Monday, 31 December 2012

ALF #8: "Cold Hands, Cold Heart"

("The challenge is determining exactly who is guilty of what.")


So I'm not really sure what to make of this one.  I mean, it's not good, there's no confusion on that account, but it's not good in a really curious way.  Byrne clearly wanted to confound the audience's expectations, but doesn't seem to have any idea how to go about it.  It's like he's reverse-engineered a standard plot-twist template from any number of thriller films, but never worked out how it all fit together, like a monkey clubbing its enemies to death with a loaded pistol.

To reiterate the plot (which, of course, Byrne himself does, though with more reason this time, and at least some attempt at brevity), Northstar's friend Raymonde has been killed, and Aurora kidnapped, having been mistaken for Raymonde's daughter Danielle, all at the hands of local crimelord "Deadly" Ernest, who has designs on Raymonde's cafe.  So the questions here are: how did Ernest kill Raymonde with a touch, and why did he want to swipe Danielle?

The first thing to note here is that this snatching of the "daughter" makes very little sense. One can just about string together a motive - maybe Ernest knows the daughter, who only just showed up in Raymonde's life, has been left the cafe in Raymonde's will and hope to lean on her - but there's nothing even approaching a reason given in the text.  So, when Northstar confronts Ernest in his home (after finding it partially deserted, presumably just to take up a page of an already slim story) and discovers Aurora and Ernest are getting on splendidly, we're not supposed to know what to think.  Ernest makes some cryptic comment about having "concluded business" with Aurora, but there's no hint as to what that means.  Those with filthy minds might jump to their own conclusions.

The obvious conclusion is that Ernest and the daughter were in on this the whole time, but that doesn't entirely make sense either, because why wouldn't Ernest recognise Aurora wasn't Danielle?  Even if he'd never met her, wouldn't he put some minimal effort into convincing himself of her identity before engaging in criminal conspiracy talk? 

So that doesn't seem very likely, but to make sure we don't come to that conclusion, Byrne introduces a new costumed vigilante, Nemesis, an obviously female revenge-crazed swordwielder, who Northstar meets whilst Ernest has him locked away, and immediately assumes must be Danielle.  A suddenly-appearing daughter with a mysterious past?  You can see why that would lead to an assumption of "super-hero" around these parts.

Except when Nemesis confronts Ernest (having killed most or all of his guards, apparently whilst Northstar looked on, which is admittedly a very Jean-Paul thing to do), and chops him into tiny pieces, it's revealed that she's not Danielle at all.  In fact, as Aurora reveals, Danielle and Ernest really were in cahoots all along.

So yes, that's all kind of surprising, in its way. But it's only surprising because it makes chuff-all sense.  First of all, there's the problem alluded to above; why would Ernest just spill the beans to someone his men told him was Raymonde's daughter because she was one of two women in the cafe at the time?  What did Danielle get out of the deal, and how was she of any help to Ernest in any case?  As I say, these are not unanswerable questions, but if your audience is having to piece together their own justifications for why your twist might not be obviously ridiculous, then you have fucked up.

On top of that, who the hell is Nemesis, if she's not Danielle?  Apparently just some random vigilante thrown in as a red herring.  I can't see any justification for her otherwise, unless it's as set-up for the comic's conclusion.

Because whilst I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek about it taking a filthy mind to take Ernest's comments the wrong way, it would clearly be ridiculous to assume Aurora genuinely screwed her way out of danger.  That's just not how Marvel comics operate.  Hell, it's not how almost any fiction operates, because it's an astonishingly bleak idea and most writers are smart enough to know that storylines in which women exchange sexual favours for their own lives aren't to be attempted except with great care.

So when Aurora asks Northstar how he could think Nemesis was Danielle, when Aurora's own interactions with Ernest proved he and Danielle were on good terms, and Northstar casually responds that he just assumed Aurora fucked the guy - because after all, she did it with Sasquatch, right? -  it's just awful.  Because whilst Northstar probably is exactly enough of a prick to suggest something like that to his own sister, and whilst Aurora is appropriately horrified, telling Jean-Paul she wants nothing more to do with him, it's tough not to read the earlier attempts at misdirection as being an actual, albeit implicit, attempt to lead the audience into thinking that's actually what happened.  In a vacuum, that could conceivably be a comment on either writer or on the assumed audience, but after the last seven issues of women being treacherous lunatics, I'm not inclined to cut Byrne any slack at all.

Oh, and the reason Ernest can kill with a touch? A side-effect of the time during the First World War when Death tried to claim him and he beat her off.  Seriously.

It's backup strip time again here in ALF, with "Genesis", in which James and Heather Hudson track down Michael Twoyoungmen and Narya, apparently so Heather can follow the strange blonde woman as she walks around naked at night.  But this nocturnal bout of peeping-Tom action takes a sinister turn when Narya transforms into an owl, leading to awkward questions the following day.  Luckily, Shaman is forthcoming enough that James decides to hire him and his adopted daughter. 

Thus is Alpha Flight born.


This issue picks up after several hours have elapsed, and continues late into the night.


Thursday 21st of July, 1983.



Contemporary Events

The Polish government ends 19 months of martial law.

Standout Line

"Ernest is dead, cheri. If this country had a nice civilised death penalty, you would join him." - Aurora

And just when you thought a comic couldn't piss you off any more than it's managed already...

Thursday, 27 December 2012

NMU #13: "School Daysze"

(Inacckurahte spellingsze arehur funne!)


This is another Amara-centred issue, which to be honest is wearing a little thin. A certain degree of focus upon the arrival of a new character is understandable, naturally. This though is the sixth issue since Amara was introduced, and whenever the book hasn't been dealing with her directly, it's been exploring her world, her family, or the effect she has upon the other New Mutants. In other words, Claremont is trying to sell Amara as A Big Fucking Deal, rather than letting us draw our own conclusions.

That's not the only problem with putting Amara front and centre. There's a larger issue here, which is the dullness and cliche of this kind of person-out-of-time approach. It's not that there's nothing original and interesting to be done with such an idea, but Claremont seems to have no interest in taking it above the most obvious and boring level, the kind of "What care angry fire-sprites for the position of rectangular wall fixtures?[1]" style of insight that just comes across as facile. It's particularly irritating when Claremont combines it with obvious slip-ups in dialogue; hearing Amara say she "can't get over" her new room seems wildly anachronistic. It's neither a major complaint nor particularly difficult to explain away (who knows from what sources Amara learnt English, or what Roberto's been teaching her whilst trying to charm her out of the mini-skirt there's no way Amara would agree to wear), it's just symptomatic of the larger problem: Claremont's half-assed attempts to make the situation work, whilst trying to revolve the whole book around it.

All that said, there's certainly not nothing of interest going on here; Amara's discomfort (and probably fear) of Xavier's mind-powers and his habit of poking around uninvited (to the level where he uses her memories of her old bedroom to recreate it perfectly, which is the kind of thing that yells "grooming!" more than it is a nice gesture) is a perfectly fine thread, and something the X-Books should certainly touch on from time to time. The fundamental problem with Xavier, demonstrated well here, is that he puts so much effort into justifying his actions and choices are morally sound that he has massive difficulty in understanding people who instinctively dislike them.  It never occurs to him that Amara would mind him monitoring her thoughts during a training session, because he knows it's the best possible way of helping her control her powers, and because he knows he has no intention of snooping.  Something so simple as Amara having a different definition of snooping never seems to strike him.  And even whilst he's having this disagreement with Amara, he's happily reading the thoughts of his students without their knowledge.  Because he knows what's best.

In later years much is made of Xavier's moral superiority complex, whereby he thinks he tolerates differences of opinion but in reality only believe he has no right to compel them to correct their "mistakes".  It's interesting to see it pop up here, and a great shame that the issue is resolved when Amara catches the professor talking to Lilandra via hologram, leading to a conversation about duty which leads her to stay despite her reservations.  That's pretty much a decision to ignore the issues raised rather than deal with them.  Still, maybe this gets picked up on later; I can't remember,

Those two major points dealt with, what does this issue concern itself with. Well, a lot of involves Amara turning up at a BBQ in formal wear, getting her gown  accidentally ruined by Cannonball, almost killing everyone with another quake, and then running away.  Almost the exact same story as last time round, only on a smaller scale.  There's also a B plot involving Kitty.  This is shown on the front cover, of course, though it's a tad misleading since Kitty has almost no interaction with the junior team whatsoever, just showing up long enough to try to console Amara, only for first the newcomer and then the rest of the team to tell her to piss off: you don't get to try cheering up people from the team you spend your days bitching about.  I quite like this exchange, actually; it's another one of Claremont's better stabs at writing the teenage mindset. The New Mutants have a point, of course, but arguing that anyone who makes fun of you can't care when you're clearly miserable is the kind of childish thinking that insists anyone you dislike can only fake good qualities, rather than having any degree of complexity (some people of course never grow out of this mindset, and are best avoided wherever possible).

