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X-MEN: ROAD TRIPPIN'

A diverting, if uneven, look at the X-Men after hours

By Jason Henderson     July 12, 2000

X-Men: Road Trippin' is a diverting if highly uneven collection of stories--culled helter-skelter from about twenty-five years of X-Men and X-Men-related comics--that play in some way or another off the concept of the 'road trip,' or at the very least the escape from the norm. It's diverting because there are some neat moments here; uneven because, like many of these comics anthologies, it's often difficult to choose stories that can be read as singular narratives when they've been lifted from long, ongoing storylines.

But it's a good theme. I've often wondered why it is that 'road movies' always take the form of a drive into the desert, as happens in most of the stories here. I can guess: Thomas Merton, the desert philosopher, suggested that the desert is the place where humans can find the truth about themselves, not because the conditions are harsh (and they are) but because the conditions are also empty. Your mind empties of distractions and real discoveries can be made. In X-Men comics, life seems unusually high in distractions, many of them towering and dangerous and hurling things at you, so one imagines that the X-Men require a good mental scrubbing more than most.

The most prevalent theme seen here is also the best and most common theme of wilderness travels: graduation, or the 'Escape from Authority.' Echoing Joseph Campbell, the members of X-Force wander west because they've decided to strike out on their own in stories reprinted from X-Force #71 and #75. I was never a big X-Force fan, but I enjoyed the tales here, which are quiet and pensive for Marvel. The gang--Dani Moonstar, Roberto DaCosta (Sunspot,) Tabitha Smith (Meltdown,) James Proudstar (Warpath) and Theresa Rourke (Siryn)--are determined to prove they can make it outside of the all-seeing, all-providing atmosphere of the X-Men's home. In particular, they're running from Cable, their teacher, who they feel they've outgrown. These are teenagers, and it's fun to watch them revel in such a simple thing as sneaking five broke kids into a hotel room. As these things tend to happen, Roberto is a trust fund baby, but can't access his money just now.

In the second X-Force story, the gang find themselves at a Burning Man-like festival in the desert called the 'Exploding Colossal Man Shindig and Hullabaloo.' I couldn't care less about the supervillain who shows up to grapple with Dani, but the real drama is in the then-budding relationship between Meltdown and Sunspot, who have been flirting for months but just now--just now, caught up in the sensual drums of the festivalfinally kiss. Of course, this happens just in time for Meltdown's boyfriend and Sunspot's best friend Cannonball to show up. This is a nice moment. But the most beautiful moment is when Cable in fact appears, but doesn't shows himself: He has observed in silence that the kids are fine without him. In the desert wilderness, they graduate.

The 'Escape from Authority' theme is reflected again in a reprint of X-Men #138, in which Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops, says good-bye to the team. Scott gives us a complete origin of the X-Men at the funeral of Jean Grey, but what comes through most is his strange relationship with Professor X, who has been a father figure to Cyclops since he pulled Scott from the orphanage in which he grew up. As Cyclops tells the story, not once but twice did Professor X cruelly hoax his 'X-Men,' once to test their mettle by pretending he couldn't help them against Magneto, and again, even worse, by pretending to die. 'I thought it cruel,' says Cyclops, and he indicates little to suggest he's changed his mind. Now, with Jean dead, Cyclops is leaving, and he gets both his 'Escape' and his graduation: Professor X sends him on his way with, 'Were you my own son--my own flesh and blood--I could not be more proud of you.' And exit Cyclops. The sins of the father don't matter anymore.

The search for Change among the unchanging wilderness also brings us to a story from Uncanny X-Men #323, in which Rogue and Iceman break down in the desert and have to walk because they've vowed not to use their powers for the trip. Unlike in X-Force, there's no love tension here (Rogue is pining for Gambit, naturally), which seems a waste of the desert. This reprint is sort of a waste of good pages, though, because the rest of the issue takes place among the X-Men in Westchester, and isn't relevant to the theme.

The best Wolverine story among the bunch is from Wolverine #78, a 1993 story in which Wolverine squares off against a filthy, rat-like vampire he's faced before. The vampire needs Logan's near-immortal blood, and Logan, moving through dangerous, snowy mountain terrain, knows he's being tracked. 'This is my turf. Let them come.' Logan's words to the vampire in the end--this is a man shown here to have been at Omaha Beach--are chilling. 'Why the look of surprise? Did you think you could live forever?'

'Escape from the Demands of Everyday Life' is the theme for my favorite two stories, back-to-back reprints of Uncanny X-Men #244 and #245. Here, writer Chris Claremont decides to tell two light stories in a row, giving us 'Ladies Night Out' followed by 'Men.' In 'Ladies Night Out,' the very 80's, Sheena Easton-ish foursome of Storm, Psylocke, Rogue and Dazzler tire of their then-current Australian exile. Moreover, Rogue has developed a full-on split personality, sharing her body with Carol Danvers, a superhero whose memories and powers she absorbed. 'Carol' keeps taking over and redecorating Rogue's place. To escape this angst, the four (five?) women teleport by way of an extraordinary plot contrivance to a mall in Los Angeles, where they watch male strippers, do their hair and save the hitherto unknown Jubilee from a lame bunch of Ghostbuster wannabes. It's a fun tale, especially because of young Jubilee's adoration of these strange mutant women. Plus, it's nice to see Claremont lighten up.

He stays light in 'Men,' in which Wolverine decides the X-guys should follow Storm's lead and hit the town. They do, resulting in drinking games and carousing while, in a genuinely hilarious plot, Claremont gives us the 'Alien Invasion That Never Was.' These aliens, called 'The Conquest,' come to Earth to take over, in ship after horrible ship. Their mistake is they land in Australia, where no-one cares, the alien soldiers defect to drink with the X-Men and the Mayor of Sydney is all too happy to hand over his responsibility to anyone.

Interestingly, in each of these stories, the characters wish to escape from everyday life, but they seem to fail. As superheroes, action follows them. The only difference here is that the action is usually of less consequence. The only story in which the heroes really do escape without anything remotely continuity-affecting happening is 'At the Sign of the Lion,' a nice and short 1970's tale in which Wolverine and Hercules meet in a bar and fight over women. I love the bartender ('Wait! My insurance doesn't cover superheroes!') and also the silliness of it all, as Hercules and Wolverine stand in the end, congratulating one another and looking around to find an empty, trashed bar. 'Zounds! Where went the revelers? What became of the wenches?' I ask the same question all the time.

I actually enjoyed Road Trippin', but you'll have to be patient with it unless you're familiar with everything that's happened in Marvel continuity over the last quarter century. Is it worth picking up? If you like your heroes on their off days, in cutoffs instead of spandex, then yes.

Trade paperback from Marvel. Written by: Various. Art by: Various.

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