Thursday, November 3, 2011
Uncanny X-men #1 - Hard Hitting Awesome
I admit with all the relaunches going around like a bad case of VD from Flavor Flav's house, I expected to be tired of this shit by now. I know myself. I know that years of killing my brain cells with comics, weed, and various exotic substances should render my attention span and patience to a non-existent level. But another fun side-effect in addition to seeing purple elephants riding Hummers in my dreams is that I don't need a series to have the hidden meaning of a Dan Brown novel. So long as a comic is awesome, I could care less if it's a relaunch and I often do. I'm sure my neurologist will back me up on this.
Last week a bold new X-men series launched. Wolverine and the X-men took what Jason Aaron tore apart in X-men Schism and built it back up again. And it was awesome. It's like he blew up a Motel 6 and built a Four Seasons in it's place. He firmly established that Wolverine's side in the Schism won't be your typical wave-your-super-powered-dick-in-the-air-and-hope-it-sends-the-right-message deal. He created a school that wouldn't be completely focused on saving the world. It would be more like an extracurricular, like band practice or sneaking into R-rated movies. But that doesn't make the Marvel universe any less dangerous. Wolverine's motives for creating a school may be noble and all, but sometimes mutants just have to whip that super-powered dick out and remind the world that they're not to be fucked with.
Enter Cyclops's team. He's been demoralized and emasculated by the events of Schism. He was the undisputed leader of mutant-kind and he fucked it up. So now he has to take the pieces he has left and make them work. He's essentially doubling down on Utopia after you've been at a blackjack table long after they've taken your savings, your pants, and the fillings from your teeth. He still sees the X-men as an authoritative body for mutants everywhere and he's not wrong in doing so. Mutants and the people that hate them do some pretty fucked up things. Someone has to be willing to go out there and tell people to cut that shit out and get along, throwing in a few optic blasts for reinforcement. To make this point, Kieron Gillen has the unenviable task of relaunching Uncanny X-men. This is not a new series like Wolverine and the X-men. This is a new version of a series that's almost as old as the state of Hawaii. To make the title Uncanny X-men #1 deserving he has to do more than just make the comic awesome. He has to make it so awesome that it should come with a warning label that out-of-work tobacco lobbyists have to bribe Congress to fight. He's proven himself a pretty capable writer with Uncanny so far. He handled the last issue of Uncanny X-men masterfully. Now it's on his ass to make the relaunch a success.
Uncanny X-men #1 starts with the same guy who brought Uncanny X-men #544 to an end, Mr. Sinister. This is a guy who has shaped the world of the X-men in ways that would win him a fuckton of bar bets. It's only fitting that he be the one that shapes this new version of Uncanny X-men. But how can he do it? How can a guy as crazy as him scale a bar that he set pretty damn high to begin with? Why with a Celestial of course! Remember the Celestials from Uncanny X-Force? Those super-powerful space gods/robots that act like Christian Conservatives in that they judge everything? No? Well you must be higher than I am so just trust me that they're bad news and giving one to Sinister is like giving Charlie Sheen the keys to a Tijuana pharmacy.
As is often the case, it starts with some random schmucks stumbling upon an inactive space god. Or maybe that was just my last LSD trip. I can never remember. But for some reason a couple of civilians sporting weapons grade stupidity think it's a good idea to approach a giant space robot. Now first of all, where the fuck did the sentinel come from? It wasn't explained and it seems like something people would notice. Then again in the Marvel universe seeing giant robots is no more unusual than seeing Pacman Jones get arrested. It's still a little random, at least of course until Sinister shows up. He doesn't waste time either. He shows the two hapless civilians that while stupidity may not be one of the seven deadly sins, it might as well be because he fucking kills them because of it. There's no other reason behind it. It's just a way of reinforcing that he's one ruthless son-of-a-bitch. But with a name like Sinister, it would be even more fucked up if he wasn't.
We go back to Utopia where the new beginning of this new era of Uncanny truly begins. Cyclops arrives to address a new team of heavy hitters. Wolverine is gone and so are a lot of old allies. The presence of a new institute changes the dynamic of the X-men. Wolverine's crowd is something else. So they have to be something different. That involves having the heaviest hitters of the mutant world. They have Magneto, Namor, and Juggernaut/Colossus. These are people/mystical forces that would have ass fucked the world if it had a big enough hole at one point. But now they've bought into Cyclops's vision. They chose to stick with him after Wolverine left. So now what? What the fuck do they do with all this firepower? What kind of problem is that? The awesome kind, that's what!
