Sunday, February 27, 2011

X-23 #6 - Mind Melding Awesome

There's a lot you can do with a story that involves a teenage girl, boobs, a Cajun deviant, and clones. Some of it involves pornos that aren't legal in at least two dozen states. Another example is Marjorie Liu's X-23 series. It's awesome without getting slapped with an NC-17 rating if you can believe that. X-23 has been a compelling character in her own right since she showed up in X-men Evolution in the dark days of 2003, a time when when George W. Bush was president and you could get a home loan if you could walk and chew gum at the same time. Oh how the times have changed, but X-23's impact keeps getting stronger. She is in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and she does kick ass and sound awesome doing it.

Marjorie Liu has done something that hasn't really been done with Laura Kinney yet. She's set her out on the open road rather than have her recklessly seek other people for answers. She's been doing that since Craig Kyle and Chris Yost wrote her intro story. She's always been following others rather than taking responsibility. This plays heavily into her being a teenager, who are about as known for responsibility as they are modesty. Liu's first arc had Laura walking away from the X-men to make sense of her life. The next arc involves her doing what so many teenage girls end up doing that doesn't involve wearing mini-skirts to college parties. She gets caught up with the wrong people, doesn't listen to reason, and finds herself in a boat-load of trouble.

That trouble in this arc has boobs. Those boobs belong to Miss Sinister, or Claudine to those who don't keep up with the comics or are too lazy to use Wikipedia. Despite Gambit's attempts to sway those irrational teenage inclinations for Laura, she follows Miss Sinister into a secret underground laboratory that the Sinister with a penis set up. This lab contained a hoard of clones that Sinister created back in the day. While some collect stamps or watch internet porn. Sinister made clones. Every guy needs a hobby. Claudine acts as though she's just caring for the children. Then Laura and Gambit get suspicious and attack her. This ends up bringing out the Mr. in Miss Sinister. The boobs are gone, but it's still pretty bad ass.

It's been a while since boobless Sinister showed up, but he hasn't lost his touch. Even when Gambit instinctively attacks, Sinister takes him down and smiles while he does it. It's not unlike those charming episodes of Dexter when he looks so happy maiming people in a way that even Showtime has to censor. Since this comic isn't on Showtime, it's a bit more tame while still being awesome.

Now keep in mind that X-23 hasn't met Sinister, but since she's a clone she has all the reason she needs to cut Sinister so he'll never enjoy having boobs again. Sinister keeps on smiling when he grabs Laura by the throat and essentially snaps her neck. It's not much of a fight. Granted, Sinister is pretty tough. But Gambit and X-23 are no slouches. Hell, X-23 was in X-Force. She goes up against psycho-killers the same way regular teenagers take weekly quizzes in math class. As gritty a scene it may be, it's over way too quickly.

Once Sinister has had his fun, the plot thickens a bit. It would have been easy to spend the nest 18 pages with Gambit and X-23 trying to carve Sinister up like a Turducken in John Madden's house on Thanksgiving. That's not how Marjorie Liu writes it. In the last issue Miss Sinister tried to set herself apart from her testicular counterpart by coming off as the victim. Sinister took over her body and she was just dealing with the consequences. Well now it seems that the struggle for control over a body with boobs and a body with balls has been going on for quite some time. Sinister made his presence known, but it's still Claudine's body. So before Sinister can have any more fun, she wrestles control back from him. She also gets her boobs back, which is extremely important in the grand scheme of things.

When boob-heavy Sinister is back in control, she takes a page right out of her predecessor's playbook. She takes the unconscious X-23 and straps her to a terrifying dentist chair (as if going to the dentist wasn't terrifying enough). When she wakes up, she makes another emotional plea. Granted she has about as much empathy as a hungry lion, but she does make her case and it's not an unreasonable one. The body she's in isn't fully hers. Sinister (the one with the penis) has been trying to take control. Before she became boob-heavy Sinister, she was another one of non-boob Sinister's experiments. He strapped her to the same chair that X-23 is in and she went with it. Now she's regretting it and wants to use X-23 to avoid her mistake. This confuses me because that's something you would expect of a teenage girl, not a fully grown women. I guess Marjorie Liu is sending a message here. Even adults can be as pig-headed as irrational, uncontrolled, and unfeeling teenagers.

Her plan is as standard as you can get when dealing with comic book mad geneticists. She wants to transfer her mind to X-23's. So she goes from an adult woman with a personality disorder to a teenage girl. Again, not seeing much of an upgrade here. Why anyone would want to inhabit the body of a Wolverine clone with all the melodrama of a teenage girl is beyond me. Given her attire, I can only assume that Miss Sinister is deeply masochistic.

It's a sick if not standard plot. There seems to be some ambiguous lesbo innuendo as well when Claudine admires X-23's body. I'm pretty sure that's how many lesbian pornos start out. I'm not sure if that's Marjorie Liu's intent, but I can't imagine too many male readers complaining (assuming they have a free hand). There's talk about whether or not clones have souls, but I think the whole lesbian angle is more compelling. That's just my opinion.

While Sinister and X-23 are discussing souls and mad science, Allison takes action. Oh yeah, remember that girl? The one X-23 tried to save, but failed to do so? Then she found out that Allison was a clone? Still not ringing any bells? Or is it just too confusing? Well all the reader needs to know is that Allison is an ally to X-23 and she proves it by finding Gambit, who is lying unconscious in a cage. If Rogue were in this book she would be squealing "Jackpot!" Allison, despite showing loyalty to Claudine, decides to help the girl who actually went out of her way to save her life and frees Gambit.

I was expecting Gambit to make a pass at Allison, who is not too hard on the eyes, but that is never shown. It's a shame too because what's a story with Gambit if he doesn't hit on an underaged girl? But the action goes right back to boob-heavy Sinister's science experiment. As is so often the case with cloning efforts, something goes horribly wrong. Nobody's head explodes or anything. Nobody even gets turned into a half-fly sadly. Instead, the boobless Sinister pulls a fast one. Rather than Claudine going into X-23's body, it's Sinister who makes the trip. Claudine is still trapped in her, which again is like being trapped in the Playboy Mansion. But Claudine is still deeply pissed now that she can't relieve her teen years. Again, I'm not seeing the downside.

While Miss Sinister throws her own sinister version of a hissy fit, X-23 is busy doing what Claudine could not. She fights off Sinister's influence. Now this may seem a bit unbelievable, but then I remember X-23 is a teenage girl and a Wolverine clone. Even Sinister has his limits, brilliant and sadistic he may be. It still happens a bit easily though. It feels as though there could have been more details to this struggle. It's over pretty quickly and when X-23 fights off Sinister, the whole underground lab does what every set in Mythbusters seems to do. It blows up.

