Saturday, September 11, 2010

X-Campus #3 - Twists of Awesome

I know there are some big name books coming out this week. There's X-Force" Sex and Violence and X-men #3 (the new one and not the Claremont/Byrne one), two books who by most measures are more pressing on the minds of X-men fans other than trivial things like food, water, and air. You know, shit that's overrated. However, in addition to those titles which I'm sure are awesome in their own right, the X-Campus series released the third part in it's limited four issue series. Now I've reviewed the previous two issues and given them high marks. This series has done more than simply tempt fans into forking over more of their hard earned money. It's flown under the radar in terms of quality and novelty. It's taken the concept of X-men Evolution and given it a new twist with some European style (it doesn't involve as much tits as we've come to expect from across the pond, but still with pretty decent awesome). It hasn't just told the story of teenage X-men. It's presented a viable and engaging alternative that shows the X-men coming together along with the Brotherhood in a way that's nicely done and well-developed. It could very well be it's own cartoon series and hopefully one that won't get fucking canceled after only 26 episodes (if that was too subtle, fuck the assholes who canceled Wolverine and the X-men!).

Since this series is a mini, it's been somewhat limited. However, the quality comes in the package. Each book isn't just one issue technically. It comprises of two issues, which offers more story and more bang for the buck. This style has been like icing on top of the line of cocaine on a strippers ass. It's like a bonus, but this bonus feeds into the stories. Each story moves the premise of the series further. It started with a teenage version of Rogue being recruited to the Worthington Academy. It is here were teenage versions of the X-men (minus an adult Jean Grey) attend class like regular students who just happened to have superpowers beyond what raging teenage hormones give them. From this story Charles Xavier and a rival professor named Magnus (Magneto for all those not up to speed on the many codenames X-men has thrown around) have been quietly assembling a team of mutants to train. Xavier has more peaceful purposes in mind while Magnus has been quietly working on some dirty laundry that doesn't involve getting the hooker stench out of underwear. They've been building their forces for the last two issues and the third issue continues that story while setting the stage for a much bigger confrontation.

In the previous issue it was Nightcrawler who was the target. I suppose each team needs a mascot and Nightcrawler always has been his own spectacle. This time they're looking for more strength than style. So they look up a young yet still badass version of Colossus. Here he's much like his Ultimate version (although it's not clear if he's gay just yet). His name is Peter Rasputin and he's a super-strong if not mild mannered badass who works for some enterprising Russian gangsters. He doesn't come off as the mean Tony Soprano type gangster, but since gangster is still the most lucrative job in Russia it's right up his alley and he uses his powers well. Probably too well for that matter because Blob and Toad are staking him out like he's the window into a girl's locker room at a supermodel agency. It's not quite as perverted as one may expect, but remember these are teenagers. Everything they do has some levels of perversion in it.

The next scene isn't quite as ominous. In every issue of X-Campus thus far it details some levels of teenage slapstick that one would find in pretty much every teen movie ever made. Only this one has mutants involved. It shows some of the X-men in gym class (which for some will bring back horrible memories of rope burns and wedgies) and a couple of typical teenage douche-bags messing with Rogue. It's not as creative as the douche-bags in my old school. All they do is throw a basketball at her butt. As a guy who witnessed pants being pulled down, tampons being used as weapons of mass humiliation, and porn being shoved in less than appropriate areas it's very underwhelming. But it gives Rogue a chance to remind readers that in the last issue she tangoed with the X-Campus version of Juggernaut and got a touch of strength in the process. It puts her in a position to show up the arrogant pricks messing with her and should bring a tear to the eye of anybody who ever endured bullying. Excuse me, I just teared up a little.

Rogue isn't the only one showing off her new skills. Nightcrawler is now part of the school and like his X-men Evolution version, he's wearing an image inducer to hide his appearance. He doesn't look all that similar to the human form he showed in that series. He actually looks more like a younger version of Brad Pitt. And who could blame him? If anyone could pick their appearance, why not look like someone who gets more panties wet than a washing machine?

