[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run. For more of the same click the Astonishing X-Men link at the bottom of this post.]
In this issue, the team rallies back against Ord and Dr Rao and the newly returned Colossus saves everyone before SHIELD shows up and stops the whole thing.
Cyclops wakes in a dreamscape caused by him being knocked out; Whedon uses the opportunity to make fun of code names (Ability-to-hop-man) and busy nineties costume design (all those pockets). This is all good fun, as is Kitty's demand to know if Colossus back from the grave is "a clone, or a robot or, yeah, a ghost or an alternate universe thingie .. a shapeshifter or illusionist." The switched body explanation makes no sense, but I do not really care about continuity stuff that much. Emma has a nice bit where she mentally controls two guards to vomit uncontrollably for 48 hours every time they hear the words "parsley," "intractable," or "longitude" which is awesome; Cyclops says in small letters "my girlfriend is very weird." And funny. Emma putting Dr. Rao between her and Ord is also a nice character moment. You can read comic book after comic book and have nothing like this. It is simple and small, but it is important. Comics should be fun, and a little silly goes a long way.
But there is a mistake brewing here -- I could talk about it later, but this is as good a time as any. At the end of issue three Hank says the problem they face is about the bodies Benetech is running tests on; Hank says "why does nothing ever stay buried" and Scott ends issue 3 with a muted "Jean?" In issue four they go looking for bodies at Benetech: Cyclops says "we probably won't find anything conclusive" and Emma says icily "Like a warm body?" Then Wolverine and Hank smell something: "Female. Dead." When they find the body, someone they don't know, Cyclops says "This can't be the only body." Then Colossus shows up. Issue four or five was promoted with an image of the Phoenix and the promise of a return; it may have been the same image as Cyclops's hallucination, but even if it is not that image serves as a parody of what we were expecting.
A fake-out can be great fun -- I loved the Ultimate/Regular-universe fake-out that led to the first appearance of the Zombie universe. But there the Zombies were pretending to be something that looked like the regular Marvel universe. Reed was tricked as we were. Similarly in Ocean's 12 much of the film is a fake out -- we are tricked as the Nightfox is. But here, we are led to believe the X-Men are looking for Jean for one, maybe two issues (depending on when you figure out you should give up on her return) -- and we have no surrogate in the narrative being tricked in this way, nor anyone in the narrative doing the tricking. All of those lines I quoted above are part Whedon's plan to make us think they are looking for Jean; but they must have known they were not looking for Jean moments after the final panel of 3 but before the first panel of four. Whedon is tricking us directly with no narrative surrogate of any kind. I am going to be bold and call this a reasonably sized gaff on Whedon's part, a full-on error.
I would like some debate on this point, if you are up for it.
Cassaday Repeat/Background watch. Cassaday reuses an image of Cyclops, a zoom in on Kitty and Colossus, a double take on Colossus, another double take on Colossus, another double take on Cyclops, a double take on Emma, a double take on Ord's weapon, a double take on Wolverine, and a double take on Ord. Many panels of Cyclops have no background, which is ok-- he is on the floor for those scenes, and a few panels are in a dream scape. Cyclops and Kitty have a conversation in an interesting space -- a red alien area underneath Benetech, but for much of that conversation and a whole page of the kids back at the school there is no background of any kind except for the shaded color. That, to me is a mistake, especially since early in those scenes a background is established. Cassaday just decides not to continue to draw it. Many panels in the fight with Ord have no background for a reason (that bold yellow is used again to communicate a strike), but many have no background for no reason, and then some do have a background -- it is all pretty random. You may think this lack of background is for emphasis. But it is not. I checked panel after panel for that kind of explanation. It works sometimes, but it is in no way consistent enough to call it a technique.