Thursday, January 26, 2012

Astonishing X-men #46 - Multiverse Madness (of Awesome)

In most other spheres of my life, I don't like surprises (when I'm sober). If a woman knocks on my door armed with a baseball bat in one hand and a paternity test result in the other, I'd be pretty pissed about that. In comics, however, I don't mind surprises. Especially when it's the kind of surprise that takes a story that sucked in too many ways and adds in new elements that turn that suck into the kind of awesome you can mix with your speed. In my experience as a drunken fanboy, I've found that if the first few issues of an arc sucks the gerbil from a gay man's ass then chances are the whole arc will suck just as much. On rare exceptions (and by rare I mean photos of Michelle Bachmann going down on Nancy Polosi rare), a comic does start off lame but improves to something truly awesome. Like a total eclipse, it doesn't happen often, but when it does it's so beautiful that you may go blind if you stare at it too long.

Greg Pak's little field trip into the world of Astonishing X-men started off on shaky grounds. First there was that whole deceptive cover bit with Storm and Cyclops that got fanfiction writers imagining all sorts of depraved acts. Then there was the inclusion of yet another alternate X-men reality with new versions of Emma, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Kitty with shitty knock-off labels like Emmeile or adamantine. Yet despite these circumstances, Pak managed to put together a pretty intriguing story. First, he actually ties Astonishing into the shit that's going on in the other X-books. I know that doesn't seem like much, but to this point Astonishing has been so disconnected that it's like the Amish member of the X-men family. It centered around Cyclops being messed up about Schism and being led onto a mission with Storm, who just ended up being an alternate version Storm. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but Pak has defied the basic law that if it starts out fucked up it ends fucked up.

Astonishing X-men #45 was a great recovery issue from the insanity of the first. It helped introduce these alternate versions of the X-men and offered hints as to what kind of world they were stuck in. It's not your traditional post-apocalyptic scenario that is the basis for every anime series. It's actually slightly more fucked up if you can believe that. This man, calling himself the Savior, controls the world with his mind in a way that earns him the kind of worship that Pat Robertson only wish he had. He seems like a nice guy, but then we find out he's taking mutants from different alternate realities and using them like Duracell batteries for some fucked up machine. Cyclops and a few others including an alternate Wolverine break free. But the comic ended before we could get more of an explanation.

Astonishing X-men #46 provides that explanation in the very first few pages. First off, it reveals that the savior is actually Charles Xavier with Fabio style hair. Like so many other X-men realities, he sought to unite humans and mutants in a battle against Magneto. He succeed by opening his mind and sharing his thoughts with the world. It turns out, people weren't completely disgusted with the feeling and embraced him. Hell, if that's all it takes to bring peace than the X-men comics could have been resolved in two issues. I'll just assume the people of this reality are more gullible than the people who give money to a crack head and expect it back. But saving the world wasn't enough. Magneto threw in one last fuck you and uses his powers to destroy the Earth's electromagnetic field, killing millions in a very Ultimatum-like way minus the horrendous blood porn. That's where those mutant-powered batteries came in. That's what allowed the Savior to fix the planet. Unfortunately, he ran out of mutants and started lifting them from other realities. I know there are an infinite number of realities according to comic book physics, but it still counts as a dick move.

That freaky scene at the end of the last issue turns out to be exactly what it looks like. The Savior didn't stop at just using his own mind to fuck with people. He actually went out of his way to take countless other Xaviers from other alternate universe, cut off their heads, and use them in his giant Cerebro of horrors. It's a pretty elaborate and disturbing contraption. It's like a serial killer that collects the hands of his victims. Except in the Savior's case, this collection is more useful. Using his powers, he starts psychically attacking Cyclops and the rest of the alternate world X-men he freed. With power like that, it's only a matter of time before you start shitting your brain out throuogh your eyes.

It would have made for a short fight. Then the kid Nightcrawler that looks like he was taken right out of an episode of X-men Evolution finds out that the Savior could get a part in that Hoarding show on National Geographic. Remember when he mentioned how he took mutants from multiple realities? Well it turns out he took a shit ton of Magnetos from other realities, leaving to a surplus of spare helmets. Now I don't know why the Savior wouldn't throw away a bunch of contraptions that allow people to block out his psychic attacks, but I guess he's like that kid who collects boogers in grade school. He just can't throw crap away. Plus, it's probably better to keep it under his watch than let it become a shitty fashion statement.

Armed with these helmets, Cyclops flexes his scrotum and leads this team of alternate world X-men in a battle against the Savior. And in a ill-fitting move, he teams up with Wolverine while he chooses to split up the others. I mean why would he do that? Why not just take the alternate Emma Frost and say "In my world, you're totally in love with me and you let me tit fuck you every five minutes." But that's just me.

