Saturday, July 9, 2011
X-23 #12 - When Angst Becomes Awesome
I make no secret that sometimes when I write my reviews, I'm not always sober. Yet there are some books for which I purposefully stay sober because the sheer awesome they exude is enough to give me a buzz that you can't find outside of a Tijuana strip club. Yes, it's possible to get high off comics. Compared to some of the other exotic substances I consume, it's pretty potent. It's no Alaskan meth, but it's still pretty damn good. Among those books that fuck me up in all the right ways is X-23. I've spent the last several reviews praising Marjorie Liu for making X-23 a series with it's own special kind of awesome. In a world where Fear Itself, Flashpoint, Schism, reboots, and bullshit Ultimate gimmicks her X-23 stands out as a story that can blow your mind without having to blow up the fucking world. It's deep, it's personal, and while it may bring back nightmares of your shitty teenage years it'll do so in a way that's a blast to follow.
This latest arc for X-23 has touched on issues so serious that Oprah has dedicated no fewer than fifty shows to each of them. Since the Collision arc that pitted X-23 against Daken, X-23 has been in a vulnerable position. She's started cutting herself. She's started pushing away the people who are trying to help her. It got so bad that Gambit called in Jubilee and Wolverine to give her a pep talk. They tried cheering her up. Jubilee even took her on a shopping trip in Paris, which for most teenage girls would be like hiring Brad Pitt and George Clooney as their personal sex ed teacher. It did little to cheer her up. Their little play date got derailed when they found out someone was dealing trigger scent. For those of you playing the home game, the trigger scent is this delightful piece of human ingenuity developed by X-23's creators that when inhaled turns her into a mindless killing machine, not unlike half the characters Arnold Schwarzenegger played when he wasn't knocking up maids. Except she had all the inner rage of a messed up teenage girl. In terms of weapons of mass destruction, she was right up there with an Iranian nuke.
When Wolverine, Jubilee, Gambit, and X-23 went to take out the assholes who dared deal in this liquid roid rage, they made another disturbing discovery. Someone with brains, free time, and no internet connection for porn tweaked it so that anybody and not just X-23 would go into a Mel Gibson style rage. This was being done in Paris no less, a country where the smell of a taxi cab alone is enough to make anyone hulk out. X-23 being the irrational teenager she is at heart tried to go after the shadowy Scooby-Doo type monster pulling the strings. Like most of X-23's bold/foolish stunts, this one backfired when she was hit with the trigger scent and unleashed in a crowded subway. This left only Jubilee to deal with her. Why is this important? Well in the last issue, X-23 sort of made Jubilee promise to kill her if she was hit with the scent. By sort of I mean she wanted Jubilee to use all that potent vampire skill she just acquired to drain her in the same way watching Glenn Beck drains your intellect.
X-23 #12 picks up with Jubilee having to decide whether or not she's going to keep her promise. She has the luxury of letting an oncoming train hit her friend and save her the trouble of having to drink her blood until she's more withered than Betty White's tits. Jubilee decides that's a dick move and pushes X-23 out of the way. This breaks her legs in ways that only Joe Theisman could appreciate. But in her rage state, she walks it off like a paper cut and goes after Jubilee with the same ferocity as Twilight fans go after Taylor Lauter's body sweat.
Jubilee goes onto show that when it comes to keeping promises, she's about as reliable as the stock market when it comes to killing her friends. Now you would expect that attacking a vampire with an insatiable bloodlust would make for a pretty rough battle, especially when Jubilee is trying to politely remind Laura that they're BFFs who take each other shopping in Paris. It doesn't quite pan out that way. Jubilee never has to wrestle with that inner vampire rage, which seems like a missed opportunity of sorts. She's basically pushed aside when Wolverine and Gambit catch up. It's not clear how they made it up since they had their hands full in the previous issue, but Wolverine goes to extremes for X-23 as he so often does. By extremes, I mean he lets her practically impale him and not in the way that makes for great gay porno movies. Again, it could have gotten a lot more bloody. But it passes pretty quickly. Gambit and Wolverine essentially coax X-23 out of her rage and in the same time it takes to play a hand of blackjack, she's back to her old self.
