Tuesday, 19 July 2016

FRS #3: "This Lady Kills!"

(Reheated meal)


There's not a great deal I can say about this one; it's the third issue of the series, and clearly an instalment which only exists to get us to the four parts Marvel minis of the era apparently all needed to have. The first 15 pages simply retread the material of the second issue, with the White Queen trying to train Angelica to be more aggressive with her powers, and Angelica herself dealing with the resentment of her fellows. This reiteration would be fairly irritating under most circumstances, but compounding the problem here is that Emma is still trying to persuade Firestar (through android training replicas and the "hallucinator" bracelet) that the X-Men desire the young woman's death even after she faced them in UXM #193 and found out there were pretty much OK. Not only does this make much of this issue seem pointless, the need to have Emma explain via flashback what happened during that confrontation means by far the most exciting event of the issue isn't even in the issue, once again raising the question of what this mini-series is actually supposed to be doing beyond filling in some rather uninspiring background on a character only briefly glimpsed before.

There's exactly one moment in the first two thirds of the issue that I like; when Roulette uses one of her bad luck discs to make Angelica trip during a dance class, Empath has to ramp up the teacher's frustration with his own powers to make her explode at Firestar for her "clumsiness". It's maybe not a particularly important thing in the grand scheme of the universe, but I always appreciate the suggestion that an education professional isn't going to start screaming at one of their pupils in the middle of a class because they screwed up. Given the almost endless number of scenes in teenage-aimed stories (and beyond, frankly) in which teachers are portrayed as sadistic tormentors always seventy minutes away from a coronary incident, it's nice when a story reminds us the intersection between those who want to educate children and those who want to terrify and humiliate them is actually pretty small. Of course, this is less an impressive piece of scripting from DeFalco than it is a moment of baseline competence that's somehow ridiculously rare.

In the final third, things get a little better, as Angelica takes a trip home to be reunited with the father who essentially disowned her as a mutant last time they met. It'd be easy to have him remain a one-note bigot and for Firestar to refuse to acknowledge him from the off (which, to be clear, would be a perfectly reasonable position for her to take). Instead Angelica is delighted to see her father, and keen to jump-start their relationship. As always, having never been disowned by my family for an irreducible part of my identity (I've probably come close with my politics, but that's another matter) I can't sensibly describe this as the more "realistic" approach, but I'd characterise it as a more interesting one.

It can't last, of course, Mr Jones, like Rusty in XFC #4, has spent too much of the last seven years hating mutants to be able to process them no longer being just images on the news. His confession to Angelica's "bodyguard" that he sometimes thinks his daughter would be better dead than red mutated has a horrible ring of verisimilitude to it. And he can try all he likes to insist his problem is not one of genetic bigotry but concern for how Angelica manifests her powers, but screaming "Are you crazy, girl?" at his only daughter for the crime of touching a cat makes that a pretty difficult sale. Over the long term, this might actually have been a story with some mileage in it, though one would have hoped it could be written by someone other than a cis-het white guy.

Whilst the final third is a step up, though, it's still not a total success. Frost has only allowed Firestar to come home so one of her agents - dressed as the Star Trek IV boombox punk, for some reason - to fake an attempt on Mr Jones' life. The hope is that this immediate threat to Angelica's last known living relative will finally trigger a willingness to kill. Which is exactly what happens, leaving Emma's pseudo-punk assassin in critical condition, and the White Queen herself in high spirits. At long last Firestar finally cannot claim to have never deliberately microwaved a human's innards. After all that sweat, Frost can finally make use of Angelica Jones as a deadly assassin against... Selene?

Selene. After two issues of Frost plotting to use Jones to murder Xavier - something we already know she didn't do - we suddenly switch to a character not even mentioned in the mini until this issue, when she annoys Shaw (also missing from the first half of this series) and he announces she must be killed.

This is simply terrible writing. It's terrible writing for (at least) three reasons. First there's the fact that failing to introduce Selene until this issue makes it even more clear that this miniseries is just an afterthought to an Uncanny X-Men storyline, rather than anything with its own internal weight. Second, it essentially sets up a final issue in which Emma's plot pretty much has to fail, since there's no way Selene will be taken off the board here rather than in one of Claremont's ongoing series [1]. And third, there's nothing even approaching an attempt here to explain why Angelica's instinctive reaction to save her father will work against Selene. Is the plan to have Selene threaten Mr Jones too? How does Frost intend to get the Black Queen to cooperate? I mean, we still don't even really know why anyone expects Firestar to get the job done in the first place.  Pretty much the only thing we know about Selene is that being thrown into a lake of boiling rock doesn't actually finish her off. Why assume microwaves would do the job, even if Angelica is minded to try? And if Frost and Shaw are using Angelica as their weapon in the hopes that should she fail, the attempt can't be traced back to them, surely having her spend well over a year as an enrolled student at the Massachusetts Academy was an entirely terrible idea.

It's an understandable mistake, sure; the Hellfire Club had never heard of Selene when Frost first took charge of Firestar's education. But that just further demonstrates the structural problems here. This is a story about how Emma failed to get Angelica to murder Xavier, and then undertakes more or less the exact same approach to get her to murder Selene, with what is likely to be the same result. After a rather interesting first issue, this mini has rapidly lost my interest.

[1] Yes, no reader is going to be headed into the final issue wondering whether or not Firestar is going to end up a murderer. But knowing Jones won't kill Selene is not the same thing as knowing she won't die.


This issue takes place over six days.

