Monday, December 27, 2010
X-men Legacy #243 - A Legacy of Awesome
Well for some drinking all the leftover eggnog at once is a bad idea. You may take a holiday from work, but hangovers never take a vacation so I had to wait until I could stand the glow of my computer screen before I wrote this review. While this week has been all about celebrating obese diabetics in red suits and the human sacrifice of some crazy jewish preacher 2000 years ago, there's always time for comics. This week has been full of great X-books. Uncanny X-men #531 came out and it wasn't exactly a Christmas gift of awesome. It wasn't a lump of coal either, but like Alexander Rodriguez's steroid test it's hit or miss. That has been the story for many X-books. Any one of the books can have one great issue that carpet bombs the comic world with awesome. Very few books are consistently awesome. X-men Legacy has been one of them.
Mike Carey is one of the longest tenured X-writers for a reason. The man knows what he's doing and he doesn't fuck it up by trying to blow too much shit up with every issue. He treats it like a process, not a Michael Bay movie. He focuses on a select set of characters, but still manages to make the book feel like it fits into the greater X-men universe. Most of the time he uses Rogue because he either has a soft spot for her or secretly wants to do her (or possibly both). Other times he brings other characters like Magneto into the mix. Since Second Coming, he's given Jean Gre-I mean Hope Summers some good moments. As the mutant messiah she's gotten her share of attention from pretty much every X-writer, but Carey hasn't done much to set himself apart. That changed with X-men Legacy #242.
The previous issue was one of those issues that took the road most comic riders avoid taking because it's not where all the flashing lights and shiney things are. This is because it focused mostly on the little things that the other X-books haven't bothered to touch on. After the attack by Bastion in Second coming, the city of San Francisco is in ruin and as gesture to show that they feel bad about bringing a psychotic mutant-killing robot to the city the X-men offered to help clean it up. They went into San Francisco and used their powers to help the rebuilding process. Along the way, some of the other little plots from Second Coming involving Hope and Hellion emerged. Hellion is still pissed about getting his hands blown off. Hope tries to help out on a simpler level by using a shovel rather than tapping the Phoenix Force. Somewhere along the way Karima Shapandar, who is basically a sentinel with boobs, goes haywire and tries to shoot Hope. It's not a massive explosion that shrivels your balls, but it's still something flashy enough to keep whiney comic fans from saying the issue was boring. The book ended with Karmia firing that fateful shot. X-men Legacy #243 picks up in the aftermath of that shot.
It starts off with Hellion, who in the last issue made a push for douche-bag of the year by bitching at Hope to use her messiah powers to give him his hands back. He's talking to Cyclops, giving him a run-down of everything that happened. His story (assuming he isn't trying to make up for being such a jerk earlier) shows him playing the messiah role for once because he ends up saving Jea-I mean Hope from the Omega Sentinel by using his telekinesis in a way that would make Stephen Hawkings stand up and run three New York City marathons to protest his outrage over the lack of respect for the laws of physics.
The Omega Sentinel is stunned and Julian tells the messiah to run away (not sure if that qualifies as an oxymoron but it should). Hope gets away safely and he vents all the inner douche he piled up in the previous issue on Karima, who seems to be going bipolar with one side acting as the Terminator (the first two and not the other shitty two) and the other begging like a catholic school girl caught with gay porn in her locker for her friends to get away. He tries to finish her off, but then Rogue and the rest of the X-men come in and stop him. This time they're the one playing the role of asshole. Apparently they didn't see Karima take a swipe at Hope earlier so they blame the guy who has been acting like an douche-bag since he lost his hands. It sounds so reasonable. Some readers may be conflicted as to who is the bigger asshole, Julian or the others.
Whoever is to blame, they're all in deep shit because Karima goes haywire again. This time she's not content with killing the messiah of the entire mutant race. This time she has to bring down another building, this after the X-men came to help rebuild. She's pretty much defeating the purpose and making it hell for the X-men's new PR department (see the last issue of Uncanny for proof that it's not a lame joke). That pretty much shows that Julian was right to be an asshole for once, regardless of how pissed he is at not having any hands.
Another mess is being made and this time it doesn't involve killer robots from the future. That may be an appeal or a drawback, depending on how you look at it. There's a brief flashback that shows Dr. Nemesis confirming Hellion's story to Cyclops, further showing he's not full of shit for once. It continues to help limit the douche-bag factor he built up in the last issue. His case is strengthened when he recounts how the Omega Sentinel pretty much bitch slapped all of the X-men's heavy hitters including Magneto, Colossus, and Psylocke.
Karima looks pretty calm and collected for someone who is kicking the ass of the X-men. Friends or not, that's nothing to scoff at. Few people can walk into a bar and say they beat up the X-men and lived to tell about it. It's the kind of story that could get you laid or at least a few free drinks. The Omega Sentinel has her way with quite a few top name X-men. She even manages to weaken Colossus with a quick lesson in chemistry. So the next time your chemistry teacher asks what happens when you heat metal up and then rapidly cool it, instead of taking the time to do your homework and study just refer them to this comic. It'll give them the answer and give you more time for more important things, like learning how to masterbate and cook hot pockets at the same time.
Now when someone as strong as Colossus gets schooled, that's usually a good time for your balls to plan a vacation to the deepest recesses of your stomach. It's odd how Karima is suddenly so ridiculously over-powered. At this point you start wondering why she wasn't able to play a bigger role in Second Coming. Someone who could take out the X-men like this would surely have made the fight against Bastion a bit easier. This is a flaw that does stand out. I get that Mike Carey is letting a lesser known character shine for a bit, but she's coming off as way too powerful. It seems excessive and is a bit demeaning to the stories she was present for, but didn't even impact. It's like having Joe Montana in his prime on the bench in a big football game and not knowing he was Joe Montana until after you were down four touchdowns. Mike Carey may be giving Karima the spotlight, but he's doing it with a flawed premise.
