Saturday, January 14, 2012
Wolverine and the X-men #4 - A Typical Day of Awesome
A typical day of school is like a traditional bout of diarrhea. No matter how much you may be used to it, you still despise the experience and you're left with a burning asshole at the end of it. Or maybe that's just what I get for coming to school drunk and stumbling into the girl's bathroom. So when a comic book comes along with the central premise of young misfit kids going to school, it has about as much appeal as sticking one's penis in a toaster while drunk (I can't be the only one). However, this isn't just any comic book. This is Wolverine and the X-men by Jason Aaron, one of the best things Marvel has invented since Emma Frost's tits. This may be the best and only chance that a day of school doesn't come off as painful as untreated rectal cancer.
Wolverine and the X-men has not only established itself as one of Marvel's best new titles. It's established itself as an X-book with a very different feel from the always dire and constant extinction threats so typical of X-books. The first arc introduced the Jean Grey Institute for Higher Learning and told a fun story about young mutants adjusting to a new school and homicidal kids trying to destroy that school with a living island. For once, I don't even have to make a joke about that or use a lame metaphor. That's actually what happened and you know what? It was pretty fucking awesome. It wasn't just a good story. It was fun, light-hearted, and hopeful. It actually made readers have faith in the future. In this day and age, that's a pretty novel concept. There are enough comics on the market that require a Prozac prescription to enjoy. It's refreshing to have a book that makes you smile without having to use the pages to roll a joint.
Wolverine and the X-men #4 continues the early growing pains of the Jean Grey Institute. The school was just attacked, damaged, and repaired. The students were likely scarred for life, but no worse than they would be if they went to a public school in Baltimore. It begins with Wolverine doing some narrations that describe how fucked up his job is. By day he's a mild mannered school headmaster. By night he's a ruthless killer with a drinking problem. It's like Superman if he was a crackhead. But some of those activities involve his work with X-Force and as was demonstrated by the end of the Dark Angel Saga (a saga you should have read and jerked off to several times by now) his night life is now affecting his day job. His staff are all understandably restless, but Wolverine isn't done making them wish they had dropped out.
Once again, X-men Regenesis has helped some books mesh with others. It's the kind of coherence you don't usually get even while sober. But it's like the hot sauce of comics. It makes everything taste better. Remember those activities I mentioned with Wolverine and X-Force? Well one of them led to a young, pre-tyrant Apocalypse. Only now he calls himself Genesis. Rather than surround Genesis with the gritty world of secret mutant kill squads, Wolverine decides to enroll him in school. I honestly think he's better off with the kill squads because pretty much everyone seems to notice how he looks. Not many have lips like his that look like someone shot Stephen Tyler with bee venom and got him stoned. Needless to say, the others aren't too welcoming and that's probably not a good thing for an aspiring tyrant.
But Genesis isn't the only relic from Wolverine's late-night debacles with X-Force. At the end of the Dark Angel Saga, Warren emerged completely changed. He wasn't Arcangel anymore, but he wasn't Warren Worthington III either. He's completely amnesic and has no memory of who he was. So he looks in the mirror, sees that he has wings, and makes the perfectly logical conclusion that he's a real angel. I personally would have assumed that I just took a bad hit of LSD, but I guess angel works just as well. It's not enough to just look the part for him either. He has to act the part as well. So he flies off and finds a father and two kids who just went through the traumatic experience of burying a pet dog. Warren digs him up and offers to bring him back. Not only are the kids not very enthusiastic about this, but I'm pretty sure they'll need therapy for the rest of their natural lives.
But these are just the regular antics of new students in a new school. My old school didn't have angels and teenage tyrants, but if an angel or a kid that looked like Genesis showed up it wouldn't gain nearly as much attention as what the seniors did to the incoming freshmen, which usually involved crazy glue and thumb tacks. For this new school, Jason Aaron takes some time off from making shit blow up and homicidal kids and actually depicts a lecture with the students at the Jean Grey Institute. He even brings in yet another relic of Uncanny X-Force in Deathlok. He's only about as intimidating as my 10th-grade algebra teacher and he gives the students a lecture about the future. Since the X-men deal with the future (sometimes literally) on a regular basis, it's not an unreasonable thing to educate the kids about.
This may not be as exciting as seeing the X-men take on an army of Frankenstein monsters or a living island like they did in the first arc, but it has some real relevance here. It offers insight into what life is like in the Jean Grey Institute. Now the shallow douche-bags of comic fandom may thumb their nose at that, but stuff like this helps add depth to the X-men because it shows just what they're doing on a non-heroic basis to make the world better. I agree. Fighting monsters is more exciting, but it helps when there's reason behind why they need to kick the asses of said monsters. Deathlok goes through the class and tells them the odds of them going one path or the other. It gets to the heart of what Wolverine wanted for this school, which was means for mutants to be themselves and not listen to aspire to be Cyclops's bitch.
