Tuesday, July 19, 2011

X-men Schism #1 - Dividing The Awesome

Strap on your rubber boots and break out the air fresheners because the shit is about to hit the fan and it's gonna stink! But fear not! I'm not reviewing another shitty Ultimate book. I'm reviewing the first issue of another major Marvel event. I've already given my stamp of approval to Fear Itself thus far. You would think that an event based on pissed off gods, magic hammers, grumpy old men would give plenty for an often drunk and equally bitter comic book fan like myself to rant about. But damn it if it doesn't work! So Marvel has earned some special brownie points in my book. I'm slightly less jaded heading into the other event they've been hyping up like a Mike Tyson vs. Casey Anthony fight. That or it helps that I'm not always sober when I write these reviews. What? Don't tell me that shocks anyone!

The premise of Schism is exactly what it sounds like. The X-men and mutants as a whole have been one happy dysfunctional family that you could make a sitcom about and sell it to Fox for a fuck-ton of money. Then again, those assholes own the movie rights so who's to say they deserve it? This wasn't just one of those feel-good team unity stories that Disney makes movies about. They sort of had to stay together because of the whole on-the-brink-of-extinction thingy that happened when Wanda Maximoff decided that mutants should go the way of Rebecca Black's music career. Well after Second Coming (the last X-men event I thoroughly reviewed in a somewhat sober mindset), the situation has changed. Mutants aren't going the way of the dodo anymore. So why stick together under the whim of the guy who's banging Emma Frost? Well that's what this book is about.

I reported it when the rumors first started flying. Marvel was crafting an event that would pit Cyclops and Wolverine against one another. All that tension about Wolverine trying to nail Cyclops's wife and Cyclops trying to be as badass as Wolverine is finally boiling over. Their legendary bromance has quite a history, but one that would make some readers wonder why the fuck they haven't ripped each others' heads off sooner. The premise may go down as the most logical story idea Marvel has had since they decided Emma Frost was overdressed and needed to look like a porn star every other panel. They've made no secret of where the schism will come from. This book just begins to tell that story. Now keep in mind this probably happens after Fear Itself and Marvel will probably be vague about the spoilers, but it shouldn't prevent misanthropic drunks with too much free time from reviewing it.

Schism #1 begins with one side of said schism. Wolverine returns to Utopia from either a terrible night at a bar or an awesome night with a hooker (or both). The seeds of discontent are already apparent when he meets up with Jean ripoff and the Five Lights. Originally, he was supposed to train them and not because he volunteered. It's because Cyclops scheduled him to. Like most overworked guys with shitty bosses, Wolverine half-asses it. He makes a comment about how girls as young as Idie (who is 14 mind you) shouldn't be learning how to fight. They should be playing with dolls and enjoying their youth. That's his only lesson before he storms off. It's a lesson you could get from a fucking bumper sticker, which is a nice way of demonstrating what a shitty mood he's in.

So like the lousy role model he is, Wolverine prematurely dismisses class and goes to bed. He strips down to his skivvis, most likely a ploy by Marvel to moisten the panties of female readers, and goes to sleep. But before he can get comfy, Cyclops comes barging in without even so much as asking if he's with a hot woman or a dirty magazine, some baby oil, and a sock. He says they're taking a field trip to the UN and for obvious reasons, they need their visious tempermental killer. Because it's always a good idea to have a tempermental Canadian in a large room full of politicians. I'm not sure how much sarcasm I should put into that statement, but I'll leave it up to the imaginations of you fine readers.

So they go to the UN where they're about as welcome as Richard Dawkins at the Vatican. Cyclops plays the role of diplomat, delivering the compassionate speech that can only be delivered by a man who is currently banging Emma Frost. This used to be a task for Charles Xavier, but Charles Xavier lost all his credibility for lying to his students and being an overall tool. Then again, wouldn't that make him more relatable to the political class? Sure, he hasn't knocked up his cleaning lady (yet), but he still has some skeletons. All Cyclops has is he hooked up with a hot blonde after his wife died. Let's face it, that's not the worst thing a public figure has done.

