Sunday, August 1, 2010

Uncanny X-men #526 - Inconsistent Awesome

So Second Coming is over and done with and Marvel is hyping up the post Second Coming world like it's some hip new weight loss product that involves eating chocolate and doing lines of cocaine off a titty dancer. After the sheer breath of awesome that Second Coming offered, it's necessary that the nature of the book change and Uncanny X-men #526 by Matt Fraction is supposed to reflect that change. This is supposed to begin the first critical step towards a new era in X-men, one that isn't tied down by M-Day and playing up all those depressing M-Day stories about extinction. Because let's face it, the whole extinction angle got old and made you go on one too many drinking binges (although I did get a personal thank-you note from the makers of Shmiernov Vodka so it wasn't completely without merit).

That makes the stakes pretty high for this issue and usually Matt Fraction does deliver. He even has help from an old school X-men artist in Whilce Portacio. There were a number of plot threads opened by Second Coming and a few loose ends that were never tied up. They're not going to leave them dangling, are they? They're not going to induce more drinking binges? My liver already hates me enough. But after reading this issue, I'm left with mixed feelings and entirely new reasons to get shit faced.

The premise of the issue stems from the final pages of Second Coming. At the end Cerebra detected five new lights representing the first new mutant signatures since M-Day that weren't Hope. Now the mission is to find these lights and do what X-men do best, which is dress them up in spandex and get them deals with Victoria's Secret. The first light appears on the very first few pages and she isn't exactly thrilled with her new powers. Then again, a lot of mutants didn't have the luxury of going through a smooth transition. Add to that the complication of being a teenage girl and know what, I've had enough traumatic experiences with crazy teenage girls that I don't even want to get into it. My therapist would have me comitted.

While the X-men are closely monitoring this girl (and by monitoring I mean stalking her as if she were a drug dealer), another plot from Second Coming emerges. This one involves Hope Summers, the familiar looking mutant messiah. At the end of the Uncanny Heroic Age one-shot, she expressed a desire to find her biological parents. Since the beginning of Messiah Complex, the heritage of Hope has been a mystery and prone to wild speculation that involves theories involving Sinister, the Hellfire Club, Jean Grey, Madelyn Pryor, and George W. Bush. So finding out the truth should be a huge deal, right? Hope sure thinks so and overpacked like she's about to hike through the fucking Sahara desert.

After getting Hope out of the whole Apocalyptic future mindset, he send her off to Alaska with Rogue, Dr. Nemesis, and Cypher. This bleeds into a somewhat bizarre and disjointed transition that may require you either read over the part another three times or take a hit of shrooms (I recommend the latter) because it gets pretty confusing. Here's what happens: on one page Cyclops and Emma are talking about sending Hope to Alaska and Cyclops going on a mission with Logan to Tokyo while on that exact same page it shows Cyclops already in Tokyo. Skip to the next page and Cyclops is still with Emma and she makes some painfully lame comment about "rad bromance" that simply couldn't have come from a professional comic writer like Matt Fraction and then on the same fucking page it shows Emma paying a visit to Tony Stark (who she has slept with in the past) looking like she's Corella Devile. Either some panels are missing or someone has the organization skills as George W. Bush.

This begins an unfortunate trend I'm afriad. I could forgive Matt Fractions lame dialogue as a hiccup or a product of insomnia, but the way it's organized on the pages is a fucking joke. Most comics, even the shitty ones, are nice enough to make a smooth transition so you're not confused on how the fuck the characters got to a certain state. Here it's not just disjointed. It's confusing and fucking lame. I don't know who is to blame, Fraction or Portico, but someone screwed the pooch and then strangled it for good measure.

This kind of mindfuck almost makes it hard to feel the emotion of the next scene, which involves Hope finding out about her parents. Now you would think that since this has been such a big mystery, she would have to fight for the truth. But no. Cypher just hacks it out of a computer or fucking Googles it for all we know to find out that the name of Hope's mother is...Louise Spalding. Yep, that's it. That's the big revelation Marvel has been keeping under wraps. It would be a lot more powerful if it actually took some sort of challenge to find this information, but they essentially do a George Michaels and pull it out of their ass. It's so underwhelming it takes away from the emotion of Hope visiting the grave of her mother.

Now this would have been a great time for some killer robots or alien hit men to show up, but again the outcome is underwhelming. Louise's mother, Hope's grandmother, shows up at the grave and not by coincidence either. It turns out Cypher figured out that little tidbit as well. She's no killer robot, but she does invite Hope over for a bite to eat. Because that's always a safe activity, inviting a total stranger from a graveyard into your house.

This begins a somewhat smoother scene transition, but the scene it transfers to has jack shit to do with anything that's been established in this books so far. It's just a brief shot of Colossus and Dr. Rao looking over Kitty Pryde, who has been in a state of permanent phasing since Magneto brought her back in Uncanny X-men 522. Not much happens. Colossus complains about not having his lover in a state he could feel up and Dr. Rao gives him the plain runaround, which essentially is her way of saying "There's nothing I can do." It's a grossly predictable scene that would have been great if it just didn't feel so out of place. Hell, this feels like a scene that should have been in an earlier issue and it's only now that they're getting to it? Did they really have to wait for this moment so that it completely loses it's punch? Kitty fans, Colossus fans, and Kitty/Colossus fans may be inclined to storm the offices of Marvel over how bland this scene turns out.

