Wednesday, March 6, 2013
All New X-men #8 - Awesome On Wings
I’ve always been a fan of painfully unpleasant truths. It may sound strange, especially when some of those unpleasant truths involve your girlfriend telling you about a strange rash her gynecologist found during her last appointment. But the way I see it, I already give the finger to reality by reading awesome comic books and getting drunk. I don’t need to stick my head in a deep fryer and scream at the top of my lungs like a creationist at the Smithsonian whenever I’m confronted with an unpleasant truth. If it really is bad in the sense that my days of having an intact asshole are numbered, then I just consider that a great excuse to go out and get drunk. And you know we can never have too many of those!
In that sense I almost envy the Original Five X-men in the pages of All New X-men because they’ve encountered so many unpleasant truths since they showed up that the President of the United States should temporarily nullify the legal drinking age so they can go out and get pissed-faced drunk Led Zepplin style. Jean Grey found out she’s dead and her family was slaughtered. Beast found out that he grew up into a winey little bitch that looks like a rejected mascot for the Chicago Bears. Cyclops found out he’s asshole fugitive who killed Charles Xavier. And Iceman found out that he still hasn’t done jack shit to become any more than a walking beer cooler. So while the future may not be apocalyptic in that killer robots that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger aren’t hunting mutants, they still end up fucked.
But one unpleasant truth that has been tactfully avoided in All New X-men thus far is the fate of Angel. O5 Angel himself pointed out that nobody seems keen on telling him what the hell happened to his older self. Any X-men fan who has been following the X-books closely for the past year knows why everyone is being so polite about it. They don’t want to be the ones to tell O5 Angel, “Sorry kid, but you had your wings cut off and you joined an ancient mutant tyrant named Apocalypse, who you ended up becoming. Not only that, you had your entire mind completely wiped clean so that the guy you were is practically dead. Also, you once had a hot Asian chick for a girlfriend and now you’ve lost both her and the memory of what she looked like naked.” That’s pretty damn harsh, especially for a teenager who is rich and used to being able to buy his way out of shitty situations.
The previous issue of All New X-men focused primarily on O5 Cyclops getting a pep talk from Mystique while the others began their training with Kitty Pryde. It made for many powerful moments where O5 Cyclops confronted the unpleasant truth about the asshole he had become. Brian Michael Bendis captured all the drama and emotions of that realization perfectly. But in between the pages of this drama, he had O5 Angel meet up with his future self. They didn’t confront any painful truths. All Angel did was give his past self a hug in what may be the most uncomfortable moment a teenage boy could face that doesn’t involve a Catholic priest. O5 Angel is still anxiously curious, but the truth still hasn’t come out. And since this book is making a habit out of revealing uncomfortable truths, I think O5 Angel and O5 Cyclops are going to need several metric tons of Jack Daniels when they learn all the horrible details. I would pick up the tab if I could, but I’m content to see Bendis squeeze more drama from it.
All New X-men #8 is ripe with plenty of discomfort from the get go. O5 Angel isn’t exactly enjoying the flight with his future self. He tagged along in the previous issue in hopes of finding out why he’s more goofed up than a bleach blond cheerleader high on laughing gas. His future counterpart tries to explain, but does a piss poor job or doesn’t try very hard. It’s difficult to tell. But O5 Angel knows some crazy shit happened to him because his future self has metal wings and keeps referring to himself in the third person and not in the typical douchy David Hasselhoff way. But maybe I’m being too harsh. Does Angel even fully understand how much he was fucked up by the events of the Dark Angel Saga? He seems to know that his whole live was erased, but gives surprisingly few fucks about it.
O5 Angel keeps pressing for more information from his air-headed future self, but their otherwise horribly awkward flight is interrupted by a commotion at the Avengers tower. For reasons that I suspect involve alcohol and a bad batch of blow, Hydra decided to attack the Avengers Tower. I’m sure there are easier ways to spend a lazy afternoon, but I guess Hydra doesn’t have an X-box or internet porn. Any other questions O5 Angel had for his future self are put on hold so they can play hero.
Now I was initially tempted to rant a bit on how random the Hydra attack is. Because on the surface it really is one of the most bland threats the Marvel universe can slap into a comic without using killer robots. And it is contrived in that this attack takes place just as Angel and his O5 counterpart are flying over New York and having one of the most awkward conversations in history. And maybe it’s the watered down whiskey I bought on sale, but I don’t have too big a problem with it because it does serve a purpose. In some ways, that has to be somewhat reassuring. Even if he is a brain-dead blond who belongs on a reality show, Angel is still a hero and Hydra are your standard punching bags.
