Sunday, April 1, 2012
Uncanny X-Force #23 - Time Twisting Awesome
Ever since Uncanny X-Force came out, it has set itself apart by not being afraid to do the kind of twisted shit you wouldn't think to put in a story before your forth shot of tequila. This isn't the kind of series where the X-men make public service announcements on the importance of staying in school, wearing a condom, and not mixing booze and cocaine. This is the kind of series where the X-men's less reputable characters ban together and do the shit that the other X-men aren't willing to do, either because of personal objections or a weak stomach. It has led them to fight battles in Tabula Rasa, the moon, and the World. It's made for some pretty amazing scenery right out of the mind of someone on a kick-ass acid trip. The scenery in the latest Otherworld arc has been no less mind-bending.
The first arc since the Dark Angel Saga has had a lot to live up to. After an event so awesome, it's like trying to fuck a supermodel that just got double teamed by George Clooney and Brad Pitt. The Otherworld arc has taken so many twisted turns that it could qualify as a contortionist in the next London Olympics. It has brought Psylocke's family including Captain Britain into the fold. It has introduced an army of fanciful creatures that would give Lord of the Ring fans more than their share of boners. It started as a recruitment effort for Captain Britain to get Psylocke involved while also putting Fantomex on trial for killing kid Apocalypse. It quickly turned into an epic war of mystical mayhem led by a guy named Goat Head. Want to guess what he looks like?
The battle has reached a fevered pitch. Wolverine, Deadpool, and AOA Nightcrawler have joined the fight in their efforts to rescue Fantomex and Psylocke. This was complicated when Fantomex's old buddy, Weapon III, showed up and fucked his shit up by ripping off his face. No, I haven't taken one too many shrooms. That shit actually happened. Something's gotta give and Uncanny X-Force #23 marks the last issue of this acid-tripping arc. It starts with a few flashbacks (which I suppose can happen on acid) that show Psylocke and her brother in the early days before they started running around in spandex. The complications become readily apparent when the present struggle with Goat Head continues to unfold. He demonstrates plenty of firepower in taking down Wolverine and Deadpool. It may sound like a shoddy transition that I've been known to criticize in the past, but be patient grasshopper. You'll see why it makes sense later on.
Goat Head is giving Wolverine and Deadpool many additional reasons to hate Otherworld and place this on their do-not-travel-to-unless-piss-faced-drunk list. However, AOA Nightcrawler is finding other reasons to make this his new vacation spot. In the last issue he met up with Meggan Braddock, who 616 Kurt used to team up with and occasionally flirt with during his Excalibur days. Meggan makes it clear during their battle against Goat Head's armies that her panties never quite dried up for him. This leads AOA Nightcrawler to attempt to cop a feel. Captain Britain certainly doesn't appreciate this. You may consider it a dick move, but be honest. If you ventured to an alternate reality where Jessica Alba was your wife you would want to take advantage of that, wouldn't you?
The battles with Goat Head are as bloody and elaborate as we've come to expect from Rick Remender's blood-soaked imagination. They're entertaining and all, but what about the extra bloody scene from the end of the previous issue? By that I mean the scene where Weapon III ripped Fantomex's fucking face off. Even by Uncanny X-Force standards, that's a pretty fucked up manifestation of Uncanny X-Force's violent themes. But damn it if it isn't sickeningly awesome! Weapon III still has Fantomex and Psylocke in his grasp and like any good sadist, he's not content with just ripping off faces. He wants to torture Fantomex in ways that would require Dick Cheney to get another heart transplant. It's pretty gruesome, but Psylocke has a weak stomach so she's able to put a stop to it. She has to pull a little trick that isn't entirely clear or flashy, but it works.
Now usually Remender is more elaborate when someone pulls a stunt like this. Unless you read the previous issues, it's really not too clear what Psylocke does to subdue Weapon III. Even if it was clear, nothing really happens aside from him letting Fantomex go and falling to the ground like he took one too many hits from some bad weed. In a series that has faces being ripped off, there's no excuse for being that underhanded. Granted, Fantomex gets his face back and the opportunity to appropriately maim his old Weapon X buddy. It just lacks the usual details that make Uncanny X-Force so brutally awesome.
The details are much more apparent as the battle escalates with Captain Britain in the Tower Omniverse. By this point, Goat Head's forces have broken through and are pushing Captain Britain back into the special place that links up all those juicy universes with so many versions of Jessica Alba to hook up with (assuming that's part of Goat Head's plan). Psylocke also discovers (finally) that X-Force has come to rescue them, but they arrived under-equipped and ridiculously outgunned. Goat Head has all the trappings of an overpowered Harry Potter on PCP with all the lovability of brain damaged skunk. It's one of those missions in Uncanny X-Force where you can't be too ethical, not when someone is about to stick their massive goat-dick into multiple universes.
Since Goat Head's power is not going to be matched without paying Dr. Strange overtime, X-Force must do what lazy people do and work smarter instead of harder. Once again, Rick Remender throws in a few bits of deception to keep the readers on their toes or require that they get better weed. Goat Head's power trip is abruptly halted when two high-powered lords of Otherworld, Merlyn and Roma, show up. Apparently in Otherworld, flexing too much power is like walking down the streets naked and randomly waving your dick in everyone's faces. It's frowned up on and it'll get your ass arrested and pepper sprayed. Goat Head finally trembles a bit, but being the determined tyrant he is he quickly finds out that Merlyn and Roma aren't real. They're actually Psylocke and Fantomex, courtesy of Fantomex's deceptive powers. This only pisses Goat Head off even more, as if he wasn't pissed enough for having a goat head that won't get him laid outside of a Furry convention. He decides to take a more hands-on approach to fucking up the universe, but in breaking Fantomex's deception he made his mind vulnerable just long enough for Psylocke to uncover a few secrets. From these secrets, Rick Remender throws in another twist that not only fills in a few major blanks but sets the stage for another intensely emotional climax that doesn't require a full box of tissues.