Perhaps of more interest though is the slice of Kitty's subplot that seems to have nothing to do with the New Mutants at all, save that it nods to NMU #2.  Kitty and her new friend Doug Ramsey (mentioned already in UXM but making his first appearance on-panel here) have been engaging in a little WarGames style computer hacking ("I can't believe the improvements you've made to my hardware!"), ostensibly to check up on what the Hellfire Club is all about but secretly so Kitty can gather intel on the X-Men's enemy, Sebastian Shaw.  As the result of their fooling around, one of the Sentinels Shaw has slapped together for Project: Wideawake goes crazy, just as Henry Gyrich and Val Cooper are touring the facilities.  The result is something of an egg/face intersection for both Shaw and Gyrich, which I don't think Kitty would lose any sleep over, but Gyrich swears to bring the hackers to justice as enemies of the state, which I think would be rather less well-received.

Not that Kitty has time to waste on such minor details; she has her feud with the "X-Babies" to maintain (through Professor X tells her in no uncertain terms to knock it off later in the book), and her growing friendship with Doug to worry about, in case she ends up feeling for him the same was she does for Peter.  As before, on it's own there's nothing wrong with adding this little twist in, but in a comic where Rahne is already lusting after Sam, and Dani after Roberto, only for both of them to be chasing Amara, we run the risk of soap opera overload, and it rather reinforces the question of what Kitty is doing in this book in any case.


We'll assume it took two days for the team to return from Brazil and get Amara ready to meet Professor Xavier. The issue itself takes place over two days.


Sunday 11th to Monday 12th of September, 1983.


X+5Y+192 to X+5Y+193.

Contemporary Events

Vivian Cheruiyot is born, a Kenyan long-distance runner who becomes champion of the world in 2009.

Standout Line

"I am a not a slave, to be paraded about and made to perform on command!  I am a freeborn citizen of Nova Roma... and I demand to be treated as one!"

[1] The answer is course because of a treaty signed between the mortal world and the Faerie Realm in 1831, in which Michael Faraday extracted key concessions from Queen Mab.  Nikolai Tesla later argued he'd made some of the real breakthroughs behind the scenes, but Faraday insisted right up to his death that Tesla's biggest contribution was to go out for donuts whenever the faeries' blood sugar fell too low.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

MSI #3: "Soulquest"

("It is unavoidable. It is your destiny.")


Now this is more like it.

As was fairly obvious at the end of last issue, issue #3 is indeed about Belasco getting his chance to influence Illyana.  Fortunately, though, Claremont takes a different approach here which improves the narrative considerably.  Instead of Illyana's increases in age taking place mid-panel, here the story picks up two years after MSI #2 ended. That's a much better way to mark the passage of time.  It's particularly effective here, because whilst the last two major jumps forward in Illyana's personal timeline can be essentially boiled down to "meditative coma" and "being punched a lot", this latest two-year slice of our heroine's life has quite clearly been utterly horrific.

The basic idea here has been alluded to before, but Claremont finally hammers it home: Illyana is caught at the LaGrange point of three competing impulses: ambition, love, and fear.  So far, so standard dramatic fare. What makes things more interesting here is how all three bleed into each other in Illyana's mind.  She hates Belasco, so she must learn more of the black magic he offers so as to defeat him.  She fears what Belasco wants from her, so she must defeat him.  She loves Cat, so she fears what the feral remains of her former friend will do to her, knowing Illyana will not kill her. Which in turn makes her want to learn more from Belasco in order to keep herself safe.

This, I freely admit, is an excellent set-up.  Illyana knows that she's being tempted by Belasco, and knows that part of her wants to accept, so she's completely unable to separate her desire for power from her desire to stop her monstrous host. When a spectral Ororo appears to speak to Illyana, the young girl blurts out her plan to defeat Belasco with his own magic, and Storm is horrified, seeing this as exactly the kind of endgame Belasco has in mind.  Worse, by Illyana's own admission, there's reason to believe the Dark Gods actually prefer her to Belasco, which means that even if she succeeds in destroying her mentor, she may simply be catapulting herself into an eternity of servitude at the hands of his own masters (this is known in geek circles as "Returning the Jedi", or at least it should be).

In short, this is a tremendously interesting confluence of desires, which stands out in marked contrast to the overblown, objectionably simplistic rhetoric of the last two issues.  It's also notable how well Claremont's shift in approach has aided the atmosphere the script invokes.  The idea that Illyana has spent two years in a castle filled with demons, learning blasphemous sorcery from Belasco half the time and being chased by the carnivorous ruin of her former friend, aware that Belasco wouldn't even care if she was killed due to his ability to raise the dead, is genuinely chilling.  Putting the time-jump into the gap allows us to imagine the horrors Illyana must have endured, which is vastly more effective than showing them, particularly given Claremont's habit of undercutting himself with leaden, ill-placed humour.  There's also a scene in which Cat finally remembers Illyana just enough to be heartbroken when the young sorceress blasts her in self-defence that's honestly quite sad.

All this takes us to the mid-point of the issue, when events take a sudden turn: Illyana learns that she can control "stepping discs" that can teleport her from place to place.  Given that this power manifests at the exact same point as she's lamenting her inability to find spells that can teleport from place to place, there are two ways to look at this.  Either Illyana's power was always going to be teleportation, and this is the greatest coincidence Claremont managed in a writing career filled to the brim with them (though I suppose it might not have manifested until she really wanted it), or there's something more going on here, and something to do with being a mutant reaching puberty in Limbo has caused the normal rules of mutant biology to be rewritten somewhat.  Personally, I'm entirely happy with the latter approach, but your mileage, as always, may vary.

Whichever way you want to go with it, though, Illyana summons a stepping disc, and jaunts herself out of the castle.  Again, though, Limbo has rules all its own, and instead of merely changing location, Illyana manages to throw herself back in time as well.  Briefly trapped in the past, she watches a younger Storm battling Belasco. With none of the accumulated weaknesses of advancing years to hold her back, Storm seemingly has no problem beating the lord of Limbo.  Defeated and desperate, Belasco begs for mercy, only for Storm to kill him.

Here, alas, is where the false equivalency bullshit slams into us once again. Storm's reward for slaying Belasco is to be turned into a demon herself, because by not observing Queensbury rules and/or the Geneva Convention when fighting a demonic horror with the stated goal of destroying humanity itself, she has demonstrated that she is "no better than the creature she fought."

Fuck.  Off.

At least when the X-Men argue that slaying supervillains is morally problematic and may end up just leading to greater suffering, you can comprehend the point.  The idea that you have to stop fighting an extra-dimensional embodiment of pure murderous evil whenever it asks you to is just unspeakably idiotic.  The idea that choosing not to do it is as bad as choosing to murder billions of innocent lives for your own amusement is several orders of magnitude worse.  I realise I keep banging on about this, but then this mini-series keeps bringing it up as well, and seems determined to present it in a more ridiculous fashion each time.

The one useful result of all this is that Illyana learns that Belasco is in fact immortal whilst in Limbo, so her earlier plan to spellcast him to death is worse than useless, since it'll irrevocably corrupt her soul in exchange for nothing.  Ironically, once she returns to the present, she discovers that this is exactly what Storm is trying to do; she's attacked the castle and seems determined to give killing Belasco another go.

Illyana attempts to join the fight, hoping her stepping discs can be of use, but Cat jumps her before she can get her bearings. The resulting fight costs the erstwhile Kitty Pryde her life, which manages to be more affecting than I'd anticipated (this might have something do with Illyana's reaction, recognising the horror intellectually, but utterly unable to feel it on any emotional level. Sometimes there's nothing more painful than realising how many things can't cause us pain anymore).

Whilst our heroine is battling with the frozen remnants of her soul, Belasco has bested Storm. It seems he still bears a grudge over Ororo shaking off the demonic influence that dominated her after she thought him dead, and it's time for payback. More specifically, it's time for Illyana to demonstrate how far she's fallen by assisting her master in murdering her friend, the situation rendered with a total absence of subtlety on the front cover.

It's a good job villainous over-reach is so rare a problem, huh? I mean, what could possibly come next?

In conclusion,then, this issue manages to improve on its predecessors, but only by waiting until the halfway point to start sucking, rather than going for it from page one.


This issue is, like the previous two, a bit tricky to sort out.  It's not clear why Storm, having resolved at the end of last issue to kill Cat and Illyana so as to save their souls, would wait two years to put her plan into action.  On the other hand, there's no way to tell how much preparation she needs, and more to the point, no reason to believe time in Belasco's castle flows at the same speed as in Storm's garden.


