On Astonishing X-Men, "Torn"

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Nov. 15th, 2006 | 09:25 pm
music: director's commentray for Disturbing Behavior

I just re-read the whole arc.


I normally don't care too much about the plot in my obsessions. I know people who argue that Season Seven Buffy is the worst because it had the weakest plots. Meh. Don't care that much. I want the major points of canon to be respected. But I primarily care about character.

Give me character development.

If you can give me both -- character development based on canon in a tightly-plotted story that derives from who the characters have been in the past -- If you can give me that I will sing your praises to the heavens. Or at least the internet.

Joss Whedon is my Master now.

I want to talk about this in two contexts. Both in the context of the X-Men comics, and in the context of Whedon's other work.

Astonishing X-Men is the emotional continuation of Firefly. Not of Serenity; of Firefly.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the story of how to grow up. How to decide to take adulthood, with all the pain that this could mean. It is about making tough decisions for the first time. Seeing the road ahead and not knowing what's on it.

Firefly is about a different sort of fear. Firefly is about being afraid to choose because you know what can happen. You know what you've done. You know, to a limited degree, the sort of person you are. How very low you can sink.

But the story arc of the characters in Firefly is about What Happens Next. About how guilt, the guilt of the living, is a limiting factor. You only think you know yourself. But staring at all the ill you have done in your life is no more productive than ignoring it. You are not the hero. You are not the villain. You are the sum of your actions and intentions and you are more than that. You contain your future as well. And that holds your redemption.

This is where Astonishing X-men comes into things.

"Gifted" gives every appearance of being a coming of age story. It is, taken solely on its own terms. But in the context of Dangerous and Torn, it's not a coming of age. It's a facing one's past. For all of them. "Does nothing stay dead?" No, and most especially, not the deeds you all have done.

"Dangerous" continues this. In the appearance of a major six-issue fight story we have Hank's inability to accept his animal self. Emma's guilt at even being in Genosha, alive, makes her manifest the Hellfire Club at a terribly inconvenient time. Scott faces the decision the Professor has made, as does Peter. All of them have some terrible ghost from the past try to kill them.

Why? What did they do to deserve this? They lived. That's all. Simply living in their world means that they have killed, that the decisions they have made have caused the death of innocents. If they are in AXM, they are alive and guilty of incredible crimes. Crimes of action and of inaction. That. That is the point of Dangerous. The X-Men are dangerous. And it is only, to steal a phrase, Forward Momentum, that keep them from being dangerous to themselves.

"Torn."

It's all there.

Peter's rage, shown in Gifted and in Dangerous. It is his downfall here.
Hank's fear of himself, highlighted in Gifted and Dangerous, is his enemy here.
Scott's fear of himself, his mistrust of everyone, his love of Emma -- they are his downfall here.
Logan's ruined mind is his prison here.
Kitty's leadership, initiative, love and insecurity, are her traitors here.
And Emma's ability to live, to survive and win through, are her downfall here.

Emma has had two full storylines to observe the X-Men. Observe this family. Emma knows them, knows their kinks and foibles. She takes their fears or their strengths, whichever is more vulnerable, and she breaks each one of them in half. But this is the X-Men; broken isn't dead. Hell, dead isn't dead.

Emma knows that these people can live through anything. She knows they can stop her. Rather, she doesn't know it. She hopes it. Any way this comes out, Emma gets something she wants. If Cassandra Nova wins, Emma gets to die as she thinks she deserves. If the X-Men stop her the way she thinks they will, she dies the way she deserves. If the X-Men pull the miracle out of their collective ass as she hopes and fears they will? Well. Then Emma will live, which she wants more than almost anything. But she will have to live. Go through each day with even more past behind her. More guilt.

But also with more redemption.

Redemption is only ever possible if you acknowledge what you have done, apologised, made amends, and you keep on damn living. Redemption is not the same as forgiveness. Forgiveness is something between you and another person. Redemption is what you get when your life has made something as good as the thing you wrecked. The greater the ruin in your wake, the more difficult your redemption shall be.

All of the X-Men have a lot of ruin behind them. It's part of why they are heroes; how else are they ever going to be able to look themselves in the eye, stand up and face the future?

