Monday, January 31, 2011

X-23 #5 - Sinister Caliber Awesome

This past week has been for X-men comics what a trip to Thailand is for a pedophile, a rare and wonderful wealth of material that puts a smile on your face and gets you off (albeit in a less messy sort of way). I know I usually only make two reviews a week. I sort of have to because God was too lazy to make the days longer than 24 hours and too cheap to devote one day exclusively to comics. So I've had to work within the limits imposed on me. I've already gotten a hand-written thank-you note from the CEO of Starbucks after keeping myself wired and alert longer than my body allows. Several organ systems are on the verge of failing, but it's all for a good cause! So many great books came out this past week and I just can't leave some of them unreviewed.

One of the issues that came out this week is X-23 #5. Now anyone who has been following this blog or sneaking peaks when their boss isn't looking at work knows I have a lot of love for the new X-23 series. I would put it right up there with Uncanny X-Force as one of the best series to spin out of the events of Second Coming. Marjorie Liu has done more than just picked up with X-23 where Craig Kyle and Chris Yost began. She's added a level of depth to Laura Kinney's character that hasn't been seen before. Not only that, in the last issue she put Gambit in a role that made him seem like less a douche-bag. That's an accomplishment worthy of presidential medal right there.

The last issue began a new arc with Laura on the road, basically wandering aimlessly like Jules said he would at the end of Pulp Fiction. It wasn't exactly productive in any sense. She met a young girl named Alice, who ended up getting killed. She then met up with Gambit who tried to offer her some direction. Then they had an encounter with the local police, which led them to an old west style town where they confronted Miss Sinister who was dressed in a way you won't see outside a Nevada brothel. She claims to know about Laura's mother and that's where this issue picks up.

Now the meeting is more than awkward. X-23 hasn't crossed paths with Sinister before. Gambit has and he knows that anyone with the Sinister surname is trouble in the same way getting in debt to a Russian loan shark is trouble. The boob-clad Sinister still carries herself as though she's a different person who happens to have Sinister's memories. It's hard to really tell how much bullshit or lack thereof is in that statement and that's what makes the scene so compelling. Laura wants answers and of course the only way she's getting them is if she follows Miss Sinister. That's like following a creepy 40-year-old into a windowless van because he says there's a puppy that shits candy inside. Gambit pulls her one way. Laura doesn't listen like the arrogant teenager she is at heart, which may have been Marjorie Liu's point. Whatever it is, it works well even if it is trouble.

Miss Sinister and her boobs leads them into the proverbial windowless van, which in this case is an elevator to a vast subterranean facility that would make Kobra Commander proud. It may sound a little cliched, but it's Sinister. If it wasn't this elaborate than I would be bitching about how out of character it is. Miss Sinister explains that after she was on the receiving end of Daken's claws in what can only be described as an act of extreme foreplay, her memory was jarred and she recalled this place. When she returned she found a lab full of children locked in suspended animation. It's not the sort of thing you would expect from a guy like Sinister unless he was planning to dissect them for a meal with Dr. Doom. This being a guy who is known for fucking around with clones, it actually makes a fair amount of sense.

The details of the story sound like something a politician would pull out of his ass after someone finds him with a dead hooker in the trunk of his car. Miss Sinister explains that her penis-wielding counterpart experimented on these kids during World War II. She claims not to know what he did with them, which is sort of like someone claiming that Elvis never did drugs. Whatever he did, he kept the children alive so when Miss Sinister found them she let them out and just let them live. She didn't do any experiments herself. She didn't invite MODOK and Magneto to join him in a game of real-life operation. She just became their caregiver, creating a little nursery for the kids to live their lives. It's like a world with Mr. Rogers if he had been a schizophrenic. She's still claiming she had no choice in this and that it was all Sinister, but most readers will find this about as convincing as Mel Gibson's apology to the Jews.

X-23 seems to ignore the finer details like a kid sleeping through first period algebra class. She questions Sinister about Alice, the girl who she thought was killed. She was told that she was sold or cast out somehow. Miss Sinister claims she was taken. Again, it's like OJ Simpson claiming he wasn't in LA when his wife was killed. She also questions her about her mother. On this subject it seems to be somewhat glossed over. She claims to know of a man named Malcome Colcord, who is trying to resurrect Weapon X. Granted, someone tries to do that in the X-comics ever third Tuesday, but she claimed Sinister worked with that man at one point and kept journals on the facilities that were the basis for the one that made her. So essentially, Miss Sinister has nothing on Laura's mother. She has information on the information the people Laura's mother worked for that made her. If that doesn't sound confusing then lay off the LSD.

Now this comes off as a little contrived because at the end of the last issue, Laura's mother was offered as a major hint to lure X-23 into Sinister's clutches. It was also a lure for the reader, offering promise of more insight into Laura's history. Now we get to this issue and the link Sinister claimed is indirect at best and esoteric at worst. It seems like it's been glossed over, something Marjorie Liu hasn't done with major details to this point. You could overlook it as just a way for Sinister to get Laura into her grasp, but it still comes off as a bit contrived. Maybe more will be revealed later, but there isn't even a hint that there's a deeper link here and that's disappointing.

