Saturday, June 11, 2011
X-23 #11 - A Trigger For True Awesome
It's rare when something or someone enters the zone. I'm not talking about the same zone you feel when you're hopped up on LSD. That usually involves a unicorn named Fred and Abraham Lincoln in a bikini. I'm talking about the zone where everything just clicks. A football player is throwing for five-hundred yards and six touchdowns in the Superbowl. A pitcher strikes out twenty consecutive opponents. A goalie in hockey stops anything and everything coming his way, including an alien invasion and Alaskan meth dealers. It's not just in sports either. Sometimes the zone can be part of a comic. It's an area where the story feels so solid and succinct you can practically anticipate the moment it blows your mind to the nanosecond. After reading the last issue of X-23, I felt as though the book had entered the zone.
Marjorie Liu has already done an awesome job telling X-23's story. She started by kindly reminding readers that she's not just Wolverine's clone with boobs (as awesome that may be). She's a messed up teenage girl who has more issues than most. She was falling into more brutal cycles than Snooki with PMS. So she left the X-men. Now after taking on Daken (a far less awesome and more sexually perverse Wolverine derivative), she's in a bad place. In X-23 #10 she started cutting herself. Since she has a healing factor, she can't do it half-assed like the pansy emos out there who can barely do it with safety scissors. It got so bad that Gambit brought Jubilee and Wolverine over the Paris for a visit. It got a little messed up. And by messed up I mean in a way that involves biting, vampires, and subtle hints of teenage lesbianism. By that description how could it NOT be awesome?
X-23 #11 has a tough act to follow. I gave X-23 #10 very high marks, labeling it the best issue in the series so far. That really raises the bar for the issue that follows. There have been times when a series has crashed and burned after such a stellar issue. So I picked up X-23 #11 with a touch of trepidation. But Marjorie Liu has been fairly consistent with this series so if anyone can top the very bar they raised, it's her.
X-23 #11 starts off exactly where the last issue ended. Jubilee bit X-23 and all over the internet, slash fanfiction writers wrote a myriad of girl-on-girl scenes so perverse that even Lady Gaga couldn't articulate it in one of her songs. Beyond the sexual inuendo, in biting X-23 Jubilee got a taste of her past. She sees a flasbhack to one of the key scenes in X-23's life. If you read the X-23 intro arc "Innocence Lost" by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, you should recognize it. If you didn't, walk up to Marvel's offices and demand to be flogged for missing out on such an awesome series. The difference in this flashback is it's done in spooky vampire vision. That or it could just be Sana Takeda's amazing art style. Either way, it looks pretty damn awesome.
Needless to say, Jubilee doesn't appreciate being baited. She lashes out at X-23, but seeing as how she's got a self-mutilating fetish she's about as threatened as a hungry grizzly. Jubilee has a chance to voice her own teen angst, which is a nice change-up from all the angst that has put X-23 in the spotlight. She take a page out of the Wolverine and Jubilee mini, explaining how she's tried hard to not be a killer and how her own friends have turned on her. X-23 went through the same thing in the first arc of this series when it was revealed that she had been in X-Force. It offers some nice parallels between the two girls. One is vampire. The other is a weapon. I know I said it may be a sitcom, but at this point it might as well be a new reality show on MTV.
X-23 demonstrates that she understands. She explains to Jubilee why she had to leave as well. It doesn't make for the kind of heart-warming moment from a Julia Roberts movie. These are teenage girls. They're still in their make-as-big-a-scene-as-you-can mode. But it does establish some understanding. X-23 does offer an explanation for why she had Jubilee bite her. She said she wanted to see if Jubilee would kill her. That's it. It sounds like the kind of reckless behavior you would expect a teenage girl to do when she's drunk and her panties are hanging from the gutter of the house of a college frat party. Jubilee clearly doesn't understand it and doesn't seem to want to. Even a vampire understands that angsty teenage girls are beyond comprehension.
X-23 showed that she needs a metric fuckton of chill-pills. So the next day Gambit, Logan, and Jubilee resort to an age old tactic that has brought many angsty teenage girls to their knees...shopping. Remember, their in Paris. There are girls who will run down the street naked covered in the entrails of a slaughtered pig for an opportunity like that. Jubilee maybe a vampire now, but she hasn't lost that Mall Rat persona. She gets X-23 to play dress-up with her. X-23 doesn't embrace it as much as you would expect. Granted I know as much about fashion as I do quantum mechanics, but the clothes Jubilee picked out for X-23 fit about as well as an albino in the Wu Tang Clan.
This reveals yet another interesting insight into X-23's angst. When she's describing the dress, she describes how for most of her life she never learned something as basic as dressing herself. She was always given clothes. She never decided for herself. Everything has always been decided for her. It's not that she's never had a choice. She's never learned how to make those choices. It's a pretty messed up way for a teenage girl to function. It also adds some reason behind the angst. She's not just dark for the sake of being dark. She's not an upper-class snob acting out and hoping for her own reality show. She has real issues and Marjorie Liu does a great job of fleshing out those issues.
Laura's shopping therapy is cut short when Gambit gets a call that reminds readers of this book that it's an X-men comic. It can only do so much teen angst before someone needs to get stabbed. In another show of strong continuity (something the latest X-men movie must bow it's head in shame over), it involves something that took place during the Daken vs X-23 battle. In that story there was some seemingly unrelated scenes that involved someone getting their hands on the trigger scent that turns X-23 into a cross between the Terminator and the Hulk. Well those scenes are no longer meaningless filler because someone from Madripoor that they forget to kill has that scent. It's more than enough reason for X-23 to ditch the angst and become the pissed off Wolverine clone once more.
