Thursday, March 28, 2013

Uncanny X-Force #3 - Overdue Awesome

In my experience, when you get good and drunk at some point you forget which direction is up and which person and/or statue called your mother a bitch. That kind of disorientation only has so many outcomes. You could wake up naked in a fountain with the word “asshole” written on your back in lipstick. You could wake up in a hotel room with a girl, a transvestite, and a goat, each of which claim you promised to marry them. Or you could wake up in your bed hung over with the sudden need to make the toilet your best friend. My point is very little good ever comes of being disoriented. You don’t usually black out and wake up in the Playboy Mansion in a bed with three naked playmates. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying the odds are stacked against you.

With this in mind, I remain both skeptical and confused by what Stan Humphries is doing in Uncanny X-Force. Whereas Rick Remender kept everything tighter than Rick Santorum’s asshole during his run, Humphries has been all over the place. He’s been throwing around side-plots with Fantomex who may or may not be engaging in the most elaborate form of masturbation ever and a side-plot surrounding Bishop, who to this point has been MIA and presumably stuck in the future.

The initial plot, I think, was to start a new X-Force team with Psylocke and Storm because feminists apparently infiltrated Marvel and want to prove that women can also make a kick-ass kill squad. But even this plot was fucked up because it led to them meeting up with Puck and hunting down Spiral, who is guarding some new mutant that was getting ravers high. If it sounds confusing and/or something that might happen in a bad movie on the Lifetime channel, then congratulations because you’ve just identified the biggest problem with this book.

Uncanny X-Force #2 at least attempted to bring some of the side-plots together by having Storm and Psylocke cross paths with Bishop while they were hunting down Spiral. It was messy, random, and more confusing than the last half-hour of Inception. But at least Humphries is making an effort to bring these plots together. It’s not clear if the final product will be in the same time zone as Remender’s first arc, but I have hopes that it is at least on the same planet.

In Uncanny X-Force #3, Humphries takes a desperately needed new approach to making this series seem less chaotic than an orgy at a Russian rock concert. He starts with a quick flashback of Psylocke’s life before she was fucked up by swapping bodies with a hot Asian ninja and had to kill her boyfriend. It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about her or can’t find on Wikipedia, but it does add some added impact when she wakes up from Bishop’s attack at the end of the previous issue exceedingly pissed off. Now this flashback was not needed in the slightest, yet it did something that I think is important in the context of Uncanny X-Force. It reminded readers that Psylocke is very vulnerable in addition to being pissed off. Given how most readers are more focused on her ass and tits than her history, I think it’s a reminder worth including.

Another way that Stan Humphries brings a little order to chaos of Uncanny X-Force is finally explaining just why the hell Spiral was so protective over that young mutant girl in a way that would get some people listed as sex offenders. He uses another flashback, this time showing how Spiral was exiled from the Mojoverse and left with pretty much nothing. And since she wasn’t about to live the life of an undocumented immigrant or take shit from Lou Dobbs, she chose a life of crime. That’s what led her to Ginny, who could help her survive by getting people high and profiting from it. And since there aren’t any drug laws against using psychics to get high (although I’m sure the DEA is working on it), it made for a lucrative living. I’m sure if my pot dealer read this comic, he would be jealous as hell because it’s pretty brilliant. But more importantly, it helps make sense of Spiral’s actions, which to this point had been more creepy than Christopher Walken reading 50 Shades of Grey.

I’ll say it again because it’s an important point to make when reviewing comics, telling stories, or explaining why you were speeding to a traffic cop. Clarity matters. One of the biggest weaknesses of this series since it began has been the utter lack of coherence and clarity. It’s the complete antithesis of Rick Remender’s approach when he wrote Uncanny X-Force. I get that Humphries is taking a different approach, but it helps that it makes a lick of sense. If for no other reason, it makes this comic easier to read while stoned.

Once Spiral is finished explaining her connection to Ginny and why it’s not as creepy as it looks, Storm decides they’ll need her help finding her. Psylocke can track her. Spiral can teleport them. It makes perfect tactical sense, although it does mean trusting Spiral. That’s like trusting Lindsey Lohan to drive you to the hospital without getting pulled over. You know it’s not going to turn out well, but you also know it’ll be entertaining as hell.

While Spiral’s part in Uncanny X-Force is now much less creepy in light of a few flashbacks, Fantomex is still as disturbing as ever. We’ve had two issues that have taken the concept of “Go fuck yourself!” to a twisted extreme that it need not go. With Fantomex split into separate bodies and now able to literally fuck himself, they’ve decided for reasons that still don’t make a god damn bit of sense to track down Psylocke. They claim they’re just going to stop the more sinister half of Fantomex from hurting her, but I’m pretty sure they have a very disturbing kind of three-way in mind. And to get to her, that involves hijacking a plane and jumping out of it. Again, it makes no god damn sense. I’m as pissed off at the TSA as anyone else, but this is not a productive way to deal with it.

Maybe it’s because I still think Fantomex is a massive dick-cheese, but this plot with him has very little appeal. But at the very least Humphries is setting things up for a confrontation between Psylocke and the split personalities of Fantomex. That means at some point this crazy shit will come together and the promise of shit making sense is the next best thing I guess. But if Fantomex still tries to bone Psylocke, it’ll only make him/her/them a bigger douche.

