Astonishingly Big Shoes to Fill

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Some might say, out of all of the mutant books, taking over the adjectiveless X-Men title would be most daunting. You are following in the footsteps of artists and writers such as Jim Lee, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Frank Quietly, Alan Davis and many more of the biggest names in comics.

Others might say taking over the Uncanny X-Men would be worse. Not only are you being measured against two of the greatest creative teams of all time—Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Chris Claremont and John Byrne—but also a veritable who’s who of the greatest creators in comic history: Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Dave Cockrum, John Romita Jr., Paul Smith, Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, Ed Brubaker and more.

However, Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi might have the most difficult job of all. This week, they take residence as the creative team of Astonishing X-Men. They are only going to be measured up against one creative team. But it was the creative team the series was created for—Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.

People were excited when they heard that Joss Whedon was coming to work for Marvel Comics and that excitement hit a fever pitch when it was announced he would be working on an X-Men title. After all, Whedon was the man who brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, two TV shows that he led to varying degrees of cult success. Each show had an ensemble cast, each member of which was clearly defined through snappy dialogue and the way they reacted to various situations.

This was what many fans thought the X-Men needed. The glory days of the New X-Men were filled with character moments used to flesh out the typical action. Fans responded to the way the cast reacted and worked off each other. This was a quality that many thought had been lacking from the X-titles for years.

At Marvel, Whedon was paired with John Cassaday. Cassaday was Marvel’s hot new artist. He burst on the scene drawing Wildstorm’s Planetary series (working with Ellis on that title) before making a name for himself on the post-9/11 Captain America series. He was part of a new generation of artists such as Steve McNiven and Greg Land, whose art is dynamic and fluid yet slick and stylish.

Marvel didn’t put the team on any of the existing X-Books, but rather created a whole new series for them, Astonishing X-Men.

The series was one that hit the ground running and never looked back. It debuted in 2004 at the number one position of the Diamond 100 and never dropped out of the top ten during Whedon and Cassaday’s run on the title. The series was also a critical success, winning the Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series in 2006.

Astonishing X-Men became Marvel’s flagship mutant book. It became the one that set continuity for the rest of the X-Books, but one that was unaffected by Marvel’s continuity-altering events and crossovers. Its first storyline also helped influence the plot of the third X-Men film, X-Men: The Last Stand. It quickly became the 800 pound gorilla of the X-Universe.

Not that there haven’t been chinks in the title’s armor. The series was plagued with chronic lateness. It took four years to complete Whedon and Cassaday’s 24-issue run (which, to be fair, went on hiatus for several months between issues 12 and 13). And some fans and critics didn’t respond well to the tandem’s second storyline, "Dangerous".

Regardless of this, in the span of four short years, Whedon and Cassaday’s run on the title quickly became one of the most memorable in the history of the X-Men. Their work has become the favorite of many a longtime X-Fan. Their shoes are big ones to fill.

Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi could very well be up to the task. One is a savvy writing veteran with a unique vision and viewpoint; the other is an artist whose star is definitely on the rise.

Ellis has experience writing X-Books in the past. He did a stint in 2000 co-writing X-Man, Generation X and X-Force. But the work he is probably best know for is Transmetropolitan, a story set in a cyberpunk future which follows the adventures of a gonzo journalist named Spider Jerusalem. It was a trippy, sci-fi epic which, while starting at DC’s failed Helix imprint, became one of Vertigo’s most famous and fondly remembered titles.

Bianchi is a relatively new name in the United States, but the Italian artist has been active in the European comics scene for over twenty years. He is predominantly know for his covers to Detective Comics and Green Lantern, but his interior work on high profile projects such as Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight and a recent arc on Wolverine showed that his beautiful artwork could also tell a story.

The team of Ellis and Bianchi might not have a long run on Astonishing (Ellis has gone on record stating he doesn’t believe in investing more than a year on any title he does not own), but they have the talent and skill to carve out a niche all their own. They might not make us forget Whedon and Cassaday, but we might be having a similar conversation about whoever Marvel picks to replace them.

Astonishing X-Men #25 is on sale this week from Marvel priced $2.99

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