Thursday, July 14, 2011
Uncanny X-men #540 - A Crisis of Awesome
There was a time not long ago when I had more functioning brain cells that reviewing an issue of Uncanny X-men was like trying to predict which dog had rabies by waving your dick in their faces. Under Matt Fraction, it was a mixed bag. The man could be brilliant in one arc and unleash a tsunami of WTF in the next. He's like Brett Favre without the bullshit retirement talks and the lewd photos of his penis. When Kieron Gillen took over, he brought some stability to the title. It hasn't been as awesome as it could be, but he's been more consistent. He's moving the story of Uncanny X-men along in a smoother way with only a fraction of WTFs. There have been a few issues where I've had to clench my asshole a bit too more than I would want, but overall I applaud the man for his work. If I ever met him in real life, I would buy him a beer and get him some chicken wings at a Hooters.
Now Kieron Gillen has a new challenge. He has to write Uncanny X-men as it ties into another major Marvel event in Fear Itself. Now this was where Matt Fraction shined like Barry Bonds's steroid-enlarged bald head. When he wrote Utopia, which died into Dark Reign, it was the highlight of his run and arguably one of the most important X-men stories of the past two years. Now Kieron Gillen has to show he can do what Matt Fraction did so well with Fear Itself. It's like one of those exams in college where you got drunk two days beforehand, blacked out, and woke up the morning you were supposed to take it. Weaker men would piss themselves in between dry heaves in a situation like that. This tie-in should help readers decide whether he's better than that.
I've reviewed the last four issues of Fear Itself so I won't recap too much. All you need to know for Uncanny X-men #540 is that it takes what happened with Juggernaut and turns it loose on the X-men. In Fear Itself, old Juggy got his hands on one of the Serpants magic hammers. It turned him from an unstoppable torrent of douche into an unstoppable torrent of douche with a big ass magic hammer. Now the Serpent wants him to scare every possible bodily fluid out of every possible orifice from every possible person. It's a pretty basic plot. The X-men ave been clashing with Juggernaut since Lyndon Johnson was nailing his secretaries. The onus is on Kieron Gillen and Greg Land to make this old plot awesome.
It starts in a remote location far from any X-man and out of range of any X-related activities. Some unknown schmuck is taking advantage of all the chaos being wrought by the Serpent and decides to swipe a few candy bars from a gas station. I personally would raid the nearest liquor store followed by the nearest porno shop so I can die a happy man. But I guess candy works just as well.
At first, the unfortunate civilian goes into look-like-he-just-saw-his-mother-in-a-bukake-video mode. Who wouldn't be? Juggernaut demonstrates that new magic hammer of his by blowing up the gas station like a giant fire cracker. Then he stands over the poor guy the same way Charlie Sheen stands over a pile of cocaine. But rather than turn him into chow for hungry coyotes, he decides to make him his Joe Pesci to his Robert De Nero. That involves imbuing some of that evil Serpent magic onto him, which comes with a kick ass face tattoo and delusions of grandeur. It's not unlike joining a Metallica cover band. Overall, a pretty sweet deal.
While Juggernaut is unleashing an unholy hell and recruiting followers (not unlike Mormons), the X-men are left scratching their heads in San Francisco while the world collectively shits themselves. Cyclops meets with Mayor Sadie, who has been the only politician in Marvel who doesn't try to win votes by blaming all of societies problems on a persecuted minority. Like any politician that hasn't started taking bribes yet, she catches flack for that shit. Cyclops tries to placate their only real ally, but even she shows signs of suspicion. While the Serpent is date raping the rest of the world, San Francisco is left free to enjoy their gay pride parades and vast network of medical marijuana dispensaries. Even if Sadie is a decent politician, she still has a functioning brain that understands when something done gone horribly fucked up.
