Saturday, January 7, 2012
Uncanny X-men #4 - A Personal Journey (of Awesome)
People with refined, diverse tastes often make up a disproportionate amount of the sweater-vest wearing, fake tan loving hipster douche-bag crowd. In the age of the Jersey Shore and Kardashian marriages that don't last as long as the first season of Shit My Dad Says, refined tastes get a bad rap. I go out of my way to run out of these hipster douche-bags with my car from time to time, but I think having more diverse and refined tastes are a good thing. That applies to comics as well. Not every issue of Uncanny X-men has to involve Cyclops flexing his scrotum while Emma Frost strokes it and Colossus bench presses an aircraft carrier. Some X-men stories can be told from a different perspective and be just as awesome.
This is what brings me to Uncanny X-men #4. A mere week ago, Kieron Gillen ended his first arc to this relaunched series. He had high expectations and an even higher threshold for failure. A lesser man probably would have impaled himself trying to jump it in an effort that would become the source of gay jokes for generations. But Gillen succeeded. He told a compelling story that brought the X-men, Sinister, and the Celestials together in a high-stakes battle that nearly turned the world into a sandwich deep fried in cake batter on top of Chris Christy's dinner plate. It was a great arc to usher in a new era of Uncanny X-men. But does the next issue actually have to directly follow the events of that arc? Or is there room for more diverse stories? Those with the unrefined tastes that only pay attention to explosions and tits may say yes. Those with more functioning brain cells would say no.
Uncanny X-men #4 does actually follow the events of Uncanny X-men #3, but not directly. It actually tells a story that connects Sinister to another story that led him to the colorful rampage that made San Francisco crazier than it already was to begin with. And the story isn't told from the point of view from Sinister or the X-men either. It's told from the point of view of the Phalanx, a race of techno-organic creatures that like to suck up living flex and integrate it into their techno-organic forms. It's not as big as a dick move as it sounds. These creatures are a collective mind that seek to integrate life into a single functional collective. It's basically all of Glenn Beck's nightmares about communism taking form and substance. So naturally, long before the events of the last arc, Sinister captured it and did it with a big ass gun. Like Ted Nugant in a grizzly bear's nest, you can't say the guy doesn't come equipped.
Once captured, Sinister does what he does with pretty much any living experiment. He dissects it the way Colonel Sanders dissects a chicken. He tears into the Phalanx, probing it's ability to create a hive mind and collective unconscious. Why? Because he's Sinister, damn it! He doesn't need a reason! Well, that is until the end of the last arc. This is where this seemingly unrelated story from an unrelated perspective crosses paths with the events of the first arc. Sinister used a hive mind to create the army of duplicates that gave the X-men so many headaches. He used it to great effect and looked pretty badass in the process. So when he returns from that battle, the creature's role becomes more evident. And to show that he's merciful in his own twisted way, Sinister throws away his specimens and that includes the Phalanx.
It's a very loose connection to the first arc, but it's a connection none-the-less. This issue is written from a very different perspective, namely from a creature that had no role in it and was simply one of Sinister's many test subjects. It really didn't need this connection, but it certainly helps. It shows that Gillen values coherence in his books and for that he deserves plenty of credit because this is the kind of shit that lazy writers can't be bothered to give half a bag of dog shit about.
The Phalanx is basically a piece of medical waste now. Sinister cut this thing up and damaged it so badly that it's more screwed up than a computer that was fixed by an Amish tech support team. The Phalanx was so weak that it had to integrate worms to rebuild it's form. Over time, it finally returned to the surface. There it was found by a young girl that looks like an extra from Japanese anime porn. Like any extra that ends up getting tentacle raped, she foolishly takes the Phalanx and treats it like a doll. Granted, it looks like the creepiest doll since they made a Vanilla Ice action figure. But for some reason the girl doesn't care. She doesn't get tentacle raped, but you can probably see where this is going.
While the girl sleeps, the Phalanx absorbs her. It turns her into an integrated collective that looks like Snooki after she stayed in the tanning bed for too long. Not content to just absorb an innocent girl, the Phalanx goes for her parents and absorbs them too. Now normally when the Phalanx absorbs something, it integrates it's mind into it's own. The subject doesn't die. It just becomes part of the Phalanx. But that doesn't happen this time. When the Phalanx absorbs these people, it destroys their minds. Hence, it fucking kills them. It's pretty gruesome, but it's not quite that cut and dry.
This is where the perspective of Gillen's writing really shows it's magic. Without it, the Phalanx is just this cruel alien intelligence that gets off absorbing young girls and corrupting their families. It's basically what MTV strives to do, but that's not how the Phalanx sees itself. It believes it's actually doing something good for these people by allowing their minds to merge. It believes that by absorbing this girl, they'll be together. But that doesn't happen. It leaves the Phalanx scared and horrified, not cruel and murderous. It would be as if Jason Vorhees discovered that hacking people with a machete wouldn't make his mother love him. It would be pretty crippling.
