Thursday, January 19, 2012

Uncanny X-men #5 - Synergetic Awesome

Anyone who has ever had a job in a soul crushing office with a supervisor/asshole/tyrant that's underworked and overpaid has probably heard them give these bullshit speeches about synergy. Usually, it's just code for making people do more shit without getting paid as much and those that can't do said shit get fired. But enough about Goldman Sachs. This blog reviews comics. And in the world of comics, the concept of synergy actually has some merit. The idea that certain comics take what other related comics do and integrate them into the larger comic world makes for the kind of coherence that makes comics worth following. Sometimes writers and editors try to damn hard to make everything connected. It get so confusing at times that it's akin to watching Lost while on a bad LSD trip. Other times they don't even try. Shit just happens and it's never mentioned again. Both these extremes have a way of butt-fucking awesome comics before they can be awesome. There has to be a happy balance for this shit to work and it helps if the writer is actually competent.

Enter Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-men. Gillen has already made it painfully apparent that he's a competent writer. He's shown the ability to both take over Uncanny X-men, end it after 544 issues, relaunch it, and make it pretty damn awesome in the process. That's like performing brain surgery, winning every gold metal in the Olympics, and banging Jessica Alba at once. But in terms of synergy, he tends to beat his own drum and lead his own parade. His first four issues established Cyclops's overpowered Extinction Team, setting them up as X-men that both save the world and make clear that mutants are not to be fucked with. But he hasn't really synergized the awesome in the new Uncanny with the other X-books yet. It's still early, but that doesn't mean he can't take a stab at it. It also helps when the events he chooses to synergize are just as awesome.

Enter Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force. This book is the other Uncanny book that's been regularly assaulting the cerebellum of it's readers with regular awesome. It takes Wolverine's secret kill squad and has them duke it out against forces that just need killing. In the biggest story to date in that series, the Dark Angel Saga created some pretty big ass bangs. One of which was the entire fucking world that Arcangel created using the life seed, destroying an entire town in the process. This new world didn't just disappear David Copperfield style after the Dark Angel Saga. Shit like that is going to get noticed and when it's a whole fucking world, you need someone like the Extinction team to deal with it.

This is where Uncanny X-men #5 picks up. We get a brief recap of what happened with the Dark Angel Saga. If you haven't read this arc and you're a comic fan, take a moment to dip your head in a vat of acid before reading on. If not, this should give a good reminder. The facts are pretty basic. A town blew up. A giant 10-mile dome now surrounds the area. And some curious locals decided to pick up their shotguns and investigate. As one would expect of any redneck adventure, some disappear and need rescuing. That and a blow to the head with a piece of heavy mining equipment for being so fucking stupid.

A little authors note (which there really aren't enough of in comics these days), points out that this takes place after Uncanny X-men #14. As such, it's only appropriate that Psylocke be the one to bring it to their attention. And by bring it to their attention I mean she flat out lies about this thing having turned up too late for her to bring it to anyone's attention. It wasn't too late. She was there when this shit went down, but Uncanny X-Force is still a secret at this point. And since Emma Frost lost an arm in the last arc and is learning how to give left-handed happy endings, she's not there to call bullshit. So when Cyclops decides to send the Extinction team to investigate, he asks Psylocke to take her place. It's fitting not just because Psylocke is the one with the secret. It's fitting because she knows she's lying and has to go along with it to protect that lie. So either way, she's screwed and she still has an amnesic boyfriend.

Before the team leaves, Cyclops also sends a message to Captain America. When there's a nuclear sized explosion in bumfuck Montana of all places, the Avengers take notice. But Cyclops gets in touch with Cap to let him know that his Extinction team is taking care of this. Cap agrees, albeit reluctantly. It's another one of those little things that Gillen has done so well lately, covering angles that would be easier to just flat out ignore. In addition, it drops some hints of tension between the X-men and the Avengers. A prelude to Avengers vs. X-men? It damn well ought to be!