Every one of the X-Men is broken in order that they may be forced to face their weakness and overcome it. They have to. They must face it in order to live past it. Hank, through all of AXM, has been living in fear of devolving. A silly term, but the fear makes him unreliable, weak. Peter fears his rage, which is also his strength. His rage is fueled by his love. How can he be a smart, thinking, caring person again, a human being, unless he can control his rage? Logan has to face that he is a hollow shell, a broken mind, running through the world fueled by fear. Kitty has to face her future, her hopes of love and her certain knowledge that everyone she ever depends on will betray her. Scott must face the fact that he has handicapped his entire life to protect a boy who never grew up. And Emma has to face her death wish and her love; that she wants to be loved and accepted and deserves absolutely none of it for her sins.

They get through it. And Scott is right. They are stronger for it.

Think, for a moment, of Firefly. Think of the characters and their weaknesses, their strengths. Think of where the show was going when it got canceled. I am now, for the first time, glad that Firefly was canceled. Because Joss Whedon had to take his unfinished issues and work them out here, in the X-Men, in the story and world I love in my heart and soul.

Joss shows us what these characters are supposed to be. Shows us, not tells us.

Scott is a tactical genius, as I mentioned elsewhere -- Scott is a tactical genius. And Joss can write him as one. Joss only needs a Data, a Spock, a person to explain it too. Joss is great, because we have seen what Scott is doing and then get the explanation, so his genius is revealed to us. Shown, then explained, not told. This is good writing. Hank made a safety against being devolved. And he told Scott. And Scott, tactical genius, remembered and got it. Scott used every asset he had in perfect ways, from Blindfold to his knowledge of Emma to the gun to his knowledge of Kitty. Kitty is also a tactical expert, as witness her fight with Emma. Shown, not told. Emma's every conversation is wracked with guilt and pain. Hank's incredible ambivalence and fear of himself is shown in every scene in which he is not an animal.

These are great characterizations. Amazing.

When Gifted came out, I said this was one of the best comic book stories ever written. Torn is as well. One of the very best stories ever written. It's not going to change comics; it's not Dark Knight Returns, or Sandman, or Transmetropolitan. It is merely a perfectly written jewel of what superhero comics can be.

Superhero comics can be, when they are working right and the writer is good and the artist sings and the air is clear and pure and clean, comics can be the future. The map. The road of possibility toward what you hope to be. You can be greater than yourself. You can be more than what you have done, more than what you meant and failed, more than what you tried and succeeded, more than what you avoided and fled and quailed before. You can be your future. Because no matter your past, redemption is possible. You can strive within the limitations of your past, the self-imposed limitations of your fear. Or you can look your fear in the eye and walk through it. You can walk past it to tomorrow.

Come on; the X-Men can do it. They'll show you how.

"Stand, be brave, be true. Believe in yourself. Believe in the heat of that desire."

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Comments {29}

prufrock, before he got famous

(no subject)

from: likeadeuce
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:13 am (UTC)
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Awesome post!

And isn't it a great reveal that Emma, whose greatest strength has always seemed to be her ability to survive, is revealed to have a death wish.

You're going to laugh at my post on this issue because it's going to be all about Jean. Seriously.

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:16 am (UTC)
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I won't laugh. I wouldn't dare. I have not the hubris to mock the obsessional impluses of others.

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prufrock, before he got famous

(no subject)

from: likeadeuce
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:15 am (UTC)
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Also, go reread 144 and the D'Spayre demon!

I bet Joss did.

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:16 am (UTC)
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It's upstairs with the kids, who are asleep. I'll try to remember tomorrow -- send email?

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Pat!

(no subject)

from: sxyblkmn
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:15 am (UTC)
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just got done reading the issue and i could try to say it better but i know i can't

well done

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:18 am (UTC)
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You know, how from time to time we touch on the issue of writing? And how to do it?

This. This is how I know I am a mediocre writer. (Which is not to say I could never get published. /grin/ I think if I wrote original fic I stand a decent chance. But.) Because I can't keep ALL those things in the air at once. But I can see them.

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Pat!

(no subject)

from: sxyblkmn
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:30 am (UTC)
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that's one of my fears too

not being able to make it seem so...i don't know, not being able to make it so flawless

where, after you put it down, you know you've read a good story (even if you can't put the finger on why)

but i'm not gonna stop trying though! :)

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:32 am (UTC)
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/grins

Yeah, me either.

