Sunday, September 26, 2010
Astonishing X-men Xenogenesis #3 - More Questions Than Awesome
I admit I didn't give Warren Ellis's cooky and visually nauseating mini, Astonishing X-men Xenogenesis, much of a chance after the first issue. Between the shitty art, the baseball uniforms, and a questionable connection to the continuity I was completely turned off. For a book written by Warren Ellis, that's saying something. Ellis is one of those rare comic writers who can turn shit into diamonds with his writing. It's not that he didn't do his job with Astonishing. The man can write dialogue. But in terms of plot and presentation, Astonishing X-men Xenogenesis is about as palpable as battery acid laced with bleach.
So why am I giving Astonishing X-men Xenogenesis #3 another chance? Well it's Warren Ellis! He's a guy who deserves more than his share of chances giving his track record. Plus, I would be a grade-A douche bag if I rejected a comic solely on the basis it looked bad while not giving the story a chance. I lampoon others for doing it. The last thing I want to be is a hypocrite. It helps that the cover of the third issue is pretty freakin' hilarious. If ever there was an image that summed up Cyclops and Emma Frost in recent comics, this is it. So why not? I'll take the ride again if Ellis is going to keep going.
So far the story has been fairly straightforward. The plot revolves around an African village having what appears to be a high rate of mutant births. Now it's not clear if these children are mutants, but they're enough like mutants for the Astonishing team to journey over and investigate. What they found with Scooby and the gang is that the births weren't the result of the X-gene. They were the result of a strange brand of radiation, which has always been the excuse in comics. It's the superhero equivalent of "my dog ate my homework." They try to help the children, but are then attacked by the local African dictator (which are about as common as crab grass over there). His name is Joshua N'Dingi, which sounds like a pretty cool African name. But he also goes by Dr. Crocodile, which more or less destroys any semblance of cool because that has to be the shittiest name for a doctor in history.
Dr. Crocodile proves to be as lame as his name when he takes a bunch of hostages and threatens to kill the mutated babies. It's enough to make the pro-life crowd's head explode. Killing babies ranks right up there with child molestation as one of the douchiest crimes an asshole can commit. Given this is a dictator, infanticide is practically an Olympic sport. However, the X-men don't take kindly to that kind of shit so they enter a standoff with the guy. Emma gets all his men to point the guns at himself while Cyclops confronts the poorly named dictator who looks like the bastard offspring of the terminator and a zombie.
It makes for a tense situation, but that tension quickly turns into boredom as the next few pages are spent talking. No fighting, no witty exchanges, and no flaunting of powers. They just talk. It's about as exciting as it sounds. Doc Crock plays the role of a Bond villain, foolishly explaining his plan and his whole life story as if he was sitting down and doing an interview for A&E. He tries to come off as a less than douchy guy for wanting to kill the mutant babies. He doesn't call them mutants though. He calls them warpies, which sounds way too lame for something to have come from the mind of Warren Ellis. The reason he calls them this is because they were the result of a radiation burst known as "The Jaspers Warp." Now that actually sounds pretty cool. Definitely worthy of the Warren Ellis label, but Crock still hasn't said much to make him less a douche-bag.
He does provide a bit of a flashback though. Apparently his previous job was to actually take care of these kids. However, one of them ended up exploding. And I'm not talking about the kind of exploding babies usually do when you feed them meatballs laced with hot sauce that earns parents handwritten thank-you letters from diaper companies. I'm talking about actual boom boom explosions. One of them left Doc Crock the half-man, half-robot, full douche-bag he is now. So in that sense he has a reason not to like these kids.
He keeps going on and on for pages at a time, basically ranting about how he has to protect his people from these babies and that requires him to make very difficult decisions. It shows he's not a Josef Stalin-esque monster. He's like any African dictator and that he justifies any cruel actions as doing what's best for his people. Several African nations have probably sent death threats to Ellis already, but they'll do the same to anyone who sneezes on them. Basically Doc Croc throws his hands up and says the X-men can take the babies, which would make him the shittiest Bond villain of all time. But the X-men surprisingly say no. They don't just want to save the babies. They want to find the source of this shit. Moreover, they want Croc and his band of douche-bags to help them.