Sunday 13th May, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Eeeeeurgh, I'm starting to run out of stuff for this.  Um, it's Mother's Day all over the place? That'll have to do it.

Standout Line

"Ororo gives him the fate he deserves...  Only to get the fate she deserves for his murder..."

Tonight on "Morality with Claremont", we explain how murdering a demon who deserves to be murdered means you deserve to become a demon who deserves to be murdered! Or something.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

DAZ #31: "Tidal Wave!"

("Am I Still Ill?")


Well, this is an interesting one (with absolutely my favourite cover of any comic this blog as so far covered).  I've been saying for a while now that Dazzler's "slice of life" aspects are what make the comic so interesting, and, despite it looking like the New York supporting cast have now been written out, this is pushed almost to the very limit here.  By "almost" I mean that the book refrains from using Dazzler's powers in anything but the most minor ways until almost the very end, when it slips back into superheroine format and she gets to blow up a tidal wave.  Still, at least when the giant wall of water shows up, it's a legitimate metaphor.

The basic plot of this issue involves Dazzler visiting a film set, meeting a stuntman there, and striking up a romance with him (not sure what's happened to Ken, but Alison has been living in California for a little while now; she's probably broken off their already rather wobbly relationship).  Not the first time we've seen a variation on that plot, but then, fine, every romance is different.  Especially this one, in the context of comics because, brilliantly, the man in question (Bill Remington) isn't a supervillain, or a superhero with enemies, or a spy or a genius being hunted by enemy agents, or anything like that.  He's apparently one of the best stuntmen around, which certainly isn't nothing, but it's also not the kind of story seed you'd expect to see in a place like this (except for the action scenes it enables, about which I have as usual nothing to say).

No, what make Remington different from Ken or Angel or Dr Sexypants is that he's pretty clearly suffering from manic depression.

A brief personal side-note: I've been wrestling with depression and attendant panic attacks since I was twelve; due to what doctors have suggested (though has never been confirmed) is probably down to my brain not creating the right sorts of chemicals in the right amounts at the right time.  I don't exactly refuse to talk about it - this is exactly the sort of thing that should be talked about more - but I'm a fairly private person and I wouldn't usually just drop it into a blog post, except I figured it was worth noting I might be bringing my own baggage to this take.  Pinches of salt may be required.

That said, I'm certainly not entirely off-base here.  Remington starts out as being a hyperactive motormouth with almost unbelievable self-confidence, polishing off an $800 000 stunt sequence and then cracking on to Dazzler like it's inconceivable she wouldn't like him.  Not in a brash or arrogant way, really, just in a manner that makes it clear he thinks he's worth her time, and if she disagrees, he's not going to let it upset him.  It's fun to watch (Shooter's script is once again fairly breezy), but it carries with it the faint trace of something underneath, which Alison seems to pick up on.  Not object to, let's be clear, but there's something overwhelming in the speed of Remington's delivery.  He's too hyperkinetically upbeat, firing out deliberately cheesy lines like a demented chain-gun. 

Hell, he's so secure and confident and maxed out on his brain chemistry that even a near-fatal accident on set which involves him plunging head-first into a burning barn doesn't seem to phase him, so long as he gets to chat Alison up straight away afterwards.  I think anyone with any experience with manic depression would be looking for the crash right now.

When it happens, it's in a really unfortunate place, and so needs to be picked apart carefully.  Basically, Alison and Bill are on their second date, a candlelight dinner at her new apartment (owned by two rabid mutantphobes, which may or may not come up again later), and he crashes like hell because she doesn't want to get hot and heavy, what with having known him for precisely four days and two meals.  Now, whilst I don't see any problem with Bill fessing up to what he's thinking about replacing the cheese course with, it's very tough to watch a guy who responds to getting knocked back (in a not remotely harsh way) by launching into what doesn't look functionally different from a petulant sulk.  And here's the thing, if I'm wrong about my thirty-years-removed back-seat amateur-doctor diagnosis of Bill, then he's just a prick and I'm gonna look like I'm defending him.  Hell, even if I'm right, there's a world of difference between understanding a reaction and considering that reaction even remotely acceptable.

But I get it.  I've had romantic knock-backs (not, I hasten to add, by requesting sex too soon) whilst my depression has been particularly acute, and the weight that crashes down on you is so sudden and total that it's all you can do to continue speaking English and moving around at normal speed.  I don't think I ever made my disappointment as obvious as Bill, or left the girl in question feeling quite so guilty over something that's entirely not her problem - I certainly hope I haven't - but I can't be sure.  Objectivity as regards your own actions is difficult at the best of times.  Add romance and it becomes close to impossible, and sticking mental illness on top of that? You may as well ask someone how long they think they can hold my breath for as a wave the size of Blenheim Palace is crashing over them.  It's in your eyes, it's in your ears, and it's pulling you down.

Told you this ends on a metaphor.

Because shortly after Bill starts crashing (Alison persuades him to stick around and continue their sexless date) they discover that an incoming tsunami is headed straight for his house, and there's no chance whatsoever that the building will still be standing tomorrow. Bill heads over to his home, with Alison insisting on tagging along, but when they get there Bill doesn't want to save what he can of his things, he just wants to be left in peace to die in rush of saltwater and the wreckage of his life (he also wants to screw Alison whilst all that is going on, which is the only part of this issue that really seems out of place). To no-one's surprise, Alison declines to participate in this bonking-suicide pact, and flees the building.  A few minutes later, Bill does the same, realising he's not ready to die after all.

Not knowing Bill has evacuated, Alison then doubles back, determined to get him out of harm's way, but when she can't find him, she concludes she has no choice but to use her powers to save the house, vaporising the wall of water as it heads towards her, and somehow doing so fast enough to keep Bill's house intact, though she very nearly drowns until Bill, who's also come back (to find Dazzler, natch), manages to resuscitate her.

We end with Bill admitting to himself and Alison that he's basically been sabotaging his own life for years; throwing himself into ever-more dangerous stunts, getting his sulk on over minor romantic hiccups, trying to drown himself in a wall of seawater (he's been self-medicating with booze, as well).  Again, this is classically symptomatic of depression, and as Bill promises to find himself help and call Alison again once he's ready, let's finally embrace this reading completely. Consider what the ending here represents: a guy who keeps pushing women away in acts of self-sabotage, brought about suddenly by minor changes in what he sees as the natural flow of a situation, agrees to not just withdraw as he has done with others, and lets her accompany him into the central space in his life, the house that doubles as a representation of his character. As a result, she brings such light along with her that the massive wave that would otherwise crush his life and drown that character simply evaporates.

If I wanted to write a metaphor for the positive effects another person can bring into the life of someone suffering severe depression, I'm not sure I could come up with a more appropriate one. 

A more subtle one, sure, but not more appropriate.

Gods, that was all a bit heavy going, wasn't it?  I feel quite bad about that.  So let's go out on something more cheerful, shall we?  Waves can be fun!


This story takes place over four days. Dazzler's new landlady mentions the altercation with a giant purple lizard in a San Diego convention centre happened the day before the issue begins.


Sunday 31st of July to Wednesday 3rd of August, 1983.


X+5Y+104 to X+5Y+107.

Contemporary Events

American John Sain builds a 12' 10'' house of cards, which considering this issues interest in the structural strength of self-designed buildings strikes me as rather appropriate.

Standout Line

"I said okay, Bill!"
"But... I have a hundred and thirty-two more lines!"

(Of course, it turns out one of them is "What say we save the chit-chat for later and start talking some body language?", so maybe it's best he was stopped when he was.)

Friday, 21 December 2012

UXM #179: "Whatever Happened To Kitty?"

(The girl who cried "I'll let you touch me!")


Wow.  Feels like a while since we were last looking at the main title. To recap, last issue left two major storylines up in the air: Kitty has been kidnapped and replaced with a dead body made to look like her (this wasn't explicitly stated, but Claremont made no effort to hide the fact), and Colossus has been frozen in liquid nitrogen and been paralysed and riven with cracks as a result; he may even be dead.

I mentioned in my comments on UXM #178 that Claremont was pulling an interesting move here, by making the resolution to the Kitty cliffhanger (that she'd been snaffled by Morlocks) entirely obvious, but doing so in such a way that it leaves Colossus' fate entirely uncertain, since only Kitty had any idea how to save him, and the machine she hoped would do the job was smashed to pieces.  Here, Claremont reinforces this by spending the first two pages telling us where Kitty is (she is, as will be obvious from the cover to any but the most simple-minded, about to be shotgun-wedded to the lovesick Caliban), and the second two having Wolverine ascertain the body in the morgue isn't Kitty, and Storm immediately guessing who's responsible.  Indeed, if anything Ororo gets to the right answer rather too quickly, but then the Morlocks are liable to be preying on her mind.