Cyclops and the alternate Wolverine, or James as he's called here, fight their way towards the Savior. They maul through some of the Savior's henchmen along the way. But such action is standard. What stands out here is how Cyclops talks with this other Wolverine. Unlike other Astonishing X-men titles, the shit hat happens in other books does matter so the effects of Wolverine leaving really do bother him. This is where Greg Pak really shines because while this is not the Wolverine that Cyclops knows, his emotions surrounding Schism definitely shows. And unlike his Wolverine, this one is actually willing to listen. Alternate universe. Impossible shit is the only norm.

While Cyclops and Wolverine are making their way towards the Savior, Emmeline (alternate Emma Frost) works with kid Nightcrawler and a less perky version of Kitty Pryde to create a distraction. She starts by hitting the Savior with a psychic attack. All it does is give him a bloody nose and make him look like the Grateful Dead after diving into a pile of blow. He's able to retort and make her look like Ike Turner's last six girlfriends. It seems like a shitty move, but there is some strategy behind it. Cyclops may be in a shitty state personalty, but he's still a brilliant strategist. He's like the Dr. House of leadership.

Emmeline's attack gets the Savior's attention. With it, he sics Storm on them. That is, the same Storm that swapped spit with Cyclops earlier and seems to want to jump his bone at every turn. But even if this Storm can't keep her clam in it's shell, she still packs a punch. Kid Nightcrawler and Shadow (alternate Kitty Pryde) try to attack her. They catch her by surprise at first, but when you can shove lightning up someone's ass then it's really not a fair fight. It also doesn't help that Nightcrawler is still a kid and manages to teleport his way right into a crowd of armed men. So while Cyclops's strategy to divert the Savior's attention was sound, he might as well have teamed up with the three stooges.

Since his team did such a shitty job, Storm is able to fly back towards the Savior just in time to give them a 50,000 volt reminder that she can fry their balls whenever she gets bored. It ends the fight before Cyclops and Wolverine can get to the Savior. But she's not done yet. She's merciful enough to keep Cyclops's balls intact because she still probably wants to suck them. All dick jokes aside, she seems genuinely serious about wanting to win this Cyclops over. So she urges the Savior to go into his mind and show him the same thing he showed the rest of the world that brought about so much peace. He connects him to every mind on the planet.

It seems like a fucked up thing to do, but when you think about it this definitely has some philosophical underpinnings. Pretty much all of human conflict stems from the fact that most people can't think outside their own heads and for some it's often stuck up their ass. But by bypassing all the clutter and connecting to everyone's mind, we all in theory see just how similar and/or boring we truly are.

However, this understanding is pretty much lost on Cyclops. Even after sensing all the thoughts in this world, he makes clear that it's not enough to make him okay with using the multiverse to fuel a raging death machine that also massages the ego of a madman. This is Cyclops. He's too stubborn to see even a psychically induced taste of utter nirvana. I'm not sure if that makes him noble or just stupid. I can't help but wonder how shitty his LSD tolerance must be. Regardless, he puts Magneto's helmet back on and prepares to take on the Savior. It's sets the stage for a fight that leaves little room for talking out their differences and plenty of room for blowing shit up. That kind of thing is definitely worth waiting for in the next issue.

Ever since Joss Whedon left Astonishing X-men, the series has been more chaotic Courtney Love's mood swings when she's PMSing. It's been all too easy a title to ignore as the other X-books have improved in quality. Greg Pak does something special here. He makes his Astonishing arc actually have meaning to what's going on in the other X-books. It isn't just about Cyclops dealing with the events of Schism. In this he actually gets to interact with another Wolverine and take on another version of his mentor. He's shown the same things that brought peace to their world and still fought on. It isn't just another villain he's fighting. This Savior wants to save his world as well. That makes for a conflicting yet compelling struggle that Greg Pak makes into a brilliant story.

This issue definitely filled in the very ominous blanks left by the first two issues. In light of this issue, those two actually make much more sense now. It's still a little convoluted in the sense that it took two issues to make things salient. Certain aspects like using elements from a shitty story like Ultimatum made certain details a bit cliched. Even so, the action and the character interactions really fleshed this story out. It wasn't just an improvement over the previous issue. It was a complete retooling that painted a much clearer picture and used all the right elements to make it compelling.

While Greg Pak may not be staying on Astonishing X-men long term, he's definitely making his mark on this book. I admit I was pretty disappointed with his first issue, but he's done more than enough to redeem himself. He's shown in other Marvel books that he's resilient when it comes to tough stories. He pounds that point home with a sledge hammer here. This is without a doubt the best Astonishing X-men has been in years. It could still be better since not everything has come together just yet. With that in mind, I give Astonishing X-men #46 a 4 out of 5. Take comfort in this because that means this book is awesome in a way that isn't "walking through the raindrops of the continuity" as Marvel loves to put it. That shit wasn't working and unless you're okay with smelling like a cow's ass, you make the necessary change and they've done it with Greg Pak. Nuff said!

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