Pick of the Week

11.07.2007 – Astonishing X-Men #23

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Writer – Joss Whedon
Artist – John Cassaday
Colorist – Laura Martin
Letterer – Chris Eliopoulos

Marvel Comics – $2.99

Hear me now and believe me later, iFanboy Faithful, this was a great week for comics! Anytime you have more than five books that make you say “Wow!” to yourself after you’ve put them down , you’re in good shape. Unless you have the Pick of the Week, and then you’re in a wee spot of trouble. This week saw the Skrull sleeper agent (agents?) finally revealed, and a bit of closure for a haunted vet. It gave us a shocking cliffhanger on an Indian reservation, and a hard scrabble old west bounty hunter in the twilight of his life. It also gave us some kickass mutant mayhem in not one, but two comics.

Really, in the end, it was Scott Summers’ smile that did it.

I don’t know if it was Joss Whedon’s stated goal to make everyone see what a badass Cyclops could be, but I’ll be damned if that’s not what he did. We’ve seen flashes of it throughout this absolutely stellar run from Whedon and Cassaday, but the magnificent crescendo was hit in Astonishing X-Men #23 that was so viscerally satisfying for me, the casual X-Men fan, I cannot even begin to imagine how the hardcore X-reader felt by the end of this issue.

Let’s back track. At the end of the last issue we had to talk Ron down off a ledge because it appeared that Cyclops had sacrificed his life so that his fellow X-Men might escape the pissed off denizens of Breakworld. No one (except for Ron) actually believed he was dead, but it was still a pretty cool moment. As it turns out, he wasn’t dead. Well, he was, but he was brought back to life, which seems to be something that is rather commonplace on Breakworld (see: Colossus). Lucky for the Breakworlders, right? They’ve got the leader of the X-Men strapped to their torture table all ready to give up their secrets. Wrong. They’re in quite a bit of trouble.

One of my favorite things about this issue was how Whedon slowly revealed to us that what we thought was happening wasn’t what was really happening, and what had happened previously was not all it appeared. In a absolutely great scene, we see that the somewhat stilted and mundane conversation the X-Men have on their stolen escape ship before Cyclops sacrifices himself is actually a performance for the Breakworld bugs when in actuality the real conversation is happening telepathically. It was a clever bit of writing and was realized beautifully by Chris Eliopoulos’ layered word balloons.

Whedon’s in top form on this book. What I look for in a Whedon script is the funny in the midst of the tense action and he sure did deliver with this one. I laughed out when Wolverine demoted Armor from the X-Men to Excalibur in the middle of a big slugfest.

But really, this was all about the final scene. Just as we, the reader, have most of the truth about Cyclops’ plan revealed to us and our heads are swirling with the implications of all the revelations, Whedon plays the badass Cyclops card. During the classic “Bad Guy lords over tied up Good Guy” scenario, Kruun still thinks he has Cyclops right where he wants him, even though Cyclops is not giving Kruun the answers he wants. Kruun gets right in Cyclops’ face and bellows:

What other lies have you told?!!

Cut to an extreme close up of a smiling Scott Summers whose eyes radiate a palpable intensity. That panel actually made me gasp – and not just because I realized what was coming next – and I was not disappointed when I turned the page to find three fantastic panels showcasing the full, unleashed might of a pissed off man with optic blasts. And it goes on for another two pages! And if that’s not enough, Cyclops’ final page declaration made me pump my fist not only because the final six pages were absolutely exhilarating, but because I cn now finally see Scott Summers for who he is, for who he has probably always been:

The badass leader of the X-Men.

As a casual X-Men fan, this seems to me to be the kind of plot that you’d normally find centering around Wolverine. One X-Men all alone with the bad guys who think they have the upperhand but now they’re screwed because they’ve pissed off the wrong guy. But it’s not Wolverine this time, it’s Cyclops, and I loved that.

Can we have a slow clap for John Cassaday, please? Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada has said that Cassaday is taking a break from regular comics work after he’s done on this book and the man is going out (temporarily… hopefully) with a bang. From first page to last this is one of the best looking books I’ve seen in a while. Cassaday is master right now, there’s no other way to describe him. He is perfectly paired with Joss Whedon, whose scripts make these fantastic characters seem all the more real and utilize Cassaday’s gift for realism and facial expressions. One thing that has always struck me about Cassaday’s work is the way he draws eyes. They are probably the most important part of any rendering of a human(oid) face and Cassaday’s eyes have so much life and so much soul to them. You can absolutely follow the story just by reading the characters’ eyes and ignoring the word balloons.

It may not have come out regularly over the course if its run, but there are not many books out there that I can think of that have reached such sustained creative heights as this one has.

