Saturday, April 23, 2011

Uncanny X-men #535 - Breaking Down Awesome

There are many special moments in a man's life. There's graduating from college, getting his first job, getting married, and discovering internet porn for the first time. These are all big steps, but few ever get to take a step like writing Uncanny X-men. For countless humble comic fans, that's like getting a job as a personal gigolo to Natalie Portman. Kieron Gillen recently got that job (writing Uncanny, not the Natalie Portman gig). He got his first taste of action with Uncanny X-men #534.1. It may or may not count since it's a point-one issue. Anyone who ever had to do fractions in grade school knows that making anything a fraction is like lacing it with the deadly poison of blowfish mixed with oddly colored discharges from Courtney Love's pussy. Gillen made reliving the horrors of sixth-grade math class a bit less traumatizing by making the issue awesome. Now he's done with fractions and ready to get back to whole numbers. That means I can finally stop sending hate mail to my old math teacher.

Kieron Gillen takes over an Uncanny X-men series that's been in decline for the past few years. The previous writer, Matt Fraction, set the bar pretty high when he brought Uncanny to a prominence not seen since the days before the Chuck Austin run scarred fans for a decade. He had many great moments in his run, but he also had some major flaws that I've pointed out in pretty much every review I've done form him. I won't list them again. I'll just say they're pretty apparent and will wear on you more than Kathy Griffin's singing. Kieron Gillen has already set himself apart with his work in Generation Hope. Now he's set for his first arc in Uncanny and he's chosen a plot that was more overlooked than Dennis Kucinich in the last presidential election. I'll give you a hint. It begins with B and rhymes with Breakworld. Okay, I'm too lazy to come up with a cleaver match. Sue me.

It was a story that dominated Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-men. It's a run many X-men fans place right up there with Emma Frost's fake tits as one of the greatest contributions to the world of X-men. It ended with Kitty Pryde being stuck in a giant bullet. Then Joss Whedon left the X-books to direct the Avengers movie. That's like leaving a three way with Megan Fox and Scarlett Johanseen to join a gang-bang with 25 Playboy Playmates on top of a mountain of blow. For a while Kitty was out of the picture and the story was basically ignored. Then in Uncanny X-men #522, Kitty returned when Magneto brought the bullet back to Earth. But for reasons not entirely explained, Kitty Pryde was stuck in phase mode and now has to walk around in a fucking space suit. She played a minor part in the Quarantine arc, but for the most part she hasn't done squat.

Uncanny X-men #535 starts off with her and Piotr having a nice picnic on Utopia. Kitty is still wearing that ridiculous space suit, but at least she is finally getting some private time with her Russian stud. It's another element that was overlooked after Joss Whedon left. Kitty and Colossus's relationship took a big step in Astonishing. Not only did they bump uglies, they had some pretty emotional moments. It hasn't really been fleshed out except for a few panels. Here they're just carrying along like a normal couple, trying desperately to ignore the fish bowl Kitty's wearing on her head.

As is often the case with X-men, this tender moment is interrupted by a killer robot. I'm out of jokes for that so I'll just skip it. Namor offers a brief explanation. He says it's some Atlantean tech that his old frienemy, Krang, was tinkering with. In the Marvel Universe, tinkering is synonymous with programming it to go on a murderous rampage. It looks badass, but seeing as how the X-men have been fighting giant robots since hippies were having mud-orgies during the first Woodstock concert it's not a terrible cause for concern.

To take it down, Colossus and Kitty pull a classic Fastball Special. Since Wolverine is off humping news reporters, Kitty plays the role of the ball. She phases through it, the ugly bastard child of the Terminator and sentinel starts to go ape-shit, and Colossus and Namor finish the job. It's so routine that Namor doesn't even shout his trademark "Imperius Rex" attack. It's the Atlantean equivilent of "Fuck you and every generation of your family," but this robot was so lame it didn't even warrant it.

Now on the surface it seems like just a shameless effort to squeeze some action into the pages, but reading through the scene it really doesn't feel like that. It's just an entertaining moment between Kitty and Colossus. It has the appearance of filler, but doesn't read like filler. So I'm not going to call it filler. I'm just going to call it a public service announcement by Marvel explaining why destroying killer robots is awesome no matter what the story. Message received, Marvel! Thanks for the reminder.

