Monday, June 20, 2011
X-men #13 - A Little Retcon Makes For Major Awesome
In the lawless world of comic book message boards, there's little everyone agrees on. You would have a better chance of convincing Sarah Palin to give $100 billion to Planned Parenthood than try to convince posters on message boards that they're full of shit. One of the exceedingly rare subjects that comic fans seem to agree upon involve retcons. The average joe doesn't use this word very often. It sounds like a trendy prisoner or some sadistic procedure your proctologist does. For comic fans, it involves that annoying tendency for comic creators to completely rewrite the past. There are fans who still have nightmares about the Clone Saga, One More Day, or DC's elaborate Crisis saga. Even on a small scale, retcons will get fans more worked up than a hit of meth at a Tijuana cock fight.
Now the X-men comics are no strangers to retcons. When it comes to retcons, the X-men comics are the New England Patriots. They're retconned the Phoenix, Madelyn Pryor, Emma Frost, and Wolverine so many times that only a schizophrenic off their meds could keep up with it at times. So whenever a story promises to do a little scribbling on 616 Marvel's history books, it makes readers more nervous than Snookie's gynecologist.
X-men First to Last, which started with Giant Size X-men #1, hasn't exactly been a big retcon. However, it does involve the distant past of the X-men. It goes back to one of the X-men's first fights with Magneto and the Brotherhood. However, it doesn't change how it unfolded. It doesn't change the outcome either. It essentially tacks on a story that is tied to the present. I guess that would count as a light retcon, but sooner or later when you start dealing with the past a retcon of some kind will sneak in. The question remains. How much will this cause the message boards to bitch and moan? Well that's what I hope to uncover in this review.
X-men #13 continues the First to Last story that underwent some significant developments in the previous issue. The Evolutionaries were intent on helping the mutant race. Somehow that involved killing every last human, which is like weeding your garden with a flame thrower. They believed in ensuring that evolution took the proper path. Xavier tried to reason with them in the past and failed. In the present, they found out that Cyclops and the X-men deceived them back then (although it's not clear how). Now they're pissed and trying to finish what they started. The issue starts out by further exploring how the Evolutionaries work. They did this once before with humans when they were still evolving. From the looks of it, their methods are about as pleasant as having your teeth pulled by a horny cobra.
Back in the non-caveman days where fig leafs aren't a fashion statement, Cyclops is still being guarded by the New Mutants. Under order of Emma Frost, they must protect her boyfriend or face her wrath. In that sense they would probably prefer the Evolutionaries. He tries to argue with them, but they aren't having it. What's remarkable here is that Cyclops says Emma's wrong in her methods. She's only making things worse. She does the same for marriages and feminism so I doubt she would lose much sleep over it.
Right or wrong, the battle against the Evolutionaries hasn't settled down since the last issue. Storm is getting pissed and so is Magneto. Between the two of them, you would think the Evolutionaries would be a bit more cautious. However, they seem to be taking every hit with the same stride that Rush Limbaugh takes fat jokes.
This isn't lost on the rest of the team. The Evolutionaries easily wiped out the Neo just a few issues ago. There's no reason they couldn't turn the X-men into the equivalent of a semen stain on Flavor Flav's futon. But they don't. They keep trying to explain that they're trying to help mutants. They're like the abusive father who beats the shit out of his kids as a way to express love. It makes no sense and it fucks with your mind. At least this doesn't require therapy. There's a nice assessment for every major fight, which helps demonstrate the scale of this battle. It's not just between a certain collection of X-men. It's effecting the whole team. Yet the mystery remains. The Evolutionaries aren't fighting back and they don't understand why.
While the X-men of the present are busy scratching their heads, in the past the Evolutionaries take their cause to Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants. At the end of the last issue, they confronted Magneto after Xavier proved to be an insufficient leader for mutant kind. It turns out they don't need to do much of a sales pitch. They had Magneto somewhere between death and all homo sapiens. The rest of the Brotherhood aren't quite sure what to make of it, but Magneto is ready to sign on the proverbial dotted line without reading the user agreement. There's just one caveat. He has to prove that he can lead all of mutant kind. They're not just going to bend over like Amy Whinehouse in a crack den. He has to show that he can assemble all of mutant kind. Keep in mind that this is before M-Day. That's like having to conquer Russia for the rights to use an Ipod.
While Magneto is hatching his new plot, the First Class X-men are trying to track down the Evolutionaries. They're also trying to...you know, actually find out how to stop them. That hasn't actually been touched on yet believe it or not. It's not as surprising as it sounds. Hank explains that like any super-powered evolution gods, the Evolutionaries are radiating some exotic cosmic energy. So without explaining any of the physics behind it, he tries to construct a device to counter that. Let's face it, Marvel does comics well. They don't do physics textbooks.
While Hank is hard at work, Cyclops is busy kicking himself over what happened earlier. Again, this is pre-M-day Cyclops. He's still the reserved, nerdy teenager who hasn't yet banged Jean Grey or Emma Frost. Jean does her best to console him, which she did a lot of during those days. It could have been such a sweet moment, but then Quicksilver has to come and ruin it. He might as well have walked in on them while they were going down on each other. But he's not there to fuck with them for once. He actually shows up because he and Wanda think the Evolutionaries are bad news. Unlike their father, they don't trust glowing space creatures to kill every human on the planet. He's weird like that.
