Monday, September 13, 2010

The Reign Of Error 2: Erratic City, Can't You See . . .

Okay, so the first installment of this series on the complete and utter meltdown of the X-Men franchise in the mid-to-late 90's turned out to be a huge success, so much so that it instantly turned a one-time entry into a sudden trilogy, just like the Matrix. Only hopefully, the next two installments won't be a brutal well of sucktiude that crushes the spirit and makes you forget why you liked the first one.

Last time we had Operation Zero Tolerance kick off a whole new status quo for the X-Men in which they had new members some of the old guard had left, very few of which wanted to be there, all their fancy technology got taken away and clearly, plainly, nothing would ever be the same again.

It lasted roughly twenty issues or so, split between two books, then editorial got cold feet and decided to change their minds. This led to the writers leaving the books, or at least partially heading out the door. They stick around to script the next few issues of editorial's plots, but it's clear they just wanted a sweet little severance cushion, because they're basically willing accomplices to the dismantling of what they wanted to do.

And they do a right awful job of it. Not just because of the obvious--the characters who up and disappear off-panel, or the one who shows up for two pages and basically says "Yeah, I was a scrub, wasn't I? heh heh." Oh, and Colossus, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat join up with the X-Men again for reasons that can be best summed up as "Excalibur just got canceled and we have no place for them in any other book." Gambit will be showing up soon as well, since obviously after Uncanny X-Men #350, where they left him in Antarctica to freeze to fucking death left plenty of wiggle room for a quick return.

But that's next issue. Most of the heavy lifting for this new newer status quo takes place in the following two issues. They also set up a new storyline. They also introduce a new threat and his six minions. This is a lot to do in six issues. They have two double-sized issues. Will they succeed?

Will they hell.

Uncanny X-Men #360 and X-Men #80 are some of the least coherent books I have ever read, and I once read everything Rob Liefeld wrote and drew (I'm not proud, that's just what one did in 1991) They are big double-sized issues that have nice shiny covers, which I believe commemorates the 35th anniversary of the X-Men. There was a mania for this for a while at Marvel--they were forever inventing new occasions to do larger issues. I believe they did one to commemorate the 30th anniversary of when Chris Claremont his his head on the porcelain in his bathroom and had a vision of the Phoenix Force, which is what . . .makes . . .X-Men . . .possible.

The books pivot on a couple plot points left over from Onslaught and Operation Zero Tolerance--namely, Professor X has been out of the book since Onslaught (because of the whole "unleashing a psychic monster on New York who killed the Avengers and Fantastic Four" thing. See, this is what happens when people snitch) and Bastion stripped the mansion of damn near everything during Operation Zero Tolerance (presumably even Wolverine's pile of fap pics of Jean Grey) including, it is assumed, Cerebro, their mutant detecting system that, if it worked would have YELLED that there was mutant attacking them constantly because it happened ALL the damn time.

Okay, now I can finally get to talking about the books, though I will inevitably drift off. Uncanny X-Men #360--there's a new group of X-Men in town, all of whom are recruited by Professor X in very rapid quick-fire vignettes. Let me tell you something, you've never lived until you've seen Chris Bachalo try to get stuff across in tight-grid panels. It's uh, something to behold. Yeah.

Anyways, the curious thing about this group of X-Men is that they are less real characters in their own right than mash-ups of other characters. This proves to be a plot point, sort of, but no real recognition of this point ever happens on the part of the characters or the narration, so you're kinda on your own. But generally, as Mighty Boosh taught us, mash-ups, being a combination of elements from the past and elements from the future coming together to make something not quite as good as either are a bad thing. As are eels.

Ok, so, X-Men roll call!

The Grey King --I keep misreading his name as "Asinine" instead of "Addison." The Grey King has some vague Phoenix esque powers mumble mumble telepathy mumble mumble power dampener. He's the leader of the X-Men and I'm very glad that Professor X tells us that he has "a formidable intellect" because I would have not guessed it considered what a fucking moron he acts like in this issue. He is hated and feared by people who play chess and people who think wearing a ponytail in 1998 is totally stupid (this is, BTW, said by a guy who was wearing a ponytail in 1998)

Rapture --

Rapture is blue, has wings and carries a sword. Practically speaking this gives her all the powers of a human-size pigeon who could shank your ass. Rapture is hated and feared by those who walk beneath her when she's barely continent.

Mercury -- Would 90's comics have survived had Terminator 2 not invented liquid metal? Probably not. Mercury is made of liquid metal. He shoots down the X-Men once and gets sliced open by Wolverine and uh . . .that's it? Weirdly enough, an X-Man will pop up a decade later with the same powers & the same name, but some attempt is made at making an actual character out of them. Mercury is hated and feared by Robert Patrick.

