by J.D. Cook
While going through my comics today, in preparation for an upcoming move, I got to lovingly re-examine my favorite comic arc of all time, Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. It got me thinking of what made the series so good when compared to the contemporary X-Men comics of today and I came up with one very simple answer. Whedon wrote the X-Men like SUPER HEROES!
It’s actually a big plot point in Whedon’s first arc. Essentially Cyclops says that the X-Men need to stop being perceived as Magneto’s waiting to happen, more on that later, and instead be a super hero team that helps people. So they do just that. It was a really cool shift because after the House of M event the X-Men got really grim. Add to that Grant Morrison’s critically loved but extremely strange dramatic approach to the X-Men and you can see why the characters were in need of a return to their roots. Whedon played to his strengths making Kitty Pryde the center of his story. This was an interesting turn of events because Whedon has admitted that Kitty Pryde was the inspiration for Buffy Summers. So he was in some ways already adept at writing her from years of writing his own version of her.
My favorite part of the series though is the classic approach to the team’s dynamics. Cyclops and Wolverine are adversarial but there is an underlying respect that runs through every panel they appear in together. Cyclops is also treated less like a mental case with relationship issues and more like the driven strategic leader Chris Claremont wrote him as. Whedon was actually toying with the idea of having Cyclops a.k.a. Scott Summers reference an insane cousin he had who believed she was a Vampire Slayer. That would have been a pretty interesting connection to his television series. All of the characters work together in a totally organic way and you really feel like these X-Men could exist in reality.
Back to the idea of X-men as potential Magnetos; re-reading that line it’s almost like Whedon foresaw where Marvel would take the X-Men. In current continuity Cyclops has essentially become Magneto. He’s also brought a huge amount of the X-Men to his side and due to the fact that he killed Professor X it’s sort of hard to even side with him. I mean he’s probably my all-time favorite Marvel character and I’ve been alienated by what writers have done to him to the point of not being able to root for him. Well actually I don’t care that much and still root for him but that was probably why Marvel brought back the original X-Men through time travel so they could give readers a pure Cyclops along with the rest of the old crew. Brian Michael Bendis is actually doing a fairly good job with that title, All New X-Men. Although I did take issue with something he wrote in those comics, you can check out that article here. Unfortunately all of the current X-Men stories are just too wrapped up in the idea of moral relativity and the exclusive mutants as minorities metaphor to really maintain my interest. I like the mutants as minorities metaphor but it’s overused a lot and I think the X-Men work best when they are portrayed as angst ridden outsiders like we all are at some point or another. The current writers should take a page from Joss Whedon’s scrap book and emphasize the super hero aspects of the team while make the social commentary just a bit more subtle.