Monday, November 22, 2010

X-men #5 - Sucking Out The Awesome

I admit I've flip-flopped on the new X-men series more times than Rudolph Juliani's record on abortion. It started out underwhelming. Being overly harsh due to the high standards of calling a book X-men #1 I thumbed my nose at it the same way George W. Bush thumbs his nose at the UN. I ended up recanting some of that thumbing and I purposely deformed my own nose because subsequent issues of the new X-men series improved. The whole Mutants vs. Vampires story was not complex literary masterpiece with all sorts of deeper social implications, but it was entertaining and bloody. The setup was great. The arcs in this series were set up as mini-events with spin-offs that proved every bit as enjoyable as the series. Now that the first arc is almost over, it's possible to make a clearer judgment on the whole concept of this series. With only a few issues left, the Curse of the Mutants has to wrap up the lingering plots. Unlike comics such as Brightest Day though, there are only so many plots that need to be resolved.

The last issue was pretty basic. Xarus, the son of Dracula and leader of the vampires, asked Cyclops and the mutants to join him in overthrowing humans. Cyclops, in so many words, told him to suck it and not in a way vampires appreciate (minus the Twilight crowd). Xarus tried to throw more shit on the pile by showing a new vampire Wolverine, who was enjoying his recent transformation all too well. He loved the drinking, the women, and the bloodlust. Essentially, he wasn't that different than he was before except as a vampire he's more of a douche. And since Cyclops was so blunt in his rejection of Xarus's proposal, Xarus ordered an all out vampire attack on Utopia and Wolverine was to lead the charge.

This issue picks up with the vampires closing in and the X-men preparing for battle. Cyclops has a pretty basic strategy. On the front lines are the mutants who have tough skin or can easily resist being bitten. That means Colossus, Rockslide, and Emma in her diamond form are going to do much of the fighting. Xarus is throwing everything he can at Utopia. Cypher relays 600 air units and 150 hovercraft with 40 troops each, which adds up to 600 vampires. Now why did I make that quick calculation when math is the last thing anyone gives a shit about in comics? Well there's a reason for that and it's important information to remember later on. So for once, not coming to math class drunk should pay off.

It seems like an Alamo-style stand. Cyclops isn't showing a whole lot of strategy here. He's just placing the mutants on the island in a front line and trying to hold it. He's got the Atlanteans covering underwater and only Arcangel covering the sky. They even resort to more extreme (and slightly ridiculous) tactics like having a priest bless Iceman so that his ice is frozen holy water. It seems like a desperate bid and one that has him horribly outmatched. Keep in mind these vampires are not normal fleshy humans who go down with a quick optic blast. These are creatures of the night. Even with Blade helping them out, they're on a fucking island for crying out loud. From a reader's perspective, Cyclops is being a pretty lousy tactician and for him that's just not in character. That's like James Bond not being able to get laid at the Playboy Mansion.

The fight is still pretty fucking epic though. When the vampires arrive, the clash is like a Michael Bay movie in that it inundates the senses with flashy action. For a comic like this, it works. This comic was never billed as being something much deeper so if someone complains about it in that sense, they're either not paying attention to the advertising or they're just being assholes. I say this because I don't want readers to think any criticism I have stems from this. I go into this comic with certain expectations the same way I go into a Jackass movie and expect to be disgusted.

There are few surprises at first even if the battle depictions are pretty damn awesome. The battle doesn't last for too many pages. Xarus's forces have a lot of numbers on their side so they are able to overwhelm the X-men, at least initially. Cyclops orders the mutants to fall back. For a moment they're cornered. Then instead of landing the killing blow, the vampires stop. It's like only getting halfway through a line of cocaine and leaving the other half to be potentially snorted up by someone else. It isn't through sheer incompetence though. Xarus stops for a reason. It isn't enough for him to just win this battle. He wants to shoot for style points so he deploys Wolverine to the scene to finish the X-men off.

Now this certainly shouldn't qualify Xarus as a master tactician, but like all evil baddies he has to strut his stuff before he delivers the killing blow. For a while it looks like it may work for once. Wolverine makes quick work of the other X-men including Armor, Colossus, and Husk. As he's doing this, he's taunting Cyclops about him leading mutants to oblivion. He calls Cyclops a tyrant who just plays with mutants like they're pieces of a chess board and he gets off on it the same way he gets off tit-fucking Emma Frost. Now Victor Gischler may have been reading message boards when he wrote this because a lot of message boards have echoed this sentiment. Cyclops is seen as the dictator for all mutant kind. Never mind the fact that he doesn't force people to join him, he doesn't publicly execute people, he doesn't rule through fear, he thinks before he acts (which 99 percent of politicians fail to do), and he doesn't ask for tribute or even taxes. When was the last time a tyrant didn't tax the hell out of his people? It's entirely debatable (although fucking retarded) as to Cyclops's role on Utopia, but for people who just don't like Cyclops they should find plenty to masterbate to with this scene.

