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Oct 13

Astonishing X-Men #68

Posted on Sunday, October 13, 2013 by Paul in x-axis

So, farewell then, Astonishing X-Men.  You will be back next month with a shiny new adjective.

It’s hard to believe now, but when it was launched in 2004, Astonishing X-Men was the main book of the line.  Now it’s the runt of the litter that doesn’t get invited to the crossover, as if all the other books were whispering to one another to for christ’s sake not mention the party in front of Astonishing, because it’d be really awkward.  The book was created as a vehicle for Joss Whedon, and while it proved to be something of an absentee flagship, it was a flagship nonetheless.  Its regular absence from the shipping schedule didn’t deprive it of that status, so much as leave the line floundering for direction without it.

After Whedon left, the book was rebranded as a place where writers could do their own thing without worrying about the broader X-Men continuity, which isn’t really a premise, but at least allowed it to be defined by the style of the creative team of the day.  Whatever you may think of the creators assigned, though, few could deny that the star power has eroded rather drastically over the years, much as occurred with the Ultimate line.  For the last while we’ve had Marjorie Liu and Gabriel Hernandez Walta – hardly industry stars, though they were certainly allowed to bring their own voice to the book.

Still, Astonishing X-Men is a comic without a concept.  “The X-Men” is not a concept when you have so many X-Men comics.  Most of the X-Men books right now actually do have something more distinctive to them.  All-New is about the time travellers.  Uncanny is about Scott’s splinter group.  Wolverine and the X-Men, despite the name, is really about the kids.  X-Men Legacy isn’t an X-Men title at all.  But Astonishing X-Men and X-Men are just Other X-Men Titles, and for all we’ve seen so far, it sounds as though Amazing X-Men will be the same.  This will happen when you try to stretch a brand to this degree.

After a bizarre two-issue detour into fanfic – which the recap page dutifully recounts even though it has no bearing whatsoever on this issue – this issue is an attempt to wrap up Marjorie Liu’s remaining storylines.  The focus is on Warbird, and the character arc that Liu picked up from Jason Aaron, in which she turns out to be a frustrated artist in denial beneath her psychotically violent exterior.  The story also checks in with Dark Beast (still a baddie), Northstar’s immigration status (a storyline which, to be fair, was kind of kneecapped by the Supreme Court anyway), and Iceman.  The Iceman stuff, incidentally, really doesn’t work at all, for reasons we’ve touched on before; in looking for a suitably operatic take on the emotional story she wanted to tell, Liu has ended up turning Iceman into a mass murderer, and then has to disregard the consequences of that because they would wreck the character if followed through.  Maybe she would have pursued it further if the series had continued, to be fair.

Warbird’s arc was more of a general development of character than a plot-driven story, and that’s reflected in the central threads of this story, which largely consist of people encouraging Warbird to pursue her art, and not to take refuge in her old personality when faced with a crisis.  This is all fine; it gives some resolution to the series, and Liu is able to leverage it into making a point about how the X-Men have helped her to discover new sides to her character just as they helped so many others before her.  So a restatement of Warbird’s character is made into a testimony to the power of the X-Men as a quasi-family, which works for a final issue.

You couldn’t call it subtle, mind you.  There’s some excruciatingly direct dialogue here, such as Warbird’s narration (“Once, it would have bene easier to touch a star than have a friend”), or Karma’s claim that Warbird’s paintings “will save more lives than your sword ever will.”  Because they’re so beautiful.  Or something.  Incidentally, there’s something more than a little unedifying about artists making absurdly exaggerated claims for the power and importance of art (i.e., of artists), but it’s amazing how often otherwise sensible writers do this kind of thing.

Still, the core ideas are good, and you can’t really complain about an X-Men story pitching its emotional content as operatic; that much comes with the territory.  It does mean that Walta earns his money on this issue by softening and humanising the characters, and making it a little more believable than it might otherwise be, but that’s what he does best on this title.  Walta’s art is probably the thing I’ll miss most about this series; his earliest forays into superhero comics were a little awkward, but now that he’s found a way of keeping his own style while still hitting the big dramatic moments, he’s become a real asset to the title.  Hopefully we’ll see plenty more of him in future.

For those who’ve stuck with the series to the end, this is a satisfying wrap-up issue; it seems an odd call to have gone on the two issue diversion that preceded it, but the book gets back to the point here and delivers on what readers will want from a final issue.

