Thursday, November 22, 2012
Wolverine and the X-men #21 - Circus of Insanity/Awesome
An issue of Wolverine and the X-men is like masturbation. Even when it's not that good, it's still pretty damn awesome and nowhere near as messy...for the most part. Ever since it began under Jason Aaron, Wolverine and the X-men has set itself apart by being somewhat less serious and more fun. Because in this day and age where people still take Glenn Beck seriously, we need to lighten up. For so long the X-men have basically been like the men at the Alamo, holding up on Utopia and doing their best to not be wiped out. Wolverine, having had enough last stands and brutal violence for ten lifetimes and/or three Expendables movies, decided to ditch that shit and found the Jean Grey Institute. Rather than being fucked up by violence, he founds a school and names it after the woman he desperately tried to fuck. Makes perfect sense.
The first few arcs of Wolverine and the X-men were fun in that Jason Aaron explored all the insane logistics of just putting this school together and keeping it from blowing the fuck up, which in some stories was a real possibility. But now the school is established. The X-men have managed to bribe enough officials and blow enough politicians to become a legitimate facility for aspiring mutants. And after the events of Avengers vs. X-men (where the school almost got blown up mind you), a whole new population of mutants has emerged after the Phoenix unfucked the universe from the Scarlet Witch. That means there are plenty of prospective students that are in need of the quality education that a hard-drinking, ill-tempered brute that likes to chase after married women can offer. I imagine it's what being home schooled by my Uncle Metalballs would be like.
Wolverine and the X-men #20 did a nice job of establishing the kind of world that the Jean Grey Institute now must function. It had Angel, who is still dealing with having his mind thrown into a blender after the Dark Angel Saga, go on a little recruiting run. He managed to convince a scared yet incredibly bonable Brazilian woman that turns into a half-shark creature to join the Jean Grey Institute, but it wasn't as easy as simply offering free tickets to Carnival and a lifetime supply of thongs. Mystique and a new collection of mutants who seek to do to young mutants what Fox News does to America tried to beat him to it. Angel managed to succeed, but like the evil that runs Fox News seriously there are plenty of vulnerable minds in this new mutant-rich world for them to fuck with.
Wolverine and the X-men #21follows up this triumph with a gentle reminder that most of these mutants are still teenagers. And if you put a bunch of teenagers under one roof and take away all the authority figures, then you're bound to end up with nothing but destruction, chaos, and maybe a few orgies. When the issue begins with Kid Omega realizing that all the adults at the Jean Grey Institute have disappeared, we don't see any orgies. We're just left to assume they're going on somewhere. But while some of the students use this as an opportunity to live out all the sadistic fantasies that all non-superpowered teenagers have, Kid Omega decides to investigate. Because unlike everyone else, he doesn't need authority figures to be absent to be a raging douche-bag.
Whereas most of the students are using the absence of the Jean Grey Institute staff to reenact their version of the ending to Mad Max, some are a bit more responsible and try to offer at least some hope for the human race. Idie, the sweet yet overly religious young girl, decided to skip the opportunity to run naked through the halls and take a shit on Wolverine's desk to meet with a priest. He basically told her that the Jean Grey Institute was not a healthy influence on her and she might as well be hanging out in Satan's basement and watching her classmates blow demons for shits and giggles. That would be distressing enough, but it turns out this priest that is trying to corrupt Idie in a way Pat Roberson only jerks off to isn't really a priest. He's a robot, courtesy of one of the Hellfire Club brats.
Now I'm usually inclined to go on another rant about how having the Hellfire Club being run by a bunch of sociopath brats is more fucked up than a karaoke party at Simon Cowell's house. It's not like Jason Aaron has done anything to make the premise of the Hellfire Brats more believable, but in this instance he does try to explore them a bit more like he did with Kade Kildare a few issues ago. This time he focuses on Maximilian, the Hellfire Brat who happened to become an expert at building robot priests at the same age when most kids his age are just becoming an expert on microwaving hot pockets. He's apparently got a nasty family history that Kade pulled him away from and he's not too happy when Kade brings it up. His task is to corrupt Idie in a way that will lead her to joining the Hellfire Brats. And what better way than religion? Fuck, it worked for the Taliban. Why not the Hellfire Club?
We then go from organized religion to something that's only slightly less fucked up. While Maximilian is fuming, he gets lured into a circus that has suddenly sprung up by a very creepy clown that could only be less creepy if he was in a Stephen King book. It sounds fucked up, but it actually is a solid transition because we finally catch up with the missing X-men from the Jean Grey Institute. For reasons not explained yet probably involve a fuckton of booze and unmarked purple pills, the Jean Grey Institute staff wakes up in the middle of a fucking circus. Storm is locked in a Houdini style lock box at first and when she breaks out, she finds out that she's in the middle of a show. Rather than try to wake herself up with a self-imposed punch to the gut, she just takes a bow and goes with it. Because isn't it everyone's dream to be a circus act at some point?
We quickly find out she's in good company too. Nearly the entire Jean Grey Institute staff has found their own little circus act. Rachel is a fortune teller, but one that isn't a fraud for once. Warbird is a knife-thrower and Shadowcat is a target. Beast is a beast tamer if you can believe that, which is actually an upgrade considering what a raging douche he's been in his other jobs. And Wolverine is the drunken, oafish clown that you love to point at and laugh and never want to leave your children with in a windowless room. What's makes this predicament all the more fucked up is just how believable Jason Aaron makes it sounds. Because let's face it, if mutants were real one of their first inclinations would be to join the circus and make a fuckton of money. Or maybe that's just me.
