Sunday, November 20, 2011

X-men #21 - International Incident (of Awesome)

There are very few things in this world that mixes well with politics. It's a standard law of the universe that if you really want to fuck something up, throw politics into it. It'll do more damage than inviting Charlie Sheen to your bachelor party. Politics fucks up with religion. It fucks up the economy. It fucks up society. So why wouldn't it fuck up comics? Well politics is like nitroglycerine. It doesn't take much to set it off, but if properly administered it can make the awesome explode off the page. Civil War proved this. So Marvel actually has some credibility when it comes to mixing politics with their books and after the events of X-men Schism, there ought to be some political undertones. I can only imagine the kind of rants Glenn Beck goes on when he discusses mutants. The drawings on his chalk board would probably make most people gouge their eyes out in disgust.

Victor Gischler's adjectiveless X-men kick started their new venture into Regenesis with a pretty solid issue. I gave it a 3.5 on this blog and made it clear somewhere within my drunken ramblings that it had the potential to be much better. Well X-men #21 must realize that potential as my attention span has been shredded by years of LSD use. It builds on a political conflict that was set up in the previous issue. It's not so convoluted that readers need a shot of adrenaline to follow it. The fictional countries of Latveria and Symkaria are in a dick-measuring contest over a region called Puternicstan. I don't even want to know how that's pronounced or what it refers to. I'll assume Marvel is making a poop joke of sorts. The X-men get involved when Domino discovers some of the dick-measurees jack a sentinel from the black market. Since they just experienced the business end of one too many sentinels during Schism, they have plenty of reasons to stop this shit before it starts.

This is the first mission for the X-men's new security team. Storm leads Colossus, Psylocke, Warpath, and Vampire Jubilee on a mission to locate Domino and unplug the sentinels. Along the way they encounter War Machine, who is acting as the dick measuring tool trying to keep the peace in the area before it turns into Saddam Hussain's old backyard. He tells them to back off. They don't. So they start fighting. At the end of the last issue, War Machine blasts Colossus a couple of football fields down. In the beginning of X-men #21, he returns the favor by ramming him in the back. That's perfect continuity right there folks!

A superhero slap fest always benefits the assholes behind the curtain. In this case that asshole also has breasts. In the previous issue, we were introduced to the governor of Puternicstan. She's basically Hillary Clinton if she became a dictator (which I'm sure is on her to-do list). She's the one that swiped the sentinel from the deal Domino eavesdropped on. She's also the one that ordered the attack on Domino that ended with her getting more roughed up than a stripper at Pacman Jones's bachelor party. She's now a prisoner and an asset because they're not out for using these sentinels for fighting mutants. I mean seriously. They're giant freakin' robots and they're a country surrounded by other asshole countries. Surely, even the government can come up with more creative ways of using them.

The prospect of a country hacking sentinel tech is pretty serious so it's a good thing that War Machine and the X-men decide to kiss and make up. It is a team-up series after all. It happens a bit abruptly though. After shooting at each other and beating the shit out of each other, now they're practically roommates in drug rehab. War Machine, despite being a more no-bullshit and non-pussy obsessed reflection of Iron Man, overlooks the many international laws the X-men are breaking and decides to work with them. It's not terribly contrived, but given how by-the-book War Machine usually is it seems somewhat glossed over.

The one getting screwed over most by this scuffle is Domino. She's supposed to be the lucky one yet she still wound up on the business end of a sentinel's wammo blast. And no, that's not a prison rape joke. The underpaid government scientists that retrieved her think she's dead. They describe how they're going to perform an autopsy, presumably after they loan her out to a few necrophiliacs. I'm sure there's a market for that in Europe somewhere. But while Domino wasn't lucky enough to avoid getting plastered in a way that doesn't involve Russian vodka, she does survive. That usually means the guys that want to cut her up are in deep shit.

With War Machine's help and Psylocke's telepathy, the X-men track down Domino's signature. They encounter the kind of random guards you would expect, the ones who always get their ass kicked in every superhero comic. It's a pretty standard flow of action so we'll take a moment to honor their sacrifice. It doesn't get dragged out more than it needs to because the X-men eventually find what their looking for.

