Friday, November 13, 2015

The Astonishing X-Men by Marjorie Liu, Volume 12: Unmasked

It would seem that the third time is the charm for writer Marjorie Liu. As the very last writer for this 2005-2013 series of The Astonishing X-Men, she really delivered on the last arcs for her run, mainly because it focused on two characters I find so compelling and enjoyable to read about. They are no other than Shi'ar warrior Warbird (issues #57-58), and the youngest of the Original Core Five of sixties X-Men, Bobby Drake, a.k.a Iceman (issues #62-65). All these issues were illustrated by artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta whose visual work was just majestic for me as I explore through the panels, more so when it was accompanied with a more cohesive and meaningful narrative penned by Liu.

As I've stated from my previous review about the Karma-centric story for the eleventh volume Weaponized, this is my very first time meeting Warbird's character. From what I can gather, she is a Shi'ar warrior exiled on earth who is an honorable woman who swore to serve and protect the weak, albeit one who lacked the skills to interact with humans normally. She's an alien, after all, and that makes her ineptness in dealing with people so adorable, especially those panels with her conversing with a human child from the last volume. Since then, I was captivated by her because I'm so amused by that small exchange since it was reminiscent of another character I love from the CW show Supernatural, the angel Castiel. Like Cas, she's painstakingly awkward around humanity but a force to be reckoned with as a powerful fighter. 

Warbird was also respectful even toward others whose values she does not share. For example, she does not recognize Northstar's gay marriage with his civilian boyfriend Kyle as a valid one, but she did not feel the need to personally attack his choice. Instead, she merely declined his invitation to the wedding and doing it by being polite as possible which was nice. It showed that she has convictions but she would never impose those convictions or oppress other people with it. So I was so happy that Liu wrote a two-parter story focusing on Warbird. Personally, I wish it was longer but I was nonetheless thrilled that even with its brevity, it managed to be so insightful concerning Warbird who I think she is officially my NEWEST FAVORITE X-MAN! Witness her adorkableness:

So Volume 12: Unmasked is divided between Warbird and Iceman, and the titular theme is applicable to both of them. We eventually find out over the course of their arcs that both are hiding behind a well-cultivated but ultimately failing facade to arm and guard themselves from whatever shame and rejection they fear or have represse, and Liu did a wonderful job exploring the facets of these feelings for their respective stories. Now this is what I like the most from comic books: riveting character arcs, and Liu delivered. She delivered well enough in this volume that my earlier harsh criticisms from her previous installments can be set aside since she followed up with something daring that possesses a heart. Look, I'm hardly that difficult to please. I'm perfectly happy with a comic book as long as it makes me care about the characters and allows me to root for them and, in some cases, wish them dead. Either way, you would have had be hooked if you as a writer would manage to do this. Liu finally has, thanks to her spectacular characterizations of Warbird and Iceman.

Just in time for Christmas in Manhattan, Warbird feels all alone in an alien place called Earth, and having been invited to have some quiet dinner with Shan (Karma) and her siblings, Warbird still feels awkward and unsure about herself. And then she recognized an image of an artifact in one of the magazines inside the house and she took off without even saying where she is heading. The X-Men, along with S.H.I.E.L.D, tracked her down to Cairo, Egypt. There she uncovered an unsettling truth concerning an ancient race from Earth that the Shi'ar Empire has wiped out, fearing their technology as harmful infection that could destroy the Shi'ar. Warbird encountered one of its last remaining descendants (but was revealed to be merely a machine created by said race) and she was haunted by memories of her past she tried so hard to bury. When the X-Men found her, she was unconscious and upon waking she told them exactly what has gotten her so rattled. It turned out that the ancient race her own kind has wiped out was composed of a civilization of artists which is something the Shi'ar somehow feared because, according to Warbird, their art--specifically their music--can penetrate through their layers of consciousness. 

Therefore, it can be used for manipulation and the Shi'ar expected the worst from this invention and decided to slaughter the race that have found a way to, well, basically, touch their souls. Talk about unnecessary overkill. There truly is nothing more damning that plain old ignorance. But, as Liu put it, "We will always be surprised at what can hurt us. And, equally, what will save us." The most personal thing about is was that Warbird was gifted with a talent for art, and yet she saw this as a 'defect' which made me so sad for her because she was ashamed of something that should have been celebrated in the first place!

