X-Men Reviews

Astonishing X-Men (vol.3) #1 (2004)

Astonishing X-Men vol.3 1
Gifted Part One
Joss Whedon / John Cassaday

Astonishing X-Men (vol.3) #1 (July, 2004)
“Gifted (Part One)”
Writer – Joss Whedon
Art – John Cassaday
Colors – Laura Martin
Letters – Chris Eliopoulos
Edits – Marts, Quesada
Cover Price: $2.99
On-Sale: May 26, 2004

Heyyy, howsitgoin’ everybody… long time no write. Like, ya know actually write, and not just pop in once a day to promote a podcast. I figured since we’re at our new WordPress digs, I may as well give the tires a kick and see about writing an actual blog post.

But, what about?

Well, there are plenty of things I’m wanting to write about… and if not for those horrible things we call “time” and “real life”, I’d be glued to my laptop all day long cranking out content in all forms. I actually quite miss the “simpler” days of Chris is on Infinite Earths… taking a random DC Comic and spending a few hours sharing it with all of you. Digging into some real obscurities… bending the old rigid rules of the blog to shoehorn a non-DC Comic into the mix. Those were some fun times. Maybe one’a these days I’ll get back to it.

Can’t make any promises, however.

So, whatta we gonna talk about today? Well… if you do listen to any of the X-Lapsed family of shows… First of all, thank you. Second of all, you may’ve heard me kvetch one or two… dozen times about my disdain for Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run. That kvetching is usually followed up with a comment about how I haven’t actually read Astonishing since it came out… and how I probably owe it something of a retrial to see if I still feel the same way about it all these years removed.

And so… with a shiny new blogging OS, and a few minutes to spare this afternoon… I figured “What the Hell?”… let’s do the thing.

I hope we… ahem… survive the experience (I’m so sorry…)

Astonishing X-Men 1

Our story opens in the nightmare of a young girl named Tildie. She dreams of her mother screaming… and whatever it was that caused the screaming next coming for her. She awakens, and we can see that she’s actually under the observation of Dr. Kavita Rao… who, with the benefit of hindsight, we know will eventually be a member of the X-Club alongside Doctor Nemesis, Madison “Box” Jeffries, Danger, and that dude from the Marvel Godzilla comic.

axm 1 kavita rao cassaday

From here, our scene shifts to Kitty “Don’t Call Me Kate” Pryde arriving back at the Mansion for her first day in her new position as a mentor. Naturally, since this is something of a “love-letter” to the Claremont run, we get a few nods to the past. We see the classic “Professor Xavier is a Jerk” panel, as well as Kitty holding the mistletoe over Colossus’s “sexy” head.

axm 1 kitty pryde professor xavier is a jerk

She phases through the wall of the main hall, and winds up making a somewhat “grand” entrance in the middle of an Emma Frost lecture to the student body. Also on the stage are Beast and Cyclops. Kitty and Emma snipe at one another before the former takes her seat. We learn that she’d missed Scott’s introduction speech… which was apparently so boring that it nearly put him to sleep in the delivery. Cuz, lest we forget… Scott Summers is boring.

axm 1 cyclops beast emma frost

Emma’s speech basically comes down to the fact that the humans will always hate the mutants… groundbreaking stuff, am I right? I remember thinking this was a massive step backwards from the few years of actual progressive storytelling we got from Grant Morrison. It was like “Okay, so we’re back to the X-Men just being about… this.” Anyway, Emma’s speech crescendos with some special effects Sentinels tearing their way into the roof of the place like something out of Uncanny X-Men #281. Emma would later tell Scott that 10% of the student body were actually excited by the possibility of a throwdown with the big bots.

axm 1 sentinels

We jump to the next morning, and we’re in Scott and Emma’s bedroom. And, don’t look now, but we’re not alone — Wolverine’s here too. Remember, this is a love letter to the Claremont run… and so, we gotta have Scott and Logan fighting over Jean… even though she’s, ya know, dead.

axm 1 wolverine in scott and emma's bed

Scott SHKOW’s Wolverine out the window, and it looks like they’re going to duke it out. Emma might just have the line of the book when she mentions how she’s got superpowers, a scintillating wit, and the best body money can buy… and yet, she still rates under Jean Grey… who, lest we forget, is currently a corpse.