When Kid Omega and the rest of the Jean Grey Institute students find out about this, some are disturbed while others are elated. Kid Omega calls it the greatest fucking thing he's ever seen. And you know what? I agree with him, as much as that makes me sick to my stomach. If I found out that all my teachers from high school had somehow been brainwashed into joining a circus, I would shit my pants, ejaculate, and laugh for three days straight. I don't consider myself as sadistic as Kid Omega, but as someone who has a healthy disdain for his teachers from high school I can appreciate where he's coming from. However, the rest of the students have to be assholes and try to rescue them from whatever brainwashing that's been going on. Fucking killjoys.
While the Jean Grey Institute students are taking on their teachers with Kid Omega trying desperately not to die of laughter, we learn a little more about who is behind this fucked up concept of a circus. We follow a little girl and her parents on a hellish boat ride that's only slightly more disturbing than that scene from the non-Johnny Depp Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. The girl's parents get their souls sucked out and the little girl somehow escapes to find Frankenstein as being the one behind the madness.
Now on paper, this sounds like a perfect opportunity to slam back some Jack Daniels and go on a drunken rant at how fucked up and random this is. But if instead you take a bong hit from some marginally good weed, you realize it's not too crazy. For one, the Hellfire Brats already unleashed Frankenstein like monsters earlier in another Wolverine and the X-men arc. Plus, Dracula not only exists in the Marvel universe, but he tried to fuck Storm. So is it really too outrageous that he exists in the Marvel universe as well? I'll only say it's outrageous he's running a fucking circus, but there's a reason for that. He claims that he's an abomination and wants revenge on the asshole that gave him this crazy shit called life. It's pretty typical, wanting revenge. But revenge for being fucking alive? Only in a Jason Aaron book could that ever be viable.
Back with the Jean Grey Institute students, they try to confront their teachers and convince them that they're either under mind control or they drank some amazingly potent booze. It's a pretty hard sell. Anybody who has ever tried to convince someone in an altered state of mind of reality will know this all too well. And those same crazies in robes that stole the souls of that little girl's parents earlier shows that she also has a hold on the X-men now. So her first inclination is to force them to attack the children. She could have just as easily had them make a porno and teach the kids to sniff paint fumes, but that's just too devious for someone that steals souls I guess. That or they're not aware of the growing trends in superhero porn.
As the X-men are attacking their students, Frankenstein catches up with Maximilian. It's here where we learn that this particular Hellfire Brat is actually related to Frankenstein, which I guess helps explain his sociopath nature. When you come from a family known for taking dead body parts and using them to create a walking corpse, I guess making evil robots is a pretty tame hobby. But old Frank isn't looking to have a warm family reunion. He's looking to torment this kid in ways that could only be matched by being locked in a windowless room with Michael Jackson's ghost. So while this issue may rank about a 9.4 on the fuck-up-o-meter, it does utilize a few important connections about one of the Hellfire Brats. It still doesn't explain why the X-men were turned into circus acts, but I understand there's only so much sense a Jason Aaron X-book can make.
On paper, this comic sounds like something a writer would only come up with after having their brain soaked in LSD while several hobos peed on him. The X-men being turned into a circus while a kid descended from Frankenstein deals with some daddy issues that would make Dr. Phil's head explode? There's just no way that shit could work without channeling the genius of Alan Moore and the appeal of Pamela Anderson's breasts. I don't know just what Jason Aaron channeled when he came up with this idea, but fuck he found a way to make it work.
Now I've been pretty harsh on the whole Hellfire Brats plot. I love what Jason Aaron has done with Wolverine and the X-men, but the Hellfire Brats are like that floating turd in the punch bowl that you just shrug your shoulders and ignore because the punch tastes that good. Aaron has at least attempted to make the Hellfire Brats viable, but other than giving them an upbringing akin to Ted Bundy and Pol Pot he really hasn't made the notion of a bunch of per-pubescent kids running the Hellfire Club any less ridiculous. Hell, it would be more palatable if explained that their evil stemmed from their inability to get Justin Bieber tickets. But with this, he did at least try to dig a little deeper into the history of one of the Hellfire Brats. It may not have made him less ridiculous, but it provided some nice connections to an otherwise fucked up premise.
This is where Wolverine and the X-men #21 succeeds in ways the previous issue didn't. The previous issue was awesome, but didn't really flow well with the plot of the previous issues. It might as well have been called Wolverine and the X-men: The Shit That Happens When We're Running Low On Filler Material. But this issue actually did forge a few connections, referencing how the Hellfire Brats are going on a recruitment run with new mutants and tying into the plot with the Hellfire Brats that has been unfolding since Avengers vs. X-men. This issue has more flow to it even if it's random as fuck.
And it's this random-as-fuck nature that makes Wolverine and the X-men #21 pretty twisted, even by Jason Aaron's lofty standards. I get that there's probably an equally fucked up explanation as to why the whole staff of the Jean Grey Institute was recruited into a twisted circus while the students were left to reenact Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But given the premise, that explanation is only going to reinforce the twisted nature. It's like waking up naked in a strange bed with a hooker on one side and a baby zebra you stole from the zoo on the other and thinking, "Fuck! I must have gotten wasted last night! I better go get drunk again to fix this!" But for sheer entertainment value and the connections that the previous issue lacked, I give Wolverine and the X-men #21 a 3.5 out of 5. Now unless you insist on your comics being overly serious or were traumatized by a clown as a child, you should find plenty of entertainment value of this issue. If nothing else, it'll only give you a new appreciation to whatever drugs Joe Quesada is giving his fellow writers at Marvel. Nuff said!