Review: Uncanny X-Men #444, Astonishing X-Men #1

Title: Uncanny X-Men #444
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover price: $2.25
Release date: May 5
Creative Team: Chris Claremont, writer; Alan Davis, penciller; Mark Farmer, inker

Title: Astonishing X-Men #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover price: $2.99
Release date: May 26
Creative Team: Joss Whedon, writer; John Cassaday, art

The X-Men “reload” has begun, and honestly, if it wasn’t for all the hype, most people probably wouldn’t have noticed. The covers are a good tip-off that something’s different, though, featuring Nightcrawler’s tail and Wolverine’s claws, respectively, in iconic close-up. This is Marvel’s attempt to show that X-Men is returning to its roots.

And with Uncanny X-Men, it works. Sort of. Claremont opens the issue with our favorite mutants playing a game of baseball. While Claremont’s strength has always been showcasing the X-Men’s personal interaction in the midst of epic battles, this sequence is an all-too-obvious introduction to characters’ personalities and conflicts. For new readers who’ve never seen anything like this before, this may be fun. For the rest of us, this feels like a throwaway sequence.

The rest of the comic introduces the plotline — the title focuses on a branch of X-Men that do the government’s bidding call the X-treme Sanctions Executive. There’s more insight into character personality, and then there’s some fighting.

While Claremont’s contribution to the X-Men universe can’t be discredited, this is not, by any means, his strongest work. Davis’ and Farmer’s art is, as always, lushly detailed throughout, but one can’t help but feel they may be wasted here. Uncanny X-Men has always been the constant of the X-books so it’s not going away any time soon, but let’s hope Claremont finds his voice with it once again. This issue mostly felt like a retread.

Astonishing X-Men #1, however, is definitely astonishing. Joss Whedon has already proven he’s adept at juggling large ensembles of characters, each with distinct personalities (and powers), through his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and even the short-lived Firefly. It’s no surprise that he shines here. His writing feels both familar and fresh. While obviously drawing inspiration from the classic Claremont run, Whedon brings his own voice to these characters without betraying their pasts.

Whedon focuses the first issue on Kitty Pryde, and her re-introduction into the X-Men allows an entry point for both new and older readers. Backstory is inserted when it needs to be, and unlike in Uncanny X-Men, characters’ conflicts actually move the issue forward. There’s no wasted dialogue or action here (there’s actually, refreshingly, very little action. There’s no unncessary fight scenes that are just there for sake of themselves).

John Cassaday’s artwork is gorgeous. He brings a humanity to the X-Men that brings them closer to earth. His faces are remarkably expressive and a good compliment to Whedon’s words. The two are a good match for each other.

With any luck, the displaced fans of both Buffy and Angel will turn to Astonishing X-Men for their Whedon fix. Fans of X-Men will find this a beautiful return-to-form — a perfect blend of personality and action (or more, in this case, the promise of action). For those who love both the X-Men and Buffy, there’s no greater joy than this issue. A month is going to be a very long time to wait.