Now I bring this up because that's a major theme from the past two years. Cyclops has basically taken over for Xavier. He's the one who speaks for all mutants. He's the one that everyone is turning to and while he did lead the team through Second Coming, he hasn't shown that he can match Charles Xavier's visionary ideals. He won the war to save his kind. Fan-fucking-tastic. Now what? That hasn't been laid out yet. He's just responding to crisis after crisis and that only goes so far. That's the gist of what he does here at the UN. He doesn't offer any roadmap to the future. You would think he would have learned something from George W. Bush's Iraq war strategy or lack thereof. But all he does is rant about how countries are developing sentinel technology and how that makes angels die. He's clearly a good public speaker, but how about some alternatives? You can't expect politicians to come up with this shit on their own. (see Rawanda, Somalia, Iran)

As expected, his whining doesn't go over well. Some politicians think that a guy wearing a giant condom for a uniform isn't very credible. In this instance they may actually have a point. One diplomat in particular stands up and basically plays dumb, which is every politicians most defining skill. He says he doesn't believe the sentinels are even real and Cyclops has no right to accuse his country of working on them. Not to get too racist here, but the man looks like he's from Iran or some country like it and Iran is about as credible as Donald Trump is on humility.

It gets heated quickly, which often happens when you put a bunch of politicans from many different countries in the same room. You can't get other countries to agree what day it is let alone how to handle mutant killing robots. Before it turns into a boring rendition of C-SPAN, the UN chamber gets an unexpected visitor who hasn't been seen in the X-books since Britney Spears was still making viable music and had yet to show her lady parts to the world. It's Kid Omega, aka Quentin Quere. Who is he? Well picture the biggest egotistical douche-bag you knew in high school. Then give said douche-bag omega level psychic powers. That's Kid Omega. That's how fucked Cyclops and Wolverine are.

So what does a fucked up teenager with omega level powers do? Make everybody in the room get naked and sing "Shake Your Booty" for his own amusement? Okay, that's what I would do. Actually, what he does makes more sense if you can believe that. He uses his powers to essentially mind rape every politician in the room and force them to blurt out embarrassing secrets on live TV. It should come as no surprise that some politicians are assholes. Remember that Iranian stereotype that was grilling Cyclops earlier? Well he admitted that he beat the shit out of his kids. And not because they were assholes or trying to emulate Paris Hilton. He just enjoyed it. Others blurt out the full range of political douche-baggery. Cheating on wives while their sick a la John Edwards, getting rich by fucking over the poor, and marrying a robot (presumably a guy from Japan). It turns into one big confession fest. Cyclops and Wolverine have the luxury of mental shields, but it's an unusual attack that doesn't hit the X-men directly. It just fucks up the world they're trying desperately to unfuck. Keep in mind that Quentin is a teenager. This is probably the most well thought-out plan any crazy evil teenager has ever conducted in the history of the universe. Michael Moore officially has a new BFF!

So what do you do to a mutant that just made every politician speak the honest truth for the first time in their overprivlidged lives? They call in giant killer robots. That accusation Cyclops made about the Sentinels wasn't just right. It was excessively right because they were waiting in the wings, ready to strike them when the moment was right. Kid Omega just made every politician look like an even bigger asshole than they were before so I would say this qualifies.

Cyclops and Wolverine prove why they're top dogs at the X-men, taking out the sentinels in short order while every politician in the room continues to incriminate themselves with enough material to keep the Daily Show running for the next 300 years. Not content to just make fools of politicians, Kid Omega slips away in the confusion while Cyclops and Wolverine clean up his mess. Then like a good sociopath who watches too much Glenn Beck, he makes a Big Brother style announcement that mutants are on the rise and humanity had best start shitting their pants. It's a basic message, but you gotta give it up to the guy for doing to politicians what Michael Moore can only do in his wet dreams.

