Undoing the Horror: Astonishing X-Men “Torn”

‘What will you ‘evolve’ into next?’ Cassandra Nova’s words to Doctor Hank McCoy still wound even a decade later. Hijacking Beast’s psychically body and forcing him to shred his framed PhD, Cassandra Nova mounts her vicious psychological attack. When I return, will you have ‘evolved’ to become the school mascot, or maybe its house-pet? Or maybe you’ll be nothing better than a bacterium

Critically undermining his confidence, Nova presents Beast with the theory that rather than facing a secondary evolution, he is devolving. What use does a house-pet have for a PhD? I should fetch you a ball of string, she continues mercilessly.

While writer Grant Morrison overcomes this brutal psychological assault by vesting Beast’s current state (‘Now you can learn to play the drums’, Jean Gray gently counsels when Beast bemoans no longer being able to play the guitar), Astoshing X-Men writer Joss Whedon offers a different recourse.

The use of pheromones, aerosol smart drugs and a litany of other 21st century tools and processes provides Beast with a psychic rescue, and a defense against Cassandra Nova ever mounting such an attack again. Ironically, Beast encoded the sensations that would liberate his higher mind in a ball of string–the one thing that would attract and hold his attention should his feral side ever reemerge.

In a magnificent display of intertextuality, Whedon borrows one of the most savage and insightful moments from Morrison’s critically acclaimed run on New X-Men to provide the basis for a moving tale of personal redemption and the intellect’s infinite capacity to overcome even the most damaging of psychological assaults.

And yet, Beast’s convivial exchange with Wolverine (who overcame the debilitating reemergence of his own sensitivity through beer) does nothing to undermine the heroism of Beast’s achievement. In a simple sequence of just two panels, conveys the heart of the X-Men stories; personal achievement, in the light of family where the story moves easily from one family member to the next.

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