Review by Frank Plowright
In the wake of the Avengers films he directed, it’s somehow decidedly strange that Joss Whedon once wrote a run of X-Men comics. This was during a lull in his TV career, with Firefly failing to capture the imagination in the manner of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Iconic characters without having to concern himself with a budget had an obvious appeal to a TV writer. He began his work on Gifted just after Grant Morrison had completed dragging the X-Men from the continuity-hindered quagmire of the 1990s, and while his approach was very different, Whedon’s imaginative material is equally memorable. But not consistently.
Whedon retains Morrison’s core team of Beast, Cyclops, Emma Frost and Wolverine, replacing the absent Professor X with Kitty Pryde, once the youngest X-Man, slotting her into the teaching role she’s filled ever since. The opening pages re-iterate the concept of a school for gifted youngsters, the tension between humans and mutants, the tension between Wolverine and Cyclops, and the X-Men as a team. Whedon then throws in one blue whale of an ethical dilemma by having geneticist Dr Kavita Rao announce she’s discovered a cure for the mutant gene.
For all of Whedon’s work, it’s the art that first draws the attention. John Cassaday’s development from the already accomplished debutant who’d drawn Desperadoes into an illustrator able to supply widescreen superhero action rests on his imaginative visualisation. His layouts emphasise the wonder of superheroes, consistently finding a way to depict them as dynamic and empowered.
Whedon lavishes considerable attention on Kitty Pryde, improving her established character immeasurably, and supplies a fantastic scene for her late on in which she reunites with someone long believed dead. She initially wonders as to her purpose in a superhero team, then displays it in a hostage situation. Whedon lays down her attitude to Emma Frost related to her first experience with the X-Men, being captured by Frost, then with the Hellfire Club, and this is definitively a woman now, not the teenage girl who joined the team. He’s not so adept with Wolverine, cast as a contrary black cloud who could start a fight with his shadow.
The finer moments are diminished slightly by storytelling convenience – the deus ex-machina defeat of a seemingly invincible (and pompous) foe for one, and establishing the school as central, yet ignoring most pupils established by Morrison in favour of new creations whose powers serve the story. There are also elements that seem contrived for dramatic effect, one being a fight resulting from an entrenched opinion that any attempt to ‘cure’ mutants is wrong, although the set-to is well concluded.
These anomalous aspects intrude as the remainder is so well conceived. The book ends with a foreboding threat from within, and remains among the top 10% of X-Men graphic novels. The series continues with Dangerous.
Whedon and Cassaday’s run is also available in two hardbacks with unwieldy titles. The oversize hardback Astonishing X-Men by Josh Whedon & John Cassaday gathers their entire ouevre, and this is collected along with Dangerous as Astonishing X-Men By Joss Whedon & John Cassaday Ultimate Collection Book 1.
Those who really love Gifted can also find it as a prose novel adapted by Peter David.