Monday, December 13, 2010

X-23 #3 - Hellish Awesome

Before I begin, let me point out the obvious again. Yes, I know X-23 #3 came out a few weeks ago. Yes, I know I usually review these books the week they come out. Don't bust my balls. It's not like I want to delay these reviews. There just aren't enough hours in the day and popping caffine pills has turned my heart into the equivalent of Keith Richard's nutsack. Like X-men Legacy #242, I had to wait until I actually had time to review this. Plus, it was a shitty week. I originally intended to review the latest What If comic, but it ended up sucking so bad I couldn't give enough of a shit to review the damn thing. If a book is so bland it's hard to finish, I'm not gonna bother reviewing it. I'd rather stick to something that I know has the potential to be awesome.

The new X-23 series has certainly measured up in that regard. Since it began, Marjorie Liu has injected a steady stream of awesome into the pages that my pot dealer is officially jealous. The story of X-23 has always been compelling. She's not just a Wolverine knock-off. She's someone with a unique past, a unique persona, and unique disposition that puts her in a much better position to be awesome compared to more shitty incarnations (cough-Daken-cough). The first two issues of X-23 has her story intertwining with the ongoing Hellverine story in the Wolverine comics. This has been a bit of a mixed bag because that story hasn't exactly been worth dancing naked in the streets about. Tying X-23 into that story has somewhat limited the first few issues, but Marjorie Liu has made it work superbly.

The last issue put X-23 against a demonically possessed Wolverine who was obsessed with her in the same way Michael Vick is obsessed with dogs. He teased her, taunted her, and tormented her. He eventually got her to trade her soul for the life of her on-again off-again boy toy, Julian Keller. She was willing to save his life in exchange for taking a trip to hell. If Julian doesn't wake up kicking her feet, he's an even bigger douche than he was in X-men Legacy #242. He may not get a chance though. When X-23 wakes up in this issue, she's wearing a prisoner uniform and not the kind used in those sexy porno prisons. She's basically on the wrong side of an episode of Oz, only instead of sodomizing rapists she has to fight wolves. Not sure which is worse.

She tears into the wolves in a way that would make Michael Vick proud. Then it takes a hellish turn with one of the wolves turning into a demonic manifestation of Cyclops. He's also bear ass naked, so that shows Marvel is making a push to appeal to the Tween crowds or the gay crowds. The way this demon Cyclops talks to X-23 is similar to the way pimps talk to their hookers. He says he owns her and she's nothing but a tool. What makes this somewhat less pedophilic is that he's not entirely wrong. X-23 knows she was pretty much made to kill. In many ways, she is a tool and when a naked Cyclops says that to your face that's hard to ignore. Just ask Jean Grey or Emma Frost.

Laura's trip down the first few circles of Hell continue. The demon Cyclops basically tells her she has no soul, which for teenage girls is not much of a stretch. But she runs anyways, trying to get away from the wolves and the creepy gaze of a naked man. She's not unlike Miley Cyrus in that respect. Then along the way she meets someone else. This time it's a little less menacing and doesn't involve naked man (sorry tweens). It's hard to tell what his is, but this walking spirit that looks like a bad hologram from the Star Wars movies reaches out to her and provides X-23 with some much needed guidance.

She seizes this light and it takes her back down a trip to memory lane, which for her is like walking through Jeffery Dahlmer's kitchen. It takes her back to her childhood when she was being turned from an anti-social little girl into an anti-social killing machine. Her creators were trying to train the empathy out of her. To do that, they do something that could only come from the nightmares of grade school children. They threaten to kill a puppy. They give her a choice. Either she has to sit by and watch them horribly torture a cute little puppy or she has to kill it quickly so it doesn't suffer. On a scale of 1 to 10, it ranks about an 8 on the fucked up cruelty scale. Still not as bad as your typical initiation ceremony for a college fraternity, but it's up there.

The incentive works. She becomes a heartless killer and does everything her creators ask of her. She butchers people in a way that would make Ted Bundy queasy. She knows this and it starts to wear on her. In this Marjorie Liu really digs deep into Laura's psyche. Even during the Craig Kyle and Chris Yost minis, there was little time given into how Laura copes with all the terrible things she's done.

How does a teenage girl cope with being a heartless killer? It may not be too far off from your typical overly dramatic teenage girl who ends up on a reality show, but it's one of those extremes that's hard to wrap your head around. Marjorie Liu shows that for all the horrors that went into her creation, X-23 still has a fragile spark of humanity. That alone places her above half the teenage girls I went to high school with.

