Monday, May 9, 2016

Comic Review: Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon

It took me a while to figure out where to start. I've read a metric shite-load of comics over the past ~2 years and what I decided to do was simply review the one I've read the most recently.

Thanks to some financial struggles and ultimately caving in to the realization that as much as I love physical copies of books and comics, I just couldn't pass up on the opportunity to read the (almost) entire backlog of Marvel comics for the same price as a Spotify subscription (also completely worth it by the way; seriously, just get it, if for no other reason than to avoid those repetitive commercials by that God-awful chick with the nasally voice), I decided to read this run based on some rave reviews by a number of online X-fans.

x-men, comics

Some spoilers (but not a lot) ahead… but it’s like 10 years old, so, c'mon.

A little background on the series: Joss Whedon, writer of many-a-favorite tv series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the apparent second-coming-of-Christ-for-nerds-in-tv-form series: Firefly, wrote the series over the course of approximately 4 years. Now, keep in mind that most Marvel comics issues release monthly and there are 24 issues (and 1 special conclusion issue) in this run... doesn't add up. Well, Whedon took his sweet time on the story, but thank God for it because it fucking shows.

Holy hell, I've read a lot of X-Men and this is easily one of the top runs ever created.

As far as the plot is concerned, the run is broken into 4 story arcs. The first and probably most well-known is the story of the cure for the mutant gene, a plot that has been done many times since, as well as touched on before, but never with quite the punch as is done here. This arc, which influenced the plot of the 3rd X-Men movie is an excellent intro to Whedon's status quo. Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Beast, and Colossus make up our A-Team. The following 3 arcs cover the AI embodiment of the Danger Room, the return of the Hellfire Club, and the battle of the Breakworld which concludes the series-long sub-plot of S.H.I.E.LD.'s companion/foil organization: S.W.O.R.D. and a prophecy involving the destruction of an alien race.

All of the stories are above average in their own right. The second story arc less-so, but they ultimately all succeed in entertaining and kicking some serious ass! What really makes the stories told here stand out though, is Whedon’s ability to plant seemingly unimportant seeds that end up growing into major plot points later in the series. For example, a strange and seemingly simple throwaway of a scene that takes place early on in the Danger Room is called on issues later in a much larger capacity. This ability to cohesively combine 4 separate, yet naturally progressive and integrated stories makes the series shine.

But where Whedon truly shows his capability as a writer, is in his characters.

Our core crew stands out as being some of the best written versions of themselves in the over 40 years of X-Men history. Tagging along in our awesome adventure is a wonderful assortment of fantastic side characters that are fully fleshed out such as Hisako "Armor" Ichiki, Ord the ugly-ass alien from the Breakworld, and Agent Abigail Brand of the aforementioned S.W.O.R.D. Together with our main crew of X-Men Whedon has crafted an ensemble of unbelievable characters that somehow manages to be extremely real at the same time. Whether it’s the interactions between our core crew members as they argue and struggle internally as a group, or when they’re interacting with the morally gray side characters that round out the cast, Whedon never trips over dialog. Every interaction seems real given the context and never feels dialed in. Of course it wouldn’t be Whedon if it wasn’t incredibly witty, and there’s plenty of that to go around, especially from Kitty.

And speaking of Kitty, holy hell. I never thought it could be possible, but she has become one of my all time favorite X-characters and it’s all thanks to Whedon’s run. Kitty, who has a history riddled with annoying personalities, questionable decision-making, and a moral compass that will make you yawn, has never been more fully fleshed out. While all of the characters shine in Whedon’s run, Kitty (and perhaps Emma to a lesser extent) is the breakout star. She’s tough, but it comes naturally and it never feels forced. She’s hilarious at times as well. Her relationship with Colossus is necessarily complex and well-executed. She’s also never seemed more like an adult. Now a teacher at the school (in the absence of half our original X-Cast including the professor) she’s not afraid of her sexuality, not afraid of sacrifice, and not afraid to make the tough decisions. Without giving away too much, let’s just say her development from the first issue to the last will leave you fully satisfied.

Emma likewise is facing a great deal of character development here. Her complicated past and relationship with Scott become major plot-points and it was awesome to watch her character evolve into someone truly sympathetic by the end. Scott himself has a similar development if not a bit more been-there-done-that in execution, (Jean’s gone again. We get it, they’re soul-mates.)

Beast is always a difficult character to assess, and rightfully so. He has become such a reviled character over the years that recent issues of X-Men have gone out of the way to bring attention to how much Beast is a fuck-up. Again, in Whedon’s capable hands, we see a completely sympathetic side to Beast as he struggles with his “devolution” as a mutant that is slowly becoming more beast than man – which does occasionally lead to some hilarious situations involving Beast’s capacity to behave like a cat.

