Saturday, January 29, 2011

Uncanny X-men #532 - Bargaining For Awesome

It's that time again! A new issue of Uncanny X-men has come out and I know many here are expecting me to make no fewer than three poop jokes about it and Matt Fraction's writing. As I've said before, I have nothing against Matt Fraction. I think he's a great writer. If he showed up at my door right now I'd invite him to come in, smoke a few joints, and watch my 80s porno collection. My problem with his run in Uncanny has been his handling of certain characters and being painfully bias in his writing. Now that it's been confirmed that he's leaving Uncanny and co-writer Kieron Gillen is taking over, I'm inclined to cut him a bit more slack. However, that doesn't mean I'll overlook some of the recent issues with this title.

The last few issues have been marked by some marginal improvements. The Quarantine arc has several major plots going on at once. Once involves John Sublime creating his own version of the X-men in the same way Wendy's created it's own version of the Big Mac with the Wopper. A plot that is somehow related to this (albeit in an overly vague manner) is some mysterious outbreak of flu that has come over Utopia, hence forcing a Quarantine to protect against spreading it to humans. Okay, so the title might not win points for originality, but it's been more than your random cough. This disease is actually suppressing the powers of those it infects, including Wolverine. Never mind that the virus sounds suspiciously like the Legacy Virus which was done over a decade ago. It's caused the few remaining X-men that are off the island, which consists of Dazzler, Storm, Angel, Pixie, and Northstar to pick up the slack. They have their work cut out for them because at the same time Collective Man has been doing to Chinatown what Ricky Gervais did to the Golden Globes, fuck it up and make it more exciting.

Then there's the Emma Frost story. Boy have I been beating up on the Emma Frost story and not in the way that involves a box of tissues and a bottle of baby oil. One of the biggest knocks I've had about Matt Fraction's run is how he's handled Emma Frost. After seeing her development under Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon it's been pretty infuriating. Ever since he took over, he's made Emma Frost the blond Jean Grey. She's lost her edge, now essentially playing the role of Cyclops's arm candy. Every time she talks it's only to coo over Cyclops or make witty comments about anyone around her. She doesn't have that same snide persona that made her so interesting and every time a plot comes along that has the potential to make Emma interesting (namely Namor wanting to navigate her ocean), it's pretty much ignored. Fraction seems allergic to doing anything that will make Emma less palpable as Cyclops's girlfriend and has essentially neutered her in the same way Lorena Bobbet neutered her husband.

Now that I've got that rant out of my system, I'll tack on that Fraction has at least been trying to make Emma's story more meaningful in the last few issues. Her story involves Sebastien Shaw, the guy who pretty much made her who she is. She's been keeping a secret from Cyclops and the X-men. She's had Shaw locked up in the brig as a prisoner and only a handful of people know about it. She enlisted Kitty and Fantomex to help her deal with it by getting Shaw off the island and away from Utopia. That idea was about as good as the idea for New Coke. The last issue ended with Fantomex dropping him out of the sky from their UFO-shaped aircraft. This issue begins with the direct aftermath of that decision, namely Shaw demonstrating his absorption powers and how he can use it to ruin your day.

The story then shifts from one guy who will fuck your shit up to another guy who can do it five times over. The story with the Collective Man has been unfolding in a rather spotty manner for the past few issues, but here he's taken his role as top (uneaten) dog in Chinatown. So the X-men not currently puking their guts up from the flu take it upon themselves to give him the Korean restaurant treatment. Storm, Northstar, Angel, Pixie, and Dazzler are tasked with the job and somehow between this issue and the previous, they found the guy. Now I looked back over the last issue and was confused. How the hell did they catch up with him? Did I miss something? If you're confused, don't change your meds. Assume Marvel is just trying to combat the rising price of ink and get right to the action. There's nothing wrong with that other than it makes the scene feel a little contrived.

