Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Uncanny X-men #6 - Multiple Levels of Awesome
The first day of school is like a recurring national tragedy for most teenagers. It's basically the beginning of a nine month prison sentence where you'll be harassed, judged, molded, and controlled by teachers, peers, and government sponsored administrators who want to make sure you fit the mold of a future taxpayer/soldier. I always remembered feeling like a deer locked in Ted Nugant's basement on the night before the first day of school. I knew that I was destined for slaughter, but at least with the dear it was over in the span of time it took Nugant to load his gun. For students, that slaughter lasted nine fucking months.
I imagine the first mission for an X-man is a lot like the first day of school. You're woefully unprepared. You're inexperienced and overwhelmed. And you'll probably be judged in a way that will make you want to crawl into a ball, tuck your dick between your legs, and cry like a girl who just watched her uncle burn her My Little Pony correction. I would argue that missions with the X-men are still not as bad as gym class, algebra, and chemistry. But sometimes the missions have a way of being so fucked up that some students would be begging for a calculus exam.
That's the sentiment I think the students of the new Xavier Institute feel. After the events of Uncanny X-men #5, the school is finally coming together. So far Brian Michael Bendis has done an excellent job setting the stage for this school while capturing all the necessary drama from O5 Angel's defection to the student's learning why the Danger Room is dangerous. But before these students can even get their first lesson, Magik shows some strange symptoms that are extreme even for a teenage girl.
Now I've been fairly ambivalent about Magik since she became a demon-loving sociopath during Matt Fraction's run. But there is no denying that she is one of Cyclops's heavy hitters. She's a teenage girl with the power of Hell at her fingertips. You couldn't get a much more potent weapon without giving Dr. Doom unlimited amounts of weapons grade plutonium and crystal meth. She was one of the only ones whose powers didn't seem to be affected by the Phoenix Force. But in Uncanny X-men #5, we found out that wasn't exactly the case. And Dormammu, who happens to have a demon vacation home in Limbo, didn't much appreciate it. So Magik unwittingly transported the team and the new students to Limbo to battle demons. I'll finally say it. I think that is worse than my high school gym class. However, my gym teacher still looks striking similar to Dormammu.
But Uncanny X-men #6 doesn’t go straight to the bowels of Hell/Limbo from the onset. That would be too much for a world that still gives Pat Robertson his own TV show. One of the ongoing stories that has been unfolding since this series began is new mutants manifesting all over the world with new powers. The past few issues haven’t explored that, but Bendis shows in the first few pages of this issue that he has no intention of ditching that aspect of the story. This time it isn’t some whiney teenager though. It’s some 30-year-old guy named David whose girlfriend broke up with him via text message and is now moving out. For men of all ages, this is a low-point that only hard liquor and a box of tissues can solve. But rather than cry like a baby as his now ex-girlfriend drives off, David finds out he has a power that allows him to control her car and bring her back. She’s obviously pissed and confused, but it’s yet another new mutant who is going to be vulnerable after an ex-girlfriend busts his balls. In other words, he’s perfect future X-men material!
We then go from one hell to another. Now in Limbo, the team and the inexperienced teenage mutants who managed to get their asses kicked by the Danger Room in the previous issue are staring down Dormammu and a demon-possessed Magik. Compare that to the Original Five’s first mission, which involved only a giant robot and a guy with a bucket for a helmet. I think it’s fair to say they’re behind the curve. And Dormammu makes it clear that he’s not going to go easy on them just because their kids. In fact, he’s going to basically use them to fuck with Magik because that’s just the kind of guy he is. In this sense, giant robots don’t seem so bad.
However, this scene also highlighted and issue I usually don’t discuss on this blog and that’s the artwork. I love pretty pictures as much as the next drunk and most of the time I don’t expect the quality of Jim Lee or Mark Bagley with every issue. That would be like wanting every hooker to look like Pamela Anderson. But unlike hookers, I’m willing to look past mediocre art. But when it’s downright crappy, I do take notice. And this is one instance where the absence of Chris Belacho is really felt. The background of Limbo and the depiction of Dorammu here is atrocious and it spans the whole length of the book. It’s not horrible, but it’s difficult to look past even with the aid of my best weed. The inks are smeared, the colors are weak, and Dromammu looks more like a lion’s nutsack than a fiery demon. It doesn’t take away from the story, but it is painfully apparent.
