Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wolverine and the X-men #23 - Devilish Awesome

Have you ever come down from a really fucked up acid trip involving killer clowns, death circuses, and Frankenstein monsters? I admit it's not as awesome as trips involving a planet made out of boobs and raptors that shit pizza, but at least I know I'm not alone on the death circus trip. Jason Aaron either has an amazing brain or an amazing dealer because that's the story he's been telling in the pages of Wolverine and the X-men. On paper, this shit shouldn't work without a certain amount of hallucinogenic mushrooms. A story involving the X-men becoming a circus act sounds like the kind of story a guy does on a lost bar bet, but fuck if Jason Aaron hasn't made it entertaining.

I won't say it's the most fucked up story he's done. I won't even say it's the most compelling story he's done. Some stories just aren't mean to be compelling. Not every arc in a comic book series has to be a Shakespearean tragedy or 20 pages of Bob Saget stand-up. It just has to be awesome. Awesome comes in many forms and this latest arc of Wolverine and the X-men has been awesome in plenty of ways. It's been flawed in a few others, but by and large this is not the kind of arc that soaks your panties. It's the kind of arc that'll put a smile on your face without having to pay an extra hundred bucks to an Asian masseuse for a happy ending. And that's still awesome in its own right.

There's really not much to the story itself. It does offer some revelations in the sense that it explores the history of Maximilian, one of the new Hellfire brats that I find more ridiculous than a fast-moving line at the DMV. Jason Aaron revealed that this kid has ties to the Frankenstein family, who happens to be the ring leader of this crazy circus. So while he and a witch friend that he's probably banging on the side take control of the X-men and fuck with the Jean Grey Institute students, he attempts to work out some overdue family issues. It's basically a family reunion where someone brought too much beer and weed.

The end of the previous issue had some of the X-men breaking free from their spell while Idie attempted to take on Frankenstein. Maximilian was waiting in the wings, not sure if he has enough hair on his balls to help a girl he may or may not bone when he's of legal age. But Wolverine and the X-men #23 is supposed to resolve any and all questions regarding the hair on one's balls, among other things. It starts with a brief flashback that details some of the history between Maximilian and Frankenstein, which was already hinted at in previous issues. At first, Maximilian is just your typical rich mad-scientist kid with too much free time and access to dead bodies. So he does what most kids not old enough to jerk off do. He turns dead body parts into a friend. But when the locals, always weary of the creations of rich homicidal brats, get fearful, Maximilian essentially ditches him and leaves Frankenstein to the mob. It doesn’t reveal much other than the kid was always a total douche and Frankenstein got screwed over. But it still fill in an important detail. It gives the readers a reason not to be surprised when Maximilian just shrugs his shoulders and decides to ditch Idie. So rather than reach deep down and channel that inner good that a villain is always supposed to have, he just says, "Fuck this shit. I'm outta here!" It's basically the attitude of most teenage boys when their girlfriends force them to watch the Twilight movies.

While Idie is left at the mercy of a monster, the rest of the X-men have since broken free of the spell that had them acting like circus freaks for the masses. They’re understandably pissed that someone would go to such lengths to make them look stupid, especially after the recent events of Avengers vs. X-men. But the demented forces of this deranged circus aren’t willing to let a good act that people pay money to see. I admit I would pay to see a circus act headed by the X-men, but not if they have an army of devil-like clowns. I have enough nightmares about gym class in middle school, thank you very much. And it’s this army that arrives in a typical clown car to keep the show going.

The battle that unfolds is basic, yet elaborately awesome. The X-men, now free of their mind-control, join forces with their students to kick the asses of an army of evil clowns. I never remember my teachers ever sticking up for me or any students like that when I was in school. Hell, if it cuts into their smoke break, they couldn't give a nanogram of shit. So it's refreshing for me on a personal level to see the Jean Grey Institute staff dick so much ass alongside their students. The artwork here is beautiful as is the action. Beast throws Iceman and a fastball special, Storm throws in a few lightning bursts, and Doop gets to channel his inner Jet Li against an army of homocidal clowns. It's basically everything you could possibly want in an X-men fight scene.

During the battle, Kid Omega senses that Idie is in trouble and Maximilian was too chicken shit to help her. And since a walking corpse strangling a cute girl in a school uniform just doesn't sit well with Wolverine, he quickly tracks Frankenstein down and starts cutting his ass up like an onion. Between being mind controlled yet again, dressed up as a clown, and having his students threatened he's extra pissed. Even though Jason Aaron tried to make Frankenstein out to be the victim of sorts at the beginning, he's still an asshole for trying to choke Idie to death. So it's hard to have much sympathy for the guy as Wolverine kicks his ass.

But Frankenstein isn't the only threat and I'm not just referring to the killer clowns either if you can believe that. This whole fucked up mutant circus of death was a direct result of a witch named Calcabrina, who used magic to control the X-men while robbing a few customers of their souls in the process. Idie, who was nearly burned alive for being a witch at one point, has absolutely no sympathy or mercy when she confronts them. Having been the cute, innocent damsel for too long, Jason Aaron reminds readers that Idie is still the girl that killed people to set off the events of Schism. She uses her powers to give Calcabrina the wicked witch of the west treatment, burning her alive. And if she was a teenage boy, she probably would have had a full blown erection while doing so.

