Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

10 October 2008

Astonishing X-Men, v. 4: Unstoppable

Collects: Astonishing X-Men v. 3 #19-24, Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (2007-8)

Released: August 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 200 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785122548

I was lukewarm on the previous volume of Astonishing X-Men, but I’m happy to say Astonishing X-Men, v. 4: Unstoppable is an improvement. (If they actually could have produced the issues on time, I could have said this earlier.)

Writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday wrap up their run on the title that was essentially created for them, and the closure they give the title really helps give Unstoppable the emotional impact missing from previous volumes.

Astonishing X-Men, v. 4: Unstoppable coverAnd when I say “emotional impact,” I mean more than just the punch to the gut the death of a character gives. The characters complete their emotional arcs — Scott and Emma in their relationship, Wolverine teaming up, as he often does, with a young female X-Man (Armor), Hank and Brand — and although that last pairing smacks of Whedon trying to give some importance to a character he created, it does give the character some closure that will never be followed up on again. The incompleteness of Kitty and Peter’s reunion also hits hard, and it’s predictably the most moving part of Unstoppable.

Still, everything I said about Whedon in my review of Torn is still applicable here. (Especially the bit about the Mohs scale.) I don’t care about Breakworld, and I never will; the same goes for Agent Brand and SWORD, who are ill-suited for an X-Men title (despite what Chris Claremont probably believes). Whedon can write dialogue, filling the story with quips, but it makes the story feel padded. (And I’m not sure whether Cyclops’ new-found levity is supposed to be characterization or another chance for Whedon to add one-liners. Either way, I don’t buy it.) In the old days (the ‘80s), this story would have been a three parter, not stretched over six issues plus a giant-size special. Weirdly, despite the leisurely pace, the transitions are frequently abrupt, making me wonder if I had accidentally skipped a page; I also had to look up what happened to the heroes trying to stop the world-destroying bullet (yes, really) to confirm I was right.

There are some clever bits of plotting, including when Emma uses telepathy to connect everyone’s mind while they’re being surveilled. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about how the prophecy about Colossus destroying Breakworld plays out. I can see how it’s clever, but since I never was emotionally connected with Breakworld, it lost some of its impact. But when Scott springs his trap on Breakworld and says, “To me, my X-Men,” I almost forgave Whedon all his faults.

Almost.

Looking back on my review of Torn, I was really surprised how much I praised Cassaday’s work. It’s deserved, but there are times I look at his work, and it reminds me too much of Frank Quitely — not that I mind similarity or imitation, but Quitely’s work has always skeeved me out: those heads are not normal, and often, neither are Cassaday’s. Peter and Scott still look too similar, partially because of that. I’m also not sure he’s the artist you want drawing alien landscapes; perhaps part of why Breakworld doesn’t click for me is that Cassaday doesn’t make it visually unique. But Cassaday is excellent with characters and their design — his Spider-Man makes me want a Cassaday-drawn Spider-series — and although this doesn’t give him as much room to play with the characters as Torn did, it’s still excellent work.

Whedon and Cassaday leave on a high note and leave the slate clear for other writers. For Unstoppable, you couldn’t have hoped for much more.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol Half X-Men symbol (3.5 of 5)

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