Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Matt are discussing X-Men 2, originally released June 26th, 2013.
Patrick: Until you see it in action, a movie-monster isn’t that scary. You can hear whisperings about the monster’s insatiable appetite, and come across the ruins of the encampment that it has savaged, but it doesn’t really mean anything until you see the Alien burst violently out of your buddy’s chest. Remember how Scream started? With the killer toying with and brutally murdering the biggest name on the marquee. Whatever else was going to happen from that point forward, the audience knows the killer means business. Last month, we got an abstraction of a conflict – a storied shitty history between cosmic siblings. Faster than we can really deal with it, the conflict is in our laps, and everyone gets a good look at what Arkea can do. Consider me convinced: she’s a problem – one X-Men might not be up to solving.
Arkea, possessing the mostly-cyborg body of Karima, high-jacks the Danger Room and uploads all of the school’s info to her server (or… however she steals information) and generally threatens everyone. Our heroes take turns fighting her off, until Kitty Pryde gets close enough to phase right through her – theoretically shorting Karima’s body and destroying Arkea. Either she has second thoughts about erasing her friend, or she just doesn’t get the opportunity to pull the trigger, but Arkea escapes. Kitty stays behind to supervise cleanup while the rest of our merry team (with John Sublime in tow) chase after Arkea in the Blackbird.
75% of this issue is a showcase for X-Men using their powers in fun ways. Psylocke and Rachel Grey manage to keep everyone in constant telepathic contact during the fight; Rogue smash; and Kitty’s intangibility leads to one weird looking fist-fight.
Jubilee and Storm are side-lined for the issue, but even this is more action that we’re likely to see in an entire arc on Brian Michael Bendis’ X-Men titles. Despite all that “action” there’s not much in the way of narrative incident: a fight occurs, the bad guy escapes, our heroes chase the bad guy. 1. 2. 3. Fortunately, there are enough interesting ideas around the edges of this straightforward beat-em-up to elevate the material above that simplicity.
Like, what’s going on with Jubilee’s adopted baby? Sublime reveals that Arkea was hitching a ride in the baby’s body earlier – that’s why he was following her in the first place. But the more interesting nugget there is that these creatures — these sentient bacteria siblings — reset whatever body they possess. This isn’t a big deal for the baby, ’cause, like, how much personality is there to reset at 2 months? When Jubilee announces that the baby’s name is Shogo (just a regular Japanese name, with no significance as far as I can tell), she’s able to speak with a certain authority. Whoever that kid was before, now he’s Shogo, son of Jubilee. Sublime is quick to point this out, but it is fun to consider how the X-Men have been acting as a surrogate family for each other for so long, why shouldn’t that same ability to opt-in to family be extended to other generations? Shogo might not technically be Jubilee’s baby, but dammit, he is now.
Also, the other end of that is horrifying. If Arkea takes over an adult, presumably that person is also reset. In the example of Karima, Kitty was so concerned about her friend’s well-being that she had to double and triple check before attempting to short her circuits. But the truth is that Karima’s already gone. The second Arkea decides she’s done with her – BAM – reset. Does that mean completely new personality? Or blanked out memories? Or both?
Between Arkea/Karima’s display at the school and the prospect of RESETTING PEOPLE, we’ve got a pretty firm grasp of what’s dangerous about her. What we don’t have is any real motivation for the character. Sublime offers that she’s only got primal motivations: kill, conquer, etc. But as it stands right now, I don’t know what she’s up to. Like, at all. She flew out to the middle of the ocean – why? Is she more dangerous out there? Less? Is she gathering more resources? What kind? What will she do (or attempt to do) with those resources? You can usually reduce a villain’s goal to “fuck with the hero(s),” but I’m not even convinced that she was all that interested in the X-Men until reading up on them.
With that, I’ll hand it off to our guest writer, Matt. Matt, do you find a little more to latch on to here, or are you mostly seeing a big-dumb fight too? Not that there’s anything wrong with a big-dumb fight, I just usually like to know what’s at stake. Also, how to do you feel about Oliver Coipel’s art? It’s a little heavily inked for my tastes, and some of his more chaotic spreads are too cluttered to convey action clearly (which is a problem when there’s so much action in the issue). Still, the dude finds space for magical little moments, usually between Jubilee and Shogo.
Hey, if that’s not an effective shortcut to making me care about these characters and this relationship, I don’t know what is.