It sets the bar high, work like this. But you and me, we don't have to beat this -- we just have to beat the middle ranks. And that seems very possible. (hubris hubris hubris I don't care hubris hubris)

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Pat!

(no subject)

from: sxyblkmn
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 04:37 am (UTC)
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LoL oh no i'm with ya

taking out the lesser powers sounds like a game plan to me ;)

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alittlebriton

(no subject)

from: alittlebriton
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 12:30 pm (UTC)
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I'm getting it today, and am bouncing with excitement.

You know the truly freaky thing? Over at my RP, my Emma has a total death wish, to the extent of nearly forcing Logan to claw her. (In the RP the school was bombed and more of her students died) So she fells guilt and anger all the time. Nice to know that Joss hasn't glossed over Genosha and its consequences, like Grant Morrison did.

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 16th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
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It's a really fine line, I think -- how do you write realistic emotional lives for characters who are in situations that are entirely and completely unrealistic? If you write too much verissimilitude, you end up with heavily medicated basket-cases. Most authors err the other way -- ignoring the human reactions to things. This is why I like Joss and Gail Simone. They write a nicely tuned balance.

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rotting amnesiac zombie angel

(no subject)

from: sockich
date: Nov. 17th, 2006 08:19 am (UTC)
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*vibrates with GLEE*

I think the thing I love most about fandom, is how there are always people Who have the ability to say exactly what I've been thinking in a beautiful, eloquent way.

Or, in other words, OMG YES! ♥

(uh, here via comicstore_news *g*)

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 17th, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)
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/adds you to FList, hopes you don't mind

Saw you are a bat-verse fan?

http://community.livejournal.com/bats_femslash/4236.html#cutid1

Hi!

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rotting amnesiac zombie angel

(no subject)

from: sockich
date: Nov. 17th, 2006 02:12 pm (UTC)
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Heh, add away, I don't mind at all. *g*

And yes, I am a bat-verse fan and I'm a BoP fan and even though I usually don't read femdlash, that fic was pretty damn good. Sorry, I'd think of a better feedback but I'm barely keeping my eyes open here. *sleepy*

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Denita

(no subject)

from: menomegirl
date: Nov. 18th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Just a comment in passing, by way of Whedonesque. I haven't read the Astonishing X-Men. I'm not one for comics but I read this essay and I thought it was very well written.


Redemption is only ever possible if you acknowledge what you have done, apologised, made amends, and you keep on damn living. Redemption is not the same as forgiveness. Forgiveness is something between you and another person. Redemption is what you get when your life has made something as good as the thing you wrecked. The greater the ruin in your wake, the more difficult your redemption shall be.


I especially liked that paragraph because that can apply to most of the Jossverse, not just Firefly.

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 18th, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, and hello!

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Simon

(no subject)

from: simonf
date: Nov. 18th, 2006 06:55 pm (UTC)
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Joss commented on your essay btw.

http://whedonesque.com/comments/11873#151001

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 18th, 2006 07:22 pm (UTC)
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Um. Gosh.

I wasn't expecting that.

I am not a whedonesque member and can't reply there -- but, thank you for linking to me, and thank you for the kind remarks.

And a profound thank you to Joss Whedon for writing the story in the first place.

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(no subject)

from: inathunderstorm
date: Nov. 18th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
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This is excellent :)

And OMG, JOSS WHEDON read it. That makes me slightly woozy with the awesome-ness of my flist omg.

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GREAT essay

from: anonymous
date: Nov. 18th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC)
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I came to your site via whedonesque; wanted to let you know that despite the fact that I've not read the Whedon Xmen comics, I thought your essay was wonderful. It has, in fact, pushed me into pursuing the comics.

I liked this paragraph in particular:

"Superhero comics can be, when they are working right and the writer is good and the artist sings and the air is clear and pure and clean, comics can be the future. The map. The road of possibility toward what you hope to be. You can be greater than yourself. You can be more than what you have done, more than what you meant and failed, more than what you tried and succeeded, more than what you avoided and fled and quailed before. You can be your future. Because no matter your past, redemption is possible. You can strive within the limitations of your past, the self-imposed limitations of your fear. Or you can look your fear in the eye and walk through it. You can walk past it to tomorrow."

(Don't think that OpenID will work with MySpace URLS, so FYI, I am QuoterGal on Whedonesque - I posted your LJ response to Joss's comments on there so he could read 'em...)

