Posted - March 20, 2013 | Updated : August 19, 2015

Astonishing X-Men



astonishing x-men

"Gifted" is about a new direction for the X-Men, a more, how to say it, Fantastic Four slash Avengers direction. You know, positive, upbeat, not hated by the public. The X-Men, including Wolverine, are going for that here. In the meantime, a learned Professor named Rao, with the help of alien technology, has discovered "the cure" for the mutant gene, or, as Wolverine puts it in his most deadly tone : "Woman called me a disease. You know how that feels to me ?". Yup, its going to be wild.



But it all begins very quietly and wonderfully as Kitty Pryde returns to the mansion.


kitty pryde in front of the xavier mansion

Look at the mansion, "Same as always" Kitty says, but that's not the Xavier mansion I remember. I'm currently re-reading New Mutants and, nope, that's not the same building - some artistic license here I think. Interiors are the same though.

Whedon and Cassaday take several pages with this 'going back to the school' thing and I don't mind - its fun to look around the empty halls with Kitty plus we are given great panels that superimpose the past with the present like this one.


kitty pryde in a nostalgic mood

I love the detail of the rug :


nice rug

Then we have this little scene :


wolverine takes a jab at cyclops

Aside from the fantastic Cassaday rendering of Logan, my attention is on what's Wolverine's saying. At this point, Jean Grey has died and Scott is in bed with Emma Frost - it was all so matter-of-fact till Logan calls attention to it. Makes me think that Logan's love for Jean is actually stronger than Scott's. I mean, I think Logan is making the comment, not so much because he dislikes Scott - which he does - but because he loves Jean.

What follows is a Cyclops vs. Wolverine fight that has Beast calling a hasty meeting in the Danger room.


meeting at the danger room

The Beast is simply asking them to behave like the teachers they are. Oh yes, the people you see in the panel are all teachers in the Xavier School. Amazing isn't it, Emma Frost, former White Queen of the Hellfire Club and principal in the rival Massachusetts Academy and Logan, whom we all love but he is one of the more violent X-Men. Notice Wolverine's smoking back? It's healing from Cyclop's optic blast. What I really love about this panel is they're all sitting on the islands of Hawaii.

Apart from the fight, Cyclops also has a new vision for the team. He wants the X-Men to stop being so reclusive and shadowy and start behaving more like the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. A more media-savvy X-Men is in store for us in the coming issues.

While all this is going on, Ord of Breakworld - an alien terrorist, has attacked a group of people holding a charity dinner.

Here is a closer look at Ord.


ord of breakworld

The guy looks like a samurai on steroids but he proves to be plenty tough. At this point I get a delightful surprise as Whedon and Cassaday ends this all-out action sequence not with some serious beatdown but with a funny ending. That's right, the ending made me laugh out loud while reading it. To be able to put something funny in the midst of the tension during a fight, that's artistry. Whedon is amazing.

After the fight, the X-Men does something uncharacteristic, but is in keeping with Scott's new direction for the team - they face the press. It's only a page long but I swear the X-Men are having a harder time facing the journalist than they did Ord - and Ord almost killed them.

By the end of the issue the X-Men find out about Dr. Rao and her cure for mutants. It hits the team like a ton of bricks. Hank decides to investigate by infiltrating the lab.


beast infiltrates benetech laboratories

These two panels are just a sample from a series that shows Beast breaking into Benetech Laboratories. They're wonderfully symbolic of what Beast is about. The first shows the physical side - dexterity as he dodges those laser detectors. The second shows the serious smarts in the form of an advanced lock-breaker from the genius mind of Dr. McCoy.

So Beast breaks in, meets Dr. Rao, asks for a sample of the cure, and she gives it to him. What's that about? Why did Dr. Rao give the sample? She wasn't being threatened, she knew Hank would not use force. Why'd she give it? Because she actually thinks her discovery is a good thing. On the strength of the case study of one of her mutant patients whose powers resulted in the death of the patient's parents. One case study justifying a blanket initiative covering all other cases. Dr. Rao is a bit of a dunderhead.

Here's another interesting development:


beast vs. wolverine

Beast vs. Wolverine on the matter of the mutant cure. I can't blame Hank McCoy for being interested in this cure since he doesn't look quite human anymore - that's a huge incentive. Wolverine views this "interest" in the cure as a betrayal of the X-Men. Both sides have good arguments - and great moves - making this fight really interesting on the intellectual, emotional and physical levels. For me, it takes center stage and that's saying something because there are a lot of other things going on.

One of the little aside panels that I enjoyed so much was Kitty Pryde getting so "I'm the teacher" with one other students and getting this response:


kitty pryde hears it from a student

Absolutely hilarious and not a little embarrassing. This leads to Kitty asking Emma Frost what is the absolute maximum amount of detention a human body can withstand. Ha!

