Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Joss Whedon is my master now

In which I totally Nerd Out so you may as well skip it, seriously

Title in reference to a T-shirt I've seen advertised on the internet, and not sincere.

Indeed, until fairly recently, I was not 100% sure if his name was "Josh Whedon" or "Joss Wheaton" or what. I have watched perhaps a grand total of ten minutes of his show Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not interested). I have never watched Firefly or Serenity (one's a show and one's a movie; I don't know which is which). But I have now finally finished reading all four trade paperbacks of his comic, Astonishing X-Men. And I think a good case can be made that it's one of the best superhero narratives ever.

I know, I know. Joss Whedon is so uncool because he has those goofy teen shows that girls like, and the X-Men are so, so uncool because kids liked them way too much back in the '80s and '90s and they represent all that's excessive and juvenile about comics. So we grown-ups who read good comics like Watchmen and books by dark, serious writers like Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis can't possibly enjoy this.

But I do read those things, and I read Shakespeare and Herodotus too, and I enjoyed the hell out of this series. No, it's not on a level with Watchmen, which is so damn good that intelligent Normals can pick it up and be enthralled, or even The Dark Knight. But Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men is, in my view, a rock-solid superhero tale, packed with references for long-time fans, bits of humor, snappy dialogue, a zigzagging plot that keeps the reader off-balance throughout, a rock-solid sense of pacing and foreshadowing, a steady hand at the continuity helm, and plenty of old-fashioned push-it-to-the-limit superheroics.

In the desultory, assured way the team faces and overcomes the unknown, saves the world, and honors an unspoken code of heroism, it reminds me of the best parts of Grant Morrison's previous run on New X-Men, whichI found mostly lacking. Yes. I am comparing Joss Whedon's take on these characters favorably to Grant Morrison's.

I don't want to quote bits of the books, because I'd end up quoting about a hundred little quips and rejoinders. But so many scenes and plotlines stand out in my memory:
  • Kitty's speech when she finds Colossus alive.
  • The catty interplay, that develops into a very grudging respect, between Kitty and Emma Frost.
  • Wolverine being mentally reverted back to 19th-century fop James Howlett, fleeing an enraged Beast and his own claws, and referring with chaste shock at Emma's lack of clothing ("I could clearly see the silhouette of her undercurve").
  • Scott and Emma bickering like a married couple while working seamlessly as a team in an aerial dogfight.
  • The particularly nasty, sly way the villain Danger suddenly asserts herself (there's something somehow more cruel in goading a vulnerable person into suicide than in murdering him outright).
  • The usually disparaged Cyclops being a leader, heroic, and, when he wants to be, unstoppable.
  • The masterful way Whedon tricks the reader again and then again, when Emma betrays the team --- or does she? Yes. And no. And yes again. But not really.
  • The X-Men fighting a giant monster while conducting inner monologues about their private lives and worries, until we get to Wolverine, whose only thoughts are: "I really like beer."
  • The Fantastic Four's terrific cameo.
  • And, in the finest example of the kind of selfless heroism that I read these kinds of comics for, Colossus willing to revert to his human form and be burned alive, rather than stay metal and so short-circuit the core that holds a brutal warworld together, which would kill its genocidal inhabitants (who want him dead). And it's done with no angsty Chris Claremont-esque speeches, but offhand, no explanation necessary.
I just think that Whedon gets it; he really gets that the X-Men are about defending an ungrateful, hateful public, but also about total loyalty when the chips are down. You know... heroism. Making life worthwhile instead of giving in to despair when things are bleak. And yes, he tosses in perhaps a bit too much of the snappy TV dialogue, but I'd rather that than the soulless angst of some more "mature" comics writers these days.

So, yeah, I like this comic a lot. As Kitty says:

"Everything is so fragile. There's so much conflict, so much pain. You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize this is it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along --- that weird, unbearable delight that's actually happy --- I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's there, and then... gone."


Rebel said...

Firefly is the TV show, Serenity is the movie. I won't say Joss Whedon is my master or anything, but I LOVED Firefly/Serenity, and will never forgive FOX for screwing that show over. It could have been a classic, the characters are really well developed and his world was far more plausable than most of the popular science fiction out there. IMHO.

Churlita said...

I like Joss Whedon too, but I don't go quite as crazy for him as some of my friends.

daveawayfromhome said...

Yeah, judging by your description of this series, I'd say that you'd probably like Firefly. It's biggest drawback is that there's not enough of it.

Word verification: "densei"; the master of the Bush Dojo.