Monday, December 03, 2007

Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men 20

[This post is part of a series of posts looking issue by issue at Joss Whedon's Astonishing x-Men run. For more posts in this series, go to the tool bar on the right.]

Whedon starts out with a clever gag where we think the team is on a fancy escape pod, but it turns out they are actually left on the burning ship -- the pod was sent out to distract the attackers. There is, maybe, an unintentionally funny moment when Brand, without remorse, speaks of the few minutes time the probably doomed soldiers on the escape pod bought the team and says "Let's not waste them." Then in the next panel it appears they used that precious, precious time to change their clothes.

Whedon then creates an exciting sequence, filled with various tensions, of the team, split into two groups rocketing toward the planet in little junk ships, trying to get there safely. Kitty and Peter get split up from Wolverine and Armor. In the next issue Brand and the Beast, who have a rivalry going, will also be separated. Plus the soldiers on the ground. Plus Ord and Danger have been captured. All of this serves to forward Whedon's character moments. Peter feels doomed. Kitty balances his doom with optimism. Wolverine is damaged and tough. Armor is new and nervous, but he gives her a pep talk. These scenes are well written certainly -- there are some great lines and moments -- but it is also crystal clear what Whedon is really interested in here. He is paring characters up because it is the most efficient way to allow him to write scenes where they can distinguish themselves, before he puts them back together for the conclusion. I like this issue, but I also find myself with not that much to say about it. I can imagine someone objecting that what it really is is a fancy package for "short scenes for actors (in pairs)." It occurs to me that Claremont, because he was writing some absurd number of X-Men issues could afford to have an issue where everyone plays baseball, and gets to know each other (and us, them). Whedon, on a contemporary prestige run, does not really have that luxury -- he has to build space for quiet character moments in the midst of battle. Because this is his gift he expands out what someone else might put into a panel or two into a couple of pages.

The issue ends with what initially appears to be a great ending beat -- the giant image of Colossus carved into the rock destroying the Breakworld as we hear Kitty's voice superimposed telling him nothing is carved in stone. People, myself included, complained that this does not make much sense if you think about it, but a few issues down the line, it seems like it is not supposed to -- because this is a modern carving faked to look ancient.

Blogging is always an experiment. I feel like I have less to say here. Is that because I am burning out here and missing stuff? or because it is good but also basically simple? Or because these issues have too many similarities and we get the basic point? Or is it that I am a little stuck because as of last time, I am doing an issue by issue post on an arc that is not yet over?

It is a cheat but I am going to do it anyway: links to two posts by Neil Shyminsky.

Neil on Astonishing X-Men 20

Neil on Astonishing X-Men generally

Neil on Whedon repeating himself in Astonishing X-Men

Neil's complaints have substance, but I find Whedon's charms overwhelming. I am still thinking about it though. I am not quite sure if Whedon is doing something new, doing old things better, repeating past achievements, or some combination where he repeats, improves, and then builds toward the creation of something new at the end. That last one is my hunch.

I am finding this hard to discuss since the run is not over yet, and I think I am going to wait to finish this series after the last issue of Whedon's run hits the stands.


neilshyminsky said...

I'm still incredibly ambivalent about where I stand on Whedon's numerous repetitions and revisions, which I think is pretty clear if one were to read all of my blogs about the various issues: what I criticize grumpily in one issue I find reason to laud in the next; what I declare to be new, (like the riffing on Dune, science fiction in general) someone else identifies as old - but maybe old and better; and when I say that something is old but better, (like Cyclops breaking loose to save the team) someone will inevitably respond by saying that it's merely old and has, in fact, been done better before. And so I, too, am constantly revising my position. It's frustrating, but exciting in its own way, too.

Even in comparing your and my comments, I notice that we often catch the same repetition but value it in qualitatively very different ways. And I think you're right to say that our conclusions, ultimately, will hinge on how Whedon wraps the whole thing up. There's really a lot riding on the ending of this thing.

Jason Powell said...

Claremont never spent a *whole* issue having the X-Men play baseball. It was just a favorite issue-opener of his.

I don't think the number of issues is a factor in the storytelling so much as the fact that contemporary mainstream superhero comics are so much of the “cinematic” school, with no thought balloons and lots of decompressed action sequences.

I’m probably always going to get defensive any time I detect an implication that Whedon should get points on Claremont for any reason, so forgive me if I’m being knee-jerky here, but ... if anyone has the “luxury” here, it is Whedon, who has essentially been given 25 entire issues to tell only one story.

Of course one could argue that the original Phoenix saga starts in X-Men #100 and doesn’t conclude until issue #137, so ... yeah, maybe I am being knee-jerky.

James said...

It really doesn't matter to me if Whedon is repeating, improving, or just cutting and pasting Claremont scripts and getting John Cassaday to draw them: this is the most fun I've ever had reading X-Men comics.

There's a line about the tomb containing the Colossus mural being "recently dug up", suggesting that it's an ancient prophecy separate from the recent one (where they don't know which X-Man will destroy the Breakworld). That's how I read it this time anyway, but as Geoff says, it's turns out to be a fake in a few issues.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Did anyone think the line in the recent issue about the mural being fake was a response to the complaints about this issue? Like Whedon made the mistake, and then when he read complaints, he wrote in a line explaining it away? That's what it seemed like to me, but I could be wrong.

If I remember right, I think the Wolverine/Armor (I still hate that codename) bit(s) were my favorite part of this issue. Good writing, but maybe that's just because I really like the Armor character.

Matthew J. Brady said...

In fact, this was the issue she came up with the codename "Armor", wasn't it? I just remembered that.