Cyclops compares Utopia to nations like Iraq and North Korea. Well, that's not a very good comparison. For one, those countries are ruled by actual comic book characters that are crazier than the Joker could ever hope to be. But it does have a point. He wants a team that can take that annoying "power corrupts" bullshit and prove it wrong. They can't just protect themselves. They have to prove to the world that they're got big dicks and they'll use it to fuck them over if they try to fuck them. They need to stay the good guys, but they also need to instill a touch of fear to remind the world that oppressing mutants and threatening their race won't fly with them. In a sense they're also protecting Wolverine's institute because if they fail, then those kids are in the crossfire.
Now everything Cyclops says has an element of truth to it. Yes, some of it sounds like the musings of a douche-bag, but I constantly bring up the anti-Cyclops crowd because they keep dissecting every X-book as if they use it as lube to masturbate to their Cyclops hatred. Well it's slightly more deeper than that, but not so much that it requires an undamaged brain to figure it out. Cyclops has on Utopia some pretty heavy hitters, some of which are former villains. He understands that he needs to show that they can use this power to do good while also reminding people that they won't be bullied. It benefits both his side and Wolverine's. It hardly makes him a dictator or a new Magneto. It's a very different kind of X-men, but it's still X-men and that's important because it adds a unique touch to this series.
It doesn't take long for these heavy hitters to encounter their first obstacle. We get a brief glimpse of how Utopia runs on a day-to-day basis. It's worth reminding readers that it's still a functioning community. The mutants still have time to eat, sleep, shit, and fuck like everyone else. That is until a giant space god starts causing trouble. They learn about this from Abigail Brand, the tough-nosed bitch that heads up SWORD and is boning Beast on the side. It's a good thing she's a woman because if she had balls, then no scrotum in the universe could hold them. She tells them that they detected some activity in what was once an inactive Celestial. Cyclops offers to take care of it, telling her to hold off on calling the Avengers. They're still busy recovering from Fear Itself and if the X-men can't beat back a Celestial, then they don't have much hope of doing so either.
They arrive in spectacular fashion to confront the Celestial. Specifically, this is the Dreaming Celestial. It sounds like the least threatening a super-powerful space god can be. SWORD was monitoring it, but for the most part only detected what were probably the space god equivalent of wet dreams. Then out of nowhere the energy readings went berserk as they so often do in the Marvel universe. Again, it's the kind of physics that makes no sense outside the world of comics. But with the Celestials, physics are as malleable as a good shit after a midnight burrito.
As all this ambiguous energy goes crazier than Mel Gibson in a Synagog, the X-men find out that Sinister is pulling the strings. He doesn't even make them fight for it either. Sinister is so confident and ballsy that he reveals himself in the form of giant head (not making this shit up and I'm not that high). The X-men are understandably confused, but know Sinister well enough to understand that when he's in control of a Celestial that's a very bad thing. Not only does he have a Celestial, he knows all about the end of the Cyclops/Wolverine bromance (which he made abundantly clear in Uncanny X-men #544). Now he's giving Cyclops's team a chance to prove themselves.
Now Sinister doesn't have to prove him insanity to Cyclops. Nor is it clear that he needs to destroy the X-men to do what he wants to do. But he does it anyway and not just because he's a douche. He's actively calling Cyclops out to see if this Extinction team as he calls it can do what he needs it to do. The result is an X-men vs. Celestial mash-up that involves Namor kicking ass, Emma going diamond and losing an arm (don't worry, her tits are safe), and Colossus getting blown into another zip code. It's a very flashy battle scene, the kind we've come to expect from Uncanny X-men. It's really not much different from the pre-relaunch battles and that's kind of a drag because since it's starting over, you would expect it to be different. That's not to say it isn't awesome to look at, it's just not the kind of awesome you would expect from a new #1.
After Emma loses an arm and Colossus gets his ass kicked, the Celestial starts breaking off into thousands of little modules so it can start fucking with the X-men on a different level. Colossus certainly doesn't take kindly to this so with Illyana's help, he summons his inner Juggernaut once more. He shows at one point that doing so makes him less the gentle lovable commie that we all know and love and more the douche-bag Juggernaut that we all dread and hate. It's the kind of inner conflict a guy should have with a mystical power source that his mentally unstable sister forced on him. It doesn't stop him from kicking some ass and beating back all those Celestial bugs.