Since the regular X-men aren't doing much to reign the Collective Man in, the new X-men take a shot. In the last issue John Sublime took five randomly chosen teenagers that he probably found on Craigslist and gave them powers so they could be the new X-men. He pretty much ripped off the Original Five, giving the same powers and costumes of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman to these kids. They've been carrying on like a bunch of groupies who just got a backstage pass to a Justin Bieber concert. Now they have a chance to prove their worth.

They quickly prove they're worth about as much as MC Hammer's finance skills. Collective Man rips into them the same way Ike Turner rips into a new girlfriend. They don't even get a chance to use their powers. They're taken out like school kids being robbed of their lunch money. It's a pretty weak scene. You would expect these kids who are all giddy to use their powers to at least try. I get that they're inexperienced, but Fraction and Gillen pretty much glossed over them. It was quite a let-down.

The other X-men help make up for it though. They also make up for their early ineptitude by actually using a little strategy for once. Pixie uses her teleportation powers while Dazzler channels the spectacle of a million Lady Gaga concerts. She essentially beams Collective Man a hundred feet into the air so that he has to recollect himself to survive the fall. Then Angel comes in to knock him out. It's a simple strategy, one that's so effective it makes you wonder why they didn't try this in the beginning. Then again maybe they just needed a team of X-men knock-offs to show them how NOT to kick ass. Whatever the case, they retrieved much of their dignity. The same can't be said for Collective Man, who ends up as decimated as Jim Carey's Oscar chances.

So that's it for the Collective Man story. It's a little rushed, but if you expected Collective Man to beat even a reserve team of X-men then you need to turn over your X-men fan-card along with one of your testicles (or butt cheek if you're a girl). There's some nice banter amongst the team as they stand over Collective Man in the same way hillbillies stand over a keg of moonshine. They prove that the X-men can be effective even when some are too sick to kick ass. By beating Collective Man, they're also able to focus on this new team of X-men. They're still out cold and come off as menacing as a box of kittens. So now they have to figure out what to do with them and who they need to rough up next. I'm sure the X-men have copyrighted their image and have a brand to protect.

Part of protecting that brand brings the story to the X-men's new PR crew. This is a side-plot that began in the previous arc and to this point it's been like the national debt, kept on the back-burner and barely mentioned in passing conversation. Now the PR team that Iceman hired a few issues ago finally starts to pull their weight. They hold a press conference with a bunch of reporters and their lead spokesperson, who happens to be a pretty blond because who can belittle someone that's pretty enough to bone, informs the public that an outbreak of flu has come over Utopia. The island is on quarantine and she reassures everybody that the virus can't infect humans.

Naturally, the press is about as fair as Fox News on the subject. They grill her for essentially doing what all media people do, which is bullshitting the public. So to shut these people up and give Glenn Beck one less thing to cry about, she does something that makes her by far the ballsiest PR person in history. She lets Dr. Rao inject her with the virus. It would be like President Obama's press secretary allowing Bill O'Reily sort through his porno subscriptions. It doesn't get her sick and it placates the public. That or they're just rendered speechless by the collapse of their collective scrotum.

With one less issue to worry about, a very sick Cyclops has a teleconference with John Sublime. Now again, it's not clear how they figured out it was the Sublime Corporation that made these new X-men. It's not even clear if they've figured that out yet and Sublime is just calling the X-men on a whim. This lack of clarity seems to be a theme among the Sublime plot. At least with this scene, the big picture is laid out.

Sublime comes off as the most evil person anyone can imagine...a greedy businessman. To hell with Magneto, Sinister, and Apocalypse. Few things are more evil than someone who thinks Gordon Gecko is Jesus Christ. There's a method to Sublime's madness. He wants to profit from the X-gene. He wants 100 percent rights to exploit the X-gene in the same way Apple wants 100 percent of the rights over all it's products. Anyone who can't use Flash on their Iphone knows how fucked up that is. In exchange, Sublime is offering a cure for the mutant flu. All he needs to do is have Cyclops come over and sign some papers to make it official. It's worse than a deal with the devil. At least the devil only takes your soul. He doesn't get filthy rich off it. In that sense Sublime becomes by far one of the most devious enemies the X-men have faced since Bastion.

