Wednesday, September 26, 2012

X-men #36 - Half A Case of Awesome

How many times can you bullshit someone before they start smelling the stench? This is a question that has plagued 95 percent of businessmen and 100 perent of politicians since the dawn of time. In my own personal experience, some people are more prone to sniffing it out than others. That's why some guys will actually take you seriously when you claim the expired sugar you laid out for them is a fresh line of Columbian imported blow and why some girls will actually look intrigued when you claim to be Robert Pattinson's acting coach. Those gullible people may make for good customers and brain-dead bimbos at a club, but they make lousy leaders. If your job requires you to earn trust, you had best not be a dip-shit or an asshole with your own agenda because sooner or later the non-gullible people in your crew are going to sniff you out and look for ways to nip you in the ass.

This is the position Storm finds herself in with Brian Wood's adjectiveless X-men. Since Wood began his run, Storm has been flexing her leadership muscle in the same way Keith Richards tests his tolerance to morphine. She's been leading a team of X-men at the behest of Cyclops to act as a security team of sorts. They're like the X-men's version of the CIA minus the illegal torture, off-site prisons, and cover ups if alien rectal probing. However, like the CIA, they tend to secretly give the finger to their leader behind his back. Storm spent the entire first arc avoiding her teammates' pleas to get Cyclops involved as the plot with the proto-mutants started to get heavy. She told them to suck her taint in the nicest possible way and for the most part, the team listened to her albeit begrdugingly. Then in the previous arc, some were a bit less inclined to keep kissing her ass.

Brian Wood followed his initial proto-mutant arc with a solid story about a crazy cult run by a Jesus look-a-like who saw Dawn of the Dead six times too many. The security team's mission to infiltrate the cult and extract the samples of proto-mutant DNA was a success, but for some of the members going behind Cyclops's back got old. They're pertty much all just following Storm's agenda at this point and that shit only lasts so long before it starts to smell. Now as the proto-mutant arc continues to unfold, Storm has to deal with her own teammates looking to screw her over. And now that she's a single woman again, they don't have to be as poilte about it.

X-men #36 has Brian Wood's adjectiveless team working with one of Storm's lady friends again. This one is Sabra, who was mentioned in the previous issue. She's from Mossad, which is like the Israeli version of the CIA except they're actually good at their jobs. Storm must have won many pillow fights back with her in the sorority house because she managed to convince Sabra to help apprehend a rather mundane looking guy from an airport. Hell, this guy is so mundane he could practically walk into Congress and no one would bat an eye. Seeing as how they've recently dealt with glowing eyed Jesus look-a-likes and proto-mutant monsters, this qualifies as an upgrade.

Once Sabra has Mr. Boring and Bland in custody, she presumably endures a cavity search by the TSA before bringing him to Storm and her security team. They seem intent on extracting information from this man, but not in a way that gives Dick Cheney a boner. In fact, they talk to this guy almost with the same tone that I talk to my therapist and/or parole officer. It's all remarkably casual. Storm informs the man that they know he's a proto-mutant. His official name is Mr. Sheppard and for some reason he's never popped up on the radar for mutants. Yet they know he's 700-years-old. How a guy can live that long and not be subject to a witch-burning or an embarrassing youtube video shot with a camera phone seems pretty outrageous. They also bring up the name David Michael Gray, who was the mentally unbalanced asshole who first introduced Storm's team to proto-mutants. Yet still, the conversation is remarkably casual. The man is about as collected as Mitt Romney and just as boring.

Since they probably put him on the TSA's shit-list for the foreseeable future, the X-men offer to fly Mr. Sheppard to Chicago where he was planning on going, presumably to meet up with his overlords at Acorn to receive orders from Comrade Obama (or so says Rush Limbaugh). He remains painfully boring, so much so that Pixie brings it up to Domino. Being the curious teenager who hasn't yet been corrupted by Justin Bieber, she starts to speculate on who he is and what his powers might be. To this point all the proto-mutants they've faced have been as pleasant to be around as hungry wolf on LSD. So she's understandably curious. Domino encourages her to talk to him because since when has nothing bad ever come from a cute teenage girl talking to a mysterious old man? I'm pretty sure that's a porno genre in Japan.

And like Japan, shit gets weird pretty quickly when Pixie starts talking to the guy. The man calls himself Gabriel Sheppard and he claims to have a pretty fancy array of powers for a guy that dresses like a Mormon. He's strong. He can fly. It's pretty standard for someone who has a mutation that doesn't suck. But while he seems like a nice, boring guy on the surface, he reveals that he's pretty curious about the name David Michael Gray. And when hesitates to tell him, he turns from Norman Rockwell to Chris Brown. He also reveals his powers are more exotic than indicated because he gives Pixie a bad case of glowing pink-eye and does something that ensure Colossus and Psylocke sleep through this crazy shit like every guy dating a Twilight fan slept through the Twilight movies.