axm 1 even a dead jean is better than emma

From here, the “admins” get their stuff together long enough to have a faculty meeting… in Hawaii? Or, I suppose high above Hawaii. It’s all an illusion… only Beast hasn’t yet figured out how to make this thing work right… and so, it’s as though our heroes are giant kaijus literally standing over the islands. Hey, at least it makes for an interesting backdrop, right? Anyway, the chat here is about how to make the X-Men what they once were. It’s basically a response to the “black leather” Morrison era… because Joe Quesada retroactively decided that he hated all that stuff after Grant went DC-Exclusive. Now, don’t get me wrong… I wasn’t a fan of the black leather either… but, to me that was more about Marvel shoehorning the look of the X-Men movies into the comics than anything else.

axm 1 dur hur black leather

From here, we get “cinematic”… over the course of the next several pages, we get bits of Kavita Rao giving a speech, some boring Breakworlders maybe in the same place… maybe someplace else, and our heroes changing into their new costumes. Cyclops makes sure to say that the X-Men are going to, ahem, “Astonish”.

axm 1 - they said it, they really said it

This takes us to our ending, where Dr. Kavita Rao informs the world that… stop me if you’ve heard THIS one before – she’s found the CURE to mutants! It’d been literally DAYS since the last cure, right? Groundbreaking!

axm 1 yet another promise of a mutant cure - GROUNDBREAKING

Yeah, I still don’t care for this. I can’t say that it wasn’t what was advertised, because it totally was. It was a throwback and a “love letter” to arguably the “Golden Age” of the X-Men. Only problem for me was, we were also coming off a pretty darn good run of X-Men comics… which Marvel and Quesada went to great lengths to bury out of personal acrimony with no real thought as to what their actual customers might feel about this. Was bringing in Whedon a good business decision? Well, since it was 2004… and not “current year”, sure! But was that why Quesada did it? I’m… not convinced.

Perhaps I’m projecting… I probably am, but I remember being pretty bummed out myself when I learned that not only the X-Men… but Marvel overall was losing Grant Morrison. I was bummed, annoyed, maybe a bit angry over the territorialism and “exclusive this/exclusive that” garbage that had began to take over comics around that time… but, that doesn’t mean I didn’t really enjoy Grant’s time on New X-Men. I didn’t wanna see everything he’d built over the course of nearly a half-decade flushed down the toilet by a temper-tantrum throwing EiC.

Again… I might be projecting.

And, in fairness to Whedon(‘s storytelling)… no matter how hard I try, I can’t divorce the story… no matter how good it might be, from the fact that it took friggin’ forever for this to come out. Astonishing became the flagship X-Book on the strength of his name… and barely ever came out. Making it so the rest of the X-Books were left treading water and waiting to see what stories they could tell. Add to that, massive crossover events like House of M and Civil War gumming up the works even more… and, well… it just wasn’t a great time to be an X-Fan… in my opinion.

So, with my baggage plainly laid out on the table… howsabout I actually talk about the issue in question, eh? It was… okay. I didn’t love it… but, I also didn’t actually hate it. I’m sure it was a “10 outta 10” of its day – because, of course it was… but, really – what does it bring to the table, outside of the star power of the creative team?

In my opinion… not a heckuva lot. Like I said during the synopsis, it felt like something of a step backwards, after years of pushing the envelope with what one could do with the X-Men – and, here we are, back with “Feared and Hated” as the be-all/end-all… and yet another crackpot talking about a “Mutant Cure”. It’s all very “been there, done that”, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s comfort food… and, I can’t claim that it isn’t — but, it just feels very samey, especially with such a hyped-up creator bellying up to the word processor. I remember the feeling of deflation I felt when first reading this back in ’04… and, to be completely honest – I was pretty underwhelmed here as well.

Another thing I didn’t much care for back in the long ago was… and, this might be heresy to some… but – I just don’t like John Cassaday’s art. I certainly can’t say it’s bad… it’s just not for me… at all. I was hoping that my now-aged eyes might take more of a liking to it… but, nope – I still can’t stand it.

Overall… I tell ya what, I was far more optimistic about this “Astonishing X-Men Retrial” project a few hours ago than I am now. I guess we’ll see if this is something I come back to. I probably owe it to the story to give it at least a few more issues, right?

I suppose we’ll see if I actually do!

In any event… it was nice to write up an actual blog post again, even if I didn’t 100% enjoy the subject matter this time out!

