“Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men” #1 is a frustrating conclusion to a frustrating run by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. First of all, this issue has absolutely no value unless you’ve read all the other issues of “Astonishing X-Men.” Well, no value other than Cassaday’s beautiful art — and it might be worth your hard-earned $4.99 just for that, I suppose. It’s not unusual for a comic to depend so heavily on previous issues, certainly not in this day of extended story arcs and “writing for the trade.” But to label this issue as “#1” of anything seems remarkably disingenuous. It’s not the beginning, it’s the end. The finale. The epic conclusion. The… well, you get the point.
Might this story, titled “Gone,” work better as the last chapter in the certain-to-be-announced “Astonishing X-Men Omnibus”? Certainly. And when that fifty-pound hardcover version comes out, I will buy it, mostly for the Cassaday artwork. But as a single issue, as an issue marked with a “#1,” this story just doesn’t have a whole lot of merit. And if I were judging the comic solely on that criteria, I’d probably only give it one star. (Perhaps you think it silly to consider this comic at all without the context in which it was written — and this is surely not meant to be picked up by new readers, you might think — but then, why the change in the title and why the new numbering?)
I’m not judging this issue purely on its appeal to the uninitiated. I’m also judging it on its contribution to the serialized story which began back in 2004 with “Astonishing X-Men” #1. That’s twenty-five chapters of a single story, released over the course of four years. Sure, Whedon gives us shorter arcs within the overarching story, but it’s still a long wait. Now that this finale has arrived, it’s difficult to remember everything that came before. That’s problematic. Although “Astonishing X-Men” might have a long shelf life as a collected edition — and it probably will — as a serialized story, it was a failure.
With all of that baggage set aside, let me actually get to the content of this issue and tell you what’s good and what’s not so good in this five-dollar comic.
Cassaday draws a great Spider-Man, and Whedon writes a decent Spider-Man (although I’m really not interested in his “shrinkage” when it gets cold, thank you very much), but what’s Spider-Man doing in this story? Sure, he gets to play a tiny part in saving the world, as do the Fantastic Four, and Dr. Strange, and all of the other characters who cameo, but it feels like Whedon just wanted to see Cassaday draw all of these characters (and, honestly, who wouldn’t?), but didn’t have much for them to do. I suppose it adds a sense of scale to the conflict, showing how the assembled Marvel heroes react to a giant space bullet heading toward Earth, but after the previous twenty-four issues, these other non-X-Men characters seem superfluous. There’s also a problem with the Colossus sequence — a problem in that Colossus was set up in recent issues as a savior, but all he gets to do here is talk and punch for pages on end. That sequence, plus almost every scene where an extraneous Marvel hero appears, all feels like padding, diminishing the great and noble tragedy of Kitty Pryde’s sacrifice.
I will say that Kitty Pryde’s sacrifice is not what I expected, and it works quite well — it’s emotionally effective and consistent with what has been established in previous issues, and yet still surprising. Her sacrifice (and you all realize that she’s been missing from the other X-Men books, so this isn’t a spoiler, right?) is the heart of “Giant-Size X-Men” #1, but with everything else going on in the story, that heart is a bit obscured. It’s too much sound and fury, ultimately, and Whedon’s attempt at a grand climax overwhelms itself. Except for poor Kitty Pryde, who handles the whole thing with dignity.