[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run. For the whole series so far, go to the links under "Best of the Blog" in the right toolbar.]
In this issue the Hellfire club finishes their attack, taking everyone down except Kitty Pryde, who is ready to rally back by the end.
I remember being a little frustrated with this issue. Taking Scott down took a whole issue, and I just assumed that we would get one issue taking down one member of the team at a time -- issue 15: Beast v. Nova; issue 16: Colossus v Shaw; and so on. Taking down everyone else here probably makes more sense, and it is also serves to highlight how much of a badass Scott is -- his take-down needed a whole issue; everyone else requires only pages. Whedon should do a whole Scott Summers miniseries. Whedon is the King of Scott Summers-ville.
Throughout my Astonishing X-Men posts I have been taking Casaday to task for laziness -- he has a bad habit of giving us either no backgrounds or backgrounds that are just patterns, and he will repeat an image whenever he can. Though it will not fully kick into high gear until next issue, it is clear from 15 that he is making an effort. The first page basically repeats an image four times, but for a good reason, and for the rest of the issue he seems more committed. When backgrounds drop out they drop out for a reason, and every character seems to get due attention. It is nice to see him bounce back. We even get a nice visual motif of panels giving us Leonie style close-ups on intense eyes: The Beast's are furious, Scott's are vacant, Wolverine's are intense as a set up for a joke, and Kitty's are determined. The blind girl's eyes are also highlighted, as are Emma's, with her fake tears.
Casaday's Nova is as terrifying as Morrison intended her to be. She stands confident and simple in a variation on the Safari outfit Morrison introduced her with -- it is the "camera" that leans at a 45 degree angle to register how off, how weird, and how frighteningly powerful she is.
Whedon delivers some very nice character moments. Kitty calls her opponent "some goth punk" then chastises herself for how old she has gotten. Nova's analysis of her opponents betrays Whedon's sharp grasp of character: Hank is a beast who thinks he is a man, and Wolverine is a boy who thinks himself a beast. Similarly Danger appears to Ord -- Whedon nicely does not just forget about his first two villains with the entrance of a third -- and smartly argues how much they have in common: both the last hope for their respective people fighting against mutants. Characters are given Dante-esque ironically appropriate punishment by the Hellfire Club (get it: Hell, Dante): Shaw says "Summers is a Zombie, Pryde's a Ghost, Rasputin, a victim of his own rage." Whedon gets character, and fights with him are always an excuse to explore character. We are even reminded, yet again, of Agent Brand -- you can feel him building to bringing all these elements together.
Whedon does have his usual preoccupations, and while I like them, I can understand the objection that they become predictable. A little girl, Hisako, is shown to be tremendously powerful -- like Buffy, River, Willow, and so on. And another standard masculine hero is deflated, as Wolverine is reduced by Nova to a whimpering little boy; tough men get unmanned in Whedon often -- Angel's reduction to a puppet in Season Five of his show will serve as a single example, but there are many. Whedon is divisive among fans -- if you share Whedon's joy in these things you will probably like him most of the time; if you do not he will probably get on your nerves mostly. He is a very good writer but you see his limitations quickly -- and either accept or reject them early.
The issue ends with a great moment I have written about already: you can click here to go to that post.