Bring on the comments

  1. wwk5d says:

    “as a place where writers could do their own thing without worrying about the broader X-Men continuity”

    Isn’t that what X-men Unlimited was after the first 5 or 6 issues? 😉

    If anything, Marvel really needs to trim the line of superfluous titles like this, streamline things down so that each x-book has an identity and purpose, and focus on quality control for the line as a whole.

  2. Nemo says:

    X-Men and Amazing X-Men seem to cover the same concept of being the “classic” X-Men team book, which none of the other titles really fit. The only difference seems to be the stunt of the female-centered team on Biran Wood’s book, which I’m not sure it will hold in the long run.

    I wonder if Amazing is supposed to take Astonishing’s place or if they’re actually planning on stretching the line with another relaunch…

  3. Niall says:

    I liked the Legacy approach:

    Take a character (e.g. Rogue/Xavier/Legion), give them a team and then tell that character’s story and end it.

    There are plenty of X-characters who can hold this kind of book together for a few arcs (e.g. Magneto, Storm, Cable, X-Man, Hope, Kitty, Quicksilver, Kid Omega) so long as they are actually given an ending.

    I think they can just about get away with having one book that is “just another X-Men book”. But right now, you have Uncanny X-Force, Amazing X-Men, X-Men and Astonishing X-Men all filling similar roles.

  4. The original Matt says:

    So Amazing X-men is just going to be a filler title? I was hoping for an “important” title.

    I hate having to say it like that, but when your line is so diluted with books, unless you’re a completist you’ve got to pick and choose, and generally what you’ll pick and choose are the “important” ones, and maybe one or two fringe titles based on creative teams/characters used.

  5. clay says:

    Incidentally, there’s something more than a little unedifying about artists making absurdly exaggerated claims for the power and importance of art (i.e., of artists), but it’s amazing how often otherwise sensible writers do this kind of thing.

    I’ve noticed this kind of thing happens at the Oscars a lot. It’s why movies like Shakespeare In Love or The Artist win Best Picture, because they’re all about how Making Art is Important, and Artists are Important because they Make Art, which is Important. And because artists are the ones voting… well, let’s just say there’s selection bias at work.

  6. ZZZ says:

    Twice in the issue, Karma mentions being trained by Asgardians. I thought her only connection to Asgard was being lost in a wasteland for a while (during which time she did amass survival skills, but through experience, not training, as she was alone except for a small child the entire time). Am I misremembering Karma’s backstory or is Marjorie Liu?

  7. wwk5d says:

    I think Liu got Karma and Dani Moonstar mixed up…

  8. Brodie says:

    That seems like a pretty big gaffe. Be interesting to know if there was actually something preventing Dani being used?

  9. Niall says:

    Fearless Defenders perhaps?

  10. Rhuw Morgan says:

    I think you could throw Uncanny X-Force into the pile of pointless X-Books currently cluttering up bargain bins across the land, which is a shame as the first volume was so good.

  11. Brodie says:

    Oh, right. Fearless Defenders. Completely forgot that existed, even though I purchased and enjoyed the first few issues (before finances meant I had to stop buying monthly again).

  12. Suzene says:

    “For those who’ve stuck with the series to the end, this is a satisfying wrap-up issue…”

    I was underwhelmed, personally. The family/belonging theme has been present throughout Liu’s run, but was really pushed to the forefront for theses last few issues and kind of killed the book’s momentum. This issue just felt like Liu remembered she had some tidying up to do before the book wrapped and did the barest resolution to most of the long-running character threads. We don’t even see the resolution to the DOMA storyline, the Iceman’s “moving forward” was utterly trite for the level of damage she had him do during his arc, Cecilia and Gambit going on an actual date kind of comes out of nowhere for how long it’s been since that was touched on, and, though Warbird got the most solid resolution, a third time around for her artsy doubts was, at least for my money, the least interesting of all.

    There were a lot of moments I liked in Liu’s run, but the pacing and tone of her run were so uneven that it just never seemed to quite come together.

    From how Aaron’s been pitching it, it sounds like Amazing is supposed to be more like Excalibur while making WatXM a less crowded, while Adjectiveless is more straight-forward superheroing.

  13. kingderella says:

    Random question: is it possible that Liu is the first writer on an X-Men main title who *isn’t* a white, straight man? I was just thinking about that lately, and I can’t really think of anybody else.

