Saturday, March 5, 2011
X-men #8 - Awesome vs. WTF?
After the first arc of the new adjectiveless X-men series, I was a bit jaded. That happens when I by into the bloated hype that comic companies throw into big events that make Miley Cyrus picking her nose look like a football game with playoff implications on Monday Night Football. I admit this book lost some credibility with me after Curse of the Mutants. When you finish a major story with the same fortitude that Homer Simpson finished a calculus equation it's enough to leave any would-be readers skeptical. However, this series didn't crash and burn like the lumps of diarrhea that was Ultimatum or One More Day. The new arc, "Serve and Protect," promises to do what this series was originally intend to do from the beginning aside from providing more ad space for the Thor movie. It was to connect the X-men in 616 to the greater Marvel universe.
The last issue really felt like it should have been the first issue. X-men #7 showed the X-men getting back to their roots, pulling off random acts of heroism that included stopping bank robberies, rescuing cats from trees, providing desperately needed makeup for hookers. It was all part of a new PR campaign that Cyclops is pushing to make the world love the X-men. After M-Day, he sort of has to make up for the whole mutants-going-extinct-that-justified-sending-kill-squads-out mentality. This effort is small, but not completely devoid of shame. Cyclops is genuine in his desire to convince the world that the X-men should be celebrated rather than have an approval rating that even Dick Cheney would look down on.
X-men #7 had the X-men begin a bigger push with this whole campaign. When a new disturbance emerged in New York City, Cyclops sent a team to investigate. The team consisted of Storm, Gambit, Wolverine, and Emma Frost. They were to go into the sewers and investigate a series of disappearances. This led them to a den of what can only be described as groping zombies, not unlike Charlie Sheen at a strip club. It's hard to tell because the art is pretty shitty. It looks like cardboard cut out by a first grader and pasted into photoshop for a retarded high schooler to prop up. It seems like Marvel is going out of it's way to reconnect readers with classic horror monsters. First it was vampires. Then it was zombies. But that isn't the only clue they stumbled upon. At the end of the issue, the X-men cross paths with Spider-Man. Who after One More Day is still on a lower heroic ground than event he zombies.
X-men #8 picks up right after that meeting and like Blade in the first arc, Spider-Man offers his help. He also fills in some of the blanks to this madness. He reveals what pretty much every Spider-Man fan who ever saw the 90s cartoon already knows. The sewers are home to the Lizard, a hulked out version of his old friend Curt Connors. The twist here is that now the Lizard is on the loose again and is taking a page right out of the vampire's playbook (minus the sparkling) and is creating zombie followers. It's not a trick that the Lizard has played before, but it is a somewhat different twist to a plot that Spider-Man fans have seen more times than Mary Jane has seen the backseat of a Mercedes.
Now rather than look further, Spidy and the X-men do something that pretty much ruins any suspense this moment may have had. They leave the sewer and regroup at a fancy hotel that Emma Frost no doubt roped Cyclops into arranging, most likely through actions that involved the plots of several pornos. Then we get a seemingly random transition to some nerdy kid playing a knock-off of World of Warcraft (can't use the actual name in comics because lawyers would sneak out of the shadows like ninjas). It's a strange montage of wasted ink. Again, the art here is really shitty so it's hard to tell what's going on. It's easy to miss and even easier to gloss over. All the reader needs to know is that somehow a nerdy kid who plays too many computer games is involved somehow or will be. It seems out of place and about as random as a clown in a funeral.
It feels like filler so the X-men have time to get to the hotel. Again, Emma Frost seems to be taking the mission about as seriously as Tom Arnold's acting career. She's running up a room service tab while Storm is setting up an array to contact Cypher back on Utopia. Spider-Man is there too, but only to add what Cypher already finds out. Locals in the area are disappearing at alarming rates. Then the disappearances stop until young teenagers start vanishing like virgins at R. Kelly's house. Spider-Man knows one of them so that's why he's involved. It's only a bit more convincing than Blade's old excuse of just going where the vampires are.
From here there are some flashbacks and insights into who these kids are. It's a clear attempt to humanize this issue as being more than just a sewer zombie attack, which pretty much fits into any superhero comic. It's a big deal for the X-men because if they can help rescue a bunch of darling missing teens, then that would go a long ways to making it difficult for people to hate them. They would be like Brad Pitt, so overpowered and over privileged yet impossible to hate.
While they're talking about these kids, we meet up with the World of Warcraft nerd again. Like so many other level 75 wizards, in real life they're about as powerful as a kitten with it's limbs cut off. The boy gets jumped by some bullies and roughed up. They're just your stereotypical bullies that you would see in a John Hughes movie. Again, it seems like random transition material. I may sound bitter about that and I admit it's because it brings back disturbing memories of my own high school experience. I had to put this comic down to go to my happy place for a few minutes before I went into a hulked out rage. But a few calls to my therapist and I was okay.
Back at the fancy hotel devoid of bullies and shit, the conversation continues. Again, the details about more kids are discussed. This time even Emma Frost chimes in, talking about a missing child she investigated. Wait...when did she have time to do this? Did we miss something? I know the timeline in comics is more fucked than a futon at Hugh Hefner's house, but where the hell did this come from? I know the story needs to have some human impact, but no amount of impact makes a difference when you start pulling shit right out of thin air. Shit should only be pulled or pushed out of the ass. It's not even that compelling. A seventeen-year-old girl living with her grandmother disappears. They think it's connected to the other kid Spider-Man mentioned. That's about it.