Conor Kilpatrick
To me, my fanboys!
conor@ifanboy.com

Did you read Astonishing X-Men #23?
Add a comment and tell everyone what you think about this week’s comics!
I don’t know if it was Joss Whedon’s stated goal to make everyone see what a badass Cyclops could be, but I’ll be damned if that’s not what he did.

Comments

  1. Hell yes!

    Great, great book.

    Those optic blast pages…

    The book truly lives up to its name.

  2. wow conor picks a X-Men book???? great choice conor, my pick as well. although Illuminati #5 was a close second….btw, first post!

  3. Terrific review. I can’t wait to read this tomorrow when I get my comics.

  4. Every freaking book I picked up today was awsome. Illuminati set up the Skrull war great. Criminal was as good as always. X-men, great. What a tough week to make a pick.

  5. *golf clap*

    There were a hell of a lot of good books this week and as I hit the home stretch, it came down to this and Illuminati. I still can’t decide which was better because they both had moments where I literally said to myself “Holy shit…”

    While I still can’t decide what my own personal POW would be, I (once again) cannot disagree with this one. This issue was (as Nightcrawler might put it), phantastich!

  6. Great pick Conor and I’m right there with you on the slow clap for John Cassaday.

    I was reading this while my girlfriend was doing homework and when Scott released his powers I started freaking out and yelling how awesome it was….she didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm.

    I’m going to miss Whedon and Cassaday so much and I can’t wait to see how this story is going to end, I love it!

    One more thing, has anyone talked about how great Whedon writes Hank McCoy? It’s like a perfect mix of brilliance and sarcasm, it has me laughing out loud in every issue.

  7. I’m not one given to hyperbole about these things– and I hope I’m not engaging in it now– but this might have been the best week of comics for me all year.

    First book I read was New Avengers: Illuminati. WOW. “The panel” with Black Bolt: ho-lee-crap. In recent months I’ve been somewhat critical of Bendis, and I have been less than enthusiastic about the whole Skrull invasion thing. All that’s water under the bridge now— I’m on BOARD, baby. I will say that, it seemed that after the Elektra reveal, New Avengers was just spinning its wheels. Maybe New Avengers was just waiting on this Illuminati #5 to come out?and Illuminati #5 was being held up by Mighty AvengerS…? I don’t know, but this was a really, really good issue.

    Anyway, after reading Illuminati, I thought none of the other books in my stack would even come close to it. I was wrong. The very next book I read was Astonishing X-Men #23, and it AWESOME. I think I want to have Cyclops’ children now. Seriously. Maybe Ron and I can raise them together…? Now I?m even angrier about the way he was summarily killed off in the third X-men movie (off screen, no less).

    On top of those two great books, Robin #168 was very, very good. In lighter weeks, it would?ve been my POW. I?m loving the rivalry between Damien and Tim– can?t wait to see how that develops if and when the story from Lying in the Gutters turns out to be true. And, of course, there was that panel early in Robin #168 which seemed to be foreshadowing that the Lying in the Gutters story has merit.

    Oh, and Uncanny X-men #492 was also really good. Again, another good Cyclops scene– where he tells off Xavier, and then Xavier mopes around the mansion. Loved it.

    Other books this week: Iron First #10: what? Didn’t know or care what was going on with all the backstory. Criminal #10: talk about anticlimactic.

  8. Well done. Though this, Uncanny, Criminal, and Illuminati were all great this week, ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST #1 was by far the best! the reveal at the end was nothing short of AWESOME!!!!!

  9. I didn’t pick this up, mainly because I want to read these in hardcover only. I figure since they take so long in issue form and I’d have to wait anyway, I’ll just wait to get the whole story. That said, I love this series.

    I had a really strong week as well, though I felt a couple of issues weren’t as good as the rest.

    Criminal was kind of disappointing to me because the ending had less bang than I thought it would. Last issue left me thinking that Tracy was going to be a badass and exact his revenge…maybe the heist wouldn’t even happen. But it did, and then he didn’t really get his revenge in the end. I guess I can see this as am important plot technique in order to keep the character’s story moving, and even Bru himself professed his love for the character. Still, I just wanted see him get his total revenge.

    Immortal Iron Fist was kind of on this same page, but only because the focus wasn’t on Danny. I thought with the momentum from last issue and the annual, we would see more on Orson or Danny’s return to the tournament but we got neither. I’m sure in the grand scheme this issue will matter, so I’m not worried. It was just unexpected.

    I’m officially lost in Omega: The Unknown! I think Lethem thinks that we all have some deep understanding of this F-List character. I appreciate the books charm and it’s art, but I have no freaking idea what the hell is going on. So…unless the winds tell me different, this is barf.

