Saturday, April 14, 2012
Astonishing X-men #48 - Born This Awesome
I like to think of myself as a progressive drunk. I've been harassed and annoyed by the government, religious zealots, and basically anyone who listens to Sean Hannity on a regular basis to be opposed to such douche-baggery. That extends to my sentiments regarding homosexuality. Overall, I'm for it. There needs to be a healthy mix of gayness in the population and I don't give a shit what the assholes at the Family Research Council say. Human beings are horny creatures, but we're also loving creatures. Why restrict our desire to love and bone to just one gender? It just seems like a horrible waste of human flesh.
With that said, the world of comics isn't exactly bursting at the seams with gay characters or gay themed stories. How can they when so many characters have women that look like porn stars and men that look like Calvin Klein models? It wasn't until recently that homosexuality in comics was apparent enough to piss off the right-wing religious nuts in One Million Moms (thanks Archie!), but that doesn't mean that there aren't good gay characters in comics. X-men in particular, a series that was built around being a metaphor for minorities, has a few notable gay characters. One of the best known is Jean-Paul Beaubier, aka Northstar. This guy is essentially Ricky Martin's wet dream. He's charming, he's good looking, and he's French. He's been in and out of a number of X-men comics in the same way George Michaels is in and out of public restrooms. He's spent time in Uncanny X-men most recently, but now he's getting a larger role in Astonishing X-men along with a new writing staff and I can just hear the gay pride parades along Castro Street celebrating in ways that make Rick Santorum violently ill (yet another reason to love gay people).
Not long ago, I delivered the solemn news that Marjorie Liu's most excellent run on X-23 came to a premature end. It was a sad day. I only finished half a bottle of tequila that night and was only marginally hung over the next day. As an accomplished drunk and fanboy, that's just pathetic. But Marjorie Liu's talent and ability to tell damn good X-men stories just can't be snuffed out that quickly. After Greg Pak finished his brief run on the series, she's taken over with a new line-up and a new focus. As someone who sobbed more than Glenn Beck at an Obama fundraiser after the end of her X-23 run, this was music to my ears. I celebrated with one or several drinks. I ended up sobbing more by the end of the night, but that was completely unrelated to comics and under order from a Baltimore judge I'm not at liberty to discuss the details.
Astonishing X-men #48 begins with a classic Fugitive moment, complete with shit-stenched sewers. Insert whatever gay connotations you want here, but it's not a good situation for Northstar. For reasons not yet explained, Wolverine and Gambit seem intent on killing him. Now maybe they've just been listening to too much of James Dobson's lectures, but it's rarely that simple in the Marvel universe. The first few pages just set the stage with some dramatic inner monologue. It's the kind of style that Marjorie Liu did so well in X-23. She can go from a very damaged teenage girl to a adult homosexual man running for his life so her unique touch in the pages of Astonishing X-men is already being felt. It's as welcome to this series as a Swedish massage by a topless ex-Playboy playmate.
Flash back to the past and Northstar is dealing with shit that's far less dangerous, but every bit as strenuous. Way back during the days of Nation X (and by way back I mean only three years ago), we got to see Northstar and his current boy toy, Kyle. He doesn't look like the kind of gay guy you would see on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He actually looks like the guy I buy my weed from, but I'm assuming that's a big fucking coincidence. Well in the time since then (depending on how much time has passed in the Marvel Universe which is always more confusing than quantum physics), Northstar and Kyle decided to take their relationship to the next level. No, I don't mean using different brands of lube. I mean moving in together. They decided to move into a place in Hells Kitchen of all neighborhoods. I don't know who their real estate agent is, but he or she needs to be fired.
Now if you're a homophobic bigot or you still get all icky inside when you think about two dudes kissing, you may have a problem with this scene. I personally have a problem with Cyclops wearing a full body condom for a uniform, but I can look past it. And unless you go to Tim Tebow's church, this is a pretty sweet scene. Kyle and Northstar don't carry themselves like the flaming gays you see in movies or gay porn. They come off as a normal couple trying to figure out how they're going to live together after being a long-distance gig. It involves shit as mundane as unpacking their shit and being interrupted by a phone call from Wolverine. It may not seem like much, but it's the kind of drama that Marjorie Liu did so well in X-23. And if she can make it work for a fucked up teenage girl, she can make it work for a gay couple in New York.
Northstar and Kyle aren't the only ones who are getting overly sweet with one another. During Marjorie Liu's X-23 series, Gambit caught up with Cecelia Reyes. He had a wound on his groin and she was nice enough to treat it. She must have treated it so well that Gambit caught up with her and she must have liked the package she saw because she went along with him. She joins him in an apartment Gambit rents when he's not playing the part of an X-man, a thief, or a guy who likes to hang around loose women and/or messed up teenage girls. It's another nice dramatic moment, both for Gambit and Cecelia. Gambit talks about the need to get away from the crazy life of an X-man and Cecelia talks about never wanting to have that life again. It's another one of those mundane things, wanting a normal life with problems that don't involve killer cosmic forces or mutant schools run by a guy with adamantium claws and a drinking problem. It's the kind of simpler things that Astonishing X-men used to have, but sacrificed in the name of ghost boxes and Hiroshima survivors.
