Thursday, 31 May 2012

UXM #169: "Catacombs"

(TLC beneath NYC)


We start off this issue in Warren Worthington's Manhattan penthouse, as Candy Southern returns, apparently after spending the day finding the worst wig humanly possible.  Finding blood and feathers everywhere, she calls Xavier, but doesn't get far into the conversation before a brute named Sunder gets the drop on her. "I am here to hurt you", he announces.

The professor knows a crisis when he starts to hear it, and sends the nearest X-Man to investigate.  Unfortunately for Kurt, that would be him, forcing him to teleport out of the hot-tub he was sharing with his starkers foster-sister, and jaunt across town naked and dripping.  Thank God his tail has fourth-wall breaking powers of obscuring his furry indigo penis, huh? What a relief for everyone.

Guided by Xavier, Nightcrawler spies an unconscious Angel being carried into the subway by a shadowy figure.  There's no time to chase him, however, as Candy suddenly appears, thrown from the penthouse window.  Nightcrawler catches her before she falls, and can think of no other option other than to teleport her back into the hot-tub with Amanda. 

(Let's stop a moment to consider that Amanda didn't get Xavier's psychic summons, which means her unclothed boyfriend just left the flat without a word, and returned with a gorgeous, dazed raven-haired woman, who he's just thrown along with himself into the tub where she is sitting naked.  It is something of a shame we do not get to see what happens next.)

Meanwhile, over at the Hellfire Club, it seems Sebastian Shaw has finally recovered enough from the last vicious beat-down he suffered at the hands of the X-Men to start preparing for the next vicious beat-down he'll suffer at the hands of the X-Men.  Or at least, that was the plan.  Emma Frost has rather thrown a spanner in the works by telling Sage she had a desperately important warning for Shaw, and then collapsing into a coma.  Unsettling!

Back at Amanda's Questionable Bathing Emporium, the rest of the X-Men (minus Logan, off in Japan) have gathered to plan how to get Angel back.  Leaving Candy (and Lockheed) in Amanda's care, and wielding a portable Cerebro unit (Xavier refusing to loan the team Wolfsbane), our heroes go a-hunting.  Finding a seriously unwell ticket clerk in the subway, the X-Men figure they're on the right track, a supposition supported by their pocket Cerebro, though not by Xavier, who's encountering psionic resistance from up ahead.

And that's not all that's up ahead.  There's a secret entrance, and an associated welcome committee.  Our guys make fairly short work of the first wave, but a scouting Kitty finds their back-up, watching the battle and taking notes.  She high-tails it out of there, but not before someone named "Plague" gets her all tingly.  This, we suspect, is not good.

The resultant enplaguening means Kitty is late for her rendezvous with the rest of the team who, with no way of tracking her, choose to move on in the hopes of finding Angel.  That's amazingly cold, actually.  Storm's comments notwithstanding, not even bothering to wait until the dust has settled following the fracas seems ridiculous (as does not leaving behind 'Crawler in case Kitty catches up).  This is clearly characterisation and common sense being overruled for the sake of plot.  For shame!

Sprite herself is in an exceptionally bad way, and it's far from clear that her situation has improved when Caliban (last seen trying to steal her away as his live-in love-puppet) finds her, and decides to nurse her back to health... forever!

Meanwhile, the coterie of callous cads who condemned her to Caliban's calumny have reached the lower levels of a structure no-one knew stretched out underneath New York.  There they find Callistio, eyepatch-sporting leader of the Morlocks, who took that name from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (though apparently didn't read it all that closely), and who have captured Angel so that they can tear away his ability to fly, so that Callisto can use him as her sex slave.  Interesting people, these Morlocks.

The X-Men, as one can imagine, take exception to these developments, but find themselves quickly beaten into unconsciousness by the assembled mass (the narration is kind enough to tell us that it makes no sense for Colossus to fall so easily, but fall easily he does).  Meanwhile, somewhere nearby, Caliban has figured out that Kitty has gotten herself a dose of the plague, and resolves to face off against Callisto herself, in order to force Plague to remove the biological curse.