Landslide --Landslide is supposed to be a mash-up of The Blob, Sabretooth, and the Beast, but he doesn't really do anything except stand around and look big, so I can only assume that Landslide has all the superpowers of a big fat guy who wants to beat everyone up. Also, if the opening of the story is to be believed, Landslide is hated and feared by proprietors of "all you can eat" restaurants.

Chaos/Xaos/Kaos/WILL YOU PLEASE DECIDE HOW THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE SPELLED, MARVEL --Seriously, they change his name like twice in as many issues. A mashup of Cyclops and Havok, Daniel Dash is autistic, which means in this case he just says random words and doesn't react to anything (Just like Grandpa!) and along with M, this means Marvel is 0 for 2 in writing credible autistics. Oh, and he can fire Havok's blast out of his eye.

His eye. Singular. Phenomenal destructive power, and he can apparently only shoot it out of one eye.

You know what? I don't often say this, but I could take his punk ass down in a hot second (Yes, I know he's a fictional character, this is not a cry for help) Come on, all you have to do is stay away from that eye that shoots stuff (no big thing, as his depth perception's probably shit) and he can't touch you. You know how easy it is to screw up your eye? This isn't like punching out Thanos or anything--hell, I could take him down with a sharp stick.

Just -POKE- and then I can gloat: "AH HA HA HA CHAOS YOU TOTALLY LOST YOU POWERS YOU PUNK BITCH! WELCOME TO YOUR OWN PERSONAL M-DAY, ASS CLOWN! YOU! ARE! POWERLESS!" And then I would laugh. On into the night. I am a poor winner.

Chaos is hated and feared by the proprietors of airshows, which were probably having a bad year anyway.

Crux --Crux is French and as such has all the powers of being an asshole or a slut, as all French characters in comics must. Despite being named "Cristal," (No she's not a stripper) she is more on the "asshole" side of the range (also, she's underage, which means the other option is off the table, provided Colossus leaves her alone) Crux can project fire and ice from opposite parts of her body, and she is also a figure skater, which means she has all the powers of Brian Boitano.

Crux is hated and feared by French comic fans who wonder when America's going to stop casting them as the team goon already.

They refer to Xavier as "The Founder" which gives me a small hope that they're referring to the Dominion. Alas, this is not to be. Xavier is rendered in show looking all sinister, which is again supposed to be a clue, but really, Bachalo draws everyone that way.

That was a very long roll call. Thankfully, nothing much happens in this issue. The Excalibur expatriates are on a ship which soon gets attacked by the New X-Men, who announce themselves with a huge explosion and the following quote from the Grey King (remember--he has a "formidable intellect")

"HEAR ME! We are POWER and MIGHT, sent to collect the one who can save the FOUNDER. Those set against out mission will PERISH in fire or water."

The following quote is what I'm going to use next time I go to the grocery store:

"HEAR ME, FARM FRESH! I am POWER and MIGHT, sent to collect sodas at 3 for $6 and hamburger meat for .63 cents/lb for my DINNER. Those set against my mission will PERISH when I run them over with my SHOPPING CART!"

The X-Men are after Shadowcat by the way. Naturally, the best way to get her to go with you is to sink the boat and jeopardize a ship full of tourists and threaten to murder everyone when you really didn't have to at all. What else would you do--ask her?

Anyways, while this is going on, the X-Men (the ones who aren't mash-ups) fight their way through sewers to get to the Lincoln Memorial, where Val Cooper tells them they have to go to Cape Citadel (because it's a callback to Uncanny X-Men #1, y'unnerstand. They had to justify shiny double sized issues somehow) and learn that Xavier's missing and . . .uh . . .wow, Steve Seagle is verbose as hell here. I don't know if this intentional or not that one caption seems to sag and hang off as if about to fall from the amount of verbiage, but I like to think they meant to.

Meanwhile, Nightcrawler and Colossus turn up at the X-Mansion which is deserted except for Cecilia Reyes who threatens them with a gun and exposits at them. So obviously, they entrusted the protection of the X-Mansion to Cecilia because they really didn't give a shit what happened to it. Could be worse, I guess--they could have let Maggott look after it. Anyways, they unearth the Blackbird jet (the old one) and because Nightcrawler is an airplane mechanic in his spare time they zoom off to help the other X-Men which they somehow know where they're going to be.