It's now been a year and half since Angelica joined the academy, which puts the action here as kicking off in June 1985. This implies it's been six month since UXM #193, which seems rather a long time given Shaw is apparently only just now reading Frost's report on what happened, but this can't be helped; UXM's own timeline makes it clear months pass between Firestar's first appearance and Selene becoming the Black Queen, so this title's implication that the two events more or less follow one after the other has to be ignored.


Tuesday 4th to Sunday 9th June 1985


X+7Y+93 to X+7Y+98.

Contemporary Events

Josef Mengele's body is exhumed in Brazil.

Standout Line

"I sometimes think I'd rather see her dead than have her suffer through life as a mutie..." - Bart Jones. Ouch.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

XFA #4: "Trials And Errors"

("Are we the baddies?")


There is no trial here without an error. No error that does not prove a trial for someone else, almost always Jean.

Jean in fact is the focus of this issue, in particular how she's still struggling to come to terms with her return to a now-unfamiliar world. Rather pleasingly, this is kept in the realm of subtext - no clunky dialogue outlining her frustrations here - but it's all still pretty clear. There's three issues she's struggling with: her relationship with her former team-mates, her relationship with her new charges, and her relationship with the team she's on.

It's not particularly surprising that Jean's struggle to work out how and why the dynamics have changed among the five original X-Men mainly boil down to not understanding how and why her dynamic has changed with Scott. Naturally, she's getting nothing from the source, because Cyclops is an inscrutable cove even when he isn't hiding the fact that once he thought his true love was dead he married her exact double. So instead she goes to talk to Warren to see if he has any insights.Which is an entirely sensible idea, in theory, but one rather complicated by the fact Warren is carrying a torch for her as well, and would rather that was the primary topic of conversation.

Which is fine in theory. Nothing wrong with telling someone you think you'd make for a better match than the one they're currently chasing after. But in this particular case things are rather complicated by Warren knowing Scott's secret, and choosing not to divulge it. Starting a relationship with Jean with that feline still in the Prada would surely be problematic; she clearly still feels something for Scott, and might choose to pursue that or not once she knows the whole truth. Propositioning her without her having that context seems like a pretty good way to build up resentment. I'm not saying Warren should necessarily tell her about what's going on with Scott - breaking a good friend's confidence is no small thing, even when doing it seems like it would save another good friend pain, or at least render the pain acute rather than chronic. But if he doesn't want to do that, then he doesn't get to chase after Jean. Those are his choices.

There's also the small issue of Candy Southern to consider, as well.  The fact that she and Warren are still together isn't in itself a reason to criticise Warren for wanting to confess his feelings to Jean. Like Scott, he can be absolutely forgiven for not seeing this turn of events come to pass, and even if he had, if Warren is poly or even just struggling with unresolved feelings that separation had suspended but not swept away, we can sympathise. What's much harder to let slide is the fact he's clearly ignoring Candy whilst all this is going on. She feels the need to remind him who she is when she calls, and he still brushes her off and hangs up on her. That's acting like an arsehole whatever agreement regarding other partners Candy and Warren have reached. And Jean calls him on it, for all that that conversation, like the one in which Warren tries to confess his feelings, gets interrupted by an incoming call.

This second call is from Cameron Hodge, summoning X-Factor for a mission. The team are off to a Massachusetts boarding school to investigate Martin Davies, a student blackmailing both his classmates and the staff with the secrets he's stolen from them with his terrifying mutant brain-powers. There's just one problem: Martin isn't a mutant, and can't read minds. All he can do is build listening devices.

What we see here is several parts of the current public hysteria over mutants interacting. One hopes Headmaster Woodley was never a maths teacher, because he's terrible at probability. Even with a student claiming to be a mutant, the idea that it's more likely he's telling the truth than that he's bugged rooms in the school, or even that he's listening at keyholes, is flatly ridiculous. Aside from wanting to absolve himself of guilt over his failure to keep his secretary-shagging a secret, his reaction stems from the same root as those who become hysterical following terrorist attacks - the sheer scariness of the concept utterly overwhelms the rational knowledge that you will almost certainly never come close to encountering it. It's almost as stupid as insisting a Muslim child is less likely to commit a minor infelicity of common English than he is to claim he's invented clocks in a deliberate attempt to imply he's a bomb-maker through the sheer absurdity of the statement, to take a random example.

X-Factor itself is contributing to this failure to understand risk. Their very existence seems to serve as proof that mutants are less rare an occurrence than sources like the media and scientists and personal experience suggest. If there really is only one mutant per ten thousand people, and if only a fraction of those have the power to be truly dangerous, how could X-Factor make a living by hunting them down? Either they're more common than the official line, or they're more dangerous, or both, and with people like Senator Kelly drafting anti-mutant legislation (his change of heart notwithstanding), it's not like the official line is particularly comforting to begin with.

All of which is a pretty convincing argument that X-Factor doing more harm than good. And things are likely to get worse, too, The longer X-Factor gives the impression of having a successful business model, the more chance there is genuine mutant-hunter businesses will spring up. Which means the faster X-Factor saves mutants from mobs, the more mutants will be kidnapped off the streets and imprisoned/deported/executed.

"We're taking you in, Sabertooth!"

As real as these concerns are, though, it's something else that clues Jean into how bad an idea X-Factor might actually be, and that's the reaction of the alleged mutant mind-reader to the team's arrival. Martin is obviously utterly terrified. He pretended to be a mutant in a desperate attempt to escape being tormented by his classmates - and it's interesting how he's figured out that (claimed) membership of a widely despised ethnic minority can paradoxically earn one cultural cache, or at least help you sidestep personal oppression even as you (claim that you) are subjected to grotesque systemic oppression - but now he thinks he's going to be kidnapped by bounty hunters and the idea horrifies him.  A kid being bullied knows what X-Factor is when he sees it.

