Saturday, February 26, 2011
Uncanny X-men #533 - Running Away From Mediocrity
Every time I review an issue of Uncanny X-men I don't know what I'm going to. And no Forest Gump, it's NOT like a box of chocolates. Chocolate is like sex. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty damn good. If comics were like chocolate I would have gone bankrupt several times over consuming every comic book that came out every week. Some titles really are hit-or-miss. This has been the cornerstone to Uncanny X-men for quite some time. Matt Fraction's run has made Uncanny X-men the premier X-book, wrestling away the role once held by Astonishing. But let's face it, after Joss Whedon left winning that role was akin to beating up Andy Dick. It may feel like an accomplishment, but you're not a Spartan king.
Fraction's best story and arguably he greatest contribution was the Utopia arc. That was the kind of story that Fraction tells very well and it has had ramifications for the books that followed. But since that arc and the stories surrounding Second Coming, every issue has been like the 6th round of the NFL draft. Most of what you get is forgettable, but every now and then a Tom Brady shows up to make it interesting. The ongoing Quarantine arc hasn't been nearly as vast or encompassing as the Utopia arc. But with Kieron Gillen now co-writing, it has had it's ups and downs.
The X-men being infected with a virus is nothing new. The Legacy Virus did that shit when N'sync and the Backstreet Boys were still relevant. What is new is the purpose behind it. Lobe of the Sublime corporation is crippling the X-men so he can test a new product his company is preparing to market. You see, he's not the typical psychopath who just wants to rule the world, have everyone kiss his ass, and walk down the street with his fly unzipped while everybody thinks it's a fashion statement. He wants to make money. To do that he wants to patent the rights to the X-gene. This means that his company, in the spirit of Big Pharma, would be entitled to a metric fuckton of cash that Lobe and the shareholders could use to bathe in while mutants everywhere get one half of one percent of jack shit. In terms of evil plans, it's pretty damn sinister. It's about damn time someone make Big Pharma into comic book villains! Gillen and Fraction do a good job of making readers want to put a voodoo curse on every lobbyist in Washington (sacrificing a goat and the bones of a squirrel usually helps).
As compelling as this battle may be, it's now how the issue starts. The other major plot that's been going on revolves around Emma Frost. Now I could do several blog posts and a book on my feelings about Emma Frost during the Matt Fraction run. I've done so many rants on it that I could make a sitcom out of it to replace two-and-a-half men. Most who read this blog regularly know why I bitch about the issue and why I find her characterization in Uncanny a source of endless migraines. However, I'll skip the bulk of that rant and focus on the comic.
In the last issue Emma's mission to 'dispose' of Sebastian Shaw went horribly wrong when Fantomex dropped him from their UFO inspired aircraft. Shaw responded by forcing them to crash land and grabbing Emma Frost by the throat in way that would make Ike Turner proud. Emma has put him through a world of shit, keeping him prisoner and pretty much betraying him in ways that go beyond kinky bedroom antics. However, just when it seems as though he'll have his revenge, Kitty Pryde shows up and phases a hand through his chest. This means that on a whim, she can turn his heart into mush so that means Emma's perfect complexion that Marvel makes so much money from and that male fans fantasize over while jerking off is saved.
While penises everywhere are thanking Kitty Pryde, there's a far less sexy conflict going on in Utopia. In the last issue Cyclops confronted Lobe. He and the other X-men also captured Lobes team of psudeo-X-men, who were really just annoying teenage fanboys given superpowers and fancy costumes. They took their role about as seriously as Kadaffi does common sense. So when a very sick and very pissed off Wolverine came to interrogate them, they sang like Christina Aguilara at the Superbowl (embarrassingly off key).
The female angel, who by the way looks like the new chick in Transformers 3, swoons over Cyclops even though he's sick as a dog. When a sick comic character attracts more poon than the average reader, something done gone horribly wrong with the world. However, Cyclops's charm does manage to make her reveal some of Lobe's plan. He's throwing a party for douche-bags/investors. The psudeo-X-men were supposed to make an impression. All they've done is get themselves captured like fanboys hiding in William Shatner's trash can.