In contrast, pages five and six reveal that no-one has the slightest idea about how to save Colossus, or even if he's still alive in there at all.  It doesn't help that Xavier is still getting hit with agonising psychic probes by some kind of powerful alien being, of course, but notwithstanding the issue's title, even without that distraction it's clear that the mystery here is in how to help Piotr, not what happened to Kitty.

That said, we still need some details on that score, so let's see what's happening in the sewers.  Well, it turns out the Morlocks have at least been kind enough to glamour Kitty so that she can enjoy her wedding.  Except naturally it konks out halfway through, leaving Kitty aghast in horror as her groom-to-be shuffles into view.  The reluctant bride tries to get out of the situation by noting the likelihood of terrible revenge courtesy of Storm, but Callisto has found a loop-hole.  Storm, after all, agreed not to interfere with internal Morlock business, and Kitty has already sworn to become one of them.  It's hardly Callisto's fault - or Caliban's either - that she was lying through her teeth at the time.  This is brought home rather brutally when Kitty begs to be temporarily freed to save Colossus' life, only for Callisto to point out she's already proven she can't be trusted, and will just have to stay put whilst her boyfriend gathers dust.

Actually, there's definitely the grain of an interesting question here: if Person A makes a contract (oral here, of course, but let's side-step that for now) with Person B in exchange for Person B stopping Person C from murdering People D, E and F, then does that contract still hold?  It certainly wouldn't if Person B and C were one and the same; that's a clear-cut case of duress, but this isn't quite the same thing.  We also need to note that Person B can't be sure he'll succeed in stopping Person C, and indeed that there will be a penalty to themselves in doing so (which may indeed include Person B getting bumped off with D, E and F).

As always with such thorny legal questions, I went to my father and got him to write something up for me.  Obviously, this is an opinion drawn up based on a major alteration to an entirely fictitious situation, and moreover my father is an expert on British law, not American.  Even so, his analysis is interesting, and basically boils down to a case known as "the Medina", which held that pilgrims who agreed to pay exorbitant fees to be rescued from a rock in the sea (a potentially deadly situation come bad weather) could only be ordered by the court to pay a more reasonable sum (less than half what they'd agreed to).  In other words, it might be held that Caliban could expect some kind of recompense (which would increase in value due to the risk in confronting the quite obviously mad Callisto), and the argument would boil down to whether "Kitty Pryde, one marriage to" constituted a reasonable request under the circumstances (my father notes however that had Pryde gone through with the marriage and then tried to get it annulled, things would be very different).

All that aside, though, it's clear Callisto is just being an arse.  A cowardly arse, at that, seeing how she sees Kitty's distress as revenge on Storm, but doesn't dare risk Storm actually knowing about it (there's a reason Khan didn't say "Revenge is a dish best served where no-one can see you eating").  Rather put out by developments in general, Kitty makes a run for it.  Whilst she searches in vain for an exit, she turns over her original lie to Caliban, wondering what it can say about her that she'd so shamelessly lie in order to save her friends. Jumping off from the work of SpaceSquid Sr. above, I'd say the same lies not in the falsehood itself, so much as failing to even attempt to make amends with Caliban after the fact.  Just because you reject someone's first offer doesn't mean there's no other less, ahem, personal accommodation that can't be reached.

Eventually, Leech (in his first appearance; hello, Leech!) finds Kitty and leads her back to the Morlocks.  Kitty tries a different tack this time, requesting help for Peter for the sake of the newest Morlock in the tribe. Callisto agrees to help, in the interests of "look[ing] after our own", which might have been more convincing she didn't immediately give Kitty to Masque to play around with (there's a suggestion here that Masque messes up the faces of every Morlock to ensure they can't pass for surface-dwellers, which is a deeply fucked-up way to ensure loyalty).  For whatever reason, though, Callisto lets Kitty keep her own face for the ceremony (probably to keep Caliban on-sid).  The question of what else she gets to keep today (if you get my meaning, and I'm sure you wish you didn't) is mercifully rendered moot when the X-Men charge in.

Storm is unsurprisingly livid, particularly since she's under the impression Callisto murdered the girl they used as pseudo-Kitty (not actually true, but a perfectly understandable mistake), but simple outraged savagery might not carry the day, what with Leech around to switch off the X-Men's powers, and with Kitty (with typical ingratitude) berating them for trying to save her from a fate she decided all of ten minutes earlier she was going to accept. She even accuses Wolverine of using the fact she was kidnapped and another girl murdered as just an excuse to get into a brawl, which must set some kind of international record for overwhelming unfair accusations, at least outside of the world of politics.

As shockingly unreasonable as her comments are, they do at least have the desired effect of cutting short the fight.  Kitty explains she's agreed to stay in exchange for Colossus' survival, and the X-Men return with Healer to see what he can do for the Russian.  The ultimate resolution of this plotline is actually really quite clever.  The broken FF machine one might have assumed someone would fix isn't needed at all; instead Rogue absorbs Peter's power (at great risk and under great strain, which leads Storm to conclude the former villain has finally earned her stripes), and Healer immediately knits Peter together before he bleeds to death.

The next day Kitty says goodbye to Illyana, and heads into the sewers to resume the aborted marriage ceremony (I guess if nothing else, the X-Men's interruptions stopped the wedding happening that day).  Caliban has had time to think, however, and chooses to let Kitty go, hoping that one day she will return of her own free will, and that with gesture, she will think better of him than he could have hoped for otherwise.


This story begins a few hours after the previous issue ended, and carries on into the following day.

Storm confirms that Kitty has not yet reached her fifteenth birthday, despite her being first introduced as thirteen-and-a-half, and having had two birthdays since then.


Tuesday 20th to Wednesday 21st September, 1983.


X+5Y+200 to X+5Y+201.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.69 standard years.

(Majik is 21 years old).

"Death and I are old friends."
Contemporary Events

Maggie Grace is born, if you remember her.  So is Joseph Mazzello, who played over-eager kid Tim in Jurassic Park, and one of Facebook's co-creators in The Social Network.

Standout Line

"Did you ever consider asking if I wanted to be rescued?" - Kitty

Gods, I hate teenagers sometimes. Nothing like a strop about not getting permission to help a kid out.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

MSI #2: "Cold Iron, Hot Blood"

(The Modern Limbo Triathlon.)



Look. I tried.  I really did.  Abigail and Teebore were all like "It's not that bad!", and between them they gave me hope that perhaps this second issue would turn me around on this mini-series. 

It has not.

I will at least admit that this second issue is better than its predecessor.  Now that Cat has determined to bypass Ororo's ethical issues (which, as noted, were entirely foolish and in no small part objectionably solipsistic) by running away with Illyana, we at least get an issue in which our characters get to be proactive.  I don't think Storm's plan to teach Illyana restraint was a bad idea under the circumstances, but actually reading it kept making me think of that old Simpsons line where Bart tells his karate sensei "Look, I already know how not to hit a guy".

One of the core problems with this issue, though, is a follow-on from the last; the argument in that issue was whether Ororo was right to risk the human race in the hope she could reverse Illyana's partial corruption, or whether Cat was right in insisting the stakes were too high and Illyana would have to be killed.  This seemed so central to the piece that when in the final pages of MSI #1 Cat stole into Illyana's room to offer her a route home, I assumed she must be lying, tempting the child out of the sanctuary so Cat could kill her without interruption.

Here, though, we learn that Cat really does think she can get Illyana home, which negates pretty much the only interesting idea this series has managed so far.  In it's place is a short-form version of what we may as well call - with an exceptional lack of originality - the epic journey.  In this case, Illyana and Cat have to cross through a viciously twisted version of the Savage Land to get to the portal that will take the young Russian home.

So, fine.  Not something the X-Books have done particularly often, and if there's still a problem with the people we're following - Cat is just a relentlessly unpleasant version of a character I never had much interest in first time around, and Illyana remains an almost entirely blank slate - well, it's not like Lord of the Rings was full to bursting with fascinatingly complex characters, either.

So how does it work as some kind of messed-up travelogue of Limbo?  Well, not too bad at all, actually.  John Buscema makes a decent fist of the barren expanses of the pseudo-Savage Land, and there's a superbly creepy moment when Illyana's exploring by hand an almost lightless cave, and grabs hold of what proves to be the boots worn by the corpse of her dead brother:

(Except of course that she clearly couldn't have reached him; and also there's a stogie-chomping demon, that might belong in some scene, but certainly not this one.)

