Tuesday, August 10, 2010

X-Campus #2 - Uniquely Awesome

Over a month ago an offbeat take on the X-men was introduced. It was called X-Campus, another one of those books forged in the shady underworld of European comics. I say shady because most X-fans in the states don't even know this shit exists. It usually takes some kind of fluke to get it here. X-Women was one of those comics and it was pretty kick-ass (gotta love those less than Puritainical attitudes of Europe). X-Campus is different in that it doesn't fit into the regular X-men continuity. Hell, it doesn't fit into any continuity. It's basically it's own thing, a total alternate take. And by alternate I don't mean a few tweaks here and there. I mean a full fledged re-imagining of the X-men. It's different and may cause some people's heads to spin right off their necks. But damn it if it isn't it's own kind of awesome.

X-Campus #1 set the stage. The Xavier Institute is the Xavier Academy, a special school where the X-gang we all know and love are your typical, hormone-driven, angst ridden, parent defying teenagers. Yeah, it was done before in X-men Evolution, but not like this. Charles Xavier is a real Professor who...you know, actually teaches like he never does in the comics. Jean Grey is his hot cougar-esque teaching assistant. Magneto (or Magnus as he's called) is another rival teacher. Mystique is operating under the guise of an administrator. And Logan is a teenager. That's right, the same deranged animal that was badass enough as an adult is a teenager! Where else are you going to find shit like that? All this was sort of touched on in the first issue while introducing Rogue into the story, or Anna as she's called here. She basically was the in that brought the reader into the world of X-Campus. In the new issue she doesn't take center stage nearly as much, but that's okay because it opens the door for other characters to be awesome.

In the early parts of X-Campus #2 it's Nightcrawler (who if you'll recall was recently killed in 616 so fans of him better latch onto this book like it's Pam Anderson's tit) who begins the story. He showed up in the last issue where he was essentially a kid trying to stay out of sight while surviving. That struggle continues here while guys like Magneto and Professor Xavier track him. Since kids with blue fur are underrepresented, they need something to statisfy the affirmative action crowd.

He somehow makes it to the top of Magneto's want-list (who for some reason is wearing some very Elton John type glasses and not in a way that makes him cool) and is enlisting Mesmero (who looks like a human version of Kermit the Frog) to recruit him. What's odd is he seems to know Nightcrawler on a more personal level and that offers some extra intrigue. He's not just playing the part of Mr. Burns and scheming for typical douche-baggery. There is some hint of another plot and it makes for a compelling setup.

As fun as the whole evil mutant mastermind plot is, this book is still called X-Campus #2 and that means some school related shit and just in time for back to school season as well. Along with school you get high school dramas and anybody who has been through high school knows that shit is about as nerve racking as having open heart surgery while you're doing a fitness test. X-Campus does try to capture some of that drama (while not conjuring too many painful memories for older readers). We get Rogue having some friendly exchanges with a teenage version of Donald Pierce, who looks about as sophisticated as a drunk monkey. We also get an entertaining moment with Bobby flirting with a girl. And by flirt I mean doing making little ice hearts in her water glass. Lord knows if guys like me had that in high school, we would have been up to our necks in naked cheerleaders.

Of course, along with teenage drama there's always a douche-bag looking to cock block the good guys. In this case it's some asshole named Mark. He doesn't seem related to any other X-character. He's just your standard douche. It's kind of a drag that another X-character wasn't used here. There are any number of potentially douche-bag characters in the X-universe, but it's not a total loss. Teenage Wolverine shows up and proves that in this universe, his greatest enemies are the douche-bags. It by far makes him a lot more likeable than some of his other incarnations that insist on drinking like the cast of Led Zeppline while trying to sleep with married women. But he's not a golden boy by far. He still finds time to flirt with the same girl Bobby is trying to flirt with. That makes him just a little bit more a jerk.

While girl troubles are always fun teenage drama (and plenty traumatizing for some), there's also that classic element of parent issues. What teenager doesn't get a little hostile to parents who won't let them smoke weed and hump mindlessly to midget porn? The story here is a bit more serious and a lot less sexy. It brings in Warren Worthington III, whose name is on some very important parts of the school, namely the Worthington Foundation. Now it's not clear here if Warren is a mutant or even if his father knows about it, but like any nosy parent he knows something is up and Warren isn't talking. So the potential for a Dawson's Creek style shit storm is definitely high and the added bit of Mesmero ensures that shit will be extra stinky.

