In the virtually impenetrable world of X-Men where about 40 titles are released a month, forever ensuring that everyone but the most devoted individual will have any idea what’s going on, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s 2004 title Astonishing X-Men was an inviting prospect. Here, Whedon, in his debut superhero title (but not his debut comic work, which was Fray, released a few years earlier by Dark Horse), took his brand of dialogue and storytelling and applied it to the Marvel Universe.
The book instantly found an audience, selling over 100,000 copies a month and being well received by newcomers and X-fans alike. It highlighted what was wrong with much of Marvel’s needlessly overcomplicated X-output, but that wasn’t really its main achievement – Astonishing X-Men towers above its mainstream contemporaries because it essentially updates the template used by Chris Claremont when he rebooted the X-Men back in the Seventies.
The same sense of fun and easygoing storytelling structure was there, but it had greater resonance with modern audiences, reflecting maturity of the medium in its dialogue and story content.
The story introduces a new element to the Marvel Universe – the SHIELD counterpart SWORD – while also reintroducing Colossus to the X-Men line-up. Whedon actually managed to bring a character back from the dead without it feeling crass, contrived or unnecessary, something that very few comic book writers can do without an air of cynicism.
Whedon’s run lasted for 24 issues, and was bookended by a giant-sized special. You can pick them all up in four trade paperbacks, or, as in my case, two lovely hardcover volumes. There’s also a giant omnibus edition available. Fans of Whedon’s other works won’t regret picking them up.