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Slightly obsessed

Re: GREAT essay

from: resolute
date: Nov. 19th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)
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Thank you! It is one of my hopes that something, anything, I might say will encourage people to read or watch good art. Thanks again!

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(no subject)

from: darthmowzy
date: Nov. 19th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
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Not to repeat what everyone else is saying, but great essay.

AXM is what brought me back to comic books. I can't wait for the next 6 issues nor can I wait for Joss to take over one of my other favorite books, Runaways.

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 19th, 2006 07:35 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! I am waiting for Runaways, too. But I am worried about what happens to AXM when Joss quits.

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Crista

(no subject)

from: lavendermuse
date: Nov. 21st, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)
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Found you through Whedonesque. I have to add my AIEE!!! Joss read and complimented your essay! So. Cool. I <3 the internet and that Joss is on it, only a series of tubes away from seeing anything produced by his fandom that makes its way onto whedonesque. ^_^!!

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 21st, 2006 07:12 pm (UTC)
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Hi! /waves

The Tubes! They are full of Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis!!!

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אברי רוזן-צבי

(no subject)

from: lordsketch
date: Nov. 29th, 2006 12:43 pm (UTC)
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Wow, great essay.

I think the issue of survivors gulit that you touched upon here is a reaccuring theme in the Jossverse. Willow turning into Warren after having found new love since Tara's death comes to mind, but I believe it is also manifest in Firefly, especially in Mal, having survived the war.

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Nov. 29th, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad you liked it!

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(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Aug. 18th, 2007 04:19 am (UTC)
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I know this is completely almost a year after posting and I don't know if this is rude or not because I was just looking for an AXM fix, but I had an epiphany and I don't know if I can remember it long enough to get it out. I also may be completely incoherent and babbling senselessly.

First of all, I read both your's and likeadeuce's essays. First, likeadeuce's:
"That's right, the pivotal character in the Torn arc of Astonishing X-men is Jean Grey."

That's pretty dead-on. But I'm digressing.

"In Phoenix: Endsong, Emma asks Jean (spirit Jean, or what the hell ever) how it feels to be loved the way she is loved. Now, I hope, she knows."

And then, yours:
"Redemption is what you get when your life has made something as good as the thing you wrecked. The greater the ruin in your wake, the more difficult your redemption will be."

Jean is famous (infamous?) for the fact that, although considered one of the more compassionate, caring X-men, she (relatively speaking) destroyed an entire planet. In Warsong, which tore me up a bit to read, *SPOILERS* the Phoenix Force destroyed a thousand (thousands?) of clones made from Emma Frost's embryos; it was left unclear whether or not Jean herself was behind it (since the Phoenix Force is suposedly in pieces). *END SPOILERS*. So, Jean has left a LOT of destruction in her wake. Yet she has been forgiven by her teammates (and I remember the difference you pointed out between forgiveness and redemption) time and again. But she hasn't really been "redeemed". She just sort of died and never really got a chance to live. Although she _did_ commit genocide.

Emma. Emma was Jean's enemy, Emma was her rival, Emma had a little (maybe more than a little) responsibility for what happened in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Emma is going through hell and _living_ in the Torn arc, as you point out. Because of Jean, who caused a genocide, and still is unredeemed, Emma can begin to live beyond her guilt at surviving a genocide. Remember Emma's line from the end of "Endsong"? "I can still feel... everything she ever gave to us"?

This is one of those things. Yeah, Jean is definitely a central character of this arc. All the other characters are just as important, too, but Torn is also kind of a redemption of Jean Grey. Ironically, it was Jean who tore into Emma's mind in Morrison's NXM. Emma was instrumental in saving Jean Grey in "Endsong".

Well, I'm going on now. I lost my train of thought. But the whole "redemption-Jean Grey" connection so resonated with me, and I love it when she's involved with Emma like that (am a HUGE Jean/Emma fan). I also love that these two characters who were so antagonistic to each other might end up healing each other in some way. What can I say-- I love reversals?

Well, I think I've completely embarassed myself. I don't think any of that made sense. But OMG, your essay was AMAZING. I love hearing these concepts that I never come up with on my own that make so much sense, said so well. Awesome.

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Slightly obsessed

(no subject)

from: resolute
date: Aug. 18th, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
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Oh, thank you! This is great! Gosh. You're right, it's an interesting thing, to look at Endsong and Warsong in this light . . .

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