Whilst this horrifying tour is being conducted, it's becoming clear what the structure of this story is.  Last issue had Ororo go all Dumbledore (to quote Buffy) on Illyana, with a bunch of stuff about harmony and restraint and all the sorts of things that lead to villains having their arses entirely un-kicked.  This time round, it's the turn of Cat, who during their long trek to their mountainous destination (which, contra Illyana, really doesn't look much more than thirty miles away or so, though I wouldn't wanna run that either) teaches Illyana the ins and outs of swordplay.  So you've got the path of restraint and the attendant price of having to watch things get worse and not interfere.  You've got the path of violent resistance, and the attendant price of becoming hard and callous.  Presumably next time round, Belasco will get his chance, and give us the path of magical assault, at the cost of losing one's soul in the process of satisfying one's every whim.

That at least is reasonable framework, and with Illyana now adept in swordplay (via a brief "I was shit for ages, but now I'm good" sequence that's basically a montage filtered through Claremont's melodramatic approach), I assume the final conclusion will be that there's something to be said for all three approaches combined.  Naturally, this requires we be reminded of Storm's position, so she shows up in spirit-form to harangue Cat some more, and once again insist that were she to kill Cat to retrieve Illyana and save the fucking world, she'd be just as bad as Belasco.  Sigh.

This just keeps being the problem.  The end is a foregone conclusion, because we know Illyana survives and so does humanity.  The characters involved are either unpleasant, undeveloped, or painfully stupid.  And the whole thing revolves around such ludicrously extreme choices that there's never a chance to actually shade any of the players' philosophies.  It's just never kill, always kill, kill to prevent more killing.

I'm also not keen on the handling of Illyana's age.  The implication in "Chutes and Ladders" was that Illyana suffered years of degradations during her time in Limbo.  Here, she just seems to keep growing at an accelerated rate.  She gained a year in Ororo's gardens whilst apparently just doing a spot of meditating, and here we learn she's aged two more years in the trip to Belasco's mountain, despite it being in sight when she and Cat first set off.  It seems fairly clear that Claremont didn't want to address this, really (though of course the latter two issues may prove me wrong here); the fact that Illyana laments turning fourteen instead of eight in MSI #1 but here mentions being six when she fell into Limbo one year earlier suggests he put very little thought into this at all (to make things more ridiculous, New Mutants will put her age at fifteen in an issue or two).  Frankly, it feels like a cheat; a way of telling this story that severely weakens the original gut-punch of UXM #160. "I spent seven years in a hell dimension" is just so much more unpleasant to contemplate than "I spent four issues in a hell dimension, and aged like heck whilst I was doing it".

Anyway, let's finish up on the plot: eventually Cat and Illyana get to Belasco's citadel, carved into the mountain, and they go searching for the portal home.  Instead, they find Evil Nightcrawler, who does his best first to kill Cat, and then Illyana (doesn't Belasco brief his guards about who's on the guest-list?), but comes a cropper when Cat phases his leg into the floor and let's go.

Which, I confess, is utterly awesome in it's sick nastiness.  Like everyone else with a diseased mind and an interest in the X-Men, I've always wondered what an untimely unphasing could do to someone, and now I know - it shatters your bones utterly and leaves you unable to do anything but scream in agony until someone stabs you to death.  A powerful warning indeed, I think.

With Nightcrawler dead, it appears that the coast is clear, but of course it's all a trap.  The waiting arms of the X-Men are just an illusion hiding Belasco, the duelling skills of Cat no use when Belasco first paralyses her and then completes her transformation into a feline.  In another moment of supreme hideousness, she pads over to start eating Nightcrawler's body, but Illyana hardly notices.  She's almost entirely under Belasco's power now, opening her own arm to provide the blood needed to form the second bloodstone (collect all five to unleash the Elder Gods!).  Watching in horror in her crystal ball, Storm decides she's been going about this all wrong after all.  The only hope for saving the world relies on her taking action.  Illyana must die!

So, that's a kind of odd end to an odd issue.  I mentioned the framework here seemingly being that Illyana will receive three lessons and choose which of them to base her actions on (though as I say, I suspect a combination is by some distance the most likely outcome).  Here, though, Storm has abandoned her position, and Cat's has been shown to be fruitless.  Once Belasco's approach proves - as surely it must - to not be worth the price it requires, where is that going to leave us?

I have no idea.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I do know one thing, courtesy of the first page of the first issue in this miniseries.  Right now, Illyana has two bloodstones.  When she escapes back into reality, she's carrying three.

Which means that whatever else happens, Illyana hasn't finished paying for her ticket out just yet.


Yeesh, this is a mess.  It always amuses me to think that the seed for the idea that led to this blog came from John Seavey arguing the following:
In Uncanny X-Men #165, during the Brood saga, Kitty Pryde is described as 14 for the first time. Her birthday, we’re told, passed while she was in space. (So Lockheed? Officially the Coolest Birthday Present Ever.)

Then, in Excalibur #15, we see her celebrating her 15th birthday in the company of Saturnyne. (Who she thinks is Courtney Ross at the time. God, it’s hard explaining Chris Claremont comics.) These two comics were both written by the same author, so there’s no question of continuity mistakes or differences in authorial intent. The span of X-books from January 1983 to late July 1990 are fully intended to take place over roughly one 365-day span of time.
I still chuckle every time I read that. Claremont couldn't even keep continuity straight from the first issue of MSI to this one.  Last time around Illyana's narration says she's speaking on her fourteenth birthday, but that it would be her eighth had she not been lost in Limbo.  In this book, we learn she is speaking about her experiences one year after she returned, which would make her seven when Belasco took her.  So, obviously, it's explicitly stated that she's six when she and Cat leave to find the portal home. Grr.

Actually, this isn't at all hard to fix; we can just assume that Illyana's framing narrative isn't exactly a year after her return.  If we make it, say, a year and two days, then so long as we don't count the year Illyana aged physically in Ororo's garden, the timings all add up.

Interestingly, this means that Illyana's narration is taking place some time after the events of the surrounding X-Books; 13th May 1984 in our current time-line.  We shall have to see if that causes problems down the line.


Sunday 13th May, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Seventeen hostages (sixteen British, one Portuguese) are feed by the Union for the Total Independence of Angola, having been captured in an attack at Cafunfo in February, along with some forty-three hostages released the previous month.

Standout Line

"Does that feel good, my Cat?  Shall I stroke you more?" - Belasco

I really can't tell if this is meant to be as disturbing as it actually is, but it's genuinely unsettling in all the right ways.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Things Past: Take 4

Once again prompted by all sorts of Alpha Flight weirdness.

c 38 000 BC: An alien spacecraft crashes in the Arctic, and lures an exiled tribesman to millenia of torture.

1935: Charles Xavier is born to Brian and Sharon Xavier, workers on an American nuclear project never revealed to the general public.

1945: The Trinity nuclear test at Alamogordo on the 16th of July kills Brian Xavier.

1946: Sharon marries Kurt Marko - also at Alamogordo, and blamed by Charles for his father's death - who then moves into the Xavier family home.

c1948: Kurt is killed in a lab accident.  Soon after, Xavier discovers his psychic powers.

1953: After joining the army, Xavier (along with Kurt's son Cain) is deployed to Korea.

1957: Ororo Munroe is born.

1958: Jean Grey is born.

1961: Bobby Drake and Kurt Wagner are born.

1962: Xavier meets both Erik Lensherr and Gabrielle Haller, the latter of whom will one day bear him a son.

1964: A crewman is washed from the deck of the trawler Mary D and finds a golden egg on the sea-bed; this rapidly hatches into a hominid girl her finder names Marinna. Piotr Rasputin is born.

1968: Xavier faces Lucifer in Tibet, in a struggle that costs him the use of his legs.  Dr Michael Twoyoungmen loses his grandfather and his pregnant wife; the latter of which his young daughter blames on him.  Richard Easton finds a ceremonial headband at an archeological dig in the Arctic, and as a result is requested to and agrees to impregnate Nelvanna, Goddess of the Northern Lights.

1969: Ororo Munroe gives up her life as a street-thief in order to follow a strange compulsion drawing her to the Serengeti.  Katherine "Kitty" Pryde is born.

1972: James Hudson learns his mechanical suit design is to be used by the US Army in Vietnam; he responds by destroying the blueprints.

1977: Xavier founds the X-Men.  Richard Easton returns to the world after impregnating Nelvanna, and quickly goes insane.

1978: Doctor Michael Twoyoungman becomes a shaman (named Shaman, obviously) under the tutelage of his grandfather's ghost. He then aids Nelvanna in giving birth to Snowbird, and fosters the baby.

