Astonishing X-Men #17
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist/Cover artist: John Cassaday
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
Everyone daydreams about his or her future. About the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect life. For some, it involves riches and wild times that never end. A few years ago, that’s what it meant to me. Now, I’m in a great relationship, and I was honestly surprised when her dreams of a small family and a comfortable home became my own. At first, I wanted it because she did, and I wanted to make her dream come true. But slowly but surely, I started thumbing through the paper’s real-estate insert of my own accord. I started taking notice of babies and of the possibilities that lay ahead. The opening scene in this comic book delves into such a promise, into such a dream, and it explores the pain of someone using that dream against you. Whedon offers up an exciting, well-balanced script full of emotion and drama with a touch of humor, all brought to life in convincing detail by artist John Cassaday.
There is a box in the deepest recesses of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, an impenetrable box hiding a dangerous secret that no one was ever meant to uncover. The new Hellfire Club has gone to great lengths to retrieve the contents of the box, decimating the lives and psyches of the X-Men in the most unforgivable manner in order to do so. But ultimately, there is only one person on the planet who can get inside that box, and her name is Kitty Pryde. How Kitty is convinced to carry out such a mission is shocking, and it will no doubt haunt the young woman for the rest of her life.
Cassaday’s art boasts a softer tone here than his work did back when, say, he and Warren Ellis launched Planetary, for example. That softness allows the more grounded elements early in the issue to really have an impact, allows the reader to connect more solidly with the characters and Kitty in particular. I honestly love his portrayal of Professor X; Cassaday acknowledges the harsher, borderline-alien look that was originally part of the character’s conceptualization back in his Silver Age introduction. Most of all, though, Cassaday’s greatest contribution here is the expressiveness he brings to the characters’ faces. The joy, the horror and the humor are all more effective thanks to the artist’s portrayal of emotion. The action is great, don’t get me wrong, but the emotion is what really steals the show.
Whedon does an excellent job in his handling of Wolverine in this issue, just as he did in the previous chapter. The regressed character makes for more hilarious moments, as the reader can’t help but juxtapose his timidity with the feral, macho mutant we’ve come to know over the years. But somehow, the humor doesn’t interfere with the re-emergence of the character’s memories and rage. The trigger for his restoration is funny, but his reaction is not. That intensity is engrossing and leaves the reader anxious to see what the character does next. And this is a character who’s reacted violently to mental transgressions time and time again in the past. That Whedon achieves a certain freshness with a similar moment is impressive.
In addition to the events listed in my synopsis, Whedon also continues the Ord and Danger plotlines teaming the pair in an all-out assault on the X-Mansion. But the focus in this issue is on Kitty Pryde and how she’s victimized by the villains, as well it should be. It makes for a powerful and moving script. Kitty is violated in the most intimate manner possible, and it makes for a gut-wrenching reaction on the reader’s part. Even if the heroine isn’t fully aware of the violation, we are, and we dread the moment when she realizes the full extent of what’s happened to her. Whedon’s script is thoroughly effective at humanizing not only Kitty but Colossus as well. Kitty’s kickass mode later in this issue and the deadly threat she poses to one teammate made for some cool moments as well. 9/10