Saturday, April 21, 2012
Wolverine and the X-men #9 - Betting On Cosmic Awesome
It's late April boys and girls so you know what that means! The NFL Draft is just around the corner, school is almost over, and pot smokers everywhere are assembling their best buds for the big 4/20 celebration. So it's only appropriate that a school like the Jean Grey Institute is facing what promises to be their biggest exam to date with the events of Avengers vs. X-men looming over them like sadistic nun armed with a metal ruler. After all, they're named after the woman who is most readily identified with the Phoenix Force. It's like naming a veterinary school after Michael Vick. It's bound to attract some uneasy connotations.
Avengers vs. X-men was billed from the beginning as an event that would carry over into various ongoing series. Wolverine and the X-men is just one among many. Even though the Avengers vs. X-men series itself is 12 freaking issues, that's still not enough space for Marvel to tell every part of the story they want to tell and I have no problem with that. I consider it an embarrassment of riches. Saying there's too much story to an event like this is like saying there are too many exposed breasts at the Playboy mansion. Jason Aaron is an established X-men writer who has made Wolverine and the X-men one of the best new X-books in a long time. He's used living islands, homicidal children, alien casino planets, and pregnancy scares in the span of 8 issues. I'd say he's more than qualified to contribute to an Avengers vs. X-men tie in.
Wolverine and the X-men #9 is an issue that plays off events that already played out in Avengers vs. X-men #1, albeit briefly. In that issue, Captain America visited Wolverine to recruit him in the Avengers's mission to seize Hope before the Phoenix Force arrived. That visit seemed glossed over, but I didn't go on a drunken rant about it because I knew from comic solicitations that it would be expanded in this issue. It may not be required reading to know what's going on in the main story, but it's still an issue of Wolverine and the X-men. There had to be a more elaborate conversation between Cap and Wolverine aside from "Want to go pick a fight on Utopia against your former friends and capture the next vessel for the Phoenix Force that happens to look like Jean Grey?" Unless Wolverine was drunk, he probably needed more convincing than that.
The issue begins by revisiting the decadent casino world of Planet Sin. A few issues ago, Wolverine and Kid Omega tried to cheat this casino out of cash so they could fund the Jean Grey Institute. Never one to leave an awesome concept like an alien casino behind, Jason Aaron revisits this amoral world of gambling and alien hookers. Except now they've discovered a new way of gambling. They're betting on which planet the Phoenix Force is going to destroy next. A giant planet-killing firebird is bound to attract a lot of attention. While some scramble and search for ways to stop it, others are looking for ways to bet on it, make money, and pick up hookers. Why do I get the feeling that Charlie Sheen is somewhere in the background?
At the Jean Grey Institute, shit is still becoming less shitty after Wolverine had his legs broke and Sabretooth dropped in and tried to kill Beast's girlfriend. Wolverine and Beast take some time to reflect and create a nice beach scenario with the Danger Room while recalling the joys of seeing Sabretooth get shot to the moon, but such simple pleasures are bound to never last in the world of the X-men. Captain America is on his way to visit the school, which was already shown in Avengers vs. X-men #1. But what wasn't shown was the typical activities at the Jean Grey Institute that take place whenever a killer cosmic entity is coming their way. Which is also known as shit that happens every other Thursday, but I digress.
Whether by coincidence or paying homage to the hot redhead NOT named Hope Summers that Wolverine named the school after, Kitty Pryde and a number of students are giving reports on the Phoenix Force. It offers a quick insight into what this cosmic parrot is, but unlike the description offered in Avengers vs. X-men #1 the more creative aspect is played up. Now granted, the Phoenix has proven to be 99 percent destruction and only 1 percent creative over the years, but you can't say the X-men aren't balanced. That or they're just siding with the Occupy Wall Street movement and this is Jason Aaron's subtle way of giving the finger to Goldman Sachs.
Captain America enters the school and like a hippie in North Korea, he's greeted rather harshly by the institute defenses. That's to be expected. This school is named after a woman who can't fucking stay alive so do you really expect their security systems to stay function? Wolverine manages to save a little face by shutting down the defenses, but earlier in the issue Beast's tech toys already revealed that the Phoenix Force is on its way. So Wolverine knows what Cap has come to bitch about. Thus we have a nice little convergence between this issue and Avengers vs. X-men #1. Since the scene in Avengers vs. X-men #1 was barely half a page, this already comes off as far more interesting.
While Cap and Wolverine are meeting to discuss the impending doom that often comes with cosmic forces, the rest of the school is still carrying out normal classes. Cannonball is leading a quick little course with Husk on the vital mutant skill of flight. Granted, most students would probably use it to spy on a nude beach over the coast of France, but what are you going to do? It's another scene that gives Kid Omega and Kid Gladiator an opportunity to be arrogant pricks and they make good use of it. Then in yet another instance of the Phoenix sticking it's cosmic dick where it shouldn't go, Rachel and Kid Omega get hit with a psychic seizure. It forces Toad, the institute janitor/punching bag, to save Kid Omega. But in the process he impresses Husk so there's a chance he may get a little action. That still depends on the world not coming to an end due to the Phoenix, but at least the guy can die with his dick not hating him.
Now aside from Toad possibly getting laid for the first time since he tricked a blind chick with an animal fetish into licking his balls, the sheer ease with which Rachel Grey was pushed to the side is somewhat disturbing. She's the daughter of Jean Grey for crying out loud (albeit from a different universe). She also used to carry a piece of the Phoenix. Yet she just gets knocked the fuck out and hasn't even been on the same panel as Hope Summers since she came back? There are plot holes and then there are fucking parking lots where you can hold a Marylin Manson concert. I know there's still plenty of time for her to get involved, but casting her aside so casually is just plain undignified. She's not a condom at Kid Rock's house.
