Saturday, May 7, 2011

Uncanny X-men #536 - Drunk on Awesome

So it's the week of the Thor movie premier and I'm planning to get so shit-faced on the sweet alcohol of awesome that I will likely wake up naked at the foot of Charlie Sheen's bed or in a gutter outside Tijuana with a note pinned to my balls. It's been a hectic week and I've had more than my share of personal issues. Let's just say my skewed view on comics is only the 283th thing wrong with me. As a result I wasn't able to review Uncanny X-men #536 last week. Cut me some slack. I was practicing my hangover recovery strategy. But after Kieron Gillen's solid showing in Uncanny X-men #535 I had every intention of giving a thorough assessment of this book. Since Mr. Gillen has been such a generous sport, I'm not going to review this issue while drunk! I may be a little stoned, but two out of three ain't bad.

Kieron Gillen began his run by revisiting one of the seminal stories from another run. You may have heard of it. It's by the guy who's now directing the Avengers movie, aka the role most fanboys masturbate to in addition to pictures of Emma Frost and Jean Grey going down on each other. His name escapes me. But all you need to know is the story was pretty damn awesome and was left open ended. That story involved the aliens of Breakworld, a planet where war and violence are activities at summer camp. In the last issue they arrived at Earth, prompting Abigail Brand of SWORD to call the X-men for help. They infiltrated their approaching ship and met up with Kruun, the grand poobah of Breakworld's blood-loving brethren. But to everyone's surprise, they didn't come to Earth in hopes of finishing what that giant bullet was supposed to do. They came seeking refuge, which left many including the reader more confused than Paris Hilton in a quantum physics lecture.

Uncanny X-men #536 begins with Kruun explaining himself. His ship has docked with SWORD and he's sitting at a table with Brand and the X-men. He doesn't demand they play an alien version of Russian Roulette. He doesn't even ask Colossus to arm wrestle him for the right to see Kitty Pryde naked. He just talks, expressing his disdain for diplomats and describing how Breakworld has devolved into a series of slapfights. There's no grand megawar that they can all jerk off to. It's just a bunch of whiny guys bitching about someone having a bigger dick than them. Apparently that wasn't to Kruun's liking so he fled and now wants to set up shop on Earth. Cyclops, unable to resist that puppy dog look from a blood-thirsty alien, agrees to help while Brand agrees to do the paperwork. I can just see how Republicans would spin this comic as a protest against illegal immigration.

This goes over about as smoothly as a date with Rick James. The X-men don't just agree to help. They agree to let Krunn and his cronies stay on Utopia, all without consulting the mutants who live there no less. You wonder how they feel about a race of aliens that shot a giant bullet at them might feel about this. Then again, Cyclops points out correctly that they were responsible for what happened to Breakworld. Kruun left his planet because of what they did. So they're responsible whether they like it or not. It results in turning Utopia into an Early version of Mos Eisley's from Star Wars.

It's especially disconcerting for Colossus, who was for a time labeled the anti-god for Breakworld. So he takes a stroll with Kitty, who is still wearing that stupid space suit. Being the nice guy that he is, Colossus actually shows some sympathy for these aliens that took his girlfriend away from him. That alone makes him more forgiving than Jesus on Vicodin. Kitty shows no hard feelings about being trapped in a bullet as well. Together they go out of their way to learn more about the aliens that so fucked them up. It's either exceedingly badass or stupid, but Colossus isn't waving his dick in their face so it's nothing if not heroic.

They talk to a number of Breakworld aliens. They all have their story to tell. Gillen does a good job here showing that they really aren't human. They think in terms of beating the shit out of one another. The whole concept of mercy to them is like the concept of sobriety is to an alcoholic. It just doesn't compute. It's a nice insight at a situation when it would be so easy to start blowing shit up. I admire the restraint because I can see so many other writers turning this into mutants vs. aliens round 293852.

For a moment, it looks as though Kitty and Colossus are making some friends. Then Kruun has to be a massive tool and basically put a clamp on any potential for peace between Breakworld and the mutants that got the better of them. He basically whines how his people are so pathetic, running from their homeworld and seeking refuge with the very people that fucked him over. In a ways he has a point. It's still no excuse for being a douche-bag.

There's an interesting exchange here where Kruun describes how he brought Colossus back to life. A planet like Breakworld isn't exactly on the cutting edge of resurrection science. They don't do the whole life-saving shit. They sacrifice people to bring them back and that's what happened with Colossus. It's an unusual perspective, his life being the result of a sacrifice from five slaves. Because of that, Kruun looks down on Colossus. He lost his damn arm and he still thinks Colossus bears more shame. He pities the man so much that when someone from Breakworld finally tries to get back at him for fucking up their already fucked up lives, Kruun stops him.

