Sunday, November 28, 2010

Uncanny X-men #530 - Transitions of Awesome (Or Lack Thereof)

Well Thanksgiving is over and that means two things. First, Jenny Craig is going to get a sudden burst of new members. Second, people drag their new fat asses back to work. For all the turkey and what not I ate, my new oversized poop dispenser is officially on my chair's shit list. They're in Israeli/Palestinian style negotiations and one of them is probably planning a suicide attack. So before all out holy war breaks out, I managed to catch up with a few comics this week. It was a big week in terms of big name X-titles. One of the titles that came out is Uncanny X-men, a book that has been as wildly inconsistent as baseball pitcher with Parkinsons.

Uncanny X-men #530 marks the beginning of a new arc and usually that's something to be stoked about. This time it's something that as confounding as a quantum physics lecture in Swahili. The last four issues have covered the Five Lights. The stories have followed Hope Summers as she gathers the new mutants signatures from around the world. While this is going on, some drama is unfolding on Utopia with Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde. Despite her promise back during the Utopia arc, Emma is keeping secrets again. She was supposed to kill Sebastian Shaw for Namor years ago. She lied and she's basically been keeping Shaw prisoner, not telling Namor (the guy who wants to bone her) and Cyclops (the guy who is boning her). This wouldn't qualify as a noble lie either. This is her basically being a deceptive bitch.

Now compared to her recent portrayal since Matt Fraction took over, that's somewhat of an upgrade. Emma Frost to this point has basically just been a trashier Jean Grey, always looking pretty for the artists and standing by Cyclops's side to make him look awesome. She's basically become nothing more than Cyclops's girlfriend, the very thing that writers always criticized Jean Grey for and at least she had a more likable personality going for her. Seeing as how that was the complete antithesis of the relationship that Grant Morrison set up and Joss Whedon developed, both men have probably taken Fraction off their Christmas list by now. However, the last arc has at least attempted to show Emma Frost being more Emma-like. The results have been hit-or-miss. The last issue was a great improvement. This issue tries to keep that momentum while throwing some curve balls that Babe Ruth himself couldn't hit.

First off, the arc begins by completely throwing out the Five Lights story. Basically, it was ended abruptly in the last issue and continued in Generation Hope. So if you didn't read that, you're fucked. To make things even more perplexing, this issue seems to pick up shortly after the end of the last issue. But the last issue still had the events of the Five Lights going on. So was it completely resolved when Emma took off with Shaw? I don't know. I'm not sure even Uatu the Watcher knows. Even he would get a migraine from this shit. The only thing that helps soften the blow is a nice inner monologue that describes Emma's musings on this messed up situation she finds herself in. It's a nice moment, but it doesn't tell the reader anything they don't already know if they read the intro.

She ponders this while Kitty Pryde and Fantomex stand by her, who are supposedly helping her take care of this. I use the word helping loosely because it's really not clear what the hell they're doing and their reasons for doing so aren't exactly clear. What's even less clear is how Emma explained her ability to keep Cyclops in the dark. Now this is important because keep in mind it was no more than two years ago that these two agreed that keeping secrets was a bad thing. It led to the horrendously stupid and unnecessary "X-men: The Confession" one-shot which did precisely dick for this relationship. The only thing they agreed on was that secrets were tearing them apart and they ended the issue with a big smooch.

Fast forward to this issue. That lesson was forgotten faster than a lesson in evolution with the Texas School Board. Emma essentially starts lying again, explaining to Cyclops (in a flashback mode no less) that she was taking Kitty and Fantomex shopping. I shit you not. That's her excuse. That's the best she can come up with. I know Emma is only referred to as a bimbo jokingly because of her history of badassery, but this time it's no laughing matter. Even though the scene takes place after she and Cyclops have finished swapping body fluids, he sounds about as convinced as Glenn Beck at a rally for the communist party. Yet somehow (and it's not even shown on panel) he believes her. This guy who is such a brilliant tactician doesn't call bullshit on his girlfriend even after they agreed that lies and secrets were not very romantic. I know Matt Fraction has a Cyclops/Emma fetish, but this plunges head first into bullshit territory. The only thing that redeems it is a nice visual depiction by Greg Land.

The book is already steaming with bullshit so while your nose is busy hating your guts, a new plot starts unfolding on Utopia. A strange outbreak of the flu has come out of nowhere and infected a few mutants. One of them is Anole, who looks about as healthy as a hung over cancer patient who just got dosed with six rounds of chemo. This started as only a brief scene in the last issue. It's not breaking any new ground with this. The big issue here is that Cyclops decides to quarantine the island as a precaution to prevent further transmission. It's the first major move he's done with this issue, yet it's hard to believe a man this competent could be so fucking stupid when Emma used shopping as an excuse.

Now not every mutant is on the island when this order is given. Some are in the city of San Francisco enjoying the assorted pot dispensaries, gay nightclubs, and hippies. Among them are Jean-Paul and Dazzler, who in previous issues took up some vigilante work for kicks. Now they're officially the city's X-men, gay Canadian and a former disco era pop star. In essence, the city is fucked more than a German whore on customer appreciation day if Apocalypse decides to attack.

The city doesn't grant the X-men any sick days either. There is still plenty of mutant related bullshit going on. One such incident involves the Collective Man, who does an old school shakedown in Chinatown to weasel protection money from a shop owner. It's a shakedown that would make Tony Soprano jizz in his pants because it throws mutant power into the mix. So with the X-men MIA, the city is essentially children's underwear convention with an army of pedophiles storming the gates.

