Thursday, March 1, 2012
Uncanny X-Force #22 - Face-Ripping Awesome
Some say we fanboys spend too much time in a fantasy world. My response to that is what the fuck do you expect? A quick glance at the real world and you can't help but notice how boring it is. If given the choice between the real world and a world where a secret kill squad ventures into a bizarre LSD inspired Wonderland that's under attack by a Goat-headed wizard, what do you think most people would find more appealing? This has been the appeal of Uncanny X-Force under Rick Remender. For you see, it's not enough just to tell a grittier X-men story about a team that isn't afraid to put bullets in the heads of creepy children. It has to involve venturing into a place like Otherworld where Psylocke's family take snooty British imperialism and pump it full of meth and steroids.
This Otherworld arc has been a major shift from the recently completed Dark Angel Saga. It didn't help that the same saga set the bar ridiculously high in terms of awesome. I won't deny that part of me worried that Remender wouldn't be able to follow it up effectively without trying the milk the plots he started as Marvel so often does (see the Phoenix Saga). But he didn't go that route. He did something entirely new with Otherworld while still addressing some of the issues that came up in earlier issues of Uncanny X-Force, namely Fantomex not facing justice for shooting kid Apocalypse in the head. Even if that kid was creepy as hell, it's a hard plot to miss.
However, the challenge has been just how new Otherworld has been. It emerged rather abruptly when Psylocke and Fantomex were abducted by Psylocke's brother, Captain Britain. They tried putting Fantomex on this mock trial of sorts, but Psylocke wouldn't have it. Even though this guy kept trying to slip her the high hard one during the Dark Angel Saga, she showed mercy on his phoney French ass and rescued him. All the while the rest of X-Force try to rescue their sorry asses by diving head first into a battle against some twisted Goat-headed creature with insane power that looks like a cast off from Lord of the Rings. It's made for a pretty gritty and fanciful story, almost to the point where it's hard to follow and you question whether that guy who sold you those yellow pills had lied to you about the ingredients.
Uncanny X-Force #22 continues this trip into this fucked up world with a fucked up sense of British justice. In the last issue X-Force had met up with some allies in their search for Psylocke and Fantomex, They're in a great position to find their friends, but then AOA Nightcrawler has to open his big mouth and show that while he may be a bit more of an asshole compared to his 616 counterpart, he does have his own sense of justice. He sees the kind of crap that the people of Otherworld are dealing with and says they need to do something about it because it reminds him too much of how much his life sucked in Age of Apocalypse. Even though he acted like an asshole to Wolverine earlier in the arc, he's still enough of the Kurt Wagner that Wolverine once knew to cave in. So that means they're probably going to be stuck dealing with more insane monsters from this realm that only powerful prescription meds can concoct. I know guilt trips are supposed to be effective, but damn!
It's an uncomfortable situation for Wolverine and Nightcrawler, but it's nothing compared to the shit that happens with Fantomex and Psylocke. He has since woken up and is no longer brain damaged, thanks to the deal Psylocke made in the last issue. The details of that deal weren't revealed, but Psylocke is more moody about it than Courtney Love when she's on her period. When the topic of Angel comes up, Fantomex flat out says that he knew the man was lost the moment he saw him. The only way to get her to do what needed to be done was to make her question her love for him, which involved him trying to put his salami in her roll. It's a low, Ron Jeremy sized dick move. Yes, it worked, but he's still an asshole for it. As such it's completely understandable when she lashes out at him.
It's another good instance of how Rick Remender ties events from previous stories into current stories. He didn't just link Fantomex's bullshit to the last arc. He linked it to the very beginning of the series. It's one of those little things that Remender does so well that you really don't notice it that much anymore. You just expect it, meaning that like the big-titted woman that gives you a lap dance you don't appreciate it. Otherworld has been a pretty fucked up place, but this is probably the best bit of coherence that the issue has to offer. Once Psylocke is done pitching her hissy fit, she makes clear that all she wants to do now is leave and she has a plan for that. It involves leaving her family behind yet again and never sharing another tea time with them for the rest of her life. Fleeing with a child killer will do that.
It's hard to say anyone is in a good position here, but if one guy is doing better than anyone else it's AOA Nightcrawler. In the last issue he encountered Meggan Braddock, someone that 616 Nightcralwer knew during his Excaliber days and someone who may or may not have a blue fur fetish. Compared to Wolverine getting stuck with Deadpool, he's basically won two Powerball jackpots. But before AOA Nightcrawler can exploit his counterpart's popularity for some potentially easy pussy, they get attacked by dragons. If any part of that shocks you, then you haven't been reading this arc for very long. Yes, it's random. Yet's it's a bit out of place in an Uncanny X-Force book even if it's as normal as Monday morning in Otherworld. They effectively cock-blocks AOA Nightcrawler while putting him and all those unfortunate Otherworld average Joe's in a broiler.
But Nightcrawler and Meggan aren't the only ones mixing it up with dragons. Psylocke and Fantomex are actually riding a dragon or what looks like a Jurassic Park reject towards an exit to this world that powerful drugs from India must have built. Where did they get the dragon? How the fuck did they convince it to give them a ride? And where the fuck is Psylocke's brother? Wouldn't he at least want to have a chat with his sister before she leaves with a confessed child killer that tried to fuck her? He doesn't show up at all. There was one page shown earlier that has him fighting Goat Head forces, but that's it. Rick Remender isn't usually prone to this kind of oversight, so this does feel a little jarring. In a comic that already has a world as fucked up as Otherworld, that certainly doesn't help. It's almost a relief when the red-skinned Hellboy knock-off from the end of the last issue shows up with an even bigger dragon, which once again cock-blocks Fantomex from any chance of getting into Psylocke's panties.
