Tuesday, August 16, 2011
X-men #15.1 - A Fraction of Awesome
I must have taken a bad hit of acid because for some reason, there are still some .1 issues coming out from Marvel. Seriously, I thought Marvel was done with this shit. I took the time to review Uncanny X-men #534.1 and it was a solid piece of work, if for no other reason because Namor likened his bedroom skills with women to earthquakes (so does Charlie Sheen, but nobody takes him seriously). But aside from that issue, the .1 issues have been a real snoozer. They've been nothing more than one-shot issues that don't really catch readers up on what's going on in the books or set the stage for any larger events. They're basically just a reminder that some of us suck at math and have to rely on blackmailing calculus teachers to get a passing grade.
So when I found out that adjectiveless X-men was releasing a .1 issue, I was left scratching my head. I'm fresh off a runners high with X-men after Chris Yost's X-men First To Last story. That was a story that was awesome in two different time periods without the use of a flux capacitor. Take that Doc Brown! The idea that a .1 issue could follow up a story like that is on par with Michele Bachmann winning the Iowa caucus. Okay, bad example, but you get what I mean. That's not to say I go in expecting it to be awful, but Chris Yost raised the bar into the fucking exosphere. It's really not reasonable to expect a .1 issue to get within pissing distance of that level, but I still gave it a shot. I mean why the fuck not? It's X-men. Short of dipping it in moose piss, I'll give it a look.
This .1 issue starts off as many of the .1 issues do. It pulls a random moment out of the massive ass of the Marvel continuity, offering no hints as to when it takes place in relation to other events, and tells a story. In a ways that's a good thing because it means you don't need to earn a PHD just to catch up with what's been going on. You just need to know who Cyclops, Wolverine, and the X-men are. Well even with this issue, that may not help because the main focus is Danielle Moonstar. New Mutant fans should know who she is. She's been part of that book since the Reagan years, but she gets as much visibility as any Native American in the United States (translation, between some and precisely dick). So for once, Marvel is shining the spotlight on an underused character. For that, they deserve a pat on the back and a few ticks on their state sanctioned diversity card.
The setting is as morbid as you would expect for a Native American. There's an old Native American woman named Awanata that seemed to take one too many hits of peyote and was showing the kind of signs that you won't see outside the Exorcist. Now it's not entirely clear what's going on, but it is clear that she's become such a danger that Dani says they have to encase the woman in a brick tomb. The sad part is that it's still a nicer burial than most Native Americans get these days.
Dani isn't alone in this grim endeavor that may require a fresh prescription of Prozac. Cyclops, Storm, Gambit, and Pixie are with her. They're assisting Dani in dealing with this touchy issue of burying an old woman alive. She's about as thrilled about it as you would expect, but not nearly as thrilled as the woman's husband, who looks like one of those old spokesman for cigarette billboards. Now I'm not going to go on some tirade about how husbands burying their wives alive says a lot about how fucked up gender relations are. That would be too easy and I know the feminazis of the world would say I don't go far enough. So I'll just skip it and point out that the old man isn't a complete dick. He does this with a heavy heart and the woman requested that she be buried alive like this so no, it's not that excuse you hear drunken rednecks who like to beat their wives use. The guy has a way to justify it.
The story is pretty standard. Way back before Native American's got fucked out of what was left of their land, a hoard of demons attacked their down. Now they don't explain where the fuck the demons came from. For all we know they were the disembodied souls that would later inhabit Oakland Raiders fans and like teenagers armed with baseball bats and firecrackers, they decided to be assholes. Since nobody was powerful enough to stop them, the woman did the most logical thing this side of Deadpool's left hemisphere. She used a spell to swallow the demons and contain them inside her. If nothing else, she made a case for being the future star of the movie Deep Throat.
Now the old woman is about to get gang banged by Father Time, thus releasing all those angry demons. Now this is not the X-men's expertise even though Dani has a history with this shit, they've got nothing but a spell-book and Pixie's less than refined familiarity with the mystic arts. In other words, they need help. That help arrives on a bitching motorcycle with a flaming skull and a leather jacket that cool enough to freeze the universe and heat up the world's panty supplies. What I mean to say is Ghost Rider shows up. It's X-men. They do crossover shit with these books so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but fuck me in the neck if it isn't badass.
For those of you who don't know, Marvel just released a new Ghost Rider #1 so there's no need to catch up on his insanely complicated history. He's a flaming skull, motorcycle riding, supernatural demon hunter who likes to cleanse sin in a way that the Westboro Baptist Church would blow up and orphanage for. Hence, he's perfect for the task at hand. And wouldn't you know it? As soon as he arrives, everything goes to shit. That hastily constructed tomb? Well, it didn't hold. Apparently, bricks just don't cut it against demons. So that poor old woman couldn't handle it and she makes the kind light show that's only somewhat less spectacular than a Lady Gaga concert (but not by much).
I get that X-men is all about crossovers and using other Marvel characters and I won't say that this is random, but it's a bit too convenient. It's not like Curse of the Mutants or even that shitty Spider-Man arc where the X-men had a reason to crossover with these characters. In this they just happen to be in the right place at the right time with Ghost Rider. Not that coincidences are egregious, but in this story it has just the slight stench of bullshit. It doesn't completely disrupt the flow of the story. Any time an old lady goes nuclear, it's a sight to behold. However, the setup just feels too shallow.
