Thursday, August 19, 2010
Uncanny X-men #527 - Mixed Sentiment (and Emma Being a Bitch Again)
Matt Fraction's Uncanny X-men run has been a lot like that crazy drug dealer you knew in college. The guy kept selling you decent pot and the occassional blow, but occasionally he did slipped something really shitty into the mix that fucked up your buzz. But since he was the only game in town so you didn't have a choice. It was always a gamble whether you were going to get high on the awesome or frustrated with a painfully lackluster buzz. Uncanny X-men is like the weed in this case in that every drag on the joint is hit or miss. Matt Fraction has demonstrated a lot of talent when it comes to telling a compelling story and trying novel things in his work, but the man has some blatantly overt flaws in his methods that he not only flat out ignores. He never seems to try to improve. While other X-writers have some semblance of characterization to these famous figures, Matt Fraction's characterization is so skewed it's like mixing paint thinner into a bottle of whiskey. It may get you fucked up, but it will make you sick to your stomach.
Before and since Second Coming, Matt Fraction has been defined by his blatant bias towards Cyclops and Emma Frost. He seems to go out of his way to make them seem so cool even when it comes at the expense of characterization. He's also the equivalent of a topless cheerleader for the Cyclops/Emma relationship that's been unfolding since the end of the Morrison run. Now this relationship has had it's share of moments under the likes of Joss Whedon and Ed Brubaker. But since Fraction got his hands on it, the relationship has been handled like a bad fanfiction writer (I should know because I actually am a bad fanfiction writer). He's essentially turned Emma Frost into a new less trashier Jean Grey. She has none of the edge Whedon gave her. She's just the hot blond Scott carries around with him to show how awesome he is. That's an insult to both Emma and Scott and it's made Uncanny painful at times.
But there was some reason for hope. In this series Matt Fraction also set up Namor as being part of the X-men. Not only that, he revealed that Namor and Emma had a history and by history I mean they bumped uglies a few times back in the day. They had some flirtatious moments and there was a lot of possibility for a new wrinkle in the Scott/Emma relationship. This fell to the wayside for a bit during Second Coming, but I did ask him directly in an X-Position interview if it would be revisited and he said yes in his own charming way. Then the cover for Uncanny X-men #527 came out and it looks like he would make good on his word, but this is Matt Fraction. Like any bias fanfiction writer, he's willing to sacrifice character development to shake those pom-poms for his favorite pairing. So despite what the cover implies with Emma and Namor, that doesn't mean this issue will deliver.
With all this in mind there is still a good story here. It starts off simply continuing the whole Five Lights saga. In the previous issue the X-men found their first new mutant and Hope managed to help kick start her powers and gain a devoted follower. Now they're after the next mutant, who happens to be in Mexico City. Like the previous mutant, Laurie, this guy is in school and he's in the middle of taking a test. Now I had to put this book down for a moment and call my therapist due to the painful memories this image gave me, but once I pulled it together I could follow along. This unfortunate kid basically goes through what so many of us went through in school during a big test. He completely freaks out. Only this freak-out involves mutant powers.
While Psylocke and Cecilia are trying to help this kid, Emma Frost is enjoying a nice, fancy meal in Napa Valley with Tony Stark. In addition to Namor, Tony Stark is another Marvel heavyweight that she's spread her legs for. She visits him as if she's on a date with him, but there isn't much flirting. Even though they look like they're dressed for a Jenna Jameson porno, their discussion is serious. Tony Stark talks about mutants being integrated into the greater superhero community. Instead of a minority, they have a chance to be part of the bigger picture. It's not an unreasonable idea, but it involves not keeping secrets and while it's hard to tell through Whilce Portacio's art that doesn't jive with Emma.
In the very next scene, Emma's demeanor goes from charming and flirtatious to that of a meth addict in withdrawal thinking the CIA is coming to shove little green monsters up her nose. She essentially storms down into the brig where Danger (one of Joss Whedon's awesome X-men legacies) has been keeping an eye on some of Utopia's guests. One of them is Sebastian Shaw.
Now why is this a big deal? Well going back to that while secrets lecture that Tony Stark hit on, Emma's been keeping a big ass secret from the X-men and Namor. She was originally supposed to kill Shaw for Namor and she used her telepathy to make it look like she did. But for whatever reason, she didn't. Instead, she kept Shaw isolated and psychically sedated. That's like keeping an angry tiger restrained by a flimsy rope while shooting it with adrenaline and forcing it to watch the Howard the Duck movie repeatedly. Yet Danger assures Emma that Shaw is secure and Emma takes no comfort in it. If anything, she just acts like a total bitch and not in a very witty way either as Morrison and Whedon has described her.
While Emma is exercising her latent douche-baggery, the story with the new mutant in Mexico is still unfolding. The kid is still freaking out like the Flash on a drinking binge. Psylocke and Cecila keep trying to restrain him, but this kids power seems to involve vibrating at super-high frequencies that it's damn near impossible for him to be calm or even be visible. In that sense it's like having the worst possible shivers multiplied by a billion. It gets so bad that Psylocke has to contact Cyclops, who is still in Tokyo with Logan looking for another mutant. They have to report that the boy has vanished while not leaving his room. Lucky for them, Scott and Logan are drinking so when he gets this news it doesn't bother him that much. Because let's face it, when you're shit faced you could have someone pounding your foot with a hammer and it wouldn't bother you.
This leads to a long overdue character building scene between Cyclops and Wolverine. These two guys have always been at odds and rarely is there a time in the X-men's history that these two don't want to strangle each other. But they are capable of having some decent conversation. It helps that Wolverine is the Obi Wan Kanobi of getting shit faced and being hammered allows him to bring up an important point.
Since Second Coming, the X-men lost some very good friends. Logan himself lost Nightcrawler, who he considered to be his best friend. Strangely, he doesn't harbor too much of a grudge against Cyclops because Nightcrawler knew what he was getting into. But he makes it a point to Cyclops that in the war for the mutant messiah, they won. Hope is safe. New mutants are showing up. But Cyclops is still in war-mode. He won't let himself feel any of the emotions that go along with it. Now Logan giving a lecture on emotions may be like Paris Hilton giving a lecture on quantum physics, but it's not an invalid point. Cyclops lives and breathes the conflict that he's been trained to fight. Problem is, nobody has trained him to stop. It's like how the military teachers soldiers to kill, but it can't unteach them. It's a good point to make and one that Fraction hopefully doesn't completely forget about.
This was a nice scene of rare character development. You would hope the same attention would be given to Emma Frost and her unfolding story. While Emma does get an opportunity in the form of a request from Colossus, she doesn't make much use of it. She just uses it as an opportunity to be a complete bitch in a non-charming way. It's not like Colossus is asking her to dye her hair red and tattoo a Phoenix on her ass. He just wants her to use her telepathy so he can talk to Kitty, who has been rendered mute since she returned in Uncanny X-men 522. Even though she has little reason to begrudge Colossus, she's a total bitch to him even though she agrees to help.
Even though she goes through with it, she still finds ways to be a total douche-bag. After it's over, she goes so far as to call Piotr a Russian Hick. It could be lingering bitterness because of how she and Kitty were always at each others' throats during Joss Whedon's Astonishing run. But she did manage to get a message across and Emma made it sound like it was a total shot at her overblown, surgically enhanced ego. In the end, Kitty just wanted to tell Piotr she loved him. Piotr returned the sentiment, making Emma come off as an even greater douche.
At this point this story needs a break in Emma's bitchiness. Usually the best counter to Emma Frost's attitude is a hot redhead with green eyes and Phoenix powers. Enter Jea-I mean Hope Summers (sorry, I still can't tell the fucking difference even though Marvel seems to have no problem with it). She arrives with Laurie in Mexico City and tries to confront the new mutant herself. Somewhere along the line she picked up a new X-jacket in the process (which I think is worth pointing out looks a lot like the jacket Jean used to wear) and essentially does what she did with Laurie. That is to say, she just reaches out and blindly walks into the shit storm hoping for the best. That may not be very messiah-like, but since she's a teenage girl she gets a little slack.
Emma Frost, however, deserves no such slack. As implied by the cover, Emma does meet up with Namor. Except it isn't as hot as the cover implies. Namor just catches up with her at a sushi bar in Atlantis. I know that sounds like pork bar-be-que in the Middle East, but considering the food source the underwater world has it makes about as much sense as anything. Namor isn't all that subtle in the way he addresses Emma either. He makes it clear that he still wants to bone her. That alone makes him the most honest guy in the Marvel Universe because there aren't many men who don't want to bone Emma Frost. He also takes a shot at Scott Summers, which Emma understandably counters. But Namor doesn't miss a beat and continues to question him in a way Emma clearly isn't. Like Logan, he called him out for being the man with the plan when the war was going on. But now that the war is over and the messiah child is on their side, what kind of man would he be now?
