Wednesday, December 28, 2011
X-23 #19 - Heart Shattering Awesome
Teenagers are complicated, irrational creatures. One day they're so frail that the mere thought of taking a quiz in algebra class sends them into crying fits. The next they're so cold that they'll casually tell their parents that they choke small animals in their spare time. As a former teenager with more than his share of poor impulse control, comics like X-23 resonate with me. They don't just remind me that being a teenager sucks ass. They remind me that while it helps to have a healing factor and adamantium claws, you learn how to make tough decisions and live with them before you're too old make up for it.
X-23 under Marjorie Liu has been more a teenager than she has been a mutant or a Wolverine clone. It's been a boon for her character, so much so that it should be a federal crime that this series is getting cancelled. But I'd rather not go on that rant again. I'm still hung over from too much eggnog. Under Liu, X-23 has gone through some tough phases. She left Utopia, crossed paths with Sinister, took on Daken, and went through a self-mutilation phase. She even dabbled a bit in cosmic threats with the FF. Now she's taken a slightly less outrageous mission in the form of babysitting the children of Reed and Sue Richards. Wait...did I say that was less outrageous. Man, I am hung over!
Not surprisingly, this babysitting endeavor goes horribly wrong. The Richards children accidentally open a portal that takes them across the universe where a crazed fanboy with advanced technology and too much free time, abducts Franklin and Valeria. All the while, X-23 is dealing with her on-again/off-again boy toy Hellion. He was a bit of a jerk to her, but in his defense X-23 didn't say shit to him. She just visited him and left. He tried to catch up with her. A dragon and a time warp got in the way. That's pretty much par for the course in comics. However, I would argue it's no more serious than meeting your high school girlfriend's father and finding out he's a rabid NRA supporter whose eye twitches at you every time you stare at him for too long.
But I'd rather not relive memories of my ex. I'd rather focus on how this story continues with X-23 #19. In the last issue, X-23 met up with the Collector in his fancy ship only to find out that the Richards kids are now floating helplessly in space in a couple of bubble-like orbs. They're low on oxygen and time. The Collector, who seems intent on adding a Wolverine clone to his collection, decides to screw with her a bit by giving her a chance to rescue them. He gives her this fancy space suit and dares her to go after them. Hellion certainly doesn't like it, but X-23 is the babysitter if I recall. She's gotta get those kids or she doesn't get paid.
It's X-23 vs. the vacuum of space in an effort to get two pesky kids who got her into this shit by playing with dimensional portals. It seems more fair than it should be, but Hellion doesn't see it that way. He's still inclined to kick the Collector's ass for putting the girl he seriously wants to bone in this kind of danger. He continues to give him even more reasons because while he has him by the neck, he tells him that the fancy suit he so generously lent X-23 had a 'batteries not included' label. So like my ex-girlfriend's vibrator, it doesn't have the juice to get the job done and X-23 is that much more vulnerable.
What happens next is a test in physics. Pop quiz all you wonderful readers. What happens when you put someone in a vacuum? Answer, they suffer and choke in agonizing pain. For anyone else, that's death. But keep in mind that X-23 has lived a good deal of her life in agonizing pain. Hell, she was brought up in a lab where some guys probably jerked off to her suffering. So much to the Collector's chagrin, X-23 doesn't let a little something like a lack of oxygen stop her. Even with her healing, the vacuum of space is going to win that battle and even she knows it.
This is where it pays to be stuck with a guy who is seriously trying to bone you. When X-23 manages to break the air lock and send them both flying out into the vacuum of space, Hellion channels his inner Green Lantern and uses his telekinesis to save X-23. He's even nice enough to get Franklin and Valeria back to safety. Now I'm not sure if that's just nice or if that's his way of inching closer to getting inside X-23's panties, but it's probably the first real honest act of heroism that he's done in quite a while. I think there's a hidden message here. When teenagers are assholes, they're assholes to an amazing degree. But when given the potential for pussy, they'll be as heroic as Superman. Take note, parents! That's definitely something useful.
Once they're back in the ship and in the presence of sweet, wonderful oxygen, X-23 turns her attention back to the Collector. It's one thing to abduct Valeria and Franklin on her first babysitting run. It's another to trick her into flying out into space and then cutting off her air supply. Then he decides to go for the trifecta by attempting to kill Hellion for screwing his plan up. That's a no-no for X-23. Even if this kid is a jerk, he did save her life. While that may not get him into her panties, that will get him a vengeance kill. So even with a body that's still clearly fucked up from getting dangerously close to going down on the grim reaper, she takes on the Collector. At first he boasts how he's superhuman and immortal. She decides to test that claim by chopping off the guy's fucking head. Given all the crap he's put her through, a drawn out battle just wouldn't seem appropriate. When you piss a teenage girl off that much, decapitation is probably the most merciful fate one can hope for. Again, another lesson for would-be parents.
