Thursday, October 4, 2012
Uncanny X-men #19 - Winning and Losing
What goes through the mind of someone who knows he's being screwed over in the worst possible way? When I was in school, I once saw one of the football players lose a bet that required him to walk down the hall in a cheerleader's outfit with a used tampon stuffed in his mouth. Several people nearly died laughing, but after I stopped laughing myself I couldn't help but wonder what that guy was thinking. Maybe he was contemplating how he would get back at the asshole who tempted him with the bet in the first place. Maybe he would use it as a lesson to always think first and not take unnecessary risks with idiot friends who have a history of steroid abuse. It would be the most responsible thing to do, but we all know that expecting characters in comics to be responsible is no more reasonable than expecting immature teenagers with access to unlimited supplies of weed to be responsible.
After the events of Avengers vs. X-men #12, there were a number of open wounds for Marvel to rub salt in. Cyclops played the part of the wound and the salt was fucking everybody. Even though he took responsibility for the shit he did when he went Dark Phoenix, he has to know on some levels that the Avengers and his fellow X-men screwed him over in a way that no amount of used tampons could ever match. He was the one trying to prevent his species from going extinct. And in the end he succeeded. Granted, he almost destroyed the whole fucking world in the process, but it wouldn't be the first time someone put innocent people at risk for the sake of a better tomorrow. I'm pretty sure the man who invented ski-masks had the best of intentions, just as Cyclops did. But now he has to deal with shit like attacking his girlfriend, nearly destroying the world, and being branded a criminal and a murderer by friends and foe alike. I still maintain it's not quite as bad as being forced to stick a used tampon in your mouth.
Since its inception, Uncanny X-men has explored many facets of Cyclops's character. Kieron Gillen has shown a great deal of talent in treating his character with balance. It's a shame that balance was kicked in the balls and blind-sided by Ray Lewis on meth during Avengers vs. X-men, but he's still in one piece and has a lot of shit to deal with. If anyone is equipped to explore the mind of the most screwed over comic character since Gwen Stacy, it's Gillen.
Avengers vs. X-men fucked a lot of shit up. Uncanny X-men #19 explores the musings of Cyclops while he's in full Dark Phoenix mode. He starts by recalling how he became Dark Phoenix after killing Charles Xavier. After that little tidbit, he proceeds with beating the shit out of the Avengers and turncoat X-men who are now mere Avengers groupies. It's basically the same shit we saw in Avengers vs. X-men #12, but with some added narration. The narration doesn't add much, but it does lend some credence to the notion that Cyclops was out of his fucking mind and could probably plead insanity at his trial. It worked for John Hinkley and nobody pestered him until he went Dark Phoenix.
While he's busy beating the shit out of the Avengers and their new X-groupies, he muses over the life of Scott Summers. But it's not a clean recollection. He doesn't remember these events in the same way normal non-Phoenix people remember it. This is where Kieron Gillen's skill is flexed in the same way Ron Jeremy flexes his cock. These narrations, of which we got next to none in Avengers vs. X-men #12, are from the perspective of a mind corrupt with power. He already demonstrated that perspective to a point in an earlier issue in his run. He takes it up a notch here by reviewing events like Cyclops meeting Xavier, meeting Jean, and Jean Grey dying on him (the first time) in a new context. It feels very alien without feeling too crazy, so maybe that insanity plea won't work after all.
These musings continue as Dark Phoenix Cyclops lays waste to the world he so pain-painstakingly tried to fix until the Avengers pissed him off and his mentor started treating him like a dog. I liken it to a cosmic temper tantrum. It's not unlike that 15-year-old girl on her period screaming at her parents at how they don't let her go out and get drunk enough, but not quite as destructive. The Avengers and their X-Groupies try to fight back, but don't accomplish much. It's glossed over for the most part and that's probably a good thing since we already saw that shit in Avengers vs. X-men #12. And the less we're reminded of how much that comic sucked, the better.
Then we get to the battle against Hope and the Scarlet Witch. This is where Cyclops finally shot his load too much, not unlike the guy on a porn set who prematurely ejaculates. But in this instance it involves more than just pretty images of Hope and the Scarlet Witch doing their best to distract readers that all this shit is still their fucking fault from the get go. It shows the inner conflict within Cyclops's mind, which isn't unlike the conflict Jean Grey often described in that the human side of him battled the corrupt Dark Phoenix side. It's subtle. It's not overblown and Gillen doesn't write a fucking novel describing the conflict, although some may which he had. But even if it's understated, he gets the point across. On some levels, Cyclops knows he's lost it and the Dark Phoenix is overwhelming him. Okay, so the insanity plea is back on!
In the midst of this battle, there's another interesting scene. As he's battling Hope and the Scarlet Witch, he muses over how small the world is. There are some interesting shots of him holding the world in his hand in the way Rupert Murdoch only thinks he can do when he's off his meds. It's not clear if this shit is all in his head or even when the fuck this happens. As interesting as Gillen's perspective is, he does absolutely nothing to help with the lack of coherence in Avengers vs. X-men #12. Hell, he makes it worse on some levels because some of these scenes contradict what happened in the main series. But as I said in my Avengers vs. X-men #12 review, I've given up on expecting Marvel to make sense anymore.
