Monday, August 20, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 12 (Part One of Two)

[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].

The X-Men and Xavier defeat Danger and Casandra Nova's super-sentinel, Xavier gets in trouble, and the hook for the next arc is revealed.

In a breathtaking page Whedon must have been drooling over Kitty Pride saves everyone from the super-sentinel blast. If I love seeing Xavier be a bad-ass, Whedon must love seeing Kitty be a bad-ass. "Is that all you got ... bub" she says, exhausted. Cassaday's super-sentinel is gorgeous.

Whedon tries to outdo the climax to his first arc in this arc by simply doubling the number of Fastball Specials that will not be named as such, and deflating the device with Emma's "You can't just throw people at all your problems." It's pretty funny, I guess, but not the most successful "do it and deflate" Whedon moment. But you can see why he wants it: he wants to replace the big male powerhouse Wolverine with his little geeky girl fighter in the Fastball Special and in the book as a whole. He wants to put her front and center always. That is his revisonary swerve and always will be. Smart girls replace dumb men: Buffy, Firefly, Sugarshock. Even Runaways already has this in the concept.

Emma simply wanders off in the middle of the fight. Cyclops says "Honey...? War?" which is not exactly in character, but I do love me some Whedon dialogue, so I will forgive it. This is all to build toward one of Whedon's best hooks, the hook to end year one -- one more bit of tension before the reveal of who has been whispering in Emma's head since issue 6.

The fight scenes here are beautiful and pretty fun I guess, though maybe this one is a bit of an anti-climax compared to the last two. Henry drops the professor to attack Danger and defends himself by saying when you deal with computers you have to work on instinct: that is a repeat of what Colossus did with Emma, but without the joke. Whedon may be running out of fight ideas after four issues of fighting.

Kitty says "I promise to come back" to Colossus after she asks him to throw her into the sentinel. It is a nice moment because it cuts immediately to what the issue is in the scene. Economical is what I would call it. This kind of thing, and not the jokes, is why Whedon is great.

Once inside she gets the sentinel to unlock a program Danger has closed - its memory of the Genosha attacks from Morrison's second issue. It flies away in grief, taking Danger with it since she has uploaded herself into it. This is a little tricky. What you want to do in a story is establish a rule, then adhere to that rule in surprising ways. In Sixth Sense we establish that the kid can talk to dead people to help them; at the end we figure out Willis is one of the dead. Here I was unclear on the rule -- I did not realize that the machines Danger brought to life were capable of emotions like grief. I know the old school sentinel from earlier in the arc talked religious nonsense, but I thought she was screwing with the X-Men by remote control, not giving a sentinel religious feelings; the blackbird jet, I notice, did not care that it blew up a base in China in Morrison's X-Men annual (if it is the same jet and if she did not lock that memory away as she did with the sentinel). All this is to say that the defeat of the super sentinel is maybe a little unsatisfying. It was not clear to me why Danger could not re-program the sentinel and return right away. But again, replacing Wolverine with Kitty is the point -- Wolverine's violence will not save the day; the day requires a woman to unlock an emotion. Alright. Fine. I can live with that as a theme or whatever.

In the last post I mentioned that Whedon's Xavier is as persuasive as Millar's Xavier. Here the comparison sinks Whedon. In the denouement to this issue Xavier, it turns out, knew he was oppressing an AI intelligence when he created the Danger Room. The Xavier of Astonishing X-Men 11, like the (for me) definitive Xavier of Millar's Ultimate X-Men is morally questionable, which is wonderful. I like Xavier to have a creepy post-human sheen of beyond-good-and-evil about him. But Xavier in this issue is less like Millar's Xavier and more like Brubaker's Xavier in the "sort of dreary but maybe sort of well written I guess" Deadly Genesis: he is not beyond good and evil so much as he is just guilty, in a crummy please forgive me kind of way. In Millar's Xavier and the Xavier of just last issue he knows he breaks merely human law and does not care -- he is writing mutant law. Here, as in Deadly Genesis, he is just a bit of a fuck-up, and pitifully accepts the censure of the team he created. This is a big step down. It is sad, and lame, to see they guy who took apart Danger with an axe hanging his head in shame over his bad behavior like a wounded puppy.

I will talk about the last page next time, in a short post.


Madd_Hadder said...

I have not been able to comment on this series yet because I thought I had lost my trades of all of Whedon's run, but I recently found them, so I can re-read them as you do your posts and I have to agree with everything you say, except the comparison to Millar's Xavier because I have not read any of Millar's X-men stuff.

I am enjoying these posts a lot and hopefully now I will be able to comment them as well.

Elijah Fly said...

At the end of the day Millar's Xavier is still 'Ultimate.' By your definition, Cable should just be an older Wolverine (by all definitions, he pretty much is, but Ultimate took it literally).

Xavier's a wounded puppy, because going back to continuity, Cyclops sees a father and Xavier saw a son more than his own children. While Ultimate Xavier sees merely chess pieces to move around, regular Xavier loves his original X-men, just abuses powers and highly questionable ethics until it comes back and bites him. He's been a character without comeuppance. Continuity should demand that Scott should forgive him. If Whedon is drawing from anything other than 616, it's the movies. Xavier sees himself a man being pragmatic on a worldly level.