In the end, Warbird was overcome with vulnerability and decided to listen to the advice of the last descendant of that unfortunate race, and embrace that she doesn't have to remain a warrior fighting wars because that was her conditioning. She could be whatever she wants now after being freed from her own planet's control. Now she can explore her other skills and that includes and not limited to art. I was so happy for her decision to do the bravest thing she could ever do at this point, and that is to willingly accept that there may be another purpose for her this time than mere violence and war. This simple two-issued story about a character I haven't even known that long and only met just now resonated with me so much and I definitely will check out more of Warbird in other titles next time!

Now, we move ahead with Iceman's storyline. For the first time since Whedon and Ellis, we get an arc that ran for at least five issues which are so exciting, splendid and well-crafted. I'm glad that I gave Liu a chance to redeem herself because she did so in a big way with her deft and painful characterization of Bobby Drake who has functioned in several titles I've read before (Jeff Parker's X-Men: First Class and Brian Michael Bendis' All-New X-Men) as comic relief. Well, that was the teenage Bobby. We are talking about the adult veteran here who has seen his share of horrors and despair. You might have noticed that I skipped issues #59-61 and that's because those are crossover issues about Apocalypse which I just didn't bother myself with because they were not included in this collected volume anyway. But the premise for Iceman's arc here came from said crossover. Apparently, during the commotion in that crossover, goddamn Dark Beast transfered a death seed inside Bobby which then fed on his darkest thoughts and feelings as well as his rage and guilt about his father, authority figures in general and failed romances. That's how this story started; by Bobby having face all his girlfriends from the past (Lorraine, Opal and Annie) while having to deal with his current romance with Kitty Pryde who is also still reeling from the loss of her first love Peter Rasputin (Colossus). 

Everything stings and I can't stop reading because of it! One of my favorite moments was when Kitty went to Logan (of all people) for relationship advice. It's so gooood to see Kitty again even if she's not necessarily part of the X-Men team going on missions. Her mere presence and participation in this reminded me of Whedon's run especially now that she's reminiscing about Peter and the future they could have had. Too bad Bobby was within earshot and listening to this. Like I said, everything about this story just stings, like small paper cuts slowly accumulating in a forgotten corner of your mind until they suddenly become plenty and sharp enough to really make you bleed out. That's how it felt for Bobby, I think, as I read him go through probably the darkest periods of his life. It's great---but also, you know, NOT.

Another important thing worth mentioning is that, apparently, Iceman and Mystique got it on too. Well, should I really be shocked? That turncoating, backstabbing, unpredictable shapeshifter bitch-face gets around, and this is no exception. Raven Darkholme just doesn't give a fuck anymore so nobody trusts her when she offered to help Bobby battle his terrifying demon that's about to unleash the biggest snowstorm that is guaranteed to snuff out life in the planet. Hell, even Thor was freaking out about it, claiming it will make way for Ragnarok. As an elemental, Bobby's powers have always been hard to discern; its potentials, its limits, and so it's not surprising that he would be able to unleash something terrible in the off-chance he started to feel like being the bad guy and you better believe he is consumed by playing the villain for this story that even Mystique is embarrassed to be knocked down a peg by how impressive his girth of villainy is becoming. Nevertheless, somewhere inside that impenetrable giant ice form--refusing to listen to his friends--is still Bobby Drake only that he has also finally learned to deal with ugly feelings, no longer masking his sorrow underneath a false bravado and ready humor. It's quite bothersome to see him this way, as well as the fact that he is maliciously trying to kills us all with snow.

Timely GIF jokes aside, this is some serious shit and I cannot for the life of me can't stop reading even while I was at work. It has got to be one of the most suspenseful reading experiences I had which is saying something because I have honestly zombied through reading this title since the quality of the series has dropped so drastically in just a span of ten or so issues. Now we're back to form. Now I care about characters again, and I'm afraid of what will happen to them. The best part was this interaction between Warbird and Iceman. I FANGIRLED SO HARD because I love Warbird already and her on-point insights about Bobby in these panels just killed me! Girl read him like a book and it was glorious! If I wasn't at work, I would have pumped by fists alternately in air!

But that's not all either! Kitty Pryde also confronts him because if anyone can knock some sense into anyone, it's always Kitten!!

I won't spoil the ending because I'd like you to pick up this volume yourself. Overall, Marjorie Liu delivered, thank Loki fuck, and so I'm more than happy to end my reviews for the official run of the 2005-2013 series The Astonishing X-Men on a positive note! Man, what a journey! Up next is Brian Michael Bendis' Uncanny X-Men because I can't delay reading that title anymore, considering it's happening back-to-back with his other title All-New X-Men which I have read before Astonishing and I would like to see for myself how Bendis balanced his writing on both major titles. I'll also be reviewing X-Men Volume IV alongside it because that's where the ladies at!!~


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