Sunday, November 6, 2011

X-men #20 - New Teams of Awesome

At a time when no one seems to take a comic book seriously unless it's relaunching as a new #1, it feels kind of strange to be reviewing a book that doesn't have that magic number that every comic company uses as a sales gimmick. Then again, the latest adjectiveless X-men series already had it's #1 recently. Last year, it launched as part of a new series with the mediocre to the-fuck-is-this-shit? Curse of the Mutants arc. Since then the series has had it's ups and downs. For a while it's completely forgettable. Then somehow it manages to be relevant and gripping again with stories like Chris Yost's X-men First to Last. It's a series I've tried to forget about, but like an addiction to crack it keeps pulling you back in.

Now I still like the premise of this book. It was billed as a series that has the X-men work with other major players in the Marvel universe. I like that idea, but like a certain Texas governor might say the execution leaves much to be desired. The most recent arc had the X-men mix it up with the FF. Again, it sounded nice on paper, but it got boring fast. That and it was completely swallowed up by the events of Fear Itself and Schism. Unlike other books like X-23 or X-men Legacy, it didn't have the kind of quality or impact to overcome the competition. It might as well have been another report that the Tea Party movement has racist elements in it.

Now Schism is over and every X-book is readjusting to the new dynamics. Victor Gischler's X-men is no exception. Unlike the pre-Schism world where the X-men's heavy hitters like Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Wolverine played such a large role, the post-Schism world is built around a new team. This team is responsible for security on Utopia. They won't be the flashy heavy hitters in Uncanny. They'll be the forces waiting in the shadows that will slit your throat if you try to sneak on Utopia and threaten mutants or steal Emma Frost's panties. It has some familiar faces. Warpath and Domino are present, who haven't done jack shit since Cyclops disbanded X-Force. Storm is the leader because restricting her to Uncanny would just be an insult to her and the forces of nature as a whole. We also have Vampire Jubilee playing a role, which is to be expected since Gischler made her a vampire. As such, he's stuck with her and all the Twilight jokes I'll make from it. Psylocke will also be part of the team, but this presents a problem because she's still shown as being part of Wolverine's X-Force. How the hell could she manage that? Well since Angel looks like he'll be MIA after the Dark Angel Saga, she'll have plenty of free time on her hands. Whatever the case, it's a tough new team and X-men #20 shows their first touch of action.

The first security threat of this post-Schism X-men book comes from the same threat that triggered Schism in the first place. If those without brain damage will recall, sentinel technology was leaked all over the world and being traded like crack on the black market. As expected, giant robots hold a certain level of appeal for certain people of a certain level of douche-baggery. Domino, being the kind of woman that can't stay away from trouble or skin-tight outfits, decides to peak in on this thriving new market. Given her luck, it doesn't take long for her to find something.

It's your typical deal with shady military types, who are the comic book equivalent of Nazis in real life. They're always up to no good. They have a real, shiny sentinel that they're just itching to sell for all the cash and/or vodka some rogue nation can spare. Domino isn't doing anything fancy yet. Like the kid who hides in the locker of the women's dressing room in high school, she's playing the role of voyeur. Well that doesn't last long because just like real arms deals, this deal goes bad when some unexpected guests drop in and try to swipe the merchandise. They don't know Domino's role, but they assume that any woman wearing leather outside of a strip club is bad news. So they start shooting with her usual luck, she gets away. However, she doesn't get any closer to find out who's dealing in giant robots now.

Enter the X-men's new security team. Cyclops gives Storm her first mission. He reveals that they know about as much about these new sentinel buyers as Rick Perry knows about evolution. They're a security threat so she sends her security team which includes Psylocke, Warpath, Jubilee, and Colossus to track down Domino and get some answers. And if necessary, beat them out of the appropriate people.

It seems basic enough, but it's actually a remarkable moment for this series in a way. For the most part, Gischler's X-men has been pretty detached from the other X-books. This is the first real instance where a plot is taken directly from recent events. It was the spread of sentinel technology that triggered Schism. Now that event has created this event. It's a much needed touch of coherence to the X-books and that alone constitutes an upgrade in this new Regenesis status quo.

This basic plot takes a very unbasic twist when on their route to bust up your typical sentinel ploy, War Machine shows up. And he's not there to lend a hand or try to get access to Emma Frost's panty drawer either. He politely explains that there's a situation with couple of fictional countries in Symkaria and Latveria that involves troops along boarders that shouldn't be there. NATO is about to declare a no-fly zone and begin aggressive diplomacy. Which Storm is smart enough to understand is code for "Get the fuck outta here. We're about to start bombing shit." She doesn't argue with the guy. She's too polite for that. Keep in mind, she's Queen of Wakanda for more reasons besides T'Challa not being able to resist the power of her pussy. That means when she says politely that she'll leave, she really means she's just going to find a way to work around your bullshit. War Machine is about to find that out the hard way.