But Gillen does expand on some moments. In Avengers vs. X-men #12, Cyclops got a brief visit from the shadowy figure of Jean Grey. She's the one that encouraged him to let the Phoenix go. Well in this issue, he pays a quick visit to the White Hot Room, or at least the door to it. From it, he appears to hear Jean Grey tell him he's an idiot and she likes the fact that she has a school named after her. Maybe that was part of what got him to let the Phoenix go, but it's a nice addition since Marvel has done so much to avoid using Jean Grey at all costs and resorting to making some shitty rip-off character that looks just like her. It still doesn't make sense of the vision he saw in Avengers vs. X-men #12, but a little extra Jean Grey references go a long way.
After he's done with this little god-trip, we flash forward to the aftermath. It's not a very smooth transition, but again this is an instance where the less reminders we get about how much Avengers vs. X-men #12 sucked the better. It's also another instance where it's not clear when this happens. It probably takes place before Cyclops had his little conversation/bullshit interrogation with Captain America, but again it's not clear and no one should expect it to be. In the same sense, nobody should expect Beast to be such a raging douche-bag. He's been condemning Cyclops as often as 15-year-old boy with an internet connection masturbates. And while offering no fucking alternative, of course. And this time he has plenty of blame to lay into Cyclops. He ignores the fact that Cyclops was right about Hope using the Phoenix to save the mutant race or the fact that it was the Avengers who provoked him in the first place. He just blames Cyclops in the same way Iran blames the Jews.
But there's one key detail that gets Cyclops's attention. Beast lets it slip that the Phoenix has completely undone M-Day and new mutants are emerging. Suddenly, Beast's bullshit is forgotten quicker than Flavor Flav's last reality show. Because that's what Cyclops focused on. Beast seemed to forget that the entire fucking point of this conflict was to undo M-Day with help from Hope and the Phoenix Force. And guess what? He succeeded. So suck it, Beast!
It leads to a very satisfying final panel where Cyclops walks out from whatever makeshift tent they were holding him in and he holds his head high. Sure, he killed Xavier. Sure, he fucked up the world (after turning it into a global utopia). But he succeeded in his mission. He saved the mutant race by being right about Hope and the Phoenix all along. Yet will Beast concede that? Fuck no! Will the Avengers concede that? Fuck no! But he knows it's true and anyone reading these books that hasn't had half their brains cut out know that too. So while Marvel has ensured that everyone in the comics thinks Cyclops sodomizes orphans in his spare time, in the grand scheme of things he won on some levels. Not in the Charlie Sheen sense, but he did save his species and Hank McCoy can suck his balls.
Reading Uncanny X-men under Kieron Gillen has done more than just given me an appreciation for guys with sexy British accents. Gillen does something in this comic that wasn't done in Avengers vs. X-men or most any comic Marvel has published throughout the course of this event. It fucking made sense. Gillen puts the same effort into telling the story of a character as he does in telling the story of a couple of cosmic powered mutants beating up an entire species of Mr. Sinisters. He finds a way to make it compelling both on a personal level and on that more primal level that compels us to watch with our tongues hanging out as shit blows up.
This issue also made me sad that Kieron Gillen will be leaving the X-books soon to make way for Brian Bendis and All New X-men. He did a good job of telling the story of Cyclops from the perspective of a guy who has been supercharged by a cosmic power and driven batshit crazy. You either have to be brilliant as fucked or high as fucked to tell that story. And since Kieron Gillen hasn't been arrested for pissing on a sheriff's boot at three in the morning, I'm assuming he's brilliant. His insight into Cyclops was a great summation of his journey through Avengers vs. X-men. The resulting aftermath with Beast was a great conclusion to that journey. Hell, it was more satisfying than the shitty conversation he had with Captain America in Avengers vs. X-men #12. At least it makes sense for Beast to be a complete asshole. And Cyclops should walk out feeling vindicated because he was right. Hope was meant to wield the Phoenix and she was meant to undo M-Day. He was right and he can give the finger to Captain America despite being arrested while Wanda Maximoff (who made this shit possible) is completely forgiven.
The most glaring issue here though is that there are moments which really don't line up at all with the main Avengers vs. X-men series. I'm inclined to label this a good thing since that series sucked elephant balls in the end. The encounter with Jean Grey along with the discussion with Beast was more incoherence in a series where incoherence is so concentrated that if it were a food additive it would give you cancer with one drop. And as good as Cyclops's conversation with Beast was, it really didn't add anything that Avengers vs. X-men #12 didn't already show. Cyclops was right and mutants are back. We get it. We don't need to be reminded in another comic. Even if Gillen tells it better, this is one instance we're painful reminders are just too painful.
Uncanny X-men #12 is still a good comic, although most of that goodness is ruined by the sheer shit storm that Avengers vs. X-men #12 unleashed. Gillen does his best to link up with it even when he shouldn't. It doesn't link up very well, but the details are compelling and it does have a more satisfying conclusion even if the circumstances are still fucked. I give Uncanny X-men #12 a 3.5 out of 5. Gillen had a pile of shit to work with and while he manged to make it shine somewhat, the stench will still make you vomit. But hey, a few lost meals for a Kieron Gillen Uncanny X-men comic is a fair trade in my book! Nuff said.