Comics
Published May 28, 2020

‘Astonishing X-Men’: A Series Retrospect

Read Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s iconic X-Men run, all on Marvel Unlimited.

The X-Men are always at their best when creators with vision are at the helm. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the franchise, but it was Chris Claremont and artists like Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, and Jim Lee, who set the tone for nearly two decades. In 2001, Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN took the mutant heroes in bold, new directions. Following Morrison’s run was no easy task, but two talented creators didn’t balk at the challenge. Instead, they astonished us.

Astonishing X-Men (2004) #1

Astonishing X-Men (2004) #1

What is Marvel Unlimited?

Eight years before he directed Marvel Studios’ The Avengers on the big screen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon signed on to write ASTONISHING X-MEN (2004) alongside artist John Cassaday, who had recently wrapped an acclaimed stint on CAPTAIN AMERICA (2002). Whedon and Cassaday were a comic book dream team. Laura Martin’s dazzling colors also helped bring Cassaday’s pages to life. Together, they created a 25-issue run that stands among the best X-Men comics ever created. It also marks a great entry point for new readers, especially those who don’t want to feel intimidated by the minutiae in mutant history.

ASTONISHING X-MEN (2004) #1 plays out like a continuation of Morrison’s run, but also calls back to key moments from Claremont’s era:

Kitty
Get the reference from UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #143!
Kitty
And UNCANNY X-MEN #168!

Kitty Pryde has returned to the fold after several years away from the team. Jean Grey’s death in NEW X-MEN (2001) #150 still lingers over Xavier’s Mansion, and Wolverine clearly takes issue with how quickly Cyclops, AKA Scott Summers, has moved on with the White Queen, AKA Emma Frost.

Wolverine

The first issue also had a new mission statement for the team, as Cyclops brought the X-Men back to their Super Hero roots with retooled costumes and a reaffirmation of their goals. Whedon and Cassaday also kept the cast down to a manageable core group: Wolverine, Cyclops, Emma, Beast, and Kitty. Additionally, the first issue introduced Dr. Kavita Rao and Ord of the Breakworld, both of whom were instrumental in creating a “cure” for mutant abilities.

Cure

The first issue also had a new mission statement for the team, as Cyclops brought the X-Men back to their Super Hero roots with retooled costumes and a reaffirmation of their goals. Whedon and Cassaday also kept the cast down to a manageable core group: Wolverine, Cyclops, Emma, Beast, and Kitty. Additionally, the first issue introduced Dr. Kavita Rao and Ord of the Breakworld, both of whom were instrumental in creating a “cure” for mutant abilities.

The very idea of a cure rocked the team and their students in ASTONISHING X-MEN #3, as Beast contemplated taking it himself. That led to the first Beast vs. Wolverine fight in this series, but certainly not the last.

Beast

Beast also discovered that the cure was utilizing the DNA of a recently deceased mutant, soon revealed as Colossus, AKA Piotr Rasputin, Kitty’s former flame. In UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #390, Colossus heroically sacrificed himself to cure the Legacy Virus that claimed his little sister’s life. It was Kitty who found Colossus deep within Benetech, which made for one of the most memorable moments in the entire series.

Reunion

While the X-Men were away from the mansion, Ord weaponized the cure and stole the mutant abilities of Wing. Issue #5 gave the team their rematch with Ord, reuniting them with Colossus as well. But the stakes were upped dramatically in issue #6 when Abigail Brand, Agent of S.W.O.R.D., revealed the true interstellar stakes behind Ord’s vendetta against the team. One of the X-Men was destined to destroy the Breakworld, and Ord’s people were more than willing to wipe out the Earth before that could come to pass.

Whedon and Cassaday’s second storyline, “Dangerous,” unfolded in issues #7-12. The team’s current woes were only exacerbated when they discovered that the Danger Room had gained sentience! Now calling herself Danger, she took a robotic form and held a deadly grudge against the X-Men and their founder, Charles Xavier.

Danger

Issues #10-12 also dealt with the emotional fallout from the destruction of the mutant nation Genosha during Morrison’s run, as Xavier finally made his return. But the fact that Xavier knew about Danger’s sentience and didn’t free her from the Danger Room? That level of cruelty alienated Charles from his former students and mentees.

Xavier

The team had more pressing concerns in “Torn,” the subsequent storyline in issues #13-18. Emma’s loyalty to the X-Men came into question when a new Hellfire Club emerged that included Sebastian Shaw, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Perfection, and Cassandra Nova. In fact, it was Cassandra Nova who was singlehandedly responsible for wiping out Genosha in NEW X-MEN #115. Emma’s survivor’s guilt over that incident left her vulnerable to manipulation. Regardless of the mental torture that Cassandra unleashed upon them, the X-Men were on the verge of defeating her before Ord and Danger teamed up in attack. With time running out for Earth, Brand simply abducted the team, as well as Ord and Danger before setting a new course for Breakworld.

Hellfire

Whedon and Cassaday’s final story, “Unstoppable,” took place in issues #19-24 before wrapping up in GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN (2008) #1.

But the core heroes weren’t alone on their intergalactic trip. Armor, AKA Hisako Ichiki, was also along for the ride, and she was elevated to the main team for the duration of the mission. Additionally, Emma was able to find some common ground with Danger, which gave the team another ally as they faced an entire world dead set against wiping them out.

It turns out that the Breakworld’s prophecy was correct all along. One of the X-Men was a figure of destiny, and another member of the team sacrificed themselves to save Earth in a fate worse than death. GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN ended Whedon and Cassaday’s run on a hopeful, albeit heartbreaking note.

Giant-Size

The X-Men are no strangers to love and loss, and victories are often mixed with tragedy. This was one of those moments that truly landed, making for a memorable conclusion to an influential run.

All of ASTONISHING X-MEN is available on Marvel Unlimited, and it stands the test of time for both new and veteran readers. Give it a shot.

Cyclops

 

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