The Extinction team arrives and it's as fucked as a five-dollar whore at a Motley Crue concert. The creatures inside Tabula Rasa as Psylocke dubbed it don't take kindly to the curious humans wielding shotguns. Some of those creatures have wings and look like something that crawled out of Betty White's vagina. These are the creatures that evolved during the Dark Angel Saga when Arcangel decided to do evolution his way and kick start a new ecosystem. I guess these creatures answers the age old bar question of what happens when a mosquito fucks a seagull. Or maybe I just go to better bars.

With help from Danger, the team analyzes this hoard of creatures and makes a rather mundane yet helpful discovery. These creatures navigate by the stars and since time inside the dome is more skewed than sitting through midnight mass on Christmas Eve with your constipated grandfather, they're pretty fucked up. What's the solution to this shit? Block out the stars. That gives Storm yet another opportunity to demonstrate why she's the most awesomely elegant X-woman ever. As if she needed to reinforce her point, but more importantly it clears shit up so that the team can explore Tabula Rasa and find the dumb fucks who thought it would be fun to get lost inside.

Like Scooby Doo in a haunted house, the team splits up. They're setting themselves up to be extras in a slasher movie, but this is the extinction team. A killer in a hockey mask would be a vacation for them. They each branch off to teams. Magik sticks with her brother, who is essentially her pet since he took on the Juggernaut mantle. Hope goes with Namor, who she actually flirted with earlier in a way that would make a great episode of To Catch a Predator. Danger plays the role of air support while Magneto volunteers to go with Psylocke. With Rogue gone, that old plumbing of his needs a new hole to fill and since Betsy lost her boyfriend recently why not? I honestly can't fault the old man for picking the hot Asian chick that likes wearing thongs. It leaves Cyclops and Storm to cover the rest. They have a whole ecosystem to explore and Rick Remender didn't have a lot of time to explore it during the Dark Angel Saga so who knows what they'll find?

Not all of it is full of monsters, if you can believe that. I know nature is a scary place for the fanboys who don't know the world outside their parents basement, but it would be lazy writing to make Tabula Rasa this Pandora-like death trap. And Kieron Gillen shows once again that he's more motivated than the average stoner. He takes a moment to show Illyana and Colossus having a moment in a more scenic setting. To this point Illyana has been a bit of a bitch for putting her brother in a position to be the new Juggernaut with her playing Dog Whisperer to his destructive tendencies (minus the poop). But here she actually does remind her brother that if he doesn't want to end up being as big an asshole as Cain Marko, he needs to remember that he's still human and he needs to feel. So her way of doing this is putting her in a beautiful setting that triggers the stoner that first saw aluminum foil in all of us. It's so precious without being incestuous.

But that's the only rosy side to Tabula Rasa we'll see. The others run head first into Tabula Rasa's less picturesque side. It starts off innocent enough for Cyclops and Storm. They're just strolling along, admiring the fauna. Storm is even nice enough to remind Cyclops that Beast probably would have loved this place. By nice I mean utterly cruel because she knows Beast hates Cyclops's guts at the moment. However, it's worth reminding because him alienating Beast is a big part of what led to Schism. Storm is probably the only one who could get away with doing this and look so elegantly sexy in the process. But it has to be restated, especially if Cyclops is going to have to call on old friends in Avengers vs. X-men.

But if getting belittled by Storm wasn't bad enough, Cyclops stumbles into what at first looks like quick sand. He falls in, disappears, and is shat out three miles away from where he was. I wonder if this is some sort of metaphor for what he's become since he turned the X-men into this army of not to be fucked with. Or maybe it's a hint of what's to come with Avengers vs. X-men. Since I haven't smoked enough pot to make predictions, I'll leave it up to the reader to decide.

Not all of Tabula Rasa's secrets are deadly animals or mounts that poop out mutants though. Sure, Hope and Namor end up taking on a monstrous eel, but Magneto and Psylocke stumble onto something more fucked up if you can believe that. Before they find out, Magneto takes a few too many panels to remind Psylocke that he knows about Uncanny X-Force. There was actually an entire issue of Uncanny X-Force that showed Magneto taking advantage of this knowledge. He probably kills his chances at ever getting into Psylocke's panties by bringing up Angel and reminding her that she paid a high price to save him (again, for the love of Odin go read Dark Angel Saga). It's a conversation that drags a bit, but it has a purpose. It leads to Magneto pointing out that X-Force's activities may have left a few clues behind for Cyclops and the others to find. They end up walking right into one of those clues.

