Saturday, May 5, 2012
Astonishing X-men #49 - Gay Old Awesome
Every so often, someone will provoke the over-sensitive right-wing douche-bags of this world in a way that is so blatant that even the most progressive among us will raise an eyebrow. No matter how blatant it may be, I'm always in favor of pissing off this particular segment of the population. Whenever I see the Pat Robertsons and Rick Santorums of the world seethe with outrage whenever someone throws a taboo subject like homosexuality in their faces, I usually just grab myself a cold beer, light up a joint, and enjoy the show. And if by chance it means getting an awesome comic book in the process, hell that's just a bonus!
After reading Astonishing X-men #48, I could literally hear the assholes of every conservative Christian clench. The sound was so deafening I thought God herself had farted (I imagine that if there is a god, it's a big-titted women by the way). It wasn't because the comic involved the X-men collectively taking a piss on the tomb of Jesus Christ. It was because it actually dared to tell an X-men storty that involved one of their most prominent gay characters, Northstar, dealing with an actual homosexual relationship with his long-time dong-enthusiest, Kyle. As if that weren't blasphemous enough, it wasn't depicted as the plot of a gay porno or a Lady Gaga concert. It was actually depicted as a normal relationship with all the drama. The only difference was that one of them had mutant powers that gave him no excuses to being late for a cheese-tasting party. Yes, somewhere out there Glenn Beck was crying like a little girl over the damage this would do to the country and innocent children everywhere. But fuck Glenn Beck. He wouldn't know a decent comic if God herself inserted it into his brain through his rectum.
Beyond simple fun of making homophobes uncomfortable, Astonishing X-men has been in the midst of a transition. After Greg Pak's lone arc, Marjorie Liu is establishing her run with a new cast and a new setting. It takes the likes of Iceman, Northstar, Wolverine, Gambit, Warbird, and Cecelia Reyes out from the flashy surroundings of Utopia or the Jean Grey Institute and places them right in New York City where they can draw in danger to populated areas. I know they don't intend to attract danger, but they should at least take that shit into account when they visit a major city. While Northstar was busy moving in with Kyle, he got called up by Wolverine to track a new threat within the city. It led them to Gambit and Cecelia, who soon found themselves targeted by a guys with bazookas and the Marauders. It's enough to ruin any trip to the Big Apple, short of several detours through the Bronx.
Like the last issue, Astonishing X-men #49 begins with a brief glimpse into the future. Someone is clearly controlling the X-men and forcing Nothstar to go on the run with the same urgency as Pat Robertson at a Lady Gaga concert. In the last issue he had to escape Wolverine and Gambit. Now he has to escape Karma, one of the only other prominent gay characters in X-men. And in a scene that should have GLADD up in arms, she's unable to fight off whatever is controlling her and forces Northstar to get rough with her in a way that Rick Santorum can only dream of. If that weren't bad enough, Northstar's man-squeeze, Kyle, is also fighting the same control and he's having just as much luck as Karma. Except when the time comes to point a gun at his lover, he ends up turning it on himself. It has all the dangerous makings of a bad "It Gets Better" video, but before we know the outcome we flash back from the near future to the present.
The time shift isn't as confusing as it sounds. The last issue ended with the X-men facing down Chimera and the Marauders after Gambit's apartment was blown to hell. Naturally, the X-men don't take kindly to having their insurance premiums jacked up so they start fighting back. Chimera subdues Iceman and Northstar with her flashy green dragons that could definitely be mistaken for penis metaphors. Wolverine has to deal with taking a fucking harpoon to the heart. Even for a guy with a healing factor, that shit's gotta hurt. And this is all in the middle of New York City, mind you. You won't get a much greater spectacle outside a gay pride parade, which in this case I guess is more than appropriate.
