Friday, July 14, 2006

Joss Whedon: Comics' REAL Super Hero

Currently reading: Bad Twin by Gary Troup
Next up: finishing The Odyssey and getting back into Ulysses

I resisted watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer for years. First, I had seen the movie in theaters and, while it was cute fun, I couldn't see how one would turn that into a series. Second, come on! The protagonist's name is Buffy! It took five seasons of people whose opinions I respected bugging me about it before I gave it a whirl. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

From Buffy, to Angel, to Firefly (on DVD), I discovered a new favorite writer in Joss Whedon. His trademark witty dialogue coupled with his special insights into the human condition - not to mention the creation of some of the more interesting female characters in any kind of fiction - make his work both fun and inspiring.

So, when I was told that Whedon was writing comic books, I eagerly sought them out. Of all the super heroes in comics today, Joss Whedon stands out. Here are three mini-reviews. One of them is a series still in progress, and the other two are completed miniseries:

The Astonishing X-Men
The only knowledge of the X-Men I had coming into this came from friends and from two film versions. I had never actually read the comic books before...

Whedon was the perfect writer for this series. His love of the comic book as a medium is palpable, and when he deals with the major plots - the "mutant cure", the battle with the Breakworld, and the return of the Hellfire Club - he does so with a fan's energy and a master genre writer's skill. Great suspense, expert pacing, and wonderful character work.

This is what makes this incarnation of X-Men special. While he's wonderful at telling the Big Story, Whedon is at his best when crafting small moments between characters. Example: Kitty Pryde and Colossus have just slept together. As they are attempting nonchalance in the kitchen, Wolverine gives them both the once-over and says, "Well, it's about time." Scenes where Cyclops deals with the consequences of his powers or Beast deals with his conflicting emotions about the Cure are also highlights.

I would recommend Astonishing X-Men to fans and newbies alike. Spare yourself X-Men 3: The Last Stand, and read these instead. (Issue #16 comes out 8/23)

I. Love. Fray. :)

It tells the story of a teenage vampire slayer (sound familiar?), but in my opinion this character is a step up from Buffy. Melaka Fray is a 15 year old thief. In her futuristic world, vampires are known as "lurks", and the police chase her in flying cars. All of a sudden, she is greeted by an enormous, demon-looking Watcher who tells her that she is her generation's Slayer. Oh, and by the way, her brother had been killed years earlier by lurks, so she is not too keen on toussling with them. Yet, after the sad, senseless death of an endearing character, Fray becomes determined to follow her calling. Mayhem ensues.

I love Fray, because she is everything Buffy is not. She is not polished, or popular. She isn't perky. She is a street-smart thief who leads a hardscrabble life, and she makes no apologies for herself. I was also grateful as a female comic book reader that she is not the large-breasted, Amazonian type of heroine that so many fanboys enjoy. She has an athletic build, and her midriff is usually bare, but there's nothing slutty about her.

And my favorite thing about Melaka Fray: she has an enormous scar across one side of her face. I love that.

As for the story Whedon creates, his usual fantastic touches are there. Characters both major (like Fray herself) and minor (like her sister) are drawn with extreme detail and care and you care about every one. The story, meanwhile, speeds along and I couldn't read it fast enough. And just when you think you've hit the big plot twist, guess what? You haven't. There's a bigger one.

I would recommend this to anyone, whether you're a fan of the Whedonverse or not. There should be more issues of Fray. There should be a movie. There should be a show. There should be much, much merchandise.

And there should be a throne in the Awesome Writer section of Heaven reserved for Joss Whedon.
Astonishing X-Men: Good Times!
Fray: Awesome