Tuesday, June 22, 2010

X-men Second Coming: Hellbound #2 - Devilish Awesome

While the self-described biggest X-men crossover of the decade has been more erratic than a bipolar schizophrenic on her period at times, lost in the madness are the offshoot stories that emerge from it. One of those stories is the Hellbound arc, which spun directly out of the pages of Second Coming when Illyana was attacked and sent to Limbo. In response Cyclops sent Cannonball on a mission with Gambit, Anole, Trance, Northstar, Dazzler, and a reluctant Pixie to rescue her. The first issue was mostly a setup and pretty light on action and heavy on bloated cliched character plots. The new issue, however, is heavy on the action and the twists and it goes without saying that it makes the story a hell of a lot better.

It starts off with Illyana making an appearance. Her situation hasn't changed much. She's still screwed, captive in Limbo and being bound by something that looks like the Sarklac from Return of the Jedi. Were this a Japanese comic it would quickly turn into a tentacle rape scene for anime porn, but since Marvel is run by a bunch of prudes they're content to just show her struggling as if that's not suggestive enough.

The fight with the rest of the team involves a lot less S&M undertones. Sam Guthrie is given some nice scenes, showing that he really is taking charge and acting as a leader should. In the last issue he came off as being a bit weak, but here he definitely shows some balls. He's blasting his way through demons and looking pretty damn awesome in the process. If this doesn't get him some quality pussy back on Utopia then nothing will.

He's not the only one strutting his stuff. More detailed fight scenes are shown with Dazzler, Anole, and Northstar. They reflect what really is the strength of this issue and every Chris Yost comic for that matter. The action isn't just mindless fighting. There is structure and choreography to it. It's part of what has helped make X-Force a consistent well of awesome and Yost doesn't hold anything back here. Everybody gets a moment to shine.

But while many of the other characters shine, Pixie is still the weak link here. In the previous issue she came off as a whiny little bitch for acting all "I'm so scared about going back to Limbo!" and "I don't wanna! I don't wanna go! You can't make me!" Put her in a pair of overalls and put a beanie on her head and she's a prototypical three-year-old brat. Now to be fair, she is being more heavily targeted than the others. She has a history in Limbo and she'll understandably draw a crowd. But still, she shows next to no backbone. I know she's a teenage girl and all, but a little badassery would give her some serious respectability. Right now, she's flirting dangerously close to Paris Hilton caliber lameness.

She does show some grit though. She has a genuine desire to save Illyana. However, her dialogue just seems dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. It's like she was just made to say these things and that doesn't reflect in her actions or her attitude. It's an inconsistent portrayal and Trance comes off as being more together than Pixie ever will. To be fair she's only there in spirit form, but this erratic characterization for Pixie makes her seem like she skipped her Thorazine meds.

While Pixie may be taking the awesomeness potential down a peg, it definitely gets a boost from the man who graces the cover of this issue. Gambit, whose badassery by far compensates for Pixie's lack thereof, gives this comic a major twist. In recent years he's been going back and forth between his human side and his Death persona, which Apocalypse instilled. It's not a very nice persona and it's never been clear how much control he has over this persona. For whatever reason, Limbo has brought out his more colorful side and being Death in a place like Limbo seems to fit as well as being a troubled NFL star in a strip club.

Gambit quickly gains the support and trust of the demons of Limbo. Because really, why fight when you can just get your enemies to join you? It's perfect for Gambit's persona. He's a thief and a scoundrel and he'll do bad in order to do good when everybody else is too much of a pussy to do the same.

With the demons under his control, he turns his attack on Dazzler and Northstar. They are understandably pissed and confused at his actions. They react as one would expect, looking to get away from his hoards while kicking his ass in the process.

That's easy for Northstar, who seems to have no trouble avoiding the attacks. But just because Gambit went a little off his rocker doesn't mean he's stupid now. He singles out Dazzler and gets her under his influence, turning her into a similar Death persona. Northstar doesn't stand a chance and eventually gets roped in as well. There's some gay joke in here somewhere, but the scene is just too awesome and I'd rather not taint it.

Now maybe it's a bad sign when Gambit in his Death persona is doing better than Cannonball, who is supposed to be the leader of this whole affair. He's fighting a losing battle to say the very least and his moments turn mostly into trying to save his team from taking a magma bath. It shows that while this team of his packs some serious punch, they're a far cry from a Cyclops-led team of veterans. It doesn't seem to help that Illyana is nowhere in sight and they've lost track of Pixie. Cannonball tries to stay calm, but he gets increasingly desperate and to his credit he doesn't lose his cool. But that changes when Gambit, Dazzler, and Northstar show up in their Death personas. But this is where the second twist takes place.

Gambit easily could have attacked and overwhelmed Cannonball and Anole. He could have easily subdued them like the 2008 Detroit Lions. However, that doesn't happen. He and his new hoard of allies don't strike a blow. He just asks that they talk. It adds a different level of complexity to this development. What's going on? Is Gambit really joining the Limbo hoards or does he have a plan for this? How is Cannonball going to react as a leader? How will this affect their rescue of Illyana? All are intriguing questions that jam a grappling hook into the reader and reels them in for the rest of the story.

While this moment with Gambit is oozing with awesome from every orifice, the next scenes with Pixie continue to be underwhelming. She and Trance continue to fight their way through the Limbo hoards, but along the way Trance gets knocked out of the fight and ends up going back to her body on Utopia. This leaves Pixie all on her own to take on Limbo and like Gambit, she succumbs to the influence of the dark forces there. And unlike Gambit, she doesn't look very badass doing it.

The demon is basically offering Pixie to get a piece of her soul back. What he wants in return is 'nothing of consequence' as he describes it. That should be a red flag to anybody. That's like the creepy guy in the windowless fan offering candy to kids. It should send anyone's bullshit sensor into overdrive, but Pixie seems to fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Maybe she'll do a turnaround in the next issue, but through two issues thus far she still comes off as a whiny, weak little brat. She's the weak link in an otherwise awesome comic and unfortunately, the issue ends with her taking this demon seriously. It almost makes the reader want to root for Death Gambit because at least he looks cool and doesn't whine like a little bitch.

While Pixie's lameness may bring down the issue, there is still plenty of awesome from the other characters to compensate. The first issue was the setup and this issue was the meat of the story and it was carried out wonderfully by Chris Yost in spite of Pixie's portrayal. This isn't just one big fight scene in Limbo. There is a plot full of mystery and intrigue here. It's more than enough to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next and how this battle is going to resolve itself.

It's only natural for comics like this to get lost in the glare of big events like Second Coming, but since Second Coming has faltered in recent issues it is a nice break to have a comic this good stem from it. It may not make up for the shortcomings in the main series, but it certainly adds to the overall awesomeness of the event. Factoring in the Pixie damage, this issue gets a 4 out of 5. It could have been nearly flawless in the way Blind Science was, but damn it if that Pixie can't ruin a no-hitter. She still has one issue left to redeem herself. As Second Coming draws to a close, Hellbound has the potential to really supplement the event. I originally wasn't going to follow these side-stories, but thanks to Chris Yost and this issue of Hellbound I'm in it to the very end! Nuff said!

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