At this point the teenage drama aspect starts to catch up with the readers. If someone by chance had a bad high school experience, it's not unusual for cold sweats to break out. The teenage angle is important here, but it's still an X-men book. That means at some point the X-men have to come together and thankfully the story doesn't dwell too much on the whole high school aspect. It saves those same readers the money of a trip to the therapist.

Charles Xavier finally starts becoming the Xavier we all know and love. He sends out notes to various students and tells them to meet at a gazebo. There he gives them a speech X-fans should be familiar with. He explains the extraordinary abilities they have coded in their DNA. Now keep in mind most of the characters here know they're mutants themselves, but they don't know that they're not the only ones. So when Xavier brings them together it's the first sign of a team forming and it only took one issue. Not bad for a book that's just a mini-series. Of course, not everybody gets with the program. Teenage Logan is a teenager and as such he doesn't fall in line. But that's to be expected. He just wouldn't be Logan if he did.

Not long after these new X-men meet up and join together, they get their first mission. Once again, Nightcralwer enters the picture. He's been snooping around the outer edge of the campus and runs into a couple of problems named Toad and Pyro. They look like your typical bullies, ready to cause trouble by hazing the weird kid and making a big scene of it. Only here they don't seem to have stringing him up by his underwear in mind. Nightcrawler shows some fight and there's a fart joke thrown in for good measure. Now you could say that's immature, but a fart joke is still funny and when done right it makes anything more awesome including a comic like X-Campus.

A chase ensues and Nightcrawler gets subdued. This time no fart joke is necessary. They take him down the way you would expect bullies to take down someone trying to run away from being harassed. Except unlike the countless other souls who suffer at the hands of these monsters, Nightcrawler gets some help from Professor Xavier and his new crew of students. He guides them to Nightcrawler where they outnumber and outgun Pyro and Toad. It makes for a classic X-men/Brotherhood clash even if it is lopsided and only involves a limited amount of characters. But limited or not, it's the first real taste of action in this book and for a book that centers around the X-men as teenagers it works perfectly. For veteran high school victims like myself, it's enough to evoke tears.

With Nightcrawler and his underwear safe, Xavier's new team has some success under their belt and Nightcrawler has some new friends. It makes for a nice little prelude for this burgeoning X-team even though they aren't calling themselves that yet. Not everything happens at once here. The pacing of the story remains steady even if it does seem at times that it should have overstepped a few bounds by now. But remarkably it doesn't. At this point Professor Xavier isn't even sure what to call his little club. The very idea of the X-men is still developing, which is unique to an X-comic. It gives X-campus a really nice feel and helps give more reasons to follow the story.

Now the book could have ended here and been plenty awesome, but like the first issue of X-Campus this is a two-for-one deal. That means this comic is double-sized, containing two self-contained stories. It's a great deal and an even greater bang for the buck because the first story helped build up an appetite for more X-Campus. The next story gives just another savory morsel to fuel that craving.

This one involves the X-Campus take on Charles Xavier's tenuous relationship with his brother, Cain Marko. Yeah, you can probably see where this is going. Again, there's some uniqueness added to the mix. Xavier is daydreaming about an old memory with him and is breather. It involves running, something he can't do now. It's a memory caused by the sports page of the newspaper of all things. It seems out of place, but in X-Campus it makes about as much sense as anything else thus far.

In addition to Xavier's family dramas, the plot with Rogue's love life continues from the previous issue. For whatever reason, she's attracting all the guys. Must be the accent or something. She's still getting a douche-like charm from Donald Pierce, but now Warren throws his hat into the ring. It seems a bit out of place, but at least he's not a douche-bag about it. Plus, Ororo shows that while Rogue may be new to the whole idea of having two guys that want to get into her panties, she knows how to keep it from getting messed up. That more than anything makes her one of the best damn roommates in the history of teen dramas.

But the drama doesn't stop with Warren. Once again the events of the previous story are referenced, showing that Warren is now roommates with Nightcrawler. He's still not presentable in the halls of a typical high school where they'll stare if you have a lousy haircut. So Hank is working on an image inducer to help him walk the halls without being cornered by the nearest douche army. It's another page right out of X-men Evolution, but if you're going to life details from any source it may as be the only other medium that has X-men as a Dawson's Creek style drama.