To this point we don't know much about Goat Head other than he's ugly as hell and thinks he has a right to fuck up the omniverse. You can just easily assume he's one of those inhuman monsters that comics love to use as a metaphor for Nazis, communists, and republicans. But it's not quite that simple. In scanning Goat Head's mind, Psylocke finds out that Goat Head is actually Jamie Braddock from the future. It turns out Jamie tried to take a few too many shortcuts on the path to enlightenment and decided to make a deal with Horoam'ce, a Mephisto-like creature that loves to screw people over when they're desperate. And the only way to stop Goat Head from infecting other universes like a bad case of the clap, he needs to kill Jamie.
This is the kind of emotional twist that has made Uncanny X-Force so gripping. It's not enough to just throw in enemies that need to be killed. Rick Remender has done a great job of giving it a personal touch. The Dark Angel Saga was so compelling because it required X-Force to take on a friend that turned evil. This time they have to turn on someone who is going to become evil. And once again, it's one of Psylocke's loved ones. The girl just can't catch a break! First she loses her lover and now she's gotta sacrifice a family member to prevent the universe from getting gang banged. This girl needs to get laid and a long vacation.
In a moment that had much of the same emotional depth as the end of the Dark Angel Saga, Psylocke tries to convince her brother to kill Jamie. He refuses to do so, but in refusing he allows millions within countless universes to perish because of Goat Head's bullshit. When it's clear he won't do the deed, Psylocke does what X-Force does best and gets their hands dirty. Using her telepathy, she takes control of her brother's mind and has him snap Jamie Braddock's neck. This effectively ends Goat Head's bullshit while demonstrating the most brutal form of the stop-hitting-yourself trick that every sibling has endured at some point in their lives. For any of us that has a love/hate relationship with their siblings, this moment should hit you in all the right ways without making your balls hurt.
The battle is over in a flash. Goat Head doesn't exist and neither does his threat. Psylocke meets up with X-Force who in turn meet up with Captain Britain. It's more than just an awkward moment. Psylocke takes full responsibility, just as she did in the Dark Angel Saga. She effectively ensures she'll never have a place by her brother's side and probably won't get invited back for the holidays anytime soon. It's a very tough sacrifice, but one that was necessary in order to keep the omniverse intact. It's definitely one of those morally ambiguous moments that would prompt Dr. House to swallow another helping of Vicodin and one that leaves Psylocke in a very difficult position.
Like other arcs before it, this ends on somewhat of a down note. The first arc ended with a kid getting shot in the head. The last arc ended with Angel effectively dying and having no memory of who he was. Now this arc ends with a similar sacrifice. It's the kind of moment that strikes to the heart of Uncanny X-Force. These are the kinds of decisions that the regular X-men can't and probably shouldn't make. A lot of fanciful shit had to happen to get to this point, yet Rick Remender found a way for it to all come together. By the end my head was spinning in more wonderful ways than it was the last time I passed out in a Tijuana brothel.
As someone who has had his share of fanciful hallucinations, I have a strong appreciation for stories of a fanciful nature. Otherworld has been a confusing arc at times that has brought X-Force into a world that is more difficult to follow than Mitt Romney's campaign platform. Rick Remender has always done a good job of putting X-Force into some pretty fucked up environments and having it remain coherent as blood starts flowing and bones start breaking. This was one instance where such a feat simply cannot be accomplished without breaking a few laws of physics. At times it's not clear what's going on or even where this shit is going down. However, Remender still managed to tie it together in the end with this issue. It's yet another reminder that he knows his shit and he'll use it to blow your mind while pleasuring your girl behind your back.
This issue didn't just play up the fanciful elements. It put a very emotional twist on the action, especially with Psylocke. It's this added emotion that makes this comic more meaningful than a simple series about X-men that aren't afraid to kill. It further reinforces the need for a team like X-Force that is capable of doing shit like this when it needs to be done. The potential for an emotional struggle was already there in the beginning when Psylocke confronted her brother. This issue fully realized it in a way that was immensely satisfying. Even if you were lost with all the mystical shit surrounding Otherworld, you still felt the emotional impact at the end and that's what makes this issue and this arc awesome.
When scoring this issue and this arc, it's hard not to hold it up to the same standards set by the Dark Angel Saga. Now I admit that's not entirely fair. Otherworld wasn't billed as nearly as big an event as Dark Angel Saga, but it's hard not to have that in mind when assessing the merits of this story. I don't like grading on a curve and I do my best to judge each issue on it's own merits. Thankfully, this is one issue where I don't need to set a curve. Otherworld may not be on the same scale as the Dark Angel Saga, but it definitely meets the high standards set by Uncanny X-Force. Aside from the fight against Weapon III, this issue was as top notch as one could hope for. That's why I give Uncanny X-Force #23 a 4.5 out of 5. Once again, Rick Remender has made his point clear. If you want an X-men series that will tug at your heart strings while making you want to throw up at times, this is the comic for you! Nuff said!