The realisation that her team has stumbled into the business of scaring the crap out of schoolchildren who just wanted to be left alone brings Jean up rather short - especially since Scott is clearly deliberately upsetting Martin as a way of uncovering the truth. It makes her think of Rusty. If the faked half of X-Factor's approach has backfired so spectacularly, maybe their actual mission isn't working out either.

Certainly, it's been tough going training Rusty recently. A lot of that isn't Jean's fault, admittedly. Cyclops contributions to the newcomer's education this issue consist of blundering into Rusty's training session for no reason - which is an utterly inexcusable thing to do when dealing with a pyrokinetic with major control issues - and then ticking off Jean for "overreacting" when she yells at Rusty for almost flash-frying both Scott and Artie. Apparently Cyclops won't say anything to Jean about his past or his feelings, but he'll happily harangue her for the crime of not wanting him burned alive.

Rusty himself isn't making things any easier, in part because he's still having great difficulty in accepting who and what he is. Rusty seems to be consumed by the kind of denial and self-loathing you see in those who one day learn they were what they've been taught for years to fear and hate. By this point in the Marvel Universe mutants have been known to exist for at least seven years, and been hated and mistrusted by the public for virtually this entire time. It's obvious that many young people who learn they are mutants will have spent most of their conscious lives hating what they suddenly are. This manifests itself in a particularly - and ironically - ugly way, with Rusty congratulating Hank on the fact he can now pass as human, and yelling about how much he hates the fact the team insist on treating Artie Maddicks as if he's "normal", rather than a "freak". Even as Rusty stews in self-hatred about his new status, he's wielding his passing privilege as a metaphorical weapon against those who can't go out without the benefit of an image inducer or heavy make-up.

Plus on top of all of that, he's still a teenager, which means everything is much worse. Even if Artie was the platonic ideal of an eleven-year old boy, you can bet Rusty would still throw a strop about having to share a room with him. It's just not, we can presume, "fair".

Still, despite all this, Rusty does have a solid point: he genuinely didn't ask for any of this. Perhaps that's a rather facile comment from most teenagers - though I've always had some sympathy with the sentiment - Rusty's specific situation lends it more weight. It's perfectly acceptable for him to have no ambition beyond not being too dangerous to walk down the street anymore. Jean's insistence he buy into the team's larger goal of harmony between human and mutant must seem colossally presumptuous.  Sure, the former X-Men are trying to help him, but when your doctor gives you your prescription they don't generally suggest you should take the pills whilst helping out at a soup kitchen.

It's only upon meeting Martin that Jean realises this, and it's pretty important that she does. There's a direct link between Martin's terror and Rusty's misery, and that's that the team has lost interest in actually making the argument for mutant/human collaboration. Rusty is just expected to work out the importance of this for himself, and the general human population are supposed to do the same even though X-Factor are themselves working to make that harder. Their tactics don't just fail to align with the goal, they're running contrary to it. And no-one seems to have noticed, because no-one actually seems to be talking to each other. Scott wants to hide the truth from Jean; Warren wants to sleep with her, Hank is (understandably) busy looking at his own face a lot, and Bobby? Well, I'm not sure what Bobby's deal is, but given the position this blog has repeatedly taken we can assume he's got a lot of Hank-staring to get done as well.

Which leaves Jean the only one obviously interested in how all this is actually going to work long term, as half the team fret about situations that are obviously unstable and the other half apparently checked out more or less totally. On this occasion her post-revelation activity centres on improving her teaching approach (again, without any help from the rest of the team). But the suggestion is clear that it can only be a matter of time before she take the next logical step, and starts tearing down this entire rotten structure. It is time for something new.

It is time for something that can work.


This story takes place over a single day. Rusty says the team brought Artie back to base "last week". Since we have that as happening on the Saturday, that would presumably mean this story takes place on the following Saturday at the earliest, which is what we'll go for.


Saturday 20th April, 1985.



Contemporary Events

Johnathan Davies plays his first match for Wales.

Standout Line

"When has Scott ever not been broody?" - Warren.

Monday, 25 April 2016

ALF #34: "Honor"

(The latest samurai.)


This is the most Byrne-esque the title has been since his departure. Those who've been reading for a little while will know I do not consider this to be a good thing. Mantlo's nods to his predecessors here involve a) clunky exposition flashbacks and b) problematic stereotypes.

As best as I can tell, you cannot be a samurai any more. You can carry the weapons of the samurai, you can clad yourself in their armour, you can even live your life according to one of the philosophies the samurai espoused (which of course was far from homogeneous over time and location within Imperial Japan). But you can't actually be a samurai, because it's a title of nobility within a social structure that no longer exists. You can no more become samurai than you can become prince-bishop, no matter how many prayers you say.

So I have something of a problem with the idea that so many of them are still about in the Marvel Universe. I mean, the whole obsession so many Western writers have with samurai is problematic for all sorts of reasons anyway - it's hard for me to get behind any group of people who had it written into law that they could execute without repercussion any peasant who failed to show them sufficient deference. What I want to focus on here though is the idea that Japanese culture hasn't actually moved on since the last samurai passed into the veil of history somewhere between 1877 and 1947, depending on how you look at it. There's simply no samurai left to act as the bodyguard for Yuriko Oyama.

