Saturday, December 31, 2011
Astonishing X-men #45 - Multiple Universes of Awesome
I may sound like an overly opinionated drunk three quarters of the time, but I'm actually a fairly reasonable man. I'm more than willing to grant someone a second chance if they give me reason to believe that they won't fuck themselves any further. The same applies to comics. I understand that every now and then a comic will come along that will make me wonder what the fuck the writer was smoking and where the fuck I could get some. When I first saw the cover for Astonishing X-men #44 that depicted Storm and Cyclops kissing in a way that looked like it could lead to the kind of sex that Pfizer would market as a form of super Viagra I was genuinely excited. I thought this could be the kind of story that finally made Astonishing X-men an actual contributor to the other X-books. Turns out I was just more high than usual.
That cover was a ruse. Yes, Cyclops and Storm did kiss. However, it wasn't exactly a true kiss. That Storm wasn't the 616 Storm. It was revealed to be a Storm from another universe, as if Marvel doesn't have enough of those. This after other X-books like Age of Apocalypse did such a great job of establishing a decent alternate timeline. It ended with Cyclops waking up in some containment chamber in a universe where someone calling himself the Savior held more command over the world than Tim Tebow in the 4th quarter of a football game (the game against the Patriots not withstanding). It was random, contrived, and deceptive. All these are the kind of elements that make it worthy to a comparison of food poisoning and diarrhea.
However, the story was not without merit. It was only one issue and it actually did take some time to tie Astonishing into the events of the other X-books in a compelling way. In addition, Greg Pak's return to the X-books were marked with solid dialog and characterization. This was more than enough to make it worthy of praise on some levels. However, it was a long ways away from being awesome. That's why I'm willing to give Astonishing X-men #45 a chance to redeem on the deception of the Astonishing X-men #44 cover.
The issue starts by adding some back story to this other alternate universe. It's not radically different. In this world mutants skipped the whole "let's try and live in peace" bullshit and conquered humanity. It's basically like House of M, complete with Magneto striking his trademark I-now-dominate-your-ass pose. The difference here is this wasn't the result of the Scarlet Witch having a bad case of PMS. Instead, the X-men emerged under different circumstances. They actually rose up and overthrew their fellow mutants because they favored valuing the lives of humans and mutants equally. That's a pretty heroic fight by all measures. It bears an uncomfortable resemblance to PETA's mission statement, but the important part is that the X-men triumphed and the tyranny that made House of M such a shitty place to live was thwarted.
This elaborate documentary that only the History Channel would find interesting isn't just for show. It's actually part of a vision that this crazy Savior guy is projecting into Cyclops's head. He actually tries to convince Cyclops that he's some grand savior himself. He has him wake up in a palace of sorts where he gazes out over loyal subjects praising and begging to dress up as Dark Phoenix and play "rise from the ashes" (ashes being a metaphor for his penis). Cyclops is more than capable of surmising that it's bullshit. He's been burned before by enjoying the fantasies in his mind so he decides not to tempt fate again. It only ends up with him back in the same test tube he was at the end of the previous issue. He should have at least stayed inside fantasy land long enough to cop a feel from Storm, but that's just me.
Now back in much less comfortable surroundings, he's told by Emma Frost that trying to break out of these tubes is like trying to fight a forest fire with napalm. Each bio container is designed to absorb whatever specific energy a mutant radiates. That essentially makes them batteries of sorts, which certainly doesn't sit well with Cyclops. He also finds out that he's not the only one from another world. The Emma Frost telling him this isn't the Emma Frost he's currently boning. The Wolverine in the nearby tube also isn't the Wolverine that beat the shit out of him in Schism. In fact, he doesn't even call himself Wolverine. He calls himself James Howlett and he was the governor of Canada while Emma calls herself Emmelene. Okay, it's not very original or creative. But it shows these characters are different and they're in the same boat as Cyclops in terms of being thrown into a new alternate universe that's more fucked up than the one they came from.
Despite knowing that these aren't the same X-men he trained, Cyclops decides to enlist them in an escape attempt. He shows that he's more resilient than someone with a visor and a full body condom for a costume would imply. It turns out that kiss with him and Storm wasn't just for show. It did more than just fuck with the perceptions of the readers. It revealed to Cyclops that he was dealing with a fucked up alternate version of Storm that wanted to jump his bone. It also allowed him to swipe some of the tools one would find with a former thief. That includes a tool that he can use to break the containment tubes. So with this simple tool, Cyclops breaks out. He then enlists Emma/Emmelene, James, and a kid Nightcrawler who looks only slightly less imposing than the kids in the Home Alone movies.
Now on the subject of the kiss, this scene actually does help the bullshit imposed by the last issue. It makes that kiss more than just some fucked up ruse. It actually had an impact on the story and is playing out in the events of this story. It helps make that kiss less of a ruse and more of a vital component to the plot. Is it still deceptive? Fuck yeah, but at least there's some substance behind it now.
