Saturday, July 3, 2010
X-Campus #1 - Mutants Plus High School Equals Awesome
It seems every so often Marvel tries to put a new twist on their many classic characters. Sometimes it's a full blown alternate universe like the Ultimate series and sometimes it's something as simple as a What If comic. Some of them turn into great stories. Some of them become more fucked up than a German whore on free coupon day. Enter the series, X-Campus. It's got nothing to do with the mainline X-men universe and isn't even based on any what if premises. It is essentially a twisted and unusual take on these classic characters. It de-ages most of them, puts them in a high school, and goes from there. Now on the surface that sounds pretty fucking lame, like the kind of idea someone watching a re-run of Dawson's Creek may have come up with and not had the decency to be high while doing it. It also sounds like a complete knock-off of the X-men Evolution cartoon, which was pretty damn popular in it's own right. But doing it again? Why bother? Well, if you can set aside the bullshit cynicism you might just be surprised by how awesome it is.
It's true. This is a premise that doesn't suck. Not only that, it's actually made interesting in a way that shows these characters in a new light that feels fresh and fun without needing a line of cocaine to get through it like other comics (the Ultimate relaunch comes to mind). It takes some classic elements and entirely new elements and blends them in a way that's not just fun, it's refreshing from all the doom and gloom that has dominated the X-men since the Bush Administration.
It starts off with Rogue, a character who is put in a vulnerable position the same way every teenager has ever been in since the dawn of time. There are some elements that are completely lifted from 616 and the movie. Rogue's powers manifest when she first kisses a boy. She gets in a shitload of trouble and doesn't know what to do. It's almost analogous to a teenager finding out that sending naked pictures of yourself to a boyfriend breaks certain laws passed by old men disgusted with nudity. Only with Rogue, the boy ends up in a coma.
Then from there it changes. A social worker from Connecticut arrives and offers her a scholarship to a school. But it isn't the Xavier Institute. It's something called the Worthington Foundation. She doesn't look like any familiar face from the comics, but she does come off as someone important to the story. And she most certainly is. I don't want to give it away, but the words shape and shifter come to mind and her name rhymes with physique. Interested yet?
From there we get our first look at this so-called X-Campus. It actually does look like a normal school. Granted, it looks nicer than most schools and by nicer I mean less graffiti of dicks sprayed on every wall. It's definitely not the Xavier Institute. It's not some private mansion. It's a real campus, which explains the name if that wasn't amazing enough.
Also, we get to see some more familiar faces. There's a teenage Logan, which has to be dangerous on the same level as weapons grade plutonium. An adult Logan is bad enough, but a teenager? As if teenagers weren't inherently crazy enough, putting Logan in that mindset is just asking for trouble. But seeing as how he's portrayed as some burly adult in every other medium, it's a nice shift. Next to him is a teenage Scott Summers, who by all accounts looks just like his X-men Evolution incarnation. Jean Grey is there as well, but she's not a teen. She actually looks like an adult and she is, drawing inspiration from her more mature Femke Jennsen character from the movies (minus the bullshit that was X3 of course).
More campus shots ensue and Rogue still looks about as comfortable as a Catholic Priest at a Jonas Brothers concert. She's definitely giving off her Rogue persona and more classic elements continue to enter, like Scott and Logan butting heads. It seems it doesn't matter what age these guys are, they're always going to hate each other.
Then there's Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw. Now this is a real kicker because while it's easy to imagine Emma Frost as a teenager, Sebastian Shaw is a bit harder. But that's part of what makes it so awesome because this is a guy who has carried the same douche-bag persona in every medium of X-men since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby fired off their first few brain cells. Yet here he is, looking like a regular kid with a bit of an ego because he gets to hump a hot blond. It's not just in character, it's a remarkable statement on the prevalence of certain douche-baggery in all public schools. Almost brings a tear to your eye.
But it isn't just the kids and the douche-bags they have to deal with that make up the story. Just as there are other annoying teenagers, there are also annoying professors nobody likes who come off as someone who had their soul crushed somewhere along the line and settled for teaching snot nosed kids to pay their therapist bills. Who better to play that role than Magneto? Only here he's not wearing a cape and bucket. He's wearing what you would expect of an uptight professor. In a ways that makes him even more evil.
Conversely, Charles Xavier comes off as the same wise nurturer of young minds as he always has. In fact, he's the guy who probably changes less than anyone else in this series. When he speaks to his first class, he looks and acts like he would in pretty much every other X-men universe. The presence of an adult Jean, who Xavier reveals is his assistant, helps contrast things a bit. It's a little hard to tell just how much older Jean is though. It looks like she could be a graduate student or someone in her thirties. The art does not do a good job of making that clear. But they continue with the theme of this being a real school and give a biology test. Honestly, when have the X-men ever been shown on panel as taking a real test? It's almost disturbing.
Now this sounds boring and it is, but it doesn't stay that way. The class becomes much more exciting very quickly when teenage Scott Summers gets a little antsy around Jean (hinting he may have a thing for cougars in this series). Now normally when a teenager gets nervous they lash out, get dramatic, or if they're a boy they get one of those random boners they can't seem to control. For Scott, the boner is his powers and the embarrassment becomes terror when he has to run out and look for a safe place to release the pressure. I could liken that to a masterbation joke, but I'll refrain for now.
