Thursday, October 18, 2012
Uncanny X-men #20 - The Awesome Is NOT Over
Not too long ago, I poured my heart and soul into a review of Uncanny X-men #544. That issue was the final issue of Uncanny x-men before a relaunch. That shit was a big fucking deal because Uncanny X-men had been one of those series that had been coming out in some form or another since the days when Jack Kennedy was bending Marilyn Munroe over a sink so she could help him solve the other missile crisis in his pants. It was a powerful, emotional issue that took place in wake of an awesome event in Schism where the X-men were divided. Some left. Some stayed. It send a message that the world of Uncanny X-men was forever different and there was no going back. I got so emotional writing that review that I got drunk, cried like a baby, and called up one of my ex-girlfriend to vent my feelings. It ended up with some awesome pity sex so for that I deemed the end of Uncanny X-men fitting and appropriate.
Fast forward less than two years. I still have enough brain cells to remember that review and that issue. In that time I reviewed every issue of the relaunched Uncanny X-men and for the most part, it was a joy that led to more drunken rants and more pity sex. But now it's ending yet again. Uncanny X-men is having yet another final issue, stopping after just 20 issues to make way for All New X-men. It sure as hell isn't much time to develop a history. Hell, this shit was all written during the same presidential term and I'm shocked nobody in Congress blamed Barack Obama for what happened to the X-men after Schism. But the powers that be at Marvel have seen that fanboys and consumers are stupid enough to buy extra copies of any issue with a #1 on the cover so they'll take any excuse to relaunch a book. It may take away from the impact, but fuck if it doesn't make great business sense.
The relaunch of Uncanny X-men may not have been long, but it had some pretty awesome moments. And some of those moments actually took place in the major tie-ins with Avengers vs. X-men, a shitty event that stunk up various X-men and Avengers comics over the course of six months. Uncanny X-men under Kieron Gillen's brilliant pen found a way to shine through the shitty smell. But now that Avengers vs. X-men is over, it's left to follow deal with the aftermath like so many other books. And it also has to close out its series yet again to make way for a new series that Marvel knows will boost sales because we consumers are just that stupid. I can be as cynical as I want, but the fact remains that shit works and Marvel is a business last I checked. You tend to do shit that works and makes you money. All that blow and strippers don't pay for themselves.
But thanks to Gillen's pedigree and past experience with closing out Uncanny X-men, there's plenty of reason to have hope and I'm not referring to the bitchy rip-off character either. Moreover, this is Kieron Gillen's last take on this title before Brian Michael Bendis takes over and Gillen heads over to write the Iron Man series. It's basically exchanging getting regularly reviewed by a drunk to writing a drunk. I feel both honored and used, making it all the more important that this review count! Mr. Gillen, if you're reading this, consider this my last drunken hurrah!
Uncanny X-men #20 focuses on three general plots. It shows Cyclops in jail (before he gets fitted with that fancy power-suppressing headgear we saw in Avengers vs. X-men Consequences), Danger paying a visit to Unit in the brig of a now defunct Utopia, and Colossus sitting in the ruins of one of the Phoenix Five's world-hunger beating greenhouses. It's not exactly the kind of shit you expect to focus on for what's supposed to be another final issue of Uncanny X-men. Granted, these are all plots that Kieron Gillen has dealt with in his run, but it's still leaving out some pretty significant details like Emma Frost, Namor, Magneto, Storm, Psylocke, and how hot the psychic sex between Emma and Namor was when they humped during the siege of Wakanda. Okay, maybe that last part was just my on perverse curiosity, but you get the idea. Gillen only focuses on so much with this issue, but as he's shown many times throughout his Uncanny X-men tenure he knows how to make each drop of ink count.
The first issue he addresses is the most pressing issue for the extinction team. Cyclops, the guy who put this ominously named team of X-men together, is now in jail for crimes against humanity and/or creating a global utopia. I still don't know when that became a crime, but I've given up trying to figure that out. This takes place before Avengers vs. X-men Consequences so it allows Cyclops to get a quick visit from Kate Kildare, who earlier in Kieron Gillen's run became the X-men's official PR rep. It was an impossible job, akin to head of tourism for Iraq. But she made it work to some extent. Now she visits Cyclops to inform him that he now is viewed in the same mold as Dr. Doom. Going Dark Phoenix will do that to a guy's rep, even though he tried to help the world in a way Doom could never be bothered with. But she didn't just visit to tell him how screwed he is. That would make too much sense. Gillen throws a major twist into this little story and one that involves the kind of gender bending you won't find outside a gay bar in San Francisco.