If the politics is making you want to pop a valium and take a nap, there's more traditional elements of X-men drama afoot. In one of the more recent issues of Uncanny X-men, Kitty Pryde finally ditched that stupid space suit that had her stuck in phase mode. She and Colossus made up and could finally catch up on all the sweet make-up sex they missed out on while she was lost in space. However, they had to put their clothes on for just a a while to have an argument. This one involves the other woman in Colossus's life, Illyana. And no, that's not an incest joke. She's a mutant who deals with magic the same way most teenage girls deal with eye-liner. With the Serpent thrusting his mystical dick into every empty hole in Marvel's mystical realm, she's bound to feel it. So much so that the X-men have locked Magik up in the brig, which is cause for concern with Kitty. Like most unreasonable girlfriends, she doesn't appreciate it when she has to compete for attention with her boy toy's sister.
Despite Kitty Pryde's scorning and the implied threat that she'll lock her panties for the foreseeable future, Colossus goes down into Utopia's brig to visit his sister. He finds her in conditions that would be more befitting of Hannibal Lector. She's sealed, restrained, and looking quite deranged. She's basically how everyone thinks Lindesy Lohan should be after her next traffic violation. Now why is she locked up like this? That's not entirely clear, but she does take a moment to remind her brother that she had most of her soul ripped out from her and she doesn't quite have it all back. As such, she's not his little snowflake anymore. She's the kind of teenage girl that would step on the hearts of those who care about her and sing Disco Inferno while she's at it.
Now it makes sense that Magik would be affected by the Serpent's shenanigans. She's magic. He's magic. It's like Brazilian supermodels and Tom Brady's penis. They're inevitably drawn to one another. As much sense as it makes, there's still a lack of clarity. The how and why of Magik's predicament is only hinted at, but not revealed. I understand the idea of being coy with this plot, but Gillen is a bit too coy here. It's an interesting and perfectly reasonable premise. It just lacks the depth to make the reader's asshole clench.
In addition to Kitty and Colossus's relationship tensions, Gillen takes time to touch on that other bit of tension that has been more ignored than the Geneva Convention: Emma Frost and Namor. Now I went on many a rants about this during Matt Fraction's run. I loved the idea. Namor is a king and Emma fancies herself as a queen. Plus, the Uncanny X-men Annual a few years ago revealed that the two of them bumped uglies back in the day when she wasn't Cyclops's arm candy. Then Namor joins the X-men and the two reignite their tension during Utopia. But nothing came of it. Even after Namor made it clear that he still wants to nail her in ways that would evaporate the oceans, nothing came of it. Fraction and pretty much every other writer did absolutely nothing to cause tension between Cyclops and Emma. Their relationship was more untouchable than the Virgin Mary's ass. Remember this cover?
Well nothing came of it and I thought that was just stupid. Marvel was so willing to cause tension between Cyclops and Jean Grey with Wolverine constantly sniffing around Jean's panties. Yet they were so unwilling to do the same with Emma Frost. Well now Namor isn't beating around the freshly shaven bush anymore. He arrives at Utopia to find Emma wearing an ridiculously inappropriate outfit for anyone not about to shoot a porno. I don't know the reason for this attire, but I'm not complaining and neither is Namor. He returns after the events in Fear Itself: The Deep (a tie-in you should all definitely read), saying that he won't go into battle without knowing Emma Frost's sweet, neatly shaven pussy again. For most heterosexual men, king or otherwise, that's definitely something that should be at the top of any bucket list.
But as expected, Emma Frost rebukes her despite some clear tension. That's not too surprising. Emma Frost hasn't shown an inclination to cheat on Cyclops (yet). But at least it's being revisited and it's not being completely ignored. Now it's not clear if anything will come from this. If it does, then this arc will be that much more interesting. But Namor does remind Emma that she's not married to Cyclops. He claims to love her, but he did marry Jean. So what does that say about his commitment to her? It's a valid point that readers have been making on message boards for years. Emma Frost has been in Jean Grey's shadow since their relationship began. If he's willing to marry Jean and not her, then what does that say about where she ranks in his heart? Again, if Fraction were writing this I would doubt that anything would really come of it. With Gillen writing it, I'm not so sure and that makes it all the more exciting.
