Sunday, July 3, 2011
Uncanny X-men #539 - Blatant Awesome
Whenever I review an X-book by Kieron Gillen, I'm reminded of how far books like Uncanny X-men have come. There was a time when reading Uncanny X-men was like picking up a hooker blind-folded and hoping the one you chose still had a full set of teeth and only slightly noticeable stretch marks. Under Matt Fraction, the series was hit-or-miss. Some issues were brilliant. I gladly recommend them to friends who are drunk and prone to suggestion. There are other issues where I wouldn't even use them to roll joints. When Kieron Gillen came aboard, he inherited this mixed yet fertile ground for awesome. For most of his short run, he's been fairly consistent and brought a more steady quality to the series. There's still room to improve, but it's been solid enough to earn Gillen the fragile credibility that is so easily tainted. Just ask Chuck Austin.
That's not to say that Gillen's work has been without controversy. I've dedicated long rants to it in my reviews of Generation Hope (or Generation Jean Ripoff, which I feel is more appropriate). It wasn't Gillen's fault that Nick Lowe basically spoiled the mystery surrounding Hope Summers, essentially revealing that she's not Jean. She's just a ripoff character who looks like her, dresses like her, and has the Phoenix Force like her. There have been blatant hints about a connection to Jean Grey and Marvel seems to go into anaphylactic shock whenever they so much as contemplate the possibility of using Jean Grey as more than just a dead character. Every story about Hope Summers has turned her more into a complete brat. And for anyone who read Children's Crusade #6 this past week, her whole role as the mutant messiah has become pretty much meaningless. So when Uncanny X-men #539 came along as a Hope-centered story, I started exercising my ranting muscles because I had a feeling that I would need them. However, Kieron Gillen has shown the ability to write around tough spots before. He's more than earned the benefit of the doubt.
Uncanny X-men #539 starts off a lot like an issue of Generation Hope. It has Je-I mean Hope (sue me, I still can't tell them apart) in her room cleaning her guns, which I guess is her equivalent to a teenage boy masturbating to his sister's Victoria's Secret catalogs. Laurie and Idie approach her, saying that she needs healthier hobbies. So they offer to take her shopping in San Francisco. Now I don't want to risk the wrath of radical feminists that may be reading this, but when a teenage girl needs to be persuaded to shop then you know someone is fucked up. Channeling my inner metrosexual, I can safely say that Jean-I mean Hope's fashion sense needs more tweaking than a North Korean laptop. Feminazis will be slightly pleased when this stereotypical shopping excursion turns ugly and not in the way caused by a clearance sale around Christmas.
It happens pretty quickly. It's your standard throw-a-flash-grenade-into-a-busy-store-and-swoop-in-with-chloroform-to-abduct-some-random-girl type move. It's the kind of elaborate ploy that only overly sadistic date rapists would use, but given that this is a redheaded girl with the Phoenix Force it might actually be appropriate. She tries showing some toughness, but we're reminded that she's still a teenage girl. No matter how bratty she may be or who raised her, she still has the stature of someone who will never make it in the NBA. It still seems to happen a bit easily, given that Bastion had to attack an entire city to get to her. This makes it look as though he was either really incompetent or these guys just got ridiculously lucky and should make a pit stop in Las Vegas.
As one would expect, the capture of the mutant messiah is a big fucking deal. Idie and Laurie are both more panicked than a chicken in Colonel Sanders's basement. They return to Utopia where they inform Cyclops, who you would expect to send everybody and their brother into the field in search of Je-I mean Hope. This is the girl they fought off Bastion for. This is the girl that Nightcrawler and Cable died for. But no, instead only Wolverine goes after her. No reason is given. They just sent the guy with a history of unwillingly killing redheads to save the mutant messiah. I'm starting to see why Marvel is moving towards an event like Schism. A bone-heated move like this by Cyclops does not justify his current leadership with the X-men.
