Thursday, October 27, 2011
Uncanny X-men #544 - An Ending (and Beginning) of Awesome
As a professional drunk, I understand that even the best benders have to end at some point. You could be high off your tits, surrounded by supermodels, doing blow off Scarlett Johanson's ass, and arm wrestle Mike Tyson in an epic weekend in Vegas that you could make a Lord of the Rings style trilogy about. Eventually, you're going to wake up in a dirty motel room staring at the ceiling with your pants around your angles, a strange mucus gushing from your nose, and a hangover that would castrate an elephant. In that sense a bender is like a comic. Some comics aren't meant to last more than a few years or a few months for that matter. Very few last so long that they've been coming out consistently since the time before Kennedy was shot by the CIA in a cover plot with the Illuminati. Uncanny X-men was one of those books and at a time when all the other major titles like Action Comics and Fantastic Four were resetting, Uncanny just kept rolling along. Well today that bender ends and X-fans everywhere must contend with the hangover, although I hope it involves less vomit.
Uncanny X-men has made it to 544 issues, spanning a long list of writers that read like the lead singers in famous bands that tried to do solo albums. It hasn't always been the premier X-men book. Hell, it wasn't until four years ago that it actually became the main focal point of the X-men universe. Matt Fraction helped make it relevant again after Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-men run nearly monopolized all the awesome (and numerous characters) in the series. Then Kieron Gillen took over and solidified the title as the top X-book where all the most important shit went down. That lasted barely a few months because recently, the X-men were bitterly divided by the events of Schism. That created a new lead X-book humbly titled, Wolverine and the X-men. Gee, I wonder what it's about? This moment marked a big change for Uncanny and in yet another gimmick to keep up with DC's new 52, Marvel is ending Uncanny X-men's iconic run and relaunching it along with Wolverine and the X-men. It's not sad as much as it is a WTF type moment, but since relaunching is the trend these days why not milk that tit until it's dry?
Uncanny X-men hasn't played a role in the events of Schism. While that event was going on, Uncanny was mixing it up with the events of Fear Itself. That story ended just as Schism ended. Now Uncanny X-men #544 acts as an epilogue for both. Yet it also has to be an epilogue for the whole fucking series. This book that's been around since my parents were still smoking weed in hippie communes has had a lot of shit happen over the years. Teams have been reshuffled, people have died, come back, died again, come back again, died a few more times, and somewhere along the way the X-men saved the world. How do you end all of that in a fulfilling way? Well, it's as impossible a task you can ask for without trying to jerk off to nude photos of Janet Reno. But Kieron Gillen has proven himself to be an awesome writer so if anyone deserves a snowball's chance in hell against a blow-torch wielding Freddy Kruger, it's him.
This epilogue to this epic series begins from the point of view of a guy who has done more to fuck with the X-men than 26 Chris Claremonts and 34 Grant Morrisons. Mr. Sinister has been MIA for a while, but he's been rearing his ugly ass head in other forms. He showed up in X-23 and he played a major role in Messiah Complex. This guy gets over death like regular people get over hang-nails. Like those creepy narrators from those old horror shows in the 80s, he reads from a book that essentially summarizes who the X-men are and the events of Schism. Granted, it's an extremely bare-bones version, but Sinister isn't a patient guy and neither are most comic readers. He just sets the tone and that tone is creepy as hell.
It's not all doom, gloom, and Linkin Park songs. The events of this issue appear to take place before the very end of X-men Schism #5 before the team leaves. Or they don't. Seriously, I don't get how the fuck time works in the Marvel universe, but it's more fucked up than a hit of LSD and concussion. Whatever the time, Iceman catches up with Cyclops. He's pretty much the only one left in the Original Five that isn't dead, MIA, or a complete douche. Iceman, Ringo Star of the Original Five, confides that he's reluctant to leave behind his friend. He's actually still fond of the days when they were the Original Five. It was a simpler time before the Phoenix Force, Wolverine, X-Force, and the Chuck Austin run. And it's worth pointing out to Cyclops that it's worth remembering fondly. He's not wrong.
