Saturday, August 27, 2011
X-men #16 - Exotic Awesome
I know I throw the word gimmick around like chlamydia in Snookie's bedroom. I use it to both bash and praise, but mostly bash. Crossover stories are among some of the oldest gimmicks in comics. They were around when I was still a drunken sperm stammering around in my father's balls. They're done so often today that it's hard to call them gimmicks anymore. That's just how shit is. So when Marvel started an X-men comic with the express purpose of crossing it over with other Marvel characters, it didn't come off too much as a gimmick. It was just a natural extension of where Marvel was going.
However, the new X-men series has been more hit or miss than Barry Bonds's steroid tests. Most of the arcs in this series have been underwhelming. Some good has come from them, like a Vampire Jubilee. And the best by far, X-men First to Last, wasn't really a crossover as much as it was a simultaneous story of the present and past. In a market where Uncanny X-Force, Uncanny X-men, and X-men Legacy are crowding the top, the good old adjectiveless X-men remains mired in mediocrity. However, I haven't completely given up on this series. I still give it a chance here and there, but I'm not expected to get a fucking contact high or anything. For the moment, I'm content with a story that doesn't suck.
After X-men First to Last and X-men #15.1, this series is finally ready for another arc. Emphasis on finally. Victor Gischler returns after a brief sabbatical. He's had plenty of time to plan this shit out so he has no more excuses. For this new arc, he's choosing a different kind of crossover story. First it was Blade. Then it was Spider-Man. Now Spider-Man didn't work on his own, so instead he brings in the FF. By that I don't mean Fantastic Four. I mean the Future Foundation. In case you forgot, they can't be the Fantastic Four because Johnny Storm is fucking dead (for now). And they replaced him with a guy who sold his marriage to the devil. The series has been different to say the least, but it's been a top seller so I can't take that away from it. Now can it succeed where that lame ass Spider-Man crossover with the Lizard failed? Well that's why I make these drunken reviews. So you folks don't have to!
The issue starts with Spider-Man getting what appears to be part of his punishment for making deals with the devil. By that I mean he's babysitting Valerie and Franklyn Richards. As Johnny Storm's replacement, he has to contend with the shittier aspects of working for the FF. They're on a boat in the Carribean with Spider-Man presumably covering their eyes every time they see a topless sunbather. Then they start talking Bermuda Triangle and while in the real world that's just a shitty marketing ploy to make conspiracy theorists plaster foil to their heads, in the Marvel universe it's a big fucking deal.
So naturally this disturbance prompts the FF to go right to the X-men. Wait, did I say naturally? Actually, it happens so fast that it's like that moment when the LSD wears off, time goes back to normal, but you're still playing chess with Ben Franklin. Why would the FF just go to the X-men after locating a disturbance in the Bermuda Triangle? Not saying that it's a hole Marvel leaves unfilled, but to this point this X-men series has done a good job of having crossovers happen more naturally. They don't just knock on each others' door. They just cross paths. That may be nit-picking because the FF, which now includes Doom (long story), give a good reason for seeking out Cyclops. This little disturbance involves Lee Forester.
Now who is Lee Forester? Well unless you were reading X-men comics at the same time Ronald Regan was just starting to go senile, you would easily miss it. Lee was a woman Cyclops dated while Jean was still recovering from that whole death thing that strikes her every other Thursday. Apparently, she sent a distress signal pleading Cyclops or Magneto (assuming she didn't bang him as well) for help. Now I can understand wanting a guy like Magneto to help out, but calling for Cyclops might be asking a bit much. Once again, I'm left to assume his penis has powers that defy comprehension. Never one to ignore a beautiful woman begging for his help, Cyclops agrees to work with the FF to investigate this disturbance and maybe work out a three-way with Lee and Emma. Although Emma makes it clear she's about as fond of Cyclops's exes as she is redheaded girls who flash the Phoenix Force when they're PMSing.
Now I like this way of getting the X-men involved with another facet of the Marvel universe and not just because it's the FF. Characters like Lee Forester are easy to forget. They haven't been mentioned in years and now she finally appears again and there's still an impact. It's one of those past relationships that's easy to gloss over, but it still effected Cyclops enough to want to help her and it was effective enough to piss off Emma Frost. In other words, it's win-win.
With help from the FF's awesome arsenal of gadgets and rides, they set out for a nice relaxing journey in the Bermuda Triangle. That's sort of like going sunbathing in North Korea. It's about as moronic as it sounds. So it doesn't come as too much of a surprise when they hit a little turbulence on their journey. And by turbulence, I mean their sub ruptures. But when you've got Sue Richards and Magneto on board, it's akin to a shaving cut. This comes shortly after Dr. Nemesis mentions that they're trying to locate a portal from where the disturbance originated. So the source of this turbulence is about as mysterious as whether or not Pamela Anderson's breasts are real.