This doesn't go unnoticed. A mutant related pandemic is the kind of story that would give Glenn Beck and Fox News ten foot boners. This is where that new PR move that began a few issues ago kicks in. Warren and his presumably overpaid associates address the media. Cyclops watches it the same way I watch Hugh Grant movies, rubbing my head and praying a meteor strikes me dead. He relays the information to Emma, who contacts him via psychic call. It's still nothing short of infuriating that he can't call Emma out on her bullshit when she's clearly bathing in it. Even when Cyclops was with Jean Grey, he didn't shy away from this sort of thing (until Morrison neutered him). It's one of those triple facepalm moments that makes you wonder whether or not Marvel is even trying anymore to make this relationship interesting.

So the X-men are crippled and quarantined, Cyclops is so fucked up he can't even tell when his big-boobed girlfriend is bullshitting him, and the only mutants in the city to hold down the fort will only intimidate those with a competent fashion sense. Someone crazy just has to take advantage of this. That someone is John Sublime, another Grant Morrison creation who takes villainy and being a douche-bag to the major leagues.

His solution to taking advantage of the X-men's current state? Well he doesn't go the route Bastion went. Why destroy them when he can simply upstage them? Isn't that infinitely more humiliating? He shows he's already equipped, recruiting volunteers to a new test for the Sublime corporations latest advance that would cause most mal-practice lawyers to strip naked and jump into the nearest snake orgy. He takes five bold young participants who appear to have a reckless disregard for their own well-being and applies his product that looks like an asthma inhaler. The X-men! Ordinary people now have powers and can be heroes as well (provided Sublime gets his ego sufficiently stroked). If Bastion were still alive, he would probably start licking the dirt off his boots.

All the while, the flu on Utopia is getting worse. It's discovered this isn't a run-of-the-mill flu that just makes people wish they were dead for three days (like that's a surprise). This little superbug also has the added symptom of suppressing mutant powers. That includes powers of those who can usually heal from being shot at with an artillery cannon. So even Wolverine is showing symptoms and if Wolverine is under the weather, than it's a pretty clear indication that shit just got serious.

While the X-men get sicker, the criminal underworld gets stronger. Collective Man decides that beating up an old man wasn't enough. He has to go to the other Asian crime families in the area and unite them (translation: he's taking over so he can be the top dog). It's an unusual touch for this book because it's too down to Earth, a crime family coming together, for someone like Matt Fraction who can't resist throwing green monsters into every panel. However, it works and helps balance out what could have been a bland retelling of the old mutant plague bit that was done to death in the late 90s.

A new crime syndicate emerging is probably way more than Northstar and Dazzler are equipped to handle (unless dressing in ridiculous outfits is their weakness). So Angel decides to make another move for his new PR push. He assembles what few healthy X-men he can to join Northstar and Dazzler. Pixie is one of them because Matt Fraction's pink hair fetish is almost as big as his Cyclops/Emma fetish. He also brings Storm into the mix, rounding out a limited yet somewhat manageable team to keep the peace until the quarantine is lifted.

They won't be the only ones on the streets though. Just as Storm is arriving to whip the team into fighting shape, Sublime deploys his new X-men into the city. A California style bank robbery is in progress and as is the case with all comic books, the police or horribly ill-equipped to handle it. So Sublime has his new team confront it, sporting uniforms that should prompt Charles Xavier to sue his ass for copyright infringement. This is how he enters the public eye. This is how he's preparing to upstage the X-men and in many respects, he's doing a damn fine job.

Now as a whole, this issue is a conundrum. It begins after abruptly ending the previous arc. The transition between was about as smooth as the Himalayas and the premise is about as bland as six-week old vanilla ice cream. A mutant plague has been done before and done much better I might add. A new flu infecting the X-men and crippling them isn't going to blow anybody's mind. However, the whole crime syndicate aspect along with Sublime's new X-men add some elements of novelty that make this book worth reading. It's not very organized. Most people will probably have to read it two or three times just to prevent brain matter from leaking out of their ears. But once it sinks in, it's somewhat respectable.

There is still a lot more to criticize than to praise. I know I keep citing Matt Fraction's Cyclops/Emma bias, but it really is a big deal. This guy is making me hate this relationship with the fire of fifty thousand supernovas. His take on their characters make me pine for Joss Whedon to return. At least he offered them some balance. Fraction loves to talk about the progression of their relationship, but they're basically making the same mistakes they made during Utopia. They're keeping secrets, Emma is playing bimbo girlfriend, and all Cyclops is doing is letting it slide. It's infuriating to anyone who is a Cyclops fan, an Emma Frost fan, a romance fan, or even a fucking ceiling fan. Add to this the whole bland plague idea and this isn't the kind of issue that would earn a bronze metal at the comic book special olympics.

Now I can't give this book too low a score because it does offer plenty of motivation to the next issue. This won't make you drop Uncanny and start sending handwritten letters to Joss Whedon to return, but it will make you roll your eyes more than your eye sockets may want to manage. So with that in mind I give Uncanny X-men #530 a 2 out of 5. Matt Fraction's recent work is still slipping and if this keeps up his title will be usurped by X-men Legacy, Generation Hope, and the myriad of other X-titles that offer far more compelling stories. I want to give Fraction more rope, but if he ends up hanging us all with it than X-fans should stock up on aspirin. Nuff said!

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