Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wolverine and Jubilee 1-4: Comic mini-series review

Wolverine and Jubilee 1-4
Publisher: Marvel
Script: Kathryn Immonen
Art: Phil Noto

Jubilee always was a trend follower. When hanging at the mall all day was in style, that’s what she did. Now sucking blood, staying up all night, hanging out with Bella Swan and burning to ashes when exposed to direct sunlight are the fad, so Jubilee’s become a vampire.

I have no idea when Jubilee became the monster du jour but I believe it must have happened during one of those multi-book crossover events Marvel dumps on us every other month or so, with all the X-people fighting vampires; after all, the cover copy reads "Curse of the Mutants Aftermath." Characters refer to Jubilee's transformation and discuss how she even turned her old pal Wolverine into a vampire as well. This has understandably left the other mutants a bit wary of Jubilee, so they first keep her in a glass box as if she were Hannibal Lector’s favored daughter. After that, she moves into a nice stainless-steel business hotel room complete with a mini-fridge full of bottled Wolverine blood. I'm not sure if vampires prefer their blood chilled or at room or body temperature, but the magical red stuff flowing through Wolverine's veins is the only thing that can keep Jubilee's vampiric bloodlust in check. The X-Men and all their employees want to make sure there's plenty on hand. But what Jubilee doesn't know is they're keeping a running total and adding the charges to her bill.

Despite such apparent expertise, I have to admit my knowledge of Jubilee is kind of spotty. When I lived in Japan my workday ended at 9pm and I tried to get home in time to watch re-runs of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends on the Disney Channel; more often than not, I came in too late and ended up watching the last few minutes of X-Men, the cult-fave cartoon from the 1990s with Jubilee as a major character. Since then, I've mostly thought of her as the spunky kid archetype, a smart-ass Kitty Pryde substitute; you know how the X-people always have to have an underage girl on the team for Wolverine to mentor. The Jubilee of my mind spends her days at the mall, wearing totally outrageous clothes ten years out of date and talking in the kind of sassy teen slang a middle-aged male comic book writer would come up with having watched a few ABC "TGIF" family sitcoms.

I bought the first issue of Wolverine and Jubilee because there wasn't much on the shelf that day and I simply hate walking out of a comic shop empty handed, especially one that seems to have about 5 customers a week. I read it a few days later, expecting little from it beyond some pretty art. To my amazement, I found myself engaged and interested in Jubilee's dilemma. For the first time in my hardboiled comic reading life, I actually cared about this character.

Writer Kathryn Immonen's achievement becomes all the more impressive because Jubilee's problems stem from the essentially silly premise of a world where superhero mutants can become vampires. Actually, in this world, the idea of mutation itself is mostly a catch-all excuse to create arbitrarily powered characters. Someone might have bird wings, another might look exactly like a frog and exhibit frog-like behaviors. And look, here comes Dracula to drink their blood. Deftly avoiding camp, Immonen crafts an affecting portrait of a young woman possessed of strange new powers, isolated and vulnerable as a result. Jubilee is uncomfortably slung between fight and flight, at war with both her elders and her contemporaries, the very people she once counted on as family.

In the opening scenes, Immonen wisely doesn't try to out-Juno Diablo Cody. Jubilee's quips are witty, but not supernaturally so. After more than half an issue of confrontations with several first- and second tier characters-- including Armor, her own replacement as resident purveyor of underage spunkiness and quips-- Jubilee becomes enchanted with a mysterious woman who also turns out to be a vampire, ever so briefly involves herself in human trafficking, then goes into summer blockbuster heroine mode, with brains to match her vampiric brawn. It turns out she's to be made a hostage so Wolverine will kill something or someone. Never forgetting she's writing a superhero story, Immonen does a fine job in the story's second half with several action-heavy sequences admirable in their weirdness, such as the scene where Wolverine confronts a zombie accountant who has a disarming way of keeping himself fed, or when one of Jubilee's few age-appropriate friends Rockslide-- looking like the lovechild of Ben Grimm and Badrock from Youngblood-- goes to a laundromat and ends up fighting a talkative dragon. Towards the end, Jubilee finds herself climbing down a battleship inside some kind of featureless void full of floating Egyptian pyramids and the Baltimore Hotel.

It's one thing to write about featureless netherworld pawn shops; it's another to make these ideas work as two-dimensional visuals. Fortunately, Noto's art is outstanding as well. While the backgrounds are somewhat sterile-- possibly due to the coloring-- the characters aren't generic heroic types. Wolverine has the doughy face of a barfly air conditioner repairman, while Jubilee sports messy hair and rolls her eyes in exasperation whenever she sees through Wolverine's clumsy attempts to help her regain her footing in the context of her new un-life. Or maybe they're clumsy attempts not to have to kill her. Whatever they are, they irritate Jubilee because they frequently involve either forcing upon her the company of Pixie, a ludicrously conceived character with pink hair, elf ears and fairy wings left over from those crushed Ritalin-snorthing, rave-happy pre-Millennial years we call the late 1990s, or simply stabbing her in the neck with a loaded syringe. But how tall is Jubilee supposed to be? I've always thought of Wolverine as a shorty, topping out around 5'4" or so. Yet he towers over Jubilee during their sparring sessions and heartfelt yet edgy father-daughterish conversations.

There is something of a letdown after the final battle, though. Immonen and Noto forgot to tell us if Jubilee is the sparkly kind of vampire.

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