There seems to be an easy get out here, of course: clearly Lady Deathstrike's minions have just given themselves the title of samurai because it sounds cool. But that's a problem of its own, feeding as it does into the  stereotype of Japanese people being obsessed with the history of their culture in general and its concept of honour in particular. This also suffuses the story of Yuriko herself, which I should probably outline. Yuriko's father styled himself as Lord Dark Wind, and had been a famous Japanese fighter ace during WWII until he was chosen as a kamikaze pilot. He managed to hit his target in his ensuing attack, but his explosive payload failed to detonate, resulting in him being badly injured but alive, and captured. As a result, he suffered great shame.

All of which is utter bullshit, of course. Kamikaze pilots weren't famous fighter aces - if you're a valuable military asset like that, the brass isn't going to want you dead for the sake of one more explosion. The kamikaze flights were a last-ditch effort to stave off American invasion put into action precisely because the actual functioning air defences of Japan had been decimated. Japan simply couldn't replace its losses with aircraft of sufficient quality, so instead they built shitty, outdated planes and stuffed them with explosives. Many kamikaze pilots joined up (often by force) without ever having so much as set foot in a plane. The last thing on these young men's minds would that they would bring shame to themselves by failing their mission, they were concerned they would bring punishment on their families by refusing to commit suicide for their government. It's not that there were no willing kamikaze pilots, of course, but that's the thing about fiction; you can do a lot of damage by underlining stereotypes even when people who match that stereotype actually exist(ed).

Incredibly, it then gets worse. Once recovered and released after the war, Dark Wind dedicates his life to reversing Japan's shame by building a force of superhuman warriors, and enlists his three children to help him, ritually scarring their faces to ensure they can't go off and do something less obviously insane. Yuriko, understandably unhappy about this arrangement, ultimately rebels and kills her father, whereupon her beloved commits seppuku because something something fanaticism, Later, Yuriko learns her father's story, and, deciding his dedication outweighs the ritual scarification and indenture of his children, dedicates her life to finding out who stole the adamantium-bonding process he had developed to restore Japan's glory.

Which brings us to now, and Deathstrike's announcement that despite having never met or even heard of Logan before, the fact he has adamantium-laced bones means honour demands she murder him and take the metal back. This is just utterly ridiculous. It's a plot that can only possibly exist if you just accept that Asian people do inscrutable things inscrutably because of their inherent inscrutability.  If you conclude "honour" is the overwhelming motivation for the Japanese, and that it doesn't even matter how that honour is defined.  It's ahistorical bullshit, as ugly as it is lazy.

And look. I don't actually enjoy basing these posts around ways 30 year old comics have dropped the ball in terms of representation. But there's just nothing else here that's worth picking at. Well, that's not quite true. There's a wonderful moment at the very end where Heather defeats Deathstrike effortlessly - indeed she simply stands there and allows Yuriko to shatter her sword against Heather's forcefield - and asks a dumbfounded Wolverine and Puck if they're still scrambling to protect her. It's not only nice to see Heather getting to have a say in her own love triangle. it's a nice demonstration of her faith in her husband, trusting the suit he built to keep her safe. And even this is rather undercut by Heather thinking she remembers seeing a translation from the Japanese of the bonding process on Mac's desk, and immediately concluding he must have used their honeymoon as bait for Logan and employed her feminist wiles to keep him quiet until he could be captured.  I'm not saying that couldn't be what happened - it's the kind of pointless Byzantine set-up beloved by superhero comics - but having Heather make all these assumptions based on a half-buried memory and the say-so of someone trying to eviscerate her friend doesn't really make her look too good.

All of which leaves us with one moment of fractured beauty amongst a sea of ugliness. This is very much not OK. It is, as I nodded to, a much bigger problem than just this issue or just Mantlo. Even I let far too much of this kind of thing slide when Claremont was doing it - though at least his Logan in Japan stories are thoroughly enjoyable as well as problematic. But as we find ourselves ever closer to the precipice off which we shall fall into the 1990s, we need to identify each unpleasant strand that goes into its weaving. Alas, shoving samurai - along with any number of other misappropriated iconography from Japan barely understood but pushed into service nonetheless - into the panel is very much going to be a major part of that.

(Meanwhile, in sub-plot corner, Doug Thompson arrives at Mansion Alpha with an ill Snowbird who he refers to as his wife, Shaman begins a voyage to discover how much of his power remains now he's forsaken his medicine bag, and the long-absent Marrina is kidnapped by Attuma.)


This issue follows on directly from the last, and takes place in approximately real time.


Tuesday 17th April, 1985.



Contemporary Events

Iraq ratifies the 1979 Occupational Safety and Health (Dock Word) Convention

(Yes, I admit it; I'm struggling.)

Standout Line

"Are we a team... or are we back to being a bunch of hot-headed individuals , each going his or her own way?"
"I for one never saw anything wrong with that!" -- Box and Northstar

Thursday, 7 April 2016

NMU #39: "Pawns Of The White Queen"

(In loco parentis)


It's stage two of the New Mutant's post-death therapy programme. Magneto hasn't been able to jolt them from their existential hard-drive crash; is Emma going to have any better luck?

Well, no, obviously, but the route by which we arrive at this foregone conclusion is an interesting one, rooted in Emma's growth as a character. Long gone is the one-note cackling villain the White Queen first arrived as. It's very clear here that Emma genuinely wants the New Mutants to feel better about themselves. The pride she takes in helping massage Rahne's mind to help her get past her trauma demonstrates that this is about more than simply getting the New Mutants back into fighting shape so she has more troops for her elite mutant army.