Regardless of how powerful she is, she ends up getting a quick lesson in her limitations by Hope. While the X-men are getting their asses handed to them, she gets one of the human girls she had been protecting to safety and hijacks a crane. Somewhere in that big war zone in the sky, Cable is wiping the tears from his face. She gets her away from Colossus and away from the others, but now she's the target again. She also must know that as the mutant messiah, she can't afford to be dead until she gets nailed to the appropriate cross.
Karima sets her sights on Hope again. Then Hellion once again comes back to play the role of anti-douche. He uses his telekinesis in ways that may mildly impress Emma Frost (the equivalent of making Simone Cowell kiss your shoes to property convey your greatness). He unloads on Karmia in the same way Ike Turner unloads on Tina. He uses the fact that machines took his hands from him and takes it out on this girl who continues to whine desperately like a hostage in a Bruce Willis movie. She begs him to end her. Usually this is where the heroes out of their sense of duty and morality refuse and try to find another way. Hellion essentially thumbs his nose and spits on that notion. He takes out Karima in an act of badass telekinesis that should push the eyeballs out of any unsecured sockets in those weak of heart or mind.
It's a powerful moment. Hellion doesn't completely redeem himself for his douche-bag moves earlier. The case can be made that he hurt his case at redemption. He didn't even hesitate to take Karima out. He didn't even say he was sorry before he did it. He's the anti-Bruce Willis while not quite being Steven Segal (before he found religion). When the rest of the X-men see what they did, they're horrified. But Julian is unrepentant. He know what he did and is perfectly okay with it. It's like they all saw him take a shit in a pizza and watch a bunch of innocent people eat it. Even for a teenage boy, it's pretty cold while still not being quite as evil as a 13-year-old bully in middle school. Even Magneto has trouble matching that kind of evil.
When Julian finishes telling his story to Cyclops, he sees that Karima is not fully dead. Although she probably wishes she was dead in her condition. Cyclops goes onto scold Hellion for going this far and not showing the slightest remorse for it. He says he crossed a line, but then Hellion turns it around on Cyclops and reminds him that he crossed this line too. Bear in mind Cyclops was the one that formed X-Force. Word got out during Second Coming that he was sending out kill squads. So him condemning Julian would be like George W. Bush giving a lecture on government transparency. It's a powerful moment, one that brings in the old end-justify-the-means debate.
The ironic thing is that Hellion isn't wrong. The truth is actually on his side. Cyclops holds others accountable to deeds like Hellion's, but he doesn't hold himself accountable. He makes an exception for himself when it comes to X-Force because he's the leader. That's a pretty weak position on his part and one that shows an arrogant hypocrisy that may be overplayed a bit, but can't be overlooked. Many anti-Cyclops fans will come to love Hellion for his speech. He makes some compelling points about how Cyclops has carried himself. It does ignore some context, but it's still valid on some levels. It offers some hints that maybe Cyclops is losing his grip on what it means to be the leader of all mutant kind. It's by far the most promising debate Cyclops has had with anybody in years.
Hellion brushes off the probation that Cyclops gives him. He gets an extra round of scorn from Rogue as well, who is a lot more physical when telling him how wrong he is. She makes a much more compelling point than Cyclops ever did. She makes it clear that he crossed a line and he can't go back. She also makes it clear that if he crosses it again, she'll drain his ass until his lack of hands is his lesser handicap. It shows that Hellion has no support for what he did. His friends and leaders scold him, thus leaving it up to the readers to decide whether to support or condemn him. He's pretty much isolated himself now and he shows no regrets. He started this arc off as a douche-bag and he's still a douche-bag. But at least he's a douche-bag with some balls.
So for once, an arc isn't drawn out over one too many issues. This story in X-men Legacy is over in just two short issues and that's it. It's quality, not quantity and it doesn't require a fan to look up the entire history of the series on wikipedia to get a sense of what the hell is going on. It involves many characters, but focuses on just a handful in all the right ways. It's Mike Carey's classic style and once again he shows how he makes it work while making it awesome in the process.
It was a powerful issue, one that put Hellion in the spotlight along with Karmia. Karmia's predicament was largely overshadowed by Hellion and his confrontation with Cyclops, but these are two characters who haven't had a chance to really shine. Mike Carey made them as awesome as Wolverine for a few brief issues. There are still some issues with the premise. The idea that Karmia was really that powerful and that she could take out a good chunk of the X-men's heavy hitters seems flawed. As nice as the confrontation with Cyclops was, it feels like Hellion could have said more. He could have brought up his decisions with Cable, X-Force, and how he handled Hope. It still gets the message across, but without some of the details that would make it extra awesome.
Mike Carey fans will find plenty to like about this issue. Overall X-men fans will find plenty to like as well, but not without a few flaws. For that reason I can't give X-men Legacy #243 the perfect score I gave the last issue. This issue is still pretty damn awesome, but not the kind of awesome that warrants a perfect score. It's close though. I give this issue a 4.5 out of 5. I'd recommend it to any X-men fan looking for a quality X-book. Mike Carey knows how to get it done. He'll hit way more than he misses and he'll do it without being tacky like other X-men writers. That's enough to place him in the higher echelons of X-men caliber awesome for now and for the foreseeable future. Excelsior!