Thursday, 16 February 2012

XHY #9: "Dark Destiny"

(False astro-tising)


Right.  "Thanks" to the money-sucking wonder that is Ebay, I've managed to sentence myself to four more issues of hard labour in John Bryne's mediocrity mines.  Will this title seem any better when I'm not directly comparing it to X-Men: First Class?  Read on to find out, my friends.  I see no reason why I should have to suffer alone.

Last time on XHY, the team were divided.  Angel was the comatose captive of at trawler crew somewhere off Antarctica, and Havok and "Magnetrix" were searching for Iceman, lost somewhere in the Savage Land.  Meanwhile, Cyclops, Beast and Marvel Girl had joined forces with the Fantastic Four (which at the time had swapped out Invisible Woman for Crystal, the Inhuman) and headed into space to deal with the retreating Z'Nox world-ship.  Quite what they intend to do specifically is unclear, since I don't see an endgame that wouldn't result in either our team being slaughtered, or the genocide of an entire race.

In any case, the initial skirmish with Z'Nox fighters seemed to be going pretty well, only for Jean Grey to erupt into flames.  Apparently the Phoenix Force has arrived a little early...

The resulting psychic disturbance is strong enough for Sue Richards to feel back on Earth.  Well, that or her concern is a cheap way to build tension. I leave you to decide.  HINT: the narration describes Jean's transformation as the stuff of nightmares.

Aboard her husband's reverse-engineered Skrull vessel, the Phoenix Force has apparently taken Jean over completely, and she selects Mr Fantastic and her first victim.  Cyclops halfheartedly blasts his girlfriend as a distraction, and immediately finds himself top of the list for a vicious dose of killin'. Scott goes down like a bitch, burnt to a crisp, and Beast is likewise fried moments later.  Gosh, this really is like a nightmare, isn't it?  But presumably it's clearly real.

Except it's not!  It's not real!  Reed is OK, Scott and Hank are alive, and last issue's cliffhanger was total bullshit.  Time for another of SpaceSquid's rules of fiction: "It was all a dream" is overused as a beginning, and insulting as an ending.  As a cliffhanger resolution, it's an authorial cry for help, and the only way to answer that call is through a vicious session of crotch-punching by a T-1000 coated in sandpaper and shards of glass.

(Even all of that wouldn't be quite so bad were the front cover and the title of the issue both strong indications that the Phoenix would be a major part of the story one way or another.  Calling this issue "Dark Destiny" is like renaming Star Wars "The Adventures of Captain Antilles".)

Meanwhile, the sheer number of Z'Nox are beginning to turn the tide (it's almost as though sending eight superheroes in against a planet isn't the best of ideas).  It's time for action!  No, wait.  It's time for an exposition flashback!  Jean runs a mental slide-show of all that crap we know.  Thank God it only took "one searing instant".  Or one shitty page, to be more precise.  Following our latest encounter with Bryne's defiantly uninspiring recap skills, Beast returns to the ship to point out the obvious - the entire Z'Nox armada are outside, and it's going to take more than two guys punching them to hold them off, even if they are being supported by a flame-caster whose usefulness is directly proportional to his access to oxygen.

Reed accepts the critique, conceding that their current tactics aren't getting the job done.  Eager to shake things up, Mr Fantastic settles on a new strategy: plunging into the planet's atmosphere to burn up in minutes!  It suppose I can hardly argue that it doesn't at least have the element of surprise going for it. Moments later, though, we learn he's not trying to burn the spacecraft down to its component elements after all.  He wants to ram his way into a Z'Nox building instead.  Obviously.

Actually, objectively that's probably cooler than my brain is willing to concede right now.  I guess I just don't have any goodwill left.  That said, how did Reed know which building to ram?  This place could be a sewage plant.  Or a creche.

(I'm just being facetious here.  Clearly Reed used Science.  All hail Science!)

Mr Fantastic's ram-raid has put our heroes right in the path of a giant Z'Nox monster, but also within range of the machine the Z'Nox use to move their planet.  Reed begins tinkering with the apparatus whilst the rest of the team take out its guardian.  Things get a bit hairy when the vital systems prove to be so far inside the planet that only the Thing can stand the pressure to get to them, but Reed talks Ben through the final tinkerings, and the plan comes together.  There's just time for our heroes to get back into their (curiously undamaged) ship and blast back into space before the entire Z'Nox planet is sucked into the Negative Zone.

Which is a solution, at least.  Mr Fantastic seems convinced there will be sufficient energy to keep the planet alive, which answers my earlier query about what exactly they planned to actually do against the aliens.  Of course, that just shifts the question to what the X-Men thought they were going to do against the aliens, since Reed refused to fill them in on the plan (indeed, there's no indication he'd even come up with it until they were in orbit).  Still, as endings go, it's perfectly serviceable.

Unless it turns out to be a dream, obviously.

Meanwhile, on Earth:
  • A young boy girl plays with dolls in the back yard, only to be threatened by a Sentinel;
  • Angel's girlfriend Candy Southern has muscled her way into Xavier's mansion, and been escorted by his robot butler to the man himself.  She has a message for Angel, something connected with Hamlet, possibly the only play Bryne could think of that takes longer than this comic to get to the point;
  • Iceman is still the house-guest of Karl Lykos in his done-up Nazi research station, and still completely unable to remember who he is, or why he thought those briefs were a good idea.


This story continues on directly from XHY #8, and takes place in approximately real time.


Monday 7th July, 1980.



Contemporary Events

83 people are killed in the Safra Massacre during the war in Lebanon.

Standout Line

"It's as if all her natural inhibitions have been stripped away!" - Cyclops

I'm glad I got a chance to bring this up, because it's been bugging me ever since Red Dwarf 4 and "Polymorph".  It never made the slightest sense to me that Lister sans fear would threaten to beat Kryten up, because the only logical takeaway from that is that it was only Lister's fear of... something... that stopped him popping his best friend in his oddly-angular jaw.

It's the same here.  Exactly which inhibition did Jean once harbour that was preventing her from killing Mr Fantastic?  Fear?  Laziness?  A dislike of having to wash out bloodstains?  Still, I guess at least here we can just put it down to Cyclops being an idiot.  That's rarely a bad policy in any case.

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