How YOU doin’? Now picture that in a Joey Tribbiani-like voice and that is how my typical New York greeting goes. That’s relevant because the X-Men are still in the Big Apple cavorting with everyone’s favorite webslinger. By cavorting, I of course mean doing background checks on missing teenagers and standing around a computer with his mutant mates. So all you tech-savvy teens out there, take a lesson from this tale of internet peril.
X-Men, vol. 3 #8: “To Serve and Protect,” Part Two
Written by Victor Gischler
Penciled and Colored by Chris Bachalo
Inked by Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson
Plot: A small team of X-Men, consisting of Storm, Wolverine, Gambit and Emma Frost, is investigating a rash of disappearances in the sewers of New York City. After fending off a wave of vicious lizard-humanoids, Spider-Man appears and convinces the X-Men to cease their pursuit of the creatures. Spidey tells the band of mutants the history of scientist Curt Conners, also known as the reptilian-villain, the Lizard. Since his return to scaly form, Conners’ persona (as well as his son) has been devoured by the Lizard. Even worse, the Lizard now has the ability to affect the brainwaves of any human around him, turning them into the cold-blooded creatures.
Emma is quick to arrange a swanky apartment in the city for the team to set up operations. With Spider-Man’s help, and Cypher’s decoding of the X-Net from their home base in San Francisco, the X-Men investigate the disappearances of four teenagers in the past two days. Each member of the team is sent to meet with the family of one of the missing children. They learned that none of the teens were popular among their peers. The X-Men all came to the conclusion that the only connection between the four was their lack of social skills.
They are all “geeks,” like Max, who stays up every night playing an online, role-playing, computer game with his friends. One morning, after a night fueled by gaming, Max is distraught when his group turns on him and kills his character. They tell him they were only using him for his magic items. Max quietly vows revenge. Later that day, Max is jumped by some punks in the park while walking home from school. They assault Max, break his glasses and dump the contents of his school bag on the ground, before running off.
Max returns home and goes online to the website “www.everythingsux.com” where he vents about being controlled by his “inferiors.”He is contacted by another member of the site, who goes by the username DB001, and is told that they need to join forces. Max gets directions to a meeting place where he is told plans are being made to get even with all the jerks that have wronged him.
In his database search, Cypher is able to connect the missing teens to the very same website and the user DB001, with whom they had all communicated for several hours. Cypher hacks the system and allows the X-Men to watch Max’s interaction with the suspect. Emma telepathically puts Storm in contact with Wolverine and he follows Max to the meeting place, a shady, dirty basement. When Max is taken captive by a big, leather-clad Lizard named Lars, Wolverine attempts to come to the rescue. A horde of lizardmen appear and distract Wolverine long enough for Lars to escape with his captive.
The four missing teenagers are seen trying to pick the lock of a cell where they are being held. An off-screen captor hushes the bickering children. The unseen baddie is tapping away on a computer, trolling his favorite website, searching for more test subjects for Dr. Connor’s “intriguing research.” A large lizard is seen dangling in a cybernetic suit and mask, with wires and tubes sprouting from his body.
The Astonishing: I actually had more positive things written down in my notes than I had expected. Unfortunately, none of them were strong enough to support the rating of this issue. There were some aspects of the characters that I appreciated though I still felt that these were just caricatures of the real X-Men. I suspect that since this is something like the fourth title on the X-comic totem pole, they don’t have a lot of room to make drastic changes to the characters.
The interaction between Spider-Man and Wolverine had a humorous tone to it and shows the close bond between the Avenger teammates. Why Spider-Man attacked him at the end of the last episode is still a mystery. My only guess is that Spidey knew Wolverine could handle it and was just fooling around.
Bachalo offers up more of the same art in this issue, and while I’m not fond of the wide faces of his characters, I’m getting used to his style. His art appears really grand and Bachalo has a knack for portraying large rooms and cluttered scenes. Bachalo packs as much detail as he can into his panels with this quantity-over-quality approach. The detail in the sewer walls, the cluttered shelves and desk in Max’s bedroom, and the numerous little red-eyed lizards that populated the tunnels are all great examples of how he added more detail to the scenes.
Another successful tactic Bachalo employed in this issue was the use of red as an impact color. Red was featured all throughout this comic, in the background of some action scenes and tinting the world of the game that Max played. Max’s clothes and backpack, a random volleyball at the filthy meeting place, the lens of Lars the lizard’s goggles, as well as the eyes of all the creepy critters, stood out thanks to the use of red. The black-and-white color scheme of the missing teens’ stories and the Lizard was a nice way to distinguish their scenes from the rest of the art.
The Uncanny: I love World of Warcraft as much as the next geek, but I don’t think the assassination of someone’s character in a computer game should be one of the larger action sequences in a comic. The “thwip” sound effect used in the game when one character is roped up, was nice, but the really over-exaggerated gaming lingo used by Gischler kind of irked the WoW-player side of me. “Eat hot +10 Lawful-Good Holy Relic Dagger Action.” Come on, that’s not a real attack.
The X-Men really drove home the fact that these missing children were outcasts and geeks. I thought that Spider-Man’s alter-ego would have been a better match to sympathize with the kids, but they provided no connection between nerdy Peter Parker and these kids. Spidey simply compared it to how he, as a hero, is considered an outsider by many in the city, including the mayor. Emma was quick to point out that it was a silly comparison.
Emma showed some inconsistencies once again in this issue. Her assessment that the missing kids were weak was a good indication of the ruthless, young mutant-instructor she had once been. She is one of the X-Men’s top tier telepaths, and Emma uses her powers to lift information from the grandmother of one of the victims , and again to contact Wolverine, but for some reason she needs to use a cell phone to contact Warren Worthington. A cell phone can get service in the tunnels, but a powerful mind can’t?
This story is a weird mixture of a public service announcement, cybernetics, and a classic Spidey and X-Men team-up story. It’s really heavy on the dangers of teen angst, the internet as an outlet for troubled youth and the potential tragedies that come from tormenting them. I’m not against combating teen bullying, but the seriousness of that topic is kind of diminished when readers see Cyber-Lizard hooked up to some crazy-looking machine at the end.
What is going on with the Lizard in this story then? Is that the Lizard in the tech-suit? If so, who is the mystery man controlling him and looking into Dr. Connors’ research? What is this man’s obsession with troubled teens? Hopefully these questions will all be answered soon because right now these angles don’t seem to mesh well and this team-up between Spidey and the mighty mutants leaves a lot to be desired.
Spider-Man and his Amazing X-Friends: The Lizard has gotten a pretty radical change in Amazing Spider-Man. His more savage appearance and new ability to alter brainwaves is brought into this X-Men title, so it’s nice to see the continuity carried over and not just ignored. Spider-Man’s brief history lesson about Dr. Conners was a good way to bring the X-Men, and any reader not familiar with the scaly scoundrel, up to speed on the Spider-Man bad guy. Bachelo’s full page spread of Spider-Man relating the story was handled nicely. I liked the different Spidey heads appearing around the edge of the panel continuing the story through the speech balloons.
Rating: Meh, art. Poor, action, character development and writing. Bad, story. 1.5/5 credits at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning