Thursday, January 12, 2012

X-23 #20 - Girls Night Awesome

Teenage girls are like weapons grade radioactive materials. In small doses they're harmless. Being around them may not be good for you, but they won't kill you in a slow tortuous death. But when you put them in groups, then watch out because you've got a fucking nuclear bomb of hormonal bitchiness on your hands. Such a weapon is so deadly that even terrorists won't touch it. In the Marvel universe, teenage girls aren't just fucked up on hormones. They tends to be fucked up in general with things like being raised to be a living weapon or being a mutant that got de-powered and then turned into a vampire. That begs the question. What do you get when you put a former living weapon with a teenage vampire? I mean aside from Fox's next sitcom.

Marjorie Liu's X-23 series has partially answered that question. A few arcs ago, the teenage girl that also happens to be a living weapon met up with another teenage girl that happens to be a vampire. Jubilee proved to be an unexpected yet appropriate BFF. In many ways she's like the annoying talking donkey to X-23's constantly annoyed Shrek. She's bubbly, she's upbeat, and she generally a chipper girl despite being a vampire that constantly fights to urge to suck the blood out of someone's neck in a way you can't make a porno out of. X-23 is dark, quiet, brooding, and as Hellion found out in the previous arc a bit of a bitch. But Marjorie Liu takes these qualities and makes a compelling story out of X-23. She's been on a journey of sorts since she left Utopia. In that time she's clashed with Sinister, fought Daken in a way that didn't give him a boner, traveled dimensions with the FF, and broke Hellion's heart. Somewhere along the way (and left purposefully ambiguous by Marvel) Schism took place. While most every other X-man has chosen a side of sorts, X-23 remains on the fences. Since this series is nearing it's end, she can't play the Switzerland card forever. Someone needs to help her make up her mind and who better than Jubilee?

X-23 #20 is billed as a girls night between a born killer and a vampire. Sounds like a double date with an ex-girlfriend and an ex-wife, but only in a figurative sense. X-23 was confronted by Jubilee at the end of X-23 #19. In between the end of that issue and the beginning of this issue, Jubilee convinces X-23 to pay a visit to the newly built Jean Grey Institute for Higher Learning. I would love to know how the hell she convinced X-23 to do that. I would also have loved to know how she convinced X-23 to play football with Gambit and Iceman. Maybe this is just her way of getting her to settle down after the Hellion affair or this is Marvel's shameless attempt to cash in on the NFL playoffs. I'm inclined to believe that it's a little of both.

It's an innocent way to point out the 900 pound gorilla humping the couch in the room. On one hand, Jubilee didn't choose to go with Wolverine's team. She stuck with Cyclops as indicated in Victor Gischler's X-men (a series you should seriously pick up if you haven't already). On the other, X-23 hasn't chosen a side yet either. She may also be there because Gambit is there, but so is Hellion, the boy who she pretty much emasculated in the last issue. So you can sort of get the sense that X-23 is conflicted. She hasn't made a decision on which side she'll join and Jubilee is subtly telling her she can't keep avoiding this shit forever. That would be like deciding whether or not you're going to sneak out to go to the prom with that guy your dad threatened with a shotgun. You have to decide before someone gets their nuts blown off and to her credit, Jubilee is doing her best to make X-23 not feel pressured. If only my ex-girlfriend's father was so understanding.

Having relaxed a bit to a good game of tackle football, Jubilee takes X-23 into New York City for a girls night out. X-23 is still being stubborn with respect to which side she chooses. It's like asking a teenage girl which Backstreet Boys would be on the top and bottom of a gangbang back in 1999. While X-23 doesn't open up, Jubilee does and in a way that hasn't been depicted in other comics. When she chose to stick with Cyclops, that was pretty striking because she has a long and colorful and non-pedophilic history with Wolverine. One would expect her to side with him. But she's a vampire now. When X-23 tells her that she's a killer by nature, Jubilee reveals some of her own insecurities. She too is a killer by nature. She's a vampire that sees other human beings as a meal. That makes her somewhat ill-equipped for a school with children, but it makes her perfect for Cyclops's team of assassins, juggernauts, and big titted girlfriends.