Miss Sinister (in a completely non-sexual way) is screwed. This is when Alice shows up as well, once again choosing X-23 over the ridiculously dressed Claudine. Not sure what sort of logic goes into that, but I guess it's easier to trust a stranger that saves the life of your clone rather than some crazy bitch who likes to dress like a hooker. Claudine doesn't take kindly to betrayal and hits Alice upside the head to knock her out. This pisses off X-23 and understandably so. NOW do we get the big fight between Miss Sinister and X-23? Well if by big you mean it's over in one page with a simple stab to the gut then yes. If your standards are a bit higher, then no. Again, it's over really quickly. Much like premature ejaculation, it's underwhelming and for a story that has been so deep the past few issues that's a bit of a downgrade.

Once boob-heavy Sinister is down for the count, X-23 meets up with Gambit. He finally caught up, albeit unfashionably late. It turns out he's been busy off-panel. He's the one who initiated the self-destruct sequence to the lab. Seriously, why do so many guys in comics set their places to self-destruct? Isn't that setting yourself up for failure? Either way, X-23 is reluctant to go. She wants to get Alice, the girl who got her into this mess in the first place. However, Claudine slips away with her. Even while wounded she finds a way to screw people over and not in a sexual way (presumably). X-23 wants to go after her, but Gambit convinces her to let go. She didn't listen to him for the past two issues. Well this time she does listen and right in time for a self-destruct scene. I suppose that's the only way to motivate some teenage girls. Put them in a building that's about to explode and they finally do the right thing.

They escape form the lab just in time for it to blow up. Gambit also reveals he got the other kids out off panel. Again, it's one of those details that's been glossed over. It could have been a nice scene, but it was over too quickly. I'm not sure if it's because of space considerations, but it does make the book feel a bit more incomplete than the previous two.

In the end Laura learns a harsh lesson. She can't save everybody. It's another example of teenage arrogance. Teenagers haven't developed the parts of their brains that kick them in the ass when they need to. They're not invincible. The whole "you can do anything if you believe it hard enough" amounts to jar of raccoon shit in the real world. X-23 tried to save a girl and she couldn't. Gambit may be an immature douche, but he's an adult douche and even he understands that. Laura has to understand that as well or else she'll end up every bit as messed up as Wolverine and who wants that?

At the very least, her failed attempt to save Alice yielded some clues to the next story. In the last issue Miss Sinister revealed the name Malcom Colcord, which may or may not be the adult version of Malcom in the Middle since he's the one looking to resurrect Weapon X. X-23 isn't going to have that. 23 failed attempts is bad enough. So Marjorie Liu already has her next story set up. But before the comic ends, there's one last scene with boob-heavy Sinister. As expected, she survived the explosion. Alice survived as well. But the real shocker comes in the form of a distinct red diamond on her forehead. Even though only two women survived, the Sinister with a penis survived as well. Add to that Alice is naked (how that happened isn't revealed) and you've got a damn good ending.

Since the X-23 series began, Marjorie Liu established a unique style for the book. This series is character driven. X-23 stands front and center. This series isn't about her adventures or the asses she kicks. It's about her life. Getting her away from the X-men was a bold way to give her an identity. This arc has shown that this identity is a work-in-progress and like many girls her age, Laura will stumble along the way and make some bone-headed mistakes. It's not as action heavy as X-Force, but there's still plenty of depth. It's the kind of depth that makes a series awesome in it's own right and the end of this arc really locks in a foundation for this book's style.

As much as I enjoy the whole character element, this issue lacked something the previous issues had and that was pacing. Every scene in this issue just ends too quickly. Nothing is drawn out. The little things are glossed over. It felt as though Liu was trying to do more in this issue than she had space for. Perhaps this is something that should have been stretched out over two issues. Overall, the end does feel a bit rushed. It doesn't take too much away from the quality of the book. It's still awesome, but compared to the issues that came before it there are more shortcomings than strengths.

I've given every issue of the X-23 series high marks. Marjorie Liu has earned every one of them and thus made this series one of my favorites. I can't give this issue the perfect score I gave other issues, but I can't give it too low a score either because it did finish the arc and tell a pretty compelling story in the process. So overall I give this story a 4 out of 5. It was rushed, but that was the only issue it really had. The rest is awesome and gives no reasons for fans to not pick up the next issue. Nuff said!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Uncanny X-men #533 - Running Away From Mediocrity

Every time I review an issue of Uncanny X-men I don't know what I'm going to. And no Forest Gump, it's NOT like a box of chocolates. Chocolate is like sex. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty damn good. If comics were like chocolate I would have gone bankrupt several times over consuming every comic book that came out every week. Some titles really are hit-or-miss. This has been the cornerstone to Uncanny X-men for quite some time. Matt Fraction's run has made Uncanny X-men the premier X-book, wrestling away the role once held by Astonishing. But let's face it, after Joss Whedon left winning that role was akin to beating up Andy Dick. It may feel like an accomplishment, but you're not a Spartan king.

Fraction's best story and arguably he greatest contribution was the Utopia arc. That was the kind of story that Fraction tells very well and it has had ramifications for the books that followed. But since that arc and the stories surrounding Second Coming, every issue has been like the 6th round of the NFL draft. Most of what you get is forgettable, but every now and then a Tom Brady shows up to make it interesting. The ongoing Quarantine arc hasn't been nearly as vast or encompassing as the Utopia arc. But with Kieron Gillen now co-writing, it has had it's ups and downs.

The X-men being infected with a virus is nothing new. The Legacy Virus did that shit when N'sync and the Backstreet Boys were still relevant. What is new is the purpose behind it. Lobe of the Sublime corporation is crippling the X-men so he can test a new product his company is preparing to market. You see, he's not the typical psychopath who just wants to rule the world, have everyone kiss his ass, and walk down the street with his fly unzipped while everybody thinks it's a fashion statement. He wants to make money. To do that he wants to patent the rights to the X-gene. This means that his company, in the spirit of Big Pharma, would be entitled to a metric fuckton of cash that Lobe and the shareholders could use to bathe in while mutants everywhere get one half of one percent of jack shit. In terms of evil plans, it's pretty damn sinister. It's about damn time someone make Big Pharma into comic book villains! Gillen and Fraction do a good job of making readers want to put a voodoo curse on every lobbyist in Washington (sacrificing a goat and the bones of a squirrel usually helps).

As compelling as this battle may be, it's now how the issue starts. The other major plot that's been going on revolves around Emma Frost. Now I could do several blog posts and a book on my feelings about Emma Frost during the Matt Fraction run. I've done so many rants on it that I could make a sitcom out of it to replace two-and-a-half men. Most who read this blog regularly know why I bitch about the issue and why I find her characterization in Uncanny a source of endless migraines. However, I'll skip the bulk of that rant and focus on the comic.

In the last issue Emma's mission to 'dispose' of Sebastian Shaw went horribly wrong when Fantomex dropped him from their UFO inspired aircraft. Shaw responded by forcing them to crash land and grabbing Emma Frost by the throat in way that would make Ike Turner proud. Emma has put him through a world of shit, keeping him prisoner and pretty much betraying him in ways that go beyond kinky bedroom antics. However, just when it seems as though he'll have his revenge, Kitty Pryde shows up and phases a hand through his chest. This means that on a whim, she can turn his heart into mush so that means Emma's perfect complexion that Marvel makes so much money from and that male fans fantasize over while jerking off is saved.

