Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Alpha #1

Power corrupts. We all know that, but not from experience. We know that because so many movies, comics, and TV shows have been ramming this message down our throats since we were old enough to understand the power of a magnifying glass on an ant hill. It’s been the message of every Oliver Stone movie ever made. It was the message of the Phoenix Saga, by far the greatest X-men story ever told. It really doesn’t need to be reinforced at this point, but we keep buying into the drama of these stories. For better or for worse, we just love to see people attain power and then fuck it up. It’s just too bad that the Donald Trumps of the world don’t fuck up in the same manner.

This time-tested theme is the centerpiece for another X-men/Guardians of the Galaxy crossover. The Trial of Jean Grey showed that pairing a bunch of time-displaced X-men with a band of space outlaws was a winning formula. Go figure. Now they’re coming together again to face a threat that’s even more menacing than the Shi’ar’s shitty justice system. The Black Vortex, which has already been hinted at in Cyclops’ and Starlord’s solo series, is an ancient relic capable of giving anyone Phoenix level power. And since the universe is full of Jean Grey wannabes, it’s bound to attract attention. Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Alpha #1 marks the first issue of this new crossover event. We already know there’s going to be great power. We know someone is going to get really fucking corrupt at some point. Like every Disney movie ever made, it’s going to be predictable. That just means it has to find a novel way to be awesome.

Part of that effort involves providing a little background information for those too lazy to use their imagination and/or don’t have access to good LSD. Usually, exposition in a story is treated like that unspoken rule about having to open a birthday card before opening the presents, but this does help provide some context for the Black Vortex, which is important for those who haven’t been following along in Starlord or Cyclops’ solo series. It’s not too original, but it’s not too bland either.

Billions of years ago, an ancient alien race that look like Freiza cos-players from Dragonball Z tried to become the first space-faring civilization. Unfortunately, one of the Celestials keeps cock-blocking them like a vindictive ex-girlfriend on Facebook. Some of these creatures have a problem with this. They want to be the first ones to go to space and be the first to take a piss in zero gravity. Why hold them back?

The presence of the Celestial helped inspire this race of aliens, called the Viscardi. It may sound like the name of an anti-itch cream for women, but they revere this being in ways that rival how Apple fans revere their iPhones. One of the aliens, Gara, demands that the Celestial do something other than give them the silent treatment. That shit might work on certain toddlers throwing a temper tantrum, but it shouldn’t work with a Celestial right?

Well, the Celestial might have a low tolerance for patience because it eventually gives Gara something that will surely help. It creates the Black Vortex, a relic that can give anyone the cosmic power to wipe their ass with a supernova. I almost get the sense that the Celestial is just giving it to this race for the same reason anyone would give Charlie Sheen a brick of cocaine. It can only lead to some entertainingly destructive shit.

It’s a good thing Celestials aren’t that generous with the X-men because they would’ve wiped themselves out years ago. In the present, we find Storm belittling Beast at the Jean Grey Institute, as most are apt to do after his recent string of bullshit. It’s nothing new. She’s busting his balls about bringing the O5 X-men to the present and while his balls should be pretty sore at this point, I think it’s an issue that’s worth reinforcing even if it’s not the main point of this story.

Hank’s balls remain intact just a little longer thanks to the unexpected arrival of the O5 X-men and Magik. So I guess this counts as a spoiler for Uncanny X-men. Magik doesn’t stay dead. Those who long to see her hook up with Kitty Pryde can rest easy. She arrives with the O5 X-men to announce they need with Kitty Pryde, who happens to be in space on a date with her boyfriend, Starlord. Apparently, she can’t resist a hot guy named Peter and she’s willing to get caught up in his shit, even if it involves cosmic level bullshit. Either he’s got the dick of a porn star or her Peter fetish is just that strong. Having gone through a phase where I only dated women that looked like Jennifer Lopez, I’m not one to judge.

And since Kitty Pryde has called on her fellow X-men for help, it’s only natural that her significant other would do the same for his team. Relationships are supposed to be about balance. Probably would’ve come in handy with my prom date, who thinks splitting the tab on the limo was an affront to her dignity. Starlord manages to catch his team in the middle of game night. It sounds fucked up, a rag-tag team of interstellar superheroes spending their downtime playing what amounts to a space version of Dungeons and Dragons. But I say why the fuck not? Even heroes need hobbies and there are way worse hobbies they could have. Just look at Tony Stark.