Another revelation is that Ord actually supplied Dr. Rao with necessary research leading to the mutant cure. The doctor's naiveté is striking.

Lastly, Scott has a meeting with Nick Fury in which Whedon scripts Fury to perfection and in which Cassaday provides us with this awesome visual:


shield hellicarrier


I learn something about Ord. Ord is S-T-U-P-I-D. I know that word gets thrown around carelessly but it really applies to this guy. IMHO, anybody who kills friends for a cause is a fool, and that's exactly what Ord did. He participated in a weeding out process to save his planet by being a sort of gladiator, slaying even his friends in the arena. "Save his planet", sounds like a valid reason doesn't it? It always does. Bottom line, you betray your friends - you're scum. I can't wait for the X-Men to give this guy the beatdown.

x-men comics

Noteworthy too is the first appearance of the mutant who will be known as Armor.


armor

Following revelations from the Beast's analysis of the sample the X-Men storm Benetech Laboratories and encounter these guys.


benetach labs security

The ordnance they are wearing must way hundreds of pounds; I don't see leg exoskeletons. How are they managing to carry their weapons? No matter, they come across the White Queen, who does this to them.


the white queen's punishment

'Parsley', 'intractable', 'longitude'. 'Parsley', in particular, is pretty a pretty common word. You can just imagine the life these guys are going to have. Bottom line, its massive bad luck to mess with the White Queen.

Look who's back:


the return of colossus

This is the Marvel Universe so we always knew the big guy was coming back right? Still, it's nice to know that we get Colossus in the issues going forward.

Then we see the mutant cure in action, used by that fool Ord on a young mutant named Sky - it's pretty heartbreaking and brings home the falsity of the basic premise of the mutant cure : that all mutants hate their powers. Sky loves his ability to fly and now its gone. At this point I'm angry at Ord but I'm also angry at the X-Men for leaving no one on guard at the school. Wolverine should have been left behind.

At this point the smug, self-righteous, Kavita Rao, is schooled by Beast and shown that she's not as squeaky, clean as she thought.

It turns out that Ord has imprisoned Colossus and has treated him like a lab animal and now, with Colossus free, the big villain is about to have his comeuppance. This panel brings home just how imposing Colossus can look.


colossus vs. ord

Oo! This hurts!


colossus hits ord from behind

And so does this.


colossus slams ord

Now for  the double whammy.

colossus smashes ord to the ground

That traitorous, friend-killing and stupid fool finally got his.

Agent Abigail Brand.


agent abigail brand

You are going to hate this girl but as the Whedon-Cassaday run progresses you're going to warm up to her. I couldn't stand her at the beginning but now that I've read the the story through, I think that green hair is sexy.

Now that Peter is back, we get to see a classic combination. There is a term for this, but the word escapes me at the moment. Here's the maneuver:


colossus throws wolverine

The Breakworld saga is not over but for now the X-Men have won the first battle, the rest of the Whedon-Cassaday run gives us a ringside seat to the whole war.

We get a bird's eye view of the Xavier mansion. Massive. I read somewhere that Xavier was worth something in the neighborhood of two billion dollars. Realistically, it should be more, I mean the guy owns a modified SR-71 Blackbird.

Remember when Cyclops was stressing to the team that they should be more Fantastic Four-ish? Now, remember the iconic first issue?

Now check this out. This is a near ripoff of the that cover and it is a masterstroke from Cassaday.


the x-men tackle a giant monster ff-style

The whole thing gets even more brilliant with the arrival of . . .


the fantastic four arrive on the scene

The cherry on top of the sundae is the Thing's statement about this whole scenario.


the thing does a funny

That said, I don't like Cassaday's rendition of two FF members. The Thing looks disproportioned, appearing dowdy and comedic, while Sue Storm looks like a juvenile. Nevertheless, great FF/X-Men team-up panel from Cassaday.


the fantastic four and the x-men team up against a monster

Cyclops fans rejoice, we get a demonstration of the power of Scott Summers' optic blast. It is so impressive that Wolverine - Wolverine, mind you - says : "Every now and then Summers I remember why you're still in charge". Oh yeah.

The more I read 'Astonishing', the more I question if this X-Men team should really be allowed to run the Xavier School. First, they leave the kids without any guards, now the students are trapped in the Danger Room.

The Danger Room has become sentient and it (she?) looks like this :


danger

Inspired by C3P0 don't you think?

Does this look fatal?


shadowcat and colossus get hit by danger

To me it looks like both Kitty and Peter are dead, but that is not the case. This panel was lifted from a fight between the X-Men and the former Danger Room - now a humanoid entity known as Danger. Fair warnings, the X-Men gets it handed to them but the issue still ends with an upbeat note that reminds me of Shwarzenegger's Terminator, only this time its Professor X.


professor x prepares for battle

Love the heavy duty wheelchair.