However, his looks aren't the main topic of discussion. Xavier had him investigate the office of a guy named Bolivar Trask, who is supposed to be a professor at the school. What class he teaches isn't clear, but he's Bolivar Trask so any X-fans should know that means trouble. Nightcrawler details how he 'casually stumbled' into his office and found a secret keycard leading to a special elevator. It's like those rumors of a secret basement in a school that contains a pool, a strip club, and various piles of blow that all students fantasize about. Only this one is real, minus the pools, blow, and strippers of course. Nightcrawler investigates the area, which turns out to be some sort of fancy sub-level. He then discovers that Trask is an idiot when it comes to password protecting his computers because he punches in the number on the keycard and it gives him access. It's like using your address as a combination. It's fucking stupid.

So Nightcrawler shows his worth. He helps pay Xavier back by spying on a guy he thinks is up to no good. Frankly, it may have been easier just to catch Trask with a hooker, but I guess this works as well. But it's not over for Nightcrawler when he leaves the office. He bumps right into Rogue and screws up his image inducer, which happened plenty of times in X-men Evolution. They end up having to hide while class lets out and everybody starts screaming like Justin Bieber fans. As if their luck wasn't fucked up enough, they end up slipping into the principal's office. Now this would seem bad enough, but there's a twist here. The principle in X-Campus is none other than Mystique and both Nightcrawler and Rogue see this when she returns to her true form. This would have made for a powerful moment, but nobody says anything and nothing happens. All they do is just stand there with their jaws on the floor while Mystique doesn't notice them. It seems unnecessary, but that all depends on whether or not Mystique will have any family ties to them as she does in the comics. Since X-Campus has so many twists, that's up in the air and no real hints are given here. It just seems like an unnecessary scene.

A more meaningful scene takes place next when Xavier and his prized mutant students meet at the gazebo they met at in the previous issue and learn of what was on that data Nightcrawler uncovered. This is where X-Campus doesn't necessarily distinguish itself too much from the other books. It essentially reveals that Xavier's rival, Professor Magnus, is preparing for a war between humans and mutants. Anyone who knows anything about the X-men comics will yawn at this revelation. Other revelations are a bit more meaningful. Apparently, Magnus is carrying out this plot under Warren's father's nose by keeping him mind controlled through Mastermind. He's also using a device called Cyberno, a less sexier version of Cerebro, to track mutants by tracing mutant brain waves. Among the latest brain waves to be scanned are none other than a guy who made an appearance earlier, Peter Rasputin.

As expected, Magnus's goons are already meeting up with Peter. He works at an auto garage as a cover, sort of like how Al Capone was officially a used furniture salesman who just happened to have a hundred million dollars. Toad, Blob, and Mastermind show up with pictures showing them roughing up Peter's uncle in order to set him free as they say in Russian. Of course, free is a relative term in Russia and Peter doesn't take too kindly to such tactics. I'm not sure what the Brotherhood was looking to get from a Russian gangster, but they look way more surprised than they should be.

Even so, Peter gets outmatched by Blob. It's three on one and when one of those three has super strength as well, it's not a fair fight. Thankfully, this is when the X-men show up to even the odds. But they aren't exactly even. Now they outnumber the Brotherhood and the fight that ensues really isn't all that even. In fact, the Brotherhood are readily handled and it's not even that elaborate. Cyclops and Wolverine don't even use their powers at one point. Within a page it's over and the Brotherhood is running away. It's a pretty underwhelming fight to say the least.

Underwhelming or not, the struggle does continue for a bit after. Peter doesn't take too kindly to all this commotion and tries to throw the nearest heavy object at the X-men. This doesn't do much because Rogue still has Juggernaut strength and she catches it as if he tossed her softball. This surprises Peter and saves the X-men the trouble of explaining who and what they are. They go onto offer Peter the same opportunity they were given and Peter's response is entirely appropriate. "You're not scientologists are you?" Classic! That line makes the whole issue.

So Peter Rasputin joins and the ranks of the X-men continue to grow. It's a nice ending to the first part of the comic. Now Xavier has a former Russian gangster on his team. Not sure if he's supposed to feel confident or not, but a win is a win. He's still not satisfied though anymore than a football team is satisfied with a win in the preseason. He also drops a hint that there was more in that data than he told his X-men and that Trask was working on something bigger than Cyberno. If the word Sentinel didn't come to mind, then someone needs to get in touch with their inner Google because that shit should be obvious for all X-fans.

As with the previous two issues of X-Campus, the book is only halfway done at this point. There's a whole other story in this double sized issue. It's a great format for a book like this because Marvel could have easily been greedy and just split the books up in hopes of more money. But surprisingly, they didn't. They kept the books together. It may just be to save them the cost of ink, but whatever the reason it's a great bonus because it keeps moving the story along without having to wait another agonizing month for the next part.