It's a pretty dramatic shift from a guy that seemed so boring. Granted, it's expected that boring shit tends not to last long in an X-men comics, but the subtle way in which Brian Wood built it up helped give it an extra impact. It's like pouring hot sauce on bacon. It gives something that's already awesome an extra kick.

But not all the talking in this comic has been completely bland. As I mentioned earlier, Storm has put herself in a dangerous position with her team and the X-men as a whole by undermining Cyclops. You just don't undermine a guy who's boning Emma Frost and not suffer consequences. During another Skype conversation, Cyclops reveals that he bugged her plane and has been tracking her. It sounds like a paranoid thing to do until you recall the many reasons Storm gave him in the first proto-mutant arc. Storm claims she's withholding information for the sake of the mission, but that's like telling your parole officer that you were just holding that bag of weed for a friend. That shit just doesn't fly.

Cyclops also reveals that he knows the old sorority girls Storm has been working with. He tells her he actually found one snooping around. Yet Storm still has the audacity to urge him to trust her. But Cyclops says outright that he can only take being given the cold shoulder for so long. Unlike Emma Frost, Storm doesn't have the recent history or the big tits to earn her that kind of trust. It's a nice culmination of the ongoing tension between them and it shows that Wood can make general chit chat interesting as well. That only ensures he'll never get a job at Fox News.

Unfortunately, the conversation with Cyclops is cut short when the commotion from Sheppard's hissy fit starts rocking he plane. Storm joins the others just in time to see this normal-looking guy exhibit a similar brand of crazy eyes as the Jesus wannabe in the last arc. He seems to know now that David Michael Gray took a big steaming shit on the graves of his fellow proto-mutants and he's not too happy about it. And when Colossus tries to restrain him, he shows that he was being overly modest when he described his powers to Pixie. That strength he mentioned is apparently potent enough to allow him to throw Colossus (who is still armed with Juggernaut power mind you) out the side of the fucking plane. He also jumps right out with him, presumably because there are no flight attendants to yell at. Storm and Pixie go after him while Domino and Psylocke stay behind to land the plane. But the mere fact they have to only shows that this guy went from 0 to fucked up in record time, even for a comic.

There's a fine line in storytelling that has been a lot harder to walk in this day and age where peoples' attention spans are only as long as their latest tweet. Brian Wood seems to be making a greater effort than anyone at Marvel to walk that line. He fell flat on his ass a few times in the beginning, but recent issues have him working with much better balance. I admit the initial concept of the proto-mutant story seemed about as interesting as an economics lecture. However, Brian Wood has made it seem almost as engaging as a peep show in Amsterdam. The encounter with Gabriel Sheppard might have been as bland as buying a pack of cigarettes from a gas station, minus having to work around an accent. But in the end, the man definitely had a few surprises that made the issue feel more exciting than it probably deserves credit for.

Wood almost fell off that fine line at first. The abduction and interrogation of Gabriel Sheppard was more uneventful than a church sermon delivered by Ben Stein. There was no struggle. Hell, we don't even know if anyone's flight was delayed more than usual when Sabra abducted the guy. There was a lot of talking and not much else. It wasn't even the very interesting talking. It's not a debate with Dr. House and Neil Patrick Harris. It reminded me somewhat of my last DUI, except I didn't throw up on a state troopers boots. There's no way around it. The first half of this comic was pretty freakin' dull and you would have passed out without the aid of powerful amphetamines had Wood not picked up the pace in the end.

The end is what saved this book. The discussion with Cyclops and Storm showed just how big the rift between them has grown. And Gabriel Sheppard's ability to throw Colossus out of a plane in mid-air was just shocking enough to remind you of the time your ex girlfriend poured a pack of dry ice down your pants. The man went from dull to a Quentin Tarantino character in a very short span and like Marcelas Wallace, you just can't leave that sort of shit unfinished. Overall, the issue is only half-awesome. However, that awesome half is awesome enough to tip the balance in the same way the state of Florida rigs elections. Therefore, I give X-men #36 a 3 out of 5. Hopefully, in the next issue Wood will stop walking that fine line. He should know by now that Alfred Hitchcock is dead Michael Bay is filthily fucking rich for a reason. He would be wise to follow his example, minus the killer robots. Nuff said!