Nightcrawler mentions that Wolverine is in Japan, and an editorial box suggests we check out WOL #1, which was published several months earlier.  Given that, along with the fact that Claremont doesn't seem able to decided if it's winter, spring, or early summer, I think the best option (read: least troublesome) is to assume the Wolverine limited series explains why Logan is in Japan (i.e. he's setting up his wedding), rather than it actually happening concurrently.

This issue takes place over a single evening.


Thursday 21st of July, 1983.



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.71 standard years.

(Colossus is 26 years old).

"This is not going well."
Contemporary Events

The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth is noted at Vostok Station in the Antarctic (-89.2 C: lovely).

Standout Line

"If you ask me, pets should know their place and do as they're told."
"I wonder if Lockheed feels that way about us." - Kurt and Kitty.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

TWTYTW: 1982

If 1982 wasn't the most important year for the X-Men franchise up to that point, it was certainly the most important year in which UXM wasn't either starting up or being cancelled.

The reasons for this actually have very little to do with UXM itself (though we'll come to the parent title), but with two graphic novels, and a limited series, each of which can be considered patient zero for trends that continue to this day.

Exhibit A is the Wolverine limited series from Claremont and Frank Miller.  I've read almost no comics from the early '80s, and I'm not sure I've read any which didn't star mutants, so I can't pinpoint the exact moment that mainstream comics in general started to take on darker hues (though this was the year that V For Vendetta, for example, began appearing in print), but this four-issue limited series was certainly the first time the X-books delved into actual murk, rather than just melodrama (which is not to say - Gods, it is not to say - that the miniseries in question lacked for melodrama).

This desire for grittiness and what a PCP-addled Klingon might mistake for realism would eventually consume pretty much the entirety of '90s Marvel output, of course, as well as creating some kind of hideous temporal anomaly in which people could spend six years calling Rob Liefeld a visionary whilst keeping a straight face, but   I'm not inclined to blame Claremont and Miller for that.  Well, not Claremont, and not Miller because of this: if anything he did was responsible, it was Batman: Year One.

As well as sketching out the direction the X-Books (along with all the other books) would take over the next fifteen to twenty years - by the X-Tinction Agenda even Claremont was writing stories in which our heroes march remorselessly through the blood of their enemies - this initial foray into the limited series format proved a harbinger for an almost unstoppable flood.  During my first hesitant footsteps into the X-Universe (starting with UXM #323, for the record), I rapidly lost count of the number of tiny editorial boxes advising me to pick up some limited series or another. Why, to a cynical mind (and even at fifteen, I was plenty cynical), it might appear that each of these ubiquitous series were just vehicles for a single development the ongoing titles could reference as "relevant", whilst being entirely creatively barren in every other respect (like if in the last episode of Desperate Housewives they'd literally dragged Obama onto the set and shot him).

Sticking with the subject of the opening of floodgates, let's talk about MGN #4, in which the New Mutants are introduced. The setting of precedent here is quite obvious; the formation of a new team for completists to buy alongside UXM, and for newcomers to read without the crushing weight of canon threatening to, er, crush them.  The story itself sticks to an established idea - one man visits a bunch of prospective team members and persuades them to sign on - and there's still a slightly disagreeable whiff of short-cutting via stereotype - the Brazilian is hot-headed, the Asian girl is polite, the Native American will not stop whining about her culture - but there's no denying the impact this book had, either in direct terms (New Mutants is currently on it's third incarnation) or indirect (even I'm not mad enough to count how many X-teams have existed in the last thirty years).  Indeed, whilst I argued the contrary a few months ago, it's certainly plausible to claim that Renewal marked the beginning of the mutant franchise, Dazzler being closer to a Marvel team up book than an X-title.

