it was lame. The press asks Kitty "Do you have a license for that bat? What is your relationship with the bat" and she replies "I don't even know what that means." Whedon, you had me at hello. My critical powers fail me, and I just swoon.

We have a great scene between Emma and Kitty, where it becomes clear Emma wanted Kitty on the team to keep an eye on her, which is interesting. She wants to be good, but it not sure she will. The team debates the virtues of the mutant "cure" in a well written and mercifully brief conversation -- Whedon provides a good mix of action and talking, though many people found this first arc too talky. Finally, Whedon, ever the master, finds that perfect ending beat as the Beast confronts Dr. Rao and wants to know if the cure really works -- presumably for him.


Voice Of The Eagle said...

You know sometimes I love Whedon on the silly/serious, sometimes it makes me want to scream. It works best on Firefly, for some reason the cast is able pull it off without making it feel like a gimmick (which it is).

What Whedon gets me with are his girl-geeks (Willow Rosenberg is the fictional characer I most wish really existed in our crummy world that totally lacks time travel and jet-powered apes). I fall in love every time.

James said...

One of the things that impresses me most about Astonishing X-Men is that while it's unmistakably Whedon, he seems mindful of the universe and restrains himself from doing Buffy/Angel/Firefly with mutants. Especially compared it to his work on Runaways and, well, Buffy the Comic, both of which I had to stop reading because they just felt like an avalanche of his dialogue tics and "trademark" characterisations. (I guess that's to be expected in the latter case.)

Anyway, glad you're doing this Geoff, and great job so far. It strikes me that if you decide to do the whole of Astonishing, it's entirely possible you could catch up with Whedon and Cassaday before they finish their run.

neilshyminsky said...

I wanted to respond to something that Geoff brought up in the entry on issue 1, but which I'm sure must feature here as well - Cassaday duplicating panels. While it's arguably lazy, I can't see any more effective visual approach for implying a 'beat', or otherwise slowing the reading process. Subtle differences in consecutive panels suggest a hurriedness - the characters seem to twitch or seethe. But identical faces or body language slows time and even gives it a feeling of lunatic calm. I don't know how else you would produce that.

Mitch said...

I agree with Neil. Astonishing X-Men definitely falls into the current "decompressed" trend -one story over six issues- in comics. I see duplicating panels for emotion beats as an element of this. Cassiday does it better than most.

Dante Kleinberg said...

"especially rendering the monster the little girl gives life to"

You can tell how long it's been since these issues came out that I have no idea what this is referring to. I remember Ord attacking, I remember the mutant cure, and I remember the green-haired chick from S.W.O.R.D... but this reference escapes me.

neilshyminsky said...

dante: The little girl whose power was to manifest her nightmares, and the nightmare monster which subsequently kills her parents and a cop. It looks like a giant, evil beetle, kinda.

Actually, I sort've disliked this monster - moreso for the little we saw in the first issue. Cassaday gave it a grin that looks probably too much like the face usually given to the Shadow King in his psychic manifestations - and so it had me convinced that he had taken control of the girl and this wasn't really a mutant thing at all.

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: fair enough, but it can be overused and he overuses it -- plus, as I will point out, he does not always repeat twice in a row for the beat -- sometimes he will just take an image from an earlier page or an earlier issue and just reuse it.

Neil: I also thought that was the Shadow King when I first read the first issue. I forgot about that until you mentioned it and I think you are right that that is a flaw.

Streebo said...

RE: Cassaday duplicating panels.

Geoff, I hope I never end up taking one of your classes because you are ruthless! I can't believe you are calling out Cassaday as lazy because he reuses images or whole panels. Don't read Kirkman's Invincible any time soon. LOL

Neil - the method of using identical postures or panels while effective is not necessarily the only way to add a beat to the story. In Hellboy, Mignola uses quiet inset panels focusing on a certain aspect of the previous panel to create a pregnant moment of time. In Astonishing for example - if we take the sequence where Emma and Kitty are talking near the end - Cassady could have used a small inset panel showing a close up of Kitty's hands fidgeting behind her back or a panel of a close up on a bead of sweat rolling off her forehead to create an emotional beat. So there are alternatives. They are all certainly viable and which method is used should be wholly dependent on the context of the story being told.

I mentioned Kirkman's Invincible above as he uses the duplicated panels frequently - and to great effect. He even has a moment in one issue where he addresses exactly that technique through the words of a comic artist in the story. It was a great little moment.

troy wilson said...

Agreed, Streebo. Great little moment in a great little comic.

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