Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Xtreme X-men #1 - Xtreme Multiverse Awesome
It's no secret that Marvel has an abundance of alternate universes. Hell, Marvel has alternate universes in the same way Homer Simpson has a drinking problem. It's as broad and diverse as whatever the brilliant minds at Marvel can come up with and/or whatever exotic substances they can get their hands on. We've had alternate realities where mutants are shoved into concentration camps and hunted by sentinels (Days of Futures Past), another alternate reality where mutants are shoved into concentration champs and hunted by sentinels (Ultimate X-men, which is basically just one prolonged rip-off of Days of Futures Past among other things), and another reality where mutants rule over humans under Magneto's magnetic personality (House of M). You would think that would be enough alternate realities for Marvel to explore, but I'm sure everyone at Marvel would only laugh at the notion before calling security for stalking them in a Hulk costume. Like naked photos of Jessica Alba, you just can't get enough.
A new and exotic alternate universe was recently birthed from the womb of Greg Pak. While he's best known for having the Hulk wage war on the entire Marvel universe, he also had a brief run on Astonishing X-men where he introduced a universe where Magneto has decimated the world to the point where it's literally falling apart and Charles Xavier has lost his fucking mind in his effort to hold it together. During his brief run, Pak had 616 Cyclops travel to this crumbling world and free end Xavier's plan to hold the world together by sacrificing mutants from parallel universes. It's exactly as twisted as it sounds. He also took some time to swap spit with Storm, but that's another story.
Now Greg Pak is back to revisit this crumbling world he birthed in the pages of a relaunched series, Xtreme X-men. That's right, the series where Chris Claremont explored subtle hints of lesbian attraction between Storm and Jean Grey is back and with a new premise. I'm not sure how much lesbian attraction Pak will employ, but I'll assume it'll be no more than the required allotment dictated by their Disney overlords. The world that 616 Cyclops left behind is still falling apart. Now Xtreme X-men promises to follow Captain James Howlett (alternate Wolverine), Emmeline Frost-Summers (alternate Emma Frost), and Kurt Waggoner (alternate Nightcrawler who looks suspiciously like the Nightcrawler in X-men Evolution) as they fight to save a world that Magneto fucked up.
Mr. Pak doesn't skip a beat in picking up where he left off with his Astonishing X-men arc. Wolverine and Emmeline are rallying what few X-men they have to protect the petrified human population as their world prepares to fall apart faster than Tiger Wood's squeaky clean image. They try to get some form of guidance by linking up all the floating heads of alternate dimension Charles Xaviers that were used to bring mutants into this broken world. Again, it's as fucked up as it sounds. They either need to find a way to fix this crumbling world or find a new universe to crash. It's like having a choice between fixing the toilet that's overflowing with shit in your apartment or crashing with a friend. I think we all know which we prefer.
And like trying to fix an overflowing toilet by repeatedly flushing it, these alternate world X-men manage to overload the elaborate array of Xavier heads. It seems like an inefficient and foolish way to solve a global problem, but when the world around you is literally falling apart sometimes the smartest thing you can do is bang on the machine you're relying on to save you and hope it does something. I'm sure it fails 99.99999999 percent of the time, but in this instance it "works" to a point. That is, if you call "work" creating a new portal that's supposed to accommodate over 6 billion people that are probably still in the process of shitting themselves.
So this alternate world is more fucked than a porn star in a dildo factory. But 616 for all it's schismed X-men and regularly besiged Avengers is still in one piece. Like his Astonishing X-men arc, Greg Pak seeks to link up 616 with this new world he's created. But instead of utilizing Cyclops when he's in an emo mood, he focuses on a pretty blonde with a beautiful singing voice who also plays guitar. For some reason, I'm pretty sure most of the male readers won't disagree with that. Dazzler, who has been somewhat of a tertiary X-man in the X-books, is enjoying the normal sights of San Francisco, which include a man dressed in drag with very little shame to spare impersonating her. But she doesn't seem to mind and uses it as an opportunity to flirt with a cute guy. Because let's face it, even special clams need a few pearls inside them every once in a while.
Unfortunately, Dazzler doesn't get a chance to measure the bulge in her new beau's pants. She's called upon by Cyclops to help Madison Jefferies and Danger with an experiment involving the Ghost Box. You can probably see where this is going. You might as well put put the Grateful Dead in a room full of cocaine. You know what's going to happen. For those of you who skipped the Astonishing X-men arc that introduced the Ghost Box (and you would be forgiving for doing so), all you need to know is it does to the space time continuum what Michelle Bauchman does to the credibility of the Tea Party. Madison Jefferies needed an influx of energy and he figured he would have better luck if a beautiful woman was the source. I can honestly find no flaw in such logic.
Even with sound logic, the Ghost Box does what it does best and anally rapes the space time continuum. Since this is the same gizmo that transported Cyclops to the crazy realm of a million Xavier heads, it's not entirely coincidence that it links up with that other massive glory hole that was torn in the other universe. It causes Emmeline, Wolverine, and Kid Nightcrawler to tumble into the 616 world. However, it also causes a tentacle monster to follow them as well because apparently tentacle monsters are attracted to dimensional portals in the same way Donald Trump is attracted to European models. It's not quite as random as it sounds. It would be if there was a shitty explanation for it, but that comes a bit later. For now, Dazzler decides that since no one in the other X-books will let her demonstrate her awesome, she'll try to close the dimensional portal herself since she's the one that opened it. Again, it's not flawed logic. But even sound logic can be pretty fucked up.