Lastly in our list of game-changers, we have God Loves, Man Kills, which I posted about the day before yesterday.  This is by no means an unalloyed success (having a white man write about a Jewish girl schooling a black woman on bigotry is particularly problematic), but for all it's problems, I maintain that it's an important and welcome step up in terms of the handling of the mutant metaphor, and even if I'm wrong about that, it certainly shaped the way the X-books presented the mutant vs human angle, right up to this day,

So, that handles the paradigm shifts.  What else was going on in 1982?  Well, Dazzler seemed to have some trouble deciding exactly what it wanted to be, starting the year as an intergalactic/interdimensional romp through the universe, before switching gear and becoming mired in increasingly implausible family soap-opera.  Yes, I know, I'm never happy. In fact, I specifically said I wanted more of Dazzler's personal life at around the time she was weighing up whether or not to punch Galactus in the crotch.  Actually, I think it's definitely the case that Dazzler ended 1982 in a better place than where it started, but the nice balance -and lack of outrageous self-absorption - that made the first few issues so interesting still hasn't quite been recaptured.

And as for the scamps who caused all this mess? UXM bookended the year with extra-terrestrial jaunts, first with Lilandra against the Brood, and then with, er, Lilandra against the Brood.  And to think Jon Seavey claimed the Silver Age was more inventive...

Just kidding, obviously. Actually, Seavey's got a damn good point there (his musings on Claremont's consistent time-keeping that led to the creation of this very blog, on the other hand, are almost charming in their naivete).  Between these trips to the stars, the X-Men break into the Pentagon and fight Rogue and Mystique, briefly lose Storm to Dracula and Illyana to Limbo, and delve into Magneto's origin story.  That should be enough to keep everyone happy.  There's really not a lot to say here other than, like 1981, this is classic Claremont.

In summary, then, this was the year that started the boulders rolling; boulders that would eventually pick up so much detritus that their weight would almost crush the entire franchise to nothing.  Of course, the Hindenberg eventually crashed and burnt in a horrifying inferno.  Doesn't mean that the first airship wasn't a hell of a lot of fun to ride in.

Monday, 21 May 2012

MGN #5: "God Loves, Man Kills"

(Man's inhumanity to man.)



We come at last to a graphic novel discussed in hushed tones of humble reverence; the single story that did more than any other to establish the struggle between human and mutant as not just one of prejudice, but one of violent domestic terrorism.  It also provided the basis for Bryan Singer's X2, which considering it's the best of the three "central" films, isn't at all bad for a comic more than twenty years old at the film's release.

It certainly doesn't dither at the pool's edge, either. On the first page we're introduced to Mark and Jill, siblings on the run in the dead of night.  By the end of the second page, both are dead, shot by the same people who killed their parents. "You have no right to live" says their leader by way of explanation. 

This is our first glimpse of The Purifiers, a paramilitary anti-mutant hate group that will pop up many times over the next thirty years of comics.  For now, suffice it to say we already know they're the kind of people who'll murder an entire family, children and all, and call it a good day's work.  Well, half of one, I guess; the second stage is to chain the children's bodies to the school swings so as to ensure hundreds of children all (or nearly all) of them non-mutants, will be traumatised for the rest of their lives.  Nice going, Purifiers! Way to save humanity!

Fortunately, this particularly horrific iteration of show and tell is averted when Magneto finds the Purifier's "message" and cuts their victims down.  I assume Magneto's tracking the Purifiers, or maybe keeping tabs on developing mutants, because otherwise even by comic standards this is a hell of a coincidence.

Sunset in New York City.  I should point out actually the art in this book is gorgeous.  It's the first time aside from the first Wolverine limited series (which came out the same year) that it feels like the artists are trying to evoke an atmosphere, rather than just directly translate the script into pictures.  The darkness and shadows that surround the Purifier's grizzly work and Magneto's heartbreaking discovery, and the wash of oranges and yellows that surround the Stryker building, not only work on their own terms, but make their own point: we skipped over the daylight.  Things started dark, and now things are going to get darker.