At this point the show is pretty much over. Frankenstein is losing body parts and the witch that had been doing such a good job of mind-fucking everybody is burning alive. Whatever evil plan there might have been that involved a sinister circus, it's pretty much fucked. Yet Frankenstein remains defiant, saying he really doesn't give a shit what the X-men do to him and he feels no remorse for fucking with them. He's built with dead body parts so there's really nothing they can do to him to fuck him up even worse short of attaching a dick to his forehead. Wolverine is still inclined to cut him up and send all the pieces to separate graveyards, but then the still burning Calcabrina shows up and uses her magic to get their miserable asses out of there. It's a rather anti-climactic escape, but it's still effective. It allows the X-men to maintain whatever dignity they have left after being turned into circus clowns and free some of the other people that Calcabrina fucked with. The sad part is that despite all the horrors, there are probably still a bunch of kids who would whine about coming back because for some reason they find evil circuses entertaining. I'm guessing a lot of those kids grow up to be sociopaths or politicians.

The X-men may have won the day with only some of their dignity intact, but the bad guys still got away. Frankenstein is back on the run again. He's still intact, but still needs to rip the arm off some random guy because I guess that was his jerk-off hand or something. But as for Maximilian, he reunites with Kade Kilgore and basically tells him that he's done being coy about who he is. He reveals that he didn't abduct Idie. He just fucked with her more by killing the priest she had been seeing, who turned out to be a robot anyways. He couldn't save her, but he can fuck with her. Not sure what that is supposed to imply, but homicidal kids were never supposed to be rational in the first place. He then proudly proclaims that he's Dr. Frankenstein and somehow that's a big fucking deal.

I'm not sure if Jason Aaron was attempting to make readers like this sociopath kid or anything, but whatever his intention this whole revelation about Maximilian really didn't accomplish much. He was just another Hellfire brat at the beginning of the arc. He's still a Hellfire brat now. He's just going by his birth name. And what the fuck does that accomplish? And why was a nightmare circus required for this? Don't get me wrong. I loved the whole fucked up mutant circus, but I don't see why it was necessary just for this kid to go by another name.

Perhaps I'm just jaded because I never liked the Hellfire brats. They're right up there with Hope Summers as some of the worst ideas Marvel has had for the X-men in recent times. But sometimes even the worst ideas can be turned into something awesome. Case and point, the Chuck Austin run of Uncanny X-men. In the annuls of Marvel comics, his run is right up there with the original Clone Saga in Spider-Man in terms of how horrendously shitty it was. But he did create one character that ended up having a starring role in the latest X-men movie. And that was Azazel, Nightcrawler's father and Mystique's baby daddy. When Calcabrin, now weakened and burnt to a crisp, calls out for help, he's the one that shows up. He's been MIA in the comics for a long time, but now he's back! Since this whole nightmare circus has wet my appetite for devils and evil clowns, I'm actually excited to see him again. Only a series as fucked up as Wolverine and the X-men could accomplish that.

I know I’ll probably piss off the Vatican when I say this, but there’s just something about stories involving witches, demons, and monsters that has a universal charm. I personally think it’s just our subconscious way of giving the finger to all the religious zealots who told us not to masturbate growing up, but I could be wrong. X-men comics have not always been a place where supernatural stories work particularly well. I’m not saying this arc of Wolverine and the X-men was seamless, but it was still a lot of fun. There’s just so much to like about a story where Wolverine gets run over by a bunch of clowns, Frankenstein rips the arms off a man, and an evil witch gets burnt to a crisp

Jason Aaron is at his best when he’s telling stories of a demented kind. However, he’s not at his best when he tries to humanize certain characters that are just too fucked up to begin with. The primary flaw in this book is that it focused on developing a character that nobody really gave a shit about in Maximilian and really didn’t do much other than have him go by his real name. The X-men go through the trouble of being brain-washed into a crazy circus and the only lasting effect is some kid sociopath accepting his heritage? I’m not saying it’s pointless, but that’s like driving five hundred miles just to go to Taco Bell. And in the end it doesn’t make Maximilian or the Hellfire Brats any less unappealing. It’s still a pretty fucked up concept amidst a story that was fucked up to begin with. It’s just too much fucked up for any reader to take.

In the end it was still wildly entertaining and Jason Aaron found a way to not only fit everything together, but set the stage for the next big conflict in Wolverine and the X-men. The return of Azazel tied in nicely to what could just have been a fucked up Monday at the Jean Grey Institute. We already know that Mystique will become a larger thorn in the sides of the X-men moving forward. Having her baby daddy show up after being MIA for so long and ditching child support payments offers plenty of reason to be thrilled with this book and with this series. I still don’t care for the Hellfire Brats or the Frankenstein plot, but the influx of demons and witches can only help Wolverine and the X-men by giving Jason Aaron’s twisted mind more to work with. I give Wolverine and the X-men #23 a 3.5 out of 5. With Nightcrawler dead and a very pissed off mother, Azazel is going to have a lot to catch up on. Somewhere out there Chuck Austin is either smiling or vomiting uncontrollably. Nuff said!

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