- Justice Society of America #21, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Nathan Massengill (DC)
- Terra #3 of 4, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
- The Immortal Iron Fist #20, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Russ Heath (Marvel)
- Astonishing X-Men vol 2 HC, by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday (Marvel)
- Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
- Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen (Archaia)
- Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
- The Boys #25, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
I’m not a fan of Joss Whedon. I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I watched about five episodes of Firefly and though it was awful. I am, however, a big fan of John Cassaday, so I was willing to pick up Astonishing X-Men in collected form to see what it was like.
Whedon’s comics writing reminds me of that of Kevin Smith: Smith’s first series, Daredevil: Guardian Devil felt like a rerun of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again, and in the same vein, Whedon & Cassaday’s X-Men run feels a lot like Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run. The difference among all these books is that Born Again is one of the all-time great graphic novels, while the rest are fairly derivative works, which means that Whedon’s script feels even more like a “we’ve seen this all before” story than the others, since Morrison’s run was nothing special.
On the other hand, Whedon’s scripts are a hell of a lot funnier than Morrison’s.
This volume starts with Emma Frost being recruited to take down the X-Men by the Hellfire Club, a story which ties back to Morrison’s Cassandra Nova story. This first arc (there are two in this volume) has its tense moments, but when I got to the conclusion I couldn’t figure out what had happened. It felt like Whedon had set things up for a comeback by Cassandra Nova, a vicious powerful telepath, but it doesn’t quite happen, and it’s not clear that the X-Men actually won, either.
The second arc ties together the stories from the first volume: An alien planet named the Breakworld has a prophecy that Colossus will destroy their world, and the X-Men, along with a half-alien special agent named Brand, travel there to hopefully stop it from happening, but in any event stop the Breakworld from sending assassins after them. This story involves the characters breaking up into teams and then running back and forth an awful lot until they have to stop a giant missile aimed at the Earth from destroying it.
While there are many amusing and entertaining scenes in the story, honestly I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Why was the Breakworld significant? Why should the prophecy have existed in the first place? Why was there a giant missile aimed at the Earth? It felt highly contrived; my only guess is that the Breakworld and its situation have appeared in X-Men stories before, but geez, I could really care less about all that. The core of the story felt contrived and nonsensical, which undercut its reason for being. It had a big, loud conclusion, as you’d expect, but a deeply bittersweet ending, which unfortunately felt basically out of place, with no lessons learned as a result of it and not enough attention paid to its impact on the characters.
Whedon does do some interesting stuff with the relationship between Cyclops and Emma, and Colossus and Shadowcat, and the Beast and Agent Brand. (Wolverine seems to be present mainly to boost sales and make smart remarks.) And as I said the script is often quite funny. But it feels like too slight a story, a little too pretentious, not to mention portentious.
On the other hand, Cassaday’s artwork is superb, full of shadows and bright colors and dramatic poses and expressions. His backgrounds are sometimes on the thin side (a problem he’s always had, even at his best), but he is still a very good artist, and his work is shown off to good effect in the oversized pages of this hardcover collection.
Nonetheless, this volume and its predecessor are really for serious X-Men fans only.
And Whedon fans too, I guess.
Marvels was essentially the book that launched Alex Ross’ career, and made Kurt Busiek a big name in the industry. It’s certainly one of the finest comics series of the last 20 years, and since then Busiek has demonstrated that the core genius of the book – depicting a world of superheroes through the eyes of the people living in the world – was his genius, as he’s expanded greatly on that premise in his outstanding Astro City series. While Ross’ illustration skills haven’t dimmed – he still brings the best mix of visual storytelling and painting skills to the table of anyone – his authorial projects have been considerably less interesting.
So seeing Busiek bring us a sequel to Marvels is cause for celebration. Apparently his first proposal for a sequel was eventually turned into the current Astro City: The Dark Age maxi-series, but after much research we now have Eye of the Camera, which opens with the protagonist of the first series – freelance photographer Phil Sheldon – recapping the dawn of the Marvel Age in the 1960s, and then moving into the 1970s where the remainder of the series will take place. As before, Phil both stands in awe and wonder of the heroes, but has a strong melancholy streak, as if ordinary folks like him don’t – can’t – measure up. And this issue ends on a note guaranteed to bring even more melancholy into his life. While mostly rehashing the themes of the first series, this first issue does so quite well and promises new and different material going forward. Busiek has always been keenly aware of the ‘feel’ of comics from different eras, and I have no doubt that he’ll put a spin on 1970s Marvel comics which distinguishes them from the 1960s era.
Ross doesn’t come along for the ride; instead a newcomer (well, new to me anyway), Jay Anacleto, illustrates the book. It has the look of being drawn and shaded, with nuanced color laid over it; not quite painted like Ross, but still more intricate than typical line drawings, even with modern computer coloring. He has Ross’ flair for layouts and playing with color palettes – for example the scenes in Sheldon’s developing studio – but not quite his skills at body or facial expressions. Still, he’s pretty good, and gives the book a distinctive look.
If not quite the revelation that Marvels or Astro City were from their very first issues, Eye of the Camera still has a lot of promise, and perhaps its biggest flaw is that it is, well, a sequel, but one which has to explain its premise for new readers who haven’t read its predecessor. Nonetheless, I have high hopes that the whole package will be a lot of fun.