It's a provocative moment. Not quite as provocative as Joss Whedon's foot fetish in his movies, but right up there. The Breakworld aliens may be brutal, but they do have their own sense of culture. That culture emphasizes shame, not unlike cultures in the real world that think burning incense around the bodies of prostitutes will absolve them of their shame. Kruun has more reason than anyone to stick a blade between Colossus's eyes, but he won't do it in a shameful way. He may be a douche, but he's an honorable douche. I'll give him that.

While he's scorning his people and himself for being so dishonorable, he's confronted by Magneto. Anyone who read Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-men #534.1 remembers that he's had a major boner for the metal that made up the bullet that Breakworld fired at them. Being the inquisitive sociopath he's always been, he asks Kruun to explain it. Kruun isn't a scientist, but he's got a lot of free time on his hands and since Breakworlders don't appear to jerk off too often he humors the man.

It's a meeting of sociopathic minds. There's another interesting play on Breakworld culture here. They don't have much use for words like technology or magic when describing what their metal can do. They use the same word they've always used. They think of it as a weapon, one they use to train themselves in the art of brutalizing their enemies. Magneto wants to learn more. Kruun says he needs more metal to show him. Magneto, never missing an opportunity to help a fellow sociopath, asks for a half hour. This leaves Kruun alone in the lab with nothing to do. That's like leaving Keith Richards in a room with a mountain of cocaine. You're just asking for trouble.

It shouldn't come to anyone's surprise that Kruun uses this window to show that he's the bigger douche. Magneto has gone soft. His curiosity leads Kruun to take out Madison Jefferies and have a little fun with the whole mutant cure serum that happens to be lying around. You get the sense here that Gillen had to do a great many favors for Joss Whedon. Some of them may involve acts that aren't legal in certain states, but for a story that carries on his Astonishing legacy I would say it's worth it.

Kruun shows that his world may have gotten old broadcasts of McGuiver. He takes the samples of the cure and fashions them into poison darts, the likes of which Bear Grylls would be proud of. So when Magneto returns 28 minutes later, Kruun definitively proves that his sociopathic dick is way bigger. He effectively de-powers Magneto. Now it's doubtful whether it's permanent or not, but he renders the man as impotent as Elton John at a Hustler club. You would think Magneto would be smarter, but the guy is just not as crazy smart as he used to be. He's just half-crazy and half-smart, which for Kruun isn't nearly crazy enough.

Magneto doesn't put up much of a fight without his powers. Kruun, being the guy from the race of brutal warriors, ties him up and throws him in a closet with Madison Jefferies. This could make for a great gay joke, but Kruun demonstrates more of his unique insight. Everything to him is a weapon. It's a weapon necessary for him to get what he wants, which is revenge against the guy who fucked up his world. Armed with the metal Magneto so generously gathered for him, he's prepared to go after Colossus and avenge his people. It's almost Shakespearean, but Shakespeare never used kick-ass aliens. It sets the stage for a major clash in the next issue. The one-armed alien psychopath against the metal-skinned Russian, it's a fight so laced with awesome that you could put on on pay-per-view!

There's a lot to like about this issue. Kieron Gillen continues to take Uncanny down paths Matt Fraction never attempted, perhaps because it did too little to make Cyclops and Emma Frost more awesome. With this arc, he's giving other characters a chance to really shine. Colossus and Kitty were the diplomatic ones in this issue, not Cyclops and Emma Frost. There was also a continuation of the story surrounding Magneto's fascination with the Breakworld metal. It's an example of the dreaded C-word, continuity. Gillen has been using it wisely since he took over. From this side-story with Magneto, the story with Kruun and Breakworld takes a new and exciting twist. It comes together so perfectly that you almost want to toast it with a shot of gin. Then again, I toast damn near everything with a shot of gin so that may not be saying much.

If there's any shortcoming to this issue, it's that the action was somewhat sporadic. There were only a few minor fights, but they weren't insignificant. They all had a purpose for the story. Not every fight has to involve a planet-busting brawl. Kieron Gillen chose to keep the scale small, at least for this issue. It helped add depth to Kruun and the aliens of Breakworld, which is something you don't see enough of in comics. Usually the aliens are just Independence Day style psycho-killers that would grind our bones and snort them. It's nice to see some aliens with a little personality, deranged it may be. While the scale was acceptable, the transitions were a bit shaky at the beginning and the pacing of the story felt a little sporadic. But it's not nearly enough to take away from the quality of the book.

Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-men run continues it's good start. This issue is solid all around. It takes the events of the previous issue and develops them in a way that doesn't feel rushed while not feeling too boring either. The pacing may be a little spotty, but it's still a satisfying story in the end. It sets the stage for what could certainly be a very brutal ending. So overall, I give Uncanny X-men #536 a 4.5 out of 5. Gillen has done a great deal to keep Uncanny X-men in the same league as books like Uncanny X-Force. With Fear Itself looming, he has his work cut out for him. For now, he's handling it with the same skill that Kruun handles his weapons. Nuff said!

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