The Stryker building itself is the headquarters of the Stryker Crusade, a worldwide Evangelical movement, which is rarely a good sign in fiction.  Reverend Stryker himself seems to divide his time between writing sermons and studying the X-Men, plotting their downfall.

Chapter 1

Katherine Pryde throws a kid out of Stevie Hunter's dance studio.  She does it through the window, and takes herself with him. Colossus is on hand to break them up - though not before she takes one to the jaw - only to find out Kitty started the fight, after her opponent let slip how glad he is Reverand Stryker is preaching about the need to wipe mutant kind out.  Danny calls Sprite (Ariel now, apparently) a mutie-lover before slinking away.  Kitty is still swearing vengeance; Stevie tries to calm her down.  "They're only words."

What happens next is one of my clearest memories of any comic I've ever read; Kitty turns on Stevie and screams "Suppose he'd called me a nigger-lover?"  When I was younger, this made total sense to me: hating mutants is as bad as being a racist.  Looking at this with older eyes, I'm less convinced.  I was pretty loud in condemning Steven Moffat for having characters in Doctor Who state that murdering the Doctor would make one a greater war criminal than Adolf Hitler.  Shouldn't the same hold true for suggesting the oppression of a fictional group of people can be sensibly compared to the hundreds of years of oppression suffered by African Americans?

I'm genuinely asking, here.  One straight white guy asking whether another straight white guy gets to make comparisons regarding oppressed minorities.  The fact that Kitty said it is fair enough; I've known claims to victim-hood made by older people for far less reason, but having Stevie agree?  I lack the necessary experiences to call this one way or another.  All that said, if we consider that mutants are a better analogue for homosexuals than they are for black people, then having someone argue that tolerance of homophobic slurs is an odd stance for an African American to take would be an interesting point, though I'd think not one best made in a superhero comic.

Like I said, I've got no answers here.  But this has all become rather heavy.  Let's get back to the action: there's a Purifier team right outside the dance studio, watching everything that's happening.  After some debate they decide to let Stevie live, for the moment at least (basically they want to kill the mutants first, and move on to the traitors later), and just radio in the movements of Ariel, Colossus, and the accompanying Illyana.

Back at the mansion, Kitty floats upstairs to do some brooding, but the rest of the team are settling down to watch Xavier on the television.  He's on some unnamed current affairs program, debating with the Reverend Stryker.  It's logic versus demagoguery, and with the produces trying to wring out the maximum amount of sound and fury, Charles doesn't really get the best chance to put his views across, and looks like he might have lost to a man so stupid as to argue that by naming mutants homo superior scientists have demonstrated they are an entirely different species from mankind (note to self: name Christina Hendricks my wife).

That said, I wish we could have seen Xavier respond to Stryker reading out a quote from Senator Kelly: "The ever-increasing number of mutants poses a clear and present danger, both to the United States and the socio-political order of the world as we know it."  I think the second of those two is probably quite right, to actual, and whilst I'm not sure I'd say the socio-political state of the world at the time (or for that matter now) was any great shakes, you can't address the risk of massive global upheaval just by re-iterating that mutants are humans too.

As the program ends Scott, who's standing alongside Ororo just off-set, gives his unequivocal opinion: "We were slaughtered".  Worse is to come, though; Stryker is planning to attack the trio of mutants in Central Park, under the cover of a psi-dampener.

Which is exactly what happens.  Interestingly enough, the strike comes just moments after the professor laments the fact that, unlike with villains such as Magneto, Stryker isn't someone the X-Men can physically challenge, and can instead only battle in the court of public opinion.  It would be fascinating to watch something like that actually go down.  Indeed, recent storylines in UXM have brushed on this, but still ultimately fall back on lots of punching.  I realise it's the nature of the beast that everything will ultimately end in a flurry of mutant fists, but the political angle is worth exploring more thoroughly from time to time, I think, and it seems odd for Claremont to bring this up just four panels before the Purifiers try to blow up their car.

