Thursday, December 11, 2014
Scanned Thoughts: Spider-Man and the X-men #1
I have a lot of respect for teachers, relatively speaking. And by relative, I mean I reserve that respect for teachers that don’t contribute to the ongoing horror show that is high school, which every teenager must experience. Throughout my awkward teen years, I encountered many teachers who preferred add another set of nails to the chalkboard that is the high school experience. Even now, I get it. Their jobs sucked. They had to teach subject with bullshit standards to a bunch of dead-eyed teenagers who would rather be getting root canal. It would break anyone’s spirit. But there were a few good teachers who genuinely gave a damn. I could fit most of those teachers in an undersized SUV, but they can make all the difference. That’s why I was more than a little confused when it was revealed that Spider-Man would become a new teacher at the Jean Grey Institute.
Now this isn’t exactly as crazy as making Captain America gay or turning Emma Frost into a lesbian. Peter Parker has been a teacher in the past. He’s even been pretty good at it. But those were typical high school students. That in and of itself is right up there with being mind-fucked by Doc Ock. Now he’s going to teach high school students armed with mutant powers? His spider sense should be kicking his ass right now. But that’s exactly what makes the concept so intriguing. With Wolverine dead, someone has to pick up the slack. Spider-Man and the X-men #1 marks Spider-Man’s attempt to contribute in this noble endeavor (sort of). Somewhere out there, I think Otto Octavious is thinking, “Damn! Guess I dodged that bullet.”
Spidy gets off to a rocky start before he even sets foot on the Jean Grey Institute campus. While on the ride from New York, courtesy of Storm, he manages to say all the wrong things and push all the wrong buttons. I don’t know if this counts as Parker luck or just piss poor social skills when it comes to dealing with mutants not named Wolverine, but it’s pathetic and pretty entertaining. It’s not enough that Storm says she doesn’t like him very much. It’s that Spider-Man insists on giving her reasons not to like him by mentioning her failed marriage to Black Panther. It’s as awkward as it sounds.
It’s actually less awkward that Unus the Untouchable, the closest thing the X-men have at a D-list villain now, has decided to fuck things up at the Jean Grey Institute. Because I guess he thought attacks by the Avengers, SHIELD, the Phoenix Force, and the Hellfire Club just wasn’t enough. That or he used to work for whatever insurance company was stupid enough to give the X-men a policy. His appearance is as contrived and pointless as it sounds, but it does help reinforce the same tone from earlier.
Spider-Man catches up and joins the fight. Even makes some meaningful contributions while reconnecting with some of his Amazing Friends buddies in Iceman and Firestar. He just does so in a way that significantly irritates the rest of the X-men. They all make clear that they don’t like him anymore than Storm. Rachel Grey rightly points out that he has no fucking clue what it’s like to be a mutant. He runs around in a mask and dates supermodels. That might help him relate to Wolverine, but not the X-men as a whole. It’s entirely reasonable that the X-men not trust him. The only thing that keeps them going along with this is that part of Wolverine’s final wishes was to have Spider-Man do this.
And this is where the “sort of” aspect of his efforts come into play. Spider-Man is here to teach young mutants and help them. That’s perfectly heroic in and of itself. What makes it only partially heroic is Spider-Man revealing that he’s also there to uncover a mole that Wolverine suspected had infiltrated the Jean Grey Institute. So he’s not doing this out of the goodness of his heart or because he really wants to help vulnerable young mutants. He’s doing Wolverine a favor. It’s not much different than asking him to mow his lawn after his death, but the fact that Spider-Man goes through with it shows he’s willing to honor his friend’s wishes and still make an effort. And that’s more than I can say for a lot of teachers in my old high school, most of which I’m convinced just worked there for the health benefits.
As expected, Spider-Man basically walks right into a John Hughes movie. He doesn’t get to teach the class with the straight-A students. He has to teach the class with the students who have a history of using their mutant powers to amplify their douche-baggery. This is probably a good way for Spider-Man to start looking for the mole. It could also be Storm and Beast’s way of saying, “Fuck you, Spider-Man. You’re teaching in the armpit of the Jean Grey Institute.” I think it might be a little of both.
But remarkably, it doesn’t turn into a cheap rip-off of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. There actually is a more serious point to be made here and it doesn’t involve how hard it is to teach teenagers to want more out of life than texting naked pictures of themselves to one another. He wants to teach these mutants things they can’t learn in the Danger Room. Even though these mutants have come to prefer it, Spider-Man doesn’t see that as an environment conducive to learning. As expected, the students don’t agree and Spider-Man gets a little exposed by one of the bamfs. That’s to be expected. He still got off easy compared to my homeroom teacher during my junior year of high school. I’m still not sure if that bone in her left hand healed.
Eventually, Spider-Man relents and allows his class to be taught in the Danger Room. So now he has to give a lecture while being attacked by killer robots. Because apparently that’s the only way mutants in the Marvel universe know how to function. It’s mindlessly enjoyable, as most killer robot fights are with the X-men. But this is where Spider-Man is able to make an important point that makes this story more than just a fancy Saved By The Bell spin-off.