The next part starts off on a train with Rogue. Apparently, something happened off panel (or the writer watched the first X-men movie while writing this) and Rogue left the academy. She's now on a train heading back home and it's not entirely clear why. Either someone posted pictures around the school of her going down on a horse or she's being mind controlled. In the real world the former is more likely, but the inner monologues just drone on about how she doesn't want to hurt anybody and how she has the curse of Cain Marko in her now that she's absorbed the strength. It's a painfully weak portrayal of Rogue's character, but there's a full comic ahead to explain this shit so it's worth giving a chance.

It doesn't take long for some explanation to be offered. More appears to have happened off panel than Rogue leaving. Jean and Ororo are both already on the train looking for Rogue. Now how they got there is really not clear. Did they fly in? Did they board the train Mission Impossible style? It would have made for an awesome scene, but I suppose the writer wanted to leave it to the reader's imagination. That's always dangerous because most male readers will just picture the same thing, only with the women being naked and occasionally going at it with some hot lesbo action. Whatever the perverse fantasy, Emma and a teenage Sebastian Shaw show up and are on the train as well. They haven't been involved since the first issue so it's nice to see them up to their old tricks again, even if they try to make it sound more ominous than it really is.

The next scene is a flashback, one that hopefully will fill in the blanks. It doesn't seem to do much filling at first. It has Warren Worthington (remember, in this universe the school is called the Worthington Foundation so it's kind of a big deal) showing Professor Xavier that he has a power now. He has wings. It's not too surprising, but seeing as how Warren's family has a much bigger role in this series it opens the door to some different plots. Warren is understandably freaked out. It's not every day new limbs appear out of nowhere and this can't be good for his inheritance prospects. Lord knows he can't make nearly as much money as an angel as he can a mortal billionaire. What does that say about Heaven?

Thankfully, Xavier doesn't have to listen to Warren's bitching for too much. Nightcrawler comes in and says there's a problem in the computer lab. Donald Pierce, who also hasn't shown up in a while, attacked Hank and not simply because he's such an asshole. Teenage Pierce is just as bad as adult Pierce and that should come as no surprise. Except this time it may not have been out of sheer douchiness. Pierce is a cyborg in this universe just as he is in the other comics. Only this time the implants are courtesy of Bolivar Trask. If you remember a few pages ago, Xavier uncovered some data from Trask's computers. It was Hank's job to decrypt it and in doing so, it triggered a fail-safe that had Pierce go Manchurian Candidate on Hank. Lucky for him, Bobby stopped by and put him on ice (bad pun totally intended). Cut me some slack, this comic isn't giving me a lot of room to make dick, poop, drug, and stripper jokes.

Since Pierce is down for the count and the fail safe you know...failed, the work continued on decoding the data. But then the plot takes another random turn and it's discovered by Ororo that Rogue has up and left. Again, not much detail is offered into her departure. After the events of the previous story, there aren't really any clues that she was thinking about leaving. She just did. It could have been a totally worthless plot point, but there is an extra complication thrown in when Professor Magnus (Magneto again for those not keeping up) finds out from Emma.

So we return to the present without any of the explanations we hoped for. If your spirit feels a little betrayed, don't worry. That's normal. Explanation or not, the action does pick up. Emma Frost, who was on the train with Shaw at the beginning of the issue, decides to play a trick that's almost the cruelest a teenage girl can play on another human being (she's still an amateur compared to some the bitches from my old high school). She calls the police and says there are four girls on the train with weapons. Since we're assuming this series takes place after the events of 9/11, the reaction is what you would expect from the government and that's completely unnecessarily excessive.

On the plus side if you can call it that, they do find Rogue. She actually fell asleep only to wake up to find herself surrounded by guns. Since she's a bit more aggressive than Jean and Ororo, she takes them out with her special touch (admit it, that's a much better pun) and catches up with Jean and Ororo. It looks like this is just a matter of clearing up some confusion. Then we're reminded that this is Emma Frost guiding this little prank and she never does anything halfway. While still not in the same league as the girls from my old high school, she inches just a wee bit closer by using her telepathy to take over Ororo's mind and have her throw a teenage hissy fit in a confined area. It's quite possibly the deadliest weapon any terrorist could ever hope to unleash.