    Scapled was so fucking good this week. When I read the end of the book, I literally said, “Holy shit!” Jason Aaron and R.M. Guiera continue to rock my world with this book. Definitely my pick this week.

    I didn’t really like the conclusion to Hellboy: Darkness Calls only because I had no freakin’ clue what was going on. I’ve decided that this weeekend, I’m going to read the whole thing through and see if I can understand the story better. That said, the art was phenomenal in this book (and the artist’s name escapes me).

    Ok, now this is getting insanely long so I’ll close by saying that Robin, Illuminati, and Iron Man: Enter the Madarin were all awesome reads as well. As everyone has said, this was a fantastic week.

  10. I am so glad I don’t work in the iFanboy offices, because I could not have hailed just one comic book as the week’s best.

    Illuminati — Very cool. I am glad the reveal happened early, like Cap’s assassination in Cap #25. We got a great fight out of it. However I am a little disappointed that it ended on the same note that New Avengers did after that team discovered the Skrull plot, distrust.

    Astonishing — I believe the young X-Lady was demoted to Excalisuck. Hilarious.

    Annihilation Conquest — So Frank Cho could have effed everything up if Marvel had decided to wait for him to catch up. I wasn’t expecting that last page.

    I am going to have reread Criminal because it was at the bottom of my pile and I was falling asleep as I read it.

    I got ten books and they all delivered something satisfying. Wow.

  11. My review of Illuminati

  12. I’ve only been able to read one of my books so far (I just couldn’t wait to see who the Skrull agent was), and it was freakin’ AWESOME. Another high point in this isue that I think Ron said we never see is Black Bolt speaking and then things blowing up (at least… I think that’s what happened).

    As for non-issues that I got recently: I finished Sleeper, which is awesome (thanks for the recommendation), bought the first trade of Dynamo 5 (also awesome), got Crecy awhile back (the most awesome of the awesome), and just got the trade of Dark Tower that I’ve heard is good but never got to read.

    the downside? My shop didn’t get omega the unknown or criminal, so I need to find those elsewhere…

  13. this book rocked me six ways to sunday!!!!!!!!

    I was on the train ride home and had to let out an audible “oh SHIT!!!” with that Cyclops panel… Kitty’s “acting” skills were an LLOL moment for me as well

  14. Conor, i have to say that this was the best review i’ve ever read on this site. You captured everything i loved about this issue. Good Job buddy!
    That book was indeed badass-ness in paper form and i can’t wait to hear this week’s podcast and Ron’s thoughts on this book. Cyclops must be whedon’s favorite character and now thanks to his run, he has written the definitive Cyke story and elevated the character to the point were i will never read him the same again. I always saw scott a big boyscout, the x-men’s version of superman. but this issue showed why he deserved to the x-men’s leader and that he is one helluva superhero.
    Even when i was reading this week’s issue of Uncanny, where there was a more typical version of Cyclops, i thought damn if he’s not supercool. Whedon’s has turned me around, i am now a cylcops fan, good job.

    As much as i loved the Illuminati (and the fact that my store got gipped on Criminal), this issue was worth the wait (something you can’t say too often in comics) and i cannot wait until whedon wraps this up!!!

  15. has anyone talked about how great Whedon writes Hank McCoy?

    I haven’t actually talked about it, but I’ve noticed it the entire time. The pinnacle, though, was the “and you’re looking at my like I’m a taun-taun.” line to Agent Brand from two (or three?) issues ago.

    I’m officially sad Whedon’s leaving the book, now.

  16. Of the six books I purchased this week, Astonishing X-Men was the only book I’ve read yet. After I finished it, I thought “Surely this is the pick of the week!” Lo and behold…it is! Glad to see it! What issue is the conclusion of the series (or the Whedon/Cassaday run?) Issue 24? 25?

  17. Did anybody else notice the quote on the back of Criminal? Yay, free advertising!

    This week was so packed, it was sick. I have no idea what was my favorite since I’m still processing it all, but I’m super hyped about Annihilation, and Messiah Complex’s shaping up to be interesting.

  18. Why does it feel like Colossus should be wearing an iPod for that cover?

  19. Great Pick (what a week!)…
    It was definitely cyclops week over in the X-universe, and its great to see that both creative teams gave him his due as a commanding character. Whedon has given us the definitive Cyclops, and I hope other creators can take that ball and run with it over in the Messiah CompleX.
    Criminal was top notch again, gotta give it some props. The ‘Lawless’ trade is due out before the holidays, and its gonna make a great gift.

  20. Another light week for me. Couldn’t really pick a POW, although sadly it most certainly wasn’t Iron Fist. I do have to say though, the most “Holy shit!” moment of this weeks books was in Illuminati #5, with the Skrull reveal.