While penises everywhere are thanking Kitty Pryde, there's a far less sexy conflict going on in Utopia. In the last issue Cyclops confronted Lobe. He and the other X-men also captured Lobes team of psudeo-X-men, who were really just annoying teenage fanboys given superpowers and fancy costumes. They took their role about as seriously as Kadaffi does common sense. So when a very sick and very pissed off Wolverine came to interrogate them, they sang like Christina Aguilara at the Superbowl (embarrassingly off key).

The female angel, who by the way looks like the new chick in Transformers 3, swoons over Cyclops even though he's sick as a dog. When a sick comic character attracts more poon than the average reader, something done gone horribly wrong with the world. However, Cyclops's charm does manage to make her reveal some of Lobe's plan. He's throwing a party for douche-bags/investors. The psudeo-X-men were supposed to make an impression. All they've done is get themselves captured like fanboys hiding in William Shatner's trash can.

As devious as Lobe's plan may be, he still finds a way to strengthen his inner douche-bag. At the big investor gathering that Angel-with-boobs revealed, he's taken mocking the X-men to the nth degree. He has all his investors and scantily clad associates dress up as X-men. They joke around about Fastball Specials and Phoenix Cocktails, which in this context are just fancy orderves that nobody here and nobody working at Marvel will ever be able to afford.

It's a dick move, but it helps warm the crowd up for his big proposal. Lobe addresses his investors, pitching the whole idea of giving humans mutant powers as a business opportunity that they can get filthy rich off of. It may seem less damaging than world domination, but it's still a dick move. The cornerstone of this shameless marketing ploy is using the X-men as the equivalent of Ronald McDonald. It involves ripping off the cover of an old Grant Morrison comic. Somehow I believe this indicates that Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction lost a poker game with Grant Morrison at some point in time.

Lobe presents his product as a cigarette-like hit, using only tiny bottles that give the user one specific power. As any dictator in the Middle East knows, power becomes corruptive and the only way to maintain that power is to buy more drugs from the Sublime corporation. Somewhere out there, Tobacco companies are crying themselves to sleep.

While Lobe is getting his investors horny with the promise of big bucks, a small group of healthy X-men are watching from the roof and most likely trying not to puke. This team consists of Angel, Pixie, Storm, Northstar, and Dazzler. There's some witty remarks between Dazzler and Pixie, but it seems somewhat contrived. Even though their friends are sick on Utopia, this team of X-men carry themselves like Paris Hilton at a nightclub minus the lines of cocaine in the bathroom and the blow-jobs to the bouncers. It makes them as much of a dick as Lobe and demonstrates more of the poor characterization that has hampered Fraction's run. They don't end up crashing the party though. Before they can, they end up facing Lobe's grunts that consist of Verre, Burst, Thug, and Bouncing Betty. Given how annoying this team of X-men have been, I'm not sure who to root for.

That's a lot of dick moves for one scene. So it's only natural that we see more of the Emma/Shaw fight, two people who have based their entire comic careers on dick moves (in Emma's case, literally). Here Shaw demonstrates that he's at that special level of pissed off where he doesn't care if someone explodes his heart. He also figures out Emma is bluffing. She went through the trouble to keep him alive all this time. She wouldn't change her tune at this point. Shaw is willing to kill her even if she could kill him back. Lucky for her, Fantomex is still in the game. He also has a high powered rifle with an incendiary round. Since the target is Shaw and Emma Forst, I wouldn't count that as a dick move. It's actually the most heroic act in this issue thus far.

Shaw is forced to let go of Emma and we all know how hard it is to let go of a hot blond with huge tits. Just ask Tommy Lee. After Emma and Fantomex end up in a compromising position that can only be a blatant attempt to put Emma in another sexy pose, Shaw is even more pissed. Now that she's free of his grip, she goes back to a telepathic attack. This works about as well as an Indian toilet.

Now I could make a comment about how Emma Frost's telepathy face makes her look like a constipated bulimic. I have to skip it because the next scene may require another rant. That's because Emma's telepathic attack fails. Shaw is too focused on killing her so she's forced to go diamond again and endure a blow that even women in the the Congo would find excessive. Granted, Emma's earned it. She's been humbled no fewer than zero times during Fraction's run on Uncanny. Then she gets up and faces Shaw again. Does she try something else? Does she attempt to attack his mind or throw more of that crazy charm his way. Nope. She runs. I shit you not. She runs and in stiletto heels no less.

Now I know I've had my share of comments about the Shaw/Emma plot since it began. I see so many holes in it you could sink a super-tanker loaded with air bags. But Emma running? It would be a wonderful act of pussification if readers of Uncanny weren't aware of Marvel's current policy towards Emma Frost. They won't do anything and I mean anything to make her look bad. No matter what troubles she faces or are teased at, she always comes out shining in the end. She's never scorned by the other X-men and she's never questioned by Cyclops. Somehow all her bullshit doesn't have a single noticeable affect. She ends up back in Cyclops's bed and that's about it. Even during Utopia when Emma threatened to betray the X-men, absolutely nothing came of it. When Namor came on board and seriously wanted to bone her, nothing came of it. So with that in mind, seeing her run away from Shaw like this pretty much exemplifies the problems with Emma's characterization in Uncanny. Nothing ever comes of anything she ever does. We all know how this is going to end and it's not going to change a fucking thing. I'd love to be wrong, but given how much love Marvel gives Emma I doubt it.

Now that I got that out of my system, I can make a few more dick jokes about the fight with Lobe. While Emma is getting her diamond ass kicked, the X-men take care of Lobe's henchmen and off panel no less. We don't get to see them making up for their dick moves earlier. We just see them delivering the bruised bodies right in front of Lobe while they do their hero pose, which in this case may actually work against them. For all we know, Lobe is getting pictures of this shit to use in a marketing campaign. That's Big Pharma for you.

Lobe shows the resilience you would expect of a greedy Pharma executive. Since his henchmen might as well have been found on Craigslist, he passes out free samples of his mutant powers in a bottle to his investors. And here I was thinking investor conferences were boring. I can hear the Wall Street Journal calling Marvel right now. Even Lobe himself partakes, taking the Cyclops potion that allows him to optic blast Northstar in ways the Westboro Baptist Church can only dream of. Surprisingly, the investors partake as well. For once the rich snobs of the world don't pay people to solve their problems for them. They do it themselves. Something about that brings a tear to my eye. That or Greg Land's depiction of the battle scene is like an orgy for the color receptors in your eyes.

Angel said it best. "On so many levels this can't get any worse." Cyclops gets this message and knows that the X-men, for all their training, are no match for a bunch of super-powered investors. Wait...really? They can't overcome a bunch of rich snobs who to this point only have the power to get corrupt politicians elected? I have a bit of a problem with that. In the last issue these same X-men took down the Original Five knock-offs in only a few panels. Now they need back-up? I'm confused. And maybe a little hung over, but mostly confused.