Now confused and more fucked up than Bugs Bunny on a crack binge, the Phalanx decides to absorb more people. It's not a Godzilla style rampage. It wants to reconnect with the other Phalanx in the universe. The problem is that when you start sucking in other people in a way that Jeffery Dalmer would find fucked up, it's going to draw attention. This is exactly the kind of thing that sends Abigail Brand of SWORD into a frenzy of PMS. Since she has the budget for a big ass space station but not an army equipped to fight big ass aliens, she calls the X-men's extinction team. I guess the economy sucks in the Marvel U just as much as it does in real life. Go figure.
The X-men arrive on the scene. By then the Phalanx has absorbed an entire fucking town. Yet all that absorbing hasn't yielded it a single mind into it's collective so it's still pissed off. That means it's not going to allow the X-men to fuck with it's plan so it takes on the form of a big ass swamp monster minus the swamp. It's only slightly more imposing than a sentinel, minus the annoying 'destroy' battle cry. But it's dangerous in a way that you just can't reason with. That's why you need a team like Cyclops's to take it down. Wolverine can whine all he wants about making a school and educating kids, but as the Phalanx's monologue shows it just isn't interested in being lectured on how Lady Gaga wants us all to love who we are.
It makes for the kind of large-scale battle that we've all come to expect with Uncanny X-men. It also makes for an opportunity to have Colossus whip out his new unstoppable Juggernaut charged dick and attack the Phalanx (figuratively speaking of course). And he doesn't even wait until shit is too dire to use it. He actually says outright that he wants to flex his Juggernaut style muscle. That's a far cry from the lovable Russian commie that just wanted to make Kitty Pryde melt in his arms. It makes him far more badass, but it also implies that maybe like Donald Trump's sense of self worth that the power is going to his head.
Even with the X-men's heavy hitters tearing into it, the Phalanx manages to great this big dildo-shaped antenna with which to contact it's people. But there's a problem. Nobody's home. The creature is like a nerd that finds out that the number this cute girl in his English class that gave him her phone number just gave hims the number to a shitty Koren restaurant that left a used band aid in their last batch of stir fry. It's pretty crushing because for most of this issue, this Phalanx has been fighting loneliness. And not the kind of loneliness that some solve with beer and internet porn. It's the loneliness of a collective that has only one mind. And for a creature that's not immersed in the California style "I love me" type mentality, that's pretty crippling.
So in a rather tragic act of redemption, the Phalanx allows the X-men to kill it. It says outright that it would rather die than live out the rest of it's days in loneliness. It's pretty sad because after reading the Phalanx's story from the beginning, it's hard not to feel for him. He's like the much creepier version of Wall-E, minus the anti-capitalism propaganda. He destroyed a whole town, but it was an act from a wounded creature. Even Storm seems to sense this in the end and Cyclops, as he's become so adept at doing, gives her the "We had no other option" speech. It may sound kind of dickish to some, but that doesn't make it any less valid. In that sense this story has a rather tragic ending, but one that sends a powerful and provocative message. Now excuse me while take a bong hit to stop myself from crying.
An issue like this has a sense of poetry to it. They're few and far between because Marvel is a business and unfortunately they need to sell shit. That means they need most of their stories to be the kind of bloated, big box office events that people love to bitch about but can't get enough of. However, there's always room for something deeper. This one-shot didn't dig deeper into the twisted psyche of Sinister or make Cyclops's mission harder than it already was. It simply told a tragic story from the point of view of a creature that didn't understand what was happening to it. It was a story that was told from a very alien perspective, yet had very human elements. It's the kind of story that touches the reader in ways that will get you paid off and re-assigned in the Catholic Church.
I won't avoid the obvious. This issue really didn't do much for the underlying theme of Uncanny X-men other than show how Sinister was able to create an army of himself and coordinate it with a hive mind. But it had all the elements that make it fitting for the pages of Uncanny. It was a creature that everyone feared, but didn't understand. At times the perspective was so twisted that it was hard to follow. Some may end up more lost than a creationist at a natural history museum. But it's not so convoluted that it's impossible to understand after a few solid reads. Well, that and being stoned helps, but that's just me.
Overall, this was one of those special issues that won't set the world on fire, but will still blow your mind with the force of a million bong hits. It's a nice interlude between the previous arc of Uncanny X-men and the next arc. Kieron Gillen definitely showed off his writing skills here and at times he's practically gloating, but he still delivers. Some may be able to skip this issue without really noting it's impact and that's really the only flaw. But it still works on it's own level and it's definitely an issue that's worth cherishing. That's why I give Uncanny X-men #4 a 4.5 out of 5. If you want explosions and tits, go Charlie Sheen's house and get kicked in the nuts by a donkey. But if you want a compelling piece of writing, buy this comic. Nuff said!