Thursday, October 13, 2011
X-23 #15 - Connecting Awesome
I've had a lot to say about the X-books lately. Between Schism and Fear Itself, I feel like a crack head on a month-long bender in Miami with Charlie Sheen. There has been so much awesome to go around that if Marvel were a bank, the Occupy Wall Street crowd would be picketing their offices and Goldman Sachs would be trying to merge with them. It truly is a great time to be an X-men fan. I admit I'm a jaded, cynical drunk half the time. There have been times in the history of the X-books where I feel like the awesome is completely constipated within Marvel's bowels. Well recent years have been like an overdue enema for Marvel and with only half the mess. Part of that shift hasn't always come from the big books that Marvel hypes up like the next iphone. It also comes from smaller titles that don't tie into the big stories like Fear Itself and Schism. X-23 by Marjorie Liu is one of those titles. It doesn't need no stinkin' event to be awesome. It's awesome enough it's own right!
Now I've sung many a praises for the X-23 series in recent months. It's a book that's proven to be very diverse. It'll have one story where X-23 is just hanging out in Paris, dealing with some very raw issues with self-immolation . Then it'll have a story like the one going on right now where she teams up with the FF, tracing a threat that has cosmic implications. It's been quite a shift and in my last review I criticized it for being a bit abrupt. But beyond that, it also reflects the diverse style of the book. X-23 is a series that is capable of so much and doesn't need to use a shit ton of characters to do it. X-23 has already dealt with some crazy supernatural shit in the first arc with Hellverine. So dealing with a cosmic threat is really just another flavor of ice cream.
X-23 #14 ended with Valerie being more of a brat than a kid genius by activating the mysterious device that X-23 took from the lab of Alex Celebi. Why did she do it? Why does any kid push buttons on a flashy device? Except this isn't your grandfather's old clock radio. It's a device that emits energy that Spider-Man and Sue Richards of a little thing called the Uni-Power. What is the Uni-Power? I'm hung over so I don't have time to explain it. I'll let Wikipedia do that for me. All you need to know is that when Valerie activated the device X-23, Spider-Man, and Sue were transported to some exotic alien landscape. Think World of Warcraft fucking Starcraft and giving birth to a twisted hybrid and you get the idea. It's about as inviting as it sounds.
In this cosplay scenario from Hell, they're essentially re-enacting 300 without the blatant homo-eroticism. The army of ogres hurl a shower of spears at them. Spider-Man, X-23, and Sue react with the same bravado as the Spartans, but they don't come anywhere close to being as lucky. Sue tries to block the incoming assault, but for reasons that can't be fully explained they are about as effective as using a magic silk bikini bought from Bernie Madoff. X-23 has to use her body to shield Sue before she becomes a walking pin cushion. Now we go from homo-eroticism to possible girl-on-girl. Guess you can't say that Marvel isn't for gender equality. Somewhere I'm sure they're telling DC and their Catwoman and Starfire writers to suck it.
This moment quickly goes wrong in way too many ways. They get stuck with spears, end up seriously wounded, and are pretty much overwhelmed by the World of Warcraft ogres. We don't get to see what the ogres do to them when they surround them, but I'm pretty sure it involves the kind of shit Epic Mealtime does to pigs on a daily basis. Now this sounds pretty extreme. Did X-23, Spider-Man, and Sue Richards just die? Did they just get slaughtered in an attack that may or may not have been some cosmic acid trip? Seeing as how I'm not going off on a drunken rant condemning such a story to the darkest pits of Satan's colon, you can safely assume that this is simply not the case. Yes, they get slaughtered. But only in the sense that Howard Stern is crowned king in his dreams. They're still on that cosmic acid trip, but now it's just taking a more fucked up turn. Makes me wonder where I can get acid like that.
This bad drug trip turns into a near-death experience, minus the tunnel of light and seeing old relatives that could never remember your name. Somewhere within the death-scape, they encounter the Enigma Force. If it sounds mysterious, you're either retarded or you're just skimming this blog without enjoying my dedication to poop jokes and drug references. It sees X-23, Sue, and Spider-Man as it's hosts. It reveals that they didn't actually go to some World of Warcraft ripoff so I guess that means Marvel need not pay royalties to Blizzard. They're in their own minds, which granted is a tad unoriginal yet it saves them the trouble of finding some way back home through some ridiculous wormhole that would make Stephen Hawkings's head explode. Instead, we get a quick tale of what the Enigma Force is and why he's fucking with X-23.
It's pretty basic stuff really. Long story short a King of a group called the Whirldemons escaped and is on Earth raising unholy hell. He's so old he probably had a three-way with Betty White and Marilyn Munroe. He battled to make Earth his personal prison bitch, but was defeated by some nameless prince with a magic sword that he used to create microdimensions for his people. As you would expect, the king was pissed about this. On top of that, the sword had a mind of it's own and that created the Enigma Force. Confused yet? Too much acid? Granted it's a big ass mythology condensed into a few pages. It's a little random, but keep in mind this arc involves the FF. This is the kind of shit they deal with on the weekends and X-23 is just in the cross-hairs as she so often is.