The resulting incident blows a pretty big hole in the boiler room. The classroom is evacuated. Jean and the Professor have to be rescued. But hey, they get out of having to take a test. That's gotta count for something, right? It's not as intense as fighting giant robots or going toe-to-toe with a 5,000 year old Egyptian tyrant with a hard-on for destruction. It is essentially an allegory for how fucked up high school is. Granted, this story sort of ends abruptly and it's not clear what's done here. But it shows that while these are the X-men, they are struggling with age-old issues of growing up. It's like every John Huges movie only with mutants.
Now the next part gets a little spotty because this comic is actually giant sized. It's like two comics being crammed into one and while that's great bang for your buck, the transition's about as smooth as shriveled scrotum. Plus, it picks back up with the plot about Rogue which seemed to be forgotten from earlier. The key players now are Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw, who appear to be friendly with Magneto or Professor Magnus as he's known here. It's classic bad guys conspiring against the good guys only here some of the bad guys are teenagers. In a way that's even more dangerous than a thousand Apocalypse battles.
The plot that follows is once again taken from X-men Evolution and the comics. Magneto's side tries to recruit Rogue and to do this, Emma and Shaw reach out to her. They do so with an activity that sounds less like X-men and more like 90210. They offer to take her to the mall. Rogue being a teenage girl accepts and you get the sense of what they're doing. They're like the jocks in teen movies looking to befriend the school nerd so they can take advantage of his talents. Only in this case, it has less to do with cheating on math tests and more to do with evil mutant agendas.
Emma does her part to come off as Rogue's potential BFF. She even invites Rogue to her room (not in the way all guys fantasize about though sadly) and shows that this version of Emma is more a party girl who enjoys her share of decadence. She even calls her room the Hellfire Club, as if the undertones couldn't be more subtle. Rogue looks like a fish out of water, but she still goes with it because who wouldn't? A hot girl with hot friends is showing interest? If there were a sign-up sheet for that shit there would be people beating each other up with baseball bats to get to the front of the line.
When they do get to the mall, it looks like a normal teen outing. It's hard to determine why Shaw and Emma would take Rogue here of all places, but it's not just for shopping. Apparently, they were on a mission. They were looking for another mutant who happened to be in the area. He wasn't easy to miss. He was the only one in the mall who was covered from head to toe in clothes and not making eye contact. Usually the guys who dress like that are either drug dealers or thieves. This guy turns out to be something else when he starts teleporting around, which pretty much gives away who this is.
A chase ensues, one that leads them out of the mall and on a car chase. Again, it's not the same as fighting giant robots, but a car chase is still in the same ballpark. It's drawn out nicely into quite a spectacle and despite Emma, Shaw, and Rogue's best efforts the cloaked figure (which is clearly Nightcrawler to anyone with half a brain's worth of X-men knowledge) gets away. Not only that, Shaw's car is totaled and for once it's not part of a Gieco commercial.
Lucky for Shaw, he has something better than Gieco. He has Magneto, who shows up just in time to see Shaw and Emma looking like idiots. He's nice enough to use his powers to fix Shaw's car, but he spends more time talking to Rogue. The point of the outing was to get her to join them. Granted, it doesn't feel like they did much to convince her, but he still makes his pitch. Here his word choice is a little fucked. He actually uses words like 'rule the world.' As fucked up as teenagers are and as naive as they may be, saying words like that is the fastest way besides a girl saying 'I'm late' to freak them out. It comes as no surprise that Rogue turns him down. She doesn't even wrestle with it, which is kind of a drag because it takes away from the emotional potential of the story.
It doesn't end on a completely grim note for Rogue though. The next scene picks up from some of the damage caused by the last plot, showing that Scott's incident was written off as a gas explosion. In addition Rogue is connecting with others who aren't such douche-bags. One of them is teenage Hank McCoy, who looks like a prototypical AV Club guy. He does in one scene what Emma and Shaw couldn't do in several. It's a good sign at least for Rogue. Watching on is Charles Xavier and Jean, who also seem to have an interest in Rogue as well. They end the story with an ominous hint of how they're going to take action of their own. It sets things up nicely for the next issue.
I'm not going to lie. This kind of book isn't for everybody. The premise really is different and the characters are construed in a way that may seem kiddish. But it's not done with kindergartners in mind. It is told as a real serious story. It's told in a refined and meaningful way that doesn't come off as bad fanfiction. I should know. I fucking write bad fanfiction. But it's not going to blow X-fans away with the kind of spectacles they're used to. A lot of the plot is built around teen drama and the rigors of school. It's something everybody can relate to and it's fun. So it's not worth bitching about.
If you like more down-to-Earth stories with the X-men or were a fan of X-men Evolution, then this comic is for you. If you like space-based spectacles, get your fix somewhere else. You'll be disappointed by the lack of aliens and killer robots. It's a good comic despite having poor pacing and spotty transitions as times. The art is also sub-par, looking a bit too much like a cartoon and not enough like a comic. But the characterization is very nicely done and the story is fun and engaging. Not only that, it's giant sized so it's a great value.
The final score for X-Campus is a 4 out of 5. This series has potential. I'm definitely on board for the next one. There's a lot of awesome to be had here and if you're looking for a less soul-crushing alternative to the mainline comics, X-Campus may be right up you're alley!