5 thoughts on “Astonishing X-Men (vol.3) #1 (2004)

  • So how was writing / publishing a full blog piece on the new site? I’m mixed on Cassidy’s art in this series. Some of it I really like, some just seems really flat, for lack of a better word. Maybe it’s the inks or the printing, I just think it’s off sometimes. I did like Beast’s cat look but Cyclops looks fat in those head shots. So it’s a mixed bag for me.

  • You’ve had ME thinking about revisiting this run from mentioning it either in a recent episode of X-lapsed OR a recently-listened-to-by-ME episode.

    I also haven’t read these issues in YEARS…though I’m pretty sure I revisited this first arc at least once, maybe 10 or so years back with one of those “motion comic” things. POSSIBLY more recently, but let’s go with “maybe 10 or so years back” for now.

    I bailed on the Morrison run a couple issues in…didn’t like it/care for it, didn’t “get” it, hated the art…and it hit during college for me when I more or less took a couple years off from any serious following of comics (though I started Ultimate Spidey at issue 3 and followed that til at least a couple years after college!)

    I finally read the Morrison run in bulk–via the early “oversized hardcovers”–in late 2003, so I was “ready” for Whedon/Astonishing. I’ve got some interesting memories associated with it–perhaps stemming from being in that weird, transition-y stage between college and not-college and before deciding on grad school and all that. So it was a bit of a “fit” for where I was in life at the time, I think.

    Of course, I still remember being SO. EFFIN’. ANNOYED. that for a TEAM BOOK, the first issue’s cover was ONLY…Wolverine’s CLAWS?!? Where was Kitty? Where were the Sentinels? Emma? Cyclops? Beast? Wolverine had his own solo, ongoing series (I think it was still in its “Marvel Knights” phase at the time of this?).

    I liked seeing them get back to more colorful costumes and such…though NOT a fan of Beast’s (then) new costume. While I doubt any will compare to the ’90s nostalgia for me of the Jim Lee Cyclops; I think I’d put this one as one of my top favorites!

    But all this is incidental/beside the point of the STORY. I THINK this was the first I’d really read (or consciously retained) the “cure” story, at least as a “current” thing (There was that episode of the cartoon with Rogue and the potential “cure” that turned out to be Apocalypse-related stuff).

    Excepting the tardiness of the book, I think this run is one of the ones I definitely think of for “a run.”

    And as I again catch myself thinking about stuff that isn’t the story ITSELF but things around/about/”meta” to the stuff, I wonder if that says something about it even to me. You called it “comfort food” and a “love letter” to previous stuff…I think I have to agree with that, big-time: definitely hit plenty of those buttons for me.

    Maybe I’ll revisit this run myself a bit…or, at least, I’ll look forward to your revisit, and live vicariously through your posts!

    Oh…and the lateness…I think I wound up bailing for half the run because of that. Plenty of other thoughts looking back to 2004, 2006, Civil War (the first one, the comics one) and realizing this issue is what? 18 years old now? Give or take a few weeks? And Civil War was a bit over FIFTEEN YEARS AGO? (Getting into X-Men in ~1993, Fifteen Years earlier would’ve been 1978!)

    Annnnnyway…been ages since I’ve commented on a blog post, or properly written in for X-Lapsed, so…forgive the rambling as I actually sat at a computer tonight and let the thoughts flow! (however incoherently)

  • Jesse DeJong

    Hey Chris,
    I get why you and others, may not enjoy this run but I really loved it. I’m also not a huge fan of Cassadays art and I can’t get though half an episode of Buffy but I loved Astonishing.
    It is a throw back to the Claremont age like you stated and it hit the right spot for me after the garbage that was happening in Uncanny and I hated what Morrison did in New X-Men.
    I actually remember the motion comic of this more than reading it. I can’t believe they did the whole run with that motion comics stuff. Have you seen these?

  • Peter

    I read Stan Goldman was the main colorist for all Marvel books from 1961 to 1965 at which point I assume he then began sharing the responsibility with Marie Severin when she was appointed Marvel head colorist but how many
    other colorists at this time?

  • Peter

    Well, my original comment from last weekend never posted apparently and instead I’ve managed to post duplicate comment I left elsewhere for Essential X-Lapsed a few minutes ago so… crumbs. I don’t remember my original comment except that it was after I listened to a Peter Sanderson interview on the Epic Marvel Podcast and that had lead me to looking up those old handbooks and finding Eliot R Brown’s anecdotes at https://www.eliotrbrown.com/wp/ and his art at comicallytechnical.tumblr.com/ and I probably mentioned that, if nothing else, Astonishing X-Men had some of my favorite X-covers.


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