Thursday, May 29, 2008

Uncanny X-Periment # 150: "Unstoppable"

Astonishing X-Men # 13-24, Giant-Sized Astonishing X-Men # 1

Well, we're here at last. Obviously, I'm lacking the "Uncanny X-Periment" title -- mainly because this whole thing is in need of some cleaning up. Hopefully in the next week or so, I'll be able to skim through the recent entries and re-arrange some things, as well as add in the "Emperor Vulcan" review I've been pussy-footing around.

At the moment, it appears (according to my various sources) that this story takes place between Endangered Species and Messiah CompleX. Considering how this story ends, that seems to be the most logical placement.

But anyways, like I said, here we are. At long last, Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men has come to a close. I took the time today, before getting to the issues listed above, to read Astonishing X-Men # 1-12. In retrospect, this is a great way to take in the full strength of Whedon's run. There are some little things here and there that tie strongly into his overall story.

Let's do it like we used to and give you all the spoilers.

We open up with the X-Men pretty much where we'd expect them to be. Kitty and Peter grow closer, Logan's training the few remaining students hard-core style, Hank's in his lab, and Scott's paying his bills. Oh, wait. Where's Emma? Why, she's meeting with the Hellfire Club! Remember? This one led by Shaw? With Cassandra Nova, that girl from Genosha, and the Mysteriously Cloaked Person? Anyways, they determine that now is the time to strike.

While Kitty comes clean with her feelings for Peter and they have sex, Emma sits down Scott and basically tears him down, stripping him of all his confidence -- as well as his powers. He goes unconscious and Emma runs to get the other X-Men. Kitty checks on the students, only to start phasing uncontrollably and goes down into the Earth. Colossus has the snot beaten out of him by Shaw in front of Scott's comatose body. Hank is devolved into an animal and Logan begins a young James Howellet.

Kitty eventually pulls it together as Hisako (Armor, as we'll call her from here on out) joins with Blindfold and Logan. She pulls Emma down into a small little space deep underground, then goes back up . . . where the cloaked person reveals herself to be none other than the White Queen!

Meanwhile, Agent Brand of SWORD learns that the prophets of Breakworld have determined which X-Man it will be that will destroy their world -- Colossus. Danger finds out and she goes to the captured Ord and tells him of this. They manage to escape and head down to the mansion.

Back at said mansion, the White Queen has shoved three years worth of fake memories into Kitty's mind, convincing her that she and Peter had son named Michael and that he's being held in a metal box in the sub-basement. She heads down there just as Logan regains his identity (thanks to a beer can) and Ord and Danger show up.

Kitty pulls the baby out . . . only it's not the baby. It's Cassandra Nova in that alien booger form. Scott then shows up and shoots the White Queen, then Shaw, Cassandra Nova (human form), and the other Hellfire Club members. Armor gives Beast a ball of string that reminds him of his true self and he arrives just in time to help against Ord and Danger. Scott then explains to Peter and Kitty that this manifestation of the Hellfire Club only existed as a result of a mental implant from Cassandra Nova and from Emma's own post-Genosha survivor's guilt. Emma suspected and feared something like this would happen, hence why she brought Kitty on board.

The X-Men are all then teleported up on a SWORD vessel, along with Ord and Danger. What happened to Cassandra's booger-body? Don't know. Never revealed.

Ord and Danger are swiftly imprisoned. The X-Men are briefed on the situation -- the SWORD ship is drawing the Breakworld armada away from Earth and they are all headed for Breakworld. They're going to Breakworld because they have a missile pointed at the Earth.

Now let's pause for just a moment so I can get everything understood about Breakworld. It's a world of pure violence, where the highest and mightiest of warriors are deemed the leaders. The current leader is Kruun. Now, ruling a place that's basically a hospital, is a woman named Aghanne (and her little friend Dafi -- "Like the duck.") Compassion is a sin, apparently.

The X-Men and the SWORD ship are (of course) attacked in Breakworld orbit. Danger, Ord, and some soldiers manage to land on the surface, where they are captured. Some others also make it onto the surface. The X-Men head down in two teams -- Cyclops, Emma, Agent Brand, and Beast in one pod; Shadowcat, Colossus, Armor, and Wolverine in another. The latter's breaks up during descent. Kitty and Colossus make it down separate from Wolverine and Armor and are immediately spotted throughout the capital. The other team makes it to the temple where Colossus in stone is depicted shoving a sun at Breakworld. Wolverine and Armor meet up with them shortly. Again, the team plans and breaks apart.