That's clearly part of it, obviously. But even there things aren't entirely simple. As the front cover of the issue shows, Emma wants to turn the New Mutants into Hellions, but there's more to that impulse than a simple craving for additional minions. Emma seems to genuinely believe our heroes would be better off in pink and black. And honestly, she's not utterly without a point here. After all, the Beyonder massacred Xavier's charges for the sake of making a point, not hers. Shan didn't find herself mentally compelled to become a villain and develop an eating disorder whilst studying at the Massachusetts Academy. There will come a time when Frost's cupidity (along with general '90s bullshit tendencies) will cause the total collapse of the Hellions, but right now she can make a strong case that she's protecting her students rather better than Xavier or Magneto ever has.

But the fact Frost's motivations mark her out as more than a simple villain, it doesn't mean they're not shot through with selfishness. She might genuinely want to help Rahne recover, but she can't resist poking around with the girl's sense of propriety so she won't be scandalised by Emma's clothing anymore. It's obviously none of my business what Frost wants to wear in her own home, but manipulating Rahne's reactions to it clearly isn't cool. But then this is precisely Emma's problem; the Hellion project has worked out fine for her so far, so she's convinced it's the only way to go, and everyone should get on board. Everyone should, in short, think the same way. No wonder she has Empath supercharge Magneto's self-doubt to the point where he willingly gives up his students to her. As far as Emma is concerned, every moment the New Mutants spend with Magneto whilst he blunders around looking for a way to help them is a moment wasted. He can't succeed; he can't look after students as well as she can. The sooner he admits he has failed, the sooner she can get the job done right.

This isn't exactly a slam-dunk reading, I accept. It's rather more interesting than assuming Emma is literally interested in nothing but adding the New Mutants to her recruitment pool. But even this comparatively generous reading of her actions needs to recognise that altruism is not her driving force here. The title of this story alone makes that clear. There's also a wonderful visual metaphor at the start of the issue in which see first the New Mutants' POV of Emma in her office, and then flip round to see her view of them.

What the teenagers are seeing is all opulence: fashionable chairs, sculptures, what appears to be a solid gold lamp, etc. What Emma sees, in contrast, is all function; uniform shelves of books and arrays of computers. Visitors to the office see luxury, the trappings of power (note Emma is talking to her new students whilst sipping at what is surely a tremendously expensive cocktail). What Emma sees is tools to use and resources to be employed. And you can value what you make use of. You can even come to care for it. But it remains, fundamentally, something that you take an interest in because it can get you what you want.

And really, realising that Emma's view of her charges is fundamentally as assets she happens to care for is the only way to understand why she keeps Empath around at all.  Because Magneto is absolutely right; if we were to ever accept that there are certain people who deserve to be executed for their crimes, it's a man who is not a serial sexual assaulter of women, but who just last issue forced two colleagues and close friends to rape each other constantly for days. I mean, that's so horrific an idea I have a real problem with Claremont for putting it in NMU in the first place, but since it's here it serves as clear evidence that no-one who willingly employs Empath can possibly claim to have any real interest in people as people. Yes, Emma keeps tabs on Empath and - so far - has been able to intercede and shut him down every time he has attempted to rape one of his own teammates, but that's a dance she can keep up only so long, and even she must realise that. But Empath is a useful tool for her, and so he gets to be kept on the shelf alongside all her other tools.

As an amoral policy of expedience, allowing Empath the run of the Academy is so horrendous I can imagine Richard Nixon balking at the idea. For as long as he stays, there can be no chance for Emma to even claim the moral high ground, she is simply too grotesquely compromised. She can tell herself this is for the New Mutants' own good all she likes, but the truth is she wants them to share the halls with a dangerous monster, because that dangerous monster makes her life a little easier.

What this ultimately means is that, whilst Emma Frost has become a more complicated and rounded character, and whilst she now seems to have embraced her duty of care, however twisted her conception of that is, things are worse than ever at the Massachusetts Academy. Something is going to have to break.


This story takes place over a single week.


Monday 7th to Monday 14th May, 1985.


X+7Y+55 to X+7Y+62.

Standout Line

Nothing much worth noting this issue. Well, there's Catseye dismissing Cannonball and Jetstream as "Noisyboys", I suppose. That's kinda fun.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

UXM #205: "Wounded Wolf"

("Viene la tormenta!")


UXM #205 is not an easy issue to take on its own terms. The spectre of the '90s looms too large over it. "The bloodthirsty amoral cyborg warrior era" might as well be what we call that decade when we want to confuse people who don't read comics (or watch films, I guess).  Given that, the fact that this issue is shot through (sorry) with bloodthirsty amoral cyborg warriors triggers a host of flashbacks ( bought my first X-Men comic in 1995).

In other words, this tale of three cybernetic organisms wreaking havoc in a city just to bring down Wolverine seems like a good example of where it all went wrong. Except, like the soon to appear Batman Year One, things are a little more complicated than that.  The problem the comics to follow this one had was not that machine-augmented utter bastards are in themselves a bad concept, at least not necessarily (overplayed to ludicrous levels, sure, but that's something different), it's that presenting them as interesting or cool in and of themselves is lazy at best and harmful at worst.

