Astonishing X-men #23. People, this is a hell of a comic. I'm pretty much preaching to the choir on my flist, but sometimes I think it just bears repeating. This was the series that got me into comics and as many other titles as I've come to love, there still isn't one I anticipate like this, and there still isn't one that gets me this excited.
Now, I'll try to take my fangirl hat off for a second and talk about Joss Whedon. (Yeah, I know, very funny). But let me tell you, Joss knows what he's doing; he knows how to use the media he works in and, well, by the time this book came out, he pretty much knew it was going to have been nine weeks since the last one and fans would have spent forever chewing over every line of dialogue spoken in the last issue. And there was a scene in the last issue where everybody was going, "Hmm, I'm not sure what's going on here. Who is Leviathan? Are we missing pages? Are Logan and Kitty acting kind of weird here? Has Scott really gotten so fatalistic? Now this month (and seriously, spoilers coming) we now get the whole scene replayed with the revelation that the whole scene was a setup to distract the Breakworlders who were surveilling them? I've seen it pointed out that this same plot device was used on a Buffy episode (somebody who knows Season 7 can maybe tell me which one?) And that's true, but I have to say -- even though I immediately remembered that Buffy storyline once I saw the scene, I certainly never saw it coming. I had theorized -- and had seen this theory elsewhere as well -- that Emma and Scott were communicating (though that was also my theory about 'Torn' and it turned out to be wrong). But I don't know if anybody guessed that the whole scene was a setup. I'm sure there will be mixed feelings about this move, the idea that Joss is playing games with the readers. My philosophy on these kind of games has always been, it depends on whether the author treats readers like playmates, or playthings. The latter bugs me; the former, I'm always on board for, and that's what I feel like Joss does so well. Your mileage may very, but I'm quite happy with it. (And now I feel like we should make, "Joss Whedon's Playmates" T-shirts).
About the story itself -- even (especially!) knowing that this was the plan all along, it's pretty damn hardcore. We've seen "I must die for the good of the world!" plots all over the X-men, but I can't think of a precedent for "suicide, gambling on being resurrected (and tortured) as a tactical move." You know who would do that? Malcolm Reynolds would do that. For better or worse,
On to other things -- Scott is awesome in this issue. Awesome. Best use of his power ever. Joss has smartly realized that it's one of those devices that gets taken for granted if it's overused, but if you hold it back for a while, even Logan has to admit it's pretty damn cool. Also, Cassaday finally seems to have discovered the trick to making Scott look hot without the glasses on. (The key, apparently, being torture).
Uncanny X-men 492/Messiah Complex Chapter 2. I already posted a little about the first chapter of this crossover. Plotwise, this was a little repetitive of the Messiah Complex standalone -- it didn't really advance the story much -- but there's a lot of classic X-men action in here, particularly with Nightcrawler and Angel. The X-Factor team was introduced too, which was fun, and Brubaker's clearly been riffling through his back issues with the reference to "that time Proteus tried to eat Cyclops's girlfriend." (Gee, Jamie, I can't imagine why he finds you annoying).
What I found most interesting, though, was the confrontation between Scott and Xavier. Of course, I've been clamoring for this since the Professor came back from space, so it's nice to see that the previous conflicts haven't been forgotten. In fact, the most interesting character point here is that Xavier seemed to have hoped they would be forgotten. Basically, he rationalizes not having resolved his differences with Scott with the suggestion that he thought it would all go away. "I thought enough time had passed. . ." he says to Hank (who once again turns out to be the guy everybody talks to, and everybody expects to be on their side. That's how Charles thinks it's supposed to work; you do what you decide needs to be done, without consulting other people who might be affected; you gamble that they won't find out and, when they do, you back off for a while and enough time passes and they forgive you. (In fairness, he does also say "I thought I'd proven . . . I don't know, something"; but it's hard to figure out how he thinks he's done that. By stranding Scott's family in space and leading them on a mission in which his father was killed? Granted, this wasn't all his fault, but it's expecting a lot of Scott to just get over it.) Hmm, does this sound like anybody else with a prominent role in the current Marvelverse? Bendis knew what he was doing when he put Xavier and Tony Stark at the core of the Illuminati, and Bendis and Brubaker talk about this stuff.
Observations of the shallow variety: gratuitous Scott Summers towel shot. He officially is Lee Adama, isn't he? (Yeah, I know, he was Mal a few minutes ago). Not so shallow observation about this same scene. I'm getting a bad feeling about the Scott/Emma relationship; they're so much in accord at this point, it can only be downhill over the course of the story. (The fact that I describe this as a "bad" feeling is a tribute to Joss because a year ago I would have been cheering the prospect). Incidentally, reading this issue back to back with Astonishing, I certainly get the feeling that this one happens later in time. asitiswhenitwas suggested that Torn/Unstoppable can be inserted between X-men 205 (where Scott and Emma don't seem to be on the best terms) and the beginning of Messiah Complex (where they seem very at ease with each other). I don't think there's any official word on this yet -- and I know AXM hasn't actually ended yet -- but that's going to be my mental chronology until I hear differently.
Shorter reviews of some others:
The Order: My favorite little-book-that-could. This really deserves its own post, which I haven't gotten around to. (For now, here's an enthusiastic review of the first issue, from a few months back; sadly, all the issues are probably still on the shelf at your local). I love how the characterizations are slowly unfolding over the course of the arc. There's so much material packed into these issues, I can just read them over and over and find new things. I commented to resolute that The Order reminds me of an old-school Chris Claremont X-men comic, if Claremont could write dialogue, and actually knew where his stories were going. There's that much density to the story, that many things going on in a single issue; it never feels cluttered, just layered, and points from earlier issues keep coming back. Seriously good stuff.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love this triangle of love and mistrust and resentment among Buffy and Giles and Faith. The rest of the story is fun, too, but that's what really nails this arc for me. Also, Faith and Gigi are "friends" and they spend time naked in the hot tub together. Okay. (Really, I'm sure some women do this with their platonic friends -- and if you're one of them, you really don't have to tell me -- but how much does BKV want to be writing the sapphic love here?)
New Avengers: Illuminati: Tony misses his boyfriend. I still don't care about the Skrulls.
Criminal # 10: Successful end to the second arc. There's not a lot of point in talking about Criminal to people who don't read it, so I'll just say, vintage Brubaker, great crime comic, love the notes in the back. The most fun part of this comic was listening to the people in the comics store arguing about whether it's put out by Marvel or not. (It is, but Marvel tries to pretend it isn't).
Finally, I picked up the Daredevil annual, which I missed last week. Ed Brubaker didn't script this (someone named Ande Parks did; Bru is credited with the story) and the artist is a fill-in. But it's a really nice, self-contained Daredevil story. If you like the Daredevil mythos but aren't sure about investing in the arcs, it's a good one to check out. Most of it is told from the point-of-view of Carlos "Black Tarantula" LaMuerto, a character Matt interacted with in prison (and now I have to go back and read those issues) as he's been released and is flirting with the idea of going straight. . . or going vigilante. Matt gets the fun experience of explaining to Carlos why one shouldn't do all the things that Matt obviously does; also, he has a cold for most of the issue, and for some reason, that's just cute.