Matt: My takeaway ultimately boils down to two concise words: Big Fun. As a frequenter of the X-franchise for many years, my reaction to the initial announcement of “yet another mutant title” was 70% skepticism, 30% intrigue. While historically Marvel’s first big success in marketing multiple thematically-linked books under one larger umbrella, the X-Men have been coasting on fumes in the “spin-off department” for some time. My eyeroll was only held back by the creative talent attached. Having seen first-hand what they’re offering, I am pleasantly surprised at just how off-base I was!
Although largely unfamiliar with Wood’s work, I have heard nothing but favorable things. That being said, I’m not certain if his writing’s truly connecting with me. However, I appreciate the buttons he’s attempting to press. While the cast a ton of inherent “marquee draw” (would retitling it “X-Women” be too on the nose?), its specific “niche allocation” within the greater X-verse is what truly concerns me. What itches still need scratching with the all the recent Marvel NOW! talent reshuffling? Reading this issue as a stand-alone experience, I find it hard not to instantly think of Chris Claremont’s swashbuckle-y “high adventure”-flavored stories from the original Uncanny X-Men run back in the 1980s. Huh. Didn’t feel notably deficient in this category, but okay– I’m game…
Maybe it’s also this particular showcasing influencing every other aspect of the book with “halcyon-vision,” but in terms of tone and pacing, Wood and penciler Olivier Coipel make me wildly nostalgic without eclipsing their own original narrative too much. Functionally, this issue is nothing more than a crowd-pleasing A-to-B delivery system, playing off familiar tropes to varying success. While the “Rogue, Smash!” thing never gets old, how many times does the Danger Room need to go crazy on dodeca-tuple super-secret lockdown before they rethink their whole “Phys. Ed.” curriculum?!
Having been dumped right into the thick of it after missing the first issue, it is strangely reassuring having the team suit up in the X-plane, off to avert some whirlwind global crisis. As a reader, getting thrown in the deep end and orienting on the fly has always been an integral component of the X-Men’s trademark charm. Welcome back, indeed.
While I am entertained, I am not without criticism of the “all-new” contributions to Marvel’s character toybox. In many ways, it’s a manifestation of my larger meta question surrounding this title: what and/or who is it really about? To what extent was Shogo part of the original “elevator pitch?” Is he the true “breakout star” in that same way every Cable series since 2007 is really about Hope Summers? As there isn’t much explicitly addressed here, I’m delaying judgment on whether there’s genuinely a character to be had other than “plot device baby.” Furthermore, Jubilee as the self-appointed “mom” is a curious choice that I’m not altogether unliking. In the vein of Kitty Pryde’s running of the school, it’s a welcome life graduation of a former “X-team kid sister”.
Inadvertent nod to Ghostbusters aside (man, I really want Beast to make a “There is no Dana, only Zuul” joke), I don’t feel the “monster” is all that compelling. As the inaugural villain of “Jubilee and Son and the X-Men,” I was hoping for a little more than the tired “I have a [insert sibling-type here] I never told you about and now they’re back for revenge” story beat. Recognizing that while the X-Men have been playing this card every couple of years since the Juggernaut first lumbered up their front lawn back in 1965 as something of house specialty, the fact that a B-level-at-best villain like John Sublime gets to throw it out there about a killer lady computer virus from outer space makes me question how many more times they can visit that well.
What I do find to be the issue’s biggest asset is the eye candy of Olivier Copiel. As a fan of his work for years, I thoroughly enjoy his widescreen Jim Lee-meets-Kirby over-the-top cartoony style. The finished art does come off a bit over-processed as three inkers and three colorists certainly qualifies for some kind of screwing-in-a-light-bulb joke if nothing else. However, the sheer gravitas of Copiel cutting loose on the subject matter (“Mohawk” Storm!) just empowers the whole thing conceptually despite the actual end product’s somewhat “cooked” visual.
Overall, if My Five Mutant Aunts and an Unconscious Beast was a TV show, I’d feel pretty good knowing it was out there. I might even watch it from time to time. However, as we’re not even all the way through the pilot episode yet, who knows where this enjoyable-enough romp will land. Its theme song will kick much ass, though. Oh, yeah.
Musician/blogger/advertising/marketing/web monkey Matt Lehn lives in Portland, OR with his wife and three boys where they own and operate SewPo, your friendly neighborhood fabric store. He’s also been steadily drinking the “Marvel Zombie” kool-aid since at least 1985. Follow him on Twitter: @fierykillrock
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