Thursday, August 4, 2011
X-23 #13 - Making Awesome Fantastic
Well I've officially gotten sick of bitch-slapping assholes on message boards calling me a racist for saying the new Ultimate Spider-Man is a fucking joke. So I'm ready to get back to doing what I love to do. Reviewing sweet ass comics and getting fucked up on hooch! Almost as intoxicating as imported Russian vodka has been Marjorie Liu's X-23 series. This is one series about a character who didn't have to fucking kill the original to be awesome. She was able to tell her story in the same universe as Wolverine, tell it well, and get her own series out of it. It's a series that has enjoyed some quality story-telling and the fact it's lasted over a year now shows it's at least somewhat successful and it doesn't need to leak the fucking plot to USA today ever week just to get people talking about it. But I digress.
The X-23 series has been a solid continuum of awesome. It started out with X-23 leaving Utopia and following her own path. From there, Marjorie Liu has crafted some amazing stories in a way that not only gives a great sense of progression with the character, but is emotionally gripping in a way that need not play the damn race card. But again, I digress. The last arc involved X-23 going through some heavy emotional shit that caused her to start cutting herself. She met up with Wolverine and Jubilee, who helped her fight off those sadistic voices that were telling her to drain her arteries just to see the pretty colors from an oxygen starved brain. In her battle with a mysterious woman that may or may not be the woman that broke the story on Arnold Schwarzenegger's love child, she discovered something about her past that has taken her to her next challenge. It involves the name of someone she DIDN'T kill despite being ordered to. For someone who was butchering drug lords at a time when most girls are soaking panties watching Twilight movies, that's a big deal.
X-23 #13 begins a new arc and this one is without Wolverine and Jubilee. But Gambit is still tagging along. I assume that's done for the ladies because for some reason, a degenerate womanizing Cajun makes the ladies swoon. Go figure. This time they end up in New York, a city not nearly as glamorous as Paris. But the pizza sure is better, but Donald Trump lives there so I guess it's a toss-up. X-23 is not one for site-seeing though. Before she can even check out crazy right-wing protesters outside Fox News, she's having another nightmare. It doesn't involve her going on a PMS fueled murder rage. It involves a mysterious symbol that may or may not be something Prince used when he was still relevant. Foreboding or not, X-23 is floating around naked in the darkness. It's either a bad college party or just the emo musings of a teenage girl with more issues than most. Marjorie Liu has done a good job of minimizing the former while maximizing the latter.
When she wakes up, she's in a cab with with a sleezy man. In New York City, that's so common that Jerry Sinfeld made a fuck ton of money telling jokes about it. But that sleezy guy happens to be Gambit, who still hangs around X-23 a stray dog attracted to her scent. He's still somewhat of a mentor to X-23, albeit a fucked up one. So he's like the anti-Morpheus. But he's a softie who happens to be a thief who's banged too many loose women. So it does somewhat surprise him when X-23 reveals that she was once a prostitute in New York. For those of you who haven't killed one too many brain cells, that's an homage to NYX, the first comic X-23 ever appeared in. It's a small, but juicy shout-out that only awesome writers take the time to reference. Before she can get into the juicy details, she finds out Gambit is bleeding. Keep in mind, he was fucked up in the last issue so it's not completely out of nowhere. But it's still a little random.
X-23 insists that Gambit get stitched up, presumably because she can't be dragging his wounded ass out of too many bar fights with angry Jets fans. So they seek out help. Since going to a regular hospital and waiting in line to show some underpaid nurse their insurance card just isn't their style, they pay a visit to Cecilia Reyes. Yes, THAT Cecilia Reyes that is an established X-men character, but is more underutilized than Swiss army. She happens to be a doctor that makes house calls for the X-men. Now she's not all that thrilled with two X-men showing up at her door. In fact, she's a bit of a bitch about it. But she still helps them. Then we find out the wound is in Gambit's groin and presumably it isn't because he hooked up with a French hooker and forgot the "don't be a fool, wrap your tool" motto of all pussy hounds. It's an awkward wound to treat, but it's that awkwardness that makes it fun.
Now bringing in a new character like Cecilia Reyes follows the same theme that X-23 has done since the beginning. It gets other Marvel characters involved, but not in a way that feels like a crossover. Other characters like Wolverine and Cecilia don't just show up. They're actually worked into part of the story. That's the kind of detail that makes the X-23 so awesome. Not a lot of writers bother paying that much attention to little details like the when, why, how and where that certain characters show up. There's something to be said about a story like that and it involves the word fucking and awesome.
With Gambit now getting a groin treatment that doesn't involve making jokes told only in letters to Penthouse, X-23 sets out to find the name that was revealed in the last issue, Alex Cimini. Now it seems like the whole groin thing is just a convenient way to get Gambit out of the picture so X-23 can fly solo, but even if it is the story still moves forward. It gives X-23 a chance to reflect on how much has changed since she quit her job as a meat puppet assassin. As she's done in other issues, she has some nice inner monologues that reflect her new ability to actually make choices. Sometimes it involves something as simple as a hot dog from a New York City street cart. It doesn't seem like much, but it's another one of those little things that are a big part of the progression in X-23's story.
As she's reflecting on this new sense of choice, she seeks out Cimini. She finds him as a student working in the physics department of a school. Not a bad gig, by any stretch. If he was a hobo singing showtunes outside Grand Central Station, then maybe X-23 wouldn't have been as conflicted. But as it stands, she finds this kid who has as normal a life as can be. She spared him and he turned out okay. So rather than confront him, she hesitates and walks away. It's a powerful moment because it shows that while X-23 knows she can confront her past, that doesn't necessarily mean she should.
