Monday, November 19, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 19

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run. For more in this series click the Astonishing X-Men links in the right toolbar.]

In the first issue of “Unstoppable” (and I think I have accidentally referred to this as “Unbreakable” in the past) the team gets briefed on the situation as they fly toward the Breakworld, before being attacked by a Breakworld armada.

As I keep pointing out Whedon is a genius with opening and closing beats. In his cold open a stately speech on the Breakworld about a child being hope turns out to be, not a birth, but an alien funeral. This hits us both because we completely misunderstood what was going on, and because we might not have expected the Breakworld to be a place of compassion.

Whedon continues to focus on Kitty, giving her a “tough guy” moment with Agent Brand. Because her colors match the colors of Cyclops’s New X-Men jacket, and because she is holding a gun, I cannot help but think of Cyclops last issue. I do not know what to make of this, except to say that while Whedon appears to be fascinated with Kitty as the prototype of Buffy and many of his other female characters, his real focus will turn out to be Cyclops – the Kitty thing is just smoke and mirrors for what he is really up to on this book, the rehabilitation of Cyclops.

Whedon has a lot of exposition to establish, and the “discussion en route” template is pretty stale. (It was one of the most egregious parts of the film version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). He has to establish that Nova is not in Emma any more, he has to do something to curb Danger, he has to explain why they are not killing Colossus, and he has to establish what the basic threat for the arc is. It is not the worst exposition I have ever seen, but I have seen Whedon do better.

But we do get a nice moment of Kitty detoxing from Nova’s manipulation of her mind, and there is a great joke where, after Agent Brand explains that the Breakworld psychics say Colossus will destroy the world, she says to him “I’m assuming you’re as mystified as the rest of us, Rasputin.” Colossus says “No. I’m not. I have been planning to destroy the Breakworld since I was a child.” This is tremendously effective because it is exactly the kind of wrinkle Whedon would introduce into this plot – but of course it is ALSO the perfect set up for Whedon’s deflated drama humor. There is a beat and Colossus says sheepishly “This is why I don’t make so many jokes. I never know when is good.” I thought the exchange was really funny, especially after how serious Kitty and Peter were being in the earlier scene. A lot of internet people were angered by the way Whedon make Peter’s English broken. I think if Wolverine’s healing power can be inconsistent over the years, I don’t mind Colossus’s English varying a little, but I can see the force of the objection, especially if there is evidence in Whedon’s run that he speaks perfect English.

Overloard Kruun is introduced as we cut to the Breakworld. His barbarity in the scene is pretty standard for introducing a character of this type, but I like that he complains of Ord “The stink of his incompetence will outlast his body’s decay.” The phrase sound like something you would come across in the war poetry of ancient Rome, and it lets you see the violence in the context of the civilization. They are not barbarians. It is a culture of violence, with its own kind of bloody poetry.

And the ending beat is as good as the opening one. Brand says “Plan A is we land before they find us, find this missile, and disable it.” The Armada arrives sooner than she expected and begins to fire, hitting the ship and causing what appears to be serious damage.

Cyclops: What’s Plan B?
Kitty: We all die now.
Cyclops: What’s Plan C?

A shot of the attacking ships and the issue is done. Whedon always does the same thing – deflates dramatic moments – but I always fall for it.

I do not have much to say about Cassaday here, except to note that his style – fairly realistic but not overly so – is well suited to a story on an alien world – he really helps sell the other world. He makes it believable.


Marc Caputo said...

I just knocked the whole 23 out last weekend - WOW. They read so much better "en masse".

I think this issue (or definitely this arc) has my favorite line of the whole run - Agent Brand: "@#%@&@ Shi'ar. Wish someone would prophecy the end of them."


If Morrison was the revisit of Claremont/Byrne, then Whedon is the extension of Morrison. If Magneto had to stay alive, it would have been worth Marvel raping Morrison's ideas to see Whedon do Magneto.

Wonder how Ellis is going to fare/hold up?

Marc Caputo said...

When I read that Colossus line, I took a different reading that gives the humor a deeper level: When Colossus speaks in the broken English, I took that as the joke - that he would hide the poor joke in the fact that he is a foreigner.

James said...

I remember the broken English seeming weird at the time, but given that I can't think of any examples before (or after?) this one, it might not even be broken English, just clumsy application of Whedon-speak? It reads like broken English because we know Colossus is Russian, but I could easily imagine Xander saying "I never know when is good", for instance. Or it might be what marc said.

There's a nice detail from Cassaday in this issue - the bags under Agent Brand's eyes. She's having a long day.

In this blog post, Neil Shyminsky talks about Whedon's X-Men's failure to be superheroes (way back in Gifted), and how they must instead shift genres to science fiction. Brand's line "I need superheroes" convinces me (further) that he's right - the X-Men can be superheroes in the sense that they save the world, but only far away from the eyes of humanity. They can defend Earth against threats in deep space like the Phoenix, the Shi'ar, or the Breakworld, but they can't slay giant monsters in the middle of New York and be celebrated for it like the Avengers or Fantastic Four. That's why this kind of extraterrestrial adventure has become such an archetypal X-Men story. Of course, Unstoppable may yet end with the X-Men returning to Earth to the adulation of millions, but I'm guessing not.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Coz the solicits for Marvel's Feb comics are out. Whedon & Cassaday's final issue (Giant size AXM #1) is just that: it seems they do return to earth and team with the New Avengers to defeat the breakworld attack on earth.

Marc Caputo said...

February 27th, 2008. Think they'll stick that landing?

While we're on Whedon - anyone up for Angel:After the Fall tomorrow?

James said...

anon: I saw, hence the proviso at the end there. But I imagine (in terms of public perception at least) it'll go the same way as the Fantastic Four team-up. We'll see.

neilshyminsky said...

james: Or even worse. I'd imagine that the old cliché of "they wouldn't have even attacked us if it wasn't for you muties!" will apply.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I think this is one of my favorite Cassaday art issues. I scanned a few panels and posted about them back when it came out (close to the end of the post, past all the Nextwave stuff). I especially like the facial expressions. James mentioned the bags under Brand's eyes, but there are some other really nice details, especially Beast's gruff faces. Really nice stuff.