It's not without drama though. It's worth noting that not everyone seems to know of all the shit that went down during the Dark Angel Saga. Iceman, who established himself as one of Wolverine's most trusted X-men, is among them. He's also one of Warren's oldest friends. So when he finds out that Warren flew off to mentally scar a family, he gets understandably upset. He doesn't offer to pay the therapist bills for the kids, but he does get Warren away from them and finds out that Warren has no idea who he is or who the X-men are. For any number of reasons, this upsets him because it shows that despite being one of the Original Five he hasn't exactly been kept in the loop. Now he probably regrets wasting time on snowmen and internet porn.
It's not the only dramatic moment in the issue. While Deathlok is revealing the potential futures for some students, he hesitates to predict the future for Genesis. When he's confronted, we get a brief flash-forward of a potential future that involves Deathlok being burnt to a crisp and Idie being a mature, very boneable leader. That future also shows that going to school didn't stop Genesis from becoming the Apocalypse that gets a boner every time someone inflicts mass genocide.
This is somewhat of an odd scene because it's not entirely clear if this is a real Days of Futures Past type future or just something Deathlok is conjuring. It may certainly rub some readers the wrong way to see Kid Omega and Idie coddling under Genesis's wrath. It doesn't help that Kid Omega seems to have the emblem of the Phoenix Force on his costume, this before the events of Avengers vs. X-men are resolved. Given all the alternate futures in Marvel, this just seems excessive and cliched. However, it does send a message. Genesis still has the potential to be dangerous and school won't exactly help. Again, a kill squad sounds like a viable alternative here.
In many ways, Genesis's potential future and Warren's new state are a microcosm of what the Jean Grey Institute is facing. Not everybody is okay with it. Iceman confronts Wolverine about it and makes his anger about Warren painfully apparent. He doesn't seem to care that Wolverine was keeping X-Force alive. He only cares that doing so seemed to have mind-fucked his friend. Wolverine doesn't mince words. He explains both in words and in narration that the school is about hope and nourishing vulnerable minds before they become genocidal tyrants. He reveals that Warren has been enrolled in the school. Never mind that Warren has to be older than the rest of the student body. Hell, he was banging Psylocke in Uncanny X-Force and it's really not clear if Psylocke is like those teachers that can't help but bone their students. It's almost as if Warren was de-aged. Jason Aaron doesn't offer any explanation to this and it would be nice if he did, but the point of this conclusion is to show what the Jean Grey Institute represents and in that respect he succeeds. And wouldn't you know it? He does it without blowing shit up.
Once Wolverine is done with his little monologue, everything ends on a fairly upbeat note. But Jason Aaron just seems more impatient than a crackhead in withdraw and offers a preview into the next storyline. It starts with Kitty Pryde being sick and throwing up during class. Usually that's just the result of someone who couldn't sleep off a hangover, but this is something more serious. When Kitty stumbles into the bathroom, she makes a shocking discovery. Apparently, she didn't have a note on her panties that said "don't be a fool, wrap your tool." She also appears to have miracle grow in her uterus because she's pregnant. I now leave the readers for a moment of silence to mourn the eventual destruction of Kitty's snatch.
So an ending full of hope turns into a scene from Species. Now someone getting pregnant in school is nothing new. We live in a country where 15-year-olds get knocked up in locker rooms all the time. What makes Wolverine and the X-men an awesome book is how it presents these issues. It's not done in a dire, world-ending sort of manner. There's conflict, but there's hope. There are assholes, but there is heart. Wolverine and Deathlok both come off as assholes in this issue at times, but it's always balanced with a genuine desire to make this school work. That's the main theme of this issue. It shows the day-to-day bullshit that the X-men have to deal with in order to function. It takes time from islands that want to devour schools and shows just how this new school functions. It also sets up a pretty fucked up story after and one that is sure to require the world's greatest gynecologist when all is said and done.
The only area that may turn some readers off is the tone of the issue. It's organized like one big setup. Some may not appreciate that Jason Aaron is trying to slow down here and show how the Jean Grey Institute functions on a logistical level. Some just like it when shit blows up. They may or may not be future NASCAR fans, but they may have a point on some levels. This issue mostly set up plots for the future. It established Genesis as a new character with an uncertain status. It established Warren as someone whose mind has been fried, frozen, and reheated. It also established that Kitty Pryde may or may have some kinky tastes that would make great Japanese anime porn. But it didn't do much with any of this. And some may not like the tone of Deathlok's vision of the future. In the end this issue is like an extended trailer for an action movie, but without shitty 80s rock music in the background.
I can't fault Jason Aaron for easing into the next arc. Kieron Gillen did the same thing with Uncanny X-men, although one could argue that he did it in a better way. This issue does a great job of exploring the less obvious aspects of the Jean Grey Institute. Aaron's style is as engaging, enjoyable, and fun as ever. It just lacks the same impact that Kieron Gillen gave Uncanny X-men #4. That's not a criticism. Not everyone can raise the bar, less the air grow too thin and everyone suffocates. Wolverine and the X-men #4 is a worthy and entertaining addition to this amazing series. That's why I give it a 4.5 out of 5. It's almost awesome enough to ease the childhood trauma of my own school experience. Almost being the operative word. Nuff said!