As devious as Lobe's plan may be, he still finds a way to strengthen his inner douche-bag. At the big investor gathering that Angel-with-boobs revealed, he's taken mocking the X-men to the nth degree. He has all his investors and scantily clad associates dress up as X-men. They joke around about Fastball Specials and Phoenix Cocktails, which in this context are just fancy orderves that nobody here and nobody working at Marvel will ever be able to afford.
It's a dick move, but it helps warm the crowd up for his big proposal. Lobe addresses his investors, pitching the whole idea of giving humans mutant powers as a business opportunity that they can get filthy rich off of. It may seem less damaging than world domination, but it's still a dick move. The cornerstone of this shameless marketing ploy is using the X-men as the equivalent of Ronald McDonald. It involves ripping off the cover of an old Grant Morrison comic. Somehow I believe this indicates that Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction lost a poker game with Grant Morrison at some point in time.
Lobe presents his product as a cigarette-like hit, using only tiny bottles that give the user one specific power. As any dictator in the Middle East knows, power becomes corruptive and the only way to maintain that power is to buy more drugs from the Sublime corporation. Somewhere out there, Tobacco companies are crying themselves to sleep.
While Lobe is getting his investors horny with the promise of big bucks, a small group of healthy X-men are watching from the roof and most likely trying not to puke. This team consists of Angel, Pixie, Storm, Northstar, and Dazzler. There's some witty remarks between Dazzler and Pixie, but it seems somewhat contrived. Even though their friends are sick on Utopia, this team of X-men carry themselves like Paris Hilton at a nightclub minus the lines of cocaine in the bathroom and the blow-jobs to the bouncers. It makes them as much of a dick as Lobe and demonstrates more of the poor characterization that has hampered Fraction's run. They don't end up crashing the party though. Before they can, they end up facing Lobe's grunts that consist of Verre, Burst, Thug, and Bouncing Betty. Given how annoying this team of X-men have been, I'm not sure who to root for.
That's a lot of dick moves for one scene. So it's only natural that we see more of the Emma/Shaw fight, two people who have based their entire comic careers on dick moves (in Emma's case, literally). Here Shaw demonstrates that he's at that special level of pissed off where he doesn't care if someone explodes his heart. He also figures out Emma is bluffing. She went through the trouble to keep him alive all this time. She wouldn't change her tune at this point. Shaw is willing to kill her even if she could kill him back. Lucky for her, Fantomex is still in the game. He also has a high powered rifle with an incendiary round. Since the target is Shaw and Emma Forst, I wouldn't count that as a dick move. It's actually the most heroic act in this issue thus far.
Shaw is forced to let go of Emma and we all know how hard it is to let go of a hot blond with huge tits. Just ask Tommy Lee. After Emma and Fantomex end up in a compromising position that can only be a blatant attempt to put Emma in another sexy pose, Shaw is even more pissed. Now that she's free of his grip, she goes back to a telepathic attack. This works about as well as an Indian toilet.
Now I could make a comment about how Emma Frost's telepathy face makes her look like a constipated bulimic. I have to skip it because the next scene may require another rant. That's because Emma's telepathic attack fails. Shaw is too focused on killing her so she's forced to go diamond again and endure a blow that even women in the the Congo would find excessive. Granted, Emma's earned it. She's been humbled no fewer than zero times during Fraction's run on Uncanny. Then she gets up and faces Shaw again. Does she try something else? Does she attempt to attack his mind or throw more of that crazy charm his way. Nope. She runs. I shit you not. She runs and in stiletto heels no less.
Now I know I've had my share of comments about the Shaw/Emma plot since it began. I see so many holes in it you could sink a super-tanker loaded with air bags. But Emma running? It would be a wonderful act of pussification if readers of Uncanny weren't aware of Marvel's current policy towards Emma Frost. They won't do anything and I mean anything to make her look bad. No matter what troubles she faces or are teased at, she always comes out shining in the end. She's never scorned by the other X-men and she's never questioned by Cyclops. Somehow all her bullshit doesn't have a single noticeable affect. She ends up back in Cyclops's bed and that's about it. Even during Utopia when Emma threatened to betray the X-men, absolutely nothing came of it. When Namor came on board and seriously wanted to bone her, nothing came of it. So with that in mind, seeing her run away from Shaw like this pretty much exemplifies the problems with Emma's characterization in Uncanny. Nothing ever comes of anything she ever does. We all know how this is going to end and it's not going to change a fucking thing. I'd love to be wrong, but given how much love Marvel gives Emma I doubt it.
