Written by Joss Whedon
Art by John Cassaday
Published by Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics have staged a resurgence in popularity built around name writers from other media. Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) wrote Daredevil; Reginald Hudlin (House Party) on Black Panther; J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) on The Amazing Spider-Man. And that trend continues with Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) on Astonishing X-Men (not to be confused with Ultimate X-Men, The Uncanny X-Men, or New X-Men).

Writing X-Men should come naturally to Joss Whedon, since he’s always been writing X-Men. By that I mean that if you watch any of his television shows (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly–soon to be the movie, Serenity) you will see that he’s always been writing teams. Buffy, herself, was patterned on his favorite X-Men, Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), which was why the first thing he did in issue #1 was bring her back to the fold.

Whedon’s run is reminiscent of the best of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne classic era of the X-Men (the era that introduced Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, and Phoenix to the group), replacing the stuffy wordiness Claremont was fond of with witty banter. He’s also the inheritor of the mantle left when Grant Morrison ended his imaginative run on New X-Men, wherein he left no “sacred cow” unturned and rejuvenated the franchise. The team dynamics have changed since those runs. Scott Summers (Cyclops) and Emma Frost run the school that Professor X founded. Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost take an immediate dislike to one another (the fact that Kitty’s first adventure as a part of the X-Men involved Emma Frost trying to kill her has something to do with this). Cyclops and Wolverine have their rivalry, fueled by testosterone and a mutual love of Jean Grey (Phoenix), upped a notch since her death. For that matter, Cyclops and Emma Frost are now in a relationship that is attempting to flower under the long shadow of Jean.

Also, I want to point out that Cassaday’s art (Planetary) is phenomenal. Crisp and clean, he captures both the cinematic scope of the X-Men and the richness of their characters. The X-Men have seen a return to the spandex, ditching the black leather outfits that marked Morrison’s run and their depiction in the X-Men movies. The return of their colorful outfits symbolize a renewal of their purpose.

“We will never live in a world of peace. Which is why control and non-violence are essential. We must prove ourselves a peaceful people. We must give the ordinary humans respect, compliance, and understanding.” –Emma Frost

The Astonishing X-Men is about a mission: the reconciliation between people groups, mutants and humans, to bring them together for peaceful coexistence. The mutant struggle has been used as symbolic commentary on racism for much of its run (such as in the classic X-Men graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills), but has come to also symbolize the plight of homosexuals (the legacy virus that afflicted mutants standing in for the AIDS virus or even the current worldview of mutants suffering from a genetic condition that possibly has a cure). The X-Men have sworn to use their gifts for a world that fears and hates them.

They are about an ideal, the peaceful coexistence of people, one in which they often can’t live up to themselves. Mutants may see themselves as a community, and that may be the goal that they work toward, but they aren’t there right now. The X-Men start by trying to be an example, a team. Despite their different gifts, their different temperaments, their different socio-economic backgrounds, they rally around a common goal. Unity in diversity.

“If none of us had limitations, what would God do with his time?” –Professor X

This set apart group of mutants see themselves as an elect, a group called for a purpose. Part of their mission is to provide a place for “evil mutants” to find redemption for their actions (Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Emma Frost). They have come to realize that they can’t be that example by being away or outside of the world in which they inhabit. That only increases the world’s distrust of them and view of them as freaks. They have to get into the world, be a living example of their goal among people. They have to incarnate their mission.

Joss Whedon has committed to a second year of The Astonishing X-Men. This first year has seen two major story arcs, so the second year will probably see two more. The X-Men are being ushered into a new era by recalling the greatness of their past. And believe me, it’s about time they’ve been handled this well.