The Collector is dead. They're all still alive and in one piece, despite an unpleasant trip into space. So using the Collector's own gear, Valeria and Franklin program a portal that not only sends them back to New York it also sends the dragon back where it came from. See? Kids aren't completely psychopathic. They make it back to the lab only to see that it's royally fucked up. But these are the Richards kids. They're smarter than the average per-pubecant horrors and can clean up a lab in under 10 minutes. So since X-23 and Hellion were nice enough to save their lives and all, they do just that. So by the time Reed and Sue get home, they're both sleeping peacefully on the couch and you would never guess that they just got back from an adventure in space with a psychotic collector. But given their experience, they probably just assume it and shrug it off as another normal day.
X-23's first stint into babysitting is done. She leaves the FF understandably exhausted and probably jaded about a career in babysitting. But there's one other immature tyke she has to deal with and that's Hellion. He's waiting for her outside and he's intent on talking to her in the way she's been avoiding since this shit began. Now remember, she's the one that visited him at the institute when this arc began and she didn't do shit. She just showed up and left. So it's actually understandable that Hellion would want to talk to her to get some answers. But she still doesn't budge. Then he tries kissing her. It's not a very subtle kiss either. It's not the kind that X-23 is repulsed by. But then when it's over and he tries to get emotional, she just flat out says she doesn't want him. She doesn't care about him. She staying in the city, but not for him. It's probably the coldest, most dickish thing she's done in this comic and that includes the decapitation scene. So Hellion is understandably upset. He calls her out for being a machine that can't feel. It's harsh, but in this case X-23 deserved it.
This scene effectively ends the X-23/Hellion relationship, but in a way that's hardly clean. Marjorie Liu is great at writing teen drama and she does a great job of showing just how conflicted Hellion is. However, X-23 is so utterly stoic that I have a hard time making sense of this. She shows up, drags him along, and then breaks his heart? I know teenage girls can be cruel, but WTF? It's not that X-23 dumped Hellion in the middle of a street that bothers me. It's that she says so little and there's nothing in her expression that says anymore. She doesn't offer an explanation. She doesn't explain or even imply her motivations. She just flat out says "I don't want you. Now leave." It actually makes her seem like more of a douche than Hellion and that's saying a lot.
Now Hellion has even more reason to be emo, but X-23 doesn't seem to give too much of a damn. She just goes out for pizza where she meets up with Gambit. As he's done for much of this series, he offers X-23 some insight into what she's going through. It's not the most insightful bit of advice. To her credit X-23 does admit that Hellion meant something to her before, but it had changed. Gambit says that's normal and it is. Sometimes feelings get stronger and sometimes they don't and you have to move on. It sounds like the kind of message you get from a John Huges movie, but it's kind of hard to believe that coming from Gambit because he's been hung up on Rogue since the fucking Clinton administration. He says it's easier said than done, but that's like saying you can fix a nuclear reactor with a fucking wrench. The man has no credibility in this department and maybe that's the point.
Gambit takes X-23 home where she can do whatever teenage girls do after they break the heart of a teenage boy. I always imagined that they summon demons and swap blood with them so they can enjoy the suffering they inflict. Or maybe that's just my ex or that bitch that said I had too many pimples to go the prom with her. Whatever she had planned, those plans change when she arrives to find that she already has a guest. A few arcs ago, X-23 made her first real BFF in the form of Vampire Jubilee. She's the kind of girl that is such a stark contrast to X-23 that I'm pretty sure that Chuck Lorre is working on a sitcom based around this presence. So even with this series nearing it's end, Marjorie Liu sets us up for one last arc that involves trained killers and vampires. Sounds like fun to me!
So X-23's first venture into babysitting isn't a booming success or an epic failure. She does manage to keep Valeria and Franklin safe, but only after they make it exceedingly difficult for her by getting them caught up with an asshole like the Collector. While that turned out well, her pep talk with Hellion did not. I know there are some rabid Hellion/X-23 shippers out there and this issue is probably a dagger to the heart. X-23 makes it clear. She doesn't care about Hellion anymore. She's not all that conflicted about it either. She said so little to Hellion early on and gave so little indication as to what she felt for most of the story. It's still not clear if there was something else at work or if she was just being cold as teenagers tend to be. Either way, that romance is pretty much dead and given how much of an asshat Hellion has been since he lost his hands it may be for the better.
This was a great issue in terms of action and drama, but the lack of substance to X-23's interactions with Hellion is what really brought it down. Hellion was the emotional one here. All X-23 did was show up, stare blankly, and say she didn't want him in the end. I get that teenage girls have fucked up emotions, but the lack of insight here has me scratching my head. I honestly don't know what to make of X-23's actions here, but it looks like she has other drama in her life with Jubilee entering the picture again. In a way it sounds like she would get along a lot better with someone like Jubilee, a blood-sucking vampire that has to control her urge to kill just like X-23. Whether or not they talk about boys is basically moot at this point because the lack of detail here just makes it seem meaningless.
Everything else in this issue was solid. Marjorie Liu's writing is as good as we've come to expect. The art is beautiful. The action and the pacing all work nicely. It's just that emotional flatness on X-23 that brings this issue down. It ends the arc on a solid note, but it still feels like it's lacking. So with that minor detail, I give X-23 #19 a 4.5 out of 5. If you're an X-23/Hellion fan, you're probably going to hate this with the fire of a billion suns. But if you're just a fan of teen drama mixed with aliens and dragons, you'll have plenty to enjoy. Nuff said!