When Iceman goes so far as to ask Cyclops if he remembers everything, it's not enough to just say yes. Artist, Greg Land, has to use this as an opportunity to whip his artistic dick out and wave it in the face of the readers. And I'm not afraid admit in an ambiguously gay manner that it looks so awesome. How the fuck do you condense nearly 50 years of comics in a single 2-page spread? It sounds even harder than squeezing nearly 50 years of history into an epilogue issue like this. Yet Greg Land does a damn good job with it. In one image he captures the moments that stand out most. Dark Phoenix is of course front and center. The Sentinels, Magneto, Apocalypse, Emma Frost, and of course Wolverine all show up. It's like a snapshot inside Cyclops's mind that helps capture so much of the X-men's history. It doesn't capture everything, but it captures so much of what matters. Moreover, Cyclops doesn't dwell on it for long. He says outright that he's not keen on the past anymore. He's focusing on the future. Iceman doesn't like it, but then again he's never been the most mature member of the X-men. This scene and the image explains why quite nicely.
Now there's no narration here or any real rhythm to this image. It's basically just Cyclops remembering all the important moments of his life. What makes it all the more remarkable is that it actually flows with how the conversation with Cyclops and Iceman progresses. It doesn't just come out of nowhere. For an image like this, Gillen and Land could have just forced it in and let the pretty pictures captivate the stoned readers and it probably would have worked. But there's substance behind it and in an issue that's trying to end a 544 issue run, that's pretty damn important.
We then go from a visually stunning trip down memory lane to the kind of creepiness that would your skin crawl and your dick retreat into your stomach. For some reason Sinister sees fit to randomly incinerate his flesh in some blast chamber and then be reborn out of what looks like an inside out vagina. It's sickeningly disgusting, plus Sinister comes out naked looking like he just took an amazingly shit. On top of that he's talking to this odd red light as he's essentially narrating his little exploration of the X-men. It's not clear what this is. Hell, he could just be high because I know I've seen lights like that during many a fun trips. They're usually accompanied by lizard people and girls with six breasts, but I guess Sinister just has shittier weed.
While the readers are taking some time to finish throwing up, Sinister essentially lays out where the X-men stand. He describes what Cyclops is doing on Utopia and what Wolverine is doing in Westchester, probably sounding completely sarcastic every step of the way. He then goes over some of the characters and which sides they chose. He doesn't go over everyone, just the major names. He also revisits the Summers/Grey bloodline that's always captivated him. Again, it's basically past reminders for those who got too high and forgot some of the details of Schism. But it's not a complete refresher. He still moves the story along, albeit still being incredibly creepy about it.
One of the names he brings up is Beast. Now if you'll recall, Beast and Cyclops aren't on speaking terms. In fact, I'm pretty sure they've unfriended one another on Facebook. Beast only shows up now to be a complete dick to Cyclops. Now I try to be balanced here. I get there are two sides to every story and Beast has some legitimate reasons for being upset with Cyclops. He kept X-Force from him. He put people in danger. But Beast just finds a way to be a complete asshole about it. He calls Cyclops out, saying that all those hard decisions he make don't end up with him in torture chambers. Well of course they don't, idiot! Hell, most don't end up in torture chambers last I checked! The mutant race fucking survived because of him. It came at a price. Nothing worth having is for free and I refuse to believe that someone as brilliant as Hank McCoy doesn't understand this.
Now I know I'm being harsh towards Beast, but there's just no excuse for being such a massive dick. For one, Cyclops is hardly a tyrant as a leader. He doesn't demand worship or censor criticism. When word got out about X-Force, he fucking ended it. He honed up like a real man should. And what did Beast do? He pissed and he moaned! That's it. He didn't offer any alternatives. He didn't propose any plans of his own. He never at any point put himself in a position to make those hard decisions. All he did was fucking whine. While this issue may glorify the Original Five, Beast still comes off as a complete dick.