The perks of bein' small.
Colossus, one of my favorite X-Men absolutely shines as well. He completely steals every fight scene he’s in, and his signature move with Wolverine becomes an awesome running gag throughout the run.

Really though, what sets Whedon apart from other X-writers is his ability to perfectly juggle great plot, fantastic characterization, dramatic and humorous tone, great pacing, and respect for the source material (the return to old-school uniforms is much appreciated). Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon is truly a masterpiece that should not be skipped by X-Fans and comics fans alike.

Before I close out, I’ve gotta give credit to the artist, John Cassady. At first I wasn’t so sure about the largely realism-styled art after having finished a lot of Ultimate X-Men and its more comic-booky art, but it ended up really suiting the series well, especially when it came to expressing character emotions in a way that seemed more realistic than a lot of more over-the-top depictions. Cassady also apparently has a mastery on the human figure, particularly muscles, because whenever I see his interpretation of Colossus, I am instantly rendered forever small. If this doesn't get your ass back to the gym, I don't know what will.
Looking swole, Peter. Chest game on point!

All in all, fantastic stuff.

4.5/5 stars

Now go read it.

Monday, May 2, 2016


Where to begin...

I can honestly say I have no clue.

I'm beginning this blog because, honestly, I need to practice my HTML and web design, as well as brush up on my rusty writing skills. I figure what better way to do that then create a blog to talk about my interests like every other jabroni, write reviews I am absolutely unqualified to write, and gain some sense of self-masturbatory pride based on an unearned sense of accomplishment?

As the name implies, I'm big into weightlifting and comic books. Interestingly enough, I probably pursued these interests in the opposite order of most guys my age (early 20s). I've been lifting weights since I was 17, but I've only been reading comics since last year.

It all began with my 2015 New Years Resolution.

Now, I should preface by clarifying that I don't skip on resolutions. When I make them, I go in. I set calendar deadlines, I make charts, I create checklists... (I love lists and treat everything in life like an Xbox achievement, you'll learn that soon enough, but I digress) and most importantly, I stick to them.

Since the past few years had been riddled with cliche after cliche resolutions, (gain x amount of muscle, lose x amount of fat, accomplish xyz in school/career), I decided to seek outside the obligatory NYE Resolutions box to find a real challenge.

Thanks to, I stumbled upon a subreddit called r/52book. The idea is that you read a book a week for an entire year, (precision not necessary as long as you finish all 52 by NYD the following year).

The challenge started off pretty solid. I had some lit-heavy courses for my final semester of college and a lot of extra time during the day during that awkward period when your friends are still in class, you've already done everything including gone to the gym twice, and it's still too early (even by college standards) to start systematically poisoning what's left of that liver God gave you after four and a half years of doing everything you can to assure your body will fail at 27. (Hey, it's not alcoholism if you're still in college.)

Well, probably around week 24 or so, I started to get a little bored of the combination of fiction, classic literature, and history books I was reading, and stumbled by the local comic shop downtown on my way to a daylong in early spring. Now, I've always liked superheroes, especially the Spider Man films, since I was a kid, albeit probably not as much as most people my age. But I had never read a full actual honest-to-god comic book issue in my life, (excluding that one graphic novel I had to read in high school). That being said, I realized that I was probably likely to start falling behind with my reading list for the 52 book challenge sometime mid-summer as I looked for a job, and, being just open-minded enough to give something a shot if it benefits me by allowing me to be "lazier", I figured, what the hell? graphic novels count as books, too, right?

I did some research on Goodreads and found out about a series called Y: The Last Man and it grabbed my attention. I took the leap of faith and... holy shit. I mean, really. Holy. Shit.

It was like I had spent the first 21 years of my life completely ignorant of an entire medium that was right before my eyes. Seriously, I liken it to introducing an amish man to television for the first time at 22, and I don't mean that bullshit "Big Bang Theory" show, but to, like, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, hell, even the first four seasons of Dexter, right off the bat!

I was hooked.

Now I want to make sure it's understood that while I DID pad my 52 book list with a couple graphic novels, I made some STRICT rules about their length so that they could keep up with the heftier books I was reading at the time such as Sanderson's The Way of Kings. In the end, I managed to meet my requirements and complete what I consider to be one of my proudest New Years Resolutions.

Since then, I have filled my bookshelf with tens of graphic novels, finally surrendered to the "geekier" superhero fair, become a full-fledged Batman junkie, and can probably tell you more about politics of my favorite comics writers than that kid you know who grew up reading comics since he was 5.

Anyway I could go on and on about my love for comics in particular, but I just wanted to get this first post out there and on paper (screen?).

I'm excited to see where things go!

Get ready for reviews, posts, diatribes, etc. on comics, movies, lifting, sports (sans baseball - I hate baseball), among whatever the hell pops into my mind at that time.