It turns out that Kate Kildare isn't exactly Kate Kildare. She's Sinister. As in, the same Sinister who made himself an entire species and tried to control the Phoenix Five during Avengers vs. X-men. That little stunt got him and his own little mock-up of Victorian style England burnt to a crisp by cosmic flame. But if a guy is smart enough to make himself into his own fucking species, he's smart enough to have a backup plan. Well that plan involved taking the form of the X-men's PR rep, boobs and all. It's not just shocking. It's surprisingly logical for a guy who has taken on a woman's body before and somehow made it sexy.
A slightly less shocking twist involves Danger and Unit, the walking dick-joke who was the subject of Kieron Gillen's recent Uncanny arc that led into Avengers vs. X-men. Since then, Unit has been secretly controlling Danger in the same way oil companies control the Department of Energy. Danger clearly isn't okay with this, especially since she's actually responsible for managing all the X-men's prisoners, Unit included. But now that the Extinction Team are fugitives and Utopia is just a tourist attraction for tourists who are amazingly cheap, there's no reason for Unit to be there anymore. So he basically taunts Danger, saying he's leaving and she can't do jack shit about it. But before he leaves, he will release her from his control and the control she's endured for much of her existence. On the surface, it sounds like a gift. But somehow Unit manages to make it sound like a final fuck you.
Unit certainly interprets it as such. After Unit causes her to shut down just long enough to escape, never revealing his true plan in the process, Danger awakens and is understandably pissed. So like one of Donald Trump's ex-wives that was stupid enough to sign a pre-nup, she goes off on an angry rampage worthy of any creature that bears boobs of any kind. She's effectively free and the first thing she does with that freedom is open all the cells in the brig to release the prisoners. That's certainly not what most people would do with newfround freedom. Usually a fresh cheeseburger, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and a hooker is the perfect epitome of freedom. But I guess freeing prisoners works. It doesn't just show how pissed Danger is. It shows how fucked up she can be now that she's free. I'm not sure what kind of stories this will lead to, but I'm pretty sure it's going to make for more shitty mutant PR.
Someone else who has a good reason to be pissed off is Colossus. This is another plot that Gillen has been developing for much of his run. During Fear Itself, Colossus refused to believe that his little sister, Magik, had turned into the kind of demon seed that in the real world would earn her a reality show on Bravo. So he sacrificed himself to the Cytorrak so that he could become the new Juggernaut. It cost him his girlfriend, his humanity, and his ability to look human outside a Raiders game. Yet he did it because that's just the kind of guy his is. Well Magik revealed during Avengers vs. X-men that she gave about as many fucks about his sacrifice as Rick Santorum gives about gay rights. She basically tells him she knew he would be fucked up by Cytorakk and just sat back, laughed her as off, and watched Colossus make an ass of himself. Now that he's also a wanted fugitive, he finally snaps and attacks his little sister. In any other circumstance, a guy beating up his little sister would be horrifying. When said little sister takes the fight to Limbo and openly taunts her brother, even the most ardent feminazi would root for Colossus.
In the end, Gillen throws yet another twist into the mix. While in Limbo, Magik reveals that she had the ability to remove the Cytorrak curse on him all along. That means he could still be swapping body fluids with Kitty Pryde, but she just couldn't be bothered to help him. She proves her point by actually doing it and then basically telling him she wanted to teach him a lesson. That lesson was simply to not sacrifice himself to someone who has since lost their fucking mind and that the little sister he once knew is as dead as Todd Akin's credibility. It all boils down to her not deserving his sacrifice and this is what she went through to prove her point. It's excessive, wasteful, and cruel. That kind of shit will get you promoted at Halliburton, but it isn't a very effective teaching tool.
This marks a pretty powerful moment for these two characters. For quite some time, Colossus has been a dedicated brother to his little sister. It's been one of the defining features of his character. But this scene essentially shatters that dynamic. Magik is not his sweet, innocent sister anymore. She's a demon seed who is beyond saving and she doesn't give a damn about it. On some levels, it's a metaphor for a little girl that was once so sweet, but then she discovered that she could manipulate men by wearing thongs and giving out blowjobs at the mall. In essence, she's not innocent anymore. Now we already knew that about Magik. Any reader that thought she could still be saved is high on something you can't get outside a Mexican pharmacy. But Colossus didn't realize it and the fact he has definitely leaves a solid impact.