As you might expect, the new mutants are busy shitting themselves, Magik is in full demon mode. She’s a teenager too, but she’s one of those teenagers that has firepower to go along with those irrational instincts. And that leads to some petty insults followed by some standard attacks. It’s not much in the sense that its wordy when it should be a big orgy of hellfire. Cyclops definitely adds to it by showing off his new fucked up powers. Because of the art it’s hard to appreciate how badass they are, but I’m guessing that blasting Dormammu helped soak the panties of both Emma Frost and Tempus (in a good way that is). It also shows why he’s still the leader and still as badass as Wolverine, minus the body hair.
However, these initial blasts don’t amount to much. In fact, they barely amount to anything other than weakening Cyclops and pissing off Magik’s demon side. She tries sending everyone back to the non-hellish world, but fails. There’s more talking here, which basically amounts to Dormmamu fucking with Magik while the new mutants whine like little pussies. But to be fair, they have every right to. I’m normally inclined to poke fun at characters in comics that act like future prison bitches, but in this instance Bendis actually creates a setting where such bitching is justified. These aren’t experienced X-men staring down Limbo. These are inexperienced teenagers. Unless they had gym class with me in high school, they’re not prepared for this.
And while I won’t poke fun at the young mutants, I will point out that there was way too much talking here. Bendis is great with mixing dialog and action. In this instance it didn’t mix as well as it has for most of the series. But I look at it as a bad batch of pot brownies. Even though they turn out bad, they can still get you high. So I don’t think it takes too much away from the plot. It causes it to drag for a bit.
But Bendis doesn’t let it drag for long. In the same way he touched on an ongoing theme in Uncanny X-men with a new mutant, he takes a break from hellish storylines to follow another plot that has been unfolding across multiple issues. It’s no secret that SHIELD and the Avengers got their asses served to them with a side of fries several issues ago. And Maria Hill takes pride in the sanctity of her ass so she’s not about to let this shit go.
With help from everyone’s favorite non-female SHIELD agent, Phil Coulson, she muses over the mutant issue while analyzing the sentinel that attacked in Uncanny X-men #1 (yet another great example of the connectivity in this series). In addition to having a nice ass, she’s smart enough to know that what they’re doing with mutants and with Cyclops ain’t working. And since the Uncanny Avengers can’t stop trying to strangle one another, SHIELD needs another approach to dealing with mutants and one that involves better analyzing the situation rather than treating Cyclops the same way they treat Hydra. It’s one of those things that should be common sense, but in the world of SHIELD sometimes common sense takes some pwnage to utilize.
Back in the hellish world that doesn’t involve the ex-girlfriend, the Stepford Cuckoos come to another hard conclusion that may also count as common sense. Dormmamu isn’t going to let them go and these young mutants are too chicken shit to be effective against his demon armies. So the only solution is to mind-fuck them to the point where they are no longer afraid and are ready to kick the devil in the balls while singing Journey songs. Now normally I’m morally opposed to mind-fucking unless it involves kinky sex antics from Emma Frost. But when it turns a bunch of whiney teenagers into a bunch of determined, badass X-men in training I think it’s not only justified. It’s necessary. It usually takes years for teenagers to overcome their innate fear of being inadequate. If a simple mind fuck helps them skip a few steps, then why not? It’s either that or whine while a demon uses them as toilet paper.
The talking finally stops and the fighting finally begins. And despite the poor artwork, it’s still a sight to behold. Both the veteran X-men and the new X-men fight together in their first major clash. It’s a big moment for this series in that Bendis has spent a number of issues just getting this team together and getting them into a base. Now they’re taking it to the next level and fighting as a team and against Dormammu’s mud demons no less. While it may still be a tough trial-by-fire for a group of new X-men, it should definitely make fighting killer robots in the future that much easier.