Back with the part of the plot that actually makes sense, Storm and her team appear in the subway with Spiral where they confront Bishop and Ginny. What transpires next is the kind of dark, violent, dangerous battle that you would expect to see in an X-Force book. We still don’t have an explanation as to why Bishop is after this girl and not trying to maim Hope Summers, but then again he hasn’t exactly demonstrated that he’s in a clear state of mind either. He doesn’t respond to any of the pleas of his former allies. He just looks at them the same way a drunk looks a guy he caught dry-humping his girlfriend. So in that sense we don’t need a full explanation. Like a real drunk, the best thing you can do is grab a few beers yourself and watch the show before the cops show up.

The battle itself between Bishop and X-Force is very well-scripted. Humphries makes it clear that this shit is taking place in a subway tunnel and it must be at rush our too because they have to work around the oncoming trains. We even get a quick reminder in the form of another flashback that Storm is still claustrophobic. Again, this is shit we already know, but it’s shit that’s worth reminding about because I’m sure Marvel understands that not everyone who reads their books are sober. They need to cater to the drunks in the comic market and I think it’s a market that is continuously growing.

In the end, however, the battle comes down to Psylocke and Bishop. And that distracts everybody just long enough for Spiral to reclaim Ginny. Now that we know what she was using her for in the first place, it’s not quite as creepy. And since Spiral isn’t sentimental towards anyone that can’t make her money, she leaves X-Force to continue fighting Bishop. Is she a bitch for doing so? Yes, but she’s a bitch who cares for a little girl and all the money they can make together. It may be a dick move, but it’s a dick move that makes sense on an economical level and since I’m feeling generous and drunk I’ll take it.

And while Spiral makes off with the girl that can make her rich, X-Force is left to deal with Bishop. Given her pissed off state, Psylocke attempts to end the battle swiftly by attacking his mind. But in doing so she discovers that Bishop’s psyche is more fucked up than Jim Carey on LSD and muscle relaxers. For some reason, his mindscape looks like someone dumped toxic waste in the world of My Little Mermaid. For a guy who has been stranded in the future, you expect him to be a little fucked up. But this confuses even Psylocke. When she tries to piece Bishop’s mind back together, she finds some unusual manifestations in the form of animals. Either Bishop has adopted some disturbing new hobbies in the future or something else happened to him. Whatever it is, we’ll have to wait until the next issue to find out and for once I’m not completely confused on what form that story may take.

There are many ways I could criticize Stan Humphries for his first two issues of Uncanny X-Force, but I can never fault him for making a concerted effort to make these stories awesome. It reminds me somewhat of this fat kid I knew in grade school who always gave the most effort in gym class, but his love of donuts and MacDonald’s always ensured that his efforts were in vain at times and hilarious at others. I still laugh every time I remember seeing him fart uncontrollably after trying to run a mile. He was an admirable kid and in the same respects, this is an admirable comic without the fart smell.

I was hoping to at least get a hint of it in the last issue, but I guess there are some benefits to having damaged my short-term memory with so much pot. This issue actually felt like it should have followed up the first issue because it actually did a much better of bringing these three separate plots together. When I finished reading this issue, I was like “Ah! So that’s why Sprial has gotten into the business of fucking up peoples’ minds for profit! Damn, now I need some weed.” In addition, Humphries also did what Rick Remender was so good at in adding a few personal moments to the mix. The flashback with Psylocke and Storm may have only told us shit we can already get from Wikipedia, but it added some extra depth that had been lacking from the first two issues.

While this issue was definitely more coherent than the first two, it still had a few WTF moments that made reading it drunk a challenge. I like that we got a glimpse into Bishop’s fucked up mind, which we assumed had to be fucked up after being stuck in the future. But other than reveal that he may or may not have some kinky animal fetishes, we really didn’t get any further clarity on why the hell he’s back and why the hell he wanted Ginny. Most of what Psylocke saw in his mind looks like nothing more than a bad acid trip at a zoo, but thankfully it didn’t end with someone trying to fuck the zebras. Also, the Fantomex plot still makes no god damn sense. It seems like their paths will finally cross in the next issue, but at least them jumping out of a plain wasn’t nearly as disturbing as the shit they did in the previous issues. My mind and my dick is still trying to comprehend this new Fantomex and failing terribly in the process.

Maybe I just didn’t read this issue sober enough to appreciate all the subtleties, but in the end I feel as though this comic is only halfway to being awesome. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a massive improvement compared to the previous issue. It’s like going from drinking expired milk to cheap beer. While it won’t make you sick, it’ll still give you somewhat of a buzz. There are still a lot of elements in this arc that need to come together for it to be awesome and Humphries is clearly making an effort. But like that fat kid I used to know, he needs to break certain habits. And since it doesn’t involve eating less quarter pounders for breakfast, I’m more confident that he can get it done. I give Uncanny X-Force #3 a 3.5 out of 5. There may come a day when I add this to that special collection of books that you can actually read sober and still enjoy. But until then, keep the six pack and the whiskey nearby! Nuff said!

1 comment:

  1. The Bishop thing at the end has "insert retcon here" written all over it.