But just as she's leaving this strange twist on her fucked up life behind, karma comes back and reveals she's quite the sadistic bitch. In the Marvel universe, the phrase "physics experiment" is often analogous to "shit your pants and run for the hills" time bomb. So when it goes off, it doesn't just go boom. It flashes that same strange Prince-like sign in the sky that X-23 saw in her dream. She doesn't just see it. She feels it as well. That and she gets hit by a bus, but come on! She's fucking X-23. Getting hit by a bus is like a fucking hang nail for her.
In addition to flashing those ominous signs, the explosion acts like a regular explosion and blows some shit up. In a place as crowded as New York City, that's bound to get some people shitting themselves. You would think they'd be used to it by now, but go figure. They ain't. In the midst of the blast, some strange-looking guy that may or may not be an agent for Rupert Murdoch shows up with that same symbol on his forehead. He doesn't do anything and it's really not clear what the fuck he's standing around for. But this happens a lot on the X-23 series. Some mysterious figure shows up and isn't really revealed until later. It may be annoying for some, but if you're that impatient that you need a fucking biography for every schmuck that shows up in a story then you're just being difficult.
X-23 could easily stick around, hunt the mystery man down, fuck him up more than Michelle Bachman's presidential qualifications. But she's not that same heartless assassin anymore. She actually tries to do some decent things with those killing skills of hers. One of them involves rescuing people caught in the blast. So when New York's finest show up and need help getting people out of a building that's more fucked up than the stands at a Grateful Dead concert, she lends a hand. She can't fly, jump, or blow shit up with her eyes. But she'll claw her way up a building to save someone. For a teenage girl with that many problems, it's pretty badass.
This cues the crossover stunt. While she's up helping a sweet old lady, who else by the non-replacement Spider-Man show sup in his fancy white costume. Go ahead Marvel! Claim he's racist and not respecting diversity by being a white guy and wearing a white costume! You know you want to. But Peter Parker is still Peter Parker and not a fucking replacement character here. He recognizes X-23 (they did meet up in another crossover where Spider-Man thought Wolverine got a sex change). He then offers to help her. Now X-23 would certainly be inclined to claw her way down like the tough, unthinking teenage girls he is. But seeing as how they're dealing with a confused and possibly senile old woman, she lets him help and it's a lot easier on everybody.
Since she's in Spider-Man's city, she basically lends a hand. Apparently a big fucking explosion draws plenty of attention in New York from it's resident Spider-Man. So like a good samaritan and what is likely an homage to the fine folks at the NYPD and NYFD, she helps him play search and rescue. It's a nice moment. They're not fighting Dr. Doom or trying to spoil Galactus's appetite. They're just helping regular folk stay alive on what is certainly a very bad day for them. It's a nice touch and one that shows how X-23 is making different choices than she was before. It plays into the theme of the book...well, aside from the theme about Gambit's groin being prone to random bleeding.
But they can't keep doing PR stunts for the New York's finest. Eventually, they need to address that whole what caused the damn explosion issue. Keep in mind, X-23 felt it. She dreamed about it. Spider-Man has seen plenty of fucked up shit including making a deal with the devil himself to believe her. So it's no surprise that the rest of the FF (or the Fantastic Four minus Johnny Storm) show up. They saw the explosion too and they're also quite interested in shit that goes boom in the middle of their city. So they're going to have questions for X-23. Thus, it's a good way to cap off the book, setting the stage for a team-up that for once doesn't sound like a shitty sales gimmick. For Marvel on a week like this, that's saying something!
So the stage is set for yet another crossover! That sort of thing used to be a big deal. Now it's so normal that it's like seeing a fat guy scratching his ass while waiting in line at MacDonalds. Nobody bats and eye. Yet Marjorie Liu still give it a sense of novelty. I still found myself excited about it even though the premise itself is pretty basic. Anybody can walk up to the editors at Marvel and go "You know what would be awesome? X-23 meets the FF! It practically writes itself!" Luckily, Liu put in a bit more thought than your average stoned monkey. She didn't rush it. She set it up nicely, having X-23 go through the necessary motions before shit started blowing up. It was only then that Spider-Man showed up, followed by the Fantastic Four Minus One. It feels natural and a logical progression. She's in New York. The FF is based in New York and when shit starts exploding, they're usually the ones that show up. It's so logical it feels like it's too logical to be in a comic book.
There's really not much you can do to knock a book that clearly had a lot of effort put into it. Marjorie Liu doesn't use gimmicks or cheap thrills to tell a story. She takes the necessary steps and I find it hard to really criticize a book like that. It wasn't perfect by any means. The plot with Gambit and his groin seemed a little random, like an excuse to get him out of the picture so X-23 could go solo. Then again, he did get fucked up in the last issue so it's not completely pulled out of the ass of the comic gods. Adding Cecilia Reyes was a nice touch as well, but again it felt like she wasn't somewhat of an afterthought. Since some characters only show up once in a blue moon, it's still nice to see her being used in some capacity.
But those shortcomings are really nit-picky. They're the kind of details that really don't take away from the story, the premise, or the characters. What really makes this issue feel special is that Marjorie Liu set up a story that incorporates X-23 into the greater Marvel universe. She's interacting with the big boys. Her story is crossing paths with others who happen to share the same world. It's a new twist on a series that's already had many. That's not easy to do in this day and age when everything has been done, parodied, and turned into a porno. For that, Marjorie Liu deserves all the praises my drunken slurs can manage! That's why I give X-23 #13 a 5 out of 5. It's a comic that's a solid, enjoyable read that doesn't require Marvel to use any lame gimmicks to make it awesome. Nuff said!