In a way Jubilee steals to show here. While this is X-23's comic, she's the one that's reaching X-23 on a level that other adults can't. This goes to show that the only one that can truly understand the fucked up nature of a teenage girl's mentality is another teenage girl. Moreover, these are two teenage girls that are killers by nature, but approach that nature differently. I swear, this would make an awesome sitcom if it was aired on HBO. That way they don't have to pixilate tits and they can tell ex-boyfriends to go fuck themselves.

Despite Jubilee's honesty, X-23 can't decide. So what's her answer? They go dancing. It's sort of like a female version of a strip club. When a man is conflicted, the sight of boobs helps ease that tension. But for women, dancing can offer the same effect. There's just something liberating about shaking what your momma gave you to music with lyrics you can't understand. If you're lucky you can get someone to buy you a drink as well, but that usually is directly proportional to the tightness of your pants. While Jubilee is right at home dancing in a club, X-23 just can't relax. She's the kind of girl that needs to find someone to beat the shit out of in order to relax. It's like reverse sad-masochism when you think about.

She doesn't have to look far for someone to beat up either. As it just so happens, the club Jubilee took her to has a very Jersey Shore-esque type man with a rather unenthusiastic young woman by his side. X-23 recognizes this man as a pimp friend of her old pimp, Zebra Daddy. That's all the reason she needs to want to castrate him on the spot, shove his balls down his threat, and use the flapping skin of his own scrotum to strangle his sorry ass. For those of you who don't know X-23's history, it's not just what you saw in a kids show like X-men Evolution. She was once a teenage prostitute that turned tricks for guys under a pimp. It's the complete antithesis of the Pretty Woman type prostitute. This is more of the Flavor Flav type prostitutes that are damaged and vulnerable. So it's extra satisfying when X-23 beats the shit out of Zebra Daddy's replacement and his goons.

In addition to striking a blow against douche-bag gangster wannabes that prey on young woman, this scene does something just as important. It ties X-23's current conflicts to conflicts of the past. Her life as a prostitute is rarely mentioned in the comics. It could be because Marvel knows that radical feminists may call for their heads on a platter with their dicks sticking out of their ears or it may just be because it's easier to ignore. Well Marjorie Liu does something better in linking this difficult detail of X-23's life to what she's going through now. It helps make this issue more coherent with the series. It may not sounds like much, but it's that little something extra that differentiates good series from those that are truly awesome.

Despite X-23 being polite enough to eviscerate the asshole that sees women the same way McDonalds sees cows, the woman she rescued was not very appreciative. Human slaves rarely are when they basically have nowhere to go and no one to take care of them. But X-23 is no moral crusader that only seeks to stop the sex part of a crime and leave the other crimes untouched. She knows from experience that the abuse she endures just gets worse. So she demands that she tell her where the other girls are so she can free them. And if someone tries to shoot her, she'll cut off his dick and she can keep it as a trophy. That last part is implied.

Jubilee and X-23 find the place. But there's no action like there was in the club. There's no depiction of what they do to the men they encounter that try and stop them. The scene focuses mostly on the poor state of the women and the level of their abuse. Some may not like the lack of bloodshed or action. Anyone that's ever had an abusive boyfriend (or girlfriend even) may have been foaming at the mouth to see more assholes get killed. But there's a different message here. These aren't supevillains. These are just normal thugs that won't put up much of a fight against a trained killer or a vampire. The bigger story is what they're doing to the women. That abuse is part of what X-23 endured and that's why it's compelling. Now yes, it is a little bland and a bit of a downer if you're reading this while stoned. But it has a point.

While X-23 and Jubilee manage to free the women, they don't exactly have anyone they can turn to in order to help. Luckily, someone does that job for them. Black Widow of the Avengers shows up. She reveals that she had been keeping an eye on X-23 in a way that probably couldn't make a good webcam show. They have a brief chat. Black Widow points out that X-23 is a trained killer and skills like that go a long ways in the Marvel Universe. She also rightly points out that X-23 is an immature teenage girl that doesn't know what the fuck she's doing. Normally, when you point this out to a teenage girl you get into a screaming fit. But X-23 keeps her cool and get an offer to join the Avengers Academy. Now this would be a compelling moment if it hadn't already been revealed a month ago that X-23 was going to join the Avengers Academy anyways. It was spoiled before this comic was ever released. But still, it does fit in nicely to the conflict she's facing.

