Saturday, February 11, 2012

X-men #24 - Blood Sucking Awesome

Whenever a comic company tries to reinvent a character, it falls into one of two categories. It's either the grim and gritty version, the kind that makes a character look like they need therapy more than plot. Then there's the being-so-fucking-different-that-it's-hardly-the-same-fucking-character variety that's not just demeaning, but insulting to any readers who actually gave a damn about the character. Some characters need a reinvention. Some don't. Some are handled well. Most are horribly fucked up. Vampire Jubilee in Victor Gischler's adjectiveless X-men is the one glowing example where Marvel has reinvented a character in all the right ways.

Don't get me wrong. I loved Jubilee before she was a blood-sucking True Blood wannabe. But her character hadn't been interesting since she lost her powers in House of M. She was like David Hasselhoff of the X-books. She wasn't doing anything. She wasn't contributing anything. She was just there. If she just got her powers back, then she wouldn't have changed much. Becoming a vampire has opened the door to all sorts of new stories that have helped make her character more compelling than ever. Some of those stories have played out in the pages of Marjorie Liu's X-23 series. Others have played out in recent arcs of Victor Gischler's adjectiveless X-men.

The previous arc, the first of the post-Schism regenesis era, had her play a role that wasn't all that vital. She fought alongside Psylocke, Storm, and Utopia's official security team as they teamed up with War Machine to stop an international incident involving sentinels. While that conflict was resolved, Jubilee was abducted in the battle and completely disappeared. She was taken by another vampire named Raizo Kodo, a character that was introduced in an earlier issue when Xavier was telling Jubilee of his travels back before he was the discredited mentor he is now. Now usually when a creepy guy with a Japanese name abducts a teenage girl, it turns into the kind of story they make into anime porn. This isn't like that (sorry hentai fans). X-men #24 takes that story and continues it.

It begins in your typical vampire dungeon (again, not in the anime porn tradition so all you hentai fans really need to leave). Jubilee is prisoner in Raizo Kodo's fancy digs. He comes to her cell not claiming that her escape lies in his penis. He comes offering her animal blood, which for a vampire is like offering tofu to Ted Nugent. She's a vampire. She craves human blood and to this point she kept that under control because Wolverine gave her his blood to fight the effects. Well Wolverine isn't around and she's now in full vamp mode, meaning she's not going to settle for the Edward Cullen diet. She wants blood and Raizo can't do shit about it.

The man won't give Jubilee what she wants. She reacts in the way you would expect any teenage girl to react. She lashes out and tries to brutally murder Raizo. It's not quite as violent as a 16-year-old attacking her mother for taking away her iphone after she was caught sending pictures of her boobs to the guy with the neck tattoo that works at Costco, but it's close. Unlike said mother, Raizo is a veteran vamp and is able to fight back. He's as gentle as you would expect a vampire of his caliber. He takes her down, but makes clear that he's not trying to torment her or turn her into a Bella Swan fantasy. He's actively opposing her killer vampire instinct, which makes him more Twilight than True Blood minus the gayness.

That still begs the question. What the hell is this guy after? What's his motivation? Well he's not alone in his endeavor to turn Jubilee in a vampire vegetarian. He has his own crew of vampires that apparently went through the same process, learning to resist the urge to drink humans like a Slurpee. They call themselves the forgiven. They come off as born again Christians minus the homophobia and televangelism. They're the vampires who repent from their evil ways and for whatever reason, they want Jubilee to be one of them. Okay, I'm sure the fact that she's a hot teenage girl plays a part, but it may not be the entire reason. Just 80 percent of it. He and his crew aren't big on indoctrinating her either. They want her to choose this path, which once again makes them way more tolerant than Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But they're still trying to wean a teenage girl off her natural instincts. They might as well try to teach a fish not to swim.

Razio tries again to talk some sense into Jubilee. He tries to play the role of a vampire Freud, explaining to her that her desire to feed on humans is part of a deeper longing to recapture what is left of her humanity. It's less creepy than the Oedipal complex or Freud's theory on penis envy, but Jubilee takes it about as seriously as most people take Ron Paul. So when he won't give her the blood she wants, she tries a different method besides wining. She tries kissing him and when that doesn't work, she tries to use the power of her vagina. Because what man can't resist the allure of teenage pussy? Well apparently Razio can. He does his dick a disservice and turns her down, leaving her to struggle with her hunger.

Now for some this may seem OOC for Jubilee and it is on many levels. Jubilee's vampirism hasn't been dealt with like this before and to this point, she's never shown this kind of struggle. It's only been mildly touched on how using Wolverine's blood has fought off her transformation. Now it hasn't just been brought to surface. It's been overplayed without any build-up. In the last issue she was just your normal blood-sucker. Now she's having all these issues with her new instincts. Both her fangs and her vagina are working against her. It's a twist on her character that's intriguing, but it happens really fast and without any development from the other X-men. They haven't even been mentioned yet and at this point in the comic, it's starting to feel like less an X-men comic and more Marvel's way of saying "Take this True Blood and Twilight fans!"

