Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Astonishing X-men #35 - Done With (Some) Style
Last time I reviewed Astonishing X-men, I spent most of the review pissing and moaning about how much the delays hurt this book and how obsolete this title had become since Joss Whedon left. Well I can't promise anybody I won't do more pissing and moaning here. When it comes to comics called Astonishing X-men, there are some very high standards. The bar is so high that most writers would be lucky to get over with only moderate trauma to the balls. Warren Ellis isn't most writers though and for what's it's worth, he's managed to carry this title through the agonizing delays and the utter lack of continuity between this book and the rest of the X-books. As far as I know the events of this book actually take place before the Utopia arc if not sooner. A lot of shit has happened since then and you almost have to have a touch of amnesia to get the same impact from this title. However, the pissing and moaning may finally be able to stop because this issue marks the end of the eXogenic arc. It's taken way longer than any decent comic should, but it's finally ending.
Now before I get into the action review here's a recap for those whose memory have trouble keeping up with delays or you just happen to smoke too much pot (or both, just saying). The X-men have been chasing a new brand of sentinels that were made from the dead bodies of their old enemies. The last issue revealed that this data was actually hacked from Beast's computer. After a string of awkward moments, the team followed the trail to a ship and from that ship it led them into a mountain (I know it probably would have been easier to just go to the mountain, which leads me to assume they were just trying to hoard airline miles or something). Inside that mountain was a shit ton of giant creatures that could have been Godzilla's prison bitch. These creatures are what's standing between them and confronting the asshole behind it all, Kaga. Yeah, it's not the darkest sounding name, but for the creatures he made his name could be Felicity Toriscockoff and he would still command respect.
The issue picks up where the X-men left off, which was basically somewhere between the armpits and ass crack of these over-sized creepy crawlers. Since there wasn't a four month delay this time, it feels a little smoother. There's not much the X-men have to fight against this shit. They got their powers and a kick-ass plane. Now they could use both and make for an exceptionally awesome and creative moment, but I guess that sort of thing was reserved for Joss Whedon. Instead, they go with the old using-the-flames-of-the-jet routine. It may not sound like a really heroic stand, but with the way it's drawn it still looks fucking awesome.
It can't be too lame if it works. The next few pages are spectacles that combine the awe-inspiring display of fireworks with the guilty pleasure of watching something explode like a beer keg stuffed with C4 (not a good idea to do in back yard while drunk mind you). Now usually in a comic the explosion is enough. Most readers would be content just seeing something blow up in the same way a guy will see a chick flick so long as it means seeing a certain number of breasts. But there is one small detail to this plan the X-men put together. They set the damn place on fire, but that means they'll get burned too. It's one of those little things that good writers like Warren Ellis take into account. In this Cyclops gambles that Kaga isn't completely retarded and has an emergency exhaust vent (which looks suspiciously like the thermal exhaust port on the Death Star) that's just small enough for them to fly through.
This daring escape is followed by a fairly rough ride that leaves the X-jet in the kind of ruin that Lehman Brothers would be proud of. I'm guessing they have that thing insured because they aren't too broken up about it being as air-worthy as a brick. That or maybe it has more to do with some nameless armed guards coming in to watch the fireworks. Seeing as how the team just emerged from setting ablaze a shit ton of giant Godzilla-esque monsters the prospect of facing nameless guards must seem pretty bland to them. Seriously, how many of these guys have they taken down over the years? Even Barry Bonds couldn't ballpark that figure.
The fight doesn't last nearly as long as the escape from the monster den and rightfully so. Why should a bunch of stiff who don't even say anything give them more trouble than a pack of D&D ripoffs? They're not completely without their use though. As they kick their asses, Emma Frost finally does more than play the part of Cyclops's arm candy and extracts some valuable information from one of the guards. She doesn't give specifics. She only saves those for the bedroom as indicated by a brief S&M quip. She just tells Cyclops to look up and shoot and this time it's in a completely non-sexual way (or so it seems).
From here the X-men venture up. At this point Storm finally does something other than stand around and fill in Marvel's obligatory racial quota. She uses her powers to guide the X-men up through the complex and past more guards. Again, nobody says much. A lot of the witty remarks are left for Cyclops, Emma, and Wolverine. The past few issues have left Storm a glorified background character, which is actually a shift if your memory is still working because she had a lot more to say early on in this arc. You get the sense Ellis is going out of his way to make others shine or simply can't come up with anything worth-while for Storm to say. I refuse to believe a guy as talented as him would simply render Storm that useless. Her marriage to Black Panther already accomplished that.