But before she goes out and performs an impromtu castration of the asshole or assholes who are dumping this shit on her again, she takes Jubilee aside. She tells her that if the trigger scent is used on her and she becomes a rampaging psycho-bitch that Lorena Bobbet wouldn't fuck with, she wants Jubilee to kill her. She knows Wolverine won't do it. Gambit wouldn't dare hurt her either. That's part of what her little test was earlier in the issue. She wanted to see if Jubilee would do what needed to be done. For a girl who already cuts herself, it's a disturbing request. It puts Jubilee in a very difficult situation, but one she can't avoid.
That night Jubilee, X-23, Wolverine, and Gambit begin their little operation. While they're admiring the night lights over Paris, an elaborate deal is set up under the guise of a French Masquerade party. It's enough to make you miss the gold old days when Masquerade parties only ended in wild orgies. Two masked figures are brought to a lab where a bunch of random people are plucked from the streets (probably tourists who made the cardinal sin of getting into an unmarked cab). Then they get a dose of the trigger scent and suddenly these normal looking people become angry grizzlies on crystal meth. It's a bloody scene, but it's a hell of a sales pitch. Beats the shit out of the Sham Wow guy.
The demonstration may have been successful, but before they can start shelling out enough money to fix Donald Trump's hair for the next decade they get some visitors. Wolverine and X-23 come storming in, wearing gas masks to prevent them from being affected by the scent. As soon as they're in, they start kicking ass and doing the kind of interrogations that Dick Cheney would masturbate to if he didn't have a heart condition.
While they ask questions Jack Baur style, Gambit and Jubilee make their way towards the vault where they're keeping the trigger scent. It's very well-coordinated. Usually several things have gone terribly wrong by now in an operation involving X-men. They found the trigger scent and can start destroying it. However, like Madonna before her Karbala phase X-23 isn't quite satisfied enough. While they stormed in before too many test subjects were given the kind of medical treatment you would expect in North Korea, they never found the woman in charge of the deal. X-23 is very interested in meeting this person and giving her an adamantium supplement. So with the kind of poor judgment you would expect of any teenager, she goes after her.
This turns out to be as dumb a decision as you would expect. X-23 goes after the leader and walks right into a trap. She makes the stupid mistake of taking the fucking elevator to catch up. Anyone should know that when chasing a resourceful psychopath, the stairs are your friend because elevators can be booby trapped. In this case, X-23 gets a message from the mysterious psyco-bitch behind it all. That message reveals that the trigger scent was modified so that anyone who whiffed it would go ape-shit as if they just heard that Brett Ratner was directing another X-men movie. Then for kicks, she pumps the elevator full of the trigger scent. Then she lets X-23 off in a busy train station. She might as well have released an angry tiger into a den of baby zebras.
Jubilee catches up just in time to make good on her promise to X-23. Laura asked her to kill her if she got out of control. Well she's officially more fucked up than a crack head in withdrawal and in a very public place as well. She can't be too polite. She's a fucking vampire, remember? It turns into another girl-on-girl slug-fest, except this time there's too much blood to derive any sexual innuendo from it. The battle escalates. More blood is spilled. Jubilee ends up getting X-23 onto the train tracks just in time for the train to arrive. I find this somewhat unbelievable. I take the fucking subway to work and it's never that convenient. But it makes a bad situation worse. This is where the comic ends, stopping the action just as it's about to get bloodier. It means your heart will be racing until the next issue. If you have a heart problem, you should probably call 911 right now because the intensity of this scene offers a rush that few books can deliver.
Earlier I mentioned the zone. Any comic series can have one stellar issue just as anybody with more luck than brains can shit out a quality dose of awesome. It's a lot harder for a series to deliver issues of equal high quality back-to-back. Marjorie Liu has already set a pretty high bar with this series. This issue along with the last fully thrusts X-23 into the zone. It truly is that awesome.
It isn't just the teen angst or the action that have made these past two issues special. The story has so much substance behind it, not relying on the kind of gimmicks and ploys that other comics rely on. It does what all great books do and focuses on the little details. It doesn't gloss over certain issues, expecting the readers to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. It offers a full, coherent package. It does more than just offer insight for X-23. It gives Jubilee some added depth as well, almost as much as the Wolverine and Jubilee mini. It puts two teenage girls in some very difficult positions and tells a great story around it. Not only that, it ties together the continuity from the previous arc involving the trigger scent. Marjorie Liu left nothing to chance. It shows she gives more than several damns about adding extra quality to her work. It's what helps make a good issue truly awesome.
There aren't a lot of flaws here. Again, you would have to be a real nit-picking asshole to make a big deal out of them. Such assholes may point out that the whole scene that involved them infiltrating the party was a bit too quick. It didn't show the in-between of how X-23 and Wolverine met up with Jubilee and Gambit. Then again even if it did show those scenes, those same assholes would probably complain about there being filler with those scenes. It's pretty much the only peeve I can see anyone having with this issue. Everything else is as solid as you could possibly ask.
When a comic is in the zone, it's hard to find words to describe the awesome. I've exhausted my thesaurus for X-23 over the past two issues. It has become one of Marvel's best gems. It's not heavily marketed. It doesn't have banners tying it into other mainstream books. But the quality from these stories is in a league all it's own. That's why I give X-23 #11 a 5 out of 5, the same perfect score as the last book. If you're looking for something a bit more refined than the explosion-laden mainline X-books, X-23 offers it by the fuckton. Nuff said!