Now I won't say that this whole struggle was glossed over. Majorie Liu dedicated more than a few pages to it. However, for a battle that was so nicely set up in the previous issue, it ends a little quickly. We never get to see Jubilee struggle all that much with keeping the promise she made to X-23. We don't get to see Wolverine wrestle with hurting this girl more than she's already been hurt. Sure, it ends in a tender family moment that Disney could make no fewer than three movies about starting talking chipmunks, but it just didn't feel as drawn out as it needed to be.
It's another Hallmark moment. Laura is reminded like most teenage girls that they have more than they bitch about. They don't get too sappy though. Keep in mind, they just fought their way out of some secret French lab (which sounds more ridiculous than it really is) and didn't gut the asshole who unleashed that trigger scent. They're also in a crowded subway, mind you. When a teenage girl and vampire start fighting, people notice no matter what culture you're in. This isn't lost on X-23. She quickly surmises that these shadowy assholes didn't fuck with her during rush hour just so she would miss her train. Remember in the last issue when the trigger scent was shown to affect everybody and not just X-23? Well that's where crowded areas lend room for much greater mischief.
Not content with being your run-of-the-mill Jack Bauer style terrorists, they (and we're still not clear on who the hell they are) release the trigger scent into the subway. That means instead of a single messed up teenage girl going into a rage, you've got an entire tunnel of angry and snooty French people. It's like 28 Days Later meets Mulan Rouge. These aren't the mutated monsters that X-23 fought on Madripoore with Daken. These are normal people with normal, boring-ass lives. Having already resorted to self-mutilation, it's painfully apparent that X-23 doesn't need this shit on her conscious. Even though she's murdered an entire room of innocent people before (see X-23: Innocents Lost), she's not too enthusiastic about doing it again.
First, she puts on a mask with Wolverine and Gambit so they don't join the mob of angry French commuters who will likely be even more pissed when they realized they missed their train. Then we get a two-page spread of them getting surrounded by the angry mob, facing the threat of being beaten with oversized pieces of hardened bread and those ridiculous accordions. X-23 makes it clear that they need to stop them from killing each other, stating that the scent wears off eventually just like the buzz from a line of blow. It's not entirely clear how three mutants and a vampire can stop a crowded tunnel from turning into a full blown remake of Fight Club. What is clear, however, is the need to keep them contained within the tunnel so they don't spread they don't tear up the streets of Paris like the German army.
Some naturally manage to get through and X-23 takes it upon herself to go after them. Those just enjoying a casual night in Paris are surprised to see an imported American bar fight. X-23 has to restrain herself here. She can't just claw her way out of this problem. So she basically wrestles these crazy Frech people away from each other before they start maiming one another. Among those crazy French people are mothers and little kids. It's a powerful image because while kids can throw temper tantrums and mothers can go on a hormonal holocaust, it's never this murderous (for the most part). However, this image doesn't last long. Just as X-23 said, the effects were temporary. But the end in a rather uncerimonious way. Nobody gets hurt. There doesn't appear to be much of a mess. Should I break out my thesaurus and find another word for 'contrived?' Well sorry to disappoint those looking forward to another rant, but there's a bit more going on here than appears. And it doesn't require a fresh joint to see it.
Just as the trigger scent fades, X-23 is confronted by a shadowy figure in a cloak. Yeah, she looks like your typical dark figure hiding a horrible deformity, but she's not coming from out of nowhere. This is a figure that has appeared before. She showed up during the Daken vs. X-23 event when she bought the trigger scent. She showed up in the previous issue during the test that showed she had refined the trigger scent. Now she shows up again after it wears off, giving X-23 a cryptic message about the families she spared during her time as the world's cutest assassin. X-23 goes after her, but somehow she escapes and leaves behind some clues for her to follow. What does this have to do with the trigger scent wearing off so soon? Well the fact that she was conveniently waiting for X-23 indicates that she knew it would wear off fairly quickly. But the clues she left offer more detailed answers.