The action that follows is fairly standard, yet nicely detailed. O5 Angel’s inexperience shows in how he’s not exactly John McClane in taking on Hydra. Hell, the most badass thing he does is point out how retarded it is to just attack the front door of your hated enemy in broad daylight. But he’s still a teenager with very limited hero experience whereas his future self may be brain damaged, but he’s got metal wings. And metal wings are both useful and badass in fighting Hydra.
Again, it may seem bland on the surface, but the battle is refreshing in another way. It is actually the first dose of action that this series has had in quite a while. All New X-men hasn’t exactly been a battle royale since it started. It wasn’t touted to be one either. The past few issues have focused primarily on the O5 trying to get over how fucked up they are in the future. And since Marvel doesn’t like going too many issues without attacks by killer robots and Nazi wannabes, it’s both refreshing and fitting.
However, O5 Angel’s inexperience and overall whiny bitchiness catches up to him. Hydra may be glorified target practice in the Marvel universe, but even the dumbest drunk occasionally lands a punch. One of Hydra’s killer robot mechs manages to wound O5 Angel and since his future self clearly saw Back to the Future, he knows the consequences of his younger self dying and of trying to fuck his own mother. So he manages to stop being a walking blond joke and help out his younger self. This, of course, makes them more vulnerable to Hydra’s onslaught, but like Nazis in real life you can usually expect Hydra to fuck up every opportunity that comes their way.
Even if they don’t fuck up their opportunity, luck and karma eventually do them in. Even Hydra should have realized that it was only a matter of time before the Avengers figured out that someone was attacking their home. Given how protective Tony Stark is about his booze or Hawkeye is about his porno stash, they eventually show up in full force and proceed to beat the everloving shit out of them until their next head takes its place. It’s all over pretty damn quickly, but an attack by Hydra is basically a typical Tuesday for the Avengers. I imagine seeing a time displaced Angel is something that probably only happens once every couple of months.
Since disruptions to the space-time continuum are kind of a big deal if you want to keep a universe intact, the Avengers pay a visit to the Jean Grey Institute where Captain America has a little chat with Beast. And by chat just assume that means “What the fuck were you thinking and/or smoking?!” We have to assume that because we don’t actually hear what they’re saying. It’s all happening in the background and instead we’re given the cliff notes by Iceman and Kitty Pryde. Granted, these cliff notes are probably less boring than Cap and Beast arguing the ethics of time travel. But they’re not all that memorable either. It’s a nice way for Bendis to maintain the tone of the series. However, it does somewhat distract from the real issue of the Avengers finding out that there time-displaced X-men among them.
But it isn’t the case that Beast convinces Captain America that he was right and/or sober when he brought the O5 to the present. After a few childish insights from Iceman and Kitty Pryde, O5 Cyclops actually enters the picture and addresses Captain America. And he does so with more maturity than a teenager is supposed to have. But this makes perfect sense in the context of the previous issue where Cyclops got a pep talk from Mystique and committed to making things right. And in order to do that in a future where the Avengers have a billion dollar movie, he needed the blessing of Captain America and that’s exactly what he got.
While this is perfectly fitting, it doesn’t really leave much impact. Once O5 Cyclops makes his plea, the Avengers just up and leave. Nothing else is said. No other concerns are stated. They’re just “You think you can handle this without fucking up the time stream beyond repair? Sounds okay to me! It can’t be any more dangerous than claiming a cosmic force is going to kick start the mutant race now can it?” Given how much more cohesive the Marvel universe has become since Avengers vs. X-men, it makes perfect sense that the Avengers would find out about the O5 at some point. But here it just seems like they shrug their shoulders and go back to hunting down Hydra. It seems like a missed opportunity and a relatively glossed over moment, but at least Bendis actually addressed it. There are too many writers who would probably take the “Let’s not and say we did" approach.
But one person who isn’t satisfied with being in the present of O5 Angel. Unlike his fellow X-men, he voted not to stay in the future a few issues ago. And after seeing how fucked up his future self is, he’s officially had enough. So in a wonderfully crafted outburst of teenage drama, he storms off and attempts to use the time machine that brought them to the future to take him back to the past. His teammates argue with him, informing him that Professor Xavier would probably just wipe his mind. And he’s perfectly okay with that too because like the handcuffs and anal beads you find in your mothers room, it’s probably better not knowing.
