Thursday, December 8, 2011

X-23 #18 - Cosmic Babysitting Mayhem

The 80s taught us many valuable life lessons that include but are not restricted to the following: promiscuous teenagers get hacked to death by masked serial killers, crazy hair somehow has the magical power to make you awesome, and cocaine is a hell of a drug. It also taught us that babysitting is almost as hazardous as Charlie Sheen's girlfriend. It used to be a whole genre of shitty movies, following teenage girls that filled out bras way sooner than they should be biologically capable of as they watch over children that are as devious and cunning as crack heads armed with a tank. Those movies aren't made anymore for a reason. They're shitty, boring, and overly censored by the humorless pussies of the MPAA. But that doesn't mean the concept is without merit

That's where Marjorie Liu's X-23 comes in. For much of her run, Liu has played up the notion that X-23 is still a teenage girl despite being a clone of Wolverine that was trained to kill from the moment she could walk. She kindly reminds the readers that being a killer kind of has a way of fucking up someone and when you're a teenage girl with weapons grade hormones assaulting your every whim, that's a bad combination. For much of the series, Liu has taken X-23 down many roads of self-discovery and has done such a great job that I can't find it in me to make a lesbian porno joke. Her latest arc has X-23 taking on a babysitter role, something that many teenage girls partake in at some point in their lives. Sure, it may be some cruel conspiracy by society to prepare them for baby making, but it's a valuable life lesson.

Unfortunately, the kids she ends up babysitting belong to Reed and Sue Richards. In the previous arc, she made friends with them by helping them beat back a cosmic force that was looking to date rape their dimension. In their mind, that qualifies her for babysitting their kids. Personally, I think X-23 was better off taking her chances with an inter-dimensional tyrant intent on enslaving the world. Two genius kids with access to technology 100 years ahead of it's time is like putting a kid in a room with a pile of sugar with a table of sharp objects. Needless to say, X-23's foray into babysitting didn't go very well. First, Hellion won't stop bugging her after he was a massive dick cheese to her when she paid a visit to the new Jean Grey Institute. Then Valerie and Franklyn ended up creating another dimensional gateway that caused a dragon to appear. That would sound random in most comics, but since this is dealing with the FF it makes as much sense as a kid finding their parents' stash of weed.

X-23 #18 picks up on this babysitting gig gone horribly wrong. The creature has Franklin and Valerie in both claws and is flying over New York. X-23 is latched onto it's tail and clawing her way up it's back. I assume she wants Reed and Sue to pay her for all this trouble so she has a lot of intensive to make sure these kids aren't fried. That's not as easy as it sounds considering that this is a dragon and dragons like to spit fire. That makes their breath only slightly less offensive than Ann Coulter.

A fight with a killer purple dragon can go so many ways. Having slain many a dragons while on an acid trip, I can say from experience that X-23 needs to utilize unconventional methods. Even with adamantium claws and healing, she's horribly overmatched. She needs to find out just what kind of dragon she's dealing with while trying hard not to be a rooster in Colonel Sanders's coop. Well here's where Liu throws in a bit of a twist. While the dragon is flying X-23 and the Richards kids over the city, X-23 actually explains to the creature that she needs to protect these kids and it response. Now this wouldn't be the most fucked up thing I've seen happen to a dragon (I get really awesome acid), but apparently this creature isn't about kidnapping princesses of child bearing age and demanding that virile men rescue her. It just wants some manners. Seriously, should it take a fucking dragon to get that? I'm pretty sure Liu is sending a message to the teenagers of America.

As often happens with any positive lesson, an overly horny young man with poor impulse control fucks everything up. Remember Hellion? In the last issue he was right outside the FF building hoping to talk to X-23 (or have her touch his penis, whichever comes first). Seeing as how the woman he wants to bone is apparently in trouble, he goes after the dragon and hits it with telekinesis just as it's being nice enough to let X-23 and the kids down. As a former teenage boy myself who obeyed one too many impulses in my youth, I can sympathize with Hellion. But it's a fucking dragon, kid. Even the best imported acid from Angola has it's limits.

X-23 is understandably pissed. But unlike many other 80s babysitter movies, the dragon doesn't fucking explode after Hellion screws it up. He still subdues it and it nice enough to catch Franklyn and Valeria before they become street pizza. He gives her a look that says "you fucked up and you're never seeing me naked." She also tells him to get the dragon back to the Baxter Building while she tends to the kids. But before she can even begin to immaculate him, the dragon pulls a fast one. While he's holding it with his telekinesis, the whole damn creature just erupts in this typical comic band of light that engulfs Hellion, X-23, and the kids. It's sudden, but Angolan acid is still better.

Now there isn't much mystery here even if that's what this scene is supposed to convey. I get the premise. There's more to this dragon than meets the eye. But a bland light engulfing them? It's as boring as it sounds. It's like describing Natalie Portman's ass in less than four words. It just doesn't convey the sheer majesty of what's going on.

When the bland light fades, X-23 and Hellion find that they're not in New York anymore (or maybe they're in the Bronx because they're on a pile of garbage). So the whole babysitting plot was grounded enough, but then the dragon kind of spiced it up. Now they're on an entirely new world that's almost exclusively composed of garbage. It's quite a transition and it's a bit abrupt, but it doesn't change the central focus of the story. X-23 still needs to find the Richards kids, for whom she is responsible. Reed and Sue are still off for a night on the town, foolishly assuming that their kids are okay. In the Marvel universe, that's like assuming Jean Grey is dead for good. It's fucking stupid.

