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Friday, December 13, 2013

Graphic Novels - Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1 - Gifted

So, what’s so great about Joss Whedon? Is it the fact he’s created shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly? Is it the fact that he’s made awesome characters such as Mal Reynolds and Buffy? Is it the fact that he kicked butt by directing The Avengers in 2012? I think I may have just answered my own questions. Let’s just not mention that movie called Alien Resurrection.

In 2004, Marvel attempted to once again revitalize the X-Men franchise with a small book called Astonishing X-Men. At this time, The X-Men were reeling from the effects of the man known as GRANT MORRISON... yep, that bald man’s been everywhere. Jean Grey had died (spoilers…) and things were once again changing for the “merry” mutants. The book was basically set in its own story and wasn’t really affected by much of the things going on in the Marvel Universe at the time. Whedon (apparently a long-time fan of the team) was the writer. John Cassaday, the artist for books like Planetary, Captain America, and Uncanny Avengers, provided the pencils. This is their first arc: Gifted.

Scott Summers and Emma Frost have become the new headmasters of Xavier Institute. They decided to create a new team in order to get back to what they do best: being superheroes. In other words, the black leather’s gotta go! The team consists of those two, Wolverine, Beast, and Kitty Pryde. After a battle with a new enemy called Ord, it’s then revealed to the team and the world at large that Dr. Khativa Rao has created a cure for mutants. While most of the X-Men are worried that the cure will be forced upon mutants, Beast wonders if it could cure him. He finds Rao and takes a sample to experiment on. In a pretty interesting scene, he and Logan get into an argument about it.

You know, it's funny that you mention that, Hank...

Two issues later... Oh well. X-Man vs. X-Man is always cool.

From his analysis of the cure, Beast finds out that the cure is a product of some illegal experimentation on mutants. They also find out that the mutant is someone they knew. The team heads to the company that’s creating the cure to look for answers. Kitty ends up getting split up from the team and phases into what is eventually revealed to be a spaceship. Elsewhere, the other X-Men find a random, dead mutant. They also get captured for a little bit. At the mansion, Ord (who’s eventually revealed to be behind the cure) shows up and uses the cure on a young mutant named Eddie.

In the spaceship, Kitty finds someone long thought dead: Piotr Rasputin aka Colossus. It turns out that he was brought back from the brink of death and was being experimented on. The two escape from the ship and meet back with the others. The X-Men then become a part of a meeting between Ord, Dr. Rao, S.H.I.E.L.D., and another peace-keeping group called S.W.O.R.D. It’s here where it’s revealed that Ord is an alien from the planet Breakworld and that it’s predicted that a mutant will destroy his world in less than three years. He came to Earth to destroy it but S.W.O.R.D. put a stop to that and that’s how the cure came about.
Now that's one Russian I don't want to tick off.

Suddenly, mutants looking for the cure break into the lab. This gives Ord a chance to escape in his big ship with a little mutant girl. With the power of the “Fastball Special,” Wolverine is able to bring down the ship in sick (literally) fashion. Ord gets arrested by S.W.O.R.D. and the cure gets set back since the lab was basically destroyed. Beast decides to not use the cure on himself. Kitty tries to get Piotr used to being “alive” again. The story ends with Emma Frost talking to someone mysterious.

One word: Epic.

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If this synopsis seems brief, it’s because you should go out there and find this trade. It’s simply awesome. First off, the story’s well told. You can pretty much read this without knowing a lot about X-Men continuity. You don’t have to know what happened beforehand because those events are blended into the story pretty well. This new team is coming together and they have new threats out there to face. They really carry the book and make it worth reading. All of their personalities are unique and interesting.

One thing l like about the team is the interactions between each of the members. While some interactions like Kitty’s and Logan’s are friendly, others like Kitty’s and Emma’s are not. I also love the banter between the team. You can definitely tell that Joss Whedon is writing this. The return of Colossus is a big one. I love the team’s reaction when he just pops up. While a character coming back from the dead is an overdone concept in comics, Peter's return is at least well done. I bet it was a bit of a shock to people when this came out.

The threat of the cure and Ord are also treated pretty well. While Ord is not a great villain, he’s okay in my book. One thing I liked about him is his backstory. He also provides a little threat since he’s the one who made provisions for the cure. I also like how the idea of a cure is handled. We see how its existence affects characters like Beast, Eddie, and others. I also like the inclusion of Nick Fury from SHIELD. As for  the new character of Agent Brand, she’s one of those people who are kind of annoying. I know she stuck around in the book, so hopefully she becomes less of a twit.

The artwork is a beauty to look at. Everything looks detailed and the X-Men look unique. I think all of their costumes are pretty good. I do wonder how Beast’s new costume works though. Still, he is the one who gets last dibs on uniforms. The action is cinematic and the quiet moments are well done. There are even a couple of funny moments with the art. There are a couple of wonky panels (Kitty has man hands in one panel), but that doesn’t stop the overall work from being good.

For real, what is up with Beast's costume? 

Overall, this is a great story. It’s definitely one of the best X-Men stories. I can see why it served as a basis for the piece of excrement called X-Men: the Last Stand. Yeah, I went there. If they had kept what made this story good instead of doing what they ended up doing, I would probably like that movie a bit more. If you’re an X-Men fan or a Whedon fan, then why haven’t you read this? I fully recommend it.

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