Thursday, September 6, 2012

First X-men #2 - Initial Recruiting Awesome

In this modern era of big budget comic book movies, the origin story is deemed almost as important as how much the costume amplifies the cleavage on the female protagonist. In comics, origins usually take a backseat to stories about heroes fighting monsters, heroes humping other heroes, and occasionally heroes humping villains (Batman and Catwoman have defiled many rooftops). And when comics usually do an origins story, it's met with the same enthusiasm as an economics lecture. But every now and then, an origins story is not only awesome. It actually fills a void that has been unused if not completely ignored like Ron Paul's presidential campaign.

Seeking to capitalize on the success of X-men First Class, Marvel was able to convince Neal Adams to stop banging Emma Frost cos-players for just long enough to do a special 5-issue mini-series called First X-men. Now on the surface, it just seems like another shameless effort by Marvel to squeeze a little bit of extra profit from the teat of one of their movies. And it is. Make no mistake about it. But despite what the hippies of the world would have you believe, shameless exploitation for profit can still result in awesome stories just as much as it can result in inhumane sweat shop conditions.

I reviewed First X-men #1 when it came out and I was able to enjoy it with only a few bong hits. It established a story during a time in the X-men's history that really hasn't been explored. That's one of the remarkable things about X-men. Unlike every other comic book series that ever existed, Marvel hasn't told too many stories about the period when Charles Xavier decided that his lifelong dream should be to find gullible teenagers to dress up in spandex uniforms and play hero. First X-men #1 showed Xavier as someone who was reluctant to help mutants. And by reluctant I mean he flat out refuses to help Wolverine and Sabretooth like the douche-bag he eventually becomes. It also showed Wolverine and Sabretooth before Weapon X made them intent on maiming one another horribly. Most of the first issue was spent setting up the circumstances that had their paths cross. Now the second issue promises to take those circumstances and extract the sweet nectar of awesome and/or vodka, whichever comes first.

The end of First X-men #1 has Wolverine and Sabretooth continuing their little recruiting run without Charles Xavier's help. Keep in mind they don't have Cerebro, a jet, or a freakin' mansion to help them play hero in luxury. They're just going by a bunch of old files they found at a research lab in the previous issue. Those files were what led them to a mutant named Holly Bright who gets her kicks out of creating illusions that don't involve three-ways with Swedish bikini models sadly. She now goes by the codename Holo, which sounds like a strange slash fanfiction fandom for Star Wars. But it actually a pretty appropriate codename because in the first pages of First X-men #2 she puts those powers to good use.

Using the same files that allowed them to find Holly, Wolverine and Sabretooth track down another mutant whose powers make him look like the bastard love child of Chewbaca and Betty White. They find him harassing a couple of redneck hunters looking for Bigfoot. I admit if I looked like this kid, I would probably do the same. But he's not just doing it for shits and giggles. This guy is trying to track down his brother, who like Anthony in the previous issue, was abducted. After Holo fucks with the rednecks a little more in a way that gives the finger to Jeff Foxworthy, this burly mutant takes on the codename Yeti and agrees to help Wolverine's proto-X-men.

With a real life Bigfoot on their side, Wolverine and Sabretooth head back to hell hole at Quantico, Virginia where they had been bitch slapped in the last issue. They go with the intention of breaking out Anthony, the kid Wolverine tried to save in the first place. Bur rather than having to fight his way through hoards of government thugs that are probably on Mitt Romney's payroll, they find out that Anthony slipped away by hiding in a mass grave. It's as fucked up as it sounds, but it worked. It's nothing a few decades of therapy can't cure, I'm sure. It may not be as satisfying as seeing the proto-X-men stick it to over-funded government agencies, but it does logically flow from a story that began in the previous issue. As someone who has failed many a breathalyzer tests, I can say without reservation that coherence goes a long way.

With Anthony on their side and plenty more files to go over, Wolverine takes his proto-X-men to one of his many cabins to hide out. Where he gets the money for this shit isn't explained. We're simply left to conclude that he made a killing as a gigolo to horny housewives of Orange County. It's not Xavier Institute, but it does allow Wolverine and Sabretooth take a breather with their new team. And true to their proto-X-men heritage, they start training their recruits.

These scenes are very reminiscent of the scene in X-men First Class when Xavier and Magneto began training their first team of X-men without the aid of a Danger Room or instructors. It's all very rudimentary, but it proves pretty effective especially for guys like Anthony. Thanks to a little pep talk and focus, he's able to control how he blows himself up. He even takes on a new codename, Bomb. There's a joke about Lindsey Lohan's last movie in that name somewhere, but I'll resist the temptation for now.

After completing this bare bones, disorganized training, Wolverine and Sabretooth feel the team is ready for another recruiting mission. It makes about as much sense as it sounds until we find out that the guy they're trying to recruit is none other than freakin' Magneto. At the end of the last issue, we got a brief glimpse as to how Magneto was at that phase of his life where he couldn't get a boner unless he was torturing a Nazi. The proto-X-men try to win him over by doing his job for him, saying that his next Nazi victim had an "accident" in the same way Charles Mansion has "issues." Logic would dictate that killing a Nazi would earn you brownie-points with any holocaust survivor. But Magneto doesn't roll that way.