However, this little land dispute that War Machine mentioned isn't just pulled out of thin air as an excuse to put War Machine in an X-men book. It's actually related to the shit the X-men are investigating. Again, Gischler shows he's improving by making a few connections. Remember that ridiculously named country, Symkaria? Well there's also a region near that boarder that's got an even worse name, Puternicstan. In this contested area, the local governor who happens look like Hillary Clinton with bigger balls reveals that she was the one that jumped that sentinel deal. Apparently, she thinks having a giant killer robot will help in a conflict like this. I'm sure Michelle Bachmann would think the same thing once someone convinced her that praying won't make it go away.

When the X-men arrive, they find that Domino has gotten that perfect ass of hers into trouble again. She followed the sentinel and in her effort to politely ask a few difficult questions, the soldiers that went through the trouble of guarding the sentinel politely tell her to fuck off with their guns. And no, that's not a niche porn series. That really fucks up their ability to use stealth in this operation. But if they were concerned about subtlety, they probably shouldn't have sent Domino in the first place.

All this lack of subtlety and the repeated gunshots that often follow any battle involving Domino tend to attract attention. It's the kind of attention that a guy like War Machine just isn't going to ignore. So as soon as Storm's team sets foot on ground, War Machine shows up to politely remind them that they lied to his face. By that I means he throws a fucking grenade at them and picks a fight with Colossus. Now I don't know shit about politics or diplomacy, but even when someone lies to your face and defies international orders it's still probably not a good idea to attack the guy with metal skin first. I mean seriously, that's like going to a whore house and fucking the girl that looks most like a man. Unless you're looking for something fucked up, you're not going to be get far.

Even if they are defying international law, the X-men don't take kindly to anyone throwing shit that explodes at them while attacking their friend. So Colossus, who mind you still has Juggernaut power, fights back after War Machine gets in a lucky blow or two. I don't care how high tech that suit is. Against a power like Juggernaut, he might as well be wearing Lady Gaga's meat suit. Then there's Storm, a woman who can control lightning. And the guy's suit is made of metal. Seriously, it's not a fair fight and War Machine should fucking know better. It's like his machine was programmed by George W. Bush. Shoot wildly now. Figure out a strategy later.

While War Machine is still smoldering from a lightning bukkake, Storm explains to him in a very impolite way that the X-men are there to find their friend and track down the sentinel. We can expect War Machine to care as much about that as Dick Cheney cares about the Geneva Convention. There's some urgency to her tone as well. Because while War Machine is getting in their way, that sentinel the Puternicstan thugs stole became active while they were tweaking it with the finest technicians that Eastern Europe could offer. Since Domino made such a racket shooting off guns, the big bad robot came to life and did exactly what it was programmed to do. It started hunting the closet mutant, which would be Domino. This time she's not lucky enough to get out of the way. Sucks for her because now she's in the line of fire and the X-men are being held up by War Machine. It's a messy situation that demonstrates this new security team has plenty of room for improvement.

Once again, I'm a bit torn with this series. Victor Gischler's adjectiveless X-men hasn't been good enough to praise, but it hasn't been bad enough to drop either. It's been slightly above mediocre for the most part. This issue was only slightly better in most respects. Gischler did a great job setting up the new team and tying the events of this story with the recent events of Schism. It's the first time in quite a while that the adjectiveless X-men feels like it's part of the greater tapestry of the X-books. War Machine's presence along with the added gritty elements of involving the black market help give this book a unique feel compared to the other books. It's definitely worth buying and it's definitely a fitting addition to Regenesis.

Yet still, it doesn't exactly do much to really establish itself as it's own brand of awesome. The interactions between Storm and War Machine were lukewarm at best. The action was somewhat mild at times and the dialog was a little flat. The general theme is good. The story is solid. It just lacks the details to make it truly awesome. Compared to books like Uncanny X-men #1 and Wolverine and the X-men #1, X-men #20 really can't put itself in that same category. It has all the potential to be as awesome as the big two, but it just isn't there yet and I'm still willing to give Gischler a chance to get it there.

The whole post-Schism era of the X-books has raised the bar for the X-men. Marvel has really amped up their standards and for the most part, they've been met by other X-books. X-men #20 has been the odd man out for a while now. It's like the guy with 10 silver metals wanting to punch the guy with only one gold. It has the ability to compete, but it needs some refinement before it can. For a final score, I give X-men #20 a 3.5 out of 5. It's a new team, a new mission, and a new series of threats. Everything feels new, but only to a point. It won't blow your mind or make your dick hard, but it will entertain you enough to want to keep it handy if you're stuck on a toilet working off your last trip to Taco Bell. Nuff said!


  1. I think I deserve an explanation why Jubilee isn't at the new school. Wolverine has so much history with her being her father figure and she's closer in age with the other students.

    Admittedly, she is also close to age with Hope's group but I doubt they will ever interact. I can also make the connection that this particular X-Men team is the lethal B-Team to Uncanny's A-Team, that everyone in this book can be vicious killers. But I want the people at Marvel to connect the dots for me. I deserve it because Jubilee is my favorite character, she was MIA for too long and returned so fucked up.

  2. I would certainly love an explanation for that as well. Jubilee never showed up in the Regenesis one-shot so we don't know why she chose what she chose. My only explanation would be that Gischler was the one that made her a vampire so as a result he wants to write her more. But that doesn't explain her choices in the book. I hope it comes up at some point, but you know Marvel. They're willing to overlook certain details for a long time. See Hope Summers.