We’ve had a look in on the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, so now it’s time to check out Marvel’s third premier superteam, the X-Men!

Marvel bought in the big guns for this one, hiring the superstar director Joss Whedon and acclaimed artist John Cassady. 

But does the story match the star-power?

Published by: Marvel
Written by: Joss Whedon
Art by: John Cassaday 
Year: 2005

Collects: Astonishing X-Men #1 – 12

PLOT: Mutants are in serious need of a rebranding. 

With Jean Grey dead and Professor X out of the picture, Cyclops and Emma Frost take it upon themselves to rebuild the X-Men with a smaller, more focused team. Gone are the leather jackets, replaced by the classic costumes. Their new mission? To reembrace their roles as superheroes and ‘astonish’ the world.

But when a mutant cure is discovered, and the X-Men fear what it means for their kind, as they wonder if the world will ever embrace them. 

And on top of all of that, what secret horror lurks in the depths of the X-Men’s training suite – ‘the Danger Room’?

REVIEW: I know that Joss Whedon is out of favour with the majority of people, to put it lightly, so this here review is going to have to be a case of separating the art from the artist.

Because for all the bad things Whedon may have done, and while I don’t want to give a platform to people who perhaps don’t deserve it… this book is undeniably good. 

Forgoing the weird and wonderful side characters of Grant Morrison’s run that preceded it, Whedon’s X-Men takes something of a back-to-basics approach. They’re mutants, but they’re superheroes. They’re fighting threats to humans and mutants alike while dealing with personal issues and drama and all the big hallmarks of superhero stories.  

Book one of Whedon and Cassaday’s ‘Ultimate Collection’ is made up of two stories, Gifted and Dangerous

Gifted follows the X-Men as they’re faced with not only a threat from the stars but also the emergence of a mutant cure. While it does lean on what’s come before a fair bit, for the most part, it’s a solid introduction to both the X-Men and the story Whedon plans to tell.

Some plot points may be familiar to some as being one of the two books that inspired X-Men: The Last Stand (the other obviously being the Dark Phoenix Saga), but rather than the unruly and overstuffed story presented there, Gifted is succinct, dealing out witty dialogue and awesome moments without going too overboard. 

Throughout this and the next story, John Cassaday provides some truly dynamic and highly emotive art, making the stories feel like one of Whedon’s big-screen blockbusters. 

The quality remains high moving in to Dangerous as the X-Men face off against the living embodiment of their training ground – the ‘Danger Room’ gained sentience. While that does admittedly sound a bit ridiculous, on the page it highlights how Whedon is capable of creating some fascinating and capable new foes for the X-Men that despite holding some similarities to older foes still feel fresh and new. 

Each character gets their time to shine, and the context given is enough that even character moments weighted in the past seem suitably enthralling to readers not necessarily in the know. 

There’s a nice balance of light-hearted moments and more mature plot beats that, paired with the great art, makes for some very effective comic storytelling. 

Whedon and Cassidy made for a dream pairing here, and their selection of characters and stories make this book a very inviting little foray into the world of the X-Men. 

It’s just a shame some of the lesser quality movies didn’t follow these books more closely. 

Anyway, all-in-all, I give book one of Astonishing X-Men a…

Thanks for reading! Who’s your favourite mutant? Let me know in the comments below! 

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