Saturday, 12 November 2011

UXM #135: "Dark"

(Apocalypse how.)


Ooh, lovely.  Another one of those covers where the characters are interacting with the text.  I think I've said this before, any character powerful enough to break the fourth wall is clearly someone to be scared of (Deadpool aside).

This issue is well-known in fan circles, not just for it being the first true installment in the Dark Phoenix saga (rather than simply prologue), but because it ensured the first death of Jean Grey (well, the first one that lasted more than four pages).  The initial plan was to have Jean return to the X-Men after being stripped of her Phoenix powers, but this became impossible for the editors to accept after Grey destroyed a planet inhabited by five billion people.

It's this casual obliteration that sticks for longest in the mind after reading this issue. Most people know Stalin's observation that "One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic".  To the extent that that is true - and I don't want to get too bogged down in amateur psychology on a blog that basically just uses my obsession with comics as a vehicle for immature punchlines - I'd presume there are at least two factors at work: a mental circuit-breaker that prevents our brains exploding with horror, and the difficulty in empathising with a small country's worth of mourners as oppose to a single recognisable family.

I might be way off there, obviously, but the point here is that these concerns don't necessarily translate into fiction.  In fiction, one death is certainly not a tragedy, unless one has come to empathise with the character (or someone who knew them) ahead of time.

The question changes, then, from whether a body count is too high to be comprehended to whether it's too high to not seem crass and artificial.  Much like the death of a child - an unthinkable horror in the real world but a development generally considered heavy-handed and manipulative in storytelling  - one can inflate the death toll to the point that it no longer comes across as dramatic, simply childishly hyperbolic.

So how are we supposed to view 5 000 000 000 deaths?  If it is just mortality hyperinflation, then it cheapens everything that happens here, to the point where it's damn difficult to care about any of it.  I confess, that's how it reads to me. 

But if I'm wrong (or, given the inherently subjective nature of what we're talking about, if your mileage doesn't match up to mine), then how can any of this register after all that bloodshed?  After Phoenix destroys the plane, there's an impressive moment of lateral thinking as Nightcrawler teleports himself sideways, turning terminal velocity into high-speed forward rolls.  But five billion people are dead.  The battle between Dark Phoenix and the Shi'ar Empire's most advanced cruiser is pretty cool (they certainly spend more time on the fate of Juber's vessel than the incineration of an inhabited world), but five billion people are dead.

There just isn't any way of getting past that.


This story follows on immediately from the previous one, and takes place over the course of about a day.

Anyone with any ideas about how it can be sunrise in New York and daylight in New Mexico, please let me know.

The narration notes that it's been months since Jean saved the galaxy from the M'Kraan Crystal.  Our timeline agrees, placing the time between that date and this as a little under ten months.  Claremont, of course, has suggested two winters in-between.


Tuesday 12th of October, 1982.



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.71 standard years.

(Shadowcat is 21 years old).

I really must remember to check
out on of her albums sometime.
Contemporary Events

The Who play Shea Stadium with The Clash in support, which surely must have resulted in one of the most perfect nights of music in this world's tawdry, imbecilic history.

Standout Line

"Then, they all die."

I might not be convinced (to put it mildly) about the actual decision to destroy the D'Bari homeworld, but the cold imparting of knowledge carried in those four words is definitely the best way to describe it.

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