Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chronic Review: Ultimate X # 2

Ultimate X # 2
Marvel Comics

Script: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Art Adams
23 pages for $3.99

OK, this is my new guilty pleasure. The goddamn thing costs $4 and there's no reason why I should subject myself to that level of abuse. The thing is, I had such an unexpected visceral response to the first issue that I had to check in with the second issue to see if Loeb had caught lightning in a bottle or if there was really something to the series.

There's really something to it.

Issue two is the story of Jean Grey, although she's traded in her old identity and has become a raven-haired beauty by the name of Karen Page. The problem with trying to remain incognito in the 21st century is that everything is instantaneously public. An innocent Facebook photo posted by a starry-eyed boyfriend ruins Ms. Page's anonymity, and then all hell breaks loose. Jean mindwipes as many witnesses as she can and resolves to start over, and then Jimmy Hudson bumps into her at the end.

It isn't the plot that gets me, although it isn't bad, either. There is something about Ultimate X that completely replicates the feeling I used to get reading comics back in the day. It doesn't mimic the dialogue/format/pacing exactly, at least I don't believe it does.

What it does is tap into some hyper-cool mixed with a splash of psychological visibility. In the 1980s, comics "got me" in a way that other media did not. What I mean to say is that when I finished reading, say...X-Men, or Dreadstar, or Power Man & Iron Fist, it was wide-open action combined with melodrama, and that was what spoke to me. I'd say it still speaks to me.

Comics were the best of movies and television times ten. Technology has allowed them to catch up a little bit. Now comics are the best of movies and television times three. And there were a lot of stories revolving around misunderstood, under appreciated, persecuted loners. That's how everybody sees themselves, I suppose, but nothing could be more pertinent to the Teenage Manatee.

I think that's what comics have forgotten lately. The juice isn't which character will "die" this month, or whether the Hope baby can actually save the day, or who the members of the All New Super Ultra Double Ultimate Avengers lineup will be. That's all marketing bullshit. That's like buying your candy bar for the wrapper. It aint about plot, folks.

The juice is recognizing that it's part of the human condition to feel special, or at least attempt to be special, and find that the world tends to take a dump on your face regardless. That's where the X-Men's power has always come from. You may be gifted, but there are a lot more of "them" than there are of "you", and it hurts like hell to feel unloved. It's inspiring to see characters a bit in your boat, so you can see them feel your pain and try to rise above it. I suppose it will sound strange and slightly psychotic....but I rose above a lot of my pain because Scott Summers and Matt Murdock and John Constantine taught me how to do it.

This is the magic of Ultimate X, and quite frankly, it's high magic. I don't mean to suggest that it's sophisticated, or groundbreaking. Jeph Loeb did not re-invent the wheel - he was wise enough to pull a really good old one off the wall. No, it isn't Sandman. But not everything has to be. It's like criticizing Van Halen's 1984 for not measuring up to Vivaldi. They're not the same thing, there's room for both in your Ipod, and sometimes you just want to listen to "Hot For Teacher". There's nothing wrong with that.

Ultimate X is a superhero soap opera of the highest caliber, and I'm way into it now. The problem from here on out is that most stubborn of hobgoblins, the goddamn price point. I will not abide paying $4 for a regular sized book. I just won't.

So I'm now done with the monthlies unless they drop the price. If I can get the trades for a reasonable price, I look forward to that with great anticipation. It's a shame, though, that we're being held hostage by the price whores on this one.

- Ryan

No comments: