Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon #17-18

This is it, y'all. The moment of truth. We are at the last two installments of TORN. This is my most favorite of the four story arcs written by Joss Whedon for The Astonishing X-Men yet ,and if this is any indication of the quality of work that Whedon can come up with in the last 18 issues so far then I am absolutely trusting of what he has in store for me next for the fifth arc, as I continue my reading and review of this tantalizing and excitingly unpredictable series. "Exciting unpredictable" is the same phrase I would describe issues #17-18 of TORN because I did not see that resolution coming at all! Right after finishing them, I was in such the best of moods because I was fulfilled by something that I had such a strong emotional investment in, and wasn't let down when all was said and done. There are only a handful of comic book stories that I enjoyed from the start to the finish; most of them have bumpy middle acts and problematic endings. But I can honestly say that TORN was everything that I ever wanted and needed in an X-Men comic book story. All the elements aligned brilliantly together and all of the characters were utilized in the completion of its arc. Well done, Mr. Whedon. This calls for a celebration!


TORN is essentially a story about Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde, both as individual characters and as rivals. The men are merely players in the background and the true main attraction is the traitorous game that Emma played against her teammates, and how the ever resourceful Kitty might be the only key in undoing all that damage, as long as she is strong enough to fight her way through the deceptions and the illusions. Unfortunately for her, battling a telepath is always going to be too much or anyone's plate especially a formidable one who will stop at nothing until she is reduced into an emotional mess. That's exactly the greatest threat and challenge for Kitty Pryde.

Issue #17 opens with Kitty inside a well-crafted telepathic mirage where she believes that she and Peter are married and has just given birth to a baby boy named Michael. The entire illusion lasted only for a few minutes in the real time but inside Kitty's head, she had three years with her fake life and fake family. The one responsible for such a cruel mind trick is the original White Queen (the seventies-costumed villainess we were first introduced to during Dark Phoenix) while the other Emma was still buried underneath the school thanks to Kitty back in the previous issue. So while Kitty is busy living an illusion she much believes is real and urgent, a pussified and petrified Logan can only watch in horror and helplessness as she gets tricked into thinking that Xavier's most guarded vessel called only as "the manger" is where her fake son Michael is trapped in. Last issue, the Hellfire Club talked about the fact that they can never open the damn thing because it's sealed with all kinds of protective measurements as reinforced by Charles himself, and only Kitty's physics-defying phasing mutant power can penetrate through. In doing so, the White Queen wisely realized that she has to give Kitty a proper motivation to break through it, and what better way to do that than make her think that the life of her imaginary three-year-old son depends on it?

Kitty's state of mind right now

It was chilling and all kinds of infuriating to see such a desperate and vulnerable Kitty phase her way through something incredibly painful, all because of a telepathic mind trick courtesy of this original White Queen whose very appearance in this story has made me incredibly suspicious as to what is really going on with this new Hellfire Club. Suddenly, I'm not sure what to trust. None of this is making sense--until we find out what's inside that goddamn manger anyway. It's the disgusting, filthy larvae of Cassandra Nova who is foremost a parasite who needs a host, and as soon as Kitty was successful in taking out that the larvae from the container, and happily shows it to Peter, claiming it as their son, he is just what-the-fuck-ing in his confused state right now, and the two were easily knocked out by Emma as Cassandra whispers into her mind to get Kitty's unconscious body prepared because she is about to become the host. But before Emma could get the transference ready, Scott--bloody de-powered Scott--rises to the occasion, brandishing a gun, and shooting the fuck out the original White Queen. That's how Issue #17 ends; with this heroic panel of Scott being awesome. He looks so hot without that fucking visor hiding his beautiful brown eyes.