Between Nightcrawler's appearance and Rogue's inability to understand the rituals involving the opposite sex, it's easy to forget that there is a more basic X-plot here and that plot is revealed with Charles Xavier once more. He meets with Scott to discuss a little field trip to a football game. Now usually when I see the word football and X-men in the same comic, it's the equivalent of taking a hit of crack and ecstasy while watching an X-men Animated Series marathon. But the emphasis here isn't on football. It's on Cain Marko, someone who gained power like a mutant and isn't using it in a very noble way (unless you're a Cowboys, Redskins, Patriots, or Eagles fan).

Now what do I mean by that? Well unless you're a total novice to X-men you'll know that Cain Marko became Juggernaut when he had a little run in with the gem of Cyttorak. That gem turned him into the unstoppable force he became. That happened here in X-Campus, but he didn't exactly use it to become the hulking dick-weed he is in the comics. He used to become a dick-weed athlete and one way he shows off his power is to make a fool out of the New York Giants. Again, if you don't like them this should put a smile on your face.

Charles isn't much of a football fan so he goes to talk with Cain after the event. It starts off as well as any reunion between brothers and by well I mean one is a total dick while the other is being the voice of reason. Cain doesn't give a hunk of donkey shit for reason though. He wants to use this Cyttorak power to gain money, fame, and women. A vast majority of the readers out there would probably do the same considering how much bank and pussy guys like Brett Farve and Albert Haynseworth get despite being douche-bags. When Xavier tries to challenge him, Cain reacts about as well as Ryan Leaf does to reporters. He acts like a fucking dick.

So thus begins another classic fight between the X-men and Juggernaut, only this takes the form of a locker room style brawl you would see on ESPN. The X-kids all try to take their shot, but it works about as well as a hunger strike in an anti-masterbation protest. Juggernaut may not have the distinct brown costume or that goofy helmet, but he's still pretty fucking strong and makes quick work of everyone that tries to take him on. Then Rogue takes a shot, giving him a simple touch on the face with her bear hand. Cain probably thinks this is just a pussy way to slap somebody, but her powers do kick in and there's a nice little homage to the X-men movies with the creepy black veins before she drains him and ends the fight.

Now some may cry foul here because Rogue has tried to absorb Juggernaut before in the comics and shows, and that's never stopped him. It always requires that Xavier stop him with his telepathy. It seems like that should be the case here, but it isn't. For whatever reason, Rogue's absorption powers are enough. It seems a little underhanded. But it works just fine. It's just not as awesome as it could have been.

Once Cain is taken down, Xavier goes back to high school mode. He helps the cops sort things out and his students go back to being students. He does some more daydreaming, which I guess is fitting because that's how this Juggernaut story started out. He touches a bit on Rogue's personal dramas and there's even a little hint about Donald Pierce being a bit less than human (translation, he's got cyber implants that make the look like a half-assed version of the Terminator). There's even a nice little hint about the next issue concerning someone else at the campus named Professor Bolivar Trask. Other than Michael Bay, no man has more giant robot connotations than that man and it sets the stage nicely for the next issue while laying to rest the story here. If that's not enough for readers of this double-sized book, then consider a bucket of crystal meth because nothing is good enough for you!

Between this issue and the first issue, X-Campus is shaping up to be a very enjoyable little series. It is a very unique twist on the X-men, but not so unique that it's difficult to follow. It takes some concepts from X-men Evolution and others from the books and crafts a unique kind of iteration of everybody's favorite mutants. The style isn't for everyone. The art can seem a bit sub-par at times and so can the dialogue, but for the most part it's a quality piece of awesome and you can't ask for much more. Throw in the added value of getting two full stories in a single book and you've got twice the awesome within the same pages.

Taking everything together and ignoring some of the painful memories of my own high school career that this book evokes, I give this book a 4.5 out of 5 and one of my highest recommendations. Now why did I take off half a point? Well the first issue had the benefit of really presenting a bold new concept and making it awesome. This issue didn't have that added benefit of being completely new. It still worked, but only as a continuation of the previous issue. It doesn't seem right to give it the same score as the first issue of X-Campus because it doesn't have the same ground-breaking feel to it.

Even without that half-a-point, this series is still awesome! Writer Francesco Artibani has done a great job thus far and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the current X-men writers. This issue, the last issue, and the next two issues are definitely worth picking up. If you're an X-man fan and looking for something novel and engaging (and weren't too traumatized by school), this is the way to go! Nuff said.

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