It ends only slightly as messy as you would expect. No, it doesn't cause the universe to explode or cite any Back to the Future references for the 285983474239875th time. It just pulls the three dimensionally challenged X-men back into the portal and Dazzler goes with them. This is where we actually do get an explanation for that tentacle monster that looks like it was lifted from the set of a Japanese anime porno. That creature isn't just any phallic-metaphor monster that strikes fear into all girls who dress in school girl uniforms. It's actually Charles Xavier from one of the other universes. That's right, there is a universe where Xavier is a giant squid-like monster. I'm assuming it's the same universe where Magneto is a massive collection of vaginas, but I suppose they can't show that at Marvel. What with being owned by Disney and all. But since this version of Wolverine is immune to telepathy (that's another trait this squid-Xavier has), he's able to send him back to that big sushi bar in the sky.
Once girls in school uniforms everywhere can safely uncross their legs, Dazzler gets to know her new alternate reality X-men. This is where Greg Pak's knack for dialog and wit really shines. We get some interesting hints that the Dazzler that Emmeline knows is less dazzling and more lurid. Perhaps she has a nickname like the Squirter, Assplug, or the Titonator. Okay, those are all titles in my porno collection, but infinite universes mean infinite possibilities, right? Kid Nightcrawler's world seems slightly less lurid. He claims his world is called the United States of California and Dazzler is a world famous accordion player. Picture that for a minute. Not just Dazzler playing the accordion, but a world where California runs the government. I imagine it's run by celebrities and rapidly defaulting on debt. Wait...okay, maybe it's not that different anyways.
I bring this up because it's a novel and much smoother way to explain these details without turning the story into a documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman. One of the things consistently awesome comic book writers tend to do is actually work the exposition into the story in between action scenes. It's not an easy thing to do, but Greg Pak (who kicked ass on Hulk for years mind you) shows off his ability to do so right here. Now it would have been much nicer if he included some of the other alternate characters he introduced like Storm and Armor. They just seemed to flat out disappear after the first page. But it's good he's exploring some of these characters and putting Dazzler in an awkward position in the process. But then again, she recently saw a guy in drag singing her songs. I imagine awkward is a relative term for her.
They eventually settle down and address the floating head Xavier that Kid Nightcrawler has been carrying around with him since the initial jump. He claims that by overloading all the dimensional gizmos that were used to keep their world in one piece, they've awakened countless other evil Xavier's not unlike the walking tentacle rape monster they just faced. And they need to hunt those Xaviers down and kill them before they start nosing around the dimensional gate. Dazzler is a little uncomfortable with the prospect of killing other Xaviers, but given her limited options and being at the mercy of a floating head she has to go along with it. I think there's a message here about following disembodied heads. I'm not sure how useful that message is, but I'm sure it's somewhere on Disney's list of morals to teach young children.
With guidance from the Xavier head, he takes his new team of dimensional hopping X-men through another gateway. Having just faced a tentacle monster, you would think they would be ready for anything. They end up in a world where Xavier and a few other notable Marvel figures have gotten way too much into Greek mythology because they welcome these dimensional travels with the same warmth as a North Korean envoy welcomes democracy protesters. How much worse is it than a tentacle monster? Well, we'll have to wait until the next issue to find out.
Xtreme X-men is not billed as being the same book it was under Chris Claremont. It's a unique book with a unique premise that allows it to operate without diving too deep in the shit storm continuity of the other X-books. In that sense it's a lot like Uncanny X-Force in that it involves 616, but it doesn't deal with the events in 616 directly. The added universe hopping also gives it a very Exiles-like feel, which if you're a fan of that series that was painfully canceled in it's prime should have a deep appreciation for what Greg Pak is doing here. You don't even have to read his Astonishing X-men arc. The first few pages pretty much set you up with the premise and the story unfolds from there. And by and large, it's a pretty awesome story.
It's a story that combines universe-hopping sci-fi with some clever wit, stunning visuals, and memorable dialog. The mental image of Dazzler playing the accordion or the state of California running America is enough to make this comic worth buying alone. It's a little disorganized at times. If you skip just one page of this issue, you'll be more lost than Paris Hilton at a lecture on quantum mechanics. In addition, the very premise of there being infinite universes makes it seem as though the solution to the problem with this broken Earth is too easy. Anyone who can even begin to wrap their head around infinite (a hit of acid helps) understands that there are more than enough prospective worlds for this broken world to inhabit. You don't get the sense that there are other sub-plots developing or any deeper friendships forming. That and the absence of Armor and Storm were a little off-putting.
However, Xtreme X-men #1 is still a solid introduction to an exciting and exotic new X-book. Greg Pak's talent for telling more sci-fi type stories really shines here. The characters are lovable and the action is engaging. You just can't go wrong with tentacle monsters. It's not a series that will overshadow the big events currently going on in the regular X-books with Avengers vs. X-men. It's also not a book that will match the drama or grit of Uncanny X-Force. But if you love alternate worlds, universe hopping, or just have an itch that only Exiles used to be able to reach then there's plenty to love about this comic. I give Xtreme X-men #1 a 4 out of 5. Greg Pak has undergone the labor pains of birthing a new X-men universe. Now it's time to wipe away the placenta, cut the umbilical chord, and enjoy this beautifully Xtreme baby. Nuff said!