Now that I got that out of my system, I can make a few more dick jokes about the fight with Lobe. While Emma is getting her diamond ass kicked, the X-men take care of Lobe's henchmen and off panel no less. We don't get to see them making up for their dick moves earlier. We just see them delivering the bruised bodies right in front of Lobe while they do their hero pose, which in this case may actually work against them. For all we know, Lobe is getting pictures of this shit to use in a marketing campaign. That's Big Pharma for you.
Lobe shows the resilience you would expect of a greedy Pharma executive. Since his henchmen might as well have been found on Craigslist, he passes out free samples of his mutant powers in a bottle to his investors. And here I was thinking investor conferences were boring. I can hear the Wall Street Journal calling Marvel right now. Even Lobe himself partakes, taking the Cyclops potion that allows him to optic blast Northstar in ways the Westboro Baptist Church can only dream of. Surprisingly, the investors partake as well. For once the rich snobs of the world don't pay people to solve their problems for them. They do it themselves. Something about that brings a tear to my eye. That or Greg Land's depiction of the battle scene is like an orgy for the color receptors in your eyes.
Angel said it best. "On so many levels this can't get any worse." Cyclops gets this message and knows that the X-men, for all their training, are no match for a bunch of super-powered investors. Wait...really? They can't overcome a bunch of rich snobs who to this point only have the power to get corrupt politicians elected? I have a bit of a problem with that. In the last issue these same X-men took down the Original Five knock-offs in only a few panels. Now they need back-up? I'm confused. And maybe a little hung over, but mostly confused.
So in that confusion it's not really too shocking when Cyclops announces that the X-men are breaking Quarantine. If the virus is only targeting mutants, then there isn't much of a risk to spread it to the human population like there was with the Legacy Virus. It's bold, going on a mission with the flu. It's also pretty stupid. But if Joe Montana can win football games with the flu (and he did), then why can't the X-men? I just question whether or not it's necessary given the context of this arc.
It's not a very ominous ending, but it is a solid ending none-the-less. There's a lot to like about this issue. There's are only a few details to dislike, but those details are not minor. Every comic has flaws in it. It's a matter of degree. For much of the Quarantine arc, Uncanny has avoided the big flaws. The story is still coherent. The plot is still compelling. Even characters like Lobe, Shaw, and Wolverine are compelling. It's the little things that keep this series from being great.
A good contrast is Generation Hope, the series that Kieron Gillen is penning without Fraction. Generation Hope spun right out of Uncanny, yet it lacks the flaws of Uncanny. Those little details aren't an issue. The characterization is a lot more compelling and there have been very few WTF moments aside from the ever popular Hope/Jean issue. It leads me to wonder if Uncanny will undergo a similar change when Fraction leaves at the end of this arc. Generation Hope has definitely surpassed Uncanny in terms of quality even if Uncanny is the bigger book. I want to like Uncanny in the same way, but it's these little details that keep the title mediocre as opposed to awesome.
While I have my share of criticisms with Uncanny, I can't really scorn it because there's a lot to love about it. The whole concept of Lobe and the Sublime corporation using mutants as a money making venture is wonderfully novel. It's a great concept that goes beyond the usual threats the X-men face. The whole investors party and throwing out free samples was a great moment, if not the best in this arc. Even if you don't like the Shaw/Emma story, the next issue is worth picking up just to see how Lobe's plot plays out.
I really want to give Uncanny X-men #533 a higher score, but the little details keep lingering. This book is good enough to give my stamp of approval, but not good enough to praise as awesome like Generation Hope. I'll be interested to see how Kieron Gillen handles Uncanny once he gets his hands on it. For now, the Quarantine arc is best defined as a mediocre transitional story. I give this issue a 3.5 out of 5. So far that's been the score of the whole arc. It has another issue to bump up that score. I'd like to see Fraction leave on a high note. He's done a lot for Uncanny, but now it's time to pass the torch to Kieron Gillen. We can only hope that he's able to transfer the same magic from Generation Hope to Uncanny. Nuff said!