Saturday, November 5, 2011
X-23 #16 - Cosmic Power + Teenage Girl = Awesome
Cosmic forces are like the herpes of the Marvel universe. They don't always show up, but they always come back and there's no cure for it. Just ask Jean Grey. At a time when the X-books are relaunching, reorganizing, and in some cases fucking up the established order of the X-men it's rare to find a book that is untouched by recent events. X-23 has been one of those books that exists in it's own small pocket within the same universe. The ripples from Schism haven't reached it yet, but that's not a bad thing. It's been like that one baseball player that hasn't taken steroids. It doesn't get the praise it deserves, but it's still awesome in it's own right and doesn't have nearly the same embarrassing side-effects. Yes, that was in reference to shriveled balls balls.
Marjorie Liu has demonstrated a diverse range for X-23. In some arcs she can be just another messed up teenage girl in need of a little TLC. In other arcs she gets involved with big time superheroes and takes on cosmic forces that could reduce her to bones and use them to pick it's teeth. What's even more remarkable is that Liu finds a way to make all this fit within the same narrative. It's helped make her X-23 series a unique gem among many that the world of X-men has been churning out lately. This latest arc has a different tone, but it's like the tone of a dinner bell to a pig in many ways. It has new elements that X-23 hasn't faced before, but Marjorie Liu finds a way to make them awesome.
By now the mysteries have been cleared up without the help of Scooby and the gang. After "borrowing" a machine that looks like an Apple TV prototype from a physics lab, X-23 met up with the FF to discover that the Enigma Force, your average Marvel cosmic entity, was in deep shit. It's old enemy, King Whirldemons, is trying to invade Earth using that same physics device. Apparently, the FF didn't read the user agreement. It led X-23, Spider-Man, and Sue Richards to go on a little cosmic quest that led to a confrontation with this cosmic king.
Just when it seemed as though X-23 had beaten it, the King Whirldemons revealed that he set up shop in Valerie Richards. As you would expect, Reed and Sue have a big fucking problem with this. He's going to use Valerie to tweak the device so he can let his frat buddies in from his own dimension. X-23, despite not getting along with Valerie from the get go, shows she's more ballsy than your typical teenage girl and tells the king to use her instead. So you go from a child genius to a child killer. This has one of those "it seemed like a good idea at the time" moments. Or maybe it's a "and then we started drinking" moment.
I don't know how much X-23 has been drinking, but she somehow managed to convince King Whirldemons to leave Valerie and enter her. It sounds like a metaphor for date rape, but it actually helps establish more connections with other parts of the story. If my drug-ravaged brain isn't mistaken, it was X-23's presence that kick-started the machine that was supposed to let King Whirldemons into this world. So it's only fitting that she be the douche-bag landlord that kicks his ass out. Plus, her being imbued with some cosmic energy makes her that much more badass.
Just as she predicted, as soon as King Whirldemons is in her in a completely non-sexual way, the device that acts as a key to the big king's world activates. Reed Richards, bless his brilliant mind, thinks he can find a way to reverse it. But this is one instance where balls beats brains and X-23 has the edge in that department. So she takes the device from Reed and uses it to open a gateway. Thing tries to stop him, but he might as well be trying to stop Twilight fans from getting in line to see another movie with Robert Pattinson not wearing a shirt. A wall of rock just ain't gonna cut it.
X-23 arrives in King Whirldemons and it's about as inviting as John Wayne Gayce's windowless shed. King Whirldemons goes onto taunt X-23 as most overly powerful male entities would do to any teenage girl. We learn there's a little method behind X-23's seemingly selfless sacrifice for Valerie. King Whirldemons isn't able to control X-23 as easily as she is Valerie. It's pure pragmatics. She has a lifetime of experience resisting the control of overly powerful douche-bags that want to use her to fuck up the world. So in many ways she's more equipped than anyone to handle an asshole like King Whirldemons. He doesn't seem to care. He still taunts her in ways only witnessed in German dungeon porn, which against X-23 is usually a bad idea.
But King Whirldemons takes it a step further. Remember that symbol on X-23's hand that was revealed way back in X-23 #3? Well King Whirldemons says he's seen that symbol before, but not for a long time. So he takes a closer look. And by closer look I mean he cuts X-23's fucking arm off. Now this sounds extreme, but it wouldn't be the first time X-23 has had her arm cut off. For her, that's akin to a papercut. This time she heals in a much more efficient way. That strange symbol that King Whirldemons was so fascinated by apparently doesn't like him. Because as he ticks it off, it starts glowing. Then when X-23 puts her arm back, she gets a full dose of cosmic power. This is the Enigma Force again and it's the kind of power that in the hands of a teenage girl can make any dimensional being shit himself.
Now X-23 and cosmic power sound great on paper, but the way it's done here still feels a little random. Majorie Liu established a connection of sorts back in #3 and clarified it a bit further in the previous issue. However, if tapping this power was so easy then why didn't she do it when she was stuck in the same limbo with Spider-Man and Sue Richards? That's never fully explained. It's usually one of those details that Marjorie Liu doesn't skip. Now maybe X-23 just wasn't in a position to use the power before, but a little clarity would certainly have helped here.