It's all for nothing though. Wolverine's rant might as well have been a lecture on atomic physics because it ends up doing nothing. The reason is because Cyclops apparently did have a plan here. Getting Xarus pissed enough to throw Wolverine at him was part of it. There had been clues dropped before, but now they've been confirmed. Cyclops prepared for Wolverine being turned into a vampire. So he had Dr. Nemesis inject Wolverine with nanobots to suppress his healing factor so that he could become one. Then thanks to a remote control, he turned that healing factor back on so that now he becomes the same Wolverine again. He's still a ruthless, mean, bloodlusting beast, but he has a heart now and one that Edward Cullen would swoon over. So now Wolverine is back on their side again and Xarus ends up looking like a total fucking idiot. It does nothing to make that huge fucking army of his disappear. All it does is get Wolverine back from the vampires. Again, I point this out because it's important to remember, almost as much as not mixing paint thinner with vodka for an extra kick.

So now Wolverine is fighting for the X-men again. He shows some annoyance for Cyclops, but his memory must suck because he pretty much forgets it on the next page and turns on the vampires. He doesn't change the fact that they're still obscenely out-numbered or the fact that vampires don't go down as easily as humans. He's just one more body to throw at the invading force. Why do I bring this up? Because what happens next pushes a fine line towards storytelling and bullshit.

Cyclops declares that this is where they turn the tide (ignoring the whole being outnumbered by vampires detail) and by whatever random, off-panel magical force it happens. Suddenly, those hundreds of vampires start falling like flies. Iceman uses his blessed ice form to essentially go nuclear on the vampires. Somehow Arcangel is able to destroy those hundreds of aircraft coming towards them. I know Arcangel is pretty badass, but he's not a whole fucking air force! Once more, they don't even show him blowing any shit up! He's just flying around as if somehow that's enough to make vampires cower in fear and dive into the nearest tub of holy water. All the while Xarus is shitting himself.

It is by far the most poorly thought out, contrived way to move a story forward. Even for a book that's labeled as a flashy, style-over-substance series this is pushing it. Even Michael Bay would say it lacks depth. Wolverine is a badass mutant killing machine, but even that's not enough to just flat out turn the tide on a whole vampire army. If that was Cyclops's only strategy it was a bad one. He could have had something else waiting in the wings. Maybe Dr. Nemesis had some sort of cure for the disease that turned Jubilee into a vampire that would have turned the tide. Maybe they had a superweapon they needed to deploy with all the vampires in one area. That didn't happen. Just tricking Wolverine back into the fight and curing his vampirism is somehow all it takes. Even Forest Gump would be smart enough to say "That there don't seem right. Now where's my box of chocolates?"

In just a few panels the X-men stand triumphant over the massive vampire army that I detailed earlier. There are no major details or intricacies to the triumph. The readers just have to assume it all went the X-men's way on faith. It's a little like the Heaven's Gate cult except instead of mass suicide, this story just tries to kill you with underwhelming lameness.

So now Xarus has been emasculated or defanged as it were for vampires. He's been humiliated by Cyclops and demands a second wave, but he rushed into battle so quickly that there is no second wave. Apparently, his vampire army wasn't nearly as vast as was implied. And somehow it was so shitty that only a few dozen mutants could take it out. At this point anyone with a quarter of a brain should figure out they're a shitty leader and need to hang it up. But Xarus is too big a douche-bag to do that. He wants everything to go his way and he wants it to happen now. He's like Kanye West mixed with David Lee Roth, so full of himself he doesn't understand when he's being an asshole.

Then as he's yelling at all his vampire buddies, he gets a special visitor. Remember how a few issues ago the X-men went to all the trouble to bring back Dracula and how that was completely forgotten? Well it seems Gischler's memory is a little better than a retarded chihuahua because he finally enters the fold again. He storms in to essentially give his son some much needed discipline. It's not clear if this is going to spell doom for the mutants or just deliver the finishing blow to Xarus's ego, but it ends the comic with some need for another issue. After how contrived this book was, you may be best waiting for the spoilers because at this point adding any meaning to this story would be like using crazy glue to rebuild a crashed airplane.

This series in it's first arc has gone back and forth in terms of quality like an obsessive compulsive germophobe waiting in a pacing ward. Yet despite this random mix of awesome and shit, this series always had the potential to be something special. An issue like this, however, takes that potential and shits on it like an elephant suffering from explosive diarrhea. It's all flash and no heart. And even the flash is nothing too spectacular. These fight scenes won't wow anybody. They're certainly no battle scene in Lord of the Rings or a fight between Rocky and Victor Drago. Everything seems to happen off-panel and Gischler seems to dumb down the strategy of both sides to the point where they're...well, dumb.

That's not to say this book doesn't have any redeeming value. Some of the fight scenes are pretty awesome. The Wolverine rant about Cyclops was pretty cool if you don't like Cyclops. Also, Dracula was not completely forgotten and he finally gets to make his presence felt. There's nothing here that would make a reader want to throw away the other issues and use them as lining for a bird cage. Dracula's appearance at the end even offers some reasons to see the last issue. But after the way the mutants vs vampires battle unfolded, the ship has pretty much sailed for this arc. That same ship hit an ice burg, caught fire, and blew up. There's really not much else that can be done with it.

Even with only one issue left, I find it hard to really recommend this comic. That's why I give X-men #5 a 2.5 out of 5. It's not Ultimate style terrible, but compared to the potential it carried it's a huge downgrade. Victor Gischler is better than this and unless he lines the last issue with C4, this first arc of this new series will end with a fizzle and not a bang. Nuff said.

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