ALF #7: "The Importance Of Being Deadly"

(Three Typical Men And A Baby)


Well, I'll give John Byrne this much: he can certainly condense his most infuriating tendencies into remarkably small spaces, which at least provides ample warning with minimum investment.  If there was anything that sums up Byrne's infuriatingly loose relationship with comedy (I say infuriating because on occasion he's genuinely pretty funny; see Puck in ALF #1 or the hilarious "Snowblind") it's that Byrne not only thought giving a man named Ernest the nickname "Deadly" was funny enough to put in a comic, but that he worked the same pun into the story's title, and rewrote Oscar fucking Wilde to do it (the issue misquotes Douglas Adams later, just to really drive the point home, though Byrne insists his script was correct and somehow got altered).

So much for the hilarious comedy, then.  The other aggravating but mercifully brief burst of stupidity concerns the opening scenes of the book, in which Northstar takes his sister (currently in her uptight school-mistress persona to see a psychiatrist.  Which, fine, good idea.  Except that the shrink in question talks to Jeanne-Marie for one session and then just says "Everything looks fine".  Because she didn't actually suffer a personality break whilst he was watching her.

The idea that a psychiatrist good enough to be hired by the famous Northstar has no way to detect psychological issues so deep-rooted and extreme that they've led to dissociative identity disorder unless he actually watches the crazy in real time is utterly absurd.  Or, if there really is no way to detect such things by an hour's observation, you'd expect a psychiatrist to know that, and not just blow off concerns that anything is amiss.  This is exactly why I was leery about the whole Aurora psychology plot - it's just too obvious that Byrne hasn't the subtlety to handle it, and it's now equally clear that he didn't bother putting any work into researching the condition either. 

As though that wasn't enough, Doctor Bosson also tells Northstar it's a shame his sister doesn't dress like the "devastatingly beautiful woman", which is so creepily inappropriate it's hard to process.  Yes, Bosson then argues it's not up to them to decide how she presents herself [1] (perhaps this is Byrne's conception of feminism, you don't get to tell women to do, you just get to bitch behind their backs about how you wished they were trying harder to please you), but the damage is still done, and we've hit the trifecta of Byrne's writing problems in the '80s: he's not nearly as funny as he thinks he is, he doesn't think ignorance should be a bar to tackling sensitive issues, and the most evolved his thinking on women ever gets is that literally physically controlling them is usually bad.

Indeed, any chance of bypassing this kind of unsettling commentary goes out of the window two pages later, when Jeanne Marie has her bag stolen.  The trauma immediately causes her to lapse into her Aurora personage, at which point, my hand to Gods, her blouse splits open of its own accord to reveal her cleavage.  Naturally, this is the scene chosen to go on the front cover.  I feel like I need a shower.
The would-be purse-snatcher is dealt with very quickly, but he's back on the streets almost as fast. Turns out he's on the payroll of a local crime baron, "Deadly" Ernest St. Ives.  The Beaubier twins then meet up with Jean-Paul's old friend Raymonde, a man who happens to have a cafe business which is struggling due to the aforementioned St. Ives.  Things are so serious that Raymonde has hardly any time to crack onto Aurora (and I'm really not sure the phrase "chameleon goddess" is as much a compliment as he thinks it is) before he begs for help.

Or at least, he tries to, but is interrupted almost immediately by his precocious daughter, Danielle. Her attempts to divert the conversation fail to bear fruit, however - apparently because Aurora is pissed off people aren't paying attention to her - and eventually Raymonde fesses up: St. Ives has hired thugs to harass the cafe's customers, and Aurora's run-in with that mook five pages earlier probably wasn't a coincidence - he must have heard Jean-Paul talking about the old friend he had nearby.  Indeed, it's only seconds later that more of St. Ives' men show up, knocking Northstar and Danielle aside as they kidnap Raymonde and, for some reason, Aurora.

At this point both the twins are caught in something of a bind; they don't want Ernest to get his way, but they don't want to reveal their superpowers in front of people who know their public identities.  I'd have thought given how much close Jean-Paul is to Raymonde (we learn a few pages later that Raymonde basically raised him), he'd forget about protecting his identity, but in fairness he probably doesn't realise quite how dire the situation is.  Raymonde and Aurora are manhandled to a nearby car, where St. Ives is waiting.  He summarily executes Raymonde with some freaky touch-based power, and assuming his goons have kidnapped Raymonde's daughter, bundles her into the car and drives off.  Actually, I suppose it's not unreasonable for St. Ives to assume Jeanne-Marie is Raymonde's daughter, given his goons brought her to him, but what the hell is the thugs' excuse?  They just walked in, ignored Danielle entirely, and instead grabbed the woman who looks nothing like Raymonde in the slightest.  Idiots.

Anyway, as the villains drive off, Danielle is left devastated by her father's death, and Jean-Paul swears to kill St. Ives for what he has done.  One might note that the only reason St. Ives was able to kill Raymonde in the first place is that Northstar considered his secret identity more important than the risk to his adopted father, but this, I imagine, would not be the best time to bring it up.

That's it for the main story this issue (a mere 13 pages), since this time we not only have the customary back-up strip, but a two-page "unconnected interlude", in which Alec Thorne, AKA Smart Alec (no, I can't believe it either) from the now-defunct Gamma Flight is headhunted by a woman named Delphine Courtney, who makes Alec's superpowered mind an offer it can't refuse.

Meanwhile, over in the past, we have "Let a Child be Born", in which a bunch of archeology postgrads are digging up a slice of the Arctic Circle, whilst their supervisors try to remember their names.  One of the put-upon students, named Richard, eventually finds what looks like a very spartan ceremonial headdress. During the night, it begins whispering to him, and when he puts it upon his head, three figures appear from out of the air.  Often when such spernatural visions show up, there's a certain amount of mystery involved regarding exactly what it is that they want.  Not here, though.  These spirits - or gods, as they claim to be - are entirely direct: they want Richard's love-juice for Granny Nelvanna.

This is not a proposition that Richard finds particularly to his liking, which I can very much understand.  As it turns out, though, Richard's objections are rather more narrow than mine would be; Nelvanna simply has herself turned into a beautiful blonde, and Richard happily fucks her.  How romantic. 

(Actually, she does also mention that the coupling is necessary to save the world, but she's definitely putting the emphasis on a night of sweaty sex).

Alas, it turns out screwing shape-changing gods in order to get them pregnant has consequences.  Richard finds himself thrown forwards in time nine years, and goes mad to boot, fated to one day be the man who'll awaken tundra (as we saw happen in ALF #1).  On the other hand, the whole affair definitely has an upside for Shaman who, drawn to the area by forces unknown, finds himself acting first as midwife to Nelvanna, and then guardian of her baby, already grown to the size of a one-year old.  The baby who, if you haven't guessed, will one day become Snowbird.


There's nothing here that ties this story down to any particular time, so we'll once again jump a month forward.  The issue itself takes place over the course of a few hours.


Thursday 21st of July, 1983.



Contemporary Events

The Soviet Antarctic Vostok research station records the lowest known temperature ever reliably measured on Earth; a hideously cold -89.2C. Which, if nothing else, is cold enough to make ice cubes from pure ethanol, which would doubtless spice up an otherwise dull vodka mule.

Standout Line

"This is your... daughter?  But how?"

C'mon, Jean-Paul!  I know you catch your trains at the other side of the station, but you must have picked up on some of the basics.

[1] To be entirely fair, I should go into more detail.  Bosson is making the point that even if he could first detect and then help with Aurora's issues, he wouldn't just be able to flense away the personality Northstar dislikes in favour of the one he prefers.  This, alone in the scene, is actually a great point: Northstar's desire to help his sister is entirely appropriate, but the image he has of how to help her is completely selfish.  Bosson's point on wishing she wouldn't dress so dowdily but recognising that's a judgement he has no right to impose on her is by way of analogy.  Which, fine, except it's a horrible analogy that mires us in Byrne's standard problem of being able to do almost nothing with female characters other than examine what behaviour they set off in men.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Wolverine, But With Half The Calories!

Because she's brilliant, Abigail Brady had the genius idea of pinning down Paul Cornell and Kieron Gillen on the question of what happens if Wolverine is bisected, skull to groin. I think it's pretty clear that Cornell is wrong, here, but let's play around with the idea for a bit.  If we do bisect Wolverine, there are four basic possible outcomes (for Wolverine; the researcher themselves is almost certainly going to wind up dead at the conclusion of the experiment):
  1. Wolverine dies;
  2. One half of Wolverine rebuilds itself into Wolverine, the other half rots;
  3. Both halves of Wolverine rebuild themselves in Wolverine;
  4. Both halves of Wolverine attempt to rebuild themselves, but only one is actually Wolverine, the other being some messed-up nightmare creature, or something.
Cornell plumps for 2 (Gillen for 3), but the problems with this are obvious.  If only one half of Logan can return, which one is it?  One obvious answer is that it must be the one containing the majority of the heart, but then does that mean that were one to utterly disintegrate Wolverine's right side, he'd drop dead?  That's clearly not the case, at least not these days; there doesn't seem to be anything necessary to total recovery so long as the skeleton remains, which makes any argument on the grounds of asymmetric organ-packing profoundly unconvincing.