As every news agency in the world prepares to overreact like a meth addict drinking Red Bull, there's a strange new plot developing outside with a guy named Killgore. Now it's fairly apparent that any guy with the name 'kill' in it is going to be an asshole in a comic book. This is really no different. Killgore is an arms manufactuer. Unless your name is Tony Stark, this sort of trade is a breeding ground for assholes. It doesn't seem too random at first. But the WTF that happens next is where this issue starts to lose coherence, which is saying something for a book that has politicians being honest.

In his opulent stretch limo, Mr. Killgore confronts his son. He barely looks old enough to piss in the adult urinal at a public restroom. But somehow he gives his father the "I'm sick of your shit and want what you got" deal. Coming from a kid I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be serious, funny, or a public service announcement by Marvel to all aspiring artists to never take magic mushrooms before drawing. But the kid shows he has balls even if he has no hair on them. He pulls out a gun and shoots Killgore in a way 50 Cent would rap about and does it without bursting into tears or calling for his mommy. Either he's the most devious kid since the Michael Jackson molestation trials or he's just fucked up.

I honestly don't know what to make of this shit. I'm all for novelty, but making a kid act like he's John McClane isn't novel. It sounds like a twisted Roman Polanski movie. I assume Marvel isn't just doing this to dick with readers (although it wouldn't be the first time if it were). But a little hint or even a half-hearted tease would sure help. Otherwise, the WTF completely outweighs the shock.

After a scene like this, an island full of mutants actually seems more rational. Maybe that was the point. Quentin's shenanigans have royally fucked up the X-men and their PR efforts to show the world that they're against super-powered psychopaths. This doesn't just hurt their image. It throws it back into the shit pile.

For some who are still new to this whole "world hating your guts" type deal, it's a bit overwhelming. Idie is present and being a 14-year-old girl from Africa who up until recently didn't know crazy teenage mutants even had pink hair, she's left to deal with it. Wolverine offers a hand, reinforcing the comment he made at her in the beginning of the issue and telling her that this isn't a fight for a girl like her. So he helps her calm down with a gift and a tub of ice cream. It's not an unreasonable way to console a teenage girl. There are few problems in the world that can't be made better with ice cream, particularly the kind drenched in chocolate fudge. Being served off a strippers boobs is a bonus, but not required.

For some, ice cream isn't an option. Cyclops and the rest of the X-men see on TV that every nation of the world (including the Iranian asshole that admitted that beating his kids made him happy) is sending their sentinel armies to attack Utopia. Is it an overreaction? I'm tempted to say it is, but when politicians are deeply humiliated in front of a global audience I can't say I would expect anything less. I'm certain that if North Korea released photos that showed Barack Obama humping a donkey, the country would be nuked by the end of the day. Even Hope Summers, the mutant messiah that was supposed to save all mutant kind, joins in for the insanity. She's seen the future and it's more fucked than Casey Anthony's future as a babysitter. She has a keen interest in seeing what comes of this.

Now the X-men have to confront a problem that's a direct result of where Cyclops has led them. Mutants were united under him, but they were also crammed into a single island and painted with a giant bulls-eye that labeled "to destroy all mutants, blow this up." So while the setup worked before the mutant messiah showed up, now it's a liability. This is a major shift and one that's been somewhat overdue. It's a pretty logical progression of the setup that the X-books have had over the past two years. Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen don't just pull this shit out of their asses. They actually try to add sense to the mix and for that they deserve a beer, a pat on the back, and kiss from every X-men cosplayer that can pass for Emma Frost and Mystique.

While this is a powerful moment, it's somewhat spoiled because this moment directly leads into the Prelude books that came out over a month ago. In these books the X-men just stood around and shared a few flashbacks while some unsaid threat came bearing down on their asses like an out-of-work proctologist trying to feed a crack addiction. Now we know why they were all sweating bullets, but it still comes off as spoiled. It could have been a much more powerful revelation had readers not already gotten a glimpse of the future. In the internet age where spoilers hit the web within six seconds after release, that goes a long ways.