Helping X-23 with her search is Hellion, who was standing over her like a career stalker when she came to. Having already earned himself a restraining order from X-23's panties for no less than ten years, he has a lot to make up for. So as they start looking, they finally have the talk that every teenage would-be couple avoids like the first day of high school. Marjorie Liu actually uses this moment to clear a few things up. Keep in mind, this is the first X-23 arc since Schism so the events of regenesis are still settling in. X-23 takes some time to clarify where she stands in the Team Wolverine/Team Cyclops spat. She makes it clear to Hellion that she's on neither side. He also makes it clear to her that he really did miss her and despite being a complete dick, he still cares about her and it hurt him when she just up and left. It helps create a nice moment between the two when X-23 reveals that she stayed by his side while he was healing during the whole Hellverine shit. So as much as Hellion has ruined his chances of getting to know X-23's bra size, she still has feelings for him.

This a wonderful moment of teen drama, for which Marjorie Liu deserves plenty of praise. However, not a whole lot is really said to work out the meat and bones of their relationship. X-23 and Hellion have had a very unspoken connection since their New Mutant days. There's something there, but they've never put it into words. It was cute at first, but now it's just annoying. This seemed like a great opportunity to clear it up, but not much comes of it.

In their defense, they finally locate Franklyn and Valeria. They're trapped in a couple of containment orbs and being guarded by a killer robot that looks like a sentinel that has been snorting whatever shit Barry Bonds was injecting into his ass. The killer robot demands that they let him hang onto these two kids for whatever sick shit that robots do to kids in junkyards, which can't be any worse than what happens to them in Baltimore public schools mind you. X-23 and Hellion, having clashed with many a killer robots, give it the proverbial finger and start kicking it's ass.

As you would expect, a robot in a junkyard doesn't put up much of a fight even if it does look all big and bad. X-23 makes quick work of it while Hellion tries (and fails) to free Franklyn and Valeria. Upon slicing open the robot like a kid cutting up the naked women in your nudie magazines, X-23 discovers that the giant robot actually has a pilot. He looks like a cross between Magneto, Gandalf, and Elton John only slightly more gay. He calls himself the collector and claims to be an elder of the universe. So he's basically a god if god was a reclusive fanboy that spent most of his time trying to outbid people on ebay for anything William Shatner sat on. It's only slightly less pathetic than being the god who cleans Galactus's toilet.

But this Collector asshole shows he's serious about his obsession. Before Hellion can free Valeria and Franklyn, he pulls a little cosmic trick and causes their containment orbs to rocket into space. Why does he do this? Is it just to be an asshole? Not necessarily, although I'm sure that's part of it. After X-23 tells the Collector that she's Wolverine's clone, he suddenly becomes intrigued. That means Wolverine may have either killed someone he knows or fucked an ex-girlfriend (or both). But he makes it clear that he wants X-23 in a way far less creepy than Hellion and if she doesn't cooperate than the Richards kids are going to run out of air and be lost in space forever. It's basically what would happen if you gave those Ebay douche-bags the power of a god.

In my last review I praised the premise for this arc because it was more grounded than the previous arc which dealt in cosmic forces. This issue took that once grounded arc, strapped to a rocket, and shot it into a wormhole. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. It's actually a hell of a task, beginning a story one way and then adding extreme elements like a garbage planet and obsessive alien collectors. Yet Marjorie Liu finds a way to make this work and not just because her characterization and willingness to tackle teen drama like Hellion and X-23 is so well done. Look at it another way. If this arc was as down to Earth as most of those lame babysitter movies from the 80s I mentioned earlier, it would have been a hell of a shift from arc to arc. To go from a cosmic arc to a babysitting arc is a bigger shift than Newt Gingrich's presidential platform. By mixing in a few cosmic elements, this arc actually doesn't feel as dramatic a change from the previous arc. It actually flows with the series, which shows an attention to detail that most writers are too lazy or impatient to utilize.

While I love the sense of cohesion that this issue brings along with the previous issue, the transition from New York City to this garbage world still felt a bit too abrupt. I know it's a hard transition to make, but visually and organizationally speaking it was pretty bland. Also, the conversation between X-23 and Hellion, while dramatic, lacked substance. They did a lot of talking without saying much. And no that's not stoner talk. Not entirely anyways. But it basically amounted to Hellion missing X-23. Then they come close to kissing? It just doesn't seem to fit. I'm assuming that the drama between them doesn't end here. The arc isn't over and Hellion and X-23 are pretty much stuck having to rescue Valeria and Franklyn together. But it still feels like not enough was done.

X-23 is still a top notch X-men book that shouldn't be canceled. Alas, we're left to cherish these issues while we can because the end is near for them. Marjorie Liu's knack for mixing teen drama with cosmic forces is akin to vodka and whiskey. It just works. There are still some drama gaps just begging to be filled, not unlike my shot glass. But while I pour a few rounds in anticipation for the next issue, I give X-23 #18 a 4 out of 5. I still don't miss the 80s too much. I sure would love puffy hair and lenient cocaine policies to come back, but X-23 serves as a fond reminder that when you mix cute teenage girls with babysitting there are so many awesome stories you can tell. Nuff said!

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