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May 13, 2014 / Jett

Astonishing X-Men Ultimate Collection Book 1 Review

During the beginning of my X-Men vision quest, a vendor at Comicon strongly recommend checking out Astonishing X-Men. In particular, he told me to check out Joss Whedon’s run from issue #1-24. According to him, these were some of the best X-Men tales ever. I’ve kept that thought in the back of my mind until I stumbled upon both books in the Astonishing X-Men Ultimate Collection for half price.

For the purposes of this post, I’m just going to write about Book 1, which covers our heroic mutants through two story arcs: Gifted and Dangerous.  I haven’t read enough X-Men to say where this fits in the pantheon of X-books, but this is at the very least some of the best material I’ve read yet.

Joss Whedon brings a lot to the table with his writing. For a franchise that’s prone to getting its head stuck up its own butt with ridiculous plot twists that it takes way too seriously, there’s a refreshing sense of self-awareness and earnestness that’s written into these stories. Sometimes it comes through as an acknowledgement of something silly in the X-Men‘s past. Other times, it helps bring out a layer of depth to characters that hasn’t come been shown before. It makes for a book that feels more grounded and real even though they’re still superheroes fighting against impossible odds.

His presence can also be felt through the actual stories. In Gifted, the world is rocked by a scientist who claims to have a cure for mutants. Over the course of six issues, the story ratchets up quickly and peaks when things are at a fever pitch. This arc reads like a love letter to past X-Men fans while still moving forward with an all new story. Many consider this to be the highlight of his stellar work and I now understand why. Directly following the events of Gifted is Dangerous, a story about the Danger Room going haywire and the team’s attempts to stop it from killing everyone inside. The story seems straightforward on the surface, but the revelations that come out of that situation take things to unexpected places.

John Cassaday also deserves credit for his artwork. He gives everything a very clean look with solid lines and colours that pop. This approach makes it feel like a classic X-Men comic, even though it looks much better than those old issues ever did. Some of my favourite panels in the book say and feel a whole lot without requiring much (if any) dialogue to get their points across. Most striking are some of the later panels in issue #4 that really hit home in ways that I will not spoil here.

Thank you comic book guy for directing me to Astonishing X-Men. If Book 1 of 2 is any indication of things to come from the Whedon and Cassaday era, I’ve still got at least 12 more issues of awesome to go. The same comic book vendor warned me that everything after issue #24 is a bust, but I’ll worry about that when I get there. For now, I’ll relish in having read 12 awesome X-Men issues.

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