Quicksilver saves them from having to track down the Evolutionaries with Cerebro. He gives them a clue that leads them to a fancy rehab clinic/hospital/insane asylum. It's basically like the resort Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan go to when the media keeps bitching about their party habits. The reason they're here is because Magneto needs a psychic in order to track down every mutant. And as it just so happens, this looney bin has a psychic. Her name is Emma Frost.
No, I'm not high. Well, maybe a little. But this is why I mentioned retcons earlier. Every so often, comics tweak their timeline. Now Emma Frost's history is pretty established, but there are some blank spots. At one point she was deemed the grant prize winner in the crazy sweepstakes by her asshole family. It's revealed that Xavier tried to reach out to her at one point, but her family didn't give one quarter of a shit enough to listen. Now Emma Frost is a drooling, drugged mental patient. Sort of like Gary Busey. It's a new twist on the history of X-men and one that actually does fit without fucking too much of the continuity to hell.
This helps tie the story more deeply into the present. As this story is unfolding in the past, Emma Frost starts to remember in the present as well. Let's face it, guys like the Evolutionaries are hard to forget no matter how drugged you are. While she's finally sobering up, the Evolutionaries finally show a little back bone. They give Wolverine a good beating even after they offer to leave him alone in exchange for Cyclops. Given the upcoming Schism event, Wolverine is probably going to really regret this decision.
Even if he did give in, Magneto shows up and unloads a quick dose of magnetic ass-kicking on the Evolutionaries. Now keep in mind that he hasn't remembered any of this yet either. Only Cyclops remembers and Emma Frost has just started to recall. So now the Evolutionaries are facing Magneto again, only this time he's with the X-men. We don't know how they were deceived last time. So there's a chance they could make Magneto another offer. Would he take it? Emma Frost seems to imply that they're going to bring out Magneto's old school douche-baggery again.
There's a lot being set up here in both the present and the past. It really comes together nicely. If you're foaming at the mouth eager to see what happens, don't worry. That just means the comic is awesome and you may have rabies. But before the story goes deeper, there's a slight divergence. Before anything is done with Magneto in the present or the past, we visit the X-men's science team. They're trying to recreate the same psychics-defying device that Beast made in the past. Before it gets too repetitive, some mutants come in and rough them up. Now they didn't come from nowhere. They were only slightly hinted at in the last issue, but it's so small it's easy to forget. Then in Cerebro, Toad and a few other mutants sneak up on Celeste. Keep in mind she's wearing a school-girl outfit. This is a scenario that is the premise of a lot of Japanese pornography and it's slightly implied that there's something much sicker going on. It's all under Toads direction. Keep in mind he was with the Brotherhood when everybody seemed to have their minds wiped. He wants Celeste to help him figure it out and if he doesn't, then even Japan wouldn't turn the crap they'll do to her into a porno. It's a bit of a tangent. It seems out of place and a little disorganized, but it gets more characters involved. So you can't blame Chris Yost for not thinking big. However, it still feels like an odd way to end the issue.
Now the final page may not leave the reader with the same impact as the last issue, but it doesn't make the book feel any less complete. It's not as ominous or exciting as seeing Magneto rub shoulders with the Evolutionaries. It is somewhat refreshing to see lesser characters like Toad get involved. These characters get written out faster than the minorities in slasher movies. However, they really don't seem to know what they're doing so their involvement just seems random. The book could have easily ended with Magneto confronting the Evolutionaries in the present. The scene at the end with Cerebro is a bonus albeit unnecessary.
Overall, the issue is still as good as ever. Chris Yost once again demonstrates that he has a great feel for these characters. The plot flows evenly and it is very well-organized, which is saying a lot since it deals with two different time periods. There's a lot more action this time, but the way the Evolutionaries fight is unique. It makes for something a bit more meaningful than a Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat beat-em-up. The reveal of Emma Frost in the past before she was a snarky, surgically enhanced sex queen will probably divide some fans. It is a bit of a retcon, but I think it's a good retcon. It plays into some of the revised history of Emma Frost and further ties the events of the present with that of the first class days. I'm sure some will find a reason to complain about it. But let's face it, this is not the most severe retcon Marvel has even done this year let alone ever.
There are still some legitimate criticism. The action was great, but the plot didn't seem to move forward as swiftly as the other issues. There was some repetition from the previous issue with the Evolutionaries stating and restating their case for helping mutants. It was nicely balanced by the leadership struggles with Cyclops being unable to take command. It's everything you would want in an X-book of this scale. Chris Yost continues to set high standards with this story, using both classic and contemporary plots in a beautifully coherent piece. It's still awesome and one of the best X-men stories in recent memory, but this time I can't quite give it a perfect score. I don't think enough happened to warrant it this time. It's still plenty awesome so I'll give it the next best thing, a 4.5 out of 5. With Schism and Fear Itself dominating the X-books, X-men First to Last is a great way to get a quality X-men story without having to blow up the comics. Nuff said!