While the team is disappointed that Starlord interrupted the sanctity of game night, which he rightfully apologized for, he explains that he has a good reason. He and his girlfriend were out on a date and by date, I mean they were breaking board a flying space fortress. I guess going to movies and restaurants gets boring after a while. And I’m guessing excitement gets Kitty Pryde horny too so in that respect, I have nothing but respect for how Peter Quill treats his girlfriends.

The problem was that it wasn’t just about setting up for some awesome foreplay. They intended to confront Mr. Knife, also known as Starlord’s asshole father who Starlord just helped depose. It was already bound to be awkward and a major buzzkill, Starlord’s father just has to go the extra distance when it comes to being an asshole. He managed to get his hands on the Black Vortex and being the overachieving asshole that only former kings can be, he uses it to make his Slaughter Lords grossly overpowered. And these are the same Slaughter Lords that once tried to torture Starlord and without the aid of cosmic power. Why would his father do this? Like I said, he’s an overachiever when it comes to being an asshole.

Since his douche-baggery hasn’t been cosmically enhanced enough, Mr. Knife attempts to give Thanos’ son, Thane, a taste of cosmic power as well. At this point, Starlord and Kitty Pryde understand that this isn’t one of those dates that’s going to end with them dry-humping in a car. They manage to drop in, steal the Black Vortex, and slip out before Starlord’s father can give him the cosmic-powered Adrian Peterson treatment. It was a risky, but necessary move and one that helped necessitate calling in for help.

It’s this setup that helps make the story feel cohesive. The pace is somewhat hurried. I’m sure there are plenty of fans like me who just want to see the X-men and Guardians of the Galaxy on the same battlefield again. That’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean it has to be forced. And I don’t think it was forced here. It was certainly rushed, but not forced and I’m okay with that. I think Marvel understands to some extent that our attention span these days is restricted to shit that can be condensed into a tweet or a Facebook post.

The rushed pace continues as the two teams meet up on Spartax. They actually do take the time to greet each other, conveniently ignoring the urgent message about Kitty Pryde and Starlord having an ancient relic capable of evoking cosmic power. It’s actually more entertaining than it sounds. Just because they’re dealing with cosmic power again doesn’t mean there’s no time for manners. These two teams did work together recently during the Trial of Jean Grey so why shouldn’t they be friendly?

That’s not to say it stays overly friendly for long. It just helps lighten the mood somewhat before they start speculating on how the Black Vortex works and how they’re doing to deal with it. This even gets some of Starlord’s extended family involved. Again, it helps keep the tone somewhat light even if some of the details are rushed. This is one case where a few bong hits to slow everything down can help. But it never gets too fast. They quickly conclude that cosmic power like this can make for some pretty fucked up effects. Some are even eager to try it. Rocket Raccoon certainly wouldn’t mind being bigger, stronger, and less likely to be mistaken for a Looney Toons character. I certainly can’t blame him.

However, the X-men have had enough nasty experiences with cosmic power to know it’s the kind of shit best left untouched. They’ve seen Jean Grey get drunk on Phoenix Force and devour a planet. They’ve seen Cyclops get drunk on Phoenix Force and kill Charles Xavier. It would probably be healthier if the universe got drunk on whiskey instead. At least that would make for a slightly less destructive party.

Storm is the first one to understand this when she looks into the Black Vortex and sees a cosmic version of herself. And it’s not an unflattering cosmic version either. She’s already treated like a goddess. The way she would look as a goddess of cosmic power is certainly worthy of a cosmic-level boner. But she also sees that cosmic powered goddesses can be total assholes as well. She sees herself following in Jean Grey’s footsteps, fucking up an entire star. That’s a pretty strong incentive not to fuck with this thing, even if it offers cosmic level sexiness.

Go back a few billion years and we get yet another reminder. Remember Gara, the wannabe Freiza? Well, after a year of using the Black Vortex, her entire people have basically wiped themselves out. It’s at this point that Gara looks back at the Celestial and realizes that it may have just given her people the Black Vortex for the same reason a zookeeper puts a bunch of angry monkeys in a room with a pile of shit. It’s just pure entertainment. She gets pissed, but the Celestial decides the show is over and leaves. The Black Vortex ends up getting lost as a result and Gara remains pissed. I guess she’s the last monkey with no shit to throw. It really is tragic.

