Sunday, October 17, 2010
X-men #4 - Style Over Awesome
The latest adjectiveless X-men series has been quite a ride in it's brief history. It started out with the bar so low that Gary Coleman could have vaulted over it were he still among the living. But in the issues that followed, the series grew and became something that was truly and believably awesome. It's not just that this series is another series where the writers are too lazy to give it a distinguishing name like Uncanny, Astonishing, or Supreme (I know that's mine, but I'm just saying). This series is something very unique. It tells bigger stories of the X-men being involved in the greater Marvel universe. It has led to some nice spin-offs and taken some interesting twists. Now whether or not you can tolerate endless Twilight and True Blood jokes is irrelevant. There's little denying that this series has been pretty awesome so far and Marvel is sticking their balls out into the prevailing wind in pushing this series.
The last two issues have been all about the bloodsuckers and showing how the pussy vampires of Twilight and True Blood wouldn't stand a snowballs chance in hell with a flame-thrower wielding Mike Tyson with the Marvel vampires. The son of Dracula, Xarus, has set up shop in San Francisco and made himself right at home. He turned Wolverine and Jubilee into vampires and has a much larger plan to unite mutants and vampires together so they can stand against the rest of humanity. It's not completely evil, but it's still pretty badass and it's gotten the X-men in a pretty nasty mood.
X-men #4 begins with a grim assessment. The vampires are basically overwhelming the city, using the night as the vampire equivalent of happy hour at TGIF. They're terrorizing the people and having a damn good time from the looks of it. Needless to say, this doesn't sit well with Cyclops who has been trying to manage the whole thing from afar George W. Bush style since it began. So it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that he's failing miserably so far.
The strategy he employs isn't much better than old Dubya either. He basically sends teams of the X-men out into the city to stop isolated vampire incidents. This is basically like like shoveling the shit away from a pack of elephants suffering from explosive diarrhea. Not much detail is given, but it's still pretty clear that they're up shits creek without a paddle, a boat, or an air freshener.
The only strategy that seems to have some semblance of competence is sending Blade, their visiting vampire expert, to the front lines in search of answers. The front lines in this place is some underground rock concert, which when you think about it is the perfect place for vampires to hide. If they really don't want to stand out, they just need to hang out amongst people who dress like freaks anyways. It's even easier for Blade to pull off some of his classic bloody stunts because an audience full of people whose parents and mothers didn't hug them enough just write it off as special effects. There's a statement about how shitty public schools are in some of this, but it's lost in all the violence and blood (as redundant that may be).
Blade ends up chasing a runner away from the angsty teens and meets up with Angel. Now to this point it still isn't clear why this qualifies as being on the front lines. Chasing a new vampire in a school girls outfit is only the front lines for a Japanese hentai anime, but in this case there's no tentacle rape or butt-ugly guys jerking off behind the scenes. Then it becomes a bit more clear why this would qualify because when Blade and Angel follow the girl they sort of run into a part of Xarus's vampire army. And sort of running into an army is like sort of shooting yourself in the head. There's nothing minor about it.
This goes terrible in a very short period of time. There isn't as much vampire killing this time. Blade and Angel basically run the same way Christine O'Donnell runs from pressers about her history with witchcraft. While not many can say they would stick around and fight an army of vampires. Even Blade's balls aren't that close to his knees. The fact they run so quickly and there's so little struggle makes for a pretty weak scene.
It only picks up when Wolverine finally shows up. Now usually at this point in any X-book Wolverine would have been mentioned no fewer than five times. So for those who feel he's overexposed, start exercising your bitching muscles because he takes center stage here. He's a vampire now and loving every minute of it, already enjoying all the blood and boobs he can handle. It's not really that big a change for him so it doesn't come as too surprising. If he weren't a vampire, his presence wouldn't turn any heads and that's somewhat of a shortcoming. At least with Jubilee, she went through a clear transition. This Wolverine just has fangs and that's about it.
While Wolverine's behavior is about as surprising as a family friendly republican senator giving a blow job to a gay prostitute, Xarus continues to revel in his success. He's still a bitchy little brat whining about how his daddy never gave him a chance to be great, but compared to Cyclops at the moment he's a far more competent leader. In other words, he's the vampire equivalent to Karl Rove. He's got everything going for him. His people are ready to strike at Utopia directly. Moreover, he doesn't want to kill them. He wants casualties to a minimum so they have plenty of fresh mutant vampires to aid them. Again, that makes him the kind of guy George W. Bush only fantasized about when he was still drinking.