It's Xavier vs. Danger. It's a difficult fight but I'm loving how the Professor is showing why he is still the X-Man's X-Man. It's almost a knockout victory until Danger summons up this guy :


giant sentinel

The uber-gigantic Sentinel responsible for destroying Genosha.

The X-Men go up against the giant Sentinel.


x-men vs. the giant sentinel

We've had a lot of fights in this collection and up until now its been pretty much black and white - hero and villain. But now we stumble into some gray areas.

First, is about Xavier and Danger. It turns out that all this years, Danger, or the Danger Room is actually a living entity. A sentience, a sentience who felt abused and trapped by Professor X. Worst than that, Professor X was aware of this but chose to shunt it aside. It's a tremendous moral flub that has the effect of alienating the Professor from the X-Men.

Then we have what happens to the giant Sentinel. The X-Men can't beat this guy but what Danger did to the Sentinel effectively gave the robot a sentience also. A sentience that has been made aware that it is responsible for the death of millions. This causes the Sentinel to give up the fight and wander off to space to think things out. Unknown to us at this point but this is actually the birth of a hero (or at least a repentant villain) who will play a part in the events towards the end of the Whedon-Cassaday run.

Torn begins with a flashback discussion between Cassandra Nova and Emma Frost. Among other things, this reminds me that Whedon's X-Men run is a sequel to Morrison's New X-Men

Together with Cassandra Nova is a newly constituted Hellfire Club including this interesting girl.


nagasonic teenage warhead

Her name is Nagasonic Teenage Warhead. She's interesting because, well, because of her name. Her power reminds me of Daniel Moonstar from the New Mutants.

As the tale unfolds we become increasingly aware of why the overarching story arc is called 'Torn'. It's Emma Frost, she's torn between her loyalty to the X-Men and her old alliance to the Hellfire club; albeit that Hellfire Club bond is reinforced by threats - something totally expected.

Astonishing X-Men also introduces a new government organization besides S.H.I.E.L.D. : the Sentient World Observation and Response Department or S.W.O.R.D.. This is the organization of the erstwhile Agent Abigail Brand. Speaking of Agent Brand, here she is with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Maria Hill.


maria hill and abigail brand

Who do you think is sexier? I like Maria Hill.

Next, here's the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier besides the S.W.O.R.D base. They're both stunning; I can't pick a winner.


shield helicarrier and sword base

Key moment. Many would say this is the issue when Peter and Kitty finally have their romantic reunion. That's nice, but I think this is the key moment.


cyclops pays the bills

Cyclops doing the bills. Isn't that great? I love it when we're shown this normal, everyday stuff. He's doing the bills but I'm sure he's not struggling with paying them. Those bills are very well covered by Charles Xavier's trust fund. Lucky X-Men.

Now we have Emma Frost doing a seduction of sorts. She plays around with Scott's mind taking on the many guises of Jean Grey. It's all a prelude to one of the deepest subplots of the Whedon-Cassaday run : a look into the private struggles of one Scott Summers. It turns out that very early after manifesting his optic blasts, Scott somehow made the decision to remove his control over his deadly eye blasts. And he did this so that he would always be conscious of them, conscious of holding them in. To always be straining for control in order to always be in control. I wish that this exploration of Scott's psyche was done by Emma in a spirit of altruism; but its a move to undermine the X-Men by sabotaging their leader and it works. Scott lapses into some sort of mental shock, and, amazingly his power is in check. We finally get to see the color of Scott Summer's eyes again since the Phoenix showed it to us o so long ago.

Emma is no one-dimensional cookie cutter villain (or is it hero?). This page shows the struggle is very real.


the private struggle of emma frost

Cassandra Nova moves in on every member of the X-men. Everybody gets messed with but nothing is funnier than what happens to Wolverine.


wolverine under the influence of cassandra nova

And check this out


mr. howlett does the gentlemanly thing

Wolverine's phrasing would be spot-on if paired with an English accent. Enjoy this while it lasts because it won't last very long but I'll come back to the pages of 'Torn' just to see a gentler, kinder Logan.

Remember the ending of Uncanny X-Men 132 from Claremont and Byrne ? Here it is :


iconic panel from uncanny x-men 132

We get a panel that is an homage to that


uncanny x-men 132 homage from astonishing x-men issue 15

Such panel shots inevitably signal a change in fortunes. The X-Men have been taking it on the chin up to this point so I'm looking forward to the turnaround - delivered by Kitty Pryde, no less.

We have Abigail Brand with two arm tattoos, one saying 'Grace' and the other 'Ann'.


abigail brand's tattoos

I wonder what that's about?