When Jean Gr-I mean Hope wakes up, she's in a place that's about as inviting as an interrogation room in Iran. She's strapped to a chair and confronted by a guy who looks like he tried too hard to get a role as Cable in the last First Class movie. He says his name is Crimson Commando. His story is pretty basic. He's an old soldier whose body has broken down from decades of war. He heard that a mutant messiah had returned and was essentially fixing mutants. I get the sense he either lurked on comic book message boards or spent too much time on Glenn Beck's website. He seems generic, but he does give enough background story to earn him some sympathy. It's nice that Gillen is taking some time to make it so readers can actually give a damn about a villain, even if he does something stupid like capturing the mutant messiah and expecting her to make him feel like Rambo.
The problem is that Jea-I mean Hope is still an arrogant brat. So instead of offering her help, she head-butts the guy and tells him to piss off in language acceptable by the Comic Code Authority. I'm not sure just who is more of a dick. It used to be Hope (there, I got it) had a sense of innocence and honor. Now she's just a fucking brat. I almost want to see Crimson Commando break out the waterboarding torture.
While Crimson Commando goes off to put his jaw back in place, Wolverine shows up. He sneaks in through the ventilation, which is so cliched that jokes about it went out of style back in the 80s when bad hair styles brought down communism. Seriously, why choose an interrogation room with ventilation big enough for a guy like Wolverine to fit through? Did Crimson Commando think this through? He seemed to spend as much time on this operation as Fox News does checking facts.
So Crimson Commando is not the most competent kidnapper. The guys on "To Catch a Predator" seem more cunning. But even if he did gloss over the finer details, he still came packing some heavy hardware. And by heavy I mean he brought a fucking helicopter to the show. It's a scene taken right out of the Wolverine Origins movie, but since that movie sucked so bad that the American Medical Association has identified it as a crippling mental disorder among X-men fans it's best not to associate with it. Wolverine proves to be pretty incompetent himself, bringing only a simple jeep on the rescue mission. Given the people he regularly deals with, you would think he would start assuming that every rescue mission he goes on involves assholes armed with high explosives. Since he's older a dozen states, being a slow learner isn't an excuse. There's being slow and being just plain stupid.
So once again, Wolverine is burnt to a crisp. He looks like the Hulk's nut-sack and the Crimson Commando's buddies are closing in on them. Hope rightly scorns him for his shitty preparations. She's well within her right to go Dark Phoenix and turn his ass into Canadian Bacon for an Epic Mealtime video, but then Crimson Commando shows up and shoots her in the legs. He doesn't graze her either. He does what even Bastion couldn't and puts her in a world of pain. For this my fondness of Crimson Commando is growing. It's also a nice reminder that for all her power, Hope is still vulnerable. That shit has been lost since before Second Coming and more than any other character, she's in need of a little humility.
But Crimson Commando doesn't stop with bullets. He takes it to a level that would make North Korean prison guards horny. He takes a knife and starts cutting up her face. If she's not going to help make him pretty enough to pick up hookers again, then he's okay with fucking her up to a point where even Tony Stark won't try to bone her. It's a gruesome, raw scene. And without making too many dick jokes, it's pretty awesome. Again, it shows that Hope is not just the mutant messiah. She's a vulnerable teenage girl in addition to being a ripoff of Jean Grey. That's part of what made her so appealing during the Cable series. Being humbled like this was long overdue for her.
Needless to say, Wolverine didn't take too kindly to Crimson Commando torturing a cute redhead. He still looks like an undercooked hamburger from McDonalds, but he's still able to draw his claws and do to Crimson Commando what Michael Bay does to stunt cars in his movies. Again, it's pretty gruesome, but not so much that it would make the Punisher raise an eyebrow. You could still read this in front of your girlfriend and she wouldn't be too disgusted. She would probably ask you to put your pants back on though. Unless I'm the only one who reads his comics naked.
So Crimson Commando is due for another round of cybernetics, which will likely include a diaper and a new set of balls. Then Hope and Wolverine have an interesting moment which puts this issue in a completely new light. For a bit of reference, back in Generation Hope #5 there was a brief moment where Wolverine essentially told Hope to piss off. He wasn't too polite about it either. He made a comment that he didn't want to get close to her and that it was better that way. So why would he go so far as to get burned into a well-done steak to save her?
