Sunday, April 1, 2012

Column: '... We've Established That'

Editor's Note:  A few weeks ago, the staff here at 'Sophisticated Fun' was murdering some time on an odd Tuesday afternoon (ugh, Tuesdays, amiright?) when and we kicked around the idea of starting a column. Something where we could write in the first-person, you know, make 'I' statements instead of always trying to create this illusion of journalistic integrity, but a column, seriously?  Columns are the last refuge of the reporter, the designated hitter position of the newsroom, a valuable (and valued) member of the team, but someone who's been repressing her opinions and biases for so long that they now she has to take prescribed meds. (or so she says) for her condition. The other side of the same coin reads that a columnist is the Swiss Army Knife of journalists: the perspicacity of a hard-bitten, worn-at-the-soles scribbler, but with the wit and acumen of a luncheon companion at the Algonquin -- you know what we're talking about, a guy who spends too much of his time looking up fancy words at and making references that were relevant in the 1920's to try and sound smart and occasionly drops a 'amiright' like he's some twenty-three-year-old instead of, dunno, thirty-eight or something.  Yeessh. We don't have the budget for 'that guy,' so we assigned it to Keith. Wait! I've haven't even said what our new column is about … screw it, we'll make Keith write that too. Excelsior! -- The Editorial Staff of IiSF?

Author's Note: Hey! The folks over in editorial said they were going to write up a short introduction to our new column, ''… We've established That,'' but they're behind on deadline (as usual) so they’ve asked me (again) to fill in the details. I’m sure they'll add something later (as is their prerogative … amiright?). Whatever. So, what we've got here at IiSF? is a column looking at landmark comic book series that occurred from roughly 1986 until early August of 2011. Say you were someone … well, me, and you (for the most part) stopped reading comic books about the time you turned twelve or thirteen and all of a sudden you’re reading comics again, writing a blog about comics and so on and so on. You read other comic book bloggers (incessantly), listen to podcasts (mostly from Canada) and they’re always going on about Y: The Last Man this and Identity Crises that and making off-hand references to Age of Apocalypse, House of M and Infinity Gauntlet (which sounds like a sex toy you might find in the dungeons of the House of M). ANYWAY! The gang over at Thirteen Minutes wrote to me to ask if I had ever read Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men. I had not. Which brings us to … 'We've Established That,' a (rather) regular feature that tells you faithful reader that the stories that you already know are great … are … great? So … we've established that, huh? Huh? See what I did there?  -- KPS