Even if Rachel isn't involved, the key plot in this comic is still Captain America meeting Wolverine. In this they have a much more extended conversation compared to Avengers vs. X-men #1. They don't just talk about the Phoenix. They talk about where Wolverine stands. Yes, he's an X-man running a school for mutants. Yes, he's also a card-carrying member of the Avengers. So where does he stand? This has been a pretty key issue since Avengers vs. X-men began. Jason Aaron does a great job of playing up the more personal aspects of this conflict. He knows Cyclops much better than Cap and when Cap says he's going to take Hope from him, Wolverine knows better than anyone that Cyclops is not going to let that shit stand. Now maybe he's still bitter about the whole Schism affair, but it's still clearly a tough decision to go against the X-men. Yet Captain America doesn't paint it like that. He paints it as saving the world. That along with fighting Cyclops again and he has an easy decision, but one that's not set in stone.
So the events in this issue are set to catch up with the events in Avengers vs. X-men #1, but before this issue starts copying and pasting there are some more personal elements to handle. Before Wolverine gets ready to take on the guy who used to stick it to Jean Grey regularly, he meets up with Idie at the statue of Jean Grey herself. It leads to a nice little moment where Idie admits that despite the constant threat of destruction, she likes it at the Jean Grey Institute. Maybe she's a masochist, but it's home to her and in many ways that gives Wolverine all the more incentive to protect it. This may not be a major factor in the overall scheme of the Avengers vs. X-men event, but it's a nice way of adding a personal touch to the story.
With the news of the Phoenix's approach confirmed, Wolverine gathers his staff before he runs off with the Avengers to kick Cyclops's ass. He doesn't ask for their help or even their good wishes. He tells them their focus should be on protecting the school. Don't worry about the giant firebird of death that's on it's way to use the planet as a skillet. Don't even worry about that girl on Utopia that looks strikingly similar to Jean Grey who has shown the kind of volatility that Gordon Ramsey would find excessive. Just protect the kids, give them their daily tests, and teach them the values of good nutrition and using condoms. It's a rather unsettling way to leave his school, but he's Wolverine. He's good at stabbing things, not motivational pep talks.
But it isn't just the Jean Grey Institute that's going to be indirectly affected by the Phoenix. Kid Gladiator has already made a name for himself at that school by being a colossal douche. That's to be expected given who his father is, but his father also happens to be responsible for the Shi'ar Imperial Guard. Anybody who knows dick about the Phoenix mythos or has access to Wikipedia knows that the Imperial Guard has been on the receiving end of the Phoenix Force's shit like diarrhea at a bad Mexican restaurant. Gladiator was among those who battled Jean Grey when she first mixed it up with the cosmic parrot and now the Phoenix is back. On top of that, the Shi'ar butchered Jean Grey's family. So even though Gladiator is one of the toughest motherfuckers in the galaxy, he's inclined to shit his pants and worry about his son making a bone-headed decision. Which is probably a safe a bet as the Browns not winning the Superbowl.
And so a moment that was glossed over in Avengers vs. X-men #1 is fully fleshed out in Wolverine and the X-men #9. Given the timing and circumstances surrounding this issue, it fits more perfectly than Jenna Jameson at a dick sucking contest. There wasn't the same kind of epic brawl we saw in Avengers vs. X-men #2 and why should there be? The point of this issue wasn't to throw more disaster porn into the story. The point was to set the stage for said disaster porn. Like any good porn, you need to set the mood to help inspire the best boner. The mood here was one of heightened drama, one where Wolverine has to wrestle with the decision to oppose his fellow X-men in this conflict. It also set the tone for some additional side-plots. Not only does it look like Toad might be getting laid, but psychics like Kid Omega and Rachel Grey may be feeling the effects of the Phoenix's approach in the same way herpes acts up every time groupies see old footage of Tommy Lee. It's not a terribly ominous undertone, but it does set Wolverine and the X-men up as the centerpiece for a unique blend of conflicts that can't be squeezed into the main Avengers vs. X-men storyline.
While the circumstances of this issue fit nicely into the greater scheme of Avengers vs. X-men, that doesn't prevent this issue from feeling a bit too much like a setup issue. Now I know that there have to be issues like this for the story to progress. However, some scenes such as Rachel Grey and Kid Omega weren't really fleshed out. Given Rachel's history with the Phoenix Force and the mere fact that she's a Grey it seems as though she's been unreasonably cast aside. If this shit involves the force that killed her mother and a teenage girl who looks strikingly like her mother, I would expect her to be more involved here. She may get her chance in later issues, but to have her fall flat on her face like Kid Omega just seems denigrating to her and her history.
If there are any additional flaws in this issue, they're too minor or I'm too stoned to give a skunks ass. Wolverine and the X-men is an awesome series and Wolverine and the X-men #9 is an awesome issue. Say what you will about tie-in issues, they still serve a purpose and this issue nicely demonstrates how a tie-in issue can be pretty damn awesome. Jason Aaron has a lot to work with here and it'll be interesting to see how he works it out with that twisted imagination of his. For now, he's off to an awesome start. I give Wolverine and the X-men #9 a 4.5 out of 5. So start studying for your final exams, boys and girls! The Phoenix Force is almost here and unlike those sadistic nuns I mentioned earlier, she'll beat your ass with more than a ruler. Nuff said!