Tuesday, October 11, 2011

IN REVIEW: Astonishing X-Men / Ghost Box

It's been a super long time since I did one of my "In Review" blogs for a graphic novel title (not really, since really I just make sure they more official sounding when I blog them on the library's site proper). Usually, official library blogs tend to be uber positive and I gush over just how much I really enjoyed reading a particular trade. But... always being happy with what you read? That's unrealistic. You can't like everything. And while I didn't hate Warren Ellis' take on Astonishing X-Men titled "Ghost Box" - I wasn't the biggest fan of it, either.

Following Joss Whedon's run on an immediate Eisner-award winning book must have been hard. Especially since people loved Whedon's X-Men so much. I enjoyed the fusion of taking two things I love - things written by Joss Whedon and X-Men comic books, and having them combined, but Whedon had a lot of problems when it came to writing the overall storyarcs. Both the Cassandra Nova and ultimate Ord homeplanet storylines made little sense, and while he returned Kitty Pryde to regular X-Men stories for the first time in years, he also effectively removed her by chucking her into the infinite vastness of space. Way to be cool and suck all at the same time.

Some of the things he did do were cool, including having the Danger Room achieve sentience and try to kill the team. "Danger" as she becomes dubbed, eventually goes after Xavier, who in a plot twisty is revealed as knowing the room was self-aware, but chose to ignore it because he's secretly a bastard. That made for a good story, because I really like that humanizing stuff where Xavier is shown to be super fallible and kind of a jerk. While I liked the idea of Emma Frost being deceptively evil, I feel like he copped out in the end and didn't pull the trigger. That was kind of disappointing.

Ellis' X-Men are kind of jaded, world weary and more importantly reluctant heroes. He makes excellent use of Wolverine by not making him the star; you really get the sense that Wolverine is an on-edge dude who barely gets through the day. Like, he'll hack somebody to bits for looking at him crosseyed. He's also pretty dismissive of Cyclops' leadership in this tale, which is both a call back to the X-Men Animated Series and reflects their current philosophical split in the current storyline X-Men Schism. I hate that Hisako essentially becomes the Kitty/Jubilee young female sidekick of Wolverine in this story, because he never really seems to get a handle on her as a character. She comes across as a brat. You're kind of happy when she gets shot in the foot with a laser.

While the characters are written extremely well, especially Ororo and Emma (they rock individually, but those panels of them together? That's high comedy stuff. More of that, please), there are a few problems I had with the underlying story. The bizarre transdimensional Ghost Box is never really explained in a satisfying way, and the alterna-mutants vs. the faux mutants with the weird chromosome was far too complicated to be truly fun. Great of course to see Beast in his element trying to explain these things (he did somewhat get the shaft during Whedon's run), but the whole thing gets bogged down in this cerebral head space that made me not rush to continue reading the story to it's conclusion. It was easy to lose me as a longtime X-Men fan, and I trust others felt very similar, too.

The gritty artwork goes a long way in complimenting Ellis' snarky style, but... it's that weird painting art that's hard for me to get into. It just looks very rich, but the muted pallet helped me digest the look of the whole thing a lot more. Some of the more intricate technological stuff could be too busy to focus on, but things like Cyclops' optic blast and Emma's diamond form get upgrades in a staggeringly beautiful way. While it's worth reading, longtime fans will feel a little miffed when Forge just appears insane seemingly for no reason (that makes sense anyway) and promptly seems to die by gigantic space laser of doom. Kind of ridiculous. Still, worth reading, if just for the fun character moments. Cyclops is kind of hot and badass for the entire story. That alone makes it all worth it.

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