So if we assume it can't be as simple as picking the "regrowable" side, earthworm-style, what does that leave us?  If, for example, we were to clone Wolverine (and then cover that clone's skeleton with adamantium), and immolate opposing halves of each of our two Logans, we'd surely end up with two Logans again fairly quickly (and, as a result, half the already meagre life-expectancy of our fearless lab techs).  What's the difference between that experiment and a lateral bisection?

I think the only real explanation is some kind of hand-wavey nod to the soul, or perhaps in more secular terms, Logan's will to survive.  He can survive losing either half of his body, but if he's chopped in two, one side will somehow want it more, and become the true Wolverine, whilst the other becomes something different.  You still get two people, or two life-forms, depending on how you look at it (option 4 above would be the most obvious choice of how to run with a bisection actually occurring in the comics, which is certainly not to say trying it would be even a remotely good idea).  You could even surrender to cliche and give each half different traits from the original.  Indeed, Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha and Omega already gave us one suggestion, albeit under very different circumstances, featuring as it did a rational but amnesiac Logan and a drooling violent animalistic Wolverine.

In that respect, "only one Wolverine" makes sense as a summary, albeit whilst making no sense at all as an actual logical position (and yes, I'm aware that applying logic to superhero comics is inherently ridiculous; but if you don't find it fun nonetheless, then frankly I rather pity you).  Me, I'd go for option 3, and damn the torpedoes.  Hell, do it right, and for the first time in twenty years Wolverine's appearances across the Marvel line might actually make some sense.

(X-posted at Musings of the Cosmic Calamari)

NMU #12: "Sunstroke"

(The Masochism Tango.)


We're finally out of Nova Roma and back in Rio, where 80% of the New Mutants can get some R&R whilst Roberto goes to face his father over his recent tendency to try and get his family killed.  Naturally, neither plan goes particularly well.

Poor old Roberto.  For all that there's no limit to how many young teenagers would consider super-powers a kind of wish fulfilment, it doesn't half make it difficult to get into heated arguments with your parents (every thirteen year old's God given right, of course).  The fact that Roberto lets everything collapse so quickly by transforming into Sunspot is almost as big a clue that he's not ready for this conversation as his decision to wear a bright green suit for the occasion. 

Actually, I'm being entirely unfair.  Roberto himself blames himself for the conversation going south so quickly, but there's no plausible way to blame this on anyone other than his father, one of those despicable types who insist that not receiving the respect they believe they are due is more worth getting pissed off about than the grotesque nature of the acts they've committed or cheered on  (see also: every American conservative TV pundit in the last eight years).  When your son tells you your employee came within inches of killing him and your wife alongside, you do not bitch about how insufficient deference is being shown.  You certainly don't move to strike your kid.  If superpowers is every child's dream, the ability to be strong enough to stop your father from hitting you is a dream of a much smaller group, though still too large by far, and whilst I can understand why Roberto himself gets tied up in knot thinking himself responsible, I'm a little bit uncomfortable that no-one else is around to point all this out.  Indeed, the only other comment comes from a flashback to Sunspot's farewell to his mother (who's stayed in Nova Roma), who tells him they mustn't abandon DaCosta Sr. because then he'll have no-one to help him stop being the utter shit he's turned into.  That's horribly close to the idea that one shouldn't flee from an abusive spouse/father because they didn't used to be that way, and maybe will magically one day stop sending assassins hitting the people he professes to love.  To call this a problematic idea to present unchallenged is an egregious understatement.

Whilst all of this is going on, Dani and Amara - sent away from her city by her father once more, again for "her own protection" -  are enjoying a day at the beach.  Amara in particular is very fond of her new figure-hugging swimsuit, which she pronounces "very daring".  Not nearly as daring as Dani's, of course (who never passes up an opportunity to get into a skimpy bikini, not that that's any of my business), but it still occurred to me that the daughter of a Roman senator might not be quite so willing to stretch out amongst strangers wearing a costume that might as well be painted on.  Then I remembered that she spent years in a much smaller outfit back when she was blacked up so no-one would suspect she was from an advanced race of Caucasians and dear Gods these comics can be tough to read sometimes.

Where was I?  Yes, at the beach, where some local pretty-boys are giving Amara a hard time.  By which I mean the only one not eyefucking her is the guy who actually steps up and commits sexual assault.  Amara is not particularly pleased by this turn of events, which is why the nearby beach suddenly becomes a volcano.  Naturally, this becomes an issue about the danger Amara poses, as oppose to a reminder that a lot of men out there are disgusting sex criminals.  New Mutants #12: no victim unintentionally allowed to avoid blaming themselves (hell, there's a page-long scene in which Wolfsbane prays for forgiveness from God for being so selfish as to have her own desires and social needs).

That said, the behaviour of men does at least form the secondary message of this issue, namely that they're all pricks.  Emmanuel DaCosta is willing to sacrifice his family in exchange for money he can't possibly need.  Some of the men of Ipanema apparently view the beachfront as a try-before-you-buy delicatessen counter, if instead of meat and cheese you have to pick a number to queue for girls you intend to rape.  Sam's first appearance here is to interrupt Rahne's worried monologue about being ignored in favour of Amara and only of interest to her teammates as a tracker, so that he can tell her to wolf-out so they can find their newest, most nubile comrade.  The first man we see speak to Amara after she flees the beach screams at her and calls her a cow, the second is a policeman who tries to arrest her the instant he learns she's not a local.

This last encounter causes another volcano to burst forth, this time in the middle of a busy road.  As the rest of the New Mutants try to find their friend (Wolfsbane can't track her directly because there's too much sulphur in the air), Amara wanders the street, slowly going mad in the noon heat.  Both my illustrious colleagues have discussed how strange it is that the Brazilian sun is causing Amara so much distress, given she's a) from the Amazon jungle, and b) capable of transforming into a being of pure lava.  I'll admit to being rather less bothered by this than others.  It doesn't seem at all unreasonable to me that someone used to the dark humidity of the rainforest would freak out when the full force of the equatorial sun hit them out in the open, and whilst we know Amara can withstand any temperature once she transforms, that doesn't necessarily translate into being immune under all circumstances - though NMU #10 rather clearly demonstrates she'll transform automatically should things get too tough.  Really, the most critical I'd be inclined to be of what's going on here is that the culture shock angle was working at least as well in screwing around with Amara's head, and keeping that up would probably have made more sense than sidestepping into "also, it's hot as hell".

However Claremont got here, though, the endpoint of Amara's terror and discomfort is a return to her lava-form, and the decision to burn the shit out of all and sundry.  I'm not sure whether "mass murder for the sake of shits and giggles" is one of the known symptoms of heatstroke, but hey; I'm not that kind of doctor.  In any case, her rampage doesn't last for more than a few seconds, when it occurs to her that bathing innocent people in magma is a bit too much of a Selene-style thing to do.  Exhausted, she collapses, and is taken in by some local shantytown dwellers.  Wolfsbane finally manages to catch her scent (leading to a great scene where Sam thoughtlessly strokes her like a dog and she understandably flips right out) and they first find Amara, and then cure her of her sunstroke by bathing her in a literal truckload of ice.  Apparently, medical opinions differ as to whether or not this is the best move to counter heatstroke, but such an argument must mean it can't be totally ineffective, so we should probably give the kids a pass here.


Roberto mentions that he said goodbye to his mother a fortnight ago.  It doesn't seem unreasonable to assume this was after a period of celebration in Nova Roma following the defeat of Gallio and Selene, so we'll place this issue sixteen days after those events.

This story itself takes place over a few hours.


Friday 9th of September, 1983.



Contemporary Events

The Challenger shuttle returns to Kennedy Space Center, four days after it touched down in California, a successful mission despite having to deal with shit like this even before lift-off:

Standout Line

"Amara spoke Latin, these speak Portuguese. Why can't everyone speak English?"  - Editor Louise Jones, who was probably worried that there's not been any racism around in the last couple of issues.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

TWTYTW: 1983

If 1981 is notable as the year the X-Men arguably grew into a franchise (I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but Dazzler counts, dammit!), and 1982 important for the publishing of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 and the first Wolverine mini-series (both extensions of Claremont's personal vision rather than simply Marvel expanding their reach), then 1983 is the year that the X-Books were finally solidly established as an ongoing concern, and Claremont ascended to the role of caretaker of Marvel's mutant population.