Colossus and Kitty are taken in by Aghanne, who believes that Colossus is not the literal death of the world; simply a way of changing it. Danger, striking a deal with Kruun, goes after Cyclops and Emma. Emma convinces her that she in unable to kill them and makes a deal. Beast and Agent Brand pick up a ship and proceed to grab everyone.

Meanwhile, Kruun second-in-command is believed to be in the pocket of SWORD -- when really, he's not. The X-Men head for the launchbase of the missile, a moon basically. However, they can't get to it; a fleet is in the way. A still powerless Cyclops buys them time by launching himself into a one-man vessel and taking on the fleet. He apparently "dies."

The X-Men, Danger, and Brand go back to the captial. Wolverine and Armor are captured as Cyclops is tortured by Kruun regarding something he said about "Leviathan" while on the ship. Cyclops then reveals to Kruun that Leviathan is meaningless, that they knew they were being watched, and it was all basically a ploy to get to Kruun and the reactor that draws power from the core of Breakworld. Wolverine and Armor were captured to give Emma a detailed image of the Palace. The X-Men arrive with their reinforcements, Lockheed is revealed to be a mole in the X-Men for SWORD, and Cyclops starts planning again -- his powers restored and under his control.

Colossus, Aghanne, Cyclops, and Emma go to the reactor, which is an energy that only Colossus can withstand. They show this to Kruun and demand he shut down the missile. He tells them he can't. Colossus enters the reactor just as Ord arrives, pissed as hell.

At the missile, Kitty, Beast, Armor, and Danger try and figure out how to stop. Kitty enters the missile, but the metal is actually causing her pain and she finds it harder and harder to travel through. At that point, the missile is launched. Expect, it's not a missile. It's really a gigantic bullet - with Kitty stuck inside it. It speeds to Earth.

Emma and Cyclops do their best to hold off Ord as Aghanne enters the reactor to force Colossus to destroy it. Reactor looks like the sun, you see? Ord pops in and kills her, only to die himself.

The super-heroes of Earth gather at SWORD's Peak headquarters, but are somehow telepathically rendered unable to stop the bullet. Even the rogue Sentinel that left Earth to deal with his guilt is there.

Colossus defeats Kruun and declares himself master, forcing Kruun to reveal a way to destroy it. He tells that maybe if it something else, it might work. The rogue Sentinels jumps to it . . . and goes smashy. And to no avail.

The bullet heads right towards Earth, with Kitty unable to phase through it. She then decides and is able to phase the actual bullet, though it quite possibly kills or killed her. The bullet slides through Earth and Kitty goes with it.

The X-Men re-group. Scott's control over his optic blasts are gone and he goes back to the visor. Agent Brand has the hots for Hank and, it turns out, is half-alien. Colossus then beings to mourn her.

Now, as usual, this is simply the reader's digest version of the events. There's a lot more to it.

Let's start the review off proper by going over the major flaws of this story.

First and foremost is the fate of Kitty Pryde. It heart-wrenching and actually makes me a little sick to my stomach. That's not exactly a bad thing, either. But what I don't like is how up in the air it is. Is she dead? Did phasing the bullet do her in? Or is she alive, forced to starve to death or something? Will she die when the bullet fall into black hole or hit a planet?

There's more I have to say about this and I'll get to that in a little bit. Right now I want to concentrate on the fundamental problem I have with that. Is it responsible for the X-Men (or the Avengers or Fantastic Four) to let this thing just fly off into space? Are the X-Men really willing to allow Kitty to die like that? Or to let her body, at least, just rocket through space? (I should note, it's not the first time it's happened) Why don't they just hop into a space ship (they should have them sitting around -- or at least someone does, right? SWORD?), warp after it, and have Nightcrawler teleport in with Hank, Forge or maybe even Reed Richards?

A little more closure would have been appreciated. I mean, I know the current thing right now is to make sure that X-Men space stories have downer endings (Emperor Vulcan, anyone?), but this just hurts.

Why does it hurt? Because Whedon made Kitty lovable all over again. At least for me. We've seen Kitty go through all these different phases (no pun intended) and we finally see her as a mature, sweet adult . . . only to have her maybe-kinda die. Again, I'll go into this a little more.