So in that confusion it's not really too shocking when Cyclops announces that the X-men are breaking Quarantine. If the virus is only targeting mutants, then there isn't much of a risk to spread it to the human population like there was with the Legacy Virus. It's bold, going on a mission with the flu. It's also pretty stupid. But if Joe Montana can win football games with the flu (and he did), then why can't the X-men? I just question whether or not it's necessary given the context of this arc.

It's not a very ominous ending, but it is a solid ending none-the-less. There's a lot to like about this issue. There's are only a few details to dislike, but those details are not minor. Every comic has flaws in it. It's a matter of degree. For much of the Quarantine arc, Uncanny has avoided the big flaws. The story is still coherent. The plot is still compelling. Even characters like Lobe, Shaw, and Wolverine are compelling. It's the little things that keep this series from being great.

A good contrast is Generation Hope, the series that Kieron Gillen is penning without Fraction. Generation Hope spun right out of Uncanny, yet it lacks the flaws of Uncanny. Those little details aren't an issue. The characterization is a lot more compelling and there have been very few WTF moments aside from the ever popular Hope/Jean issue. It leads me to wonder if Uncanny will undergo a similar change when Fraction leaves at the end of this arc. Generation Hope has definitely surpassed Uncanny in terms of quality even if Uncanny is the bigger book. I want to like Uncanny in the same way, but it's these little details that keep the title mediocre as opposed to awesome.

While I have my share of criticisms with Uncanny, I can't really scorn it because there's a lot to love about it. The whole concept of Lobe and the Sublime corporation using mutants as a money making venture is wonderfully novel. It's a great concept that goes beyond the usual threats the X-men face. The whole investors party and throwing out free samples was a great moment, if not the best in this arc. Even if you don't like the Shaw/Emma story, the next issue is worth picking up just to see how Lobe's plot plays out.

I really want to give Uncanny X-men #533 a higher score, but the little details keep lingering. This book is good enough to give my stamp of approval, but not good enough to praise as awesome like Generation Hope. I'll be interested to see how Kieron Gillen handles Uncanny once he gets his hands on it. For now, the Quarantine arc is best defined as a mediocre transitional story. I give this issue a 3.5 out of 5. So far that's been the score of the whole arc. It has another issue to bump up that score. I'd like to see Fraction leave on a high note. He's done a lot for Uncanny, but now it's time to pass the torch to Kieron Gillen. We can only hope that he's able to transfer the same magic from Generation Hope to Uncanny. Nuff said!

Friday, February 25, 2011

X-men Supreme Issue 27: Cajun Chaos Part 1 is LIVE!

The time has finally come! A new arc for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series begins today! Volume 2: War Powers promises to have more multi-part arcs than Volume 1: Mutant Revolution. X-men Supreme is undergoing some major events that can't be told in just one or two issues. The stakes are rising. This fanfiction series is going to new and uncharted territories. Part of this process involves introducing new characters. In Issue 26: The Ties That Terrorize a couple of familiar faces to X-men fans showed up. One of them was everybody's favorite Cajun, Remy Lebeau. Well in this new arc for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, the Ragin' Cajun takes center stage! I know Gambit has many rabid fans out there. I hope they're satisfied with this fresh take on him.

Issue 27: Cajun Chaos Part 1

As with all the characters I've introduced thus far, Remy Lebeau will have a slightly different history in the world of X-men Supreme. I've kept some elements of his past and tweaked others. It's important that the characters in X-men Supreme remain familiar while having their share of variation. I'll be posting an entry in the bios section for Remy when this arc is over. For now, this is his big moment for X-men Supreme. His presence will have major ramifications for certain characters and certain stories. You'll see!
As always, I strongly encourage everyone who reads X-men Supreme to tell me what they think. This fanfiction series thrives on feedback. I need to know if I'm doing something right so I can make it better. Please post your comments on each issue or contact me at any time. As always, I appreciate all those who support X-men Supreme. There's still plenty to come with this fanfiction series! Excelsior!


Monday, February 21, 2011

Uncanny X-Force #5 - A Tough Act (of Awesome) To Follow

If my words come off as a little hoarse in this review, don't be alarmed. I've been singing the praises of Uncanny X-Force so much that my vocal chords look like the frail threads holding Lindsey Lohan's career together. There's a lot to get excited about with this book. It has the rush of a fresh line of cocaine without the limp dick and scarred nasal pathways. Rick Remender took the events that came after Second Coming and created a compelling new X-men series that's dark, gritty, bloody, and has a hot Asian chick who likes to run around in a swimsuit. So there's something for everyone, even perverts.

The first arc of Uncanny X-Force hit the ground running. There was no build-up to a big fight. The team set up shop and their first mission was against Apocalypse, a villain that you can't be diplomatic with. You either have to wipe him out or become his evolutionary prison bitch. It was an epic battle for the new X-Force. It demonstrated that even though Cyclops officially disbanded the team in Second Coming, there's still a need for it. However, a twist was thrown in at the end. When X-Force reached Apocalypse, they didn't find the big bad supermutant who looks like an 800-pound-gorilla fucked a sentinel. He was just a kid. Granted, he was a creepy ass kid. But he was a kid.

It made for a powerful moment. X-Force is about killing threats before they manifest, but even with psychopaths like Deadpool on the team they couldn't go through with it. Well...except for Fantomex. After Wolverine, Psylocke, and even freakin' Arcangel decide to spare the kid, Fantomex steps in and shoots kidpocalypse right in the head. He killed the threat. He essentially completed their mission. However, the success wasn't all that satisfying. If anything, it sewed the seeds of discontent.

That's where Uncanny X-Force #5 picks up. It has the daunting task of following up the Apocalypse story. That's like trying to satisfy a porn star who just got plowed by four Calvin Klein models. It's a lot to measure up to and that's not just a cute dick joke. Fantomex takes center stage, being the guy that pulled the trigger in the last arc. He seems to be avoiding his fellow X-Force teammates. That's understandable because when you kill a kid, your friends tend to think less of you. For those who don't know shit about Fantomex other than the snooty French persona he uses to seduce women, there's a nice little summery of who he is. Fantomex describes where he came from. It's a Star Trek inspired place called The World, where millions of years of evolution can pass in only a month of real time. This is where Fantomex came of age. He was conditioned to be a mix of man and sentinel. In the same way a social outcast immerses himself in World of Warcraft, Fantomex is reconnecting with The World.

He hasn't been around to the World in a while. It stands to reason that the women in the real world are more appealing. Since his absence the World has become corrupted in the same way a shady porno file from a torrent site fucks up a computer. Remember, the World is essentially like Tron without Jeff Bridges and the flashy cars. Now that Fantomex has more free time, he investigates it further. He enters the world again to find out that the World may have been corrupted by illegal downloads of Japanese anime and images of perverse Disney drawings.