    Ah hell, make my POW that issue, no matter how bad three of the previous four issues sucked. (I liked the Beyonder one!)

    Some of the subplots in Y the Last Man #59 ended a bit too abruptly for me to enjoy the issue. That said, the fact that 60 is the last one is killing me.

  21. Did anybody else notice the quote on the back of Criminal? Yay, free advertising!

    I noticed the quote on the back of Criminal also. I loved criminal but I think i was most excited when I saw that quote from Mr. Kilpatrick’s review. Idk if I’m making too bid a deal about this but congrats. You were quoted on the back of one of your favorite books. I really do love both this site and the podcast and I love any attention that is thrown towards you guys. Keep up the good work.

  22. I read it, but it’s not my POW. I don’t know it was just bleh to me. However i did like Uncanny 492, and Robin is still consistently good.

  23. Wow Illuminati #5, and the best part of criminal was the back page.

  24. My shop had their Astonishing shipment damaged by UPS, so sent them back. Hope to have it soon, glad to hear it will be worth the wait.

    On another note, doesn’t anybody read Fantastic Four anymore? McDuffie’s run has been excellent, and will be sad to see it end. I believe the issue this week really laid the foundation for ret-conning the whole Civil War mess.

    Also, Reed is the Skrull? BOOM! Headshot Namor.

  25. My thought process during the last few pages of Astonishing:

    Eff yes he has his powers back….Oh eff he never lost his powers….Eff me he finally has full control….Eff yes.

  26. pick of the goddamn year

  27. I OBJECT

    “No I don’t… Astonishing X-men was the greatest read. I, of course, loved the telepathic sequence…”

    Can’t wait to have this beautiful piece of art on trade.

    Congratulations guys!
    Quoted on the back of Criminal!!! It’s cool to see you guys grow every step of the way. That said.

    Was this a surprise for you?

  28. Illuminati #5 – holy crap! Hit me out of nowhere – i was expecting all kinds of setting things up then bam. Hell yeah

  29. O.K looking at Namor’s miniseries last issue…
    It’s clear Marvel’s using Namor to play Black Adam’s role for his universe… And at last issue this similarity just came bursting out of the pages.

  30. Namor is not going to be punching a hole through the chest of anything but Skrulls.

    I think someone’s reading way too much into the latest Fantastic Four. Never believe the closing cliffhanger, me boyo; it’s only designed to fool ye.

  31. Is it just me, or does the whole trade argument have the ring of the anti-debate to the sixties to it?

    At the risk of insulting someone: this is exactly the kind of thing Stan Lee supposedly bucked against, orchestrating the “Marvel era” in defiance of popular theory that comics readers were too dim to recall plot points from a previous issue, or understand overarching narrative.

    “Complicated” seems less like a euphamism for ‘poorly constructed,’ and more an extremely polite assessment of the readership grappling with twenty-two pages of text and pictures.

    Differences of style, pacing and story structure are the measures of a writer, and those differences are anything but a concession to claim one writer cannot be compared to another.
    “Good writing” is more black and white than some seem comfortable to acknowledge.

    Two writers duking it out from the starting point of the same editorial direction is no less a race than two rally cars that cut different lines on a track.

    Which, [to bring it back to the beginning], is where ‘better in the trade’ should be put aside as either a recognised personal condition/assessment, or a case of failing to communicate efficiently in a given medium.

    In vaguely agreeing with Ron; just as Stan Lee bucked against the condescending Golden Aged single-issue/short confinements — the OGN, or super-sized issue, may indeed be the next required step to satisfy a reader, and better seperate collections from alleged double-dipping.

  32. “My thought process during the last few pages of Astonishing:

    Eff yes he has his powers back….Oh eff he never lost his powers….Eff me he finally has full control….Eff yes.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  33. Did anyone notice the circulation notice in the back of Astonishing? It’s that quarter page of small text that details how many copies they publish, how many they give away for free, how frequently they publish–which, according to the notice, is 15 times a year.

    Humor at it’s finest.

  34. Hearing you guys talk about Jonah Hex has given me the idea of picking up one of the trades as a Christmas present for my dad. Since they are all done in one issues, any of them is probably as equally accessable as another, right? Is there a particular story that was better than all the others or is the magic of Jonah Hex that it is always the same level of hotness?

  35. The first and second trades are fairly consistent all the way through. No prior knowledge needed either.

  36. Thanks. I’ll get the first one and report back what happens. And I’ll be sure to click through the iFanboy store 🙂

  37. In my trying to catch up on titles, I read the last three issues of Jonah Hex last night and this morning and, DAMN, this is a good book. When you have a rotating cast of Jordi Bernet, Russ Heath, Phil Noto, et al on pencils, it can’t be bad.

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