Thursday, November 24, 2011
Wolverine and the X-men #2 - Horror Show of Awesome
Pop quiz. What contains homicidal 12-year-old kids and gives you nightmares about school? If you answered your average Baltimore public school, congratulations! You're both right and emotionally scarred just like yours truly! But Wolverine and the X-men is also an acceptable answer. This new X-men series by Jason Aaron that spun out of the events of X-men Schism stole the show of the X-men Regenesis event the same way hair metal bands stole the 80s. It was by far the freshest, most complete X-men comic in a good long while. It wasn't just a story about the X-men returning to Westchester. It set the stage for a completely new world of X that combines the horrors of school with the awesome of X-men kicking ass. On the surface it looks like nitro and glycerine. But with the way Jason Aaron put it together, it was more like strippers and cocaine. It's a match made in comic book heaven.
Wolverine and the X-men #1 was all about setting up this new environment for Wolverine's new team. He had ended his bromance with Cyclops. He spit in his face and convinced a good chunk of Utopia's residents to follow him rather than hang out on a hunk of rock in the middle of San Francisco. With them, he formed the Jean Grey Institute for Higher Learning. It's a new school named after the woman Wolverine desperately wanted to bone, but never got a chance. So already it's on shaky ground. Jason Aaron spent much of the issue showing Wolverine and Kitty Pryde giving a tour to a couple of humorless bureaucrats from the New York Department of Education. It ends as well as you would expect with the institute being attacked by a giant Earth monster at the hands of the kid Hellfire Club. I still don't think it's quite as bad as my first day of high school, but it's in the same ballpark.
Enter Wolverine and the X-men #2. Whereas the last issue give the readers a good feel for the Jean Grey Institute, this issue is dedicated to blowing it the fuck up. The kid Hellfire Club may be annoying as hell and the only real eye-rolling detail of this new series, but they know how to bring the heat. It's not enough to just throw killer robots at the X-men. They have to summon a giant fucking Earth monster. And it's pretty effective. Wolverine is poorly equipped to handle shit like this so the issue actually starts off with little flashback from Iceman. It was a short little recollection of just before the school was built. Wolverine encouraged Bobby to be to this institute what Tim Tebow was to the Florida Gators. That means he has to amaze the other students without channeling Jesus. And on the very next page he does just that by kicking the giant Earth monster's ass.
Now a giant Earth monster is all well and good, but the X-men have faced that shit before. This is Wolverine and the X-men. How can Jason Aaron raise the stakes here? How about one of the Hellfire kids revealing that he poisoned those two humorless bureaucrats I mentioned earlier so that they turn into monsters when they encounter pants-shitting terror? I admit it actually makes the bureaucrats slightly less humorless and possibly more respectable, but it's still a hell of a touch. And keep in mind these are the people the X-men have to get approval of if they want their school to function. So it renders the X-men that much more screwed, but it does so in a very creative way. It's like being fucked by a dominatrix that's triple jointed. There's just so much you can do with it.
At this point I'm starting to get a funny feeling and it's not that same feeling I got the first time I walked into a strip club. That feeling is that the Hellfire kids are actually starting to get kind of awesome. Sure they're utterly random and completely fucked up on a level that really upsets the premise of the story, but they actually are starting to show their worth here. How do they do that? An army of Frankenstein monsters equipped with flame-throwers. I'll repeat that just so it sinks in. They sick an army of Frankenstein monsters armed with flame throwers on the X-men. It's as awesome as it sounds.
Now don't think for a second that this overwrites the fact that the Hellfire kids are still a fucked up concept that came out of nowhere during Schism. The idea of 12-year-old sociopaths suddenly becoming the Hellfire Club and carrying themselves like competent super-villains defies all sorts of physics both real world and comic book alike. And yet they are capable of delivering some level of awesome. Frankenstein monsters with flame throwers may sound like something you come up with passed out drunk on a toilet in mid-shit. But the way Aaron puts it together just works.
By works I mean it allows Wolverine to throw himself into an army of monsters and just start kicking ass. Iceman and Rachel Grey join in as well, making for an action sequence that has all the right elements for an X-men comics. You have super-powered mutants fighting monsters under the control of homicidal kids. It's wonderfully choreographed and every bit as chaotic as you would expect. Wolverine shines, but he's not the only one. Just because his name is on the title doesn't mean others can't step up. Iceman remains a prominent contributor and even Beast joins the show. That's right. For once Beast isn't a whiney little bitch! Thanks, Mr. Aaron. Beast was getting too easy to hate.