Meanwhile, Kitty is off helping Professor Xavier, who is acting completely weird and unlike himself. Kitty, apparently unfazed by this (seeing as how he's been taken over by aliens, replaced by Skrulls, had his evil side beat the crap of the X-Men while wearing a cape, and turning into Onslaught, what are the odds that that would happen one more time?) sets about trying to help him by vomiting out a lot of technobabble, and upon fixing him (by solving a computer problem--HINT) is captured and thrown in storage. This is supposed to be shocking, but really--as the first time we saw the X-Men they were fighting the other X-Men they were more than willing to kill the living hell out of everyone, so the notion they have some sort of sinister ulterior motive is not all that big a bombshell.

God, this is taking forever. I mean--The X-Men get shot out of their plane and have a big mid-air fight with the other X-Men, then get rescued by the Blackbird, which gets blown up because the X-Men can't have ever have anything nice. Spoiled brats. End Part One, and you'll never know how happy I am to type that.

Part Two, X-Men #80 is a big fight scene and should go faster. The mash-up X-Men let Shadowcat escape because the Grey King is a "formidable intellect," remember? Meanwhile, the X-Men having crash-landed and deciding the whole "flying in a plane thing" is not for them after having two of them destroyed from under them in 6 pages last issue, argue amongst themselves. Rogue is wearing a different costume for God knows what reason. As an aside, I became a Marrow fan for life after these two issue as she spent most every bit of dialogue she got calling them all idiots. She has a point.

The X-Men fight the X-Men over Cape Citadel because the space shuttle is carrying some mutant detecting McGuffin and it's all built up to be this decisive moment in mutant-human relations, but let's call it what it is--the X-Men vs the mash-ups and because the story's almost over, the mash-ups job like little bitches and the X-Men destroy the satellite and save the day. I guess. It's not made terribly clear. Perhaps if I had a "formidable intellect" like the Grey King I could work it out, since he acquits himself like a member of MENSA here.

Oh yeah, the mash-ups are fakes and Xavier is actually Cerebro, which has become sentient because, well why not. The Danger Room will become sentient in an echo of this story many years later. I think the lesson to be learned here is that Charles Xavier always needs the goddamn extended warranty, as X-Tech has a higher failure rate than, say, an X-Box 360. The mash-ups disappear, never to be seen again (more or less--I think they show up one more?) which means we spent two issues fighting fake X-Men who never got built property into real characters, or a credible threat, or much of anything, making the X-Men's victory over them essentially meaningless. And if you're me, you spent $8 to read this thing. Aren't you happy?

Despite the unmerciful epic curb-stomping I gave this story just now, I really do like the "new X-Men" in some strange way, and if given leave to write an X-Book I would probably bring them back but do them as a group of mutant player haters who go around hating on various X-characters.

It would look a bit like this:

But with more spandex.

The funny thing is, this might have worked with a little more space to breathe. You take the original X-Men off the board under mysterious circumstances, add in Professor X recruiting them over the next few issues while the Excalibur folks search for the X-Men and encounter the new X-Men, and then you get the big reveal with Cerebro, and you've set the stage for something with a little more weight behind it.

Instead, they rushed through it with all haste because they wanted Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Shadowcat and Professor X. It all feels a bit artificial really, and if we haven't been reading for years, we're given no compelling reason to care about them--we're just told we should because it's important they're there and they're X-Men, which is exactly the problem with the book now--with a cast of 200 and no set team, it begs the question of just who the X-Men are really supposed to be at the end of the day, because right now it's just Cyclops and Some Guys. If there's no core to build around (like say, a team of seven or so) what do the other hundred and change matter? Unless you have the amount of pages that Shonen Jump has every month, trying to make a 200 character cast work isn't going to, because in trying to make readers give a shit about everyone, they won't give a shit about anyone.

But that's the present. Back in 1998, this will lead to a competent but unexciting run of issues with a few good bits (Magneto getting control of Genosha) and a whole lot of bad bits (The Twelve, good Christ, The Twelve) that culminate with the return of Chris Claremont to the X-books. This goes . . .rather poorly, Chris Claremont's gone in a year and in between Grant Morrison's assumption of control of the book, there's some time to mark and tie up some old business.

And that's where we'll pick up. Join us next time for the X-Men as it was and will never be again, an issue so emblematic of where the book was before Morrison took over, that Morrison used it/parodied it. Next time--X-Men #113, the finale of Eve of Destruction and the end of the X-Men of the 90's. Is there an answer at the end of our nightmare?


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

This sounds absolutely horrendous. I knew quality hadn't exactly skyrocketed between AoA and Morrison, but these things sound like they were cranked out by Random Randomness Generators.

Kazekage said...

It's completely, bewilderingly insane and when you read it you can just HEAR the gears jamming as editorial pulls the Kelly/Seagle stuff into a bootleg turn and go on to something else. I mean, damn.

That said, I do love the Cerebro X-Men. It's such a silly idea, barely realised. :)