Monday, May 2, 2011
X-23 #9 - Picking Up The (Awesome) Slack
In my time as a comic book connoisseur and misanthropic drunk I've learned one important life lesson. One awesome comic can overshadow three lousy comics. It's a given that a good deal of the books on the racks are complete and utter crap. It's those select few that make comics a worthwhile outlet, a vice almost in the same league as hookers and blow. I bring this up because the long-awaited arc that pits X-23 against Daken started so strong and then faltered. X-23 #8 was an awesome book, so much so that my mouth went dry from drooling over the awesome. Then Daken #8 came along and while it wasn't terrible, it was so mediocre compared to X-23 #8 that it felt like pepper sprayed right after getting a great blow-job. The momentum faltered more than Sarah Palin at a spelling bee, but it didn't stop completely. The arc still have two more parts left and I'm more than willing to see this arc by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Way to the end.
What made the last issue so underwhelming was how confusing it was. The scenes jumped around, losing all sense of pacing and flow. It was hard to tell just what the hell was going on at times. One moment Daken and X-23 are in the same scene. The next he's talking with Tyger. Then they find the mysterious Malcolm Concord who seems intent on bringing back Weapon X. Somehow Daken led X-23 to him and it's not even clear whether it was part of a plan or just dumb luck. It doesn't matter how awesome the premise of a book is or how great the art is. If you need a fucking diagram to map out what's going on and still have trouble figuring it out, it's a lot harder to enjoy. It's like a beautiful hooker who won't shut the hell up about the last episode of the Jersey Shore when you're trying to enjoy a good fuck. The only part of that issue that's really important to remember is that in the end, Concord got the better of X-23. He drugged her and Gambit. Then he threw X-23 in the trunk and Daken was probably jerking off in excitement as douche-bags are so prone to do.
X-23 #9 has a much clearer transition to begin with. X-23 is in a special cell that's about as spacious as a Japanese subway at rush hour. Concord is there taunting her, which is understandable. X-23 did rip his fucking finger nails out in the last issue. You would almost expect the guy to put her in an oven. But he's nothing if not a pragmatist. He makes it clear to X-23 that despite the torture, he's going to get what he wants from her. Usually when a scary man says that to a teenage girl, it's leads to the kind of stories that Fox News would jump all over. This one is ten times worse than that and anybody who has read X-23's mini (which you should totally get if you haven't) has an idea of what she's in for.
While X-23 is about to get a little R&R in Hell, Gambit wakes up in the comfortable dwelling of a beautiful woman. Concord wasn't interested in snot-nosed Cajuns it seems. That or he has a daughter that he would rather not see bent over a blackjack table screaming how she hit the jackpot. He finds out from Tyger that X-23 is gone and Daken screwed them over, as if that should come as a shock to anyone. They share a nice moment, but there really doesn't seem to be much purpose to this scene other than Gambit finding out he's failed X-23 again. He ties to keep her out of trouble, but like half the teenage girls from my high school graduating class trouble is more drawn to teenage girls than R. Kelly on Jerry Springer.
That's the last anyone will see of Gambit in this issue. Everything else is about X-23 and Daken, as well it should be. Daken still shows that he's in the major league of douche-bags when he has a meeting with Concord. He allowed him to capture X-23. Now he's interested in what he's going to do with her, presumably so he can laugh his ass off in between banging hookers. Concord mentions something that X-23 fans should remember from her mini (again, get that book if you haven't already), the trigger scent. This scent is something that was developed by X-23's creators so that when she sniffs it, she goes into a homicidal rage that's almost unstoppable. It's like Pacman Jones at a strip club.
It's the perfect weapon, yet he claims to have no interest in testing on her (yet). Daken doesn't seem too thrilled about the idea of Weapon X starting up again, but what he expect him do to by helping him capture X-23? Force her to work in a sweatshop wearing lingerie? That might make too much sense in this context, disturbing it may be.
This conversation of the trigger scent leads directly to a scene right out of Miami Vice. A goofy looking guy on the dock is selling some very illegal shit to an attractive woman in a cloak. The product isn't your typical brick of Columbia imported blow or pictures of Paris Hilton going down on a goat. It's the trigger scent. That's right, one scene leads to a clear transition of another. It's what the last issue lacked and it makes this issue feel a lot more coherent. I know it's one of those little things, but when you're reading a comic book it's a big fucking deal. It's not clear who the woman is. It could be X-23 or someone else. But right now, the trigger scent is in play at that always fucks X-23 up more than a night of binge drinking with Jack Nickelson.
We go back to our trip into hell. Laura now finds herself in a twisted cross between the last Saw movie and an episode of House. It's a scene she's been in before, bound and surrounded by crazy doctors who likely lost their medical licenses doing lousy boob jobs. She's strapped to the world's worst massage chair and then the doctors prepare to use a fucking chainsaw to cut her open. There are very few things comic fans can agree on, but most will concede that using a chainsaw is pretty fucking awesome. Daken watches over briefly. He has a few cryptic words, but he doesn't stick around. You would think he would record this so he can jerk off to it later, but this is Daken. He's more unpredictable than the John Goodman's eating habits.
It's a gruesome moment. One that can only be appropriate in an X-23 comic. There's actually a "SPLERCH" sound effect to describe the noise the chainsaw makes when it cuts into her. It's a noise that you hear in your mind and can never unhear.X-23 describes the moment in a nice monologue. Whereas a less ballsy teenage girl would be whining for their mommies and daddies, she takes it the same way most people deal with a mosquito bite.
