Watching X-Men: The Last Stand this year, amongst all the good and the bad, I was struck by how cool Kitty Pryde was. Light-hearted, occasionally silly, and one of the coolest super-powers ever — the ability to pass through objects, and to share that power with others in contact with her. Sounds boring, when you write it down, but the applications are endless. It’s pretty well known1 that Kitty was a major influence on Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.2 So when I found the paperback collection of Whedon’s first series of Astonishing X-Men, ‘Gifted’, starring Kitty Pryde, it was just too tempting.3

There will be nightmares. I will make the Earth an endless, shrieking blackness. — Ord

So here’s the premise. Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, aka Leonardo, aka boring leader guy, forms a new team of X-Men — consisting of Beast, Wolverine, Kitty, the White Queen and himself. He wants to improve the PR of the X-Men, which means — colourful suits. Good move. Black leather works better in movies, but as you can see from the pictures, comics do quite well with a bit of colour. Meanwhile, a nice scientist (backed by a not so nice alien) has developed a cure for the mutant gene.4 Havoc ensues.

As one might expect from Whedon, it’s a solid story, emotional in all the right places, and told well. The first issue is rather dull, but is effective at setting up all the pieces. By the time you hit half-way, it’s very difficult to put the thing down. Some of the twists are a little heavy on past continuity, but not confusingly so — and these are comics we’re talking about, not television. The sort of person who buys this stuff is presumably able and willing to explore the X-Men universe to find out what on earth everyone’s talking about. Still, a lot of the second half would have worked a lot better for me if I had any sort of fondness for, or even knowledge of, the man they call Colossus.

Superpowers, a scintillating wit and the best body money can buy… and I still rate below a corpse. — Emma Frost

Whedon’s trademark banter is in place, as is his ability to make every bit of a story feel like ‘the cool bit’. Conveniently for him, in Wolverine he has a remarkably hot-tempered character, so that even potentially dull ethical discussions get a splash more violence than one might otherwise expect. Choosing which X-Men to use in a comic strip must be like being offered the biggest box of chocolates in the universe, and they’ve been chosen well; none of the characters feel wasted. While I miss Xavier, it does lend things a rather vulnerable edge that you don’t so much feel when there’s a guy hanging around who can freeze legions of baddies with his mind.

John Cassaday’s art is equally fantastic. There’s something a shade predictable about the standard comic-book full-page dramatic reveal… but it’s predictably awesome so it doesn’t bother me. All the characters get an expressive range of expression, but it’s Kitty who really runs the emotional gamut, and it’s Kitty who gets the most impressive and wonderfully drawn range of facial expressions. Perhaps most importantly, though, the violence is damn cool.

It’s an inescapable truth of adventure fiction that anyone with a dubious, morally grey agenda will have some random horribleness at the core of their plan that allows the heroes to justifiably storm in and save the day. I don’t think it’s fair to complain about it here — after all, things would be dull if they didn’t — but I just thought I’d mention it. One doesn’t want to gush too much, and it is a fact that most of the morality questions slide away after the dark secret is uncovered.

Monsters, ethical dilemmas, the reunion of lovers separated by death, excellent one-liners and intriguing foreshadowing. It’s good to have Joss back.5

  1. Amongst nerds.
  2. The fun, steely, silly seasons one to three Buffy, as it turns out. Not the dull, stick-in-the-mud, speechifying season seven Buffy. Phew.
  3. That Joss Whedon. He’s got his greasy little paws in everything. Clearly he’s driven by an insane desire to be reviewed in more sections of ATR than anyone else, and today he gets one step closer.
  4. The similarities to The Last Stand pretty much start and end there. Frankly though, I’m amazed that anyone could read this book — especially the conversation between Beast and Wolverine in issue #3 — and go on to write Rogue’s plotline in that film.
  5. Yes, OK, he’s been doing these for two years. But I only got my hands on this just now.
7 comments posted — most recent by Jess on 14/09/06