There are a few other problems I've found with this story. After the Kitty issue, there's also the question as to how Aghanne found out that Colossus even existed. Did the prophets actually speak the truth and she just decided to fill in the blanks? Did she find out from SWORD somehow? It doesn't make a whole of sense.

There's also the matter of Danger. What happened to her? She was promised Professor X . . . only nothing came of it. And I mean nothing. What the heck?

And what happened to Cassandra's booger body? Do we just assume that someone saw her laying around and tossed her back into the box or something? I can just picture Iceman and Rogue walking down the hall, seeing it, and tossing it in the garbage. Her existence wasn't even mentioned in the recent "Divided We Stand" 2-parter, a perfect place to sweep something like that under the rug.

So that's the bad right there. All of it. I mean, I guess I could talk about the delays, but . . . meh . . . they've been talked to death, right?

Well, since I've covered all the problems I had with this story, I suppose I should tackle the good stuff.

Really despite the logical holes I covered, it's a great run. Whedon really nails down the theme of sacrifice and redemption. Colossus return from sacrificing himself to cure the Legacy Virus, Professor X sacrificing Danger's freedom for the good of the X-Men, and obviously, Kitty's sacrifice to save the Earth. It's nicely peppered in and even the references to Jean seem to reinforce this idea without over-stating it.

There's some great symmetry here as well. Both the first and last arcs of the run deal with hope, but not exactly in a positive way. Hope is the name of the Mutant cure; it's also what Aghanne said children were . . . only to have the child die not long after she said that.

There's also some nice symmetry done in the last page with Peter's actions mimicking those of when Kitty found him.

Characterization is spot on. Cyclops really breaks out here and leaps forward as the brilliant leader we've seen him become. His relationship with Emma continues to be fleshed out; better here than with any other post-Morrison writer.

Emma comes across nicely, sympathetic enough. She gets knocked down a notch.

Wolverine, of course, is Wolverine. Clever, funny, violent, and occasionally insightful. His playing-off with Armor is fun. She effectively becomes the new Kitty Pryde.

Beast is as enjoyable as always. Whedon does a great job of continuing to show his struggle with his most recent Beast-ness. It was played around with a little in the first half, but it's really very prominent here and dealt with maturity. It's not just "hey, you're not an animal, Hank!" "Oh, you're right! Thanks!" It's more than that. He shoves himself so far away from his beast mentality that you can see that he just wants to be somewhat human again. So to speak.

Colossus himself is, of course, a key figure. Unlike the second arc, he's more developed here. More internal, definitely. He smiles, he loves, he jokes, he agonizes . . . he's alive again. It's wonderful. His scenes with Kitty are heart-warming. I guess we're supposed to interpret Colossus "destruction of Breakworld" as how Aghanne did - merely a destruction of the old ways. Or something.

Kitty herself is probably the biggest star of the book. While there's a spotlight on everyone, she's our eyes on the team again. She walks into the team with Whedon's first issue and leaves it with him. I hate to see her gone. I really do. It kills me a little. But having a writer be able to evoke that kind of emotion is a good thing.

Other characters are hit and miss. Agent Brand is great. Lockheed's revelation is shocking and I have to wonder where he got to at the end. Part of me wonders if he's not attached to the bullet, trying to burn his way into it. Kruun is lackluster and a little cliched. Aghanne is about the same.

Besides the fates of Kitty, Danger, and (really) Breakworld itself, Whedon does his best to handle some of the other strands left hanging. The rogue Sentinal was a pleasant surprise and it was nice to see its final fate. Cyclops powers, Armor's relationship with Wolverine, and even a nod at Professor X . . . all handled well.

Ultimately, I think Whedon was going for something different with Astonishing X-Men. He was definitely looking to make them into super-heroes. Not just Mutant freedom fighters like we've seen since, oh, Uncanny X-Men # 1 -- but genuine super-heroes. That would have been a great thing back in 2004 when this story began. But now? Not so much. Astonishing X-Men became a victim of it's own delays. The effects of this comics were forced to be felt about six months ago. That's when Kitty disappeared. That's the problem when an entire franchise hinches on a singular comic.

I have to applaud Whedon. Despite the flaws that these two story arcs suffered (as well as those of the original pair), he managed to crank out a great comic. The script was fantastic; great pacing and dialogue. He knows what he's doing.

Cassady's art is fantastic, but is there really a need to say that?

Overall, I'm still not sure how rate it all. It's a rather good book, even with it's problems and its lack of closure. But I think, now that's all done, it's time to move on.