Actually, I'm just fucking with you. Seriously, when does it ever go that smoothly? They find a whole fucking army of sentinels. And this after just one nearly killed Domino. This time the governor ditches the underpaid security guards and brings in her version of Seal Team 6. They're the same guys who managed to steal this tech in the first place and now they have it at their disposal. So it's really a much fairer fight than usual. It forces War Machine, Storm, and Colossus to try an air assault and hope NATO doesn't mistake them for weather balloons and try to cover up their wreckage.

While these fireworks are going off, Domino surprises her would-be morticians. She's not too fond of their eagerness to dissect her so she grabs a scalpel and plays the role of psycho bitch. She even manages to tie up one of the doctors. Now usually when a beautiful woman ties you up, that either means you paid extra or you're about to get screwed in all the wrong ways. In this case it's the latter because Domino breaks free and even takes their coffee as an extra fuck you. For someone who was nearly killed in the last issue, it's a great way to redeem her badassery.

All this action is being closely watched by Hillary Clinton wannabe from your standard observation deck. She actually goes into a little history surrounding this fictional country to show she's not quite as evil as Hillary Clinton. She was a little girl in a country that was essentially a whipping boy for other countries with bigger guns. Even Poland probably fucked them up a bit when they got bored. Well she decided that they weren't going to take that shit anymore. And who can blame her? What country wants to be the international equivalent of a semen encrusted sock underneath a 16-year-old boy's bed? Giant killer robots actually seems viable as twisted as that sounds.

Now some may think this background info is a useless waste of ink that could be otherwise utilized for more action scenes. But this is actually something Gischler hasn't done much of in the past. He's been good with providing style, but not a lot of substance. This is the kind of substance that may have saved Curse of the Mutants. It's overdue, but it was worth the wait!

It helps bring the next scene together in a perfectly harmonious way. As Storm, War Machine, and Colossus come in to aid Jubilee, Psylocke, and Warpath the sentinels are activated. This time they don't go on their usual 'destroy all mutants' schtick. Well, they do except their programming has been tweaked so that when they see War Machine, they think he's a mutant. Granted, there are probably mutants out there that look like men in a suit of armor, but it sets an ominous precedent. Now this country that's been everybody's bitch for so long has sentinels that will attack whoever they tell them to attack and that includes War Machine. So we've got a small robot versus a big robot. Unlike certain lies women say about penises, size does matter and War Machine is left in deep shit as the sentinels start to flex their muscle in preparation for the next issue.

Earlier in this review, I talked about unrealized potential. The last issue threw a lot of pieces into place, but this issue really brought them together in a way that even politics couldn't fuck up. It's not often I'm this impressed by Gischler's narrative, but I'm okay with saying he didn't just realize that potential. He made it his personal bitch. The political undertones with Puternicstan using the sentinels worked perfectly with the themes that were already set up in recent stories. It almost makes you wonder why some corrupt government didn't think of this sooner. It seems so obvious! Tweaking sentinels to attack non-mutants and testing it out on War Machine. Then again, anyone who has ever been ignored at the DMV knows corrupt governments aren't known for being proactive.

There was plenty of action and suspense to go around. Domino showed once again that she's more than a little lucky and not just because that uniform of her is able to contain her breasts. The X-men displayed a more subtle type of badassery as they attempted to rescue Domino only to find out they had yet another sentinel army to deal with. They did manage to make up with War Machine, albeit in an overly convenient sort of way. It was light on drama, but practical when you get right down to it. When killer robots are on the louse in a politically sensitive area, you really don't have time to be too elaborate. Gischler understood this and focused on setting the stage for another killer robot assault. I know it's been done before, but if it keeps working why change it?

This is the most complete issue of the adjectiveless X-men series in a long time. I knew Gischler was capable of this kind of awesome. He just never reached it. Well with this issue, he's made good on many promises and delivered the kind of story that you might not expect to be engaging on the surface but still is very enjoyable once you actually sit your ass down and read it. There's not much keeping it down other than some erratic pacing at times, but it still works in the end. That's why I give X-men #21 a 4.5 out of 5. You've proven yourself, Mr. Gischler! I know I already owe Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron a lot of beers for their recent work. Don't worry! I'll make sure I save some for you when the time comes. Nuff said!

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