OOC or not, Jubilee is left in her dungeon with a glass of animal blood. She still looks like a girl who has been given time out for showing her boobs to a school bus of 3rd graders. All her efforts to beat/seduce Razio have been ineffective. Now normally this is the point where you start to suspect that a guy like Razio has an ulterior motive and it's only a matter of time before he goes from Edward Cullen to Eric Northman. But the more he talks, the more sincere he sounds. He's like the Professor Xavier of vampires, trying to get vampires off their murderous ways and on a more righteous path. Since Jubilee is an X-man, it would help if she's on that path. However, she's not going to make it easy on anybody.

Eventually, another one of Razio's Forgiven vampire buddies attempts to chat up Jubilee. He tries opening with a joke about sunshine and unicorns. It goes over about as well as a Britney Spears T-shirt at a Pantera concert. This guy ends up being as ineffective as Razio and twice as incompetent. He allows Jubilee to get the jump on him and she attacks, knocking him out and taking the fancy solar deflecting necklace that allows vampires to walk in broad daylight. With this she runs out of the dungeon and into the wild where she can prey on as many gullible humans as possible. Since she's a cute Asian chick, it's almost a given that they're going to be caught off guard.

While most would be pissed enough to cut off heads when a prisoner escapes, Razio doesn't show much concern. He doesn't even chew out his buddy who was dumb enough to get bested by a teenage girl. He claims that Jubilee will come back on her own and that being an X-men made her too good to start randomly eating strangers. It sounds like Iran saying "We don't have any nuclear bombs! We're just trying to make nuclear power!" But it's not long before Jubilee gets her chance. She finds some random male villager who like most young men are thanking the gods when a cute teenage girl randomly walks up to them. She attempts to seduce him and feed on him, but at the last moment she stops when she doesn't see her reflection in a mirror. This becomes the alcoholic equivalent of a moment of clarity for her. I've yet to have one, but I hear they're pretty fucked up.

Showing that she hasn't become a blood-sucking psychopath just yet, Jubilee leaves the boy undrained and runs back to Razio. So his suspicions about her were right. She is halfway decent enough to not go on a killing spree. He takes her back with open arms, not coming off as too creepy. She asks for his help. Usually, that's another chance for a captor to say to a teenage girl that all the help she needs resides within his penis. But he still hasn't resorted to that trick. Too bad because it works great on girls who have had a few too many drinks. He continues to claim that he wants to help her. Not a lot has happened to indicate that he has any other plans. It would be nice if there were because it makes him come off as too good and too boring at times. This is an X-man comic, or it's supposed to be. When a random stranger claims to help, that's usually a sign that he's going to screw you over in a way that would put Bernie Madoff to shame.

It isn't until the last fucking page that the X-men finally show up. They don't really do much and we haven't seen any hint of what they've been up to. We just see a few panels that show them beating up a bunch of vampires in their search for Jubilee. Really, that's about it. They don't come up with any clues as to where she is. They just restate their intent to find her. So nothing really happens. And the title of the book is X-men. Not Jubilee and her Blood-Sucking Buddies. While the story with Jubilee was nicely fleshed out, the near absence of the X-men and their utter lack of progress in this story just feels off. It leaves some hope for the next issue, but it ends this issue with a feeling of missed opportunities.

Now I appreciate what Victor Gischler is trying to do here. Hell, I don't blame him for it. Vampire Jubilee was his creation. He's the one who turned her into the source of so many Twilight jokes on this blog when he made her a blood-sucker in his inaugural Curse of the Mutants arc. Her transition from awkward mutant teen into awkward teen vampire/X-man has been one of the most compelling aspects of adjectiveless X-men. So telling a story that centers around her vampirism catching up with her makes sense. But the way it's told in this issue is done in a way that makes this feel like less an X-man comic and more an anomaly of sorts.

Don't get me wrong. It's a well-told story on Gischler's part. He just doesn't effectively mix it with the overall theme of this series. It's supposed to be X-men, namely the Utopia security team led by Storm and Psylocke. The last arc demonstrated this perfectly. This issue might as well be in another time zone. The X-men don't even show up until the final pages. We get no sense of what they're doing or how others are reacting to Jubilee's disappearance. Pretty much the whole issue is spent showing Jubilee struggling with her vampire while Raizo and his crew try to wean her off her sadistic tendencies. It's compelling and all, but part of what made the last arc so great was how Gischler fit it into the larger X-men universe. This doesn't seem to fit at all. It may fit with later issues, but this issue on it's own is really weak in terms of feeling like a full X-book.

There's still a lot to like about this issue. If you're a Jubilee fan, this issue should give you a fairly large boner. If you're an X-men fan in general, you probably won't find much to get excited about. It's still a decent story, one that mixes Marvel's world of vampires with the X-men. It just doesn't mix it very well. I like what Gischler is doing here and I think his work now is better than it's been at any point in this series. But for X-men #24, I can only give a 3 out of 5. It's a good story, but it's very narrow and doesn't feel like it belongs in an X-book. Vampire lovers will probably find this as a nice go-between until the next season of True Blood. X-men fans will just read this and continue thinking "When the fuck is Avengers vs. X-men going to get here?" It has potential, but it'll need more than Twilight jokes to realize it. Nuff said!