A couple quick comic reviews:
Astonishing X-Men #1
So here's the 4,325th in the "X-Men" comic family of titles, this newest launch timed to welcome "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" write Joss Whedon on board along with "Planetary" artist John Cassaday. It's not a bad launch, but neither is it really all that "astonishing." Whedon has been picked to be the "hip" X-Men writer following Grant Morrison's groundbreaking but inconsistent tenure on "New X-Men," but he lacks Morrison's bizarro, utterly unique sensibility. He's more in the Kevin Smith school of comic writing, using sharp dialogue and witty pop culture asides to keep things snappy. This issue is basically all set-up -- following assorted disasters, The X-Men are regrouping and team leader Cyclops wants to make them "heroic" again instead of feared by the world at large. His solution? Wear spandex costumes.
And that's pretty much it for this issue, aside from some plot foreshadowings and a nice little Cyclops/Wolverine brawl. Whedon isn't terrible, and he understands the characters, but the story is still pretty much X-Men 101 except for the flourishes, and doesn't move the entire concept into new areas like Grant Morrison did. But the one thing that is astonishing about this comic is Cassaday's artwork. Clean, dynamic and photorealistic, it's a marvel, echoing classic X-artists like Paul Smith but at the same time utterly new. It's crisp and free of artsy clutter, and his take on longtime X-Man Kitty Pryde (who's finally back in the spotlight after so many years shuffled off to side titles) actually makes her look like a girl again instead of a dominatrix. I don't know if I'll pick up #2 or wait for the trade paperback -- this book has yet to really stand out, and the "conflict" in this issue of to wear spandex or not is really a bit ridiculously melodramatic and meta for a book about science-fiction mutants. Grade: B-
The Punisher #6
Man, this is bleak. I've been reading this first storyline in the 52nd relaunch of The Punisher by Garth Ennis (in case you haven't figured it out yet, Marvel has an unhealthy obsession with relaunches), and it's been "The Punisher Extreme" for most of the way. Yet it all becomes a bit too much this issue for my tastes. The six-part storyline "In The Beginning" avoids the parody and over-the-top action of Ennis' earlier Punisher work for a straight-ahead ultra-violent tale where the Punisher is finally captured by the government, and then various mafia, federal agents and former allies all try to do him in. This issue is the explosive climax, basically the Punisher killing everyone in sight in various gory fashions (I'm not giving anything away here -- he's not called "The Mild Injurer"). It's been a fun if rather empty ride, with a few nice insights on the Punisher's psychopathic character as friends and foes try to tell him his war on crime is basically an excuse to kill folks -- but for some reason, the story lost steam for me after the first few parts, as the startling opening act devolved into standard Punisher killing, only with more swearing and gore as this is a "Mature Readers" title. Most of #5 and #6's dialogue consists of various configurations of the word 'fuck' and somehow, by the end of this issue, all I felt was depressed for the character and the universe in general. Where do you go from here? Ennis takes so nihilistic a view of the Punisher both here and in the recent "The End' comic that it's almost as if he's written himself into a corner. Not his fault, really -- the Punisher isn't that deep of a character. Maybe Ennis' mistake has been trying to make us think the Punisher is. Grade: C+