Astonishing X-Men 1 NM Joss Whedon John Cassaday 1st print Wolverine Emma Frost


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Astonishing X-Men (2004 3rd Series) #1A

Published Jul 2004 by Marvel.

Written by JOSS WHEDON Pencils & Cover by JOHN CASSADAY “GIFTED” pt. 1 (of 6) Dream-team creators JOSS WHEDON (creator of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and JOHN CASSADAY (Planetary, CAPTAIN AMERICA) bring you the explosive #1 issue of the all-new flagship X-Men series! As part of X-MEN: RELOAD, this issue marks a return to classic greatness and the beginning of a brand-new era for the X-Men. 32 PGS.

Kitty Pryde, former teen X-Man, arrives late for her first day as a new faculty member of the Xavier School. After looking around the ol’ mansion a little bit to reminisce, she shows up late to the student body convocation for the fall semester, in the middle of Emma Frost’s “They will always hate us” welcome speech.

Scott Summers is not pleased with Emma faking a Sentinel attack to test the students, and Logan is not pleased that Scott is now sleeping with Emma. He expresses his displeasure with combat. Emma for her part isn’t pleased that the X-drama is still all about Scott’s recently deceased wife Jean.

The team huddles to discuss their relational dysfunction. Kitty wonders what she’s doing here, and she and Emma instantly get their snark on.

Scott wants to see the X-Men being more publicly heroic to make up for the bad impression Magneto left when he destroyed and enslaved Manhattan in the final Grant Morrison issues of New X-Men. “We have to astonish them,” says Scott. They get their chance soon enough; a big alien bruiser, accompanied by a human goon squad, has taken hostages in a skyscraper. The team dons their new costumes (bright colors to make the public feel happier, instead of the black and yellow of Morrison’s era) and heads for the Blackbird…

At the start of a new school year at Xavier’s School, Whedon’s first issue focuses on setting up the relational dynamics among our five core team members, so we don’t meet any individual students yet. From the get-go, Whedon washes us with Claremont/Byrne/Paul Smith era X-Men nostalgia as we revisit a few of Kitty’s formative memories around the mansion and see her face aglow with warm thoughts of the past. John Cassaday excels at these expressive close-ups.

Under Morrison’s pen, Logan was supportive of Emma when Jean was mean to her, even though Emma was the one having an affair with Jean’s husband. But under Whedon, Logan is discomfited by the rapid pace of Emma and Scott’s romance, feeling correctly like Scott has moved on while Jean’s body is barely in the ground (again). Whedon’s Scott is more of a decisive, heroic leader than Morrison’s brooding, self-loathing version. Whedon’s delightfully snarky Emma gets many of the best one-liners, but everybody from Beast to Logan gets some zingers. Whedon’s version of Emma recalls popular-girl archetype Cordelia Chase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And if Emma is “mean queen bee” Cordelia, that makes Kitty Pryde into Buffy, the star of this show. Whedon admits thinking mainly of Kitty when developing Buffy: “If there’s a bigger influence… I don’t know what it was. She was an adolescent girl finding out she has great power and dealing with it.” One Claremont X-men story even depicted the X-Men going up against Dracula, which is about as Buffy as X-Men could get.

From Whedon’s wistful introduction of Kitty in this issue, you might think (indeed I did think) that she has been a dormant character, off living a normal life, and now called back into X-action for this story. That’s not really the case. In 2003, Chris Claremont penned the six part Mekanix story which depicted Kitty as a grad student in Chicago, tending bar to earn money, seeing a psychotherapist regularly to cope with her father’s death in Genosha, and battling both prejudicial classmates and Sentinels on the side, with some assist from Xi’an “Karma” Coy Manh.

Then in the first half of 2004, Kitty figured prominently in the series-ending arc of the Claremont/Igor Kordey series Xtreme X-Men, the last issue of which was published just weeks before this first issue of Astonishing X-Men hit the shelves. But as I said, you’d never know it; Whedon treats Kitty’s return to the X-Mansion like a young adult going back to look at the grade school gymnasium that used to look so cavernous.

Claremont had gradually turned his plucky X-kid into a grad school sexpot. Joss Whedon immediately dialed that image way back. Astonishing Kitty is astonishingly chaste and optimistic, though as we’ll see, not naïve, particularly where Miss Emma Frost is concerned. This particular issue has multiple callbacks to Kitty’s early days but also shows her as a confident woman, now completely prepared to trade barbs with Emma Frost instead of just running for cover. Kitty gets a hero moment in pretty much every issue of Whedon’s run; I will call them out as we go along.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was renowned for its “Buffyspeak,” a hip teen patois inspired by the breezy dialogue in Amy Heckerling’s film Clueless (1995), brimming with repurposed words and pop culture references like Kitty’s allusion (see above) to the “sorting hat” that divides incoming students into different cliques by temperament in J.K. Rowling’s novel Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (1997).

We also get a brief teaser about the main plot of the “Gifted” arc, with Dr. Kavita Rao working with a young mutant named Tildie in a spooky Exorcist-type scenario. It’s just enough to make us aware of these two characters and wonder what they are doing. Dr. Rao is the first of the three strong female characters which Whedon will introduce over the course of this first arc of Astonishing X-Men.

Remember Grant Morrison’s Quentin Quire “Kid Omega” story arc, in which Xavier’s dream of integrating the school with normal human students was defeated by a student insurrection which left Xavier so disillusioned that he resigned? Well, now that Scott and Emma are running the school, we get confirmation from the horses’ mouth that regular humans are on the faculty now. No word as yet about the student body. It makes perfect sense that the school would employ regular teachers to teach all the regular subjects. Do we ever see any of these teachers? Nope! But at least knowing that they exist gives the “school” aspect of X-Men a patina of legitimacy that I don’t recall it ever having under any previous X-scribe.

After spending Grant Morrison’s 40 issues wearing black turtlenecks under rescue team jackets marked with fat fluorescent yellow “X” across the front and back, the team is now back in traditional X-Men togs. Scott wears a version of his usual blue body stocking. Wolverine is back in the yellow tigerstripe in which he first appeared rather than the tan-and-brown version favored by John Byrne. Emma shows the most skin, but less (skin; more cloth) than either of the absurd X-halters she wore under Morrison and Frank Quitely. Kitty’s costume is worth a post of its own down the line. And Beast’s V-topped jumper is… interesting? The return to “superhero suits” was mandated to Whedon by Marvel on behalf of various merchandise franchisees who fretted that their T-shirts and lunchboxes needed to match the current appearance of the characters in the comics, so the New costumes of Grant Morrison’s era went bye-bye.

Near mint, 1st printing. Check description for more pictures.