Sunday, February 6, 2011
X-men #7 - Rebuilding Awesome
Before I begin, I'll point out the 800-pound-gorilla humping the couch that everybody probably noticed by now. Yes, I'm reviewing the latest issue of the new adjectiveless X-men series. I know it came out last week, but last week had so many major books coming out that one of them had to be pushed back. Since the X-men series earned itself a time-out with the shitty conclusion of Curse of the Mutants, this series was the odd man out. I also know that it would have made more sense to review this book first before I got to any books that came out this past week. Again, this X-men series lost my respect. It did the equivalent of taking a dump in my sandwich and calling it an exotic Mexican dish. Seeing as how I was looking forward to Brightest Day #19 more than the second coming of Christ, I pushed this title back again. Now I'm here and I'll review it. Don't bother pointing out my tardiness in doing so. Anyone who complains about it will be cursed with rectal warts.
I know I made a big deal about the failings of the first arc of this series. Marvel is full of a lot of smart people (who may or may not get high frequently enough) so they should know that when you release a series that's simply called X-men that the expectations for it will be high. To make a title in the same tradition of Chis Claremont and Jim Lee the title better be the comic equivalent of two lines of cocaine on the crest of Jenna Jameson's ass. Curse of the Mutants was the first arc and while it started off promising, it did a Hindenburg style crash coupled with a Kanye West/Taylor Swift incident. The arc ended in the way George W. Bush's presidency ended in that it didn't come fast enough and was marred by ineffectiveness.
Now it wasn't all bad. Curse of the Mutants did do a hell of a lot more than old W did to redeem itself. This arc led to the new Wolverine and Jubilee series, which turned out to be a freshly cut diamond encased in a layer of solid shit. It also didn't overthrow two nations and cripple the economy, so there's that. Also, it didn't kill anybody or muddle any of the characters in face-palming indignity (except for maybe Xarus) so the book did leave itself open to redemption. Now a new arc begins and this one brings with it the promise of something that won't fizzle out like Brett Favre's football career.
The theme of the new arc takes the X-men back to basics. The war against Bastion is over and mutants aren't going extinct anymore. So the idea is to get them back to being heroes again and playing a bigger role in the Marvel universe. It may not seem like a novel idea. A grade-school essay could probably come up with that idea, but it's the simplicity of the concept that makes it so appealing. Anyone who has grown tired of all the doom and gloom the X-men have faced since House of M has probably overdosed on Prozac by now. This may be a boon to your overpriced insurance plan. X-men #7 begins this arc with something that isn't ominous or some gloomy shit like that. It starts off with the X-men doing what they used to do back in the Lee/Kirby days, using their powers to save lives. Angel demonstrates just how simple and awesome this can be when he saves the life of a suicidal girl who tried to jump of the Golden Gate Bridge, which I assume means she never got a response from the letter and naked pictures of herself she sent to Robert Pattinson.
Aside from saving teenage girls from their irrational hormonal salves, Colossus flexes his muscle while protecting DC's copyright lawyers from a team of Joker wannabes who tried to rob a bank. Yeah, it's a little cliched. Some may roll their eyes and for those people, they deserve to get lasik surgery from a doctor with Parkinsons. This is X-men in their purest form, protecting people in a world that hates and fears them. Usually we only get this sort of shit in a flashback or a mini-series like X-men First Class. It takes a moment to realize that this is actually happening in a 616 X-men title. For some it means the meth has to wear off, but once it does it's startling in a good way.
All these heroics aren't just for the hell of it either. It's part of Cyclops's latest plan that doesn't involve fighting invading vampire armies or getting Emma Frost to dress up in a Phoenix costume. Now that the war is over, he's making a push to make the X-men heroes again rather than the equivalent an LA gang with crazy tastes in uniforms. Several issues ago in Uncanny they hired a PR firm to help them improve their image.
Wait...they hire a PR firm in Uncanny and don't do shit with it until this issue? I bring that up because it may confuse the hell out of some readers. Unless you've been following Uncanny, you won't get that little tidbit and you'll wonder who the hell the chick with the glasses is and why she looks like one of those secretaries in office porn videos. It makes for disruptive pacing, but once you get over it you see the reason for doing with the X-men what BP has been trying to do since they pained the Gulf Coast black. The idea is to make the X-men to San Francisco what the Avengers are to New York. So they track opportunities for heroic, be heroic, and make sure their heroics hits the media. It's not that different from what celebrities do except it's a hell of a lot more effective than a fundraiser.
For Cyclops, it's not about apologizing for the whole Bastion-encasing-the-city-in-a-giant-energy-dome ordeal or fighting-a-war-against-an-army-of-vampires type deal (although I'm sure it would help). He wants the world to love the X-men. Not fear or respect them, but love them in the way they love Captain America or Brad Pitt. Their PR guru believes they can do this by utilizing social media like Facebook, Twitter, and the web to get the word out of their heroics before the assholes at Fox News smear them. It's a very modern and utilitarian approach to PR that worked for Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. So why can't it work for the X-men? The world loves big and flashy shit. You can't get much flashier than the X-men. The sad part is if the X-men really existed in the real world, that would probably work. It's unusually relevant for a comic book that just had an arc about killer vampires.
So while the X-men have hot blonds in dresses doing the grunt work with the media, they make a push of their own. As anyone who works with PR knows, they're always bitching about getting material to work with. So as part of Cyclops's endeavor to make the world love the X-men, he gets Cypher and Warlock to find some problem that law enforcement can't handle and that the Avengers are too busy or too ambivalent to handle. They find a problem in the once place that the Avengers are too snooty to wage a battle in...the sewers. There's something brewing in the sewers of New York and it isn't the usual cocktail of rats, roaches, and the shit of eight-million-people pissed off for being stuck in traffic and having to pay a hundred bucks to park your car. I guess the way Cyclops sees it, if the world sees that the X-men are willing to literally wade through shit to get love then the world won't have any choice but to throw themselves at them like drunk college girls at Ben Rothlesburger's birthday party.
