[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 label at the bottom of this post.]
In this issue Xavier squares off against Danger, while the X-Men regroup and join him.
This issue opens strong, continuing the excellent framing story from the last issue -- even panels paced and sized for maximum tension, and great, terse exchanges. After the initial setup, Xavier simply plows into Danger with the cab of an 18-wheeler (rigged to allow him to work the pedals with his hands, a nice, unremarked detail by Cassaday). "What did you think? That I'd save myself with reason?" As I mentioned earlier, Xavier is one of my favorite characters, and I love it when he gets to be a bad-ass -- this surely has to be the most bad-ass Xavier issue ever. Danger was so collected fighting the X-Men; it is a god-damned sight to see, when Xavier riles her to the point where she degenerates into "Kill this fucking cripple!" He even gets her into a mind-space and throws philosophy at her ("If no one had limitations what would God do with his time?") before the reveal that this is all a distraction so he can hack her robot body to pieces with an axe. Best Xavier issue anywhere. At the end she just looks at him and says "They don't have the slightest idea of what you are, do they?" to which he replies calmly "I like to think Jean knew." Mark Millar came up with a serious bad-ass Xavier in Ultimate X-Men -- probably the best investigation into the character I know and the most persuasive Xavier to me -- but this is as good as anything Millar came up with. This is my Charles Xavier: aloof, brilliant, in control, zealous to a fault, and not incapable of violence and coercion.
But this issue is not without its flaws. Early in their fight Xavier tells Danger that he has had "a friend" shut down all machines in the area so that she cannot bring any to life; he adds that "this is not his battle." I find it unpersuasive that THIS Xavier, a guy who has done some morally questionable things (as we will find next issue), and who takes her apart with an axe knowing what she is, would feel so honor bound to establish this kind of artificial proving ground, and not just have his friend, obviously Magneto, atomize her. That would be the practical thing to do -- as far as he knows she may have just killed all of his X-Men, and the whole truck-axe thing suggest he wants to be practical, violently and ruthlessly so. You can argue that given his responsibility for her (I do not want to get into the next issue here), and given that he thinks he has lost everything, and given that he is an ego-maniac, he would just want to do it himself, personally, but invoking Magneto in this half-assed way is just not doing it for me. The explanation is lacking, and raises more questions than it answers. Whedon should have avoided it altogether. I don't really see why is is needed in the first place. I bet editorial insisted on it.
And finally it turns out EVERYONE -- all the X-Men and all those children -- are alive. That is lame ass. The explanation in the issue: Danger only cares about Xavier, they mean nothing to her. Well that fails on a couple of levels. One, it takes self-control to incapacitate but not kill a bunch of trained fighters -- if she really did not care about them I think she would have simply killed them all. She did throw a giant spike through two of them and it must have been easier to have it kill them than to calculate a way to make that not instantly fatal. Two, if she hates Xavier so much surely killing the students that mean so much to him would be a great way to strike at him. And don't give me that "Robots cannot understand human emotion" stuff; she is out for revenge and we see she gets very angry. Also she understands enough about humans to make detailed religious metaphors, and that is way more advanced than emotion.
Finally, at the end of this issue, in its cliffhanger of the giant sentinel from Morrison's run -- nice to see that again -- we see Whedon's structure in total for this arc: (1) a prologue, (2) a sentinel attack, (3) a sort of locked in a haunted house thing, (4) the X-Men versus Danger, (5) Xavier versus Danger, and (6) Danger and Casandra Nova's giant wild sentinel against the X-Men and Xavier. You can understand why the famously talky Whedon might err on the side of action, and people did call it an error. (Whedon lamented that fans complained the first arc had too little action and the second arc had too much). But I admire the attempt to give us such a sustained series of action set pieces set off by sweet character moments like Peter and Kitty talking in this issue.
Cassaday repeat/background watch: Danger gets a zoom, Kitty gets a repeat, and there are quite a few panels at the mansion where everyone is in a grey matrix. Overall, not bad.