As the X-jet leaves like it did at the end of Schism, Sinister takes over again with the narration. He shows that he knows Cyclops pretty damn well because he predicts that he'll do something to help lay the whole Schism affair to rest. And he does. He goes to a room in Utopia that contains all the pictures that show past X-men and he starts taking them down. But Sinister seems unusually gleeful about it, only adding to his creepiness factor. He essentially reviews the entire experience of the X-men and interprets it as a simple data set. It's a dick thing to do, but it's Sinister. You can't expect anything less. He considers the X-men over, which means he's in a position to do a whole new range of dick moves. It may be a dark time for the X-men, but it's a golden era for creepy pasty-faced psychopaths.
So Sinister finishing narrating. We're left with Cyclops and the pictures. He's clearing the walls, putting them in a box along with all the symbolism that goes along with it. Emma shows up along the way because we all know Greg Land never passes up a chance to draw Emma Frost in an obscenely pornographic manner. But she through the power of her pussy is able to get Cyclops to put some words into what he's doing. He clearly feels shitty after Schism, but he makes one thing clear. He's not going back to school or playing the part of a student anymore. He's his own man. If Beast and Iceman want to go back to that, they can do so. That's not his world anymore. He's graduated and that in many ways is the most powerful means of ending Uncanny X-men. Cyclops was the first X-man. He's been with the series since issue one and now he's evolved beyond his role from those early days and become his own man. So when he puts a picture of the Original Five in a box and seals it away, it has meaning to it and that meaning is abundantly clear. This era of Uncanny X-men is over. The bender has passed. The hangover has ended. Now a new bender is set to begin!
Now let us pause for a moment to reflect on what we have just witnessed. Uncanny X-men (at least this run) is over. 544 issues that helped shape the world of comics and set new standards of awesome is now over. I'm not going to pretend to burst out in tears and break empty vodka bottles over my head. This book is getting relaunched in a month. Yet still, this issue is written as if there will be no more Uncanny X-men after the ending. It feels like an ending. It's not just the epilogue to an important arc like Schism. It's the end of a major era in X-men. For a long time there have been major themes within the pages of Uncanny. Some of those themes are still there, but some have drastically changed. What the Original Five started back when most of us were seeds in our father's scrotum has ended and a new kind of X-men has begun.
But enough with the poetic bullshit. This is still a review so how do you rank a book like Uncanny X-men #544? Well if you ignore the issue number, it's a solid epilogue of recent events. Using Sinister to clear the air after all the recent shit that's unfolded was a nice angle because it provides a unique perspective. Sinister had no role in Fear Itself or Schism. He's basically an objective observer. Granted, he's still crazier than a hoard of drunk ferrets, but you can be crazy and objective (so long as you're not working for Fox News). In addition we get some nice input from key members of the Original Five. Angel and Jean aren't there, but the transition is clear. Cyclops is not a student anymore and Beast is just a big, furry dick. The conversations, the musings, and the themes were all masterfully done. Kieron Gillen captured the emotions and the themes of this moment in all the right ways. For that, I can safely say this comic is awesome even if you don't ignore the circumstances surrounding it.
There's still a problem with the whole finality of this issue. Even though Uncanny is ending, this feels more like an end to Schism than it does to Uncanny. I get that trying to condense the stories and themes of nearly 50 years of comics is like trying to summarize Moby Dick in the form of a Haiku. It can't be done, but it doesn't feel as though enough of an effort was made to do so. But I really can't hold that shit against this issue because it still felt complete in the end. Since Uncanny is relaunching, there's really no need to grieve or lament. It's just a transition to a new era and this comic does that masterfully. For that, I give Uncanny X-men #544 a fitting 5 out of 5. If you're going to end a series that's outlived Michael Jackson, disco, and Marlon Brando's movie career then this is how you want to do it. Now I'm ready for the relaunch! For this I raise my bottle of Jack Daniels and lay out a fat line of blow. Thanks a ton for all the good memories Uncanny X-men! Now joint he fucking 21st century, go day-and-date digital, and start kicking ass for a whole new generation! Nuff said.