Watching X-Men: The Last Stand this year, amongst all the good and the bad, I was struck by how cool Kitty Pryde was. Light-hearted, occasionally silly, and one of the coolest super-powers ever — the ability to pass through objects, and to share that power with others in contact with her. Sounds boring, when you write it down, but the applications are endless. It’s pretty well known1 that Kitty was a major influence on Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.2 So when I found the paperback collection of Whedon’s first series of Astonishing X-Men, ‘Gifted’, starring Kitty Pryde, it was just too tempting.3

So here’s the premise. Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, aka Leonardo, aka boring leader guy, forms a new team of X-Men — consisting of Beast, Wolverine, Kitty, the White Queen and himself. He wants to improve the PR of the X-Men, which means — colourful suits. Good move. Black leather works better in movies, but as you can see from the pictures, comics do quite well with a bit of colour. Meanwhile, a nice scientist (backed by a not so nice alien) has developed a cure for the mutant gene.4 Havoc ensues.

As one might expect from Whedon, it’s a solid story, emotional in all the right places, and told well. The first issue is rather dull, but is effective at setting up all the pieces. By the time you hit half-way, it’s very difficult to put the thing down. Some of the twists are a little heavy on past continuity, but not confusingly so — and these are comics we’re talking about, not television. The sort of person who buys this stuff is presumably able and willing to explore the X-Men universe to find out what on earth everyone’s talking about. Still, a lot of the second half would have worked a lot better for me if I had any sort of fondness for, or even knowledge of, the man they call Colossus.

Whedon’s trademark banter is in place, as is his ability to make every bit of a story feel like ‘the cool bit’. Conveniently for him, in Wolverine he has a remarkably hot-tempered character, so that even potentially dull ethical discussions get a splash more violence than one might otherwise expect. Choosing which X-Men to use in a comic strip must be like being offered the biggest box of chocolates in the universe, and they’ve been chosen well; none of the characters feel wasted. While I miss Xavier, it does lend things a rather vulnerable edge that you don’t so much feel when there’s a guy hanging around who can freeze legions of baddies with his mind.

John Cassaday’s art is equally fantastic. There’s something a shade predictable about the standard comic-book full-page dramatic reveal… but it’s predictably awesome so it doesn’t bother me. All the characters get an expressive range of expression, but it’s Kitty who really runs the emotional gamut, and it’s Kitty who gets the most impressive and wonderfully drawn range of facial expressions. Perhaps most importantly, though, the violence is damn cool.

It’s an inescapable truth of adventure fiction that anyone with a dubious, morally grey agenda will have some random horribleness at the core of their plan that allows the heroes to justifiably storm in and save the day. I don’t think it’s fair to complain about it here — after all, things would be dull if they didn’t — but I just thought I’d mention it. One doesn’t want to gush too much, and it is a fact that most of the morality questions slide away after the dark secret is uncovered.

Monsters, ethical dilemmas, the reunion of lovers separated by death, excellent one-liners and intriguing foreshadowing. It’s good to have Joss back.5

  1. Amongst nerds.
  2. The fun, steely, silly seasons one to three Buffy, as it turns out. Not the dull, stick-in-the-mud, speechifying season seven Buffy. Phew.
  3. That Joss Whedon. He’s got his greasy little paws in everything. Clearly he’s driven by an insane desire to be reviewed in more sections of ATR than anyone else, and today he gets one step closer.
  4. The similarities to The Last Stand pretty much start and end there. Frankly though, I’m amazed that anyone could read this book — especially the conversation between Beast and Wolverine in issue #3 — and go on to write Rogue’s plotline in that film.
  5. Yes, OK, he’s been doing these for two years. But I only got my hands on this just now.

7 Responses to “Gifted”

  1. i’m giving it an “eh”. i prefer the movie for the telling the story of the cure. i liked how they got the cure in the movie. it just seems to be two random mutants in the comic. Also Cyclops looks like a condom.

    and i really feel like when im in the home page that i need to scroll up and i can’t.

  2. It was so dramatic! On the front page I could only see “I’m giving it an…” and who knew whether you’d be favourable or not? I was hoping you’d like it more than “eh” but there you go. I’ll put some thought into solving this front-page issue. Until then — don’t scroll up, it won’t work.

    Mmmmm. The comic doesn’t turn out to be about the cure any more than the film is. Possibly less. But while I agree that the production of the cure is cooler in the film, I much prefer the X-Men’s responses to it in this.

    I’m so not going to your chemist.

  3. You can buy them anywhere these days. I just wouldn’t go into any store at all.

  4. If there’s novelty x-men varieties it’s probably safest. I’d hate to see the Wolverine one.

  5. Awww, now, I liked Gifted. Not so fond of the one after it. Dangerous is definitely ‘meh’ worthy. The most recent arc is amazing.

    I didn’t like the cure in X3. Well, no I liked the idea of it but thought the execution sucked. The movie just didnt seem anything at all like the other two. Plus, what the hell was Rogue thinking!?!?! She’s been offered the cure and stuff like that multiple times in the comics and always turned them down. growls Silly film.

    If you liked Gifted, then you’ll probably enjoy Runaways. Joss is gonna be taking over duties on it which should be very interesting. is such a geek

    Hope y’all are doing well. :)

  6. Hey hey hey! I knew it was worth reviewing a comic book. You never know who’ll crawl out of the woodwork…

    I’ve heard ‘Dangerous’ is meh-ish. I’ll be buying it soon but I’m trying to space things out, since the third set doesn’t appear to be out yet. I’ve heard about this Runaways thing too but if I were to read those I’d have to read the preceding ones, too… So much work. My brother’s been putting me onto Fables which is awesome, by the way.

    I’m right there with you on the Rogue business Jess. Though it must be said, in the comics she has more powers to give away. It was a lame end for a great and well-acted character though.

  7. Oh, it most definitely was a horrible end.

    I can send you the previous Runaways comics over the internet if you like. I have them as scans. :) Just let me know if you want them. Then you wont need to read them. Yeah, I’ve heard of Fables and eventually I’ll get around to reading that as well. I’m a bit to engrossed in the whole Civil War going on in the Marvel comics currently. :)

    You should read Dangerous as it leads into the current arc and the things that are occuring in it are weird but interesting. :)

    crawls back into woodwark