The acid trip ends and X-23, Sue, and Spider-Man return to their senses. Now the transition here is pretty rocky. It goes from deathscape to the lab where all this shit started. It's confusing as hell on top of the whole Enigma Force mythos. But all you need to know is that some psycho suddenly showed up at the FF's door bearing the same symbol that X-23 was tattooed with way back in the first arc of this series. So transitions aside, there's still some connection here and for that I applaud Marjorie Liu. But a little coherence would certainly help. It makes these comics easier to read while you're hammered.
The mystery man makes quick work of the FF. He's got flash and flare with no moves. He's no ninja or steroid-pumping strongman. He looks like your typical pizza guy armed with cosmic level power and he uses it as you might expect. He fools around with it and fucks with anyone that gets in his way. He seems to be the guy that wants to release this king that fought so hard to screw over Earth. I suppose that would seem fun to some twisted psychopaths. With the FF taking one too many hits, X-23 tries her luck. She shows her usual bravado and is actually able to wound the son-of-a-bitch. Or does she? Again, the guy uses his power to fuck with her and he does a pretty effective job too. After she stabs him, he pretends to be wounded than peels his fucking skin off. I'll repeat that. He peels his skin off. Aside from being more grotesque than the buffet at Dick Cheney's house, it makes for some pretty sick visuals.
This sinister force eventually changes into a more badass form, taking on the appearance of what can only be described as the creature that lives under Karl Rove's bed. He dishes out a little punishment against X-23, showing that he can fuck with her both mentally and physically. Then he does the same with Spider-Man for good measure, most likely tapping the anger of the One More Day critics. Then he sets his sights on Valerie, who happens to have the device that started this shit in the first place. Now keep in mind that X-23 hasn't gotten along with Valerie since this arc began. She's not the most inclined to save her sorry ass, but she does anyways. It's a nice way of showing that X-23 is starting to mature, drawing lines that she hadn't drawn before. In terms of some dimensional monster threatening her world, that's a pretty clear line if ever there was one.
X-23 goes after the creature, showing more bravado by knocking the damn thing out a window and falling with it several dozen stories to what's probably rush hour in downtown New York. In the process X-23 reinforces the whole idea that she has a choice and she's not about to give that shit up. She's had pretty much everybody else decide for her at some point. No way in hell that she's going to let some evil creature that likes to gross her out do any choosing for her. It's part of her strength whereas Wolverine just like to make animal noises and lust after married women. In that sense X-23 is a clear upgrade.
But before she and the creature can become street pizza, the damn thing disappears. It doesn't even scream out in typical villainish outrage. It just disappears mid-sentence. It seems random at first, but then when X-23 is saved by Spider-Man she finds out where he want. Apparently, it wasn't done fucking with her. So it decides to set up shop inside Valerie Richards. This way she can open up the portal that's kept this thing trapped for so long and go back to fucking up Earth. It's pretty devious and it puts X-23 in a hell of a position, but that's part of the charm with this series. X-23 gets caught up in the kind of crazy shit that no teenage girl ever faces, yet it's still not as bad as a freshman year at high school.
This issue ends with more questions than answers. I suppose that's to be expected because the arc isn't over yet. But compared to previous issues of X-23, this one was a bit all over the place in some areas. It wasn't as coherent as the last arc and that in many ways is the most limiting factor of this book. However, there was still a rhythm to the events. Marjorie Liu has done a great job drawing connections from previous arcs into current arcs. This one looks like an anomaly on the surface, going from the more character-driven story of the previous arc to a more cosmic story in this arc. However, by connecting that symbol with events going all the way back to X-23 #3, it really doesn't feel that random. It feels like Majorie Liu simply picking up on a story she left hanging behind and it still works despite a few shortcomings.
Those shortcomings are easily overshadowed by the awesome moments that show how X-23 has changed over the course of this series. That power of choice that was established in the first arc once again affects how she views her situation in this arc. It's easy to forget at times that X-23 is a character who never had a choice up until she joined the X-men. Her choices were so limited that it's a huge part of her personality. Marjorie Liu has spent much of her run exploring it and this issue shows just how far she's come with it. The end adds a new complication to the mix because X-23 hasn't really gotten along with Valerie to this point. Now she's the one going all Uni-power on their asses. Now X-23's normal inclination is akin to Wolverine's. If shit like this is affecting someone she doesn't care for, she usually doesn't hesitate to go berserker on their ass. But this is a chance for her to set herself apart from her surrogate sperm doner. We'll have to wait for the next issue to see if she does, but with the way Marjorie Liu has been developing this story I'm confident it will be a sight to behold.
X-23 #15 is like an obsessive compulsive roommate who sees all these scattered elements within a room and then scrambles to put them all back in place less they go into seizures. Marjorie Liu has put a lot of pieces into play. They don't exactly fit at the moment without the creative equivalent of duct tape, but the arc isn't over. We've yet to see the pieces fall into place. Beyond simply setting the stage, X-23 #15 puts our favorite Wolverine clone in a difficult and unfamiliar position. Marjorie Liu has excelled at turning these situations into awesome stories so with that in mind I give this issue a 4 out of 5. If you've been following and enjoying X-23 to this point, you have no reason to deny yourself the awesome that this book delivers. If you're turned off by the use of cosmic elements, then you just need some more powerful meds. Nuff said!