[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run issue by issue. For more in this series go to the toolbar on the right and look under "Best of the Blog".]
In this issue Ord escapes SWORD custody, Kitty regroups the team and confronts "Perfection" (and we learn who "Perfection" really is), and the mutant who will destroy the Breakworld is revealed.
In the opening few pages you can see something has changed -- Cassaday is firing on all cylinders. Characters are not repeated, and backgrounds are fully drawn with details rather than patterns, for the most part. Even the panel composition is more interesting that it usually is: in the opening splash page a soldier's face is put upside down and screaming in the extreme foreground while the center of the image, Ord fighting, is in the middle ground. ("Middle ground"? Is that the right word?). Later in this issue he draws a great image of Kitty biting her lip as Wolverine babbles at her like a little kid. It is one of the few panels where he draws a cute girl cute. The reason I complained about Cassaday so much in the book is that he is clearly capable of more. Now he has decided to give it to us, which is nice.
Whedon continues his emasculation of Wolverine, who is hiding in a tree from Beast and narrating like a Dickensian waif: fairly funny I think, if a little obvious. When Beast finds him his prayers turn to "I hate you, Lord! I hate you lord!" and in another obvious but still funny joke Wolverine pops his claws and, instead of remembering who he really is, as we might expect, screams like a little girl. I say this is obvious and a little broad, but I do not think anyone has done it before, so Whedon gets points for doing something different at least.
We learn the Hellfire club is trying to get into a mysterious metal chamber in the mansion and that they have manipulated Kitty to be on the team from the beginning so she can open it. For the second issue in a row Whedon continues to set the stage for the ascendancy of his favorite girl archetype at the expense of the team. She is like Batman on the JLA, as I have already pointed out. If you like Whedon you will like this; if not, not.
Finally we get a really great dramatic moment when it appears Emma is confronting some kind of other personality in a mirror: she says to herself "Did you really think you could hide in there." It turns out nicely, that it is Kitty on the other side of the mirror -- it is a nice twist on the moment that you can only do in a story where one character has psychic powers and another can walk through solid objects. As much was Whedon imposes himself on these characters, he is also a master at finding persuasive tensions and scenes. Unlike his standard jokes, I think you can appreciate moments like this, even if you do not like Whedon.
But this scene twists again -- Whedon always finds that extra twist of the screw you did not think could be there. It turns out Perfection, the secret woman in the hood whose face was never shows, is ... The White Queen! So there is a double of Emma after all! Except, as JossWhedon knows perfectly well -- this makes no sense. Rather than belabor us with a long speech about how such a thing could be possible, he simply shows Kitty in wide eyed shock one moment, then squinting and thinking about it (as the reader is) as she delivers the now classic Whedon line "Yeahbuhwhat?" End scene.
There are two kinds of twists. One is the kind where if you were smart enough, you could figure it out because all the clues were there -- The Sixth Sense for example. The other kind of twist is the out of nowhere twist that is there just for the sake of shaking things up -- just for the fun and crazy of it. Raymond Chandler is fond of this kind of twist, as was Alias. (The main problem with the Xorn reveal in New X-Men was that Morrison seemed unclear what kind of twist it was). Hard science comic book fans like the former kind -- because it is more like a puzzle, something they can figure out, like the real-world physics of the light saber. Both can be great, but the nice thing about the unjustified twist is that there is no need for laborious explanation -- because there is not one to be had. Whedon generally does not degenerate into exposition, which is one of the reasons I love him.
(Peter is revealed to be the mutant who will destroy the Breakworld, but I do not have anything to say about that right now. Next time.)