I confess I’ve never watched a single episode of the hipster bloodsucking saga Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But such is creator Joss Whedon’s cachet (Firefly, Angel) that I was more than curious to explore his work when he signed up to script the Astonishing X-Men for Marvel Comics. Whedon’s work on the series has been collected into three graphic volumes: Gifted, Dangerous and Torn.
A lot of the ground covered in Gifted was the source material for the final installment in the X-Men movie trilogy – The Last Stand. I found Dangerous to be the collection where Whedon’s set up in the first volume really starts paying off.
Dangerous starts with an emblematic scene. The X-Men have flown in to fight a lizard-like monster tearing up Manhattan. As each mutant battles the monster, you can read his thoughts in caption balloons. Colossus dwells on the leadership of Cyclops while Pryde wonders if she is scaring Colossus by her closeness to him. Saving the day, Whedon seems to be telling us, is just a job for these X-men. They have rich, complex, messed up lives they have to contend with – which gets in their way.
This idea is at the core of what Marvel has been about over the years: the superhero saga as a soap opera that touches real lives. You can see its lasting legacy in modern day interpretations such as NBC’s Heroes.
Whedon’s talent lies in being able to create page-turning plots, interlacing them with emotional turmoil and conveying all of it with minimal, almost abstract dialogue. Take the opening action sequence mentioned above. We also see Wolverine throwing himself at the monster and slashing it apart. Over several panels a single thought occupies him: “I really like beer.” It’s enough to tell us volumes about Wolverine.