It's a good question to ask. With this conflict over, is Scott Summers going to be the same man? If not then can Emma Frost keep feeling the same way about that man? For much of their relationship, the X-men were struggling with the effects of M-Day. She seemed to get a pussy boner at this large and in charge mentality he took on. But that mentality may not work anymore. So where does that leave them? It would be a great conversation to continue and Emma's reaction would be very telling, but the scene is fucking cut short. So that image on the cover never even happens. All Emma and Namor do is talk, but at least it's not completely without substance.
While Emma's status as the alpha X-women is being questioned, Hope Summers is making the case to take her place. In Mexico City she's still trying to get this new mutant into some semblance of stability. She still looks about as coordinated as any teenager would, but like some teenagers she does come through. She manages to grab onto the guy while he's vibrating and just like Laurie in the previous issue, that's all it takes. It makes for an awkward moment because once the kid is okay, he's just as drawn to Hope as Laurie was. He even hints that he wants to nail her (not knowing yet that Scott Summers has all dibs on redheads). Awkwardness aside, the second light is now secure and there are three left to find. Hope is two for two and on a roll.
The same can't be said for Emma Frost. After chatting with Namor and getting her sushi on, she pays another visit to the brig where Sebastian Shaw is still in a psychically induced dreamworld. Emma doesn't have much to say to him other than to "sleep tight" and that's about it. There's no real hint that what Danger, Namor, or Colossus told her had any affect on her. She's basically went from charming date to total bitch to more total bitch to a dismissive bitch. That's a lot of bitch for one issue. While Emma may be a bitch by her own nature, another part of that nature involves wit and charm. In this book she had absolutely none of it. For anyone who was hoping Emma would get the spotlight again in Uncanny after being sidelined for much of Second Coming, this should be pretty disappointing because it doesn't just make her a bitch. It makes her completely unlikeable compared to her Morrison, Whedon, and Warren Ellis version.
So going back to my earlier rant about Fraction's bias towards Emma and the Scott/Emma relationship, does this issue give it some depth? Definitively...not really. You get the sense that Matt Fraction is really trying to make Emma shine in the way she has with other writers. You can't fault a guy for doing so. But while his intentions may be noble, the execution was not. The only way Emma distinguished herself in this issue was by being a complete bitch and not in the way that makes her such a compelling character. There's being a bitch and there's being an outright douche-bag. Emma didn't just flirt with that line. She soared over it with a fucking rocket.
And the relationship aspect? Well Namor did question Emma's feelings for Scott and she responded as anyone would expect her to. She defended him, but not very convincingly this time. Namor kept pushing the point, trying to sew seeds of doubt into her emotions. If anyone other than Matt Fraction was writing this series, I would be excited about the possibility of some tension within the Scott/Emma relationship. But since Fraction has yet to demonstrate that he can write through his fanfiction writer-esque biases for the pairing there's really not a lot to be excited about. Here's the most likely way he'll end it...Emma and Scott will just get together and completely forget about any conflict whatsoever that Namor and Logan brought up. That's it. Writers like Grant Morrison and Chris Claremont never passed up a chance to fuck with the Scott/Jean relationship even though it had 40 years of continuity and decades of marriage behind it. But since Scott got with Emma, nobody (especially not Matt Fraction) even entertains the notion that these two should have some tension. They'll gladly take shots at long established couples like Scott/Jean and Peter/Mary Jane, but not Scott/Emma. That's not just lame storytelling. It's fucked up hypocrisy.
But I digress. Even if nothing comes of this potential story with Emma Frost, this was still decent issue. It certainly improved over the shotty transitions in the last issue. It flowed much nicer and the dialogue was still crisp. Portacio's art is still inconsistent in some areas, but it still has plenty of visual appeal. It's not a terrible improvement over the previous issue, but it's not worse either. Uncanny X-men #527 gets a 3 out of 5. Fraction has a chance to develop the Emma/Namor plot and really make up for the characterization issues that he's been panned for by so many people on message boards. However, given his history it's not very likely. But still, I try to be an optimist. The man has a chance and I'm willing to give it to him. Nuff said!