But here's where it gets a little contrived. While Xarus is planning this shit out, Cyclops gives him a phone call. I shit you not, Cyclops fucking calls Xarus as if he were calling to order a pizza. Now how he got the number of the means isn't even touched on. It's not even hinted at. This may be one of those little things that a lot of comics tend to overlook that aren't written by Geoff Johns, but this is not little. Did Cyclops have Xarus's number the whole time and simply not use it? It's a plot hole so big it makes Pamela Anderson's vagina look as tight as a snake's anus.
As for the call itself, it's nothing new. Xarus actually comes off as less the asshole here and makes his pitch to Cyclops, calling vampires and mutants brothers. It makes a sick amount of sense too. Both mutants and vampires have been persecuted, hunted, and hated for their entire existence. They've tried to fight back on their own and they've made next to no headway. United, they could finally get the powers that be to lick their balls and smile while doing it.
Of course, Cyclops doesn't see this. His answer is the diplomatic equivalent to "suck it" and threatens a huge slaughter of vampires the likes of which Xarus has never known. So one guy wants to minimize casualties and the other wants to use the Joseph Stalin method and latter is supposed to be the hero. It's a confusing and lame dilemma. I know the whole trend now is for heroes to not be heroic and shit, but that doesn't mean heroes have to be douche-bags. Right now, Cyclops is coming off as the douche-bag while Xarus is coming off as the visionary. If this was meant to set up an interesting contrast, it fails miserably and just makes everyone involved seem out-of-character.
It's not just Xarus who spits out this sort of twisted rhetoric. Wolverine gets involved as well and basically chews Cyclops out. Again, that's nothing new. Wolverine has been chewing out Cyclops so much that his teeth are laced with ruby quartz. There's not much new here. Wolverine just goes on about how becoming a vampire is awesome and how he's responsible for making him like this. And he'll repay the favor by leading the charge to fuck him up. It would be so compelling if Wolverine hadn't made that same threat to Cyclops on no fewer than fifteen occasions.
Now the X-men have to brace themselves for a battle that Cyclops himself provoked (yet for some reason they're still following him). There's some talk about Dracula, who is completely out of the picture since the previous issue. There's Emma acting all sweet and supportive as if Matt Fraction is somehow mind-controlling Victor Gischler. Then there's Xarus making the move, basically calling Cyclops's bluff and assembling every one of his forces for an all out assault. And wouldn't you know it? He promotes Wolverine to lead the charge. It sets the stage for a pretty major battle, but not in the way that makes anyone want to root for either side. Both the X-men and Vampires come off as douche-bags in this issue so when they start assembling their forces, it's like watching a pile of shit and a vat of vomit prepare to mix. It'll be a spectacle, but one that may make you more sick than excited.
Now as an X-men fan, this is the sort of issue that brings me back down to reality. I was so high on this new X-men series that I was close to trading variant issues for weed. Now this issue comes along and it's like a bad hit from some dirt weed a guy mixed with paint thinner to add flavor, but only ended up ruining the buzz. The gaping plot holes and the horribly underdeveloped battle scenes were a huge blow to a series that had more momentum going for it than Apple stock. Now it's turning into Enron and spoiling what should be an awesome clash between mutants and vampires.
That's not to say this issue is terrible. It's still readable, but it stumbled and fell from the high level it ascended to with the previous two issues. It doesn't completely destroy the series. It's not enough to make the average reader want to just rip it up, toss it into a bon fire, and piss it out the way books like Ultimatum did for the Ultimate series. This book just takes this new X-men series back into mediocre territory. Now it could very well redeem itself in the next issue, but at this point it's getting too predictable. There's nothing here that the average X-fan hasn't dreamed up himself either in the middle of an economics lecture or through mixing DMT with cocaine. It still hasn't established itself as the X-men comic that deserves it's name and that's a tragedy because it was so close to doing so.
Since the book isn't completely irreparable, I can't give it too low a score. I didn't flat out hate the book and it doesn't give me enough reasons to completely pan it. So for X-men #4 I give it a final score of 2.5 out of 5. It's a downgrade, but there are two issues left. If this series wants to be the series the editors are boasting it can be, it needs to pull it's dick out of the toaster and start stroking the golden shaft of awesome. Nuff said.