  I don't have the ''Joss Whedon gene.'' Sorry. Oh, sure, I've seen some syndicated Buffy bits and I really, really, really tried to like Serenity, but it didn't take (oh, poor Nathan Fillon, always a bridesmaid …). I guess there is no accounting for taste. So, when it was suggested to me that I read Astonishing X-Men, I dismissed it because of the Whedon-factor. Or, I suppose, you could say, that my ability to appreciate the particular talents of Mr. Whedon had not yet manifested itself. Whedon or no, I am, however, fluent in X-Men, having learned the language from the masters, Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne. When talking about pop-culture -- especially pop-culture blind spots -- I often invoke the phrase (appropriated from the King), 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong, in other words, ''it's not you, it's me.'' Using either one of these loopholes allows one to solve a pop-culture Kobayashi Maru (if you will) and fall on the sword, unless, of course, one wants to be a total contrarian, which is shorthand for ''completely unreliable asshole.'' Adding X-Men can (I’ve found) cut the sweet with the bitter. So, l figured, 50,000,000 … um, yeah, already did that part … how about: time to get my ''Snikt!'' on, again?
  Here's the first thing I'll say about Whedon: kid can commence. From page one, panel one, Whedon sets his hook and it's Kitty bar the door from then on. Whedon knows the quickest way to win an audience's interest (and their hearts) is put them in the shoes of the protagonist and let 'em ramble on. So setting Kitty Pryde outside the gates of that very particular address familiar to all X-Men and X-aficionados in the Northeast corner of Westchester Co., New York is (I'm stating the obvious here) an invitation (literally) and nothing short of a masterstroke of storytelling. Turns out, Whedon's X-Men are my X-Men too. The first issue of X-Men I ever bought was Uncanny X-Men #130[1], the first appearance of Dazzler, one issue removed (Wikipedia tells me) from the first appearance of one, Katherine Anne 'Kitty' Pryde. Astonishing X-Men is Kitty's story, plain and simple. Kitty's memories phase in and out (huh, amiright?) as she herself passes through the walls of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. This reminds me of something an old bluesman once told me,[2] 'good musicians borrow, great musicians steal;' which when it comes to storytellers, puts Joss Whedon securely in the latter camp. As if by some psionic ability, Whedon knows what X-fans want from their X-Men: Sentinels, a mutant cure wrapped in conspiracy and crazy shit going down in the Danger-room. He does all this with the (other) thing mutant mavens crave: laughs, japes and jokes of the inside-variety. I probably laughed out loud more than I thrilled at the fight scenes -- my reaction (I think) shows I've grown up, matured, set aside childish things like superhero comic books
  If I had $3.99 for every time I've read X or Y or friggin' Z is 'a great jumping on point' I would be able to afford a lot more Marvel comic books[3]. Zing! I had no idea where X-continuity was prior to Whedon and Cassaday's mandate to astonish. I had no idea about the backstory to the big (steely) reveal in this series and it still (there's no better word for it) astonished. O.K., full disclosure, it was weird that Professor X was wallowing in the middle of a no man's land which is/was Genosha(?) or something and, yes, it did take me out of the story for a moment, but what I gleaned from the context filled in most of the details. Something blew up, a lot of mutants died, and that's why (I guess) the White Queen a.k.a Emma Frost is now a co-leader (and cohabitating with ol' one-eye (get it!) himself, Cyclops) of the team. For the new comic book reader or for a relapsed one like yours truly, prior continuity is the ultimate turd in the punchbowl. I get it. It's important. Nobody likes to piss on canon, especially long-established continuity that has been carefully cultivated by creators, conglomerates and fans alike, but give us newbies and degenerate a break and the benefit of the frickin' doubt to fill in the details for ourselves or not, it's a big tent after all, plenty of room inside. Rant over.
  My research (Wikipedia) tells me that John Cassaday commenced his career in 1995, so way outside my ken. I'm told by Wikipedia (again) and my other fellow 'knights of the keyboard' that Planetary is also one to add to my list of must-reads, not only for Cassaday, but also for another nineteen-nineties powerhouse, Warren Ellis. Yep, don't know no Ellis neither. What struck me about Cassaday's work was how it possesses a photo-realistic-quality; it's not, of course, maybe cartoon-real or comic-real is a better description. Illustrative is the best way I can described his pencils -- like these characters are (pardon the clich√©) drawn from real-life. Buildings and vehicles are rendered like architectural blueprints. I went wild (as I can presuppose everyone else did) for how Cassaday cants the moment the gang's all back together when Cyclopes says: ''We have to astonish them.'' Yes! It's moments like that that, for better or for worse, mint fanboys. Cassaday and Whedon know that simple fact in their adamantium infused bones. Wolverine (see what I did there, huh?) is resplendent in his yellow on blue costume as is Beast (the three-quarter unitard is perhaps unfortunate, but better than boxers), who provides the team with its emotional intelligence -- something I had forgotten about from those Claremont Cockrum collaborations of yesteryear. Who can say better than that? Not me, bub. So, like freedom, cold beer on a hot day and getting a RT for one's efforts, Astonishing X-Men (Vol. 1) is … uncannily and ultimately, astonishing … so, yes, we've established that.   

[1] Not really, but I'm telling a story here. I did buy it, but it wasn't my 'first' X-Men comic book -- (first one I bought off the walls of New England Comics encased in mylar, sure)  -- it was the '80's, rap was hitting the mainstream, everyone was sampling from everywhere.
[2] He was my guitar teacher and he loved jazz and blues, but he wasn't much older than I am now, but (again) … Hello! Story!
[3] That's for you Owen Craig!

1 comment:

  1. I read these books as they were coming out and found plenty to enjoy, but hated the boring aliens and the offhand way Colossus was brought back from the dead.

    And Keith, tell your introduction writer that a column's not the last refuge of anyone - a good column is tough to sustain. It needs someone with a sharp writing style, enough opinions to sustain a regular spot,and pithiness. Any hack who tries to hide away by writing a column will be eaten alive by the readers, if he's not sacked first, Good luck, my friend!