Eventually, Danger does a little science work with Dr. Nemesis and figures out a way to swat all these annoying Celestial bugs at once. Apparently they just need the equivalent of electromagnetic duct tape. That's where Magneto comes in. He's not called the master of magnetism because it's a lame pick-up line (let's face it, he probably used it at some point). He's able to pull the whole Celestial space god together, minus the head. It's not easy though. He politely asks that the X-men find the head and destroy the source before he allows the whole thing to dissolve again and fuck with them in more elaborate ways. The problem is the head isn't just a head and not in the way cigars are used in dick jokes. With Sinister, he's several levels above dick jokes.
The Celestial head travels all the way across San Francisco and lands at the Palace of Fine Arts, a great tourist attracting and usually a place where you can store some awesome weed. As soon as it lands, Sinister pulls a little Celestial mojo and completely reshapes the area the same way the Bush Administration reshapes the laws in their favor. Since this is a Celestial we're dealing with, reality warping powers are as standard as a stick shift. So what does Sinister do with it? He basically remakes the area into his image. It's essentially a carnival on some bad acid with everyone looking like Sinister. It's a vision that even the worst schizophrenic would find fucked up and it's a world the X-men have to stop. You gotta hand it to Sinister really. When it comes to crazy, he never does anything halfway.
I'm not entirely sure of what to make of this ending. I would say it's a WTF moment, but with Sinister there's really no such thing. This is a guy who would put tits on giant squid and sell it as a sex doll if he had the time (don't think that shit wouldn't sell either). So carving out his own charming little world in the middle of a city that prides itself for being weird is actually pretty fitting. In many ways it demonstrates the kind of threats that this new Extinction team has to face that others just aren't equipped to handle. I'm sure Wolverine is doing some wonderful things with his new students. Teaching them to handle a guy like Sinister ain't one of them.
Whereas Wolverine and the X-men was book about more subtle dangers threatening to undermine the innocence of a new generation, Uncanny X-men is a book about the kind of exotic threats that you just need some extra firepower to confront. It's not just a super-powered brawl, although it does come off as one at times. Cyclops is trying to send a message. He has a team of heavy hitters that include former villains, the king of Atlantis, and a teenage girl that may or may not have the Phoenix Force. He wants to use this team to show the world that mutants can be heroes, but they can also be dangerous if you fuck with them. He walks a very fine line. The anti-Cyclops crowd will still call him a dictator. Less extreme fans would call him new kind of X-leader. Kieron Gillen develops this mentality very well and sets a nice tone for a series that has the potential to do so much.
If there's any issue with this book it's that it feels a bit too much like the Uncanny X-men pre-relaunch. What made Wolverine and the X-men so charming was that it was different. It offered a unique change of pace from the other X-books. I'm not saying that Uncanny X-men #1 was exactly the same, but Gillen really didn't do enough to make it different than it's predecessor. It's basically a new team with a slightly adjusted mission plan. It's still a great premise and Gillen develops it masterfully. It just doesn't feel as fresh as the #1 on the cover would indicate. You could have easily called this Uncanny X-men #545 and it would have worked. It's not a huge problem, but it is a problem.
Overall, Kieron Gillen still has in this issue all the elements that have made his Uncanny X-men books so enjoyable. The characterization is solid, the action is over-the-top eye candy, and there are some subtleties that add a little extra depth to the story. It may not be a radical shift like Wolverine and the X-men, but it still works in all the uncanny ways. That's why I give Uncanny X-men #1 a 4.5 out of 5. I want to give it a perfect score, but given the context of this book and the standards set by Wolverine and the X-men I just can't do it. So that means both Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen have each taken on a relaunch and succeeded. But if this were a boxing match, Kieron Gillen's face would be more bloodied and he'd be telling someone to cut his eye open. Since both books are so awesome, I really can't pick a winner. I'll just cherish them both, raise my bottle of tequila, and offer my thanks to these talented gentlemen for making this new era of X-men so awesome. Thanks guys! If you're ever in my neighborhood, I owe you a drink and a lap dance from a stripper! Nuff said!