Jeff Jensen
May 14, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Astonishing X-Men

Current Status
In Season
Joss Whedon

We gave it an A-

It’s been awhile since the X-Men have been old-fashioned, spandex-clad heroes. It’s easy to understand why: Ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created this band of mutant outcasts in 1963, the talents charged with fueling the Marvel Comics franchise have been captivated (and held captive) by its allegorical potential. Over the last 40 years, X-Men books have explored every hollow of niche America; consequently, in pursuit of relevancy, its more fabulous aspects have been increasingly mixed down.

Judging from his first issue as writer of The Astonishing X-Men, it doesn’t appear this creative trajectory has pleased Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. The centerpiece sequence isn’t even a fight, it’s a debate. Subject: Whither the colorful costumes? Team leader Cyclops wants ’em. Team renegade Wolverine doesn’t. In a telling departure from writer Grant Morrison’s recent deconstruction of X-mythology, stick-in-the-mud Cyke wins.

Whedon seems bent on recapturing the fantastic fun of seminal X-scribe Chris Claremont, without compromising a single brain cell. If anyone can walk the tonal tightrope, it’s Buffy’s proud papa, whose comic storytelling is starting to match the richness of his TV work. He is helped enormously by the crisp, clean renderings of John Cassaday (Planetary). Their collaboration — expected to last 12 issues — simmers with comic-booky passion (though Whedon should remember that Cassaday’s range is wasted on talk). But the climactic spread of the X-Men, redressed in their colors? Astonishing!

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