Monday, 26 December 2011

UXM #160: "Chutes And Ladders!"

(The passing of childhood.)


It's a somewhat sinister opening for us all this time, as we watch a shadowy, ill-manicured figure as they observe the X-Men through what looks like a cross between a scrying pool and a magic mirror.  We already suspect he's evil, and this is confirmed a moment later as he crows over the possibility that Storm has been injured during a training session.  Clearly malevolent, then (also: a dick).

But it's Illyana who our mysterious malefactor is truly after, and he uses some mystical mojo to tempt her (and Fozzie Bear) away from the X-Men.  Kitty follows her, but gets herself sucked into another dimension.  A six year old and a fourteen year old kidnapped.  The Daily Mail would have a field day with this.  Can the X-Men hope to ban this sick filth?

Well, they'd have to notice first.  Storm's too busy taking her clothes off and bathing in her rainstorms.  She even invites her teammates to join her ("MUTANTS HOLD SICK ORGY WHILST CHILDREN DISAPPEAR").  Before things get too disturbing, though, Colossus realises who they're missing.  Nightcrawler makes the excellent though somewhat     point that no-one has really bothered exploring this mysterious and sinister island, which might have finally come back to haunt them ("Let's set up shop in an unexplored city once populated by terrifying squidmen - what could go wrong?").  And, indeed, our heroes are only a short way into their search when they too find themselves beset by glowing circular portals, and spirited away to the dimension of long-nailed kiddy-fiddlers.

That's not just inappropriate hyperbole, either.  The instant Kitty arrives, a weirdly-dressed Nightcrawler bounds up to her and starts feeling her arse.  At least, I hope it's her arse, the art is mercifully unclear on this point.  Apparently Kurt's shirt was the only thing preventing his promotion to slightly slimy opportunist to casual purveyor of sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, Sprite rejects 'Crawler's offer, and tries to escape, only to run into a sinister man on a no less sinister throne: Belasco.

Colossus and Storm, meanwhile, have landed together in a series of corridors.  Storm finds a silver armband, and immediately puts it on, which strikes me as staggeringly unwise, even when you ignore the petty larceny aspect.  Maybe this is the accumulated caution of years of Fighting Fantasy adventures talking, but I'd think an accessory something in a demon dimension thought causes too much shit to be worth hanging onto might not necessarily be anything you'd put on just because it matches your hair.  Also, as soon as she does it, she's attacked by a pack of acid-dripping tentacles, which is exactly what my mother would say would happen if I ever stole her jewellery. Colossus is snatched away before he can help, but Storm gets a lucky break when she suddenly transforms into an amalgam of herself, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Colossus.  At no point will this be explained.

Somehow, Kitty's situation makes more sense: she's trapped motionless inside a giant crystal whilst topless sex-criminal Nightcrawler bothers Illyana.  On the floor is Wolverine's skeleton, handily placed for Belasco's pet demon S'ym can use the claws as toothpicks.  Belasco, it turns out, has been banished to this dimension for failing to conquer Earth for his dark masters, and apparently his jailors were too stingy to put in indoor plumbing or linear time.  Indeed, shirt-endowed Nightcrawler is watching the entire scene as Belasco magically removes Kitty's skeleton (which, honestly, I was expecting something worse) and attempts to win Illyana's affections with a magic necklace of evil.  It's all about the accessories this issue, isn't it?  Well, that and the manipulation and torturing of abducted minors. 

I like the jewellery better.  Jewellery sparkles.

Storm has more jewellery too, amongst other things, having woken up after fighting the squid-beast in a comfy bed, next to a swimming pool, and with gifts of a mysterious necklace and a bikini in her size.  Storm flies away without any idea as to who has saved her, but we get at least a glimpse of Shadowy Figure #2, wearing the same necklace as Storm, and the same armband.  DRAMATIC IRONY!

Back at Disturbing Behaviour Central, Nightcrawler battles Nightcrawler.  Two elves enter: one elf leaves, possibly with a shirt.  But when the brimstone clears, the victor remains defiantly half-naked.  Oh no!  Our Nightcrawler lost! Also, he tells us his opponent was brutally dispatched.  Oh no!  Our Nightcrawler is dead!  What other explanation could there possibly be?

(In fairness, I don't think we're supposed to buy the story: it's too obviously fake.  It still makes Belasco look like an utter idiot, though.  Repeat after me: stories reliant on your characters suddenly becoming disgracefully dense are shitty, shitty stories.)

At least things are starting to fall into place, though.  Partially Clad Nightcrawler confirms that he's the real deal, a future version who went dark side after some exploratory surgery courtesy of Belasco.  Also, Wolverine runs into Colossus' corpse, long dead, with silver streaks in his hair-steel.  Further investigation is stymied by the arrival of S'ym, hungry for a violent death or two.  Fortunately, the timely arrival first of Colossus and then a handy teleportation disc to chuck the demon through saves our heroes' bacon, though I imagine surviving such a close shave lacks some of its thrill when you're standing next to your own broken body.

And even this narrow victory proves only possible thanks to intervention of SF#2, who Wolverine has just enough time to recognise before she whisks them to their final rendezvous with Belasco.  Storm arrives moments later, and Demi-Wrapped Nightcrawler reveals his true colours, forcing BelascoNightcrawler went mental in the first place.  Instead, Future Storm, who's spent the intervening decades studying sorcery, frees Kitty, opens a portal back to the island, and does her best to fend off Belasco's hordes whilst our heroes make their exit.

It doesn't quite work.  Illyana ends up with quite literally feet in different worlds, as the X-Men try to save her, and Belasco tries to reclaim her prize.  As is so often the case with tugs of war (literal or otherwise) nobody ends up entirely with what they want.  Belasco is denied Illyana, at least for the moment, but the temporal warping effects of the passge between dimensions causes Colossus' sister to age seven years in as many seconds.

I'm almost never a fan of this form of storyline.  It's not that I don't think it has any potential, that's clearly not the case.  It's more that the actual mechanism always feels like an admission that the child character (or baby, in the case of Angel's Connor) isn't of interest on their own terms, and needs to be "improved".  To me, that reads a bit like an admission of defeat. I'd have thought there was enough material to be mined from trying to juggle being an outcast superhero with keeping your six year old sister safe.  Of course, Marvel eventually compounded the error by spending years on the development of Illyana (or Majik, as she eventually became) and then reintroducing the child model once again. 

Still, that's a discussion for another time.  Right now, we've got the teenage Illyana to contend with.  More importantly, we have a teenage Illyana who's brought something back with her to the island: the magic trinket Belasco had always intended her to keep...


This story takes place over the course of several hours.

Nightcrawler notes that it's been "barely a day" since Storm threw off Dracula's curse.


Tuesday 20th April, 1983.



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.74 standard years.

(Colossus is 25 years old).

Contemporary Constants

The Soviet Union launch the Soyuz T-8 mission, in which a manned spacecraft was intended to dock with the Salyut 7 space station.  Ultimately, the mission was aborted, after the craft was damaged during the later stages of lift-off.

Standout Line

"Obey me!  If nothing else, I have seniority." - Future Storm.

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