So not only is Cyclops feeling shitty. He has to weigh the options of signing a shitty deal versus watching his mutant brethren suffer from a shitty plague. It's as no win as you can get without sending your bank account number to a Nigerian businessman. So Cyclops has to figure out how he's going to deal with this. His only lead at the moment are the team of faux X-men that the others captured. Even though they got their asses handed to them by Collective Man, they're still carrying on like Twilight fans in Robert Pattinson's bathroom. They actually think it's cool they've been captured by the X-men. I know they're normal teenagers and all, but at this point that fanboy attitude is getting annoying. It was cute a few issues ago. Now it's wearing thin. So some readers may feel happy when Cyclops decides to scare the living shit out of them by putting them in the same room as a sick Wolverine. Even though he can't use his claws because of the virus, he's still a mean son-of-a-bitch and not above giving these fans the George Lucas treatment.

Sadly, we don't get to see if the new X-men shit their pants. Instead we revisit the Emma Frost plot. If you'll recall, Fantomex made the shitty decision to throw Shaw out of the jet. Now he's powered up with a metric fuckton of kinetic energy. He's still making light of his decision with Emma Frost. That or he's trying to get into her pants. It could go either way because Fantomex tries to nail every woman in the X-men. However, Shaw comes in and demonstrates why his decision was so shitty. He hits him so hard that he may end up landing in a different time zone, leaving Emma without someone to belittle for once.

Then it's just Shaw and Emma. Shaw grabs her in her diamond form so she can't use her telepathy to mind fuck him again like she did before. He then holds her the same way Michael Vick holds dogs, pinning her against the wrecked ship and preparing to give her the drunk Charlie Sheen treatment. Seeing as how Emma kept him a prisoner and twisted his mind, it seems perfectly reasonable for him to be upset. Even so, the mere fact that Matt Fraction is writing this book makes it a pretty safe assumption that Emma Frost is going to come out of this unscathed. In that sense the final page doesn't have much suspense. We don't know what may happen with the Sublime Corporation, but we do know that Emma Frost will find a way to come out of this looking golden. Fraction isn't off this book yet so we're left to expect the least interesting and most eye-rolling ending possible. It's sad, but Fraction has yet to prove this notion wrong.

It's that very predictability that has plagued Uncanny X-men during Matt Fraction's run. He and Gillen did a lot of good work with the story surrounding Sublime, but the Emma story is painfully contrived. Anyone who has followed Uncanny for the past few years knows how this ends. Every time it looks like Emma is going to do something extreme, she ends up being Fraction's golden girl again. Forming the Dark X-men didn't do anything. She ended up back in Cyclops's arms, cooing like a school girl. She's had her moments in this arc, but there's nothing to believe that she'll come out any more damaged than she already is. This won't affect her relationship with Cyclops. It won't affect her status with the X-men. It won't even change how much people trust her. To do otherwise would go against the unofficial policy of making Emma Frost as innocent as someone with her history can be.

The Emma plot may be shamelessly predictable, but at least the Sublime story was engaging and intriguing. It was nice to see other X-men like Dazzler, Northstar, and Storm shine in the battle against Collective Man. It was also nice to see how the X-men dealt with the PR surrounding the flu. It's one of those little things that may not seem like much, but it really gives a sense that Fraction and Gillen are making the X-men more like the superheroes they are rather than part of a dying species. The whole plot to profit from the X-gene is a pretty novel idea and one that is actually believable. Because let's face it, if the X-gene was real someone would try to make billions off it. That's America for you. People find ways to profit off of everything even if it is comes off as horribly dickish. It was still pretty lame how the new X-men failed so easily, but being captured and interrogated by Wolverine holds the promise of a good life lesson coupled with soiled underwear for these youths. That alone makes the next issue worth picking up.

Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen have done a lot of good things with this issue, but there are still some old habits they've yet to escape. The Quarantine arc is almost over. The Emma plot may fizzle, but the Sublime story is definitely more interesting now. For that, I can't help but give them their dues. You don't get the Uncanny writing gig unless you have some talent going for you and these guys definitely showed it here. Factoring this in with the shot list of miscues, I give Uncanny X-men #532 a 3.5 out of 5. This issue is not bad, but it's not great either. It's worth picking up and it'll make you want to read the next issue. That's my take and I'm sticking to it. Nuff said.


  1. Having a villain exploit the X-gene is pretty refreshing these days. Let's see how well the writers do with this story before they eventually ruin it.

    I was a little confused over Pixie's and Dazzler's scene. How could Dazzler not know what the word "tidy" means? She's supposed to be an international superstar, having traveled all over the word, having worked with Psylocke back in the 80s - and she hasn't heard that word before? And for Pixie, who's supposedly a big fan of hers, was flat out like, "OMG 'tidy' is 'tidy' - no wonder your last album flopped." These were rather OOC moments for them (but then, that can be the case for a lot of our beloved X-Men...). Or I could have missed something from the past issues *shrugs*

    As for the Emma storyline, her secret prison method has come back to bite her in the ass. Alas, she'll probably be rescued by Kitty or someone. No way is Shaw going to lay a hand on her because she's Emma Frost, the cash cow of the X-Men and the writers' favorite female. As much as I used to love her classic personality and Generation X era, I really wanna see someone bruise that pretty face of hers XD

    Oh, and to have Emma on the cover with a gun while pulling the lace off her bodice? YUCK. Fanboys appeal much? Well, it'd probably look more alluring if anyone but Greg Land drew this.

    Great review as always, Jack!

  2. Thanks for the comment, rekkanoryo! These reviews take quite a while to make so comments are very welcome. I really like how Gillen and Fraction are using Sublime. Making the X-gene a resource to exploit isn't just novel. It makes sense. If the X-gene existed in the real world and guarantee you some multi-billion dollar Big Pharma company would be trying to make money off it.

    As for the Pixie and Dazzler scene, that didn't bother me too much. Those two were never the most articulate characters. So I don't think it's OOC. They've always been kind of giddy at times if not a little ditzy. That's part of their charm.

    As for Emma, I agree. Kitty will probably save her (which is pretty ironic given how rough she was on Emma during Astonishing). Emma will probably come out of this unscathed and unaffected, which is really a shame because Fraction has had so many moments to add a little drama in Emma's life and her relationship with Cyclops. He's followed up on NONE of it. She's basically everything that people used to criticize Jean Grey for, a goody-two-shoes who just played arm candy for Cyclops. Hypocrisy anyone? I would love to be surprised by the end, but I doubt it will happen under Fraction's watch.

    As for the cover, I'm a guy so I didn't mind it. But yeah, I can understand why some may find this shameless. It's Matt Fraction and Greg Land. What did you expect? lol

    Thanks again! Hope you enjoy the next issues of X-men Supreme!

  3. I'll admit I was never a big Pixie fan. The only comic I have of her in it was when Free Comic Book Day occurred a few years back, and there was an X-Men comic with Pixie with what looked like the Astonishing X-Team lineup. I believe that's the one where Pixie ended up at the hospital after fighting the N'Gairi. I dunno, she just never appealed to me yet she seems pretty popular, what with getting her own mini and all (and Marvel Girl's just NOW getting her own in February? Conspiracy, I tell ya).

    As for Dazzler, I really need to catch up on her characterization. I can only recall how she was when I read her solo comics from the 70s (a few issues at best), the Inferno crossover, and when she was a fighter with Longshot in Mojo's world. Yeah, I need to fill in a few gaps so that's probably why I thought of the OOCness, LOL.

  4. I'm a bit confused by your expectation that the stuff going on with Emma and Shaw should affect her relationship with Cyclops or her standing in the X-Men.