Well here is where the Jean ripoff rashes start to fester again. He starts describing in words that are not very subtle in the slightest that he's sick of having to kill people he cares about. Hope has picked up that Wolverine and the others are keeping something from her and it involves a bit, fiery bird that does more than just roast marshmallows. What's really annoying here is that it's so obvious what they're referring to, but Gillen still tries to dance around it. I'm sorry, but no amount of good writing can get around this issue. It's like the giant elephant in the room shitting in the punch bowl. It's impossible to ignore. Hope Summers has flashed Phoenix potential for everybody. She also has red hair and green eyes. To gloss over those kinds of details is like trying to convince someone the sky isn't blue. You can't succeed without some level of steaming bullshit. It feels like yet another Jean Grey reference that at this point is enough to induce a migraine. It's too obvious and trying to get around it is a losing battle.
Once Wolverine makes his case, not much else happens. Hope just says that if and when it comes to that, he shouldn't make it quick. He should just make sure it's effective. That means it's not enough to stab her. He should cut off her head, rip out her heart, and throw her brain in a blender to sell to Bangkok gift shop. She doesn't say that specifically, but I assume it's implied. It's not clear if this is foreboding in any way. If it is, it's not very ominous. Wolverine has had to stab a redheaded Phoenix bearer so many times that if it was a sport, he would the equivalent of Joe Montana. If there's an event that involves Hope flaring her Phoenix potential and it requires Wolverine to stab her, then at that point it would be safe to say that Marvel has stopped trying.
I'll say it again just so no one can claim I was too drunk to write this review. I respect Kieron Gillen. I think he's a great writer and he's done a lot of great things for the X-books. He doesn't have nearly the flaws that Matt Fraction had during his run. However, he isn't Ernest Hemingway. Gillen does have some flaws of his own. In a ways he tends to overwrite certain plots. In this issue he was very coy at the end, basically trying to make it sound like he wasn't referring to Wolverine having to kill Jean when she was fucked up on the Phoenix Force. You get the sense that he's being overt while trying to be subtle. Most informed X-men fans will know what he's referring to. There's no mystery behind it, but there's so much more that could have been said that was basically glossed over.
Now it's worth pointing out here that Hope Summers was told about Jean Grey. At the end of Generation Hope #1 (which Gillen also wrote), she mentioned in a diary that she was told about Jean. She was also told about the Phoenix Force. However, she doesn't seem to understand the details around it. That or no everyone is somehow keeping a secret and not letting it slip, despite Hope having the ability to pick up the skills of a random telepath and read everyone's mind. Given how Cable trained her as a paranoid soldier, you would think that's something that would bother her. But again, it's glossed over. Jean isn't mentioned. Even the Phoenix Force isn't mentioned. It makes sense what Wolverine is trying to do. By not getting close to her, it'll be easier to kill her if it comes to that. But by dancing around details like this, it comes off as contrived.
There is still plenty to like about this issue. It was well-written, well-paced, and well-drawn. The dialog was solid. The action was well choreographed. I admit I took a perverse pleasure in seeing Hope get beat up. She's been such a brat in recent issues I think she's earned it. The story is solid even if the details are a little eye-rolling. It's a small, condensed story. Gillen is able to write it just as well as he did the Breakworld story. Being able to balance stories in such a way is like trying to sneeze and take a shit at the same time. It's physically and mentally demanding and Kieron Gillen pulls it off nicely.
Overall, I enjoyed the issue despite the convoluted details at the end. It still annoys the hell out of me that Marvel is still telling stories about Hope Summers that imply she has a connection to Jean Grey when it's been confirmed by editors that this is not the case. There's just no mystery to the character as there once was. And the fact that so many major stories including this one are related to how Jean Grey has affected other characters, namely Wolverine, it feels as though Hope has lost all the distinct characteristics that once made her so intriguing. Now she's just this filler character that isn't even necessary anymore now that the Scarlet Witch is back. A story can be good in spite of her, but not because of her. So for that I give Uncanny X-men #539 a 3 out of 5. You'll get a solid issue, but it's nothing too groundbreaking. Rip-off characters aside, it's a great book to read while taking a shit. Nuff said!