Issue #18 is the concluding piece of this epic story arc, and it delivered enough shocks, thrills and a very unexpected revelation so that by the end of the road, I was immensely satisfied with what I was handed. Sure, I was also screaming and seething but I had a big grin on my face once everything finally started making sense, and even when it made sense, that awful sense of dread still took over and I was all the more worried for the characters and the future storylines that are coming especially now that we have another stage that was set. Before we go to the revelation concerning Emma Frost, it's important for me to discuss the B-story that is soon to be the A-story for the next story arc which is the exhausting countdown to Ord the Dumb-Dumb's confrontation with the future Breakworld destroyer, Colossus, and what an asshole Danger is for siding with him. By midway issue #18, these two unlikely allies make their appearance and things get more topsy-turvy for everyone because they have to deal with these assholes while the X-Men are still clamoring over the attack by Frost and the Hellfire Club.

Me, panicking for everyone else
But with Scott Summers finally taking over, things are filled with hope once more. Whatever crippling telepathic stupor that Emma has put Scott under in the earlier issues, well, the badass was able to shake it off just in time to start shooting sons of bitches. I thought it was weird that he just started gunning for Sebastian Shaw and Negasonic so easily without either of them putting up a fight. He was also very casual about the entire thing as he explains to Kitty who is the real villain in this centerpiece. This is being done all the while he maintains a connection with the young student telepath Blindfold who is busy trying to tame Beast and get him to accessing his higher functions as an intelligent man....using a fucking ball of thread. Because, Beast is a cat now. Meanwhile, this is when Ord and Danger struck with an explosive entrance, causing Logan to get tossed around and get a beer can hit in him the face. The impact of both those things managed to be painful and abrupt enough to release him from Nova's telepathic manipulation and so the Wolverine is back to put concerned individuals into some world of hurt. He starts with Ord and Danger. Beast joins the fight once he puts on a fancy suit and starts using a Magento-inspired gadget he had worked on so he can nail Ord and Danger on the ceiling using magnetism. All is looking well for everyone, and the players now gather to Scott who reveals whatever the hell is happening with Emma and the Hellfire Club.

The great reveal is that THERE IS NO HELLFIRE CLUB. There never was. It was only Cassandra Nova...or at least a splinter of her inside Emma Frost's mind, taking root and slowly growing, driving her to act accordingly to what the cunt has planned which is her escape from that container. Everything had been a grand illusion which Frost was able to sustain enough with Nova's guiding force so intricately imprinted in her psyche, controlling her and influencing her actions. Sebastian, Perfection, Negasonic, even that physical manifestation of Cassandra---they're all false and it was just Emma and her guilt which Cassandra Nova feasted on. Scott and Hank expound:

"It was Emma who stuck Cassandra Nova's consciousness inside that blob in the first place. And Nova does a 'hail mary' into Emma's brain before she fades. One tiny suggestion, too small to notice, but clamped on to Emma's greatest weakness, feeding, growing, creating an alternate reality for Emma."

Really heavy and riveting stuff. Emma Frost is losing her mind to a brain worm courtesy of Cassandra Nova, and her last plea out of it is by recruiting Kitty back in the team as her failsafe. She knows Kitty won't hesitate to take her out and Scott is right to say that Kitty is doing exactly what Emma expected for her to do...which is to kill her. Horrified, disgusted and very vulnerable, Kitty doesn't go through it but it doesn't mean she's ready to forgive Emma for the deception and that cruel mind trick about her imaginary three-year-old son. Who could ever move on from that? I feel for Kitty. But I also feel for Emma. And I am very, very proud of Scott! I just confirmed that Scott was not injected with the mutant cure, so we can all stop freaking out about that. False alarm, my bad. 

The collective reaction of  my readers concerning that

The issue ends by Whedon picking right up on the B-story concerning the Breakworld without a moment's preamble. Not a very smooth transition, I must say. Everyone is still reeling from Emma's betrayal and the Nova brain worm lodged in her consciousness; Kitty is still emotionally wounded from the hurtful mind trick, and Scott is unable to access his powers which means we will get to see more of those beautiful brown eyes. So Agent Brand kidnaps the X-Men, not giving a single fuck of what they have just been through as she readies to throw them in another baptism of fire where chances of survival might be slimmer than expected. That's usually just Wednesdays for X-Men, ain't it?


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