Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Scanned Thoughts: All-New X-men #40
I'm convinced that kids these days don't learn enough hard lessons at a young age. I know that sounds like something a cantankerous blow-hard would say on a Fox News segment, but I think it's a real problem. Too many kids don't learn how the world is capable of fucking them over until its too late. The solutions offered in All-New X-men are a bit impractical. I don't doubt that sending kids to the future to see how their older, burned out selves failed to benefit from having unrealistic expectations would effectively get the point across. Until Apple creates a time travel feature on their next smartphone (which I'm sure they're working this very moment), most kids aren't going to get that lesson.
In this respect, the O5 X-men have an undeniable advantage. They've already tried to make the most of it since All-New X-men began. Granted, their efforts have had mixed results at best. They're still teenagers last I checked. Teenagers can only be so competent, even in the face of hard lessons. They've had to learn a lot of unpleasant shit about themselves and the world. And it doesn't just involve paying taxes or dealing with bullshit parking tickets. But at their core, the O5 X-men cling to that idealism that made them so endearing. We know their spirits are going to be crushed, as the spirits of all teenagers are inevitably crushed when they learned how badly high school prepared them for the real world. But All-New X-men #40 helps show that the O5 X-men are better-equipped than most teenagers and being in the future puts them in an even better position to use that.
The O5 X-men kind of need that opportunity because, like most high school graduates that don't have trust funds, the future is full of people who have already had their spirits thoroughly crushed. And like Homer Simpson to free beer, certain places attract those with crushed spirits. There was once a time when Utopia, the crown jewel of Cyclops' plan to spit in the face of Norman Osborn, embodied all the hope and optimism that most high school freshman have on their first day. Now, thanks to the Phoenix Force and the Avengers, it's a barren wasteland that's only slightly less dilapidated than downtown Detroit.
Naturally, it makes for a tempting target for criminals, pirates, bandits, and guys on the run from paying back alimony. A bunch of Jack Sparrow wannabes decide to test their luck at raiding what's left of Utopia in hopes of finding something they can trade for beer, hookers, or shitty tattoos. They probably should've tried their luck in Vegas first because they get ambushed by a shadowy group of mutants who don't take kindly to visitors and decide to waste their miserable asses. It might seem harsh for a bunch of no-name thugs, but these guys thought it was a good idea to raid a place where the Avengers got their asses kicked. It's just hard to feel sorry for that kind of stupidity.
This shit storm is nothing but a wet fart for the O5 X-men, who just returned from a mission that involved fighting cosmic-powered aliens and Starlord's asshole father. To say they're relieved to be back on a planet where their biggest concern is killer robots and crazy religious zealots would be an understatement to say the least. I'm sure fighting an army of Sentinels would be like a Sweedish massage by Kate Upton at this point. That makes their reaction to being back on Earth satisfying and perfectly befitting of a bunch of teenagers. They treat being on Earth the way most teenagers would treat their wi-fi if they lost it for more than an hour. They all nicely reflect on what they just faced with the Black Vortex and how awesome it is to be light years away from shit like that. It also reflects on how they have no idea just how fucked everything got while they were gone with Cyclops closing the New Xavier School. But like a bunch of kids on their last day of their freshman year of high school, they deserve at least a little relief before their spirits are crushed.
It's not just genuine. It's a fitting transition from the events of the Black Vortex and the events in Uncanny X-men. It would've been a lot easier to just have the O5 X-men come back on Earth, shrug their shoulders, and go back to bitching about how expensive gas prices are in the future. But even teenagers jaded by MTV and American Idol are capable of having real sentiment. And that sentiment is all the more sincere when Magik comes by to give them some greasy burgers. I don't care how many wonders the universe has to offer. None will ever compare to the feeling of biting into a big, greasy cheeseburger. It's so fitting that it makes me hungry to the point where I want to give the finger to Morgan Sporlock.
But as nice as this transition from cosmic forces to cheeseburgers might be, it is not the moment that has given everyone from every bullshit family values organization to irate comic book fans on message boards a paralyzing seizure. It was already leaked yesterday and I already did a blog post on it, but this is where it happens. This is where O5 Jean takes O5 Iceman aside and flat out tells him she knows he's gay. There's nothing built up about it. There were no hints dropped at any of the other moments where Iceman has been surrounded by omega level telepaths. She just flat out tells him she knows because she's read his thoughts. He didn't give her permission, but that hasn't stopped her at any point in this series so why should it stop her now?