To prevent his home town from going haywire, he reveals that he has what can only be described as a secret fail safe. It's very vague. It's not really that clear what Fantomex is doing or where he is. It's only clear that something is fucked up about the World and he's trying to fix it. After the Apocalypse arc where everything flowed so nicely, this is a bit of a jolt. At the very least, it sets the stage for the conflict in this arc. Fantomex's old stomping ground seems appropriate given the shit storm he kicked up with his teammates.

While he's enjoying his little time out, X-Force is holding a special meeting to discuss Fantomex's shenanigans. Killing Kidpocalypse isn't one of those things they can just let slide. It's not like stealing pens from the office supply closet or fooling around with your boss's daughter (even if she does have great tits). Psylocke, Angel, and even Deadpool voice their discontent over what Fantomex did. Killing kids isn't what X-Force is supposed to be about. Even Deadpool was uncharacteristically coherent. This was a far cry from the guy who actually fed pieces of his arm to Angel. This guy is supposed to be nuttier than squirrel turds and he's coming off as emo. It's not just jarring. It's distressing.

Wolverine being the jerk he is basically brushes off all their concerns. In his eyes they did the right thing. They completed the mission. That's all that mattered. He tells those who can't stomach what they do to leave. This is a guy who has enough demons to start his own football league complete with cheerleaders, coaches, and a shitty Al Davis type owner. Psylocke and Angel come off as being painfully human, not liking the idea that they killed a kid. Wolverine brushes it off as if it were tick. Granted, ticks can fuck you up if they drain enough blood, but this is Wolverine we're talking about here. He's the one that put this team together and unlike Cyclops, he's not doing a very good job of leading it.

While the team deals with their share of problems, Fantomex visits the French Alps to catch up with another part of his past. This time it's not some French maiden he didn't call after a three way. It's an old blind woman who was involved in raising him in the World. He calls her mother even though she doesn't have the stretch marks from giving birth to him. Again, it may not be clear if you're not familiar with Fantomex's history. But Remender does a good job of having the scene explain itself. The woman explains how she tried to instill some ethics in him to counter the other harsh training he received. This conflicts with his recent actions and Fantomex makes it clear that he has a problem with it. He's part mutant and part sentinel. There's a "Target: Aquired. Lethal force authorized" part of his brain that's hard to ignore as the affair with Kidpocalypse demonstrated.

This nice moment with dear old mom quickly goes to Hell when they get some unexpected visitors. And it isn't neighbors asking for a cup of sugar. They're assassins. Sugar is for pussies. Blood makes brownies taste so much better. They're assassins in the form of familiar heroes like Elektra and Captain America. However, it's pretty clear they aren't human. They talk like sentinels with the whole "target acquired" and "primary objective" speech. Seriously, not even lame superheroes talk like that.

Fantomex fights off the assault and tries to protect dear old mom. They quickly reorganize, taking a page out of Terminator and showing their robot side to make them more badass. As lame as it sounds, it actually works. Fantomex gets his ass thrown around a bit like a newbie at a state prison. Then the robot Spider-Man shows up and grabs his mother. Fantomex tries to save her, but like with Kidpocalypse there's no room for mercy in this book. Robo-Spider snaps the old woman's neck. So that means in one issue, a kid is killed. In the next, an old lady is killed. It's official. This book is pretty hardcore. The sad part is that robo Spider-Man is still on a higher moral ground than real Spider-Man because he never made a deal with the fucking devil! But I'd rather not get into that discussion.

Fantomex is now pissed. Now those "Yo mama" jokes are personal. He fights back, but somewhere along the line these robo-heroes steal The World from him. Again, it's not clear where or how this happens. Did he drop it? Did he get pick-pocketed? Did someone reach into his pocket when he wasn't looking? It's another one of those confusing developments that the other X-Force books didn't have.

At this point Fantomex realizes that he's not going to win this battle on his own. All the smooth talking and French arrogance in the world won't help him. So he uses EVA to send a distress signal to the rest of X-Force, hoping that they're not too pissed at him to not help. Although if they didn't show up, it would be understandable. It may even teach Fantomex a lesson, but given that this is Fantomex we can't have that. He had to remain the arrogant French asshole to stay in character.

He manages to slip away when Hawkeye gets bold and hits him with an exploding arrow. Seriously, a bullet would have worked just as well. He's playing keep-away now until X-Force shows up, assuming they're not going to take their sweet time to fuck with him. He's in bad shape and it seems as though he puts some distance between him and the robo-heroes. Then he comes face-to-face with the guy who may be behind this whole mess. He's Deathlok and that my friends is how the name of the arc, Deathlok Nations, makes sense. Given the title it's not much of a surprise, but at least it makes sense. It's a good way to end the first issue of this arc and for those who enjoyed seeing Fantomex get his ass kicked, it leaves plenty of promise that his ass will be more tender than hamburger meat when the next issue rolls around.

So after reading this issue, will I finally be able to give my vocal chords a rest? Can I finally go to my throat doctor and avoid having to tell him to fuck off when he warns me of permanent damage? Well I'm okay with saying that this issue is awesome. Uncanny X-Force remains a top quality book. If you could only buy one X-book a month and you chose this book, you would get plenty of awesome X-stories. However, after the last arc the bar is so high that this issue had a lot to live up to. As a result, some of the minor flaws become a lot more glaring.

On more than one occasion, it's not entirely clear what's going on. It's not clear where Fantomex is at the beginning or what he's doing with the World. Those who don't know Fantomex's history may be a little lost at times. It's not clear when he loses the world during the fight with the robo-heroes. On top of that Deadpool was horribly out of character. He didn't even crack a poop joke. That's a big deal for some fans and it may turn them off this series in a big way. It shouldn't because there's still a lot of awesome material to go around. Rick Remender makes it a point to document the aftermath of Fantomex's decision to kill Apocalypse. The fight scene with Fantomex and the assassins was very well done as well. The death of his mother was a good shocker and Deathlok's appearance at the end was a nice treat. So this issue is still more than worth picking up.

If I hadn't read the last arc of Uncanny X-Force, I may be inclined to score this a little higher. I've given high marks to this series for every issue thus far, yelling at the top of my lungs how great it is. This time I can give my lungs and vocal chords a rest. This issue is great, but it's not worth recording an album over. Overall, I give Uncanny X-Force #5 a 3.5 out of 5. The minor issues were made a lot bigger by the standards this series set up. There's nothing that can't be overcome in the next issue. For now, Uncanny X-Force is still a strong title. If Rick Remender can refine those little things, I'll gladly go back to straining my vocal chords. Nuff said.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Generation Hope #4 - Settling Into Awesome

Of all the new X-books to spin out of Second Coming, none has left me more excited and conflicted than Generation Hope. This isn't like Uncanny X-Force or X-23, which only follow the direction of characters who were involved in Second Coming. This is the book that continues the story of the sole purpose for Second Coming. She has red hair, green eyes, a bad temper, the Phoenix Force, and people can't stop confusing her with Jean Grey. She actually goes by Hope Summers and I know I've been joking around about how I can't tell them apart. Well it's not a full joke. Marvel has been dropping hints about Hope being connected to Jean Grey since Messiah Complex began. None of those hints have been cleared up yet and books like Generation Hope have been dragging it out like the second season of Lost. For many fans, that can be as annoying as a bug bite in the space between your balls and your ass. However, the Hope/Jean issue hasn't stopped this series from being awesome.

