Sep 042012

I’ve really been itching to read some super hero comics as of late. Part of it is that whole Avengers afterglow shit and part of it is being a bit burned out on recent anime. Like, there’s been some genuinely great stuff lately (Polar Bear Cafe, Lupin, Milky Holmes 2), but most of the hyped stuff that I’ve looked forward to just hasn’t clicked with me. Kids on the Slope and Jormungand sucking? Jinrui being wildly uneven? That kinda bummed me out, man.

So I reached for something I haven’t really touched to any real extent since the mid 90s: super hero comics.

Problem is, when I reached for those super hero comics, my first instinct was to reach for X-Men.

X-Men was a fucked-up franchise even when I was reading it back in the day. It’s always been a convoluted, melodramatic mess, but it was my mess. Thing is, it’s become someone else’s mess since I quit reading. The franchise went off in directions that make me go “What the hell?” I saw Colossus running around with Juggernaut’s powers. I saw Cyclops sleeping with The White Queen from the Hellfire Club. I saw Joss Whedon writing X-Men comics for a period of time. I was OK with X-Men being messed up in my way, but this new direction was kinda disturbing from that “how dare you mess with my beloved franchise” fanboy sort of way.

But that itch needed to be scratched, so I gave in and picked up some X-Men comics. And I happened to start with said Joss Whedon comics: the first twenty-something issues of Astonishing X-Men.

I’m not sure if it was his idea to have Cyclops and Emma Frost (The White Queen) shack up, but despite it making my skin crawl, it works. It works in that it feels like an early step in Cyclops becoming an uber-dick. See, Cyclops has always been the uptight sort. He’s the brooding boy scout, always trying to do the right thing while being all Mr. Mope in the Corner Because Jean Grey Died Again. He’s still that brooding wet blanket, but over time he’s essentially become the new Magneto.

It doesn’t happen in Astonishing X-Men, but eventually Cyclops and Wolverine butt heads and the X-Men’s loyalties become divided between the two of them. Shockingly, Wolverine is the more level-headed and moderate of the two. Wolverine wants to keep things as-is. He wants mutants to continue trying to exist within normal society. Wolverine’s a full-fledged Avenger now, and he sees things from that establishment perspective. Cyclops has become something of a mutant separatist. He’s established a full-on mutant country off the coast of San Francisco. He doesn’t want to go all genocidal like Magneto has in the past, but there’s a certain degree of “fuck the humans” in his attitudes.

I can’t help that his relationship with Frost has helped lead to this point. She’s reformed, in that she no longer associates with the Hellfire Club and works with the X-Men, but she still has some of those cutthroat, ends-justify-the-means attitudes. She’s actively trying to be a better person, but she kinda likes being the proverbial bitch. You can see it rubbing off on Cyclops, and it seems like their relationship has helped lead to a genuine change in Cyclops’ personality. That’s a pretty big change for a guy who has been pretty damn static over the years, so I gotta give Whedon props for going there and helping start that character development.

The actual comic is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s some decent bits, like where an alien comes to Earth looking to assassinate the X-Men because it’s been prophesied that the X-Men will destroy their home world. This story develops over the course of Whedon’s 24 issues, and it eventually ends with said aliens’ situation being a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. Had they never intervened, the X-Men never would have been aware of said world and never would have taken actions that would lead to the potential apocalypse. Sucks to be those aliens.

There’s some lame bits as well. One story arc deals with the Danger Room revealing its sentience and taking human form. Of course, said Danger Room takes on a feminine appearance and is all-powerful and stuff. Quite frankly, that plot downright sucks and doesn’t really go anywhere. The Danger Room is now a character? Whatever, man.

This being Joss Whedon, there has to be a Buffy surrogate. Said character happens to be Kitty Pride. She gets plenty of badass moments, and she ends up being the centerpiece of the finale. It doesn’t feel as artificial as most of Whedon’s other female leads, since Kitty’s always been that sort of character. She’s grown into that role over the years with her interactions with Wolverine and the like. It feels right to see her pull off the sort of stunts that feel awkward when that River chick does it in Firefly. Shadowcat’s just an awesome character as it is, so I clearly have some bias going here.

In reading this it’s now obvious that this is the comic that inspired the X-Men anime. All of the characters in the anime had major roles in Astonishing X-Men, with Colossus and Shadowcat getting the boot to make room for Armor getting a bigger role. Yeah, this is the comic where Armor made her debut. She has the same powers in the comic and the anime (psychic super armor stuff) but her personality is pretty different. In the anime she was your standard female anime teenager. She’s all about love and healing and believing in your heart. In the comic she’s a snarky kid who makes fun of Wolverine for being fat. She pretty much slides into the role of Wolverine’s kid sidekick since Kitty’s an adult and Jubilee’s nowhere to be seen, and they have a lot of the same student/mentor stuff going on. She’s definitely not trying to get the X-Men to fight with their hearts in the comic.

The series keeps going after Whedon’s run. I’ll talk about those issues later. At least the recent few issues that bring in a new team consisting of some long-forgotten characters like Northstar and Karma. I will say that Northstar’s wedding was refreshingly normal. No fights breaking out or anything, at least not until after the wedding proper is over. But more about that in a later post.

Yeah, Whedon’s issues of X-Men were, for the most part, pretty readable. There’s some lame bits that annoyed me, but as an overall package it does some good stuff and rekindled my interesting in reading X-Men comics. And that’s exactly what I did. I went and started reading other series, and I’ll get to talking about those later. Some of them are pretty damn good. Some a pretty damn bad.

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