It’s another prime example of Brian Michael Bendis capturing emotion and drama in a story. This is the life-blood in All New X-men and O5 Angel displays it very nicely here. In the same way he captured the emotions of O5 Cyclops, he did the same here with O5 Angel. In addition, he showed a completely different perspective to the others. Angel was so upset by his future that he was inclined to ditch the X-men completely. That shows that while the team is committed to staying in the future, they are not united in the slightest. Hell, they might as well be the Oakland Raiders.
As emotional as Angel’s rant is, he’s cut short in a very strange and sudden way. One moment he’s intent on going back to the past. The next he wants to know what’s for lunch. It’s a huge WTF moment at first until you find out the source of it. It’s name is Jean Grey and even as a teenager she has a nice rack. In a very un-Jean like moment, she mind-fucks her friend and someone she had the hots for in the early days of Uncanny X-men. She basically “calmed him down” as she said it, but probably only because “mind fuck” hasn’t entered her vocabulary just yet. But if this is a sign, it’s a word she probably ought to learn.
It makes for a powerful and ominous ending. Jean Grey just mind-fucked one of her teammates and everyone is looking at her like she just bit the head off of a chicken and spit down its neck. She claims to be in control, but only in the same way Iran claims to be a peaceful, non-nuclear nation. It’s ominous because that’s the same mentality that Jean Grey had when she died during the latter portion of Grant Morrison’s New X-men run. Has gaining telepathy really changed Jean Grey that much from the lovable teenager we know so well? It’s hard to say, but until she starts dressing in skin-tight leather pants we can only speculate!
Unless you’re a sociopath, a Nazi, or a registered Republican it’s perfectly natural to have sympathy for whoever is the most screwed over in a story. In a series like All New X-men, there’s an abundance of screwing for multiple characters. Brian Michael Bendis has been taking his time to explore the screwing of every character. He nearly killed Beast. He showed Jean Grey reacting to her multiple deaths and that of her family. And he exposed teenage Cyclops to a world where he’s a wanted fugitive and magazines cost five bucks a pop. This issue felt like a natural progression in how the Original Five X-men are dealing with this fucked up future that doesn’t involve killer robots ruling the world. More importantly, it continued the emotional and dramatic tone that has helped make this book that is both entertaining and something you can give your girlfriend without her bitching about how all the women have big boobs. That’s not to say she won’t find something else to bitch about, but at least this comic doesn’t make it easy for her.
But it wasn’t just progression that made this comic awesome. One thing that this issue had that previous issues didn’t was significant action. It wasn’t just Cyclops shooting Wolverine again. As much fun as that is, a battle against Hydra is almost as classic. Yes, it was somewhat random. But it was a nice way to get the Avengers involved. They had to notice at some point that someone had been fucking with the space-time continuum and for once it wasn’t Dr. Doom. It’s probably best they find out after a battle with Hydra instead of seeing it on Youtube in between cat videos and the Harlem Shake. And it didn’t just provide some mindless brutality, which I would argue was badly needed for this series. It showed just how uncomfortable O5 Angel was in this future and how goofy future Angel really is.
It was O5 Angel that made this issue compelling in the same way O5 Cyclops made the previous issue so compelling. Unlike his teammates, he wants no part in this future and has no desire to change it. Like so many other rich people, he’s content to live in a fantasy world where lower taxes reduces the national debt and where his older self doesn’t have the mental capacity of a brain damaged Paris Hilton. He’s been musing over this for multiple issues, which helps add to the tight continuity that Bendis has managed so well since this series began. Now it has finally overwhelmed him and it took Jean Grey to unclench his asshole and not in the fun way either.
This lack of impact is the only real sticking point of All New X-men #8. Everything else from the artwork to the dialog to the action scenes continued to meet the already high standards that Bendis has established. If this series were a porn star, it would be a young Jenna Jameson just after she got her first boob job. In that same sense All New X-men has all the tools it needs to bring joy to the readers without as much lube or tissues. And so long as Brian Michael Bendis keeps meeting such high standards, there will be plenty of awesome (and boners) to go around. I give All New X-men #8 a 4.5 out of 5. If you’re an emotional person with a heart condition, you may want to stay away from this comic in the same way you want to stay away from boner pills. Otherwise, this is probably the best X-men comic if not the best Marvel comic on the racks right now. And like a young Jenna Jameson, you want to enjoy it before it becomes jaded and hooked on prescription pain killers. Nuff said!