By the end of 1983 there were no fewer than four mutant-centric series in publication.  Two were written by Claremont himself, a third was based on characters he created (Byrne's Alpha Flight) and a fourth concerned itself with a superheroine he so seamlessly wove into a 1980 issue of Uncanny X-Men that an awful lot of people mistakenly believed him to have created her, rather than simply introduced her to comic fans.  On top of that, we saw the start of a second X-Men limited series (Majik: Storm and Illyana, which Abigail assures me gets better).

That was written by Claremont, of course, so at this point he's been responsible for taking the still-young X-Men relaunch and turning it into a smash hit, demonstrated how to put together a successful spin-off, provide the bedrock for two more, and provide templates for both the "important" one-shot and the limited series.

It's not just Claremont's recent work-load that suggests he's taken on a holistic role, though - a role that really no-one before him can really be said to have had.  It's also expressed in his choice of stories.  Just think about the ideas Claremont introduced into the Marvel Universe in 1982: Binary, the Brood and the Acanti, the revelation of Magneto's past and Wolverines Japanese connections, the Sidri and the Bamfs, and of course the New Mutants themselves.  1981 was even more full of new creations and concepts (the Morlocks, for one).

In 1983, though, there's a noticeable reduction in major new ideas.  You've got Selene and Amara (and Nova Roma along with them), and you've got Maddie Pryor, and that's about it, despite Claremont having a whole extra comic to fit ideas into.

This isn't intended as a criticism, not at all.  I think drawing on the Marvel Universe's past and extended cast of characters is almost always a good idea - provided of course that it's in the pursuit of a strong story, and not intended to be an end in itself - and in a situation where one's own slice of this giant sandbox is expanding rapidly, absorbing characters like Viper, the Silver Samurai, Henry Gyrich, or Team America (well, maybe not them...) strikes me as sound method for strengthening the franchise's foundation.  So too does drawing from the book's own past, though of course this practice is fated to cause far more than its share of problems in the future.

For all that much of Claremont's material hasn't aged well, and tends to have jarring changes in tone that I can't believe weren't problematic at the time, this kind of top-down awareness of how to treat a multi-book concern always seemed to be one of his strengths.  Not just in terms of the overall nature of his output, but also the clean distinctions made between titles.  Compare the differences between UXM and NMU with, say, New Avengers and Mighty Avengers between the latter's debut and the conclusion of Secret Invasion.  Whatever one's feelings regarding Brian Michael Bendis (and I'm a lover of that particular brand of Marmite, though perhaps that's helped by having read too little of the Avengers' previous adventures to be upset by the massive errors in characterisation others have accused him of making [1]), both those books mainly exist in order for two different groups of superheroes to talk a lot before they punch out some poorly-defined horde of mooks.  There's nothing in either book that would feel out of place in the other.

UXM and NMU work somewhat differently.  Whilst UXM gets ever darker (as evidenced by how Kitty seems more and more out of place), NMU begins as a far lighter read, interested in the unique behaviour of teenagers and how to extrapolate that to the super-powered, rather than struggling to protect a world that hates and fears them. Eventually, the idea that the new team only ever get into life-threatening scrapes entirely by accident will be dropped, but right now the difference between sending Wolverine and Storm to combat terrorists and sending the New Mutants to the Amazon in the hope of getting some R&R is noticeable.  Looking at these two comics, along with the blood-stained Wolverine ongoing series and bonkers Excalibur when they appear a few years down the line, it's obvious Claremont - at least at this stage in his career - understood the need for clearly defined identities for each book, something that has often not been true in recent years.

In short, then, Claremont proved here that not only was he the right man for the job of building the X-Men into an international phenomenon, he was the right man to capitalise on that success by assembling and overseeing the franchise.   Dazzler may be struggling, having gone bi-monthly and seeming to have lost its direction following Fingeroth's departure, and Byrne's Alpha Flight, whilst fun, has severe structural problems regarding its female cast that are more than a little worrying, the heart of these mutant books is entirely solid.

[1] That said, though, there was nothing in All-New X-Men that particularly bothered me, other than the fact that it's replacing a comic cancelled after a 37 year uninterrupted run for no good goddamn reason whatsoever.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Majik: Storm & Illyana #1: "Little Girl Lost"

("What good is the ability to see the future, if no-one listens?")


For those that don't already know, Magik: Storm & Illyana is a four part miniseries that deals with what happened to Illyana when she fell into Limbo back in UXM #160, describing her development from an innocent seven year old child into a twisted thirteen year old sorceress.

Unsurprisingly, it's pretty dark.  I say that not just because a Limbo-based story isn't something you'd expect to be draped in rainbows and kittens, but because Claremont's last foray into the world of the spin-off mini was Wolverine, which was very dark indeed.

It was also very good.  This is less so.

The obvious hurdle, at least for this first issue, is that Illyana cannot possibly hold down a narrative in the same way Wolverine can.  When Illyana was a seven-year old, she was the blankest of blank slates, something that didn't particularly bother me at the time (she was hardly in the comic at all, for one thing), and there's been almost no effort put into fleshing out her post-Limbo character over the last eighteen standard months since she returned to Earth a teenager.

This is not necessarily a crippling problem, but it does mean the story has to rely heavily on at least one of the following three things: Storm, an intriguing plot, and/or artistic spectacle.  The trouble is, none of those are working in this first instalment.  There's nothing bad about the artwork here Tom Palmer finishing John Buscema's layouts) but it's nowhere near as good as the stark, shadowy Wolverine, with its evocative palette.

The plot doesn't really do much for me either, and again there's an obvious issue: we already know how this turns out.  I've no problem with the idea of filling in the blanks, of course, but when we know the story starts at A and ends at B, there needs to be something more for us to hang our interest on than the simple transistion from one point to another.  In this issue, Illyana has her soul corrupted by the demon and would-be world-ender Belasco, only to be rescued by Storm and Kitty (now calling herself Cat), the only two X-Men still alive from the previous timeline in which Illyana escaped but each of the rest of the team was killed, corrupted, or abandoned. Belasco now wants Illyana back to complete the process, Storm wants to find a way to uncorrupt her, and Cat wants to kill her to ensure Belasco's plans don't come to fruition.

That's by no means a bad set-up, but as I say, we already know Kat doesn't get her way, because Illyana survives, and neither does Belasco, because to quote Oz "We know the world didn't end because: check it out." So a lot of weight is getting put on the moral quandary Storm is in: risk the world to save a little girl, or kill her to keep humanity safe.  Again, there's nothing wrong with that set-up on paper, but even if we didn't know everything works out fine - and as much as Claremont tries to convince us Illyana is a real threat by having her beat the crap out of Storm in the psychic realm - it's just impossible to imagine Marvel in 1983 green-lighting a project in which a seven-year old girl is murdered by two long-time superheroes, alternate versions or not.  So now we're a step back again; the story can't even rely on that dramatic tension narratively, because it doesn't plausibly exist.  It can only rely on it emotionally, in terms of how the characters respond to it.

But even this isn't really possible, because Storm is so far removed from how we know her, and Katherine Pryde even more so (it turns out her time in Limbo has partially changed her into a literal cat, a revelation Claremont holds back until page 18 and is quite the best thing about this book), which means two characters who are more or less strangers are arguing rather heavy-handedly over a choice both historically and narratively inevitable.  And by "heavy-handedly", I mean Storm tries to argue that if they kill Illyana, they're no better than Belasco, which is easily the most enragingly idiotic example of an enragingly idiotic argument we've seen yet.  Killing a seven year old girl in order to save six billion people is not no better than twisting a seven year old girl into a demonic sorceress in order to kill six billion people, and anyone willing to base the central character clash their story relies on on such an obviously terrible idea isn't capable of taking the one escape route left for this story.

There are some nice bits in here - a brief nod to the difficulty in teaching children respect and self-discipline when others are offering them immediate self-gratification, and an ending which suggests Cat may have found an alternative method to save Illyana, or may be lying in order to kill her - but really, it's a poor issue, and poor for such fundamental structural reasons that I don't have high hopes for the next three installments.


Since almost all of this issue takes place in flashback during a period we already know to have been mere hours according to "our" time, there's very little to say here.  All we need is to place where Illyana is whilst she's relating this story.  I don't see any reason not to put that in line with that month's issue of UXM. Excitingly, since Illyana tells us it's her fourteenth birthday, that gives us an opportunity to cycle out Colossus from the age tracker, and put her in there instead.


Saturday 17th September, 1983.



Contemporary Events

The Lebanese army begins an attempt to flush Syrian-backed militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas out of the mountain ranges overlooking Beirut.  US President Ronald Reagan argues that attempts by Congress to exert authority over the length of time US troops spend in that country would send a "dangerous signal" to the Middle East and the USSR; one more interesting data point in the repeated attempts by the executive branch to argue Congress has no authority in military matters.

Standout Line

"Laughter helps me maintain my perspective." - Storm