Thursday, November 08, 2007

Joss Whedon's story in Giant Size X-Men 3

[I know I should be writing about Astonishing X-Men 18 today, but I wanted something less taxing, and this is sort of on topic. I am using a label to attach this post to my issue by issue look at Whedon's Astonishing X-Men because it is an X-Men story of his that came out during that run.]

Marvel put out Giant Size X-Men three in 2005. I do not remember where Whedon was in his Astonishing run at that point, but he was in the middle I think. The book has an eight page comics story called "Teamwork" written by Whedon and drawn by Neil Adams. The rest of the book just reprints stuff: Fantastic Four 28 (X-Men meet the Fantastic Four), X-Men 9 (X-Men meet the Avengers), 27 (a page where the X-men meet Spider-Man), and 35 (a full on X-Men/Spider-Man meeting). I do not understand why the theme is heroes meeting each other -- is it because the original X-Men met the new team in the original Giant Size X-Men? That seems like a weak connection. The only reason for this thing to exist is because 30 years have gone by since Giant Size X-Men. I do not really understand how this is much of a tribute to that milestone.

The cover is a parody of the cover to Giant Size X-Men: instead of the old team above looking down in shock at the new team ripping out of the paper cover below, Whedon's Astonishing team (drawn on the cover by Cassaday) looks down in shock at the team from Giant Size drawn by Dave Cockrum. Its a little weird that three of the members below are also above. (Though Cyclops was above and below in the original).

Whedon's contribution takes place during Giant Size X-Men. This is, I guess, an untold tale from that day, or an expansion of the training page from the original Giant Size X-Men. Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Sunfire, Colossus, Storm and Thunderbird meet in the danger room to train on everyone's first day. As in the original issue they are amazed to be able to speak English to each other. Sunfire does a Whedon-style double take at the fact that he is in costume for the training while many others are not. The joke falls so flat I am not even sure it is supposed to be a joke.

Wolverine says they need to be a team, which they are not right now because they have not been working together for years. He says "We're one too many. Prof knows at least one of us won't make it as an X-Man." Wolverine thinks they can weed out the weak member by fighting. They all get to show what they can do in a battle. Wolverine thinks this battle, not authorized by Professor X, will tell them who they can trust. Wolverine says "Personally, my money's on T-Bird to outlast the rest of you. I ain't been hit that solid since I scrapped with the green guy. So. Anybody wanna get a beer?" The end.

I recently read Giant Size X-Men #1 and have been reading the Claremont issues, including the issue where Thunderbird dies. I have NO. IDEA. what Whedon was thinking when he wrote this. It is rare to read something by an established guy like Whedon and not find one nice thing to say, somewhere. I see Whedon is aiming for irony with Wolverine's end pronouncement that Thunderbird will outlive the rest of them, when the audience knows he will be the first one to die and, generally, stay dead while the rest of them, basically, live. (You have to talk like this writing about comics). But so what? Whedon is often great with irony, but this one just sits on the page, doing nothing. I can sort of see this as a kind of homage to the old X-Men comics in which everyone's strengths and weakness would be revealed in a battle in the danger room -- Sunfire is proud and shoots fire, Colossus turns to metal and protects women, Storm shoots lightning and is afraid of confined spaces and so on. But again -- so what? Whedon is smart enough to know that the best homage is not reproduction, but going above and beyond -- as he does with Morrison in his Astonishing run by having Nova come back, or Cyclops be cooler than he ever was in Morrison's hands. Is Whedon hamstrung because, since this story has to fit in a crack in the original, no characters are really capable of change?

I do not have any Neil Adams comics that are not in storage, but I remember that he is kind of great. I could be misremembering that. He is beyond awful here. This is as sloppy, rushed, and ugly as the worst Igor Korday New X-Men issues, and, like Cassaday in many spots on Astonishing X-Men, Adams has decided that he does not need to draw a background for most of the issue. Also Wolverine has a hot pink shirt. Was that a continuity thing from the original issue? Or is it just a random super-lazy version of Whedon's habit of not knowing what to do with tough-guy characters -- is he making Wolverine more feminine, as he does in "Torn"? It boggles the mind.

When Whedon does a short comics story as a tribute to Stan Lee and Spider-Man, he writes a charming, if throwaway, little thing. So it is not the work-for-hire tribute thing that is wrecking him here. It is bizarre to see a great writer just totally implode for no reason that I can see. Any thoughts on what happened here? Is there some part of this I am not understanding? When I first read this I assumed it was my lack of appreciation for the era, but now I HAVE been appreciating that era, and I am just lost. I think it is just a really bad story.