The ambush is over very quickly.  The X-Men's car skids off the road and overturns.  Cyclops is shot as he pulls himself from the wreckage, and Ororo, weighed down by the professor, is tagged seconds later.  Moments after, the car is engulfed in the blast on an RPG.  None of this looks good for our heroes.  Indeed, when Nightcrawler picks up the phone a little later, as the rest of the team cool down after a particularly strenuous Danger Room session, he is given the bad news: Charles, Scott and Ororo were in "accident", and all three have been killed.

Chapter 2

The next day, we find Kitty by the lake, mourning her friends.  Naturally, in Ms Pryde's case, mourning requires that she shout at everyone around her. Illyana calms her down by pointing out "they were my friends too". Poor old Illyana, I really feel for her.  One more self-obsessed tantrum from her best-friend-by-default and I think Limbo's going to start looking like a fairly decent option.  She tries to at least get some interest out of Kitty's mope-fest by teasing Kitty over her crush on Illyana's brother, but even that goes sour when Kitty starts complaining about how horrified her parents would be to find out she's hankering for a little slice of nineteen-year old.  She even strays onto the subject of sexytimes, which not surprisingly makes Illyana want to change the subject.

Luckily, the young Russian has just the topic; she's found an electronic listening device on the grounds (presumably this wasn't difficult, since it's two feet tall and almost as wide, and hidden by a few pieces of green cardboard).  Kitty has one of her much better ideas, and creeping up behind the camera, she shorts it out with her phasing power, and the two of them hide in the bushes to watch to see if anyone comes to fix the device.

Over at Central Park, the rest of the team are checking out the place where Xavier's car crashed.  Wolverine can tell right off that something's wrong - the scents of the dead and burned bodies don't match their friends (I wonder who they were?)  When Colossus asks how Logan can be sure, his response is that he's staged his own "accidents" more than once, which brings up all sorts of unpleasant questions that Peter, perhaps wisely, chooses not to pursue.  On a nearby lamppost, Nightcrawler is watching the nearby roads, and reports two men have been checking out the group's car, and are now waiting close by.  Love how professional the X-Men are being here.  No more of this "show up, and wait to see who punches us" nonsense.  This time, they get to start the punching themselves, which is exactly what Logan suggests.  The first the Purifier's squad leader knows of having been rumbled is when a blue fuzzy shape suddenly obscures her binoculars.

Her response is to floor her car, hoping to kill herself and Nightcrawler.  Kurt is fast enough to teleport both himself and the driver to safety; those in the back seat are less lucky.  The other Purifier units arrive, dressed in those full-body armour suits that are all the rage in comics, and get stuck in.  They take out Colossus first, and look like they're going to roll their way up the whole team, until at the last second our heroes are saved when their attacker's armour is stripped away, then used to encase its erstwhile owners.  It's not too hard to work out what's happening even without the blue power signature: Magneto has shown up to lend a blood-drenched, murderous hand.

Back at the mansion, the technicians have finally arrived to fix the broken snooper. They've brought back-up in the form of another dude in power armour, which Kitty and Illyana weren't counting on.  Kitty phases into the ground, hoping she can get far enough across the clearing to come back up in cover, and use a distraction to keep the enemy away from Illyana.  Just as she reaches the surface, though, the Purifiers get their scanner back on line, and it immediately detects Illyana as, not a mutant exactly, but certainly something weird. The Purifiers shoot her, and carry her unconscious body to their car.  Kitty quickly phases unseen into the car boot, so as to keep tabs on her friend. Alas, she trips an alarm somehow, and the Purifiers fill the boot with nerve gas as they drive away.

