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Warren Ellis’ Run on Astonishing X-Men – Ghost Box, Exogenetic and Xenogenesis (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Astonishing X-Men is an interesting book. It was originally launched to allow Joss Whedon and John Cassaday to work on an X-Men title that was (mostly) free from the confines of the wider Marvel Universe at their own pace. However, when – after considerable delays – it finally finished, it seemed quite tough to figure out what to do with the book. Astonishing X-Men was selling too well to cancel outright, and Marvel had the opportunity to capitalise on its popularity and acclaim.

Assigning writer Warren Ellis to the title was quite a clever decision. While Ellis might lack the broader pop culture cache of Joss Whedon, he is a known and respected comic book writer. Allowing Warren Ellis to cut loose on a title usually results in a delightfully chaotic and exciting comic book that manages to stand apart from just about any mess of continuity that might have spawned it.

Storm warning...

Storm warning…

Ellis’ output on Astonishing X-Men is practically breathtaking. Ellis has a tendency to stay on mainstream superhero comics for relatively short runs. He worked on Secret Avengers for six months, and spent a year each on Ultimate Fantastic Four and Thunderbolts. Ellis tends to step into a superhero comic, shake things up rather brilliantly, and then walk away having made quite an impression. In many cases, Ellis’ short runs serve to define characters for years afterwards; look at Norman Osborn.

However, despite this reputation for short tenures on superhero comics, Ellis produced eighteen issues with the Astonishing X-Men brand; eleven issues of the main series, two issues of the Ghost Boxes miniseries and five issues of the Xenogenesis miniseries. That’s quite an impressive body of work. It is enough for a reasonably-sized omnibus collection. It allows Ellis a lot of room to play with his ideas, and also to make quite a mark on the central characters.

Having a blast...

Having a blast…

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Kitty Pryde and Wolverine (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Chris Claremont didn’t invent Wolverine, but he defined him. Long before Wolverine was appearing in multiple team books and multiple solo series, the short and hairy Canadian was developed within Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. When the time came to develop the character beyond that, it was Claremont that handled the four-issue Wolverine series, and it was Claremont who handled this six-issue Kitty Pryde & Wolverine miniseries. The market had yet to reach Wolverine saturation. However, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine is remarkable as a spiritual extension of Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run. Without the influence of Frank Miller, this six-issue collection feels more distinctly like a microcosm of Claremont’s extended work on the franchise, bringing into focus his strong character work, his pulpy sense of storytelling and, occasionally, his excessively purple prose.

Stayin’ sharp…

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House of M (Review/Retrospective)

This is the third in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s “Avengers” franchise over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

The X-Men represent the oddball of mainstream superhero comic books. In a genre and medium dedicated offering a static setup – things never really change or resolve – the X-Men are built upon the very idea of evolution. The whole basis of the franchise is the pursuit of equality by the genetically distinct mutant population, the idea that they and mankind can grow together. It has even been frequently suggested that these super-powered individuals represent out future or our replacements. However, the only way to actually tell a story like that is to follow it through to its logical conclusion – to let the ball roll and to let the world change. It feels a little counterproductive for Charles Xavier and his students to still be fighting for the same rights as everyone else nearly fifty years on – it might even seem a little stale. Grant Morrison’s superb New X-Men run offered a solution of sorts – it gave us a world where humanity would be extinct in a couple of generations and showed the growth and relationship between human and mutant subculture. Gone was the minority struggling against an oppressive majority – a more complex example of race relations had come into play with “mutant music” and “mutant slang” making their impression on the youth, amid a silent and almost invisible middle-class backlash. This was an ingenious approach which demonstrated the relevance of the franchise. Unfortunately, Marvel were not quite pleased with this – some people even, ridiculously, accused Morrison of telling all the remaining X-Men stories – and decided to set things right. They did that through House of M.

Dive in...

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Astonishing X-Men Omnibus by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday

Why did I have to follow Grant Morrison?

– Joss Whedon’s email correspondence with Marvel

What with all that talk of Whedon directing The Avengers on the big screen, I decided it was worth checking out his run on one of the most enduring superhero teams of all time.

Is this a breakout hit?

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