And Claremont seems to get this.  For starters he makes it very clear via Spiral's internal monologue that the idea of someone deliberately undergoing major (and magical) surgery in order to become more like Wolverine is absolutely desperately messed up. You have to more or less literally be insane to see that as something to aim for, to the point where even Yuriko herself (AKA Lady Deathstrike, making her second appearance after showing up in ALF #33, but her first chronologically post-adamantium, though before that procedure she first appeared in Daredevil; comics, man) takes pains to ensure that once Wolverine is dead Spiral will return her to her previous, less stabbyclaws appearance. This is an act of desperation, not some montage offered as a prelude to full-on arse-kickings.

But of course plenty of similar stories try to sell the tragedy of a character needing metal augmentation and then pivot to revel in the resultant carnage - Robocop is an obvious example, though there the glorification of violence is of course at least supposed to be ironic. Claremont needs to do more than shed crocodile tears over what's happened to Yuriko and her three companions, the Reavers (cyborgs slapped together from the remains of three Hellfire guards Wolvie carved up back in issue #133).

Claremont does this in an interesting way: by including Katie Power. Fun fact: Power Pack and Terminator made their respective debuts less than half a year apart, and both less than two years before this issue.  It's beyond obvious that the two properties are about as far apart as one can easily get. Which is entirely fine, obviously. One is a former editor having fun with a book designed to not be too taxing - a book that ended up decidedly retro in effect if not in intention - and the other is a dark sci-fi story for adults inspired by a fever dream.  But in writing a story featuring both killer cyborg soldiers and Katie Power - not just a member of Marvel's first all-child superhero team, but its youngest member - Claremont allows us to process the former through the eyes of the latter.

What we see through Katie's eyes is uncomprehending horror. With Wolverine rendered incapable of higher thought processes by a wound suffered off-panel, there's no-one, at least at first, to shield Katie from the full unpleasantness of what is happening.  The implication is clear: it's just not possible for Power Pack and the Reavers to share the same story space. They're simply too different. If Marvel needs to change, it can head for Power Pack, or it can head for Terminator. It cannot expand to include both. Not yet, anyway, and not for quite some time.

There is a war going on in this issue for the future of the X-universe. Or perhaps a better metaphor is that we're enduring a storm - certainly Claremont is heavy-handed in deploying it. Katie's world has been surrounded by something utterly strange and dangerous. Either she endures it, or she perishes.  We know now that ultimately, Katie's world would not be the one to survive (or perhaps more accurately, that it would be buried for decades), but even so, it's important to note Claremont's adjudication here: Katie endures. It's perhaps a small victory by superhero standards, but she succeeds in keeping Logan alive for long enough for him to recover his wits and go on the offensive.

As one might expect given the above (and attitudes to childhood in general) Wolverine doesn't let Katie see what comes next. We get to see it, of course, which might seem like Claremont wanting to have his cake and eat it. What good is it to lament the foolishness of fixating on characters like Wolverine carving their way through their enemies if you end the story with Wolverine carving his way through his enemies?  Claremont does try pretty hard to square the circle, though; Logan's entire scrap with Lady Deathstrike is just an excuse to harangue her about how appalling a choice she's made, and how trying to become more like him physically has required she become as little as possible like him psychologically. The whole point of Wolverine, as he is kind enough to explain himself, is that he doesn't want to be who he is, or do what he does. His physical state, his beserker rages, his horrifying kill stats: these are not there to be admired or celebrated. They're there to be unsettled by.

And so, ultimately, Katie's world wins out. The monsters that do not belong are banished, and the storm is lifted. But winning in a story is not the same as winning in the real world, not unless the story is very good. The nineties, of course, arose. In 1990 Power Pack was retooled to make it more "edgy". In that same year Cable was introduced into New Mutants, and it was decided that Rob Liefeld was going to take over writing duties the title, which was almost immediately renamed X-Force. Out in the real world the storm didn't lift, not for a very long time.

Which is not good news for us, because we're going to have to head into it.


This story takes place in approximately real time. Since this story shares no characters with UXM #204, we can set it as taking place on the same day. The issue is clearly supposed to be set in December, given the references to carol singing, but our usual rules about ignoring Christmases apply.

The fact this issue apparently takes place before ALF #33 may mean some rejigging of the timeline in the near future, but I'll wait until Yuriko's appearance there is done with in case further evidence comes to light.


Monday 15th April, 1985.



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years.

(At the time of this post, Beast is 34 years old)

Standout Line

"All he does is make growly noises..." Katie Power

Monday, 14 December 2015

FRS #2: "The Players And The Pawn!"

("We are all in this together.")


Firestar issue 2 is something of a wrenching leftwards skid in certain ways. Gone is the framing of a beautiful, intelligent teenage white girl finding reasons to sulk, and in its place we have... well, OK, really it's pretty much exactly the same thing. This, we learn, is a girl who can sulk about an "awful school" which has given her her own pony.

But everything surrounding Angelica's moping has become radically different. Whereas last issue set up a standard teenage narrative into which the idea of mutantism was then dropped, this installment has something of a political taste to it, concerning itself with the practice of cutting teenagers off from the wider world in order to render them vulnerable to indoctrination. In addition to Angelica's attitude, there's a common theme between the issues of her feelings of alienation, but this time the problem stems not from the banal cruelty of teenage girls, but a deliberate policy of Emma Frost. She and Sebastian Shaw have a plan: Angelica Jones (now called Firestar for the first time) is to be forged into an undetectable assassin. Someone the Hellfire Club could use to kill anyone, at any time, an unremarkable civilian who could incinerate her targets without warning. Frost isn't educating Jones, she's grooming her, as made clear by the hilariously unsubtle metaphor of Angelica getting her own horse to groom.