Once Spidy and the X-men chime in and basically drone on about how much it sucks for kids to be outcasts (like it takes superheroes to figure that shit out), they enlist Cypher to find a common thread between the kids. Gambit made a valid point that when kids are outcasts they tend to look for an outlet. With help from Cypher, they find out that the outlet involved chatting online with some user named DB001. So yeah, it's the whole internet stalker shit that made "To Catch A Predator" such a hit. You would think kids saw enough bad movies to know that there are evil people on the internet. They don't have usernames like WindowlessVanPedoman666, but even teenagers should be smart enough to avoid that shit. Then again, perhaps I'm giving too much credit to the underdeveloped brains of our nation's overcaffinated, overweight, under-educated youth.
Once they find a common thread, Emma calls Wolverine to track down that proverbial windowless van. The trail leads to the nerdy World of Warcraft boy again, who like an extra on Star Trek listened to DB001 online and went to meet him. While he didn't end up having to play doctor with a creepy old man that insist he drinks his special healing elixir that's filled in an old vodka bottle, he does get taken by the Lizard. It's the first bit of action in this whole comic and it's a little underwhelming. You want to feel bad for the kid, but given the stupidity of not heeding all those warnings that after school specials blare every day it's hard to feel much sympathy.
Wolverine catches up and tries to rescue the kid. There's a nice little clash, but because of the shitty art it looks like something out of a 4th grade art project. When Wolverine gets bitch-slapped a bit, he tries to end it quickly. Then the Lizard sicks a hoard of lizard zombies on him. Just like in the last arc when Wolverine got in over his head against a bunch of vampires, he gets in over his head with zombies. And not just any zombies. Lizard zombies. We finally see some details of the creatures that showed up in the last issue. Again, those details are fucked because the art is fucked. But still, we've seen this shit with Wolverine before. It didn't help the last arc finish strong. Why the hell would it work here with shittier art? All it really does is make for a semi-decent two-page spread.
While Wolverine is getting his ass kicked (again), the Lizard gets away with the kid. He takes him to a special cell area which is very similar to that proverbial windowless van. Again, there's no sign of Michael Jackson's Jesus Juice, but the kids mentioned earlier are there and have likely shit themselves no fewer than three times. Like I said, you want to feel sorry for them. But it's their own damn fault for listening to some nameless shmuck on the internet who claims they can take them to a happy place that doesn't involve bullies, school, or sodomy (that last one being only lightly implied).
While they're all whining for their mommies, it's revealed that the Lizard might not actually be the one behind these string of abductions. In fact, the Lizard himself may be a victim of having listened to someone on the internet when he should have gone back to beating off to internet porn (I'm sure there's an entire site dedicated to reptile sex somewhere). The Lizard is just a puppet on strings. We don't actually see who the puppet master is. He seems interested in Connors's research, but his words are as standard as you can get with comic book villainy. So it could be anybody. There's not even a shadow to offer a hint. It sort of takes away from the mystery. It's not the kind of ending that will make most readers grind their teeth to thumb tacks waiting for the next issue. Given how random this issue has been, the end comes as a relief.
I'm not going to hide from it. I was wounded by this comic. I had such high hopes after the last issue that this series would redeem itself. Curse of the Mutants started weak and got a bit stronger before crashing and burning. This arc started with a strong issue, but already the story seems to be crashing and burning. It isn't just because of the shitty art either. The issue tries to hard to add the human element to the story. So rather than take advantage of the opportunity for some conflict with the X-men and Spider-Man in the sewer, the issue takes a complete detour. That detour isn't even the scenic route. It just has a bunch of random spreads about the kids who were abducted. They weren't worked into the story naturally. They were just laid out in a neat yet bland way that made it difficult to get attached to them at all. If anything, this little plot trick makes these teenagers less deserving of sympathy because they were so damn stupid to get themselves caught up in this shit.
The issue isn't without some positives. At least it tried to add a touch of real-world heart to a series that's only been known for fighting off vampire armies. If only it could try to do more with the actual plot surrounding Spider-Man and the X-men. Part of the appeal of this arc was that it brought Spider-Man into the fray like the last arc did with Blade. Even though the last arc sucked in the end, at least Blade played a solid part. In this issue Spider-Man might as well have been a movie extra. He didn't do shit. There was no element of Peter Parker whatsoever and so much of the issue was sent pretty much narrating shit that happened off panel that it you would get more satisfaction out of reading the Wall Street Journal on Ritalin.
There's no way around it. This issue sucked. I was willing to overlook the terrible art in the last issue for the promise of a novel concept. Well I can only overlook so much before I stumble into a pile of shit. Even Curse of the Mutants didn't have as many WTF moments as X-men #8. It was a chore to read. It wasn't exciting, engaging, or enjoyable. It did little to make me want to read the next issue. Even with Spider-Man's help, this issue is like Gwen Stacy on the George Washington Bridge. It's DOA. That's why I give it a 1.5 out of 5. It tries to do a lot, but fails miserably. Nuff said!