Saturday, August 18, 2012

X-men #34 - The Bad Side of Awesome

Sometimes when you risk getting on someone's bad side, they hold that shit against you as if they want it tattooed on your forehead. Now I know superheroes are supposed to be upstanding and moral and shit, but they are capable of holding grudges. The big problem is that sometimes those grudges are warranted. Guys like Dr. Doom who hate Reed Richards just because he may be smarter or his dick may be longer are petty. But when one hero essentially thumbs their nose at another that considers them a trusted friend, then that hero damn well ought to be on someone's bad side. Unless their trusted friend is Jesus Christ, they're going to get on someone's bad side.

This is essentially what happened with Storm in Brian Wood's first arc of adjectiveless X-men. In addition to exploring the evolutionary history with mutants by introducing the concept of proto-mutants, he dedicated a good chunk of ink to having Storm resist calling in Cyclops for help at every possible turn. Even though her own teammates constantly badgered her about it like my ex-girlfriend constantly badgered me about my drinking, she didn't relent until the very end. Now Wood didn't have her do this just so Storm had an excuse to give Cyclops the finger that didn't involve him banging Emma Frost. She did this because she stated outright that Cyclops's whim is not the same as the X-men's whim. The X-men are bigger than Cyclops, which is a pretty ball-busting statement when you consider how much authority he's wielded in recent years. However, even if Storm's logic was valid, the end result amounted to a half-eaten cheeseburger and a promise from Bernie Madoff. She eventually did call Cyclops, but it was several issues too late.

Even though the arc itself was somewhat underwhelming, it had plenty of potential to be awesome. So it came as a relief of sort to see Wood continue this story in a new arc beginning in X-men #34. He plays up the mystery aspects of his story just as he did in his last arc. This time instead of using monsters and mad scientists with too much free time and too little porn, he shows a guy who looks a lot like a young Charles Manson getting his hands on an odd looking vial of goo. And in comics, odd looking vials of goo are usually either the seeds of a monster or the kind of shit people inject into their asses to make them monsters. It's kind of like meth, but without the bad teeth in that sense.

For Storm and her team, the mission with the proto-mutants in the previous arc is not finished. She finally did call Cyclops and he basically told her if she wants to keep him out of the loop, then she has to solve her own damn problems. He comes off as somewhat of an asshole, but then again Storm was the one that decided to keep him out of the loop. He's just giving her what she wants. Are we going to start condemning a man for giving a woman what she wants? The day that happens is the day every man's testicles turn to liquid helium.

Storm meets up with her team again and gets in touch with Sabra, the sexy female scientist who assisted Storm in the previous arc. She may not be an X-man, but what she lacks in the ability to shoot lasers or pop claws she makes up for with brains. And for some guys, that's almost as sexy as Emma Frost's boob job...well, maybe not almost. But she does tell Storm that one of the genetic samples from the proto-mutants was stolen and picked up by a group called Heavenly Path. Now unless that's the name of a female vibrator, you know that can only be trouble.

For whatever reason, Domino knows all about these guys. She explains that they're not into your usual cult shit like shaving their heads, ingesting hallucinogens, polygamy, or child slavery. They leave that shit to the Mormons and the Taliban. These guys are all about a religious pursuit of perfection. They eat, pray, and live with the sole intent of gaining perfection. Seeing as how perfection is pretty damn tough even in comics, they might as well be a cult intent on never taking a shit. Storm and Colossus speculate on how crazy a guy must be to form a cult like this. But is it really so crazy to want a legion of followers who will do whatever the fuck you want? Hell, that's not crazy. That's just your typical desire to be a complete douche.

Armed with this knowledge, Storm's security team tracks down Heavenly Path to a ship where they're holding one of their cruises. It's kind of like going on a church retreat, but with less beatings and exorcisms. Pixie flies Domino and Psylocke in, who they assume will fit right in since they're attractive women and we all know how cult leaders love attractive women. Well, it's more so they love what they can do with them. Just ask Warren Jeffs. But thanks to Psylocke's telepathy, they stay under the radar. They blend in with the spaced out hippie crowd, who all look like they've had one too many helpings from Jim Jones's punch bowl. They still look less crazy than your typical Mormon though.