So Laura gets her explanation and learns more about Alice. A normal person's reaction to getting all the answer in a nice package with a bow presented by a woman with a great rack would be content. Keep in mind Laura isn't just an abnormal person with an abnormal life of violence and mind-control. She's a teenage girl. Thinking straight is very low on her list of talents, listed just below using a credit card responsibly. That mean she decides to stay and find out if Miss Sinister is bullshitting her. Gambit stays too, knowing as well as any sane person that Laura is ill-equipped to handle this on her own. Already they get some clues. Apparently Miss Sinister isn't as healthy as she lets on and not in the sort of way you would expect a woman dressed like a hooker to be. They find that she left a trail of blood in her wake and it isn't because of a paper cut. For someone who was trained to shed blood from anyone who got in her way, that's a red flag.

Laura follows the trail of blood and it leads her back to Alice, the girl who led her into this mess in the first place. She finds out that Alice is a little unbalanced in a way you might find in a Tim Burton movie. She's actually reading books to a row of clones hovering in bio tanks. It's not like having tea time with stuffed animals. These are clones. X-23 is a clone and even she isn't that unhinged. She talks to Alice and she goes on about how she has memories of her past clones. That means she has memories of dying, which in and of itself would incur the kind of therapy that Charlie Sheen would find excessive. But she does offer one useful tidbit to X-23. She says she has memories of a man who liked to inject her with stuff and not in the kind of way you would find at a gay club in Amsterdam. She says the guy looked similar to Miss Sinister, which would be another red flag. It's usually at this point that the retarded heroes in the story start piecing it together.

Somehow while this is going on, Gambit slips away to what appears to be the facilities cafeteria. It's a little creepy, but still is the Ritz compared to the cafeteria at my old high school. It really isn't clear when Gambit and X-23 got separated. It's another one of those ambiguous transitions that were in the last issue. It's a bit confusing because it seems like Gambit just stopped following X-23 for no apparent reason and went wandering around like brain dead hamster in a maze. He makes small talk with the children and the women who help care for them (which may imply he wants to bone them). Then X-23 shows up again and says she needs to talk to him. Again, it's very confusing pacing and does somewhat disrupt the flow of the story.

Confusion aside, this little talk Laura insists on having with Gambit isn't much of a talk. That's not to say Laura puts on a corset and tempts Gambit in a way that he usually gives into like a fat guy in a donut shop. She brings up his past dealings with Sinister again. She starts giving him that puppy dog eye that teenage girls tend to give their fathers when they ask if they can go to a rock concert with four tattoo laden football players who were just released from prison on sexual assault charges. This somehow keys Gambit in (maybe because he's slept with so many girls of that nature) and finds out that Laura isn't Laura. It's actually Miss Sinister, trying to deceive him with a little shape shifting that would make Mystique sue for trademark infringement.

Gambit tries to fight her off, but is subdued in a way that is opposite to what scantily clad women usually do with him. She's immediately in position to give Gambit the Lorena Bobbet treatment. She reminds him that she's as resilient as Sinister. Killing her is like trying to nail jello to a tree. That doesn't stop X-23 from coming in and taking a stab at it. Remember that hint Alice dropped? Well that gave X-23 all the reason she needed to come in and give Sinister the business end of her claws.

It's a pretty bloody spectacle and it knocks Miss Sinister down for the count. She's undaunted even if she's bloodier than Tom Hanks at the end of Saving Private Ryan. Then she throws in a twist that even she doesn't seem to expect. Out of nowhere, her body shifts again. This time it isn't to deceive. In a rather gruesome transformation, her body reforms and she grows a penis to become none other than Mr. Sinister himself. That's right, old pasty face is back and looking more bad ass than ever. And when he see's Laura, he smiles in a way that will ensure that anyone who reads this issue will not sleep soundly for the next month or so. It's a sadistic yet awesomely fitting way to end the issue.

So the last issue ended with Miss Sinister showing up in a surprising yet disturbingly sexy way. This issue ends with Mr. Sinister showing up in a way that's just plain disturbing. It's a fitting follow-up that continues a theme, using Sinister to taunt and disturb both the readers and the characters. Marjorie Liu times this one perfectly, offering more ominous hints at the mystery that still surrounds this issue. It may not have been an epic brawl the entire issue, but what may be lacking in spectacle was more than made up for with mystery. Marjorie Liu brings Sinister into the X-23 series in a way that's compelling and believable. It also gives enough clues while concealing others to makes readers want to dance naked on a leash for the next issue. If Liu's goal was to hook readers for more issues, she definitely succeeded.

While this ending is compelling and well-done, this issue still continued the pacing troubles that the last issue had. It was a bit more apparent this time. From the moment X-23 and Gambit separate to the moment they converge on Sinister, it's a bit choppy at times. Some may find it a bit confusing. I had to read over it again just to make sure I understood the timing in which these events were occurring. It wasn't like trying to understand an episode of Lost, but it was still confusing in a way that distracted from the overall awesome of the issue.

Everything else was spot on for X-23 #5. Marjorie Liu is still great, breaking new grounds with X-23 and telling a compelling story filled with mystery, character, and boobs. X-23's story continues to become one of the most compelling X-stories on the racks right now. For this issue, however, I'm unable to give a perfect score. The whole pacing issue was just too much to overlook this time. So I'm left to give X-23 #5 a still respectable 4.5 out of 5. There's a lot to love about this issue and if you're an X-23 fan, you need to get it or get that tattoo of X-23 on your ass surgically removed. There's a long list of reasons to pick up the next issue. It all boils down to this just being a purely awesome series. Nuff said!

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