That’s not to say there isn’t some talking during this fight. However, it involves characters not participating in the fight. As the battle in Limbo is unfolding, Maria Hill is holding a little interview that is part of this new common sense approach to dealing with mutants. She claims she wants mutants to be treated equally as well, but doesn’t trust a team where Magneto is whispering into the ear of Cyclops. That’s not unreasonable in the slightest, but she still makes it clear that she doesn’t trust Cyclops and doesn’t trust what this revolution of his entails. So she needs someone to help her improve mutant relations without risking the Avengers getting pwned. And who might be willing to help?
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait until the next issue to find out. In fact, we didn’t even have to wait until this issue. It was already announced in future solicits that Dazzler would be joining SHIELD and would show up in the pages of Uncanny X-men. Well in this scene we find out how she gets caught up with SHIELD. After proving herself in the pages of Xtreme X-men and showing that she’s a capable leader in X-Terminator, she’s ready to become more than a glorified Lady Gaga parody. And in a series that already has a number of hot blonds on the team, I guess another couldn’t hurt.
In this day and age, the ability to multi-task is almost as valuable a survival skill as the ability to secure your next meal. It’s not to just be able to wrestle a bear while satisfying a woman. You have to be able to balance your checkbook, cook your meals, maintain your schedule, meet deadlines, stay in shape, and still have the energy to knock up or be knocked up to secure your bloodline. The people that don’t do that become Charles Darwin’s bitch. And reading Uncanny X-men, I get the sense that Brian Michael Bendis is trying to do overcompensate by making Drawin his bitch in ways that Kirk Cameron only dreams of. And the end result is pretty fucking awesome.
Uncanny X-men #6 didn’t just continue the story that Bendis has been developing with Magik and Dormammu for the past couple issues while exploring the mindset of a bunch of teenage mutants who have more pubic hair than experience. He established two new plots and found ways to make it mesh with the story he was already telling. We don’t just get yet another new mutant. We get some reactions from SHIELD, who were still clearly butthurt from the pwnage Cyclops gave them a few issues ago. But more importantly, we get a plan that brings Dazzler into the mix. Having thoroughly enjoyed her development in Xtreme X-men under Greg Pak, I’m just giddy like a chipmunk on crystal meth at the prospects of Bendis bringing her into Uncanny.
Very few writers can effectively balance multiple plots in a comic without it becoming an outright clusterfuck. Brian Michael Bendis is one of those few who can do so on a consistent basis and he’s been demonstrating that to great effect in both this series and All New X-men. He’s giving this team of X-men a very different set of circumstances compared to the All New X-men crew or even the previous Extinction Team. This is a team that isn’t seen as heroes, but Cyclops is still making an effort to do what he was trained to do by Charles Xavier. He’s trying to protect new mutants from the general douche-baggery of the world while teaching a new generation of mutants. Sure, he was the one that killed Xavier in a Phoenix-fueled rage, but if Wolverine can kill his own son and still rub elbows with Captain America, then I say bygones!
The balance in this issue was the highlight. However, there were some lowlights that kept it from being perfect. I usually don’t comment on the art of a book, but I’m really missing Chris Belecho’s style after seeing this issue. Not that it’s bad, but at times it looks link the inks were smeared with bull semen. Don’t ask me how I know what those smears look like. Also, certain scenes like Dormammu’s boasting made the story drag at times. It felt like it took way too fucking long for the team to get their act together and attack Dormammu. It’s like two drunks acting like they’re going to fight, but instead just stand around insulting each other’s’ mother. That’s okay for a bar fight. Not for a comic.
Overall, Uncanny X-men #6 maintains the high quality that Brian Michael Bendis has established with his X-books. That kind of consistency is rare in this day and age. The ADHD nature of comics, writers, and fans make consistent books as rare as a child star that doesn’t grow up to be a total fuck-up. I won’t say that Uncanny X-men is as awesome as Neil Patrick Harris, but I will say it’s in the same ballpark. I give Uncanny X-men #6 a 4 out of 5. If anything, we should take one vital lesson from this issue. Mind-fucking someone may be wrong in most circumstances, but it’s probably the only way to make a bunch of whiney teenagers into effective contributors. And for that, I deem it both justified and awesome. Nuff said!