He turns on the proto-X-men just as he turns on the real X-men every other Thursday. At this stage of his life, Magneto doesn't take kindly to others robbing him of his Nazi torturing play time. Did I also mention they were in a junk yard in Argentina? As in a junk yard full of scrap metal? So this under-trained and under-manned group of proto-X-men might as well be Andy Dick trying to fight Chuck Norris.

Despite Wolverine and Sabretooth's efforts to subdue or reason with Magneto, they fail to earn his forgiveness for killing a Nazi before he could. But Magneto at this stage does understand that attacking his fellow mutants is counter-productive. So he just brushes them off with a warning about muscling in on his Nazi-killing and tells them that the human race sucks and will fuck them over repeatedly. It's basically the same Magneto we know and love, which is kind of disappointing because the end of the last issue implied we would get a Nazi-hunting Magneto. And as every World War II game ever has shown, anything is more badass when you put the word Nazi-hunting in front of it. So you leave feeling denied in a sense.

But it isn't just a young Magneto that plays a part in the early years of the X-men. While we didn't get a deeper glimpse into Magneto's Nazi-hunting past, we do get a fresh glimpse into the lives of the human assholes that eventually dedicate their time to shitting all over the X-men. One of them is Bolivar Trask, the man who would later create the Sentinels and rip off a generation of Voltron fans. But at this stage in his life he's just a struggling engineer with a robot fetish and Agent Duncan, the X-men's equivalent to Agent Coulson, is among those who think killer robots is a bad idea. Since at this stage in the X-men's history the powers that be have yet to determine which recourse is the least fucked up, they decide a different path.

Unfortunately, it involves taking a page right out of Weapon X and making another attempt to control mutants in the same way women control the speed on their vibrators. It's not as sexy as it sounds, but you get the concept. This leads the bald-headed director who looks like a less crazy version of the Pope to introduce both men to a mutant named Virus. He/she/it (I can't see any tits or crotch so I can't tell) is basically a blob with wires that appears to be able to control mutants. It's basically a living Weapon X. You can see where they're going with this and can probably imagine all the colorful ways it will fuck up. Granted, this is before the X-men and before they know how badly fucking with mutants can screw them over. But I guess that doesn't mean their first lesson can be as nasty as any tentacle rape in Japanese anime porn.

I look at First X-men in the same way I look at Aaron Rogers. The guy can win a fucking Superbowl, become league MVP, lead his team to a 15-1 record, and break the NFL record for passer rating in a single season yet he'll always be thought of as a spin-off to the guy who once texted a picture of his penis. Even if First X-men was as good as Aaron Rogers, it would still be in the shadow of the X-men First Class movie. It doesn't qualify for doing shitty commercials for State Farm Insurance just yet, but it's still a fun comic that does follow the same spirit of X-men First Class. I don't know if Neal Adams or Christos Gage also texted a picture of their dicks for good measure, but I'm assuming the thought has crossed their mind.

But unlike Aaron Rogers, First X-men #2 doesn't exactly put up the awe-inspiring numbers that its predecessor did. First X-men #1 ended with the promise of Magneto playing an active role in his Nazi-killing badass phase. We really didn't get any of that here aside from a failed recruitment effort. All it really did was remind the readers that Magneto hates Nazis and holds humanity in very poor regard because of it. Even though Neal Adams's art makes it an interesting battle, not much is accomplished as a result. In fact, there really isn't much accomplishment aside from building a team. They may act like X-men, but they've yet to really take on that role and you don't get the sense they're really leading to it. Plus, Xavier doesn't even show up again to become slightly less a douche-bag. It gives the comic a very lackluster feel.

However, there is a fun story to follow here. The way in which Yeti and Bomb join the team feels natural and fluid. This issue flows nicely from the previous issue even if we didn't get the Nazi-hunting Magneto we were promised. It also is rich in detail both in terms of Neal Adams's eye-popping art and in terms of how Christos Gage addresses more minute aspects of the proto-X-men like how they learn to fight and how they operate as a team. It also set the stage for Bolivar Trask to walk the path that makes him one of the X-men's stinkiest assholes. While the end of the first issue didn't pan out in the second, I'm still gullible enough to believe that maybe it'll make the next issue as awesome as it looks. I'm not as gullible as a Jehovah's Witness wishes I was, but unlike organized religion First X-men has actually shown me proof that it can be awesome. That's why I give First X-men #2 a 3 out of 5. It's a comic that leaves you wanting more, but in a good way. Not in the way that leaves you wanting water after being locked in a sauna by your drunken frat buddies. More in the way that boning three hot blondes makes you want to bone a Hallie Berry. Nuff said!

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