It's a questionable request, but the kind Ellis loves to use in his stories. He gets two opposing sides to work around each other rather than just beat each other senseless. Michael Bay fans may not approve, but it makes for a more refined story that requires more than just three brain cells to appreciate. So with Doc Croc begrudgingly helping the X-men, they venture off into the jungle where a disturbance has been detected. Granted, the timing seems a little too convenient. Ellis is usually good at not making things sound contrived, but after pages upon pages of talking it's somewhat a relief to get things going again.
As expected, the X-men take the early lead. They prove to have a much better training regiment than any African army. That and being able to fly probably helps. They search the jungle and don't have to search for very long. Here things get a little hazy because it's not clear what the hell they're searching for. In this case they find a guy who looks like Bruce Banner after he was given a makeover by Charles Manson. It's really not clear who the fuck this guy is and what he's up to. It's not a monster or killer robot so it doesn't come off as threatening, but it's still the most action this book has seen so far. How sad is that?
It does get a little messy though because keep in mind, the X-men have to work with Doc Crocs trigger-happy thugs. That means when they see this guy, they don't ask questions. They frantically shoot. It's standard operating protocol for soldiers in comics. The PR staff for the US military hates it and many brave men and women are probably insulted. But it's a comic. It wouldn't be as exciting if someone didn't get shot.
This isn't some random guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time after a 3 day bender. His name is Jim Jaspers, which if you stayed awake during the long conversation with Doc Croc should ring a few bells. Remember that whole "Jaspers Warp?" Well this guy has the same name and is running through the jungle. Seems logical that he would have at least some knowledge. Too bad he got shot though. He doesn't sound anywhere near as douchy as Doctor Crocodile.
It seems like a sad moment for the guy. He's been shot and he's stuck in the jungle. That seems like a pretty bad day if ever there was one. Jaspers looks like he truly wants help and the X-men, having not been the ones to shoot the guy, try to offer it. But there's one little problem with that. Remember how I said earlier that it wasn't too clear why they were after this guy and how he could be the source of the disturbance? Well that's answered right here. It turns out this guy is packing some major heat that Astonishing fans will probably recognize. Nuclear bombs are so messy. The Ghost Box kicks way more ass!
That's right. Somehow this guy is the Ghost Box's new bitch. Being shot sort of agitated him and that sort of made the Ghost Box mad. Unlike Bruce Banner, whose anger only turns him into a raging beast. Hell, meth does the same thing. This Jasper guy has to one-up the Hulk. Rather than turning into a steroid-loving beast, he turns into a big shiny box. It sounds lame, but it shows how ominously awesome it is when it opens to reveal an army of killer robots. NOW the Michael Bay fans can cheer! It took a whole issue but there's finally some less subtle forms of action. Granted, it's still robots and it took way too long to get to this point, but you can't completely hate Ellis for taking his time. It's just a matter of taking too much and overestimating the average person's nanosecond attention span.
So what can be said about Astonishing X-men Xenogenesis #3? Is it the kind of book that will make win over the critics of this exceedingly bizarre series? Probably not. And that's not just because most readers are stubborn. This book offers some substance, but not nearly enough to make it up to par with Warren Ellis's usual caliber of awesome. It's slow and tedious for half the book. There are more conversations than fights and while the dialogue is great as it always is with Ellis, it seems more drawn out than it should be. There were some confusing parts at times as well, but they did get explained so it's not like there isn't a coherent and novel concept here.
The biggest issue with this book is that it's still too much an anomaly. It really is hard to tell just where this book fits into the greater Marvel Universe if at all. It's nice that it took the story from the Ghost Box and all, but even that version of Astonishing was hard to fit into the grand scheme of things as well. Xenogenesis comes off too much like an X-men Forever title and not something that adds to the sum of awesome that the other X-books are giving. It's like Marvel is just putting it out for the sake of putting it out. In that sense it's like the high school slut. It's out there and people can partake, but their mileage may vary.
This book doesn't suck. That's probably the best you can say about it. Warren Ellis's books rarely suck, but they do have a high bar and this one didn't even come close to measuring up. That's why I can only give Astonishing X-men Xenogenesis #3 a 2.5 out of 5. It's not terrible to make diarrhea jokes at, but it's not good enough to compare to Tera Patrick's rack. It's the middle of the road. It's the Switzerland of comics. It won't thrill you or bore you too much. I'll just kill about twenty minutes of your time and that's it. Nuff said.