Saturday, July 17, 2010
X-men Second Coming: Hellbound #3 - Hellish Yet Awesome
With so many big events emerging as a result of X-men Second Coming it's easy to forget that there's another plot going on related to the crossover. That plot has essentially been swallowed up like an ice cream cake at a weight watchers conventions. How couldn't it be when basically nothing in the story has any effect on the bigger issues with Hope, Cyclops, and Bastion? Granted, it's hard to tie everything together when the X-men involve so many characters. But still, just a slight connection would have been helpful. That way when you see this comic on the rack you don't think to yourself "Oh yeah! There's that Hellbound thingy going on! Now where the fuck is fourth re-print of Wonder Woman #600?" The final issue caps the last of the Second Coming related books and despite the lack of connections, it's still pretty decent.
It continues without missing a beat from the previous issue, which granted feels like it came out when the first George Bush was still in office (the only partially-retarded one). Sam and his contingent of X-men are fighting through Limbo in an effort to rescue Illyana and along the way, Pixie falls into old habits with N'Astrirh (the least pronounceable name this side of Japan). He's tempted her the same way a pedophile tempts kids with promises of free candy hidden in a secret pocket in his pants, saying he'll give her back the part of her soul he took if she harvests Magik's soulsword. This unfortunately, involves surgically ripping it out in a way that would igve Hannibal Lectre a boner.
While Pixie is getting a lesson in stranger danger, Sam is getting a lesson in FUBAR (Fucked UP Beyond All Recognition for you non-military types). As if fighting off hoards of Limbo demons wasn't hard enough, Gambit has taken on the mantle of Death again. Being in Limbo just brings out the worst in people it seems and he can't help but spread the joy the same way Tommy Lee spreads Hepatitis. He already corrupted Northstar and Dazzler in the previous issue. Now he sets his sights on Sam. But it isn't all typical Cajun douche-baggery. Gambit's Death persona also took control of the hoards of demons that had been attacking, thus changing the nature of the battle. It's a dick move, but only semi when you think about it. That means Sam and Anole have to adapt and see if they'll have to decapitate Gambit later on.
So the heat is on and while the demon hoards are shifting their allegiance faster than Mel Gibson's fanclub, Pixie confronts the still bound Magik who happens to be in a position all those cute girls in Japanese anime porn are in before they're violated in so many perverse ways. Since this isn't Japan, nothing that crazy happens. In fact, what ends up happening is the least surprising surprise in Second Coming thus far. Pixie doesn't rip the soulsword out of Magik. She stabs N'Astrirh instead. Yeah, I was about as shocked by that as I was when I heard that Rickey Martin was gay.
So that's one problem solved. N'Astrirh is about as meaningful as a promise from Bernie Madoff. Now Pixie faces another challenge in Gambit's Death hoards. Apparently, the whole Death persona has gone to his head again and he uses the demons to attack both Pixie and N'Astrirh. It's kind of like solving a hostage situation by throwing a bomb at it, but damn it if it doesn't work and damn it even more if it doesn't make for an awesome battle. It also helps that Gambit looks pretty badass in the process.
The battle unfolds and it's pretty damn epic. Death Gambit takes on N'Astrirh's forces and makes him look as helpless as the Don't Taze Me Bro guy. But he also takes on Pixie as well, looking to corrupt her the same way he did with Dazzler and Northstar. He wants to corrupt her the same way Dick Cheney's soul corrupts whatever new heart he gets implanted with every few months it seems. She seems overmatched and overwhelmed, but then Cannonball enters the picture again and he does it with style. And by style, I mean a big fucking explosion.
Now it's Sam's turn to shine. Up to this point he's been about as intimidating as a box of kittens, but this is a guy who has taken on a leadership role in the X-men. That's the equivalent of being crowned champion at a bear wrestling tournament. He goes onto show that he's no slouch. He knows how to kick ass and he proves his point to Gambit, hitting him hard and fast in a beautifully scripted fight that should put a smile on anybody's face with a taste for good old fashioned comic violence. Or if you just happen to hate Gambit, this should get your rock off.
It's easy to forget that despite all this action, Illyana still isn't free. Pixie still hasn't broken her out and she's still fighting the urge to give her the OJ Simpson treatment. But again, the surprise here is painfully bland. This is Pixie we're talking about her. Marvel has been going out of their way to make her the new standard by which cute, pink-haired girls are measured who also happen to have a rack traced from a porn star (not that there's anything wrong with that). There's no way she's ever going to go dark the way Gambit has. In that sense showing any sorts of conflict in her just seems like a waste.
So yeah, another big ass surprise when Pixie frees Illyana. It doesn't make for too much of a twist and it's practically expected from the X-men's new golden girl. At least her release doesn't hurt the underlying awesome that has been established in the fight that's still going on. If anything, it heightens it because now that Illyana is free she can show that Pixie isn't the only ridiculously big-breasted teenage girl who can kick ass in an X-men comic.
Illyana's powers with the soulsword prove to be the deciding factor. As soon as she's released, it's like calling in the A-Team. She and Pixie double team Death Gambit and not in the way he's used to with teenage girls. His darker part gets blasted and overwhelmed, releasing his hold on the hoards of Limbo. It's quite a spectacle and the art really shines here as it has since the beginning of this series. The real Gambit fights his way back to the surface and sends Death Gambit back to where he belongs, but not before he drops an ominous hint implying this isn't the last we've seen of Darth Gambit.
It's a nice ending, but it's kind of weak in the sense that he doesn't really seem to pay much a price for this transformation. A few panels later he's back to his old self, which is kind of weak. When Cyclops was influenced by Apocalypse he was deeply affected. For Gambit it's like getting over a slight cough. It doesn't set anything up or show any growth in his character and that's a real missed opportunity because there is so much potential with Second Coming ending that such chances may be hard to come by in the future. The only real character growth that happens is that Pixie and Illyana seem to make amends. That's about it and for what has happened in these last three issues, that seems like settling for a bronze metal when you had every opportunity to go for the gold.
So that's it. Hellbound ends with them returning to Utopia and the book ends. They don't show Illyana reuniting with Piotr or Sam confronting Gambit. The book just ends. It's a weak ending to what has otherwise been an action packed offshoot to Second Coming. But like I said initially, it suffers from not having any clear connection to the crossover. It's like this was just a way of getting these characters to do something while the heavy hitters took on Bastion. I know it's hard to balance out so many characters in a big event, but even a slight hint of continuity would have done wonders for this and it never happened.
It's still a solid book. Writer Chris Yost once again shows that he's one of the best when it comes to writing kick-ass fight scenes with the X-men. The issue is well scripted, the dialogue is solid, and art is beautiful. If only it came out a week earlier it may have been able to distinguish itself from the rest of Second Coming. But it just couldn't measure up and for that reason X-men Second Coming: Hellbound #3 gets a 3.5 out of five. It could have been a 4 or higher if the timing had been different, but sadly Chris Yost is not on speaking terms with Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Seeing as how Yost is leaving the X-comics it's still worth picking up to enjoy what may be a fond memory in the long run because awesome comics from awesome writers are worth their weight in vibranium covered gold. Nuff said.