Now the demons are released and like your typical Rob Zombie music video, carnage ensues. They call themselves the Atahsaia, which sounds like a sushi bar in Pittsburgh. They want vengeance. Fuck the explanation. They just turn from your typical Clint Eastwood knockoffs to a bunch of extras from an Ozzy Osbrone concert and start attacking. The X-men and Ghost Rider don't take time to make friends. They just start fighting back, blasting the shit out of their demonic colons. It's a nicely done spectacle, one that isn't overblown or underscored. If you like flashy shit or you're just high, you'll enjoy staring blandly at these pages for the next three hours or so.
Since these are demons, it's not as simple as just blowing their heads off and scrubbing the blood stains off with bleach. If demons were that easy to kill, the Vatican would be out of a job and Apple would have an app for it. So Pixie is still clinging to that spell book the old man gave her earlier. And Ghost Rider, not content with just looking badass, rides up to Dani and tells her to get on. Now I know Ghost Rider is familiar with demons and has experience stopping them, but by and large when a guy in a leather jacket on a motorcycle asks you to get on a bike you either make sure your ass is nice and loose or you run away screaming at the top of your lungs. But this is X-men so Dani gets on. Way to send a good message to kids, Marvel!
Ignoring the horrible message about trusting strangers on motorcycles, Dani follows Ghost Rider as he uses those demon-killing rider skills of his to open a pit to Hell. And by Hell I don't mean the 405 Freeway at rush hour or Tijuana prison. I mean the actual Hell. Marvel is pandering to the evangelical crowd now and hopefully in a way that Glenn Beck won't bitch about. Now it's not clear why the hell Dani needed to go with him. Did he just want to have a pretty teenage girl with him while he made a pit stop in Hell? Is that the demon equivalent of being a douche? Even if it is, it takes good old Sesame Street style teamwork to corral the demons in the hell pit. Ghost Rider does the rest, leading them in while Dani just looks pretty and probably gives them the finger while she's at it. It's a simple yet reasonable way to fight off a demon infestation.
Once they're in the pit, Pixie puts that spell book to good use and seals up the hell hole. Once again, the visuals here are great. It's not underdone or overwhelming. But at the same time you don't hear the demons whining or moaning like most evil spirits tend to do. They also don't vow revenge or reveal why the fuck they were so intent on attacking the town in the first place. That seems like a big ass plot hole, but it doesn't matter a great deal because they just get defeated in the end. Still, it would be nice to know why they deserved to go back to hell. Them just being demons works for Pat Robertson, but not your typical comic book reader.
Furthermore, there's still no fucking clue as to why Dani had to tag along with Ghost Rider. What was he role in this aside from just dragging the X-men out into the middle of bumfuck nowhere to fight demons? This is billed as her story and she really doesn't do dick in it. A few extra details would be nice even though it plays out fairly smoothly, if not too smoothly.
At this point I'm ready to dock major points from the book for being so damn incomplete. Seriously, why did the demons attack? What the hell was their motivation? Is Marvel just going to leave that plot hanging? I wouldn't put it past them if they did, but wax my chest and call me Jim Morrison they did offer an explanation. Remember that sweet old guy who was so sympathetic? Well it turns out he was the one that summoned those demons. He did it for a dick reason as well. He wanted to send those to another tribe, but they just said 'fuck it' and attacked his. So in the end it was just some schmuck's competence. Fair enough, but then Ghost Rider says his punishment is to rebuild his town. Okay...that's about as badass as betting on the dealer in a game of black jack. It leaves Dani visibly upset and somewhat betrayed, but there's really not much they can do about it. The comic ends with the old man looking like an asshole and the X-men leaving behind a decimated town. Believe it or not, it's less shitty than it sounds.
I wanted to like this comic. I really did. It wasn't bad. It wasn't even mediocre. It's a decent X-men comic all around that does a good job of crossing over with Ghost Rider. It's entertaining and even heartfelt at times. I'm even glad that a character like Danielle Moonstar got a chance to strut her stuff. She didn't even have to sleep with Cyclops or get a boob job like Emma Frost to do so. But the story just wasn't that deep and there wasn't a whole lot of heart. The writing and the plot came off as bland, offering no ties to other ongoing X-men stories and offering little development for any of the characters. Danielle isn't that different even though she's the star. You would never know this shit happened to her if you picked up an issue of New Mutants. It's just a self-contained story that really doesn't give readers too many reasons to keep reading.
After X-men First to Last, it's a hell of a downgrade but that was to be expected. This issue does succeed in some areas. It follows the formula of this new adjectiveless X-men series, which is to tell stories that have the X-men interacting with the greater Marvel universe. In this case, it was Ghost Rider and for the most part it worked. This was the kind of plot where Ghost Rider definitely added to the story. He just didn't add enough to make it genuinely awesome. There was no lasting impact by the end. There wasn't much background given for Ghost Rider so you have no idea where the hell he's coming from. At least with Blade and Spider-Man, they had a reason to cross paths with the X-men. This story just made it seem too coincidental. The action was still solid and the dialog and characterization was spot on, but it wasn't done to the point where you're wiping the drool off the side of your face while trying to put your eyes back in your head.
X-men #15.1 isn't the worst .1 issue that Marvel has come out with. It's not the best either, but it's definitely above average. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been more boring and unnecessary that it ended up being. It may just be the lingering awesome left from First to Last, but X-men #15.1 deserves a decent mention in the annuls of X-men. It's a story that's easy to forget, but it's still entertaining to read. I give this issue a 3 out of 5. I'm still not completely jaded on the adjectiveless X-men series. I know I've given some pretty fucked up reviews for some of the issues, but I'm ready and waiting for the series to unfuck itself. Nuff said!