But in the midst of all this fighting, there's still a chance shit can get bland. I know that sounds impossible when an army of Frankenstein monsters armed with flame throwers are involved, but it's still possible. Thankfully, this issue isn't just mindless action, although it wouldn't be a total loss if it was. There's still some room for drama. That drama comes with the students who are doing their best to get away from shit like this. A couple of those students were pretty prominent in the last issue. Idie was one and so was Broo, a Brood with a face that looks like it's composed of hippopotamus shit yet is amazingly cute for someone that belongs to a race best known for senseless slaughter. Now you would think that these two would have about as much chemistry as ammonia and bleach. But during the midst of the carnage, Idie saves Broo and he makes his appreciation (and affection) apparent. I'm not sure if Brood get boners, but I'm pretty sure that Idie gave him one.
Now aside from this being disturbingly adorable, it highlights another element of the series that has played out in other X-books. Regenesis has brought about a realignment of sorts with all the teams. As such, it's also brought about some new relationships. Some of those appeared in Generation Hope. Well Aaron is doing the same here and it adds just the right touch. Granted, Broo and Idie are an unusual choice, but it's X-men. If you want normal romance, go see a Hugh Grant movie.
The drama is still minor. The attack by the Frankenstein army is still going strong and the X-men just never trained for Frankenstein monsters with flame throwers. So someone has to step up and this time that someone is Iceman. Remember, the issue started with a flashback that had Wolverine saying Iceman needed to make a big ass statement of sorts. Well he makes that statement in a way that almost as awesome as Frankenstein carrying a flamethrower. He uses his ice powers to create Multiple style clones of his. Now this may sound like a power that comes from nowhere, but Iceman himself narrates the scene. He describes how despite being the only guy in the Original Five not to get a fucking saga named after him, he has all sorts of untapped potential. Remember, he's an omega class mutant. Those mutants can do some pretty amazing shit and an army of Icemen is amazing by any measure.
The Iceman army turn the tide of the battle. He even finds a way to sneak in a kiss with Kitty. What? You can't say you wouldn't do that too if you could make an army of clones. But the Hellfire kids, fucked up a concept they may be, are resourceful. If an army of flame-thrower wielding Frankensteins aren't enough, there's still that pesky Earth monster they led with. But that monster didn't come from just anywhere either. That monster is actually a very old X-men villain from back in the day of the All New, All Different X-men. That monster is Karoka, a living island with an appetite for flesh and is more ugly than Ron Jeremy's anus. It leaves the X-men and their school pretty much at the mercy of a land monster.
In the midst of this attack, many confused students and staff remain inside hoping they don't get eaten. But one student that is somewhat unconcerned is Quentin Quere. Now this kid has done quite a number on the X-men. Keep in mind, he's the one that set Schism into motion. He's also an omega class mutant and he seems to know he has the power to stop this shit before school becomes a pile of rubble...again. But he's not doing anything. Why would he? Well, aside from the fact that he's pissed off everyone and has nowhere else to go. It ends the book with a bit of intrigue as to what role Quentin is going to play. The X-men need an omega level psychic and Quentin is the last guy they would pick. But then again that's part of the appeal!
Since the X-men Regenesis event took shape, every book has taken on it's own identity. Some aren't too different from their predecessors. Others have had only minor tweaks. But Wolverine and the X-men is by far the most unique and the most refreshing because it brings an element of fun to the mix. It doesn't attempt to be too deep or explore really complex dramas. It's not overly basic either. It's a guy and his buddies trying to run a school that a bunch of killer kids are trying to destroy. It's a simple concept that is made fun, exciting, and charming. In that sense it's somewhat like Justin Bieber, but with a less annoying voice and less paternity suits. This issue continues that same theme while throwing in plenty of amazing action sequences as well while even squeezing in a little basic drama. Jason Aaron covered every possible base and even made Iceman more awesome in the process. He couldn't have done much more if he juggled flaming swords while making sweet love to Hallie Barry while writing this issue.
These simple yet fun elements along with the overall tone of the book help give Wolverine and the X-men the charm that really sets it apart from the rest of the X-books. The addition of old enemies like Karoka adds a nice touch of connection between this book and the X-men's rich past. For some, however, the army of Frankenstein monsters may have been a bit juvenile. Almost as much as the entire concept of the kid Hellfire Club. But I've already belabored that point and it hasn't really taken away from the issue. It's like being pepper sprayed countless times for trying to sneak a picture of a girl's underwear. After a while you develop a immunity. Since most of this issue is all action, that may be a bit too basic for some. However, the overall presentation and the way it's put together is still a thing of beauty.
Two issues in and I can safely say that Wolverine and the X-men has surprised me. I thought I knew what to expect with this series. Jason Aaron has not only proven me wrong, he's given me a metaphorical kick in the nuts that may be a bit jarring at first, but like a masochist in a bullfight it quickly grows on you. This series isn't just setting up a new school and a new set of relationships between the characters. It's making the X-books fun again. In an era where everything is so grim and serious, this is like an enema to a constipated elephant. It releases so much pent up material that it's a spectacle to behold but in a not shitty way. I give Wolverine and the X-men #2 a 5 out of 5. I could make another poop joke to further reinforce my point that this is an awesome comic, but I'm hoping that people will just take my drunken word for it. Nuff said!