Welcome back! In New To You Comics, Brendan and Tony sit down with comics that one of us haven’t read before. Brendan is going to try to get Tony into some deep cut horror comics, and Tony is going to introduce Brendan to some superhero classics and hidden gems (maybe even some not-so-classics).
Superhero comics are the bread and butter of the comics industry. However, they’re also one of the most complicated forms of storytelling in pop culture. They kind of have to be as they have to create an illusion of change, making changes and returning to the status quo to allow for the narrative to continue month after month year after year. It has created some incredibly complex and complicated histories.
There’s probably no superhero narrative more complicated than the X-Men. We decided to start the capes side of this feature with a story regarded as one of the most iconic takes on the series, Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon, John Cassaday, Laura Martin, and Chris Eliopoulos, with Volume 1: Gifted.
Here’s what Marvel says about Astonishing X-Men: Gifted:
Dream-team creators Joss Whedon and John Cassaday present the explosive flagship X-Men series – marking a return to classic greatness and the beginning of a brand-new era for the X-Men! Cyclops and Emma Frost re-form the X-Men with the express purpose of “astonishing” the world. But when breaking news regarding the mutant gene unexpectedly hits the airwaves, will it derail their new plans before they even get started?
Tony Thornley: So I really threw you into the deep end here didn’t I? Superhero comics are such a tough nut to crack, thanks to their serialized nature. A lot of these franchises have good starting points, but X-Men just isn’t like that. There’s really only four GOOD starting points in the franchise’s 60-plus year history (and they’re all about 20 years apart). This series is one of the better starting points, but it’s still pretty continuity heavy. What did you think of X-Men: Gifted?
Brendan Allen: Just like you said, X-Men is one of those titles that seems really hard to break into. There’s just SO MUCH material out there, and no road map. It’s probably what’s kept me away from the franchise for so long. This arc does work as a jumping on point, though. Well played, sir. I’m still a little confused about exactly who everyone is, and what’s going on in the big picture, but I recognized enough of the main players and themes to find my way around.
TT: I really like this book. Even though there’s a lot of continuity involved (Jean’s second death, Scott and Emma’s relationship, EVERYTHING to do with Colossus), it’s presented in a way that’s still accessible and engaging. Whedon has a fantastic knack for character work and dialogue. What would you say was the most engaging or interesting to you? What was some of the most difficult to get into?
BA: Hardest to get into? There is that whole Jean Grey thing. She’s dead, yeah? But everyone is still in love with her. And Scott is still beefing with Logan over it, even though he already has a side piece. Then Scott offers the olive branch, seconds after he and Logan try to bash each other’s skulls in. That bit seemed just a touch out of character from what I know. And granted, what I know is based largely in cinema, so that could be exactly how these two have always acted in the books.
TT: These two have always had such a tense relationship and here it is even more tense because Jean JUST DIED. I’m glad you felt it was it of character for Scott because a lot of longtime readers felt the same. And the characters and their relationships remain the center of the story. Emma and Kitty. Logan and Hank. Kitty and Peter. It’s such great character work.
Another big positive to this series is the art. Cassaday and Martin are both SO Good. Cassaday’s line is hyper detailed that he makes the fantastic come to life. Martin is so good at using the colors to set the scene and convey emotion.
BA: Oh, the art is stunning. Cassaday’s line work has an insane amount of detail. There are places that look nearly photo real. I liked the classic feel to the costumes, though I am a little confused how Beast’s V-notched hip waders would stay up without a good set of braces. I was also initially thrown by Beast’s general appearance. I don’t remember him being that… feline. I did warm up to it eventually, but there’s something just a little too cute about that face.
TT: So that is one of the details that makes this a not so great entry point in some ways. This series came immediately after Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, which redefined the franchise for the 21st century. It recentered the team in the school. It made Emma Frost a central figure in the team. It killed Jean Grey, again (don’t ask). It introduced the concept of secondary mutations-which is how Beast transformed into a giant lion man and how Emma can turn into a diamond woman. But this run just jumps in with both feet and doesn’t explain that at all.
BA: Now, see, you say it isn’t a great entry point, but I liked it. I don’t know a whole lot about X-Men, and never really got into who’s who, what their powers are, or anything. I accepted Emma as a diamond woman here, because I don’t know why she wouldn’t be. Beast is a big blue kitty now? Okay. It plays well enough with very minimal knowledge of the franchise, and they kick around some very big ideas about gene editing, ableism, equality… This mutant stuff works as clever allegory for quite a few timeless ethical and moral struggles.
TT: It really is a great story. It’s a testament to how well done it is that all of these plot elements that are dependent on years of continuity are still accessible. And we’re not even talking about Ord, the new villain, all the new Marvel universe mythology like SWORD, and so on. It’s really just a great book.
So I think that just about wraps things up here! We’ll definitely revisit the X-Men in the future, after we hit on some other stuff. So Brendan, your choice next! What’s on deck?
BA: Next installment, I’m throwing this thing way, way back, with Cullen Bunn’s very first book, The Damned.
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted, Marvel Comics, 2004. Written by Joss Whedon, line art by John Cassaday, color art by Laura Martin, and letters by Chris Eliopoulos.
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If your local comic store is temporarily closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, you can find a digital copy of Astonishing X-Men: Gifted for $10.99 on comiXology right here . Amazon has physical copies for $8.58 here, and Mile High Comics has it for $12.00 plus shipping here.