  14. DeeDee says:

    Joss Whedon is straight?

  15. Suzene says:

    @kinderella – Louise Simonson had runs on New Mutants and X-Factor. I’d consider those main, as they were before we had half a dozen books with “X-Men” in the title each month.

  16. D. says:

    Jim Lee and Wilce Portacio also “wrote” X-titles for about a year. Neither is white.

  17. D. says:

    Also, it’s certainly an assumption that all of the writers have been “straight.”

  18. Niall says:

    Fabian Nicieza? He’s from Argentina. Pretty sure Joss is straight.

    I hate these discussions. Why am I even replying.

  19. Zoomy says:

    For shame, true believers, don’t you remember Loquacious Linda Fite’s fairer-sex featurette about Marvel Girl, back in the Silver Age? 🙂

  20. The original Matt says:

    Zoomy… Wasn’t it the “so-called fairer sex”

  21. The original Matt says:

    Oops. Forgot the question mark.

    So called fairer sex?

  22. sagatwarrior says:

    Ummm… Isn’t Jack Kirby and Stan Lee Jewish?

  23. errant says:

    Is there something about being Jewish that would preclude them from being straight or white?

  24. D. says:

    @errant — strictly speaking, no. But the phrase “straight, white male,” typically has the implication of “from Christian descent” included.

  25. Niall says:

    D – As anyone who has played Bioshock Infinite can tell you, that changes over time.

    “White” and “Caucasian” are pretty idiotic concepts. It always confused me as a kid why an Italian or Greek person was regarded as white but an Argentinian or a Turkish person was not.

    We might as well argue about which Marvel writers were muggles.

  26. The real question is which of the Marvel writers were commie Skrulls.

  27. D. says:

    @Niall — Absolutely. Ethnic and racial categories are all very fuzzy around the edges. I’m not taking any particular position about who belongs in what ethic or racial category. I’m simply explaining why someone might mention being Jewish as an example of non-white, straight male.

  28. Spacedog2 says:


    Maybe in 1960, but that kind of implied addition (“from Christian descent”) hasn’t generally been made in the last few decades. Regardless, I see why you posted the explanation.

  29. D. says:

    In some contexts, when I hear someone refer to “straight, white men,” I still understand them to mean Christians (or of Christian heritage). In some circumstances, not as much.

    For example, if someone complains to me that the U.S. Senate is filled with straight, white men, I wouldn’t suppose they were also complaining about the lack of Jewish representation, because Jews have been well represented in the Senate for a long time.

    On the other hand, if someone complained to me that their 19th century literature class overrepresented straight, white men, I would assume that Jewish authors were also poorly represented, and that was part of the complaint.

    In comics, it’s not clear to me whether the observation includes or excludes Jewish authors. Thus, I thought the commenters response was a reasonable one.

    Though Jews have made significant strides in integration and tolerance in the U.S. (more than any other minority, except Catholics), there are still areas of social and cultural life where Jews have been historically underrepresented, and remain so. The phrase “straight, white male” is meant as shorthand for exclusion of minorities; in some cases Jews still qualify as an excluded minority. In others, not so much.

    Europe, and other parts of the world may be quite different.

    (Full disclosure: I’m Jewish).

  30. errant says:

    I always assume comic book writers are godless heathens like myself.

  31. Odessasteps says:

    If there was an area where Jewish creators have been fairly represented, it’s comics, going all the way back to Stan, Jack, Eisner and Siegel and Shuster.

  32. ZZZ says:

    I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but in my opinion, if someone’s complaining about there being too many “straight white men” in a comic because they feel that historically marginalized groups are being underrepresented, that’s a legitimate complaint; if someone’s complaining because they just don’t like straight men of a particular skin color, they’re just as much a bigot as someone who refuses to include minoritites in their work.

    In that context, pointing out that someone who is techincally a “straight white male” is also a member of a historically marginalized group is relevant.

    That doesn’t mean that someone should make a superhero team of all straight white men and claim they’re diverse because one’s left-handed, one’s a tax collector, one’s a senior citizen, one has red hair and green eyes, and one has leprosy, and, hey, those are all groups that have been shunned or persecuted. But do think it’s unfair to characterize someone as only willing to provide opportunities to “straight white men” when they have employed members of groups who have been legitimately discriminated against.

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