The personal struggle then turns into an actual struggle when Laura comes face to face with Hellverine. The nude Cyclops is gone (again, sorry tweens). Now Hellverine is tempting her again, trying to make her yet another demon for his army. He speaks his typical demon talk, droning on about how she has no choice and making his the only one that makes any sense. It's basically what you would expect of a demon. He's more full of himself than Simon Cowell and thinks he's pulling all the puppet strings when in reality he's just comic relief.

Of course, Laura's smart enough to understand that the only language demons know is bullshit. Taking them seriously is like trusting a used car salesman that insists the squeaking noise made by the transmission is nothing more than the radio acting up. She calls his bluff, saying she has another choice. Then it gets a little sudden. Without many words or descriptions she makes this choice and everything fades in a white light. It's about as exciting as it sounds.

Now this is something I have a problem with. I get the whole spiritual nature of this struggle, but to have it resolved in a's like Dorthy clicking her heels in the Wizard of Oz. It's a less than exciting way to resolve an issue. This is Wolverine and X-23! Two character that spill more blood than a hemophiliac getting treatment from an acupuncturist with Parkinson's! For it to end in just a flash is pretty weak and doesn't leave quite the impact it should. For the struggles Laura went through on her little spirit quest, it's not a very compelling resolution.

When the light fades, she's back where she started. She wakes up in the infirmary with Storm and a fully healed Hellion. Everything seems to have been resolved. Nothing is out of place except for some nasty blood stains, but that's the kind of shit that comes out with a mix of bleach and windex. Nobody remembers anything and they're right back to where they started. It's about as exciting as it sounds.

It does pick up again though. Cyclops, Emma, Storm, and Gambit go back to discussing her fate. Emma and Cyclops still believe that Laura needs structure. She can't just run around like Wolverine does because he's been doing that for decades and he's still an asshole. Storm believes she should be free to explore. Surprisingly, Gambit offers the best insight. The mere fact they're debating her fate implies she's another thing that needs to be fixed and that alone makes for a fucked up premise. The only way she'll make any progress on anything is to get away from the people who are trying to decide for her. Normally, Gambit's only good for card puns and flirting with Rogue so it's nice for Marjorie Liu to make him somewhat intelligible for once.

Laura follows Gambit's advice without even hearing it. She pays one last visit to Hellion, but doesn't even say goodbye before she leaves. She also gets one last goodbye from Storm, who decides not to stop her despite wanting to support her. It's a touching moment, one where Laura really sets herself apart from being in the X-men to being on her own. So she ends up leaving, basically following Wolverine's old habits of running off and trying to resolve her own screwed up problems. Like father like half-cloned daughter.

However, she doesn't get far before her next threat shows up. She doesn't know it, but someone every bit as worse as Hellverine catch's her interest. What could be worse you ask? How about Sinister? And not just the pasty faced ugly-ass Sinister that's been a historic's the Sinister with boobs! Miss Sinister! Could you imagine anything more horrifying and arousing?

Three issues in and the first arc is done! Marjorie Liu wisely doesn't commit too much of this new series to the Hellverine arc, even if it still feels like more than it needed to be. She probes into the psyche and personality of X-23, giving her depth and adding to her already stellar awesome. Her trip through Hell brought out a powerful side to Laura, showing that unlike Wolverine she's still a teenage girl struggling to find her place. She's on a different path now. She's got her own priorities and missions. In many ways this first arc has helped set the stage for what X-23's struggles are going to be like in this series and Marjorie Liu has made them more appealing than free wing night at a topless bar in Vegas!

Now this issue wasn't without some shortcomings. The resolution to X-23's trip through Hell was a bit contrived. The first two issues were flawless because they spared no details. Marjorie Liu took care of the little things and the big things. That's what made it so compelling and complete. With this issue, however, the resolution feels rushed and unrefined. I'm glad this series is trying to set itself apart from the other Wolverine series, but another page adding layers to her struggle in escaping Hellverine would have been nice. It would have come off as less contrived. The book makes up for it in the end, but it does bring a rushed resolution to something that could have been so mind-blowing. It's like only smoking half a joint. You don't get the full high.

X-23 #3 is still an awesome book and one that deserves to be in the upper class of X-men ongoings. It's right up there with Uncanny X-Force and the new Wolverine series in terms of quality. The art is fantastic, the story is compelling, and the characters are well-rounded. There's every possible ingredient for awesome. Marjorie Liu has cooked up something special here. So for this issue I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. One arc is in the books and there's no reason why ten more can't follow! Nuff said.

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