“Astonishing X-Men”

The best movie, the best television show, and the best novel of the past year is not a movie, television show, or novel. Instead, it is a comic book.

The current run of Marvel’s “Astonishing X-Men“, a comic exploring life in a world where some humans are born with mutations that may or may not impart superhuman abilities, is by any measure an astonishing accomplishment. How can I make such a claim? Two words.

Joss Whedon.

If you do not know who Joss Whedon is, then you have never watched the television series “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer”, its spinoff “Angel”, or “Firefly”. And if you are shaking your head then you have no idea what you missed. Whedon is quite simply a genius. He takes multiple genres, mixes them together, and creates something that is at once fantastic entertainment and insightful commentary about human existence.

Whedon took over writing duties on “Astonishing X-Men” last year and has delivered 9 issues to date that have single-handedly made the comic a best-seller. Fans have been ecstatic with their praise. Each issue is packed with more heart, humor, horror, adventure, suspense and surprises than competing entertainment. Whedon obviously has a great deal of love and respect for the X-Men, most apparent in his treatment of Kitty Pryde, a mutant that can walk through solid matter. A former student at Professor Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning, Pryde returns to the school as a teacher. When a leading scientist announces in a press conference that she has discovered the cure for mutation, all hell breaks loose. The impact on the students and teachers at the school is profound and sets in motion a series of events that result in death, and resurrection.

It is one thing to claim that this is a great comic. It is quite another to compare it to other media. Whedon is not alone on this project. He works with John Cassaday, generally regarded as one of the best artists working in comics today, if not ever. His abilities set his art in motion. For those who argue that comics cannot compete against the motion graphics of movies and television, check out the two page spread of chaos in the Danger Room near the beginning of issue 9. Colorist Laura Martin is equally as talented and her color choices help emotionally enhance the action.

In the middle of the action is a strong sense of humor, sometimes so subtle that your reaction might be a long thoughtful pause followed by a full belly laugh. The humor is often unexpected, such as conversations in the background of the main action, or a witty observation after a very serious discussion about what it means to be different from others.

This is by no means an independent production, but “Astonishing X-Men” in the hands of Whedon, Cassaday, and Martin is an example of how the independent passion is reshaping aesthetics. Independent passion blends a child-like wonder with an adult wit and work ethic. I dislike using the term “transcendent” because of its dualist assumptions, but if material transcendence exists, then “Astonishing X-Men” is an example. Even if you have never read a comic before, this is the title to buy.