One X-man (or former X-man) that's trying to not take part in this bloody battle is Cecelia Reyes. She spent a good chunk of the last issue explaining that she didn't care for a life of violence with the X-men. She's a doctor and just wants to have a simple job passing out antibiotics to women who were stupid enough to sleep with Tommy Lee. The Marauders just don't let her. One of them is stupid enough to put a gun to her head. That's usually a very menacing gesture, but considering how Cecelia's powers involve creating force fields you might as well be pissing on an electric fence. When the Marauder is stupid enough to shoot, his reward is a nice shower of bullet shards to the face. I'm sure the Andrew Zimmerman's of the world now have a new worst nightmare.
The battle against the Marauders continues to unfold with the same messiness as any street brawl in New York, albeit slightly less destructive than a brawl in New Jersey. Chimera and the Marauders are doing a pretty good job of roughing up the X-men, but then Marjorie Liu throws in a twist. She was so good at it in X-23 so it stands to reason she would try again with Astonishing. It's like a good strain of weed. If it works, don't bother tweaking it. The twist comes courtesy of Karma, who happened to be in the neighborhood and met up with Kyle. She uses that powerful mind of hers on top of that lesbian body that would fit in nicely with so many pornos to uncover a slight wrinkle in this battle. Chimera, the crazy bitch with the dragons, is being mind controlled. She doesn't seem to know it, but once Karma works that lesbo psychic magic she exposes the unfortunate truth and suddenly this street fight takes on a new tone.
It's not the most insane twist that Marjorie Liu could have made. She didn't reveal that Chimera was Wolverine's long lost sister and she had been sent from the future to cut off his balls so that he wouldn't father any more deranged Daken-like children. She was just being mind controlled. That sounds typical at first until you consider the brief flash-forwards in this issue and the previous issue. It fits in nicely, showing that there are some psychic shenanigans going on. And when certain elements fit nicely, that's usually a good sign for a comic and a good reason to light up another joint. Then again, I've yet to come up with a bad reason to light up a joint so maybe that's not a fair comparison.
Once Chimera is free of her mind control, she immediately calls off the rest of the Marauders. They're understandably confused. They tend not to like the idea that they were being controlled and prefer to just keep fighting randomly and hoping someone pays them money or hands them over the keys to the universe, whichever comes first. Thankfully, Chimera's brain is still somewhat functional despite being mind-controlled. Even though they had the X-men on the ropes, she orders that Vanisher step in and teleport them away. This leaves the X-men in the middle of a decimated street amidst many confused New Yorkers, but lets face it this is probably not the craziest shit they've ever seen. Hell, they're all probably still obsessing over Tim Tebow's arrival to the Jets.
Chimura still stays behind, if for no other reason than to give her teammates the finger. She also allows Karma to dig deeper into her mind in order to find out who the hell mind-fucked her. That proves to be as good an idea as riding a roller coaster after eating a batch of extra-spice chicken wings laced with laxative. Whatever psychic took a bat to Chimura's mind made sure no one, especially not the X-men's lone lesbian, could find out who they were. It becomes a disturbing vision of maggots and pain, not unlike having to spend the night in my old college frat house after a party. It leaves them low on answers, but they still have a few clues in the form of the asshole that tried to shoot Cecelia in the head. He may have been given the John McClane lead facial, but even dead guys can offer clues. The guy actually has a GPS tracker on him so they can check out all the places he's been be it an evil lair or a strip club.
While the X-men dig deeper, Northstar decides to get away from the chaos and fly his boy toy around the bright shiny lights of New York City. It makes for an overtly romantic setting for them to have a nice, long conversation that even straight couples in comics rarely have. Set aside any revulsion you may have to two men swapping spit, there's some real drama here and it's the kind of drama Marjorie Liu has always excelled at. Kyle talks to Northstar about how fucked up it is to be in a relationship with a mutant while he's just a normal guy. How does something like that work? How does he function knowing that Northstar is out playing X-man while he's back in New York with nothing but his Elton John CDs and box set of the L-Word? But Northstar goes out of his way to let Kyle know that even when he's off being an X-man, he's an important part of his life. It's a strength and not a weakness. It makes for a tender moment that epitomizes every Lady Gaga song ever made.