Like I said, I've already given my sentiment on this issue. I have no problems with Iceman being gay. This isn't as fucked up an idea as some make it out to be. Marvel made Colossus gay in Ultimate at a time when Ultimate wasn't the malignant tumor it is now and that got precisely zero attention from CNN. But that situation was different because this just feels a lot more forced. It's not just that Iceman has an extensive romantic history that includes Mystique, Kitty Pryde, and Emma Frost. It's that he's been living around powerful telepaths all his life. And at no point did any of them pick up on the fact that the idea of Ricky Martin shaking his ass gave him a boner. There's the kind of gross oversight that leads to wars in the Middle East and then there's this.
I'm not saying it's a story that shouldn't be explored, but it's another bullshit retcon at a time when the X-books are already dealing with enough of that shit. We just saw Marvel snap their fingers and make the Maximoff twins unrelated to Magneto. Now they're making Iceman gay. Maybe it's easier on some levels because Iceman has been negated as a character so much over the years that if he were a former child star, he would've been to rehab three times already. He's the only one of the O5 who hasn't had anything meaningful happen with him since All-New X-men began. This just feels out-of-place and forced, a way of making O5 Iceman seem relevant in a way he's never been. Maybe if this occurred during the late 90s or the Bush administration, it would've been shocking. But right now, it just feels like too much of a gimmick.
Beyond the contrived nature of this revelation, O5 Jean comes off with more sincerity than anyone is giving her credit for. Sure, her decision to just up and out him came out of nowhere, but she's not forceful or mean about it. She's actually somewhat playful and friendly, which is fitting given O5 Iceman's nature. O5 Iceman reacts somewhat harshly at first, but he doesn't come off as some kid who just found out his prom date is a transvestite hooker. His reaction does feel real. He doesn't immediately turn into Elton John or run to wherever Ted Haggard got treatment. He just grits his teeth and deals with it in a way that 99 percent of teenagers fail to do.
As contrived as it is, they do make an effort to confront some of the ramifications. They talk about his older self and how he's dated women like Kitty Pryde. Considering that Kitty Pryde is now in space dating Starlord, that's probably not a good example. They probably could've gone over all the other women his older self dated, but that doesn't change the fact that none of them worked out and not for the same reason Tony Stark's relationships never work out. They even touch on how he might be bisexual. O5 Jean makes it clear that his thoughts are as gay as Little Richard's wardrobe. So there's no ambiguity. O5 Iceman is gay. Fuck whatever the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family says. This shit is canon now.
It's a fucked up moment by so many measures. However, what isn't fucked up is how supportive O5 Jean is. She doesn't berate him. She doesn't push him more than she already has. Eventually, she and O5 Iceman share a nice hug. There have been many hugs throughout this series. They've all been meaningful in their own unique way. I'm not sure how much meaning this one has, but it's still sweet. A gay kid and his best gal pal hug it out. It feels like a scene cut right out of Modern Family, minus Sophia Veraga's sexy accent. And if there's one thing All-New X-men has proven since it began, it's that a hug from Jean Grey is second only to the Phoenix Force in terms of sheer power.
I'll give the family values crowd a moment to stop shitting themselves. Then we'll confront someone whose capacity to be aggravated is the third most powerful force in the Marvel universe behind hugs and cosmic birds. Since Avengers vs. X-men, Maria Hill has gone out of her way to get overly aggravated by mutants. She got so aggravated that at one point, she developed the urge to fuck Cyclops. That's a kind of aggravation few ever achieve unless they're trying to debate a creationist. After a group of thugs got their internal organs rearranged on Utopia, it comes to the attention of Maria Hill. And naturally, her first reaction is to bang her head against the table. It's funny and fitting, but it also gives the impression that she needs a hug more than O5 Iceman at this point.
There's still not much known about this conflict, only that it's giving Maria Hill a migraine already. But the O5 X-men aren't done diving head-first into the teenage melodrama that now makes up over 80 percent of MTV's programming. There is actually a more relevant issue than O5 Iceman's sexuality and one that actually has some meaningful backstory. After the events of the Black Vortex, some kept their cosmic powers and O5 Angel was one of them. And like shooting meth directly into the cerebellum, it's bound to have an effect. However, he hasn't gone Dark Phoenix and started feasting on alien planets just yet. He's still O5 Angel and that O5 Angel enjoys going on nice flights with pretty girls in his arms.
