[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon's AXM run. For more of the same click the Astonishing X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]
This issue functions as a prologue or teaser to Torn, the six part arc centered on Casandra Nova and the Hellfire Club.
Whedon further anchors his story in Morrison's run. I discussed this at length last time, but he always goes deeper than I think he is going to -- here he returns to just before the Genosha attack and reveals that Nova was responsible for Emma's secondary mutation.
In Whedon's first issue I discussed how the "nothing has changed" line that properly opens Whedon's run is an attack on Morrison -- Morrison changed too much (so many people thought) and so Whedon was brought in to put them back, to emphasize continuity. It is important that the "nothing has changed" mantra returns in this issue twice: Wolverine opens a scene with the line, speaking to the kids recovering from Danger's attack, and Agent Brand opens a scene by saying it to the new commander of Shield. There are many layers of irony here. On the one hand Whedon protests too much. First: A lot has changed in Whedon's run. Second, as he dips into Morrison's "dangerous" changes more deeply he needs to assert his nothing has changed mantra more strongly, so he says it twice. Third, quite a bit has changed in the Marvel Universe since Whedon took over X-Men -- Fury is no longer head of Shield, and he has to acknowledge that. Not to mention Civil War. Whedon ironically puts Morrison's changes (which everyone was so upset about) in the context of the larger editorial changes to the Marvel Universe -- with Civil War, are people really going to bitch about all the continuity revisions in New X-Men?
Sebastian Shaw is hard to take seriously. Whoever designed him decided that a male villain should unironically wear a large purple bow in his hair. I am sure it was based on some Victorian fashion design and was terrible accurate, but taken out of context -- as he is in this issue -- keeps poking out at me as unintentionally silly.
Whedon builds some great mysteries here with what the Hellfire Club is after, how they can be in the mansion, how Casandra Nova, who needs no teammates, is involved, and who the person is in the cloak. Particularly smart is when Emma admits to loving Scott "with all [her] predator's heart." It counters a fear that Whedon is just reversing Morrison, that he is going to have Emma just say she was lying the whole time and all of Morrison's changes were an illusion. Point, Whedon.
The issue is not perfect (see the repeat background watch) but it ends with what I am going to call a major flaw -- Whedon, so spectacular at finding ending beats, ends this issue with a "shocking" image we have seen in Morrison's run: Emma in Jean's Phoenix outfit. What is wanted is surprise, and perhaps a revision. What we have is a rerun. Maybe there is something to the fact that it is the green outfit and not the red one. Maybe there is a revision here I do not see. But the first impression is that Whedon screwed up, stealing from Morrison at the end of an issue in which he invoked him as a predecessor: a deadly combination for a writer. "Look at what the last guy did" he seems to say -- "I can do that too."
Cassaday repeat background watch : Emma is repeated, Hisako is repeated, Wolverine is repeated, a student is repeated, Peter is repeated, the woman in the cloak is repeated, Kitty is repeated three times on one page and the background is repeated as well, a second whole panel with Peter and Kitty is repeated. We have a few scenes with either no background or just a pattern as a background -- trees for Nova and Emma, grey for the danger room, sunset sky for Peter and Kitty, grey for much of the mansion interiors, blue sky and white clouds for the Shield-Sword meeting, a single painting on a red wall for a second Kitty and Peter scene. What sucks about this is Cassaday is great when he decides to put work in -- in this issue Hank's lab is full of cool stuff, and the Shield carrier and Sword headquarters are wonderfully rendered. It only highlights where Casaday decides to put less work in.