The idea of young people being kept separate from a wide experience of humanity in order to radicalise then to the point where they think nothing of condemning their fellow humans is a rather hot topic right now. It's just been in the last few days, for instance, that there has been a renewed call to force teachers to act as informants on their pupils, as though teachers get remotely sufficient training (or really any at all) on how to actually spot the signs of radicalisation, and as if this inevitably cack-handed extra scrutiny would stop teenagers becoming radicalised, rather than giving them one more enemy to hate. It's hard enough to persuade fifteen year-olds that your on their side to begin with; add in the idea that you're studying for signs of deviant behaviour takes the comprehensive school one step closer to the battleground everyone always says is the last thing they want it to be (so long as avoiding it doesn't require we spend any money or treat teachers with any respect, naturally).

And it's obvious that comprehensive schools are the targets here. More to the point, Muslim pupils at comprehensive schools. Which is why it's so delightful that in this issue, the people doing the radicalising are rich arseholes from the United States, at an academy for the richest of the rich. Because if we want to talk about enclaves carved out of general society, places of learning where students are exposed to no viewpoints except for those deemed acceptable by those with a deep-seated distrust of alternative political philosophies - those whose political axioms can only survive so long as they go essentially unchallenged - it's far from obvious that teenagers being groomed in our state schools, or for that matter in Middle Eastern madrasas, are the ones who are going to cause the most damage. How many people are immiserated to the point of suicide because David Cameron and George Osborne went to Clarendon schools where poverty was no more real for them than goblins? How many bombs have deviated in air currents and killed innocent people in foreign countries because military adventurism in Africa and Asia is to some people simply what Britain is supposed to do.

Angelica isn't intended to be used as a weapon against those with power [1]. She's intended to be used as a weapon by those with power. Frost and Shaw plan for Firestar to boil their enemies from the inside out; to kill without a trace of accountability. A weapon, in other words, of the elite.

It is these nods to the dangers of sealing young people away from the experiences of pluralism [2] that makes sense of Xavier's decision here to allow the New Mutants to attend a dance at Frost's Massachusetts Academy. From whatever angle you look at this, it's a ridiculously dangerous decision. There's some dialogue about how Frost is pretty unlikely to actually literally murder any of them in front of her students (because if there's one thing life in the X-Men teaches a person, it's that a telepath is powerless to deal with someone who remembers something they don't want them to), but there's any number of malicious plots Frost might (and does) have afoot that would be served by the New Mutants' attendance even if she doesn't have them all violently massacred.  And against this risk we have Sunspot, who argues it's important they go to the dance so he can sniff for tail in a different state.

So what could possibly justify this ludicrous risk? It's Xavier's fear that without this kind of experience, the New Mutants will become too insular, too cut off from the world. He needs to risk their safety because the alternative is them never learning anything from anyone other than himself. And for all that I like to give Xavier stick about his classic white male progressive tendency to insist that all types of people should get a say so long as he can be the ultimate arbitrator of who has a point, his decision here cuts against that ugly tendency.

Of course, that choice leads to disaster, with Frost nudging Cannonball and Firestar together so Angelica can have her first kiss. Frost then sets fire to the nearby stables and kills Firestar's favourite horse, blaming the young woman's lack of control over her powers for both. Combined with the amount of time the White Queen has spent conditioning her with training sessions and dreams to fear the X-Men, Frost hopes this will secure Angelica's loyalty forever, leaving her with literally no-one else to trust. One could argue that this is a major problem with the narrative - if you want to imply the pursuit of pluralism involves a refusal to avoid risks, having such a risk go wrong could be seen as a suggestion that such a risk shouldn't have been taken.  Ultimately I think this is some distance from convincing. Partially this is because of plot structure; at most the presence of the New Mutants only very slightly helps Frost's plan. She could just as easily snagged a random teenager from down the street and have him pose as someone from Xavier's. Yes, that would result in a tiny chance of  complications if Angelica ever faced the New Mutants in the field and somehow had time amid the punching to ask whatever happened to Random McFakeguy, but this is surely some distance from a deal-breaker.

More importantly, though, this kind of approach bothers me, since it plays too much into a depressingly ubiquitous mode of thinking that says that if a refusal to avoid risks in the name of progressivism fails even once, it's evidence that it should never have been tried. That if you hire a convict despite warnings from others and they rob you, you should take it as proof that hiring convicts is something only the naive and the foolish would do. That if we let in a refugee that ends up a suicide bomber (and Gods help this country if that happens) it's proof that Katie Hopkins was right and we should have let them all drown in the ocean. That insufferably smug Irving Kristol quip about how "a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged by reality" gets cast about endlessly, a line so disgustingly self-satisfied that the Fates punished him by having his son grow up to be Bill Kristol. Not only is it absurd on its face, now more than ever - how was George W Bush mugged by reality? How was David Cameron? Donald Trump? George "Let them eat sneers" Osborne - it sets an almost impossibly high bar for success; if it is not unalloyed, then it cannot exist. This is not only self-evidently too strong a condition for success, it is transparently hypocritical. To date the left has made no headway with arguing that the near- or total failure of every bombing campaign western civilisation has embarked upon this century to achieve its aims might we should stop reaching for it as a first response. It would seem some ideas cannot survive their first failure, and others can survive nothing but. If liberals are mugged by reality, conservatives mug reality themselves and then complain it only didn't work out because their victims had too little money in their wallets.