Beyond the whole gay part of their relationship, Marjorie Liu highlights an important dramatic element here. All too often in comics, relationships involve people with superpowers. Aside from Superman and Lois Lane, you don't get too many couples where one has superpowers and the other doesn't. It's like being in a relationship where someone else makes a fuck-ton more money than you. It makes for a rather unequal relationship. But as Anna Nichole Smith has shown us, it can be made to work. If there's love, there's a chance. It's a good message and one that most writers readily gloss over. So what if it involves a gay couple? It's about damn time someone at Marvel addresses this shit.
This romantic moment is one of the highlights of the issue, but all those warm and fuzzy feelings have to content with that same feeling you get after you eat Mexican while drunk at 1 am. Having helped the X-men enough for one day, Karma heads back to her place with the intention of purging her mind of the disturbing visions she had earlier. Usually a head in the microwave helps, but that's just me. She's prepared to turn in and start fantasizing about the latest LPGA champions. Then she's met by a mysterious-looking woman who reveals that she was the one behind Chimura. While I can't quite identify who she is, she definitely has the psycho-Hillary Clinton feel to her. Not content with just mind-fucking Chimura, she's poised to mind-fuck the X-men again and have a damn good time doing it.
Astonishing X-men has been an anomaly since Joss Whedon's run ended. It's never really established a sense of consistency, nor has it established a role amongst the other X-books. It seems to change on an arc-to-arc basis. It's less consistent than Mitt Romney at times, but Marjorie Liu seems to be making a conscious effort to give this book an identity. This issue had her really demonstrate the strengths she made so abundantly clear during her X-23 run. She wields mystery and drama with the same skill as Jason Vorhees wields a machete. The brief glimpses she's been hinting at in the beginning of each issue as well as the twists regarding mind control make for a story with a uniquely awesome feel. It sounds complicated, but Marjorie Liu finds a way to make it easy to follow (provided you don't read the comic while you're too stoned). If the mystery doesn't intrigue you, the drama between Northstar and Kyle damn well better. Unless you listen to one too many of James Dobson's lectures, the sheer breadth to which Liu fleshes out this relationship is...well, astonishing for lack of a better word. You won't find a more gripping experience without being Bart Simpson's neck.
If there is an inconsistency, it's the level of vagueness that Liu is willing to tolerate. She describes the drama and the mystery very well, but at times the mystery is too damn mysterious if that's the right word. It's clear that someone is mind-fucking the X-men and doing a pretty good job of it. It's not clear why they're doing it or even who could be behind it. Maybe I just didn't recognize the woman on the last page, but if a mystery is to remain at least somewhat coherent there needs to be a few clues as to why so much mind-fucking is going on. This isn't the fucking Matrix. The story is clearly meant to be more coherent and it could definitely use a few minor details, but to make a big deal out of it would just be petty. I'm petty about a lot of things in comics, namely bad replacement characters and red-headed, green-eyed Phoenix wielders not named Jean Grey. But I can't be too petty about this comic.
While certain details may be lacking, Marjorie Liu more than makes up for it by weaving an action-packed story that is nicely coupled with some drama. By offering a brief glimpse into what is about to happen in the near future, it makes the story all the more intriguing. It's probably the most intriguing Astonishing X-men has been in quite some time. For a series that has been pretty inconsistent if not outright negated by the events of other X-books, that's saying quite a bit. I can't be too petty, but I can't be overly generous either. This issue is pretty awesome, but it's just a few degrees off from perfection. I give Astonishing X-men #49 a 4 out of 5. This arc holds great promise. Not only is it telling a great story, it's giving the finger to everyone who ever gave money to Rick Santorum. For that, I deem this comic awesome. Nuff said!