As brutal as this scene is, it's only a prelude. You can't expect Laura to just lie there and take it like Mike Tyson's old prison bitch. Like Wolverine, she fights back. She breaks free. Now it's not entirely clear how this happens, but Daken's earlier words seem to hint that he helped her. It's a very non-dick move from a guy that makes an Olympic sport out of them. Whatever the reason, X-23 goes off on these pissant excuse for doctors and it's such a satisfying scene that you only throw up a little.
After the blood stops staining everything in the room, Laura meets up with Daken. He confirms that he helped free her. So first he helped Concord capture her. Then he helped free her. Either this guy has a split personality or he's just so bored that he can't stop fucking with people in more than one way. X-23 understandably slugs him one. It seems like a good time for the X-23/Daken battle to resume, but then he reveals that he has a file that she would have had to kill a lot more people to get her hands on. It's a file covering everything about the facility that made her. Yet somehow Daken just leaves it for her to look at. He doesn't consider it betraying. He calls it "borrowing your presence." Not sure what that entails, but it still sounds like a dick move.
This file prevents X-23 from tearing into Daken for the moment. Daken claims he didn't know Concord was starting another Weapon X, but seriously what else could he have wanted a clone of Wolverine for? Being a douche-bag doesn't mean he's fucking dumb. But to his credit, Daken says he helped Concord so he could dig a little deeper and find out more. It's still not clear how much bullshit he's stepping in, but it's a nice mystery. One that's a lot more coherent than his usual decadent antics.
He and X-23 also have a nice conversation about how different they are. She was raised in a lab. He was raised by Romulus. She's a clone. He's the product of good old fashioned boning. Yet one of them actually has a sliver of humanity that makes them a decent person. Even though Daken is a classically made human, he doesn't understand being human as much as X-23. It's a startling contrast between the two characters and one that provide great depth to a comic that has been more soaked with blood than Madonna on PMS.
It leads to another scene with another drug deal. The same woman in the cloak from before is buying more trigger scent. Again, it's not clear who she is. But she's packing a fucking gun and takes out the generous black market assholes that sold the stuff to her. Now usually Daken is the one that makes the dick moves, but this one takes the cake. Say what you will about the black market, they're still a business. If you start killing the generous folk who sell you all those juicy vices at a somewhat bloated price, you'll never get your ill-gotten merchandise again. You would have to wait until Ron Paul is elected president, which will likely be never.
This scene really doesn't do much other than act as filler from the last scene and give another excuse for more bloodshed. It's the same problem the previous issue had. It had scenes that seemed too much like filler. Now maybe this scene will have more meaning in the next issue, but that's not clear nor is it even hinted at. It just feels like a scene you can skip over because it's a bloodier repeat of an earlier scene. These pages could go to so much better use, like maybe a close up of Psylocke's ass or Rogue's cleavage. But I digress.
After their little philosophical chat, X-23 and Daken probe further into Concord's facility. Even if they're inclined to cut each others' heads off, they're more inclined to cut Concord's off first. Daken leads her to another part of the facility. Along the way they run into more out-of-work doctors. Since these guys aren't armed with any chainsaws, they do what you would expect doctors to do in that position. They run like cowards. I would mock this with a little girl joke, but given what X-23 did to the doctors that carved her up earlier I fully respect such cowardice. They have my respect for doing the most logical thing and not pissing themselves in the process.
It saves Daken and X-23 the trouble of more killing. Some readers might be a little disappointed. If this comic hasn't had enough bloodshed yet then you might want to go back to group therapy and tell the doctors about the dreams of raining blood you've been having. That would be useful information for any doctor NOT working at Weapon X knock-offs to have. But as soon as they leave, X-23 and Daken face another challenge. X-23 goes to what she thought was crying. Then someone decided that all of Concord's dirty secrets need to be let out for some fresh air. So all those fancy locked doors open and out pour a hoard of monsters. It shows that Concord didn't just rely on X-23 to bring back Weapon X. He did some homework and this would certainly qualify him as a straight-A student.
It's a twist that doesn't feel like a twist. X-23 and Daken now have to stop fighting each other and debating who's more human than who. When facing an army of monsters, those petty differences just don't seem as important. It sets the stage for an extra bloody conclusion and if you're not drooling over the possibilities, you either just came from the dentist or you're dead.
Going back to what I said earlier about one good comic overshadowing three bad comics, I'll say outright that this was a damn good comic. It had a lot fewer flaws than Daken #8. It was coherent. It was action-packed. It was bloody. It was even shocking at times, showing some depth and character development to go along with that blood. Marjorie Liu's touch is apparent in this book. She has a great feel for characterization and adding a touch of heart to scenes that otherwise qualify as torture porn. The moments with X-23 when she was strapped to the table was powerful in addition to being gruesome. Daken's actions make him seem less like a douche and more like someone with a half-logical plan. Yet the conflict between the two is still there and gets more complicated as the book goes on. Now at the end it looks like they have to work together. It's a great flow for a book and one that lends so many possibilities.
There were still a few flaws that seemed to carry over from the last book. There was some filler material, namely with the drug deal for the trigger scent. There were also some shaky transitions, like how X-23 and Daken went from debating humanity to just exploring the facility. Daken still comes off as a tool, but towards the end he does seem to have a more coherent plan. It still isn't clear what he's after and his dialog didn't seem as refined as X-23's. It still helps that it makes more sense in the end. It would help even more if the path to that end was a bit smoother.
X-23 #9 didn't fully rescue the series. It wasn't in need of complete redemption from the last issue. It just needed a story that would get the Collision arc back on track. And it worked. Minor flaws aside, X-23 #9 brought the arc back into focus and set the stage for a very eventful conclusion. For that I give X-23 #9 a 4 out of 5. It's not perfect yet. All the pieces still need to fall into place. Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu have done an amazing job with this story. It's awesome mixed with blood. What more can you ask for? Nuff said!