Comic Relief: ‘Astonishing X-Men, Vol 1 – Gifted’

Hello! Welcome to the space on the internet where Carl RandersJack Stevens, and I get together and discuss a comic that we recently read. I like to call it ‘Comic Relief‘! Last time, we chatted about our general distaste for Teen Titans (2016) Vol 1: Damian Knows Best, so I am excited to tell you that we had a much more pleasant experience reading through Astonishing X-Men, Vol 1 – Gifted written by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday with art by John Cassaday.

Now, before we dive into what this book is all about, I feel like we can’t just consume and discuss something with Whedon involved without addressing the elephant in the room. For those who are unaware, Joss Whedon has recently come under fire for his treatment of cast and crew during the filming of his portion of the Justice League movie that was released in 2017 (after Zack Snyder left the project). For anyone familiar with his work, Whedon has kind of always been a controversial figure, especially regarding how he handles women in his stories. Interestingly, since my introduction to him as a creator, I’ve seen him lauded as a feminist icon and as a problematic misogynist. I’m not here to make that call, but just to acknowledge the problematic nature of one of the creators involved. As Randers will point out, John Cassaday is a wonderful creator and played a major role in this run of X-Men by co-writing and illustrating it. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re uncomfortable associating with Whedon and want to skip this one, I totally understand and I’ll catch you on the next one. For everyone who is still with us, let’s press on to some info about the comic.

Like I said, Astonishing X-Men, Vol 1 – Gifted was written by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday and featured art by John Cassaday. It’s, you know, about the X-Men – Cyclops, Beast, Kitty Pryde, Wolverine, Colossus – but this one also includes longtime villain, Emma Frost as a member/co-leader of the group, so that’s fun. Classic X-Men elements about such as running the school, fighting aliens, dealing with mankind’s prejudice against mutantkind, and new characters/organizations are introduced like Danger, S.W.O.R.D., and Special Agent Abigial Brand. The series ran from 2004 to 2013, but Whedon’s run would conclude in 2007, with Warren Ellis taking the reins from there. This book collects the first 12 issues of that series. Anyway, I think that’s all you need to know going into this. Enjoy!

Nick: I really enjoyed it. It had Whedon’s fingerprints all over it, which is good from a content standpoint.

Jack: I liked it a lot. The main villain sort of came out of nowhere to me though… Or did I just miss something? Didn’t really feel like any lead-up, then all of a sudden hey, it’s this sentient computer person in the last couple issues(?) But I liked the characters (Beast is so cool), and I liked the costumes a lot (Beast is so cool). I like the tease that more is to come, the Fantastic Four stuff was fun. The Mutant vs human relations dynamic will always be interesting and easy to pull from real life scenarios, but that’s what makes it good I think. Idk those are immediate thoughts.

Nick: I liked how comic book-y it felt. Especially once we got to Danger. A very fun sub-villain to keep them busy but advance the plot. The Emma Frost dynamic was really interesting too. That’s a story element I hadn’t seen before. 

Randers: Nick. What do you characterize as “Whedon?”

Nick: The small comedic asides are such a trademark. The tiny one liners that became the MCU style. That’s classic Whedon, especially in Firefly.

Randers: See this was my first introduction to him. This was pretty hyped up at the time and I knew people LOVED him from Buffy and Firefly but I never watched those shows. Now having seen his Avengers movies I can totally see “it” here. Yes, Jack. “Mutants” in the Marvel U[niverse] have always been the stand-in for any marginalized group.

Jack: Are the X-Men films worth looking into at all? I’ve only seen Logan and thought it was good, but not amazing. Also, what’re your thoughts Randers?!

Randers: I forgot this is where Danger became a character. For backstory, the X-Men famously had a “danger room” for training… like Star Trek’s holodeck. It’s mentioned in one of the prologues/afterwards how Danger represented marginalized people marginalizing someone else… there’s always a “pecking order” when there isn’t supposed to be. This is one of my favorite runs of all time. We “stan” John Cassaday in this house always and forever. This is some of his best work. These covers are some of the best and most iconic in my lifetime. I don’t know if you could tell how much I loved them. The way Colossus is brought back is breathtaking, when he goes right through Kitty… the Kitty/Colossus love story was one of the most popular in the Marvel U. Then he died. [The] flipside of that is Cyclops dealing with the death of Jean. And embracing a relationship with Emma. Who nobody likes at this point! Cyclops is barely liked.

Nick: I could totally see myself continuing with this run. I was left wanting more. I love this version of Beast. I’m a sucker for the cat stuff, surprising nobody. Cyclops has always been my least favorite X-Man.

Randers: I hated [the] cat-[B]east era. That said, Whedon understands all these characters and made him likable despite being the beast from the 80’s Beauty and the Beast series. Cyclops has always been my favorite X-Man… since I was a kid. He was Xavier’s first student. The one who has to hold the team together. Make the unpopular decisions… All that.

Jack: Oh! Xavier was very cool/interesting too. Why is he separated/[e]xiled in this?

Randers: I don’t remember specifically why he was gone this time but despite being “MLK” he’s consistently made unethical decisions and “Danger” was one more. If you think about it, the X-Men were child soldiers. He’s erased memories Awkwardly pined after Jean Grey at one point when she was a teen student

Jack: I will say, that’s an awesome villain origin story, and a really cool way to “hidden in plain sight”

That’s all folks! We liked this one! It was fun. The X-Men are just pretty great overall – it’s kind of hard to go wrong with these characters (unless you’re making a movie apparently). But maybe you felt different? Let us know!

As a reminder, we try to pick comics that are easily accessible (both to get ahold of and to understand) so anything we read is available through ComiXology (which is owned by Amazon, just FYI), both Marvel and DC have their own digital comic sources, or you can support your local comic shop by picking up a hardcopy (I highly recommend Destiny City Comics in Tacoma, WA, who ship anywhere) so feel free to follow along and chime in with your thoughts, feelings, concerns, or considerations in the comments!

Cover of 'Youth Season One' written by Curt Pires, art by Alex Diotto. Featuring two young men holding hands and floating above a cliff
‘Youth Season One’, written by Curt Pires & art by Alex Diotto

Next time on Comic Relief, we will be reading: ‘Youth Season One, written by Curt Pires, art by Alex Diotto.

Continue the conversation on social media:

Me: @NickIsRadford

Carl Randers: @FantasticDork

Jack Stevens: @Jackstandsup

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