Once X-23's shadowy stalker disappears, she meets up Wolverine, Gambit, and Jubilee. From what they gathered, releasing the trigger scent was a test. It was never meant to inflict the kind of carnage you only see at a Russian heavy metal concert. So it makes sense that the scent wore off quickly. From that little folder left by Miss I-Need-To-Wear-A-Cloak-To-Fuck-With-People, X-23 now has a name to follow next, Alex Cimini. He sounds a lot like the guy I buy crack from, but it helps set the stage for X-23's next battle. If he's anything like Concord, then he'll be the next guy to a faceful of adamantium. It offers Laura some reasons to quit the emo act and focus her energy on more productive activities.
Now that one blood bath is over and another has yet to begin, they take some time to unwind. Wolverine and Gambit agree to go get drunk and possibly pick up some sweet, unshaving French poontang. Jubilee decides to join Laura for a little girl talk. They meet atop the Eiffel Tower of all places. Laura still has a somewhat angsty disposition, but Jubilee plays the part of a peppy cheerleader. She gives this gushing little speech, reminding Laura that she has friends or family. She also tells her that she can be her BFF and annoy her whenever talking to creepy older men gets old. It's a nice if not a little melodramatic moment. But it finally gets X-23 to crack a smile. In the spirit of being a little more upbeat, Jubilee jumps off the Eiffel Tower and decides to race X-23 to bottom. No, that's not more angst. She's a fucking vampire and X-23 is Wolverine's clone. They can jump off high buildings all they want. It's the kind of thrill that you just can't get from imported French wine. It shows that as fucked up as X-23 is both as a teeange girl and a former assassin, she's capable of moving forward in life. Plus, she has a friendly vampire on her side. I smell a True Blood spin-off!
Now I won't belabor the ending. Jubilee's little speech on life is a little corny and she sends some mixed messages to impressionable youths about jumping off the Eiffel Tower. But in an arc that's been full of so much teenage angst, it's a nice balance even if it sounds like something your grade school teachers would say to artificially boost your already bloated self-esteem. Even if you end up rolling your eyes, you can't help but appreciate how X-23 has progressed. She was exceedingly messed up after her battle with Daken. She was cutting herself, lashing out at friends, and adopting a rather emo outlook on life. In the course of this little romp in Paris, she discovers that she still has plenty of people to take her frustrations out on. She also finds a kindred spirit in Jubilee. It's the first time in a while that she's had a friend her own age that wasn't on older guy. In that sense, she's become a bit less creepy and slightly more balanced than your typical teenage girl with daddy issues.
So X-23 hit her lows at the beginning of this arc and then bounced back. It offers a great sense of progression, which has been a general theme of this series from the beginning. Marjorie Liu does a great job of making this series feel like a journey for a character. She doesn't do it by putting her in big battles that require her to save the world. She does it by putting X-23 in a more personal struggle, which has her steadily making progress. At the end of each arc you get the sense she's somewhere different compared to where she was at the beginning. Nothing goes back to the way it was in the end, at least not entirely. In a crowded market of X-books where the progression in most series is more choppy than an OJ Simpson alibi this series really stands out.
While the ending nicely tied everything together, some parts were still a bit rushed at the beginning. X-23 overcoming the trigger scent so easily just seemed too rushed. I get that there are only a finite number of pages that the story has to work with. I'm just saying it could have been a bit more balanced at the beginning. This doesn't detract much from the overall arc. In fact, the effect is microscopic when you compare it to everything else that makes X-23 #12 awesome. All these other elements that make this series so incredible on so many levels is why I give this issue a 4.5 out of 5. But for the overall arc, that definitely deserves a 5 out of 5. With the stage set for the next arc, I've already penciled into my calendar a day in which to stay sober! Given how well Marjorie Liu has done with this series, I'm confident the next installment will add to the hangover free buzz that is X-23. Nuff said!