Once they're finished putting their stomachs back in place, the sub surfaces and arrives on dry land. Now they probably assume they're on some remote Caribbean island. They decide to get off with the hope that maybe they'll find some nude sunbathers that need lotion applied to their backs. They end up in an Avatar-like world with purple dinosaurs and not the kind that sing nursery rhymes either. It's basically a Savage Land ripoff, but I guess it's more interesting than some random island. Still, the nude sunbathers would have been a nice touch.
They fight off the initial dinosaur attack by having Thing throw Wolverine at it. Colossus isn't around so he fills in for the fastball special. It's a fun way to dispatch a dinosaur and it pisses Wolverine off, which is always good for a few laughs. They discover that the submarine is damaged, surprise surprise. It needs some time for repairs, which means they're stranded in a real world Jurassic Park minus Steve Goldblum's witty remarks. For some reason, Doom isn't content with sticking with the team. So he decides to fly off and the others aren't inclined to stop him. It seems a little random, but then again Doom isn't much of a team player.
It's also worth pointing out the parallels between Doom being in the FF and Magneto being in the X-men. These are two former assholes working with the people they've tried to repeatedly kill. That's like hiring Ted Bundy at a women's shelter. These two have interacted in the past so it is somewhat strange that they pretty much blow each other off and not in the way you can make gay pornos out of. I think it was a missed opportunity because these are two characters doing things that are way outside their usual comfort zone of imposing their will on the weaker masses.
Once Doom goes off for some me-time, the X-men locate the ruins of an what looks like a settlement. I'm assuming these guys never saw an Indiana Jones movie or even that shitty King Kong remake that demonstrates why it's not smart to show up unannounced at an ancient inhabited city. They take about as kindly to outsiders as Michelle Bachmann does to gay activists. So it's not terribly surprising when some strange alien-like spider-weapons show up and try to kill them. Wait...alien spider-weapons? That was never in Indiana Jones. Okay, so maybe it was a little surprising.
The X-men and the FF battle their way through these less than creative machines. They discover that they're not piloted by humans or even super-intelligent computers, most likely failed Apple products, that went bad. They're these green Skrull-like creatures, but not nearly as badass. When a character like Pixie is able to humiliate them, they're about as threatening as a stink beetle. The fight isn't all that spectacular and I don't think it was meant to be. It seems pretty small for a book that has both the X-men and the FF in it, but then again this is the first issue. I'm assuming shit won't start blowing up until a few issues in.
Once those killer spider-robots are dispatched, the X-men and the FF reconvene to figure out what their next move is. They got dinosaurs on one end and crazy alien creatures on the other. They might as well have stumbled into the Bronx half-naked. But they certainly made their presence known. That means the human population that were too pussy to beat the shit out of those machines finally show up and greet their visitors. Among them are such colorful characters as Skull the Slayer, but Lee Forester is nowhere in sight. So the X-men and the FF have made contact and that's about it. I don't think this could be qualified as a cliffhanger, but it's a decent progression of the story that's unfolding. But still, nude sunbathers would have been so much more awesome.
I admit, I'm fairly impressed with how this issue turned out. It wasn't as underwhelming as it's predecessors. I suppose this means that Gischler just needed some time squeeze some creativity out of his muses. That or he scored some kick-ass weed. This issue brought the X-men and the FF together in a mostly believable way. The use of old plots like Lee Forester and the dynamics between the FF and the X-men were well-done for the most part. It effectively set up a story that's interesting enough to get into and not gimmicky enough to write off. It won't blow your brains out, but it will give you a mild concussion.
This book still has an overly mediocre feel that is hard to escape from. The way the FF met up with the X-men didn't feel all that fluid. At least with vampires and the first Spider-Man story, it felt like a natural progression. In this case the FF just showed up on Utopia and they went from there. Not that it's too unbelievable, but it just seems too bland. Also, we didn't get a whole lot of interactions from Doom and Magneto, two guys who I'm sure would have a lot more to talk about given their current standing in the comics. I'm hoping that future issues will address that, but for this issue it just feels like a missed opportunity.
Minor caveats aside, this was a solid all around comic. This story with the X-men and the FF has the potential to be awesome and after X-men First to Last, it has a tough act to follow. It's not spectacular just yet, but it is above average. I would definitely put this on a list of X-books to get, but the bar is set pretty high with books like Uncanny X-men and Uncanny X-Force. With that precedent in place, I give X-men #16 a 3.5 out of 5. I want to give it something higher, but it hasn't crossed that threshold just yet. I hope that it does because the more quality X-books there are on the market, the better. Nuff said!