Now armed with a cosmic power in the same tradition as Dr. Manhattan from Watchman, minus the exposed dick, X-23 tears into King Whirldemons and his forces. She treats them with the same respect she treats anyone who once worked for Weapon X. King Whirldemons seems to be getting a boner from it at first, but X-23 proves that she can wield a cosmic power and still be pretty badass about it. Keep in mind she's still at an age when some girls can't even handle a fucking credit card, let alone a cosmic power. But then again with the way banks are run these days, cosmic power and credit cards aren't too distant in terms of power and danger.
We get a few nice pages of cosmic caliber ass-kicking. It's not as detailed as scenes with Cyclops and Wolverine beating the shit out of each other, but it's still pretty awesome. X-23 has never been one to let a battle drag out. So she and King Whirldemons go at it for a while. He doesn't seem all that concerned when he claws and guts him repeatedly. He tells her that in cosmic form, this shit can go on longer than a Simpsons marathon. Well X-23 doesn't have that kind of time. She didn't come here to kill King Whirldemons. She came here to make sure he stays locked in his dimension. So when a little star appears in the sky, she somehow takes this as a signal that she's ready to leave. Again, it's a bit random and it's lacking on details. But King Whirldemons is pissed off so that's proof enough that he wanted to avoid this shit.
After bidding a not-so-fond farewell to King Whirldemons, X-23 takes off into another dark void not unlike passing out drunk. The Enigma Force offers some words of encouragement. Again, it's a bit light on the details as to how this defeats King Whirldemons, but it offers some compelling hints that this won't be the last time X-23 wields cosmic power. When all is said and done, she wakes up with the FF again. She's back to her normal self, which probably feels like a real drag. But she's okay and she has the thanks of Sue Richards. She did save Valerie so she can effectively add her to her friends on Facebook. She may not know it now, but making friends with other heroes like the FF will go a long ass way in the future. That's something most teenage girls don't figure out. Being a bitch to others and shutting them out really leaves you shit outta luck when you need help down the line.
So X-23 is back to her old self and no longer sporting cosmic dreads. Gambit later shows up to lend his support, never mind that he has done absolutely nothing this whole arc except hang out with Cecilia Reyes (and presumably try to bone her). Then she pays a visit to Alex Celebi back at the physics lab where all this shit started. Keep in mind, this arc started with her wanting to confront a kid whose parents she killed back when she was still just a letter, a dash, and a number. That whole plot seemed to fall to the wayside and in the end it's somewhat glossed over because X-23 ends up not telling him what happens. She just comes off as your randomly confused teenage girl that sucks with faces.
Now this may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but this time there are some added dimensions to it. After all the shit she just went through, X-23 can't even bring herself to tell this kid the truth. Gambit, who finally contributes to the story, offers a bit of a lesson. Sometimes it's best not to burden others with the truth if they're not prepared for it. This kid, Alex, was spared the shit storm that is X-23's life. Piling it on him just wouldn't be fair. She doesn't understand that as many young teenagers don't. It's not outright lying. It's just holding back the truth for the sake of keeping the world moving forward. It's a good lesson and one that helps add some needed progression to X-23's story with this arc. Mixing it up with cosmic power is all well and good, but this series is still a personal journey for X-23 and that means she's going to learn a few tough life-lessons along the way.
Now what can we make of this arc? It certainly started off with a sense of solid progression. X-23 learned about Alex Celebi in the previous arc and spent the first part of this arc tracking him down. The whole encounter with the FF followed by a romp with the Enigma Force and King Whirldemons was entertaining in the traditions of cosmic Marvel and all, but in the end it didn't have that same sense of progression that made so the rest of Marjorie Liu's X-23 arcs so compelling. In the end she just finds Alex, who seemed completely unaffected by what happened with his twisted physics experiments, and lets him go. It seems like the whole plot with the FF was too detached, like taking the long route to a destination that isn't as scenic as you would hope. But then again, that's the risk you take when you do an arc about a cosmic power.
Yet in the end, there was still some sense of progression in X-23's journey. After leaving Alex behind and learning a lesson or two about the merits of lying, it follows the same themes that Marjorie Liu established with other arcs. Cosmic force or not, X-23 learned something about herself here and made a few friends in the FF in the process. Moreover, Marjorie Liu made it work for her. She showed X-23 battling with forces trying to control her on a new level and once again, she overcame them. She did it while establishing some interesting dynamics between her and the FF and while maintaining X-23's evolving persona. For that, this arc is still a success.
I enjoyed this issue and this arc. Granted, it was a little convoluted in the middle and a little incomplete in the end, but the last two issues helped clear everything up in a way that makes the book feel solid. Marjorie Liu shows that she can write an X-book without having to get it involved in all the melodrama of events like Fear Itself and Schism. That helps make X-23 special in it's own right. Even though this arc was a little detached plot-wise, Liu maintains the same themes and establishes some new relationships with X-23. As such, I give X-23 #16 a 4 out of 5. X-23 is moving up to the big leagues! Her draft stock is rising faster than Andrew Luck. As her world starts to intersect with the post-Schism world, Marjorie Liu has plenty to work with and when you've got a messed up teenage girl at the center of it all there are just so many ways it can be awesome. Nuff said!