So they have their mission and Cyclops decides to send a small team to investigate. That team includes Storm, Wolverine, Gambit, and Emma Frost. Wait a sec...Emma Frost is going on a mission without Cyclops? Did I just take one too many shrooms again? I'm sorry if I'm making a big deal out of something minor, but for nearly a decade of X-men comics the only missions Emma Frost seems to go on are ones where she's arm candy for Cyclops or trying to protect her role as arm candy to Cyclops. Either his semen tastes like chocolate or she's growing into a Jean Grey 2.0. So it comes as a mighty relief that she decides to tag along with the team and not be Cyclops's trophy girl. Emma fans may start stroking themselves more than they already do at this news.
Beyond Emma's non-Cyclops oriented role, the team is small because the incident they're tackling is not the same as an army of vampires. It's a mystery in the New York sewers. That doesn't exactly require an entire legion of superheroes. So Emma, Wolverine, Gambit, and Storm seem like enough. They venture into the sewer with the same enthusiasm as kids venture into the dentist. It's rather humorous for Emma Frost, who is used to bathing in $700 an ounce perfume every night. She has some witty remarks along with the others, adding a nice contrast to the nature of the mission. Wolverine, Gambit, and Storm all have experience in sewer dwelling. It's nice to have someone who adds a little contrast while wearing skin tight outfits that show off big breasts.
They follow the trail Sherlock Holmes style if Holmes was a hobo. Then it gets a little confusing. On one undersized panel, something hits Gambit. Now when I say something I don't mean someone this time. There's no figure or shadow or even disembodied spirit. There's just this tiny little streak that no one else seems to notice and it's strong enough to knock Gambit down. Either it's the world's strongest firefly or the world's lamest clue. Maybe it's the weaker art, but it's really not clear what the hell happens and because it happens in such a small way it's easy to miss. You could gloss right over it and never knew it happened. I'm not sure if it's the result of being too subtle or too poorly organized.
Now after the confusion wears off, they keep navigating through the sewer. Again, it's really confusing what just hit them and there isn't even an ominous hint about what it could be. When the team finally does stumble across a clue, it's not ominous at all. They find the equivalent of John Wayne Gace's basement. Whereas the last arc involved killer vampires, this one seems to involve either zombies or partially minted mummies. I get the sense that the writers at Marvel are horror fans to an unhealthy degree.
Like so many horror movies before them, these decomposing corpses spring to life and attack. They're about as welcoming as a hung over Charlie Sheen. Evil Dead fans will get a treat here as the X-men channel their inner Bruce Campbell and fight their way through. It makes for some nicely developed action sequences, even if they are somewhat muddled by the dark ambiance. But they're in the sewers so it makes sense. As they fight, some additional clues seem to emerge. These Resident Evil rejects are fresh in the sense that they haven't been sewer dwellers for very long. It adds to a mystery. Even if it's not the most elaborate of mysteries, it's a hell of a lot more refined than just staring down an army of vampires and finding ways to make a 300 style battle scene. Sorry, but this is NOT Sparta.
The battle and the mystery unfold. Since the X-men have the benefit of superpowers and being alive and shit, they get the upper hand. So once they fight their way through, they look to take one of the creatures away for testing that may or may not involve an anal probe (remember, Emma Frost is with them so she may know a thing or two about that). They chase after one that tries to get away and then they meet another creature, but this one is more familiar. It leads to an end page that shouldn't be too surprising because it was hinted at on the freakin' cover. Whereas the last arc crossed the X-men over with their old (former) friend Blade, this one brings in everyone's favorite wall-crawler who likes to make deals with the devil and sacrifice his marriage. That's right, Spider-Man is in the X-books once again! He's on the same case as the X-men and assume he's not a clone, the seeds of another superhero crossover are sewn!
So here we are, a new arc in a series that fell flat on it's face with the first arc. While I was jaded after Curse of the Mutants, I didn't consider giving up this series after just one arc. The mission statement for this book is solid. Bringing the X-men into the greater Marvel Universe makes sense after shit like Second Coming and the Heroic Age. Starting it off by having the X-men fight a bunch of vampires qualifies as a it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time type deal or maybe a and-then-we-started-drinking-tequila- type deal. After reading this issue, I feel as though that this is the arc X-men should have started out with. It gets them back to basics. The X-men are playing the role of heroes again and are seeking to rebuild an image that was mired by assholes like Bastion. Getting them back to New York and bringing Spider-Man into the picture takes this simple concept and scales it up. X-men #7 takes this concept and makes it work.
Now I'm going to try and not base my criticism of this book completely on the bad taste left in my mouth by Curse of the Mutants. This book was good, but it did have some flaws. The art was a bit of a downgrade. It seemed a lot more sloppy and less refined in this issue than the previous arc. The incident with Gambit and the attack that drew the X-men into the lair of zombies was confusing and underdeveloped. The whole sewer investigation seems too subtle for the sake of being subtle. I get that it's dark and dingy in a sewer, but some extra details would have gone a long way.
In the end I'm left satisfied and relieved by X-men #7. It's like being constipated for a few weeks and then finally getting cleansed after eating a really good taco. This comic is that taco and it sets up a solid foundation for what could be a very exciting arc. I'm glad X-men is getting back to basics and no longer seeking to capture the tween crowd. For my final score, I give X-men #7 a 4 out of 5. This series still has a ways to go to match the quality of Legacy, Uncanny, or X-Force. At least it's starting to claw it's way back. Nuff said!