This is where X-23 comes in. Before the O5 X-men got caught up in another cosmic clusterfuck, O5 Angel and X-23 went on a date. It was about as meaningful as most teenage dates, complete with someone losing a nipple ring and a nice moment after. Not much has really unfolded between them since and that's to be expected, given all the distractions. Most teenagers get distracted by school, parents, and binge watching the Walking Dead. O5 Angel and X-23 had a much more valid excuse, but now they have time to catch up and they take advantage of that. I say it beats just shrugging it off because since when do hormonal teenagers shrug off melodrama?
It leads to another dramatic moment that has much more context than O5 Iceman coming out of the closet. X-23 and O5 Angel have a nice, in depth chat about the events of the Black Vortex. X-23 isn't too fond of the idea of him keeping his cosmic power, probably for the same reason most teenage girls wouldn't be fond of their latest love interest shooting a mix of steroids and crack. But it actually turns into a much more emotional conversation and one that carries just the right weight.
Since All-New X-men began, O5 Angel has been a black sheep in that he didn't want to stay in the future. He saw what he became and he hated it. He didn't want to have anything to do with his fucked up future self, who now carries himself like a lobotomized hippie who never knew he once regularly banged a hot ninja telepath. That truly is a hell beyond words. But with the Black Vortex, O5 Angel took a chance to do and be something different. And part of that involves him telling X-23 that he's in love with her.
Now I don't think this means everyone should run out and start Angel/X-23 fan clubs. He's a teenage boy. He's probably willing to tell any girl who lets him see her in her underwear that he loves her. But given how their unique relationship has unfolded, it still feels sincere. And with the transformation of the Black Vortex, he's able to relate to X-23 even more now so it feels less like a drunken fling and more like an actual plot that's worth exploring. That is, of course, dependant on Secret Wars not pissing it all away.
Then there are the Utopians themselves. Remember them? The guys who got about as much attention as the last Larry the Cable Guy movie? They're supposed to be the next big conflict, but so far teen melodrama and bullshit retcons have trumped them. And no, that shouldn't surprise anyone. At the very least, they do kick up a new shit storm when they shoot down a SHIELD transport vessel that's trying to land on Utopia. They then step out to reveal that the Utopians are actually a few familiar faces and they're not inclined to let SHIELD fuck up Utopia more than it already has been. Their presence is still secondary, but anyone who shoots down a SHIELD ship definitely becomes more relevant in later stories so they do give us something to work with in that respect.
In the context of bringing the O5 X-men back from space and having them deal with the aftermath of the Black Vortex, this issue did a lot of things right. Their reaction to being back on the good old planet Earth and not having to deal with talking raccoons and a cosmic-powered Gamora was genuine and believable. It also picked up on the melodrama between O5 Angel and X-23 that some less sober readers might have forgotten about. Sure, it felt like it was ripped from a rerun of the Vampire Diaries, but it's perfectly consistent with the melodrama that we've seen in this series since it began.
But beyond this context, it felt like the story tried to do too much. We really didn't get to learn much about the Utopians, other than they're probably not fans of Pirates of the Caribbean. It dedicated a lot of time to O5 Jean getting O5 Iceman out of the closet in the most contrived way possible. With only one issue left before Uncanny X-men #600, it feels like there's a lot more that will go unaddressed. Even if O5 Iceman's sexuality becomes a major story, the way it began in this issue just felt way too forced.
That said, the issue itself nicely continues the O5 X-men's story after the events of Black Vortex. It doesn't ignore the recent events of Uncanny X-men either. It does actually fit into the larger narrative of the X-men comics, something that seems downright alien to anyone who dares to follow DC's ongoing Convergence event. It also has a number of moments that aren't contrived or forced. The only problem is that there might not be enough time to make something of them. I give All-New X-men #40 a 7 out of 10. There are a lot of compelling elements here, but it doesn't look like many of them will be properly explored. In the same way we'll probably never know what the honeymoon of Charles Xavier and Mystique was like, we'll probably never see these elements get the refinement they deserve. But given how Emma Frost would probably laugh herself to death at the thought of Xavier marrying Mystique and Iceman being gay, it's probably for the best. Nuff said!