Tuesday, August 7, 2012
First X-men #1 - First Class Awesome
I know I give the X-men movies a lot of shit on this blog. Most of it is completely deserved. Yes, I go overboard. No I'm not going to apologize for it. After X3, I don't think any self-respect X-men fan needs to apologize for comparing that movie to a mountain of whale shit. But as bad as movies like X3 and Wolverine Origins were, I still have a burning desire to see the X-men movies succeed. If for no other reason than to give Wolverine an excuse for saying, "Suck it, Batman!" So I was incredibly surprise/relieved when X-men First Class didn't suck. It actually told a decent story with compelling characters, a touch of heart, and a naked Jennifer Lawrence. It didn't involve Wolverine lusting for a woman he couldn't have or the story finding creative ways to screw over Cyclops. It was just a solid X-men story and one that was never explored much in the comics. Well like all greedy businesses, Marvel and Disney have found a way to suck more profit from the X-men First Class teat and it's called First X-men.
Announced several months ago, First X-men left little to the imagination. It's like the movie Snakes on a Plan. If you ask what it's about, you're either dyslexic or brain damaged. Written by Christos Gage from X-men Legacy and drawn by the legendary Neal Adams, this series promised to explore that part of the X-men's history that the X-men First Class movie showed could be pretty awesome. Most everyone knows that Professor Xavier began the X-men as a wheel-chair bound hippie with a thing for dressing young mutants up in spandex. But how did he get to that point? We saw how he went from a womanzing intellectual with a talent for drinking to a visionary for mutants in the movie. Now we get a chance to see what led him to that point in the comics.
First X-men #1, like most every X-men comic looking to make a quick buck, begins with Wolverine. Given his elaborate history in the Marvel Universe, it's impossible to find an era where he hasn't had some sort of influence of fucked someone's wife. The era here is after Wolverine's stint as a Nazi-killing badass and World War II and a renegade Samurai with a Japanese fetish. He now finds himself in Harlem during the pre-Guliani days when you could still score some top quality blow and pick up some hookers without the NYPD setting up a sting to nail your ass. There aren't many X-men hints at first. It just has Wolverine narrating how he was summoned by an old war buddy of his whose wife he hadn't fucked (presumably) to find his runaway son. He finds him only to discover that he's a mutant who happens to have a power that makes shit explode. And since Wolverine attracts explosions almost as much as he attracts pussy, he gets caught right in the blast.
After his ears stop ringing, Wolverine tracks down his old buddy Sabretooth. Okay, these guys are buddies in the same way the Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors. But again, this before Weapon X and before these two had no fewer than 48245028582 reasons to want to kill each other. Wolverine meets Sabretooth at a zoo, which is probably the least subtle foreboding in the history of fiction. He sounds a bit overly Xavier-ish here when he says the government is now hunting down mutants and they have to do something about it. Sabretooth actually sounds logical for the first time since the Carter administration when he says "So what?" But since this is also the Wolverine after he's had his little hippie enema in Japan, he's not quite as inclined to just get drunk and forget about it.
Now I get that by having this take place in the past, Gage and Adams can take a few creative liberties. Hell, they could have Wolverine and Sabretooth star as extras in the original production of Deep Throat if they wanted. The key is keeping them in character and Wolverine staring in a 70s porno seems a bit more in character than his Xavier-ish rant about protecting mutants. He was supposed to just be looking for an old war buddy's son. Now he's setting the stage for the X-men? That's supposed to be Xavier's job. Wolverine already gets plenty of credit for boning married women and being the center of attention of every X-men series. He doesn't need this kind of spotlight in a series that's supposed to be about the first X-men.
Out-of-character or not, Wolverine convinces Sabretooth that there's merit to hunting down the assholes that see mutants in the same way Ted Nugant sees deer. Since Sabretooth is probably in between blood baths, he gladly partakes. After tracking a few leads (which is probably code for threatening to jam a claw up someone's urethra), they find what looks to be proto-Weapon X lab where the kid that blew up earlier, whose name is Anthony, is being kept under the kind of scrutiny that you won't find outside of a German S&M club. It looks somewhat high tech for the past, but still has the same techno-70s feel that we saw in X-men First Class. I don't know if Neal Adams was using that as a reference or if he was just really into blow in the 70s, but it works.
As you would expect, wherever you find a vintage Weapon X lab you're bound to find vintage Weapon X soldiers. Again, they're not as ominous as they are in the modern era. Hell, you can tell these guys are the fucking beta version when they look like rejects from a Voltron cartoon. It still makes for a flashy battle because no matter what era you're in, watching Wolverine fight Weapon X or Weapon X-like thugs never gets old. It's not unlike jerking off Asian massage porn in that sense, but less messy. They find Anthony, but they're not able to save him. They need to find out who has suddenly developed a hard-on for hunting mutants so they make out with a cache of files (the actual files and not some flash drive like all the kids these days are used to). This at least gives them a hint of what they're up against and who these assholes are tracking. And like most everything else in the pre-internet days, some of it was a poor substitute for porn.