Back in the present, Storm begins the agonizing process of convincing everybody that they should destroy the Black Vortex rather than play with it. Some, like Captain Marvel and O5 Iceman, haven’t experienced the shit storm that happens when the Jean Greys of the universe get their hands on cosmic power. So they still think some good can come of this shit. I wish I had whatever they were smoking.

She doesn’t end up having to convince them because the Slaughter Lords finally catch up with them. They apparently didn’t like having the Black Vortex taken from them and decide to take it back. This means both the Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-men get to kick ass together again. It makes for some wonderfully detailed and obscenely flashy battles that fans of Captain Marvel, X-men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ridley Scott will enjoy. It’s not epic in terms of length or scale, but it’s not intended to be. Like a beautiful woman with a new boob job, it’s just the first round of assholes that the Black Vortex has attracted.

The battle eventually turns as the cosmic-powered Slaughter Lords manage to gain the upper hands. This allows one of them to take the Black Vortex, leading Starlord to order an emergency broadcast. I guess they hope to attract more heroes than assholes. I think they’re spitting in the face of the common laws of general douche-baggery. But they’re kind of already fucked because it turns out one of them didn’t listen to Storm and gave the Black Vortex a try. And no, it wasn’t O5 Jean Grey. It was Gamora.

That’s right, this badass cosmic assassin who has more daddy issues than everyone who was ever on Teen Mom now has cosmic power. She’s not reserved or graceful like Storm. She doesn’t have a soft and affectionate side like Jean Grey. Thanos beat that shit out of her when she was still in diapers. Of all the characters that could’ve taken the first shot of this cosmic power brand of whiskey, this is probably the worst. It’s like giving a flame-thrower to Bart Simpson. It’s not going to end well, but it’s going to be entertaining as fuck.

At its core, the story followed its predictable tenants. An ancient relic capable of imbuing anyone with cosmic power is uncovered. Powerful people fight over it. Someone ends up getting drunk on it. In some respects, it’s like a weekend in Las Vegas with several bricks of cocaine. Someone in the party is going to find a way to get too fucked up by it. But as predictable as it was, the story itself was still a lot of fun. Some elements were somewhat forced, but not to an overly egregious extent. The characters involved in this event felt random and it probably would’ve felt even more random if there hadn’t been an event like The Trial of Jean Grey before it. However, it didn’t prevent the story from being fun and enjoyable.

If there is a shortcoming, it’s that those who haven’t been following the events of All-New X-men and Guardians of the Galaxy might be somewhat lost. The Black Vortex has been brewing in various other titles. It showed up in Starlord’s solo title. It was mentioned in Cyclops’ solo title. Those who read those books aren’t going to be lost at all. In fact, this will actually feel like a solid transition into the main conflict. And that’s a problem for a book that’s billed as the start to the event because it actually did have some prequels. And unlike prequels directed by George Lucas, they didn’t suck. So it wouldn’t be fair to say that this story is contrived or forced because it does have supporting material. It’s just presented in a way that’s easy to overlook. I give Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Alpha #1 an 8 out of 10. It’s a story with an obscure starting point, but it’s a concept that works. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it involves a beautifully diverse cast of characters that include a pretty blonde, a cute Jewish girl, and a talking tree. I think it’s safe to say the Disney overlords will be pleased. Nuff said!


  1. Seems pretty crappy.

  2. 1) Ugh. Can Marvel just find ONE spot on the timeline and stay in it? In ANXM the O5 are stuck in Ultimate while Uncanny is STILL dealing with Original Sin (both series are in the same timeframe), and in both Wolverine isn't dead yet. However X-23 is now tied up with Wolverines -- POST-DoW -- and who knows WHEN that is in relation to Black Vortex (she's missing her highlights, so either Wolverines is post-Vortex or she washes them out after that series). And I don't know when Adjectiveless/Amazing or Star-Lord are currently set in relation to ANY of these.

    2) Cosmic Gamora REALLY has a sort of Captain Universe vibe with their looks. I wonder if there's a connection. There should be. Vortex vs. Phoenix vs. Uni-Power. Use ALL the cosmic forces!

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