Monday, June 7, 2010

Second Coming: X-men Revelations Hellbound #1 - A Hell of a Ride

I know X-men Revelations: Hellbound came out a while ago. Posting a review of it at this point is like reporting the final score to Superbowl XVI like it's breaking news. But after reading X-men Revelations: Blind Science I feel compelled to give this comic it's due credit. I didn't have much interest in the side-plots apart from Second Coming, mostly because Second Coming itself was so blindingly awesome. But these off-shoots are awesome in their own right and they're helping to make an already kick-ass event fell all the more complete. It's like the cherry on top of a 2982 layer chocolate cake with 229 layers of icing.

This comic covers what happened to Illyana during the X-men's first attempt to retrieve Hope. Back in Uncanny X-men 523 she was about to teleport Hope to safety when Bastion had William Stryker it back with one of his many contingency plans. She was then blasted with a mysterious device that looks like something that could only be bought by the Russian Mob or from the deepest recesses of Ebay. She then disappeared into her own portal and was trapped in Limbo...again.

As expected, Piotr is understandably pissed. This is the second time he's lost his sister like this and you would think a guy as tough as him would be pretty hardened to this bullshit. But even a guy with metal skin can still get his panties up in a notch and when Cyclops says he's not letting him go after Illyana, he reacts with predictable outrage. For anybody who has been following the X-men for a few years now, it's probably the most emotional Colossus has ever been. It's not too surprising, but it still has a feeling of "it's about damn time!"

Lucky for Cyclops, he's able to reassure Piotr that he's not going to leave Illyana left hanging. He's going to put together a team to go into Limbo and get Illyana back. Piotr still wants to go, but for whatever reason he listens to Cyclops. It's eye-gougingly remarkable that Piotr's okay with being sidelined, but he goes along with it and Illyana's rescue team begins to take shape.

For this literal mission to Hell, Cyclops enlists Cannonball to lead. That's not a bad choice because Cannonball has been developing his leadership skills in the comics for a year now. He's still an up and comer, but being a leader has done more for his character than the TV show House did for Hugh Laurie's career. The only problem is that at times he still sounds like a whiney little pussy when he laments at how hard his job is. I understand that's how a lot of leaders start out, but it really couldn't hurt for Sam to show some balls so that he doesn't come off as a recovering eunuch.

Cannonball is still able to stuff his crotch and get to work assembling a team. He enlists a wide range of B-list characters that have only recently had a chance to shine in the comics. It's not like he's taking Tumbleweed Tech's polo team with him. These are some characters with some name recognition, but they haven't been in many big plots since the Clinton Administration. The team includes the likes of Dazzler, Northstar, and Trance. Overall, that's not a bad skill-set. But to really add some appeal to this plot, they need and A-lister and that's where Gambit comes in.

Now this is kind of a head-scratcher because there hasn't been much hint that Gambit is on anybody's shit-list. He's been practically cock-blocked ever since he showed up during Nation X and you would think that with Rogue controlling her powers now, he would be looking for ways to get down and dirty with her. Yet here he is, sitting in the dark and letting Rogue run off and flirt with Magneto. A guy like him who has pined for Rogue for the better part of two decades can't be okay with that, yet he looks as happy as a clam flicking cards into a hat. He doesn't even mention the other shit that's going on when Sam pitches the offer. Yet he accepts and writer Chris Yost does a menial job of trying to make it sound logical in the mindset of your typical fanboy.

But this plot with Gambit is just fodder for what appears to be the real story. Anybody who has been reading Uncanny since Matt Fraction came aboard has been getting a pink-haired teenage girl shoved in their face. Now if this were strip club nobody would have a problem with that. But this isn't the XXX-Club in the seamy side of Los Angles. This is X-men and that pink-haired teenage girl is Pixie. Now that Nightcrawler and Ariel are dead, she's the last teleporter and she's also been hyped up as having mystical powers. That's all well and good, but that's a lot of attention to heap on a character that isn't even a decade old. I'm all for fleshing out new characters, but there are plenty of others more deserving than this girl. I would feel a lot better about her role if she didn't come off as such a whiney brat.

I get that she's a teenage girl with a lot of shit being shoveled on her, but she's been developed to a point through Uncanny that makes her being the droning teenager unreasonably stupid. She looks and acts all "I'm scared!" and "I don't wanna!" It's hard to tell if she's complaining about the mission or if she's making a scene in the mall because mommy won't buy her the latest porn star barbie doll. Yost is seriously a better writer than this and while it's nice to see her and Anole share a friendly moment. It still feels painfully lame.

Eventually, Pixie caves and joins the mission. Cyclops and Colossus offer extra incentive when she continues to show her teenage bitchiness, but she stops whining and assembles with the team in the hanger. So Illyana's only hope now rests with Cannonball, Gambit, Trance, Dazzler, Northstar, Anole, and Pixie. Overall, that's not a bad team to send on a rescue mission and trips to Limbo are always so colorful.

As expected, Limbo is hardly welcoming. As soon as they arrive, a hoard of demons attacks them. They have pretty much no element of surprise and they're surrounded faster than Miley Cyrus coming out of an abortion clinic. It's the kind of scene Chris Yost is best at. There's no subtlety and no major teasing. He just jumps right into the action, pulling out all the stops and making it so there's an epic fight going down and plenty of carnage to be unleashed. This is both a good and bad thing because while that works well in books like X-Force, it seems kind of bland in a book like this. The premise doesn't exactly match the style and it would feel so much more meaningful if it didn't seem so rushed. This may be because the book is almost out of pages at this point, but it really does leave the reader wanting more.

The fight scene is still pretty awesome. It takes a special kind of retardation to fuck up a fight scene in Limbo, but as fun as it is to read it doesn't really move the plot forward. There's no sign of Illyana and there's no real semblance of a plan. I don't know if that's just Cannonball's inexperience showing or if he really did just think they could waltz into Limbo and fight their way through demon hoards to rescue their friend. It makes about as much sense as it sounds. Somebody should call his voicemail and describe this plan so he could listen to it himself to see how fucked up it is.

While the fighting is going on, the forces of Limbo get some input as well. They know Illyana is present as well and have no intention of letting her go. Seriously, a young blond teenage girl just happens to appear in a place full of evil and decadence? Who could blame them? This helps set up the rescue team's main opponent in this place God seemed to fart on. He may be Blackheart or Belasco, but whoever he is he looks pretty damn evil. It's just enough intrigue to make the next issue worth picking up while still leaving room for a shitload of improvements.

Compared to Blind Science, Hellbound is minor leagues. Whereas Blind Science had mystery, subtlety, and strong character moments going for it, this issue felt like one big setup for a fight that only had a few pages to unfold at the end. I'm all for setting up a story, but Chris Yost took it just a wee bit too far here. There were some character moments that were awesome to read while others were just eye-rollingly bland. Some of those moments could have easily been cut out to extend the fight scene in Limbo at the end. While I understand it's a fine line writers have to walk, mixing action with character. It's not outrageous that some stumble along the way. Here there's plenty of that, but not so much so that it destroys the potential of the comic. The next part is still worth picking up and hopefully Yost can step it up from there.

For having a decent mix of good moments and not-so-good, Hellbound doesn't get the same worship that Blind Science got. But it isn't bad enough to deserve a flat out panning. For that it gets a 3.5 out of 5. It's definitely worth picking up, but it's not a comic readers will want to encrust with flakes of gold. There are plenty of more deserving issues in the Second Coming crossover. It remains to be seen of this whole Hellbound plot is one of them.

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