Posted by: Brian Hibbs on June 4, 2008
You know, there are times I recall – quite clearly – how excited X-Men readers were at the news that Joss Whedon would be succeeding Grant Morrison on NEW X-MEN. Granted, that’s not exactly how it went down, but thematically, ASTONISHING X-MEN was very much the next chapter in the story Morrison had started. And Whedon’s run had plenty of high points: Colossus’ comeback was simple and touching, “Torn” was one of the best team-wrecking exercises I’ve read, and Whedon’s characterization was spot-on for his entire team.
And now here we are, at the end of a twenty-five issue run, precisely four years to the week that ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 came out. I’ve just finished reading GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN, and I don’t want to talk about delays, or continuity issues, or projections regarding the upcoming Ellis run. I want to talk about the story. So, obviously, here be spoilers.
It’s difficult to avoid comparing ASTONISHING X-MEN and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, despite the fact that it’s been done ad nauseum. I’m not suggesting it’s a one-for-one analogy, as if to say that Kitty is Buffy and Peter is Angel and so on, but rather that my expectations of the story were based on the typical Whedon season structure: there’s a Bigger Picture behind each individual arc and we can’t see it until the very end. That’s part of what made BUFFY so interesting to me during its early years, that end-point revelation where all the pieces fit together. It’s easy to get used to that, to the extent that when the pieces stopped fitting together in the series’ later years? Diana smash.
But what happens if the pieces fit, and the Bigger Picture just isn’t compelling? Well, you get GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN.
Here’s the thing: on a purely technical level, GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN does what it’s supposed to do – we get callbacks to earlier emotional points (that last shot of Peter with his hand on his chest), we get the Chekhov principle where various guns introduced in earlier acts go off (the Sentinel from “Dangerous”, the end of Hisako’s rite of passage, the “truth” about Abby Brand). But it’s all so underwhelming, not very “Giant-Size” at all. Everything more or less adds up but the sum just doesn’t impress.
Well, that’s not quite true, is it? Because Danger just disappears after an obligatory cameo, and Cassandra Nova is presumably still on the loose, and Kitty Pryde is written off in an incredibly open-ended way… I’d think it was all set-up for the next writer, but Warren Ellis doesn’t have the best track record for picking up where his predecessors leave off, and even if he did, there’s more set-up here than closure.
And on top of that? It’s not even good set-up. Kitty is written out in one of the most contrived, convoluted scenarios I’ve ever seen, with some technobabble about being fused to a giant bullet, the sort of scenario that pulls you right out of the story because it doesn’t make any kind of sense. What’s worse, Whedon falls into the same trap that’s made Joe Quesada’s career of late, as once again “magic” proves to be the bane of storytelling. Shockingly, Dr. Strange fubars the juju and everyone drops into a fantasy sequence that would’ve been effective if it had meant the return of Cassandra, but ends up being backlash because the Retaliator is magically shielded. Somehow. In a way that may or may not have something to do with Illyana Rasputin. This is the point where I just shrug my shoulders and move on.
So here we are, after four years of waiting for the story to play itself out. Was it worth it? Not really, no. ASTONISHING X-MEN turned out to be an OKAY run with some VERY GOOD moments and an EH finish, but sadly, I don’t think it ever went farther than that.