With all this unfolding drama between the X-men's power couples, you almost forget that there's still an overpowered Juggernaut with a big ass hammer coming right at them. And that's not a dick joke either. By now, Juggernaut has reached San Francisco. A whole army of cops are there to greet him, but as is often the case in the Marvel Universe the cops are horribly outgunned. They might as well be throwing stuffed animals at Juggernaut. He makes no bones about it. He's the one with the muscle so he gets to fuck with them all he wants. All the while, that guy with the face tattoo from earlier is raving on like one of those apocalyptic preachers on a street corner that's off his meds. Since Juggernaut isn't saying much outside of that goofy language the Serpent is having him speak, it's nice to have someone proclaim just how screwed they are.
This finally gets the attention of Cyclops and Mayor Sadie. Now they don't feel so left out of the shit storm that is Fear Itself. When a big, mean hammer-wielding superhuman starts smashing cop cars like Michele Bauchman's credibility then something needs to be done. So Cyclops has to do what every private citizen hates to do and that's reassure a politican. He says he's prepared to mobilize the X-men to face Juggernaut. He doesn't say how they'll stop him. The X-men have tangoed with Mr. Chrome-Dome before, but not when he's wielding an Asgardian hammer. The only thing is we don't actually get to see the X-men going off to confront Juggernaut. It's all setup, a means of showing what the X-men are up against and what kind of baggage they'll be carrying into the fight. The crazy thing is it really doesn't seem like there's a lack of action even though the X-men and Juggernaut haven't clashed yet. By setting the stage like this, the issue and overall story feels deeper. For that, I applaud Kieron Gillen and Greg Land. It made the final shot of Juggernaut getting ready to open up Asgardian level kick-ass all the more meaningful.
Now at the beginning of my review, I mentioned that the premise of this issue was pretty basic. Juggernaut was on the loose. He had a hard-on for the X-men and it was up to them to stop him before he got too many human remains stuck to the bottom of his feet. You would expect an issue like this to be the kind of mindless violence that belonged in the previous two Transformer movies. But that's not how it panned out. Kieron Gillen and Greg Land did not make it nearly as simple as it could have been. If they had than the best I could do was smoke a ton of weed and look at the pretty pictures while my pet unicorn Freddy drooled over my head. Instead, they set the stage by showing conflict with the characters and adding some dramatic elements to go along with the over-the-top spectacle of Fear Itself. And you know what? It fucking worked!
This issue offered a perfect blend with the issues surrounding Fear Itself and the ongoing issues with the X-men in San Francisco. It feels like a natural progression of what has already been occurring throughout the Marvel universe. Yet you don't have to read all those other books to enjoy what's going on. You just have to understand that Juggernaut is a bad guy and he's got the mystical equivalent of steroids to help him beat up the X-men. From there, the story grows and grows nicely. There's drama between Colossus, Kitty, and Magik. There's simmering sexual tension between Namor and Emma that could make for some awesome pornos. There's a political battle between Cyclops and the Mayor that is way more exciting than any debt talks in Congress. This along with solid dialog and some impressive imagery make this issue of Uncanny a worthy addition to the already awesome pedigree of Fear Itself.
I still have some reservations. The sudden change with Magik still came out of nowhere. That and the whole Namor/Emma just doesn't appear to be taken very seriously by the writers. I have a hard time believing that Gillen or anyone for that matter would do anything to disrupt the Cyclops/Emma relationship (even if they probably should). Every Marvel writer depicts it in a way that's so underhanded that it seems like a bygone conclusion that nothing will come of it. Even so, it doesn't take away from the impact of the story. For this I'm perfectly okay with deeming Uncanny X-men #540 awesome. It's the kind of Uncanny book that reminds you why it's been around for nearly half a century. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. It still has room for improvement, but it's off to a damn good start! Nuff said.