By this time Emma has revealed herself to be full throttle traitor. Kitty has always viewed her with suspicion from the start, so I would think that Shadowcat is enjoying this :


kitty pryde vs. emma frost

At long last, everything starts to unravel for the bad guys. Enough to give our heroes some room to maneuver. It is with a bit of reluctance that I welcome the return of Logan - Mr.  Howlett was lots of fun.

As we move into the last issue, an alliance between Ord and Danger is formed and the X-men find themselves assaulted almost right at the moment that they finally resolve their problem with Cassandra Nova and the Hellfire Club. It seems that Emma Frost has been a pawn all this time - a victim of Nova's more formidable mind powers.

We end 'Torn' with everybody plus the young student Armor getting swept into space by S.W.O.R.D.

It's been implied that among the more adventurous students, membership in the X-Men is something to go for. Armor, will very soon find herself fighting beside the senior team, and how did she 'apply' for this position? By jumping in and doing the job. By taking on Ord and Danger both. Now that's how to become a member of the X-Men (also known as suicide in some circles).

Breakworld has been talked about since the beginning and now we finally get to go there. I'm looking for some spectacular landscapes. It's breathtaking alright, but not in a good way. The Breakworlders remind me of the Khunds from the pages of Legion of Super-Heroes, subject to a cruel and violent culture.


breakworld landscape

Agent Brand has got everybody in a leash, even Danger, whom she has infected with seven hundred thousand viruses.

The space journey of the S.W.O.R.D. ship from Earth to Breakworld has been intercepted by the Breakworlders. Lots of explosions and damage to our heroes as they make their escape. This panel is a great rendition of the rigors of the shake-up they go through.


the rigors of interplanetary travel

In the midst of all this Emma Frost does something absolutely amazing - she transports everyone's consciousness into a nice little tea party.


emma frost creates a tea party

Planetside, Armor and Wolverine make a grand entrance.


wolverine and armor arrive in style

And Colossus is in deadly form.


colossus shows some muscle

Is there any goal worthier than the worn out 'saving the earth'? Apparently not, as the X-Men try to prevent the launching of a ten mile long missile aimed at our planet.


retaliator aimed at earth

Everybody gets scattered when they land on Breakworld. Abigail Brand and Beast are together and get caught in a blizzard. When I first read these four panels I thought Agent Brand had actually taken her clothes off, you know, to snuggle with Beast and get warm.


agent brand and beast warms up in a blizzard

It turns out that she reveals her power. Some form of hot hands (literally). I like the clothes angle better.

Here's what Kitty and Peter do.


kitty and peter take the edge off

And why the heck not?

Love the interruption.


call it like you see it

During the quest to stop the unstoppable, Scott Summers goes on suicide run. The two panels below are representative of the scene.


the leadership of scott summers

The first is Scott, the leader, earning the right to lead. Nothing becomes a leader more than taking on the great challenges and making the hard sacrifice. The second panel shows, through Beast, how the X-Men feel about the whole situation.

With Cyclops seemingly lost to them, the X-Men continue the fight on Breakworld. Here's an incredible Wolverine action panel.


deadly wolverine

Cyclops is looking better and better. He gets saved by the enemy because they need his information. Information that he won't give, so they begin torturing him. So he goes through this harrowing time. But all throughout he keeps a secret, and that secret is his optic blasts work. It takes massive discipline but it's also a fantastic tactic. Hold back, watch your enemy become complacent then . . .


cyclops' optic blast

And after that . . .


to me my x-men

"To me my X-men". Professor X said this first. Now Cyclops. I hope that future writers and X-Men leaders  keep the tradition.

In order for me to enjoy 'Unstoppable', it's important for me not to overthink Breakworld's absolutely crazy design flaw.


breakworld was designed by the guys who made the deathstar

Drop that ball of energy into that hole and the whole planet explodes. Hey, if it worked for Star Wars it should work for X-Men.

Now a disaster. The missile known as 'Retaliator' heads for Earth.

Moving on, Cassaday does a great Spidey.


spider-man

Here's our first visual of Agent Brand's power.


agent brand uses her power

In a private moment Abigail Brand says this to Beast


the beast is going to get laid

Anybody who wants a girl you fancy to say this to him raise your hand. I bet Mr. McCoy doesn't miss that mutant cure at all!

For second time in the series we see the Fantastic Four in action. Here's Reed describing exactly what they have to do.


reed tells the fantastic four how its going to be

The FF execute this flawlessly. Teamwork much better than the X-Men themselves. Marvel's first family are something else.

The final issue is an incredible nail-biting issue till the end. It's a good ending but it's also very tragic as the X-Men seems to have lost Kitty.