This scene is essentially filler for the next big moment when Hope gets to learn more about her mother. Apparently, she was a fiery personality. She was a redhead like Hope who worked as a firefighter. She seemed to have this odd fixation with running into burning buildings and fighting fire, which should sound familiar to another certain redhead with a fiery disposition. Add to that she wasn't married and seemed to have no interest in having a boyfriend. That adds some added mystery because the one piece of information Cypher couldn't find on Google was the identity of Hope's father. That was left completely unanswered. On top of that, guess who Louise Spalding looks like? I'll give you a hint: she has red hair, green eyes, and a fiery persona. If the name Jean Grey didn't cross your mind, then light yourself on fire and jump out of a 33 story window because you have failed to use your brain and do not deserve to enjoy it's fruits.

This brings me to the other elephant in the room with this scene. First off, it's yet another Jean Grey hint. Louise Spalding and her tendency to fight fire reeks of a Jean Grey knock-off and Hope's established connection to the Phoenix Force only adds to that hint. Second, why the fuck was this meant to be such a big ass mystery if Hope's mother was just some firefighter? Why keep it a secret? It's missing out on a golden opportunity to further Hope's mystery and instead you get this patently lame revelation that only adds to speculation that Jean Grey and Hope are connected. Not only that, Hope being a single woman in Alaska who looked like Jean resembles another character. Her name is/was Madelyn Pryor and she was a clone of Jean Grey. Add to that a lack of a father and you've got Marvel hinting yet again at a Hope/Jean connection that has been teased and re-teased so many times that it's getting fucking annoying. I know I'm ranting a bit here, but if Hope Summers was meant to be her own character why drop all these Jean Grey hints? She has red hair, green eyes, and the Phoenix Force. No other Marvel redhead fits that description so perfectly as Jean Grey. Yet Hope is supposed to be her own character? I call bullshit! Either she's some new incarnation of her or a total Jean knock-off. The more Marvel leaves this question unanswered the more bullshit it acquires and if you acquire enough bullshit pretty soon the stench becomes too powerful.

This bland revelation is made even shittier by another spotty scene transition where Cyclops (wasn't he supposed to be in Toyko?) orders Hope, Rogue, and the others to meet up with Iceman and Angel to confront this new mutant. There's no clear passage of time here. It looks like Hope and the others essentially teleported to the scene, which seems pretty fucked up given that Nightcrawler and Ariel are dead and all. They don't partake in much discourse either because the new mutant fucking jumps off a rooftop. Hope being the mutant messiah and all tries to save her and when she does, some of that messiah mojo kicks in.

What happens next looks like another manifestation of Hope's powers. It has that ominous Phoenix glow to it (seriously, the Jean hints are just not getting interesting anymore) and as soon as she touches the girl, she goes through a butterfly-like metamorphosis. When she emerges she turns into what appears to be a cross between Mystique and a fish-woman. It's not terribly original, but it is a pretty awesome look for a new mutant and Portacio does flex his artistic muscle with her. Her powers aren't exactly clear, but she can fly and look awesome so that's really all that's needed to cheer her up.

What happens next is yet another head-scratcher. This girl who looked like a dying cancer patient is now ecstatic. She's ecstatic like she just had sixteen consecutive orgasms in the span of five seconds. Not only that, she practically swoons over Hope and says she'll now follow her to the ends of the Earth like some Charles Manson cult follower. It's insanely creepy and the dialogue is so fucking ridiculous that you're tempted to both scoff and vomit at the same time.

And that's how this issue ends. They find the girl, Hope kick starts her powers, and now she's got a stalker. It sounds like it could be awesome on paper, but the way it's put together is terribly underwhelming. Add to that the lame way in which Hope discovered her parents and you've got a comic that stalls at a moment when the series needs to excel for the new status quo. It's immensely disappointing and does not bode well for the new era in X-men comics.

Now I loved Second Coming and I was excited to see what the aftermath had to offer, but if this is all Marvel could come up with then call me a lemon because I'm officially sour. They've really dropped the ball on Hope by further dragging out the Hope/Jean mystery. Hell, nobody has even commented on the fact that she's a redhead who manifested Phoenix powers. Even Emma, who saw this, didn't say a word. It was like nothing happened! If Marvel doesn't want to bring back Jean then at least make it clear that Hope has no such connection to her and stop dropping hints that she may be some incarnation of her! She already looks like her and wields the Phoenix. Now her biological mother looks like her and has a passion for fire and her father is still a mystery. If that was meant to squash the Hope/Jean mystery, it failed miserably and is drawing out something that got old at least two crossovers ago.

On top of the endless Hope/Jean mess, the pitiful organization of this book was painful at times. Scenes were terribly drawn and some of the dialogue was so fucking stupid it's hard to believe that Matt Fraction wrote it. This is a guy who is so good at making witty, playful, off-beat dialogue and here he's completely regressed. I almost refuse to believe he wrote this book because he and Portacio are better than this. If not they would be wise/sober to step up their game in the next issue because this is just too pathetic for a mainline X-men book. I expect this shit from Ultimate Marvel, not Uncanny.

The book isn't without it's moments. The new mutant looks pretty neat and her story has some potential and the promise of more such mutants still makes the next issue worth picking up. But this issue was a thorough disappointment and for that I can only give it a 2 out of 5. I hope this is just a small bump in the road because there is a lot of ground to cover with the X-men comics. Second Coming is over. A new host of missions lies before them. These books need to be top quality if the story is going to bear the burden of this new round of X-men stories. This certainly doesn't measure up. It's a good thing it's still early in the game because too many books like this and not even the Phoenix Force will be able to fix it.

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