Kieron Gillen hit the ground running with this. The first three issues had Je-I mean Hope (I'll get it sooner this time) going after the last of the five lights that emerged after Second Coming. Uncanny X-men brought the first four together so that this series had a team to work with. The first three issues demonstrated how this team is a lot like an expansion team in baseball. It's sorely lacking on talent and experience despite having a strong leader. Jea-I mean Hope has somewhat of a cultish bond with these new mutants. It's not quite cultish in the same capacity as Justin Bieber fans, but it's right up there. It's somewhere between Jesus and Twilight.

Gillen did a damn good job showing the four teenage mutants who barely knew their powers from a bad itch ban together and stop the fifth light, a charismatic Japanese artist who saw Akiria one too many times (if that's even possible because that movie is awesome). Now the new light, Kenji, is stable. Jean-Hope burned herself out stopping him as well, much in the same way the obsession with Ted Williams burned out. This issue picks up with Cyclops and Wolverine having to pick up the pieces. Again, the inexperience of the Five Lights show. They don't understand the larger implications of destroying downtown Tokyo. I'm sure even Godzilla had a lawyer on speed-dial. Their immaturity is charming. It's easy to forget that these characters are teenagers. They're humanity is still developing and as Gabriel demonstrates, they haven't quite learned to think with the right head.

Four issues in and the characters are starting to develop their own personalities. Gabriel can't seem to resist flirting with the girls. He says Laurie is pretty and is going out of his way to impress Jea-Hope in the same way Kanye West goes out of his way nourish his inner douche-bag. The lights are still a little shell-shocked. Idie says the least while there's a debate over just how dangerous Kenji is.

To get these answers, the Five Lights are flown back to Utopia. Keep in mind the events in Generation Hope have been unfolding since Uncanny X-men #526. This is the first time they've ever been to Utopia. To them it's like visiting Disneyland if it was in the middle of Baghdad. They meet up with Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde, which is a bit confusing because it's not clear if this happens after the Quarantine arc. Since the five lights made an appearance in an earlier Uncanny issue, that seems to imply that this takes place before that. I could be reading too much into it or that hit of acid I took was watered down, but it usually takes something a lot more potent to make sense of the timeline in these comics.

The first order of business is to deal with Kenji. This guy almost destroyed Tokyo and he's an overworked Japanese teenager. That's like a pyromaniac working in a fireworks factory. It's a bad mix. Now that he's had his close encounter with the mutant messiah, he's in control again. He also looks pretty badass. He's not too much an Akira knock-off anymore than he is a boss battle from the Resident Evil video games.

He also demonstrates some rather disturbing fantasies and I'm not talking about the typical Japanese fantasies that involve school girls, tentacle monsters, and old men with an extensive collection of panties. He actually fantasizes about killing people. Then again who hasn't? Even the best of us have seen Dick Cheney give a speech and fantasize about his heart exploding. The difference with Kenji is that he channels it into his art so he's a productive member of society. Now his powers involve him becoming art. So that's a problem the same way lying naked in a tub of ice with your kidney missing is a problem.

This is a problem for Cyclops and Emma because they can't have a homicidal mutant on Utopia. They already have Magneto and he's more than enough. Emma's hair started turning gray in Uncanny. She and Cyclops will go bald if Kenji's fantasies become too vivid. So Emma scans his mind and wouldn't you know it? It's not normal. Just as going to work with no pants and a baby alligator hanging from your scrotum isn't normal. However, just because's he's not normal doesn't mean he's not honest either. Emma says he's being honest. That's enough for Cyclops to give him the Good Will Hunting treatment and say it wasn't his fault.

Beyond Kenji, Teon is also getting a tour of Utopia. However, when you have the brain capacity of a Chihuahua that's a little tricky. For reasons that aren't entirely detailed, Teon and Wolverine start fighting as soon as they land. Maybe it's just because they're both animals or Wolverine wouldn't let Teon sniff his ass. Either way, they start going at it and it provides a nice touch of action in the midst of all this group therapy. Besides, it's a comic book. I'm sure Kieron Gillen was contractually obligated to have someone get their ass kicked in every issue.

The fight ends with Wolverine giving Teon the equivalent of doggy potty training. Gillen has made it clear that Teon isn't going to be the most articulate character in the series. He's a bit like Christopher Walken, hard to read and creepy as hell.

Once Teon is done with his time-out, Hope (sweet! I got it right this time!) and the rest of the lights meet up with Dr. Nemesis so he can shed a little light on their powers. There haven't been many specifics about these new mutants since the end of Second Coming. This is the first time a little clarity has been added to the mix. Gillen doesn't employ too much Star Trek lingo. In simplest terms the Five Lights were broken and when Hope touched them they were fixed. Now I'm not geneticists, but I do see some crazy shit on weed. That makes about as much sense as anything to the average comic book demographic. The other explanations for the lights are pretty simple. Laurie is blue and can fly. Teon is big and strong, but his mind has sacrificed his higher functions in favor of sharpening his survival instincts. Idie (who still isn't saying much) controls temperature. Hope's powers are still left vague, no doubt because everyone is resisting the urge to tell her more about the Phoenix Force. It's another case of drawing out a plot that's been drawn out more than the last three seasons of 24. Hope/Jean/Phoenix fans will roll their eyes at this, but if this surprises them in any way then they need to call up their old friend reality to kiss and make up.

Nemesis gets a little creative (in a very douche-bag sort of way) when he explains Gabriel's power. He tries to have him run over water the way the Flash and Quicksilver do on a regular basis. It doesn't work for him and Gabriel gets an up close and personal taste of the San Francisco Bay. This is because he's not actually super fast. He's a time manipulator. Remember in Uncanny X-men when his powers went nuts and he aged a few years? He ended up with a beard that would make Brett Kiesel of the Pittsburgh Steelers envious. So that helps make sense of things although it's hard to imagine why Nemesis would favor a demonstration. He could have easily just told him, but the asshole in him just wasn't satisfied.

Nemesis is a douche-bag here. There's no doubt about it. But Gabriel does show some balls and a touch of teenage arrogance by kicking the shit out of Nemesis. It's immature and a bit elaborate, but it's almost as satisfying as the battle against Kenji. Maybe I'm weird, but when a douche-bag gets punished for being a douche-bag I believe an angel gets it's wings and a nerd gets a blow-job from a porn star.