The impact of Sinister's little revelation is just as potent, albeit less flashy. He spends some time essentially mocking Cyclops, explaining the failsafe he implemented while hatching his little let's-see-how-much-I-can-control-the-Phoenix-without-getting-burned plot. Before his Victorian kingdom got scorched, he paid a visit to Kate Kildare and did to her what Ted Nugant does to wounded deer. He then took her place, but made it so his persona was locked away in a manner that was undetectable even to the Phoenix. Once the Phoenix torched his kingdom, that persona activated. It wasn't just for his own survival. Sinister is also a man/woman who loves to just mock his enemies when they're utterly fucked. So even though his crimes and bullshit are too long to list, Cyclops is the one in jail. Paying him a visit just rubs it in his face in a way that has to be more satisfying than three way at the Playboy Mansion on Christmas.
In the end, Sinister sums things up nicely for Cyclops and for Kieron Gillen's run. Cyclops went to great lengths to protect mutants and ensure the survival of his race. Yet in the end, he lost everything. The world hates him, his friends hate him, and he's in jail. He won the battle, but Sinister is still free and in a new body with a nice set of boobs to play with. On a great many levels, that's a victory. He also indicates that he's got plans beyond playing with his new boobs. He doesn't give any clue as to what those plans are and that's a pretty glaring omission in a book that focuses on only a select number of details yet is still supposed to close out a series. Cyclops gets the message, but in the end it really doesn't have much impact. Of course it isn't over. Of course Sinister isn't going to cease his bullshit. Does yet another final issue of Uncanny X-men need to spell that out? I say no. Fans could have easily assumed Sinister survived in some way and found a way to give himself boobs. It's an unceremonious way for Gillen to end his run, but it gets the message across at the very least.
When Kieron Gillen first ended an era of Uncanny X-men, he had a pretty tall order. He had to wrap up decades of material in a way that both satisfying and appropriate to justify a relaunch. Against odds that would make a Las Vegas bookie cum in his pants, Gillen succeeded. But the odds for making the ending for this series after a mere 20 issues left bookies everywhere with relatively unstained underwear. There was clearly a conscious effort on Gillen's part to tie up a number of loose ends that he had been developing from his Uncanny X-men run. He managed to resolve a couple, but others were left untouched. Emma Frost didn't show up. Namor never showed up. Magneto and Storm didn't show up. They weren't even mentioned. So even though Gillen did an admirable job resolving the plots that he addressed, it still left the book feeling rather incomplete.
Even so, the book was still satisfying on some levels. It effectively filled a particular gap between Avengers vs. X-men #12 and Avengers vs. X-men Consequences #1. It also effectively resolved the Magik/Colossus conflict with an emotional yet devious resolution that should make anyone who ever had nasty siblings feel a bit better about their situation. It also threw in a fairly satisfying twist with Kate Kildare turning out to be Mr/Mrs. Sinister, but offered little in terms of implications. The scene with Danger and Unit was a bit less satisfying, but it got the job done. It still didn't address the future of Utopia, the Extinction Team, or the bigger picture Gillen had established in Uncanny. You get the sense that he just ran out of ink, but he did well with what he had to work with as he so often does.
In the end, the issue itself feels incomplete. It doesn't have the same feeling as Uncanny X-men #544, not by a long shot. The end does offer some sense of a new beginning that makes a relaunch for All New X-men marginally understandable. However, it lacks the definitive feel that Gillen so effectively established previously. It will raise an eyebrow, but it won't induce any boners. It will spark some curiosity for All New X-men and Avengers vs. X-men Consequences, but it won't make readers foam at the mouth in anticipation for what comes next. It's just a solid comic that doesn't have the feel of a comic that should cap off yet another volume of Uncanny X-men. As such, I give Uncanny X-men #20 a 3.5 out of 5.
I sincerely wish I could give Kieron Gillen's last Uncanny X-men book a perfect score. Hell, if I had to score Kieron Gillen's entire run on Uncanny X-men, I would give it an unequivocal 5 out of 5. Coming off what Matt Fraction established, Gillen took Uncanny X-men to a level of quality it hadn't seen since the days of Chris Claremont. I can honestly say that I haven't been more satisfied with an Uncanny X-men run in over a decade. It's hard to believe that this series was once a level below used toilet paper during Chuck Austin's run. Kieron Gillen didn't just make Uncanny X-men awesome again. He made every issue and every arc his own event. It was awesome enough to make readers become sexually aroused by any British accent under any circumstances. Now that Kieron Gillen is moving on to Iron Man, I bid him a fond farewell with a heavy heart and fresh bottle of tequila. Thank you for so much awesome, Mr. Gillen! You will be missed by the fans of Uncanny X-men! If our paths should ever cross, I owe you several rounds and two lap dances from the strippers of your choosing! Nuff said!