    The story is about exploring Emma's and Shaw's relationship, the other things do not really factor into it. It's also about tying up the loose end of Shaw being a secret prisoner.

    Not all stories will have major status quo changing consequences, you know? Most end up putting the toys back into the box when they finish up. Would be kind of hard keeping an indefinite serialized story going on and still be somewhat recognizable otherwise.

  5. My point about the Emma issue is that NONE of the stories involving her ever affect her status with the X-men or her relationship with Cyclops. Everything remains pretty much the same. I find that hypocritical because it was that constant that led to people resenting Jean Grey because the perception was that no story ever affected her standing or relationships (which is dead wrong). With Emma Frost, everything since the Astonishing run has just reinforced the notion that Emma Frost was never really that bad. She was the victim of negative influences or a bad environment. It's like blaming the spoon for making someone fat.

    And Emma's relationship with Cyclops DOES factor in. Remember The Confession issue? That whole issue had them revealing secrets to one another and then kissing and making up. They then resolve to not have secrets. Now here Emma is keeping secrets like Shaw. Can you see the hypocrisy?

    Emma's status quo has been painfully bland since Astonishing. I'm not saying she has to be blown up, but she's become so flat that her story is predictable. Every one of them ends the same way. She messes up, she tries to fix it, Cyclops forgives her and they kiss, and nobody in the X-men cares enough to question her. This arc isn't even over and we know how it's going to end. Emma is going to come out shining and nothing is going to change. That's okay to do for a while, but it's been happening to Emma Frost for years now. It's gotten old and it's made me resent the Cyclops/Emma relationship now that the writers have gotten away from what made it so interesting.

    But if you feel different, you're welcome to argue your point. Thanks for the comment.

  6. You're looking at a too short time period. Whedon's Astonishing spent a full four years solidifying her standing in the X-Men and with Cyclops. Since then it's been less than three years of her current status quo, with only one opportunity (X-Force/Cabal) to shake things up. So I'd not say ALL her stories ends the same way, that is not quite the right word for only ONE.

    Bland and predictable? Perhaps, but that is more a problem for Uncanny in general (or even the whole superhero genre) and not only Emma Frost. For example, I guess we both know that the influenza will not end up killing the X-Men and that everything will be fine when the arc ends. The players must still be there for the next one!

    Also, not sure I'd count someone being fine with her friends getting beaten to death in front of her as "never really that bad". Maybe Gillen's influence, does not seem like something Fraction would add.

  7. Keep in mind that during the Astonishing run, Whedon's books were constantly delayed. I count the number of issues more than the number of years. I also count the Grant Morrison run to some extent. He was the first writer to set her up as a character that's going to come out ahead no matter what. He was more tactful about it, but at least he gave Emma personality. Emma has been lacking that personality since Whedon's run ended.

    As for being bland and predictable, I can't think of too many characters who are driven by the same theme. Even characters like Pixie get more development. We do know that Marvel isn't going to kill the X-men. They did that in Ultimate and it didn't work. But it's not really clear how they're going to pull through this. It's pretty easy to see what will happen with Emma though. She'll overcome Shaw, she'll go back to Utopia, she'll run into Cyclops's arms, and nothing else will come of it. Somehow Fraction and Gillen will use this to solidify her as the victim who was never that evil to begin with. Keep in mind it was Shaw who beat those girls to death. Emma just stood by and twiddled her thumbs.

    And don't forget The Confession. Did you read that issue? Don't you find it really hypocritical that Emma and Scott had this big moment and not long after, she's pretty much keeping secrets again? Plus, you heard her explanation to Cyclops as to why she was taking Kitty out. And he didn't make a big deal of it? Seriously, it just feels like Fraction propping Emma up again and not being tactful about it in the way Morrison and (to a lesser extent) Whedon.

    I really hope Gillen tries to actually do something with Emma's chronic secret-keeping and lust glances for Namor. Because with Fraction, you just know that he'll never do anything to make Emma look bad.