It's all so nice and peachy for a bit, but this is a fucking X-men comic. You know that shit isn't going to last. Something is going to blow up. Remember that phone call that interrupted Northstar and Kyle before they could play a game of chocolate rocket explorer? Well it was Wolverine and he wasn't satisfied with just cock-blocked Northstar. He had to cock-block Gambit as well. He's not very descriptive in his reasons for denying both men the sex they so deeply deserve. He claims to have business, which could mean anything from streaking through Yankees Stadium or sucker punching the Kingpin. It certainly annoys Cecelia, who just finished explaining how she didn't care to get caught up in the X-men's shit and she knows better than most that said shit often follows Wolverine like a stripper follows investment bankers after they get their bonuses.
All that nice and peachy All My Children drama disappears pretty fucking fast when Warbird shows up, who is apparently assisting Wolverine in his cock-blocking. All she says is they're in deep shit (or something to that effect). Next panel...boom. They get attacked and shit blows up. NOW it's starting to feel like an Astonishing X-men comic! Cecelia is even more pissed than before. Once again, she's unable to avoid the inevitable chaos that follows the X-men wherever they go. They're like Motley Crue in the 80s, bringing mayhem and syphilis wherever they go. It's a nice spectacle, but it's a bit overly random. While the drama and sudden action is nice, not much has really been done to connect the events. It started in a sewer, went to a gay couple's apartment, and ended in Gambit's apartment. It sounds like the plot of a very bad low budget film by Oliver Stone, minus the excessive length and liberal underpinnings. But something awesome is clearly going on here. We just don't know how the fuck it ties together.
What we do know, however, is where this latest dose of mayhem came from. A helicopter hovering over Hells Kitchen happened to be in the neighborhood and one of the guys was armed with a rocket launcher. Apparently, post 9/11 New York City has even shittier airspace security and restriction on military grade weapons than a Mexican pot farm. It's not clear why they're trying to kill the X-men, aside from the usual they're freaks or Wolverine boned someone's wife. For all we know, the X-men are just legally designated as target practice under Marvel universe common law. But before they can shoot any more rockets, Iceman shows up and freezes their asses and crash their helicopter. And if they're lucky, these assholes don't have insurance. Again, we don't know what the conflict is here. There's a lot going on, but we're just lacking details.
We do get some details once the helicopter crashes and Wolverine's buddies catch up with Iceman, but these details raise more questions than answers. What kind of questions? How about the kind of questions that involve a sexy woman in a green outfit that summons green energy dragons? In other words, the awesome kind. She's not alone either. She has backup and for whatever reason she thinks it's necessary to fuck the X-men up and ruin what should be a night of gay and straight boning. Again, no reason is given. Nothing is even hinted at. No ominous message is offered. Maybe this is another woman Wolverine boned and never called. Maybe this is someone hired by Pat Roberson to ruin Northstar and Kyle's relationship. It could be anything. Like Mitt Romney's appeal, we just don't know.
It isn't just X-men that get involved though. Kyle, Northstar's lover boy who got left behind while he caught up with Wolverine, is curious when he sees an explosion in the middle of the city. Who wouldn't be curious? Well like a good lover who likes to keep tabs on his stud muffin and doesn't know how to use Facebook, Kyle was keeping tabs on Northstar and when shit started blowing up it was a foregone conclusion that he was in the thick of it. But before Kyle can go after his man, he gets attacked by a different treat. Once again, few details are given. It could be zombies. It could be Tea Party supporters. We just don't know. There's definitely a clear threat here. It just isn't revealed, almost to the point of it being less ominous and more annoying.
Marjorie Liu's writing style is unique in that it fits nicely within a certain type of story. X-23 was a great fit because it allowed her to focus on the growth and general fucked up mentality that comes along with being both a teenager and a clone of a living weapon. Astonishing X-men is know for a lot of shit, but it isn't known for that kind of introspection. It's more known for Kitty Pryde getting stuck in a giant bullet. But in a sense Astonishing is probably the best series she could have taken over because this series is so all over the place that the next writer could make it a Squirrel Girl solo series and it would still be appropriate. Astonishing has had a serious identity crisis ever since Joss Whedon left and Marjorie Liu's more dramatic style is a welcome change. Just as Whedon's focus on the Cyclops/Emma relationship made his early run in Astonishing so memorable, Marjorie Liu is capturing some of that drama with the likes of Northstar and Kyle and even Gambit and Cecelia. On the surface it shouldn't fit in Astonishing, but it does damn it! And it's pretty fucking awesome.
Just as she did with X-23, Marjorie Liu did a nice job of mixing drama with action. Those sweet moments of gay and straight romance were coupled with action that involved attack helicopters and rocket launchers. It's par for the course in an X-men comic, which is more than Tiger Woods can say these days. But what keeps this story from being as memorable as Tiger's divorce settlement is the lack of overall connections. It's really not clear how the opening scene connects with the later scenes both with Kyle and the helicopter attack. I get that there are probably connections that haven't been revealed yet, but as it stands it's a bit too confusing. There's being subtle about connections and then there's just being too vague. The issue is still coherent. It just lacks the extra meat on the bones to make it sufficiently juicy.
In terms of first issues, Marjorie Liu did a great job and it's refreshing to see her on another X-book. Hopefully her run lasts longer than Greg Pak's brief but memorable stint. Astonishing X-men is one a lot like that eccentric girl in high school that dressed differently every other day. Sometimes she looked smoking hot. Other times she looked like someone you wouldn't touch with a panda's dick. This is a series badly in need of consistency and Marjorie Liu is in a position to provide that. She demonstrated why she's the right gal for the job with this issue and I give Astonishing X-men #48 a 4 out of 5. There's action, drama, and the kind of romance that will make Rick Santorum vomit and any comic that can make Rick Santorum vomit is awesome in it's own right. Nuff said!