When all is said and done, Kitty emerges from her ridiculous space suit. She's still wearing the same uniform she wore in Astonishing, not that it's a bad thing. But when Colossus goes to embrace her (or cop a feel, it's hard to tell), he still phases right through her. So that means she still has to wear that fucking space suit.

This prompts Colossus and Kitty to pay another visit to X-men's science team. Dr. Rao doesn't offer a very promising assessment. She likens Kitty's condition to having a cramped muscle that keeps her in phase mode. I'd rather liken it to having a baby alligator biting down on your nipple and not letting go, but that's just me. I suppose Rao's metaphor is more scientific. She still boils it down to a simple "I don't have a fucking clue how to help your girlfriend" and that can't bode well for a guy who hasn't had any sweet Kitty loving since the last Breakworld arc.

Colossus and Kitty aren't the only ones seeking help from the science team. Magneto has his own curiosities. It began in Kieron Gillen's first issue, Uncanny X-men #534.1. In that issue Magneto was carrying around a piece of the Breakworld bullet that Kitty was trapped in like Paris Hilton carries around a chihuahua in her purse. He wants Dr. Nemesis to look into it. He says in so many words "I don't have time. Fuck off." He was a bit more polite about it, but given his history of being a douche-bag (see Generation Hope for a few examples) it's sort of implied.

Magneto's fascination with the Breakworld bullet isn't completely random though. Keep in mind, Matt Fraction isn't writing this book anymore. While Nemesis is basically writing off the bullet material as a glorified paper-weight, another old Breakworld plot enters the picture. This one has boobs. Abigail Brand, who hasn't had much happen for her since Kieron Gillen's doomed SWORD series was canceled, has a fresh otherworldly problem that requires people in spandex to solve. Now she's no Nick Fury. Aside from having boobs, Brand proved herself to be a cross between an angry grizzly and a super-intelligent fox. After a few genocide jokes, she decides to ask for help. She's about as thrilled about it as a guy who recently got his herpes test results.

Back on Utopia, Magneto still won't let the whole freaky metal issue go. He's like Donald Trump who refuses to believe Barack Obama wasn't a secret Kenyan agent sent to destroy America by instigating a tax on all stupid hair styles. So he goes to Cyclops, saying that because he doesn't understand this metal that they should be concerned. It's the first time readers have been reminded that Magneto has an ego that makes Trump look like Mother Teresa.

He doesn't get a chance to flex that ego because Brand shows up via Star Wars style hologram to gravel to the X-men. There are some witty remarks in between about how reality TV is the comic equivalent of the Legacy Virus and whether Breakworld is one word or two. You can tell Kieron Gillen is trying to flex his literary muscle and doing a pretty good job of it. When in doubt, mock reality TV. Yeah, it's an easy target. But if it wasn't true it wouldn't be so damn funny/tragic.

Brand tells the X-men to get their asses into space. They agree and Brand is nice enough to provide a space shuttle. It's probably the nicest she'll be through this entire arc. Only the main Astonishing team goes, minus Beast. He's instead replaced by Magneto, which may or may not be an upgrade. It only means that Brand has no one to exercise her fur fetish around. Unless Wolverine dyes his hair blue it's a pretty safe assumption that Brand's panties will be bone dry for the rest of this story.

The goes through the whole "Where's Beast?" conversation, which in a ways is a nice reminder that Beast is still at odds with the X-men. Why he's not stalking Brand is still a mystery. Even a man/beast can only do so much when his desired mate it so uptight that she could be used to prop up Sarah Silverman's TV career. They get down to far more pressing needs, namely a big fucking alien ship from Breakworld that's heading right towards them. This time it looks a lot fancier than a bullet. Brand describes it as having enough fire power to turn entire countries into Larry the Cable Guy's backyard barbecue pit. Terry Dodson's art certainly helps reinforce that notion.

The ship is currently in stealth mode, not showing any signs of aggression. To Agent Brand there might as well be an army of Breakworld warriors standing in front of her waving their dicks in her face. She goes onto explain that Breakworld underwent the same shit that Egypt and Tunisia went through recently. Their economy went right down the shitter and as is a common theme amongst all societies, people started blowing shit up. Now they want to spread that shit to Earth and Brand wants to tell them to piss off in the nicest possible way. To do that, she needs the same X-men who helped her do it before.