But I've strayed off the subject. To summarise, the fact that Xavier's risk-taking has benefitted Frost does not invalidate the need to take such risks. Indeed, given how easily Frost could have achieved her ends some other way, it's entirely possible that this whole might ultimately be counted as a net positive. Alternatively, perhaps next issue is stuffed full of dialogue about how terribly Xavier has erred and that the best way to live is in a state of constant paranoia, because when has that done any harm?  Obviously, that would suck, but my point is that we shouldn't go down the route of assuming this argument is being made until it's made. Otherwise, it's not the writing at fault, it's us.

[1] Or more accurately, against those who happen share a nationality with the powerful, or those who happen to be visiting the country of those who share a nationality with the powerful. 

[2] It's interesting that Frost tells Angelica that she's helping her gain practice in using her powers defensively - the kind of defence where you microwave a person to death, naturally - because of anti-mutant sentiment in society. An important step in at least some methods of radicalisation is to persuade the victim that there is no such thing as an innocent person, that the bigotry against them evidenced by society in general means that every member of that society is equally guilty. 


Randal states here that it's been four months since Angelica joined Ms. Frost's academy. This issue takes place over approximately four weeks, and features Xavier in the mansion with the use of his legs. It also features Storm, who left for Kenya six days before this story would be set if we used the dates from the last post. I've moved everything back by a week to keep things workable.


Friday 4th April to Friday 2nd May 1984.


X+6Y+32 to X+6Y+60.

Contemporary Events

The discovery of the AIDs virus is announced by US researchers.

Standout Line

"I didn't ask to be born a mutant!"

OK, so maybe we haven't completely moved past the "standard teenager narrative plus mutantism" model just yet...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Timeline: 1983 Jul-Dec (Take 8)

Here is what's hopefully my final stab at the 1983 timeline.  Things get pretty light towards the end of the year, due to Claremont's somewhat inconsistent handling of the arrival of Amara.


1st   MGN #4: Renewal
2nd  MGN #4: Renewal
3rd   MGN #4: Renewal
4th   MGN #4: Renewal
5th   MGN #4: Renewal
6th   NMU #1: Initiation
6th   NMU #2: Sentinels
9th   NMU #3: Nightmare
9th   UXM #167: The Goldilocks Syndrome (Or: "Who's Been Sleeping in my Head?")
9th   MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
10th UXM #167: The Goldilocks Syndrome (Or: "Who's Been Sleeping in my Head?")
10th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
11th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
12th UXM Annual 6: Blood Feud!
12th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
13th UXM Annual 6: Blood Feud!
13th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
13th DAZ #25: The Jagged Edge
14th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
15th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
16th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
17th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
17th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
18th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
18th OBN #1: Something Slimy This Way Comes
19th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
20th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
21st ALF #7: The Importance of Being Deadly
21st ALF #8: Cold Hands, Cold Heart
22nd DAZ #26: Against the Wind
22nd NMU #4: Who's Scaring Stevie?
23rd DAZ #26: Against the Wind
23rd NMU #5: Heroes
24th DAZ #26: Against the Wind
24th NMU #5: Heroes
24th NMU #6: Road Warriors!
25th NMU #6: Road Warriors!
27th DAZ #27: Fugitive!
27th DAZ #28: Vendetta!
27th NMU #7: Who's Scaring Stevie?
28th DAZ #28: Vendetta!
28th NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
29th DAZ #29: Fame!
29th DAZ #29: Debt
29th NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
30th DAZ #30: Debt
30th NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
31st NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
31st DAZ #31: Tidal Wave!
31st NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!


1st    DAZ #31: Tidal Wave! 
1st    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
2nd   DAZ #31: Tidal Wave!
2nd   NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
3rd    UXM #169: Catacombs
3rd    DAZ #31: Tidal Wave!
3rd    UXM #170: Dancin' in the Dark
3rd    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
4th    UXM #171: Rogue
4th    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
5th    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
6th    UXM #172: Scarlet in Glory
7th    UXM #172: Scarlet in Glory
7th    UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
8th    UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
9th    UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
10th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
11th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
12th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
13th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
14th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
15th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
20th  NMU #8: The Road to... Rome?
21st  NMU #8: The Road to... Rome?
21st  NMU #9: Arena
22nd NMU #9: Arena
23rd NMU #10: Betrayal!
23rd NMU #11: Magma
24th NMU #11: Magma
29th  UXM #174: Romances
31st  UXM #175: Phoenix!


1st    UXM #175: Phoenix!
2nd   UXM #175: Phoenix!
3rd    UXM #175: Phoenix!
5th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
6th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
7th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
8th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
9th    NMU #12: Sunstroke
9th     FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
10th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
11th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
12th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
13th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
14th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
15th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
16th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
17th  UXM #176: Decisions 
17th  UXM #177: Sanction
17th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
18th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
19th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  
20th  UXM #178: Hell Hath no Fury...
20th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
21st   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
22nd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
23rd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
24th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
25th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
26th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
27th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
28th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
29th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
30th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  


(FRS #1: "Mark of the Mutant!" continues throughout)


(FRS #1: "Mark of the Mutant!" continues throughout)

3rd    DAZ#32: Moon Lighting
4th    DAZ#32: Moon Lighting


1st    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
2nd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
3rd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
4th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
5th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
6th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
7th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
8th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
9th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
10th ALF #9: Things Are Not Always What They Seem
10th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
10th  FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
11th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
11th  FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  
12th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
12th  FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  
13th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
14th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
15th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
16th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
17th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
26th NMU #13: School Daysze
27th NMU #13: School Daysze