What I mean by that is one of those files involves a strikingly hot chick, even by 70s standards. Sabretooth and Wolverine track her down. They find her in an alley with an old man and the connotations there are clear. They probably think they're about to need their eyes bleached after seeing some old fuck with too much money bang a hooker. But it's not like that. This woman is a mutant and that old guy wasn't paying her for pussy if you can believe that. He was paying her so that she could create an illusion of him and his daughter. It's so much less disturbing than her being a hooker and makes for a much less awkward encounter. But it only becomes somewhat less awkward when those Voltron rejects from earlier track them down. The woman, who was just enjoying her lucrative trade of fulfilling fantasies and last wishes, is now a target and she's understandably pissed.
Again, in pretty much every era in human history, pissing off a woman is a bad idea. Piss off a woman that has the power to create the illusions that make you feel like black mamba is chewing through your colon and you're in for a very bad night. Wolverine and Sabretooth prove they're somewhat more trustworthy than the average guys you run into in an alley in Washington DC. So the mysterious woman uses her powers to help them by making the Voltron rejects think they're now battling a giant monster from one of Michael Bay's bad acid trips. This helps Wolverine, Sabretooth, and the woman get away. In the process the woman reveals that the smoking hot form she flaunted earlier is just an illusion. She actually looks like the kind of girl you would see asleep at her desk in a library. But you can probably assume that Wolverine still wants to bone her.
With help from their new professional mind-fuck hot chick, Wolverine and Sabretooth venture to England where they meet up with a Charles Xavier that hasn't yet become the top X-man who would later become utterly disgraced. They even bring Anthony with them. And no, that's not as random as it sounds. You might be thinking, "Fuck, did I miss something? Or did that guy in the back of that Korean Barbeque sell me some really bad weed?" You would be only half-right because that isn't exactly Anthony that Wolverine is holding. Keep in mind, they have a woman that can make you think Pamela Anderson is sucking on your balls. The sight of a wounded young man makes Xavier take notice, but he's surprisingly hesitant to help out.
This leads to a compelling moment that feels like it took way too fucking long to develop in a series titled First X-men. Wolverine and his pre-Weapon X buddies meet a Charles Xavier who wants nothing to do with mutant affairs. Before they tracked him down, he was just a normal guy at Oxford dipping Condor eggs in caviar with his fiance. But they don't come to him with the expectation that he'll help them found a team that will have mutants running around in spandex. They track him down because he's the next mutant the Voltron ripoffs are after. For once, it's Xavier who is the target in need of help from anti-mutant forces. All his smarts, his money, and his 3 PHDs don't mean shit. It puts Xavier in an unfamiliar position that makes for a compelling setup that you only wish happened sooner.
Unfortunately, we don't get a chance to see how Xavier processes the notion of being a target. Instead, we get a glimpse of something that has the potential to be equally awesome. One of the other aspects of X-men First Class that made it such an awesome movie was that we saw a Magneto who was a badass Nazi hunter and not a twisted old fuck bent on world domination. Christos Gage and Neal Adams didn't try to fuck with success this time. They took the character Michael Fassbender brought to life and made him look like a metrosexual Robert Di Nero who likes to hunt down and torment old Nazis. He's still exceedingly cruel in how he deals with his enemies, but then again their Nazis so I guess it's okay.
When I first saw X-men First Class, two things came to mind. The first was, "Wow...so THIS is what an X-men movie that Brett Ratner hasn't shit all over looks like." The second was, "Why the fuck hasn't the story about this era in the X-men's history ever been told?" The X-men mythos covers many decades from the cocaine-soaked 70s, the crack fueled 80s, the crystal meth crazy 90s, to the prescription drug crazed 2000s. That's a lot of Playboy calendars worth of time for plenty of crazy shit to happen. Since Marvel has always been in the habit of trying to squeeze their characters into every era no matter how much they have to spit in the face of Albert Einstein, it's only natural that they would try something like First X-men. But by and large, the results are pretty damn awesome with only a few minor caveats.
It doesn't begin as an X-men story so to speak. Like X-men First Class, it begins with personal vendettas that quickly escalate into something much greater. At first, however, it seems more like a Wolverine story than it does an X-men story. You've got a Wolverine who sounds more like Professor Xavier than Professor Xavier with his willingness to help wayward kids. And Professor Xavier is just a rich douche who can't be bothered with shit that may get between him and consummating with his fiance. In the movie, it would have been a questionable story that would prove once more that all great ideas in Hollywood are the result of excessive cocaine use, but given how much of a douche Xavier has been in recent years it actually works. It's just a little slow to set up.
But those are the caveats. Once shit starts rolling, it becomes a pretty compelling story. Wolverine and Sabretooth have yet to despite one another with murderous rage, young mutants are being hunted at a time when the economy sucks enough to take it out on someone other than Wall Street bankers, and Professor Xavier is getting his first taste of mutant conflict. There are explosions, beautiful women in tight dresses, and men in Japan-inspired battle suits. Plus, Neal Adams is drawing it so your eyes have no excuse to be disappointed.
When I heard about this series, I didn't want to let my fondness for X-men First Class to skew my drunken objectivity. Thankfully, I didn't have to because the book turned out to be pretty damn solid. It's not quite as awesome as it could be at the moment. The slow start and the somewhat random nature of events makes it difficult to follow at times. But it's still a great book and one that has the potential to make Brett Ratner look like an even bigger hack. For that, I give First X-men #1 a 3.5 out of 5. I know some of you will get sick of me making all these X3 jokes and comparing it to various forms of fecal matter. But until the stench from that movie wears off and until stories like X-men First Class and First X-men keep showing how much better an X-men story can be, I shall never relent! Nuff said.