So the X-men pick up on the whole Prelude deal. Then we revisit that devil kid again. Now that dear old dad is out of the way, he goes to check out his new digs. Apparently his dad made friends with people in very high (and very sick) places. He shows up at the Hellfire Club where despite having recently stopped using a sippy cup, he holds up a glass of wine and leads a toast since he's the new Black King fo the Hellfire Club. That's right. This kid who only looks a third as evil as the creepy girl in the Ring is now the Black King of the Hellfire Club. Again, I'm certain Marvel will explain this later, but for now it really ends the book on a heavy helping of WTF.

Now let's take a moment to break this new shit-storm of awesome down. Cyclops starts out as a diplomat. He so reasonably addresses a room full of corrupt politicians to explain why it's a bad idea to develop killer robots without referring to the Terminator movies. Then a character who hasn't been a major player in the X-books since George W. Bush stole his second election shows up and decides to be a massive dick-cheese/Michael Moore fan by crashing the party and mind raping said corrupt politicians to show just how corrupt they are. I'm left wondering, was there really a crime here? So a guy comes in and exposes human leaders for the assholes they are. Their response is to unleash sentinels on the two men who didn't confess to beating their kids and stealing from poor people. I'm a little confused, but not so much that I can relate it to a good bong hit. Kid Omega took a piss on a hornet's nest and prompted every nation of the world that had a sentinel at their disposal to send it head first into Utopia. So even if the Michael Moore's of the world cheer the kid, he's still an asshole. And somewhere in the middle, a kid who looks like he just started spanking it to the Macy's catalog became the Black King of the Hellfire Club. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, but I like it! If I was a fish, I would be humping the hook before I bit it.

This issue is effectively a fill-in-the-blank issue. It answers the questions posed by the Prelude to Schism comics that came out in recent weeks. In those comics the X-men were just standing around, trying not to shit themselves, and reflecting on how fucked they were. Now we know why. They're about to get a Sentinel bukake after just making it to the top of every major country with a corrupt politician's (in other words, all of them) shit list. It fits nicely, but it still comes off as filler. It's the good kind of filler though, like the grease dripping from the meat of an artery clogging burger. It didn't change a whole in between. In fact, the mere presence of the Prelude issues pretty much ensured that nothing too drastic would happen in this issue. In that sense, even good filler still tastes like filler.

This leads me to the primary shortcoming of this book. The end was already spoiled with the Prelude series. Granted, we didn't know the details, but we did know the basics and that's enough to make this book seem like a latecomer. It's like that guy in a porno who shows up at an orgy only to get sloppy seconds. It's still awesome, but it's harder to get excited about (yes, that was a limp dick joke). In addition, the inclusion of the Killgore kid at the end was...creepy if not fucked up. I know kids are crazy today, what with their Twitter, Facebook, and Iphones. One minute they're Tweeting about how much homework sucks and the next they're shooting a man and taking over the Hellfire Club. Even Pat Robertson would say "I think you're taking it to the extreme." But since this is the first issue, I'll assume that Marvel will find a way to rationalize this. By rationalize I mean make less fucked up, which is really the best you can ask for at times.

Overall, filler or no filler this issue succeeded in it's mission. It provided the spark by which Schism would begin. Diplomacy has failed in ways it hasn't since Herbert Hoover was president. The X-men are about to get their asses served to them by killer robots that are almost as horrifying as the robots in Gundam. The whole being united schtick is now working against them. They're all targets. Yet the whole Schism aspect didn't really show yet. You could make this comic an oversized issue of Uncanny and it wouldn't be much different. It's a good book, but it didn't hit the ground running the way Fear Itself did. For that, I give X-men Schism #1 a 3.5 out of 5. It's definitely worth picking up. It's definitely got a lot going for it. It just didn't do enough in this first issue to really set it apart. But like the people who want to prove that Charlie Sheen is an asshole, Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen have plenty to work with. Nuff said!

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