Jason Powell said...

"I do not have any Neil Adams comics that are not in storage, but I remember that he is kind of great. I could be misremembering that."
***I don't think so. Though you are misremembering his name, which is "Neal." (Sorry, Geoff, but you gave me the job, and I have to keep doing it now.)

I agree that this story is awful. I bought this comic because I wanted the Lee-Kirby X-Men/Fantastic Four comic (which I like a lot, even though there's a glaringly painful bit in the middle where Stan Lee forgets the whole premise, then remembers again).

I read the Whedon thing and it is pretty bad. I agree that Adams' art is not all that good here, although it is certainly better than Whedon's writing. I think I mentioned in one of my Claremotn reviews that the "Thunderbird will outlive us all" bit is not the only cutesie bit, the other being that Whedon deliberately keeps Banshee out of this story -- in which Wolverine uses his claws sans gloves -- just to preserve Banshee's surprise in X-Men 98 that Wolverine's claws are "a part of [him!]"

Anyway, I came to this thing with a great love for the era being homaged side-by-side with, admittedly, a bias against Whedon's glibness. This pretty much confirmed for me that I will always be happier surrounded by my '80s X-Men comics then I would be if I bought a new issue of "Astonishing" every two or three months.

But coming at it from my side, there's definitely nothing you're missing here. From what I can tell, this story is every bit as glib and tossed-off as it appears at first glance.

"Also Wolverine has a hot pink shirt. Was that a continuity thing from the original issue? "
***Definitely not!

Ingonyama said...

I was so afraid, looking for reviews of this issue, that I'd see a bunch of Whedonites gushing all over themselves about how dark and grim and SHOCKING this issue was. I see this review, and it is refreshing to remember that my fellow X-Men fans still retain the capacity for sanity.

I love Whedon, and I loved his Astonishing X-Men run, and I really like Neal Adams' art. So I was all set to be all over this issue like vampire dust on Buffy after a good stakeout.

But reading the story...ugh. None of the characters feel right except Sunfire and Thunderbird. I was disappointed when Whedon's Astonishing run didn't include Storm on the roster, but then I read his portrayal of her here, and I'm baffled. Where is the strength? The compassion? It's like the only thing he remembered about her was that she controlled the weather and had claustrophobia. Nightcrawler and Colossus, kind-hearted as they usually are, are all too willing to jump into this Mutant Mortal Kombat idea of Wolverine's.

And, while Wolverine can be ruthless, even mean at times, at his core he's a noble soul who hates mind games.So playing this "One Of The X-Men Has To Die" game is wildly, WILDLY out of character for him.

What's especially maddening about this is the aftermath. Banshee comes in, yells at everyone, reminds us that, hey, the Professor's a stand-up guy who would NEVER condone deathmatches like this, even for training, and Logan's all, "eh, you found me out, let's go get a beer."


Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus are some of the tightest, closest-knit friends in the entire X-Men, almost on a par with the Fantastic Four. They treat each other like family, and there is literally no one any of them trust more. Wolverine may have hated Cyclops after the Schism, but that hatred never carried over onto Storm or Colossus, and none of them held a grudge against him in the slightest.

'Teamwork' subverts all of that. 'Subverts' is even too kind a word -- this story flies in the face of everything we know about this team of X-Men, and it doesn't even do it well. True, the Len Wein and early Claremont issues of the group had their rough patches, but mostly they banded together when it counted and had each other's backs. But Wolverine's little "One of ya's gotta die" mind game would have sown the seeds of distrust, and that's something people don't just bounce back from. His dick move here woud have made the new team resentful him, and paranoid of each other, to the point that they would have failed to ever cohere into the unit they became because of those early seeds of suspicion.

Turning good guys against each other may be all the rage since the two Civil Wars, but doing it with a newly-formed team that barely knows each other's names? That's a sure way to kill any kind of group dynamic before it even gets off the ground.

Whedon's penchant for angst and drama really worked against him this time. The only good thing about this story, besides Neal Adams' pencils (though whoever the inker is here needs to be fired, seriously, learn to lighten up on the shadows), is that it's out of character enough to be chalked up as a 'nope, didn't happen' What If, rather than part of the main 616 canon.

Kitty Trundle said...

ironic* that Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus could never afford to 'phone it in', while in the Danger Room, yet Joss and Neal sure as hell phoned it in here.

*proper use of 'ironic', vs. hipstertard 'malapropism'-style misuse of it.