But this guy isn't some random freak from Otherworld where they seem to be more common than hookers with boob jobs. This guy is Weapon III, someone that Fantomex has a history with. And by history you can probably assume that Fantomex screwed him over at one point, giving him more than enough reason to want to torture him mercilessly. It seems anyone Fantomex crosses paths with ends up wanting to kill him. This guy just looks fucked up while doing it. He does show some skill though. With help from his dragon and muscles that make me want to do another anime tentacle porn joke, he subdues Psylocke and Fantomex.
Between all these personal vendettas and cock-blocking, there's still a major threat to deal with. Goat Head, still one of the worst names for a villain since the Penguin, is the source of the onslaught that has kept Captain Britain busy and forced him to reach out to Psylocke in the first place. This is the guy that Wolverine and Deadpool agreed to kill because AOA Nightcrawler had a soft spot for oppressed people. So for a few pages, we get some nice witty banter between Wolverine and Deadpool while they're making their way towards Goat Head. They don't explain how they know where they're going or what their plan is for beating a guy who has found a way to fuck up Otherworld more than it already is. But when they do reach him, they find that he's packing plenty of those mystical orbs that he used to nearly turn Wolverine inside out in the last issue. So yeah, some strategy would have been helpful.
Again, this is the kind of stuff that Rick Remender is usually good at. He's made Uncanny X-Force so enjoyable by having some method to the madness of having a mutant kill squad. But here he just has Deadpool go over all the list of ways that Wolverine is fucked up, as if most informed readers don't already know this. It witty, funny, and insightful. But it doesn't really serve the plot that well. So that when they reach Goat Head, it doesn't feel like they've done much other than walked into the crossfire of a guy armed with an atomic bazooka that shoots radioactive dildoes.
It's a one-sided battle that becomes secondary to the battle that Fantomex is fighting with Weapon III. In this instance Remender doesn't gloss over the finer details. While he's tormenting Fantomex, he gives a brief narration of who he his and why he wants Fantomex to die a horrible, painful death. His history is pretty fucked up even by Otherworld standards. He's a mutant with living skin that was augmented by Weapon X so that he could become a better, more lethal spy. Everything was fine and dandy until he teamed up with Fantomex. For a while they were the best of buddies, bathing in the blood of their enemies and masturbating with their fat entrails. Then in the least surprising twist since Ricky Martin came out of the closet, Fantomex screwed him over and left him for Captain Britain to find. They found him guilty and had his skin cut off. With a punishment like that, you almost want the guy to torment Fantomex. It's a twisted, yet novel background story that Remender makes compelling yet bizarre. It's the best possible combination outside beer and college girls with daddy issues.
Weapon III wastes no time in taking his revenge. He throws Psylocke aside and restrains Fantomex with his living muscle. Then in an act that would make the Taliban cringe, Weapon III cuts off Fantomex's face. I'll repeat that just in case you missed it. The man cut off Fantomex's fucking face! In a comic series that has shown tyrants creating new worlds, children getting shot, and killer cyborgs from the future it shouldn't be that shocking. But it is, damn it! For a comic that was inconsistent if not disorganized at times, this is a scene that ensures your jaw with hit the floor with the force of a meteorite. Even though Fantomex is a douche worthy of the Hall of Fame, this shit is pretty extreme. And you know what? It's extremely awesome as well!
There are a lot of twisted elements in this arc and that's understandable because it's taking place in a pretty twisted world. It's so twisted at times that you might find yourself a bit lost. It's like blacking out and waking up in a strange house without remembering how you got there, only it doesn't involve taking a shit in the kitchen sink. Rick Remender's storytelling is still as solid as ever and the character dynamics continue the tradition of love/hate/murderous rage that has given Uncanny X-Force a unique sense of drama. If you've been following Uncanny X-Force from the beginning, you should enjoy what Remender brings to the table. If you haven't (and the shame of a thousand nut shots if you haven't), you'll probably be pretty lost. Part of what makes Uncanny X-Force so great is Remender's ability to make each arc fit into a coherent whole yet still being accessible. The first two issues of this arc did a good job of continuing that tradition, but this issue just feels a bit too jumbled.
That's not to say the issue isn't awesome. It is. However, it felt incomplete in many ways. It was never revealed or even ominously hinted at what Psylocke gave up to save Fantomex. There also wasn't much attention paid to Captain Britain and his cronies. It's hard to get a sense of what Wolverine and Deadpool's plan to take on Goat Head actually is (if they have one). I get that the primary battle is against Mr. Goat Head and his forces of mutant Harry Potter knock-offs. However, it just didn't fit together. Weapon III was a nice touch that added a more personal element to the conflict with Fantomex and Deadpool's remarks were as entertaining as can be expected, but it just doesn't seem as though the story moved forward all that much. Fantomex was saved, but it was just more attacking and confronting in this issue. Now maybe they're closer to the end than we think and I'm just too high to see the signs, but it's still confusing in a few too many ways.
The Otherworld arc is a very different arc compared to the Dark Angel Saga or any arc thus far in Uncanny X-Force. I know that's not saying much because it's still a young series, but some may find it to be too different to really enjoy as much as it deserves to be enjoyed. Remender maintains all the right elements with his characters and the story. He just doesn't move it forward as well as usual. So with that in mind, I give Uncanny X-Force #22 a 4 out of 5. This is the kind of arc that makes for great acid trips, but if you're not careful you may find yourself locked in a polka-dot cage with Ben Franklin and a talking octopus where they're looking to beat the shit out of what's left of your sanity. Nuff said!