Once up through the various levels, the X-men finally come face-to-face with the asshole behind this whole excessively delayed arc. With a name like Kaga it's hard to expect something big and Earth-shattering. If his name was something like Dicksmash McIroncock or Max Killmonger then maybe the expectations would be a little higher. That's probably a good thing because when the readers finally get a glimpse of the guy, they don't find the kind of evil super-genius that usually is associated with giant monsters. They see a withered old man who looks like he was on the wrong end of a gypsy curse from a Stephen King novel.
Enter Kaga, a mutant like the X-men. No really, he is a mutant. He's just not the pretty, Hollywood style mutant that graces the cover of Time Magazine and saves the world. His story isn't your typical evil super-villain. His mother survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb and as a result, he was born with the kind of deformities that would make the Elephant Man cringe. Yet he is still a mutant. He still calls himself a child of the atom. He stands in stark contrast to the glamorous image the X-men portray.
It's not the most unexpected twist for the book, but it does have some profound implications. The next few pages have Kaga basically whining about how the X-men have it so easy. Their mutations didn't cause their parents to retch every time they reached for them. He actually was given hope when he heard about the X-men. He thought he would find a place to belong. Unfortunately, he has perfect eyesight. When he saw the X-men and how pretty they all looked, that was like being told he won the anti-lottery where instead of a huge sum of money he would have the pain of being kicked in the balls inflicted on him to the value of several million. If every asshole needs a reason to be upset, this would be a pretty damn good one.
From here on out there's no more action. There's just talking. That's not a terribly bad thing because one of Warren Ellis's greatest strengths is that he can write awesome dialogue. However, it still lacks the punch because there's no final showdown. There's no last desperate attack from Kaga. Cyclops and the others are certainly inclined to slug him one for the bullshit he put them through. Instead, they opt for Magneto level cruelty. Kaga wants them to kill him because his life is shit and he doesn't fit in anywhere. Instead, they just plan to arrest him and give him the top notch medical care he neither wants nor deserves so that he lives a long life as a monster. I don't know if that's heroic or mean, but it's pretty damn cold.
Kaga's response is perfectly understandable. I would be pissed too if I found out someone was going to keep me alive when I was suffering and wanted to end it all. It's why I always have Jack Kavorkian on speed dial just in case. He tries to tempt them further by doing yet another cliched super-villain tactic. He pushes 'the button.' And no I don't mean the button that opens the secret passage way leading to the guys porno stash (that would be much better hidden). I mean the button that is supposed to cause a huge explosion that essentially gives the finger to the X-men.
This would have been a perfect moment for another epic escape montage. For a series like Astonishing X-men, it would be fitting because it's always been defined by the best kind of action. Sadly, that doesn't happen here. The most intense action that happens form this point on is Wolverine punches Kaga and knocks him out. That's pretty unfair. Wolverine is a self-healing killing machine. Kaga is a crippled old guy with the frailty of James Dobson's and Pat Robertson's sensibilities. It's an inglorious way to end the conflict even if it does work.
After this, there's not much else. Just a few more witty remarks about Cyclops wanting to set Wolverine on top of a bomb and that's it. There's no escape. There's no hint of what that button Kaga pushed does. The story just ends. It's like ending a movie before Angelina Jolie gets naked or before Bruce Willis kills the last bad guy. It feels...incomplete.
So what can be said about Astonishing X-men that hasn't already been said to this point? The arc is finally over after yet another round of painful delays. It's a good thing that Ellis seems to put in the same effort Joss Whedon did when he was writing the title. Whenever an issue finally does come out it's never half-assed. However, the weak ending makes all those delays seem all the more unnecessary. It feels like "We waited all that time for this? And it doesn't even fit into the recent events of Utopia and Second Coming? What the fuck?" I get that Astonishing is supposed to be it's own thing that doesn't directly play into what's going on in the other comics. But when it's not put into a context it feels like that non-adorable and slightly autistic step-child of the Brady Bunch. It's hard to really feel the impact when it doesn't even affect anything. Part of the appeal of these comics is watching these characters grow. In a book like this they can't do much growing.
Even so, this book has plenty to praise. Nothing should be taken away from the theme set up by Kaga. In a ways he's a real mutant because most mutants in real life and even parts of comics are deformed and downright ugly at times. The X-men with all their beauty and sexuality are the real freaks. They seem to forget how lucky they are when it comes to the genetic lottery and there's a good message there. It gives a nice raw feel that makes the reader remember that this is a Warren Ellis book and Warren Ellis books always kick a certain amount of ass.
Since the other X-men books have gone through so much in the time this arc has been delayed, I can't really condemn it nor can I praise it. Astonishing X-men is still a good read for those who don't want to deal with having to catch up on all the bullshit that's been going on in the other comics. The story won't blow you away like a million bucks at a strip club in the Czech Republic would. It'll at least tell a decent story. So for that I give Astonishing X-men #35 a respectable 3 out of 5. It's not ground breaking, but it's the kind of quality you want and expect from Warren Ellis. Nuff said.