An eventful ass-kicking ensues. This Savior guy that we still don't know shit about sends his neatly dressed goons after Cyclops and his makeshift X-men. They hold their own as one would expect a Cyclops-led team. Along the way they even pick up another familiar face in Kitty Pryde. Except this version of her looks older and has more of a Milla Jovavich feel, so fans should feel less shame when jerking off to her. She calls herself Shadow and quickly proves her worth by showing that in addition to phasing, she's pretty damn good with a knife. She's definitely not the kind of Kitty Pryde that would get stuck on a fucking bullet and be MIA for years on end.
Everything seems to be going well when this version of Wolverine starts getting a bit too violent for Cyclops's tastes. Gee, does anyone else smell the stench of irony or did someone just fart? I guess it's the irony because unneeded violence is just one of the reasons Cyclops and Wolverine ended up clashing in Schism and why Cyclops was so fucked up at the beginning of this arc. Well wouldn't you know it? Cyclops can't even get along with alternate version Wolverines with a background in politics. So he fires an optic blast at him only to have alternate Wolverine reveal that his bones are coated with something called Adamantine. Again, not a very creative sounding name. It's the metal of the gods and it resists Cyclops's blasts. But despite this impressive feat, Cyclops still threatens to blow his brains out through his eye sockets. And in a surprising yet not unreasonable reaction, this alternate Wolverine actually laughs and goes along with Cyclops. Somehow showing a willingness to blow his brains out earns this Wolverine respect.
Now I think this is an appropriate moment that can only happen with an alternate universe. Cyclops just got done with his falling out with Wolverine. Yet here he is facing another Wolverine and he manages to earn his respect. Considering how fucked up he was about losing it in the first issue, that means something. It's like a woman breaking your heart, but then sleeping with her twin sister. It doesn't cancel out the bullshit, but it's hard not to feel better.
Now with the support of Wolverine and his makeshift team of X-men alternates, they fight their way through the rest of the Savior's perverse world of S&M mutant terror. They end up making their way to what looks like a storage area. There the makeshift X-men are able to retrieve some of their personal items including knives, a trench coat, and presumably their porno stash. We can only assume that heroes in every universe never leave home without it. But while in this area they make a shocking and ass-clenchingly disturbing discovery that could only be equaled by Magneto going down on a Wendigo. Emmelene stumbles upon a whole stack of visors and it's not a collection either. They seem to be the visors of other Cyclops's who have gone through this same bullshit. Does WTF even begin to describe it?
Actually, there may be a reasonable explanation...reasonable being a relative term of course. It implies that this Savior figure has been gathering other versions of the X-men from all across the multiverse and so far none have managed to fuck up his plans. Cyclops is understandably disturbed and put off by the revelation that history is not on his side. But then the Savior makes another disturbing revelation. He didn't just do this with other versions of Cyclops. He did this with other versions of himself. That's right. This so-called savior that would make Michelle Bachmann burst into tears actually traversed the multiverse to fuck with both others and himself. It adds a new dimension to this arc the likes of which leave any unprepared minds in a state of blown not seen since the Kardashian sex tapes.
Now I'll take a moment to sober up for a moment before offering my full assessment of this issue. First off, I won't say that this issue completely made up for the bullshit of the previous issue. The previous issue still sucked in the way it used that kiss to deceive the readers. But this issue didn't suck in the same way because that kiss was actually a key part of the story. The previous issue also sucked for bringing yet another alternate universe into the picture. This issue didn't suck because it actually made that universe pretty compelling in a number of ways. It's different enough to not be classified as a House of M rip-off and the final pages show that this involves more than just one universe. There's some pretty awesome shit here despite the flaws. Much more so than I expected. I'll say with as sober a mind as I can manage that this issue is definitely an upgrade compared to the previous issue.
However, there are still some overly contrived elements in this issue. The names of alternate Emma and Wolverine as well as the adamantium rip-off wasn't all that creative. The alternate versions of Shadowcat and Nightcrawler didn't get much depth either. Even Storm, who was at the center of this shit, barely showed up after playing such a huge role in the last issue. This in addition to that whole Storm/Cyclops kiss having no meaning for them or their respective relationships is pretty bogus. But Greg Pak does plenty to make up for it by ensuring that the story is solid and this new world is compelling.
I don't want to get too ahead of myself with this comic. I get in enough trouble with that shit when driving down the Jersey Turnpike at two in the morning. Astonishing X-men is still a pariah amongst the X-books, but it's slowly working it's way into the greater X-men mythos. This issue didn't take it as far as it probably could have, but it did succeed in making the last issue feel much less egregious. There is still room for improvement, but this arc and this series is that much closer to being awesome again. That's why I give Astonishing X-men #45 a 3.5 out of 5. Greg Pak has only one arc to work with before Marjorie Liu takes over. As such, he needs to make it count and he still has a chance with this arc. He'll just have to make the caliber of awesome worthy of creating a whole new universe. That should be fairly easy, right? Nuff said!