What happens next is a classic telepathic smack down between Jean and Emma and this time it isn't even over who's fucking who's man. It should bring a smile to all those who got high off of the psychic spats Grant Morrison put together in his run, even if this incarnation is a over a lot sooner. Even so, Jean still ends up winning. It further proves the point that redheads beat hot blonds no matter what the game, even if blonds are more fuckable.

While Jean does win the battle, in the process it reveals the biggest twist of the X-Campus series to date. Apparently, Trask and Magnus aren't the only one keeping secrets. Early on in the series, one of the major twists was that Jean Grey wasn't a teenager in this. She's an adult who happens to be Xavier's assistant. It's not entirely a product of a bad LSD trip. The older and more mature Jean Grey was well established in the X-men movies, thanks in large part to the bonerific performance of Xania Onotop herself, Femke Jennsen. No one had any reason to call this twist weird and most were probably okay with accepting it. Then in the span of a page that all changes.

Apparently, Jean Grey wasn't as mature as she let on. When Emma Frost clashed with her mind, she undid a telepathic illusion that had been hiding the fact that Jean Grey wasn't a hot cougar psychic. In reality she's actually jail bait. Like most every other X-character, she's just a teenager and not a bad looking one either! It's a truly awesome surprise. If anyone says they saw it coming, assume they're either high or just lying through their fucking tooth.

It makes for a very awkward yet very awesome moment. Then everybody remembers they still have a fucking SWAT team bearing down on them. The explanation for Jean has to wait and Ororo pulls off another hissy fit, this time one that's a bit more controlled (at least as controlled as a teenage girl can get). More movie references are made as three tornadoes engulf the area and fuck up the government's operation. Liberal douches should be having heart attacks while conservative right-wingers should be getting boners. It makes for an iconic escape and a nice finish to the conflict.

So Rogue returns to the academy and so does teenage Jean. The boys are understandably shocked/intrigued. If any of them had a cougar fetish, they're fucked. But a hot teenage girl is certainly nothing to scoff at. The explanation is pretty standard. Jean used her powerful telepathy to make sure everybody saw only what they wanted her to see. There wasn't much explanation on how the school would get around Dr. Grey mysteriously disappearing and a teenager who looks like her and has the exact same name just happens to enter. Either they'll need to use even more telepathy or someone is going to have to call up the mob to get some fake paperwork. Since Peter joined in the last story, neither is completely out of the question.

In addition there are some hints that Logan and Scott are quite thrilled to see Jean as a teenager. Logan makes a comment about how she's a looker and Scott indirectly implies he feels the same by being a bit of a jerk. It sets the stage for what may be a teenage version of the classic Scott/Jean/Logan triangle. Since there's only one issue left that would be a perfect cap to what has been a unique and stellar series. But for now, everyone seems content with a younger Jean Grey and Rogue coming to her senses.

It's an interesting and fitting way for the book to end. While the two stories may not have flowed very well together, they were both compelling in their own right. Peter's first appearance and the revelation about Jean were both very nicely done. The twist and surprises in this issue alone makes it the best thus far in this young and short mini. There's still the issue of Rogue and why she ended up leaving out of the blue. There's also the plot with Warren, which was never really addressed after being revealed. Not every loose end was tied up, but with one issue left there's still time to bring it all together. There's a lot to enjoy here and not just because the book is twice the size of a normal X-book. There is actually some quality to be found beneath the whole gimmick of the X-men being teenagers. It may still sound like a half-hearted concept from someone at Marvel who watched too many John Huges movies. But it still works and this issue really moves things forward, getting a brief entry into the greater mutants/humans conflict while keeping with the same teenage conflicts that add to the appeal.

So far X-Campus has been one of the most surprising minis in a long time. It's no Ultimate style alternative nor is it some X-men Forever derivative. For one, it's a lot better done than X-men Forever and hasn't been destroyed by Jeph Loeb like Ultimate was. It's still something that mostly X-men Evolution fans would really enjoy the most, but there's something for all the hardcore X-fans in this. X-Campus #3 continued to develop the story that began with the first issue and sets the stage nicely for the final issue. This along with the twist involving Jean Grey make this issue the best thus far. So it earns a solid 4.5 out of 5. With the final issue, we'll know for sure if this mini deserves a special place in the annuls of X-men minis. So long as someone working on this title doesn't go on a one month cocaine bender, there's no reason why it shouldn't be great. Nuff said.

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