Now one could make an argument that the Avengers Academy really isn't all that different from the Jean Grey Institute or Utopia. X-23 probably won't get much more there than she would with either side. But perhaps that's the point. She doesn't want to choose a side so she goes with another means of utilizing her skills. The next day, she meets up with Wolverine and they have another heartfelt moment. X-23 makes clear that she's made her decision. While Wolverine is disappointed that he couldn't do more for her, he accepts her decision. That alone makes him more understanding than half the fathers of a teenage girl and 99 percent of the fathers of the women I've dated. And yet X-23 thinks she's the unlucky one?

The final scene of the issue is a nice goodbye that sort of symbolizes X-23's decision. She catches up with Gambit, who has been sort of a life-coach that may or may not be creepy pervert when it comes to young women. None-the-less, he was an important part of her journey. So she says goodbye to him before she gets on a motorcycle and rides off. It feels like a solid endpoint for the series with an epilogue coming up for the final issue. Hopefully, Marjorie Liu avoids the same mistakes that Mike Carey made with his final issue of X-men Legacy and ends her run on a high note. So long as she doesn't have a scene with Magneto boning a woman a quarter his age, she should be fine.

It took her 20 issues, but X-23 has finally made a decision. She's been looking for her own path and she's found it. Despite all the shit she had to go through to get to this point, I still say she found it a lot faster than many other teenage girls out there who think their path involves winning American Idol and being America's next top model. But the story Marjorie Liu has behind it feels appropriate. She didn't want to take sides with the X-men and she didn't feel like she had a place with either team. So she opted for a fresh start at the Avengers Academy. Because who needs school when you've already been trained to kick ass?

That's not to say that the Avengers Academy is the right decision in the long term. In some ways the Avengers Academy really isn't all that different from what Cyclops's team is doing. It just involves characters that X-23 doesn't have enough reasons to hate at the moment. Also, I find the timing of Black Widow's offer to be a bit off. If SHIELD and the Avengers had been watching her, then why the fuck didn't they come to her when she left the X-men? It just seems a bit random and contrived. They come out of nowhere with an offer and X-23 takes it. Never mind that these are people she has no connection with. Wolverine is practically her father and Jubilee is her only real friend. Yet she opts not to go to those teams. I don't doubt that X-23 will fit into the Avengers Academy just find. I just think that in the context of this story, it's a bit random.

But as usual, Marjorie Liu makes the story around it very compelling. As she's done in previous arcs, she connects this story to other events in her past. Her life as a prostitute with Zebra Daddy in NYX really isn't mentioned all that much. It was actually one of the first ways she entered the 616 comics and given that this is a point in her life where she's making another big change, it's very fitting. Marjorie Liu captures the emotions very well and even makes Jubilee all the more lovable, despite the tidbit about her being a blood-thirsty vampire. But she's still more lovable than most of the teenage girls I went to high school with so I'm not complaining. As the next to last issue, Marjorie Liu is setting X-23 up nicely for the future. For this, I give X-23 #20 a 4 out of 5. I want to give it a higher score, but the lack of action in some areas seemed like a missed opportunity. That and X-23's involvement with the Avengers Academy was already announced so that kind of took away from the impact. It's still nice to know how she came to this decision. It's also nice to know that she can beat up ruthless pimps with help from a vampire. Take that rap videos! Nuff said.


  1. I had my misgivings about the whole 'Jubilee is a Vampire now' thing. "Oh, for God's sake!" is pretty much a direct quote. But in the end it seems to be working and I'm glad that Jubilee is finally allowed to do something other than take up space or get decommissioned on a regular basis.

  2. I can understand why some may roll their eyes at the concept of Jubilee being a vampire, but Victor Giscler and plenty of other writers have really made it work. Jubilee was never this compelling when she was a mutant. I like this new twist on her character and I hope it leads to more blood-soaked stories with her. Thanks for the comment!


  3. I find it a bit interesting that X-23 is the one person who is trying to chart a "third way" so to speak. I wonder if this is intentional on the part of the writer/editor?


  4. I agree. It is interesting. She's the only one who doesn't want to take a side. That may be intentional, but not for any other reason than to keep her with the Avengers Academy. Thanks for the comment.