The lights finally meet up with Cyclops as a group. Now that they're mutants he basically tells them that they're welcome on Utopia. They don't have to stay. Some of them like Gabriel and Laurie do have families (although they were never mentioned). However, that cultish dedication to Hope seems to trump any family responsibilities. Somewhere I'm sure the Family Research Council is looking to sue Marvel for sending the wrong message to kids. Then again people stopped giving a damn about the Family Research Council when they claimed homosexuals were as dangerous to the world as the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The Five Lights choose to stay so they're the unofficial freshman of the X-men. I have extremely painful memories of being a freshman so I weep for the Five Lights.

Once the decision is made, Hope pulls Gabriel aside to talk to him. In the past three issues Gabriel did more than any of the other lights to help her. That may just be because he's a teenage guy and teenage guys would wrestle a polar bear naked in the arctic if it meant they had a chance at getting laid. Earlier in the issue Gabriel asked Laurie if Hope noticed how he saved her twice. Hope answered that question in a very provocative way. She kissed him. Again, I'm reminded of how Jean Grey often thanked Wolverine for helping her. Kissing was her version of a hug. Could that be another hint for Hope/Jean? If it is it's actually subtle this time. It also shows that Gabriel is now the ladies man of the Five Lights. He's flirted with Laurie. He's flirted with Hope. In other words, he's a teenage boy. That's all there is to it.

On the other side of that teenage boy coin is Kenji. He's new to the group and hasn't really endeared himself to the others yet. He's like the creepy football player on the team who spends no fewer than ten minutes sniffing his jock strap at the end of each practice. While Laurie and Idie (who still hasn't said much) go off to do their own thing, Kenji stays behind and takes a shower. Apparently destroying Tokyo is dirty business. Now keep in mind Hope fixed this guy in the last issue as Nemesis described. Yet he still seems as unstable as Charlie Sheen in an porn convention. He sees himself as living art with dark fantasies of killing people. That leads him to inscribe a message on the shower that is going to be a bitch to clean up. "No Hope. No Lights No Future." Does this mean Kenji will be the bad apple of the five lights? Could he become a foe rather than ally? No clear enemy for the five lights has really shown up yet. The possibilities here are pretty open. So the biggest threat could be a crazy Japanese teenager and for once it doesn't involve a giant robot.

Now for every issue of Generation Hope thus far, I've taken some time out of my review to discuss the Hope/Jean issue that has me grinding my teeth down to my gums. Maybe it's because Jean Grey is an original X-men and I have a lot of love for the original X-men. Or maybe it's because I don't like it when writers beat around the bush so much that it becomes as bear as a Brazilian hooker's snatch. For this issue, there weren't too many blatant hints other than Hope being affectionate with her friends in the same way Jean was. That's a matter of interpretation. However, it still is an issue every time I pick up this series. I look at Hope and I still see Jean Grey. Marvel has many redheads with green eyes. Only one is associated with the Phoenix Force. So I take issue with that shit. However, I try not to let it stop me from enjoying an awesome comic.

This issue was definitely top notch. Generation Hope has shown more consistent quality than Uncanny X-men. I would be just as satisfied if these last four issues were all issues of Uncanny X-men because they tell an important story in the X-books and they tell it well. Kieron Gillen's writing seems a lot more genuine here whereas Uncanny still feels like Fraction is pushing the story. This book has the feel of old school X-men books with teenagers discovering their powers and struggling on how to use them. This issue specifically wasn't as exciting or action-packed as the last three. That's actually a good thing because this issue takes time to really fill in the blanks that have been lingering since the Five Lights story began. Those details add some much needed depth to the series and the characters. I still felt as though Idie was somewhat ignored, but overall this was a solid book that really helped to move the story of Hope/Jean Summers along.

If I had to choose between Generation Hope and Uncanny, Generation Hope would win every time. Uncanny is still hit or miss these days. Generation Hope is a solid, strong series so far. Kieron Gillen is doing great work here. While the Hope/Jean issue is still lingering and some details like Idie were underdeveloped, the book was still solid. That's why I give Generation Hope #4 a 4.5 out of 5. This is a solid book and one X-men fans should definitely follow. This book holds so many possibilities beyond the prospect of Jean Grey showing up. Kieron Gillen was left with a daunting task and so far he's handled it better than expected. That makes him a worthy herald of awesome in the eyes of X-fans. Nuff said!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Brightest Day #20 - When Awesome Meets Tragedy

I'm not going to justify it this time. I know I've gotten into the habit of apologizing for reviewing some books before others on a big week. This past week marks the release of some major titles, especially with the X-books. Uncanny X-Force came out and so too did Wolverine and Jubilee #2. Anyone who saw my reviews of the previous issues know I love those books more than a diabetic loves his insulin. But as much as I love X-books, Brightest Day has a special place above them all. For one, it's a limited series. This book won't go on forever and when it ends it'll be more tragic than the Kennedy assassination and Princess Diana's funeral combined. It's in the home stretch and in these final issues, the caliber of awesome has grown to a level that is giving so many nerdgasms that there's been an epidemic of blue balls.

The past two issues of Brightest Day have seen the lines blur between the life and death message left over from Blackest Night. There have been many different stories in this series and they've all been linked by one thing, the White Lantern. It's proverbial line of cocaine that all the superstars overdose on. For most of the series the nature of this beast has been pretty mysterious. It's been using Boston Brand as a guinea pig, taking his Deadman persona and dragging him through reams of proverbial mud. In that mud Boston has had to learn a number of harsh lessons. The latest lesson seems to be that the White Lantern is kind of a douche-bag.

It began a few issues ago with Hawkman and Hawkgirl. They had just defeated Hawkgirl's mother and broken the curse that had doomed them to more reincarnations than Sylvester Stallone's acting career. Then they were about to get down and dirty in ways that fans of the Lifetime channel masturbate to. That's when the White Lantern showed up. It told them that they had to live their lives separately. When they said bullshit, the ring did what it thought to be most logical. It killed them. It was a powerful moment and one that fucked Boston up worse than a weekend with Lindsey Lohan. Then it set it's sights on another hero, Aquaman. He happened to be fighting a war against Mera's people, led by her sister Siren. He and the new Aqualad raced to the surface to save the surface world. The White Lantern is there waiting for them.

Brightest Day #20 picks up from here with the White Lantern watching the battle in the same way a cannibal an autopsy. It's hungry for the outcome and Boston is basically along for the ride, unable to do jack squat like a dog that's been locked in a cage while a house is being robbed. In the last issue Aquaman suffered a serious blow when Black Manta showed up to join the battle. By serious blow I mean Black Manta cut Arther's fucking hand off. Even in a superhero comic, that shit's pretty hardcore. Along the way the White Lantern reveals that it orchestrated this. It opened the Bermuda triangle so that Mera's people could come through. Like a kid who put a mouse in a snake's cage, it's waiting to see what Aquaman does with it.

With one less hand to slam the ham with, Aquaman is in bad shape. It falls upon Jackson, Black Manta's bastard son, to give his dad a good old talking to. This time it doesn't involve a fishing trip (which is saying something because we're dealing with water people). He tries to stand up to his old man like a kid trying to hide his father's vodka stash. Black Manta uses this as a chance to up his douche-bag rating by telling Jackson he means nothing to him and neither did his mother. The only feeling he ever felt for them was the feeling he probably got when the condom broke.