After pretending to meditate for a while, the Jesus-looking cult leader we met earlier shows up and gives his little speech about how the world is corrupt and how they're all tainted. He claims the only way they can obtain perfection is through him. Usually when a cult leader says that, he's usually referring to his penis. He claims that the point of this little cruise is for them to be clean. Again, that sounds an awful lot like a cult leader referring to his penis. After he asks for volunteers, one of the cult leader's posse picks Psylocke out of the crowd, saying that the leader noticed her. Again, this guy really does seem to be thinking with his penis. Is it really too surprising that he picked out an attractive Asian woman?

Now I'm not trying to denigrate all cults here. I know most of them are just into harmless shit like tree hugging, yoga, and crystal worship. But I almost get the sense that Wood is trying to make a statement about these cults here. They remind me of Mr. Clean commercials. They make you feel like you're living in a dirty world and it's your god-given obligation to clean it. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I don't think there are enough people in this world who are content being a little dirty from time to time. There's a time to get dirty and a time to get clean. Too much of either will kill you.

Psylocke, taking full advantage of the cult leader's Asian fetish, goes with them to meet the leader. Domino, never one to be too content with sitting around without a gun, decides to get a little dirty. She leaves the group, beats up one of the guards, and takes his gun. That's really all a woman like her needs to fuck shit up and she's off to a good start. She takes out some of the guards and stays in touch with Psylocke, who is learning from the leader what they're all about. Nothing seems too outlandish at first. He explains that they want to build a better human race through meditating, diet, population control (codeword for letting him impregnate all the pretty young women), and what not. He also says they're into gene therapy and this is where that scene at the beginning as well as the events of the last arc come into play.

The leader, who to this point has been wearing Kim Jong Ill style sunglasses, shows that he's been putting that proto-mutant sample to good use. By good use, I mean he injected it. Now I'm all for injecting exotic substances into one's veins provided the effects are desirable, but this guy injected something into his body that gave him freaky glowing eyes and what looks like various veins on his face. I'm not sure what his definition of perfection is, but I'm pretty sure his is more fucked up than your typical cult leader who just sees perfection in gullible young women. It's creepy as hell, yet very intriguing. It's probably the most intriguing ending Brian Wood has conjured to date and one that'll either make you excited or give you nightmares.

When you think of an X-men comic, you usually don't think of stories that involve going undercover unless it has Mystique as a main character. Those are also the comics you expect someone to get screwed over in both the best and worse ways, but Mystique isn't in this comic. And in the X-books, it's hard to go undercover when the X-men are about as known for their subtlety as Emma Frost is known for her modesty. Yet somehow, Brian Wood finds a way to make it work. Not only does he take the story he began in the previous arc and continue it, but he adds upon it a new twist that puts Storm and her security team in a very different and very compelling struggle. Granted, it took until the last page for that struggle to get really interesting, but it definitely ensures that readers will want to see what happens next if for no other reason than to see if this crazy Jesus wannabe uses his new eyes to seduce some X-women. Who among us wouldn't if given the opportunity?

While I've been waiting and hoping to see this series get as awesome as it deserves to be under Brian Wood's pen, this issue doesn't completely succeed in the way I hoped. However, it does take a much greater step than any of the previous issues. The problem with this issue and the problem with many of the previous issues is that it's a bit too subtle for the sake of being subtle. I love that Wood is trying to build a mystery here, but the comic just drags too much at times. This issue was too much setup and not enough crazy religious cult leader making the X-men exceedingly uncomfortable in ways their skin tight uniforms could never hope to match. Wood still made sure all the other elements were solid, including the ongoing drama between Storm and Cyclops. While there was room for more, it's nice to see this series finally getting interesting again.

X-men #34 is not a spectacular issue, but it's definitely a step up from the last four issues. As I've said before, I've come dangerously close to dropping this title. I spend a shit ton of money on comics that I could be using for booze and blow so if a comic starts sucking, I don't have much patience. But Brian Wood has kept me hooked on this title because of all the potential it shows and now I'm finally getting the sense that it's starting to manifest. Since this only the first issue of this two-part arc, I hope the next issue brings everything together and kicks the asses of numerous religious zealots. That alone will make this arc awesome, but for now this issue gets a 3.5 out of 5. In these dangerous times where religious zealots are actually taken seriously on issues like women's health and minority relations, I think it's all the more vital for comics to use them in compelling stories. And by use them I mean use them for target practice. Nuff said!

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