As it turns out 130 million years of evolution does produce some intelligent life of sorts. And that intelligent life took notice of the shit that happened in the Dark Angel Saga and documented it in their art. When these creatures see Magneto and Psylocke, they don't attack like so many of the other creatures in this world. They bow and worship them. It's definitely a perk, but it comes with a bit of a catch. The artwork they depicted of Arcangel and Fantomex is new. 130 million years is a long fucking time. Surely some crazy shit happened before then.

Psylocke begans scanning the minds of these creatures and sure enough, she makes a discovery that they missed during the course of the Dark Angel Saga. Before they started worshiping Arcangel and his Apocalyptic douche-baggery, there was another god that demanded they massage his divine ego. Except like all those other pansy ass gods of the ancients, this one had a metal suit and a big ass gun. It was basically War Machine if War Machine wasn't such a pussy. This being apparently didn't take kindly to getting usurped by the likes of Arcangel. So when Magneto and Psylocke show up, it's ready to start collecting prayers. And by prayers, I mean asses. Hopefully, Psylocke's ass gets priority because most gods seem obsessed with woman's asses on some level. I figure it's only a matter of time before this wannabe god demands that Psylocke either be his bride or be subordinate to man. I think the feminist crowd knows how she'll handle that kind of unholy bullshit.

Gods, god machines, dark secrets, and synergy. It sounds like the kind of thing Michael Bay dreams about when he's taken one too many shrooms, but that's what Uncanny X-men #5 delivers. It takes the ashes from the Dark Angel Saga and uses them to reignite a new story that's awesome enough to cook bacon with. Kieron Gillen and pretty much every other writer at Marvel didn't need to deal with the remnants of the Dark Angel Saga. They probably could have just ignored it and fans wouldn't have given half an ounce of squirrel shit. But they didn't. Gillen actually made an effort to connect elements from one story and build something else from it. And so far he's done a damn good job.

There's a lot of setup and backstory squeezed in. A number of scenes in this issue act only as extended reminders of shit that happened in the Dark Angel Saga or in other parts of Uncanny X-Force. The breakdown at the beginning of the issue was probably enough, but it kept getting revisited and that made the comic drag at times. Yet it didn't get in the way of the action and it established some new twists on what Remender began in his arc. It opens the door for some potentially volatile revelations or even more secrets if and when X-Force comes to light. Whatever the case, Kieron Gillen has established another large-scale threat that only the Extinction Team is equipped to handle. He could have done without Hope flirting with Namor, but he did more than his part to honor the high-caliber awesome that Rick Remender established.

Kieron Gillen has definitely done plenty to establish this series as his own. He's given it his own unique touch and it's by far the best thing to happen to Uncanny X-men since Emma Frost's cleavage. This new arc deals with the kind of fragile conflicts that go beyond simply finding the bad guy and beating the shit out of him. There's potential for a much more complex kind of awesome. It's the kind of story that Gillen has done so well to this point and if you've come to love his work on any level, you shouldn't have much to bitch about with this issue. I give Uncanny X-men #5 a 4.5 out of 5. So the next time your boss starts droning on about this synergy bullshit, just throw Uncanny X-men #5 in his face and say "This is how it's done, asshole!" It may get you fired, but you'll prove your point. Nuff said!


  1. I'm loving Gillen on the book so far. My issue with the issue was the art. I can't stand Greg Land.

    I'm with you in how Gillen is doing a great job tying things together. With Marvel it's either that they lack author's notes because even the editors don't know what's going on from one franchise to the next, or everything is tied together in some freakishly huge mess of an event.

  2. I may be too much of a stoner to be dissuaded by Greg Land. I know he has his critics. I agree with some of the arguments against him. But his art does more than enough to make Gillen's stories work. So long as Gillen keeps doing an awesome job, I don't mind the art in the slightest.