Jackson's overmatched to say the least. Keeping in mind that this kid is new to the game and his balls have only descended so much, his ass is saved by Mera when she shows up with a new friend in Aquagirl. She's a lot like Aqualad, but she's hot and she has boobs. Jackson, being a teenage boy, certainly takes notice as any teenage would. In one panel his eyes are as wide as the day a man discovers internet porn. It's a beautiful thing.

The tide of the battle turns. Mera and Aquaman have a quick reunion, but minus the romance. Remember, she's the one that revealed she had been sent to kill Aquaman earlier in the series. So for once the man was the one that said "I need some space" and it wasn't because someone left the toilet seat up. Femanists feel free to write angry letters to DC, but you have to admit Aquaman does have good reason to pause. However, she's still a hot redhead in a skin-tight outfit. So Aquaman forgives her.

Then with Jackson's help, Aquaman seals the wound where his hand used to be. It'll still be a hell of a time trying to rub one out, but he doesn't need two hands to fight a battle. That's how tough he is. So anybody who says Aquaman is a pussy has no right to make that claim ever again. With only one hand, he leads Mera, Aqualad, and Aqualad with boobs into battle. It's an action-packed moment that DC fans should be drooling over like David Hasselhoff in a liquor store.

Now Aquaman and his buddies aren't stupid. They know they can't fight off an entire army. It would be stupid if just the four of them were able to fight everything off (I'm looking at you Curse of the Mutants). So to get them away from the shore, Mera steps up and shows that she's got some stones as well. She may have betrayed her people and the man she loves, but she's still pretty badass and is ready to prove it. All you mad feminists can stop writing your letters because Mera uses her connection with the sea to literally push it back and take her people with it. If Aquaman doesn't forgive her after this, then he's the douche-bag. So once again the feminists get it their way. Happy now ladies? Will you stop busting our balls for jerking off to your underwear catalogs?

Not to be outdone, Aquaman salvages some of our fragile male ego and goes after Mera's people. They're back at sea, but they're not gone. So to make sure that Mera doesn't get to upstage him again, he summons his own army of sharks and dangerous sea creatures to push them back to the Bermuda triangle. Again, if you think Aquaman is a pussy read this part of the book and you're obligated to shut up about it for the rest of your natural life under penalty of cleaning Dan Dido's septic tank. Between the fish, whales, sharks, and box jellyfish it's painfully clear that Black Manta no longer stands a chance.

It's a powerful moment, but as always the bad guys have to go on their rant of defeat. They know they're going to lose so they're only recourse is to piss and moan like a three-year-old whose mother wouldn't buy him a pack of gum at a grocery store. Mera goes out of her way to spite her sister, who calls her a traitor and shit. But either true love trumps family or Aquaman was just that good in bed. Again, Aquaman haters take notice. To end the battle, Jackson steps up again so he doesn't come off as a total novice/pussy. Using the power of his lineage, he opens the gates of the Bermuda Triangle and forces the invading army back in. It's the kind of security that the boarder police along Mexico can only dream of.

It ends the invasion. Mera gets cursed out by her sister. Black Manta vows to return to his son and perform a little retroactive birth control. It's more whining as they succumb to defeat. You want to feel bad for them, but they've been such world class douche-bags for the entire length of the Aquaman story that it's deeply satisfying to see them defeated. It's not quite as satisfying as the defeat of Mama Hawk a few issues ago, but it should still give fans a hell of a boner minus the side-effects of Viagra.

So now that the battle is over there's only one loose end to tie up. Now that the invading army is gone, Mera and Aquaman share a nice moment. They're still outcasts. Mera is hated by all her people. Jackson's heart rate still isn't going down and the presence of Aquagirl isn't making that any easier. Boobs will do that. However, like Hawkman and Hawkgirl they come together in a way that will make any female comic fans gush like a heavy dose of PMS. They kiss and make-up...literally. If you're not touched by this (even if you're a guy) then you need to drop this comic and go back to choking puppies.

Unfortunately, Aquaman and Mera face the same mishap as the Hawks. Just before they can enjoy their moment and settle into to some super hot underwater sex for which there is not yet a porno genre for, Boston Brand and the White Lantern show up. Boston still has no control and the White Lantern doesn't even give him the decency of an explanation. It just says that Aquaman's mission is complete. Then it kills him, leaving Mera in tears and readers shocked in a way that can only be matched by a few car batteries and some electrodes to the scrotum. It's every bit as powerful as the moment with Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Aquaman went through a hell of a lot, reuniting with Mera and finding Black Manta's son so they could stop the invasion. Then after all that, he's killed again. For anyone who has followed Brightest Day, it hits you like a baseball bat laced with cocaine. It hurts yet it feels so good. If your brain starts melting as a result, don't worry. That's normal.

The end of this issue marks the end of a trio of issues that have set new standards of awesome. For Brightest Day, that's like scaling Mount Everest, building the world's tallest building on top of it, and then climbing it so you can wave your dick at the world from the roof. Geoff Johns keeps hitting so many home runs that Barry Bonds is likely to show up at his house and ask where he gets his shit from. The story surrounding Aquaman took some time to develop and didn't really come into focus until the latter part of the series. However, once it did come together everything fell into place so nicely that it actually enhances to books before it. To say that's rare for a comic book is like saying a unicorn taking a shit in your hard is somewhat unexpected.

I've found very little to criticize with these books. Don't think I'm just singing and dancing naked in my living room, praising Brightest Day the way religious nuts praise images of the Virgin Mary that appear in snack food. I'm trying to find something for Geoff Johns to improve upon, but I can't find anything! Yes, Brightest Day is THAT good. Now you could say that the battle against Mera's people was somewhat rushed and that Mera pushing back the sea was a little contrived. But it helped keep the battle from being too drawn out. It all came together so nicely at the end that to criticize this would be like saying you found small mole on Scarlett Johanssen's ass.

Whatever flaws this book may have had, it's hard to argue that the ending was really powerful. Brightest Day is really stepping up the drama. The White Lantern is now not so pure. It brought back these characters in Blackest Night. Now it's killing them again. It's not doing it in a grotesque Ultimatum style slaughter. It's leaving a profound impact on the characters, the readers, and everything in between. It's not clear if these characters are truly dead or if there's something else the White Lantern is planning. With this series near it's end and the many plots it has going on being tied up, you can feel the finals secrets lying just ahead! For this, Brightest Day is placing itself in the same upper echelons as Blackest Night in the annuls of comic book awesome.

I don't think the score here will surprise anyone. Brightest Day #20 gets a 5 out of 5. I'd give it a higher score if I could, but I'm not going to skew the scale. This book is as awesome as they come for the world of DC. It doesn't matter what kind of comic fan you are, this issue and this series has something for everyone. It'll be a shame when it ends, but that's all the more reason to save this streak of awesome while it lasts. Nuff said!