The problem with multi-media super-geniuses is that you expect their super-genius in one medium to immediately extend to others, which is silly. Writing a book and writing a TV show are different jobs entirely, and just being good at one doesn’t mean you’d be good at the other. But the nice thing about super-geniuses is that they’re super-geniuses, and once they get things figured out, they can be pretty damn good. So, Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, vol. 1: Gifted .
Whedon, of course, is the writer for some of the best DVD boxed sets ever made — Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly — but his first graphic novel, Fray, was just okay. While there was nothing wrong with it, it was just generally uninspired, feeling more like a practice exercise than a real finished product. Well, if it was practice, it was in a good cause, because Whedon’s run on X-Men has started off marvelously.
It’s particularly interesting to read this after Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, because while both are good, they’re doing totally different things. Morrison was very deliberately trying to get away from the whole superhero thing, ditching the costumes and all. Whedon, though, wants like hell to write a traditional superhero story, so he immediately brings all that back — Cyclops has a speech about how they are superheroes, by gum, and they’re going to wear the costumes from now on. If I were a reader of the monthly comic, looking for a continuing-form work with dramatic progress and thematic unity, this’d piss me off; but since I’m a graphic novel reader, and view Whedon’s and Morrison’s works as being different works that happen to be set in a shared world, I’m fine with it. Because, ultimately, what matters to me is whether a book tells a good story. Morrison did, and so far Whedon is, and if they’re different good stories, well, hey, even better.
But story direction isn’t the only place Whedon’s different than Morrison. Morrison was writing an elliptical, gritty, and dark story, so dialogue was minimalist and realist. Whedon, though, is writing something a lot closer in tone to Buffy: A funny, serious, traditional adventure story with depth and unexpected twists. So his dialogue has some real, honest-to-god, laugh out loud moments, and his characters are far more willing to show a sense of humor and good grace about someone trying to fuck them up. And, surprisingly to me, Whedon appears to be a X-Men fan, too; while he’s writing in his own style, he’s not re-inventing the characters as new people, as writers unfamiliar with a series inadvertantly do. These are very definitely the same characters who’ve been in these comics for however many decades.
Long story short, if you thought Morrison’s run was too bleak, give Whedon a shot. If you liked Morrison because of the bleakness, skip Whedon. If you liked Morrison because he was a good writer, give Whedon a shot. If you don’t give a fuck about superheroes, don’t read Whedon, and in retrospect, don’t even bother reading this review.