The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'Buffy' creator returns
'X-Men' to their roots


June 10, 2004
By Franklin Harris

Promising first issues have burned me before. "JLA/Avengers" degenerated into a slugfest plotted around the idea that George Perez should draw anyone who was ever a member of either the Avengers or the Justice League. Neil Gaiman's "1602," while occasionally clever, never lived up to its hype. With that in mind, I'll try to temper my enthusiasm for Marvel's latest "event" comic.

Astonishing X-Men No. 1"Astonishing X-Men" No. 1. Writer: Joss Whedon. Artist: John Cassaday.

Marvel follows up the demented genius of Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" with a new title, a new first issue and a new writer, recruited from Hollywood to keep Morrison's momentum going.

Whedon has the right résumé. He created and spent the last seven years guiding "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff, "Angel," and I wouldn't be the first to note the similarities between "Buffy" and "X-Men." How many "X-Men" fans recalled the "Dark Phoenix" saga when nice girl Willow turned evil and all-powerful? All of them. In a way, "Buffy" was Whedon's warm-up for "X-Men."

Whatever happens next, Whedon's first issue does what it needs to do, given Marvel's editorial dictates. Morrison's trippy sci-fi stories are gone; spandex costumes and superheroics are back in vogue. The temptation, especially for a high-profile writer like Whedon, would be to throw out everything the last guy did. But Whedon builds on it, making his more conservative "X-Men" seem a natural retrenchment from the Earth-shattering events Morrison unleashed.

Following Magneto's most recent attempt to take over the world, regular humans are more frightened and suspicious of mutants than ever. Cyclops and Emma Frost are now a couple and are running Professor Xavier's school for mutants in Xavier's absence. Jean Grey is dead (again). Beast still looks like an escapee from a production of "Beauty and the Beast," the one consequence of Morrison's tenure I wish Whedon would jettison. Kitty Pryde is back. And Wolverine is sulking, as usual.

With the status quo acknowledged, Cyclops decides to go back to the old way of doing things.

"We're a superhero team," he says. "And I think it's time we started acting like one." After all, Cyclops adds, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four don't get chased through the streets with torches.

So, it's back to bright costumes and saving the world — no more black leather and focusing on mutants to the exclusion of everyone else.

It isn't a novel approach, but it is a natural one. When things get out of hand, people go back to what they're comfortable with.

Whedon also takes up a lingering plot thread from early in Morrison's run.

Morrison established that mutants would eventually, through sheer numbers, replace ordinary humans, just as our ancestors, the Cro-Magnons, replaced Neanderthals millions of years ago. Of course, you can't expect folks to take that sitting down. Someone will to try to prevent the inevitable. As to how, I won't spoil the bombshell that Whedon drops on the last page because it sets up his future stories.

There is nothing groundbreaking in "Astonishing X-Men" No. 1, and the new costumes, when they finally appear, are underwhelming. I prefer the ones the team wore during the 1980s. But Whedon delivers a solid introduction, spiced with his well-honed dialogue skills. He gives Emma the best lines: "Superpowers, a scintillating wit and the best body money can buy . . . and I still rate below a corpse."

Cassaday's art is a mixed bag. For the most part, it's as gorgeous as ever. Fans who know his work from "Planetary" will be pleased. But his Beast looks more like a bulldog than a feline, and I've already mentioned the costumes.

Overall, it's another promising first issue. Hopefully, it will live up to its promise.

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