The X-men don't need much convincing. They agree to help Brand mount an assault on the ship before it can do to Earth what Barry Bonds did to Major League Baseball. There's a nice little montage with the X-men preparing for the fight. Anyone who read Joss Whedon's story about Breakworld (If you haven't, may the shame of a thousand Millie Vanillis corrupt your soul) knows what a crazy battle that turned into. It was a critically acclaimed story for a reason. Any alien race brazen enough to use a giant bullet as a weapon is not to be fucked with lightly.

Then when they arrive, something unexpected happens. There's no big fight. There's no alien gladiators dressed in thongs to greet them. Brand and the X-men enter the ship unopposed to find Kruun (the asshole that fired that bullet) looking about as threatening as a drunk squirrel. He lost his arm and announced outright that the ship he's on is decommissioned. It's about as threatening to Earth as an incoming feather duster. They're not looking for a fight or for sweet vengeance as so many deranged comic villains do. They seek political asylum.

That's right. These badass Breakworld aliens that gave the X-men such a run for their money in Astonishing don't want to fight. They're basically displaced Cubans looking to set up shop and sell sombreros on a planet that's only half as fucked as theirs. It's an unexpected twist. Some may think of it as a let-down because there's little struggle shown here. But it puts the story into a new light and sets the stage for something different. You may have a WTF feeling after reading the last page, but it won't make you yearn for the next issue any less.

Kieron Gillen got his foothold in the X-men only a year ago with Generation Hope. Now he has one of the top jobs. It's like an mail-room manager becoming a CEO. Not everyone can make that shift and not come out looking like an ass, but Gillen proved he has the talent and the vision. Reading this book along with the point-one issue, it's easy to see that Matt Fraction isn't writing this anymore. This is Kieron Gillen's book. He's already putting his stamp on this series and if this issue is any indication, it's a stamp that's been certified awesome.

This issue wasn't heavy on action and it didn't try to do too much. It wasn't pulled out of any particular ass either. It actually played on previous events, some of which had a few loose ends that have gone ignored since the George Wonder-Blunder Bush was in office. Gillen didn't just tap the Breakworld story. He continued his own little plot that he began in #534.1 with Magneto having an unhealthy fascination with the metal from the bullet. The focus on this issue was a lot different than the Uncanny issues that came before it. For once, Cyclops and Emma Frost were not paraded around like homoerotic floats at Carnival in Brazil. In fact, Emma Frost had only one line in this entire issue. If Matt Fraction was still writing, his head would have exploded at such a thought. But Kieron Gillen pulled it off, giving the spotlight to someone else for once. Colossus and Kitty Pryde haven't had this kind of attention since Joss Whedon's run and it's a beautiful thing. Right up there with a bottle of whiskey and drunk college girl.

While Kieron Gillen did make a solid statement with this issue, it wasn't perfect. While this issue didn't feel like it had a lot of filler, it definitely had the feel of a setup issue. The only real action was the battle with the robot between Namor, Colossus, and Kitty. There were plenty of solid scenes in between, but at times those scenes dragged a little. It felt as though there could have been more conflict. The dialog was a little wordy at times, but definitely more refined than Matt Fraction. The issue was good enough to get you excited about the next issue, but not excited enough to want to read the issue again and again. Unlike Uncanny X-men #534.1, it didn't have any really memorable lines like that ball-busting line from Namor. It was still solid and sets the stage nicely for this new arc.

Overall, Kieron Gillen's first arc is off to a great start. Matt Fraction left a tough act to follow, but also left plenty of room for improvement. Gillen is well on his way to improving. It's still early and there hasn't been an issue that I can rant about just yet. That may change, but for now Uncanny X-men #535 is as solid a book as X-fans could hope for. I give it a final score of 4.5 out of 5. For the moment, Uncanny X-Force is still the top X-books. But Uncanny X-men is definitely in the conversation. Kieron Gillen can make a big statement with his first arc. He's well on his way. Now if he would get Kitty out of that damn space suit, that alone would make his first arc a booming success. Nuff said!

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