Spider-man points out that while mutants learn to fight and survive, they don’t seem to make much of an effort to help others. They have such a diverse array of powers. They should be able to employ some of those powers to actually help ordinary humans. Because maybe, just maybe they’ll hate mutants a little less if they find out mutants can do shit for them. It works for Mexicans, sort of. But it’s actually something that nobody has bothered to point out to these mutants and something even the X-men seem to overlook. By training to fight so hard, should they really be shocked when they attract trouble.
It kind of reminds me of this guy who always put up giant middle finger on his front lawn instead of Christmas lights every holiday. He did it because he hated the holidays, but he also made himself an easy target. I can’t remember how many perfectly good eggs and toilet paper rolls were sacrificed for his douche-baggery. The X-men train so hard to fight and survive. While that made plenty of sense when they were on the verge of extinction, times have changed. Mutants aren’t going extinct. They’re growing in a world and they have to share that world. If they show their willingness to share that world by preparing for the day when they have to beat the shit out of every human on the planet, what message does that send? Treat someone like a bitch and they’re going to act bitchy. It’s simple physics.
As valid as this point is, Spider-Man can’t really get it across in the Danger Room. Killer robots tend to be a major distraction. Yet somehow some teachers insist on bitching about cell phones. First, Spider-Man makes a note of which of these asshole kids could be the mole. Then, he takes them on a field trip to a museum. That’s a nice compromise. Most students don’t mind field trips, if only because it means no boring lectures or pop quizzes. And he does use it to make another valid point.
He uses the dinosaurs as an example. They were once strong and powerful, like mutants are now. Now they’re extinct, existing only in museums and Jurassic Park movies. And part of the reason they went extinct is that they didn’t look out for each other. That and the giant asteroid didn’t help, but it’s still a good point to make. By not cooperating with one another, it doesn’t matter how well they can bust up a killer robot. They won’t be able to survive. It’s a point that the students don’t accept completely, but they don’t reject it either.
It could’ve made for an enlightened moment or a surreal debate. At the very least, it could’ve helped Spider-Man actually challenge these mutants in a new way. But sadly, that’s one of those ideas, like not torturing prisoners of war, that makes too much sense. This overdue and insightful lesson basically falls apart when the field trip is interrupted by an attack by Stegron. No, I didn’t make that name up. I take way too much LSD to come up with something that original. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a dinosaur humanoid that doesn’t take kindly to extinction jokes.
It leads to another basic battle that’s not even as enjoyable as the battle against Unus. Killer monosters are basically the same as killer robots, but with a more diverse vocabulary. And the battle here has few surprises. But it feels way too fucking random and completely derails what was a genuinely interesting lesson that Spider-Man was attempting to teach. If I were in that class, I might actually pay attention instead of drawing boobs on my textbook. Not that I find killer monster dinosaurs boring, but this is shit we’ve been seeing in Fantastic Four comics for decades.
The battle unfolds with plenty of destruction. Spider-Man and these young mutants are understandably outmatched. It’s not too epic a struggle. In fact, it’s even a little playful at times. It sort of has to be when it’s dealing with a goofy dinosaur creature. It eventually gains a larger complication when Sauron, a more established X-men villain with a less goofy albeit plagiarized name, shows up. He’s able to end the battle before Segron can hear too many jokes about his name. He uses his hypno-vision to knock everybody out, further derailing the conversation. Again, there’s nothing bad or flawed about this battle. It just fucks up what was a genuinely serious moment between Spider-Man and his new students.
In the end, the only real conflict here is entirely generic. Stegron and Sauron have teamed up since that’s really all extinct animals can do in this age. They then proclaim they’re going to create a new Savage Land out of Staten Island. It’s not the most ridiculous plan they could’ve come up with. It’s almost quaint in its simplicity. It could easily be the central conflict in another comic with another set of heroes. It just did too much to derail all the good shit this story had going for it. So I guess that means we’ll have to be content with Spider-Man and his students battling dinosaurs for this arc. I suppose there are worse things they could be doing. Still beats calculus, that’s for sure.
This story really has a lot going for it, but that won’t amount to jack shit if the story continues to unfold like drunk trying to tie his shoes in the dark. There’s so much dysfunction and awkwardness in this issue, but it’s not the kind that involves having to give a presentation in high school with a raging boner. It actually explores the significant differences between how the X-men operate and how other heroes like Spider-Man operate. It points out real, legitimate problems that have often gone overlooked. And it would’ve been great to focus on that while still fighting killer robots in the Danger Room. Then the Jurassic Park fan had to come out in everybody. Killer humanoid dinosaurs got involved and just like that, this story becomes another glorified team-up. And instead of seeing Spider-Man kick ass with Wolverine or his Amazing Friends, he has to do it with the likes of Shark Girl, Hellion, and Glob Herman. That’s like trading a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg collaboration for Dr. Dre and Justin Bieber. It’s a significant downgrade.
This story started out as a serious conversation that turned into an impromptu dick-measuring contest. That might be okay for Congress, but it derailed this comic when it had so much going for it. I give Spider-Man and the X-men #1 a 7 out of 10. The students of the Jean Grey Institute have a lot to learn about responsibility and Spider-Man is in a perfect position to teach it. But if he has to account for possible interruptions by dinosaurs, then chances are nobody is going to get a passing grade in the long run. Nuff said!