A little later, the rest of the team arrive at the mansion, along with Magneto and four captured Purifiers.  Wolverine tries to threaten the location of their base out of them, but when that fails, Magneto just tortures the shit out of one of them instead.  This proves effective, but certainly not uncontroversial.  Colossus registers his objections, as does Nightcrawler, who asks "But if we use our foes' methods... how are we better than thay?"  The answer to that, Kurt, is that they're using those methods to exterminate a sub-branch of humanity.  You're using them to protect people.  That doesn't mean it's morally acceptable, or even tactically wise, to use it (and for sure had this been real, and I been there, I hope to hell I'd have the courage to stand with Peter and Kurt), but the idea that this makes two groups indistinguishable always strikes me as a poor argument.

Chapter 3

Atop the World Trade Center, Professor Xavier is being crucified and tortured by his X-Men, each of whom has been transformed into some kind of demon.  They'd have managed it too, killed them man who brought them together, gave them purpose, but at the last minute he's saved by a beam of holy light and the arrival of Jesus Christ.  For a moment this is enough to make Xavier believe but, as the Son of God reaches out to him, Charles lets doubt flicker through his mind, and he finds himself cast into the abyss -

- By Phil, a disheveled technician working for Stryker.  He's hooked Charles up to some kind of VR system designed to convinced him of the need for God's salvation, and to help things along the professor has also been linked up to Scott and Ororo, who are being methodically tortured so that Charles will subconsciously pick up their discomfort.  It all seems an exceptionally complicated and expensive way to be a total dickhead, but I'm sure Stryker has a specific goal in mind.  Indeed, when Ororo asks just what the hell he thinks he's doing, we're treated to a flashback.  Which looks absolutely beautiful, by the way, all sepia tones and a style that borders on Impressionism.  This isn't actually the best example, but it's the only scan I could find:

Long story short: Stryker's child was a mutant, so he killed it, and his wife, before trying to take his own life. He failed, and became a reckless, violent drunk, until it finally became clear to him that he wasn't to blame, that his wife had been evil, and that murdering his her and their newborn baby was proof that he had been chosen by God.  Not, in other words, someone you'd hope to reason with.  Especially since he now considers Xavier to be the Antichrist.  If nothing else, you'd think the son of Satan would be rather better at TV debates, wouldn't you? Not that there's any telling Stryker; he's too busy quoting the Bible, and ordering Kitty be killed.

The car carrying Illyana has made it as far as the South Bronx, which is where they stop and riddle the boot with machine-gun fire.  Apparently they've rigged their cars to deploy knock-out gas to the boot, but not anything fatal. I'd call that an oversight if this whole thing wasn't so ridiculous.  Anyway, the wall of lead they unleash doesn't actually do any good: the boot is empty!  Not to worry, though; The Purifiers' leader Anne has the signal, and her team snaps into action.

Kitty is wandering through the Bronx after dark; feeling awful after having inhaled a whiff of gas.  She phased a fraction too slowly, apparently (I'l just note for the record that the gas was deployed whilst the Purifiers were still at Xavier's, and thus this makes chuff-all sense).  She meets up with the Warriors, or at least some close cousins, who promise to protect her in exchange for - well, let's not think about that too much, shall we? In any case, Anne arrives, guns blazing, and Kitty escapes during the ensuing shoot-out, managing to call the mansion and give her location to Nightcrawler before the Purifiers catch up with her.

They corner her on a train she phased into, shooting the conductor and announcing it will appear that she was to blame.  I've no idea why they think this is going to work, but it turns out to be a moot point; Magneto has arrived, dead set on vengeance. The X-Men are hot on his heels, and between them they make short work of the Purifiers.  Kitty is surprised to say the least over this strange alliance, but whilst Nightcrawler teleports as many of their unconscious foes to Riker's (sic) Island prison as he can, Magneto removes the bullet from the stricken conductor as an act of good faith, and forms a "flying carpet" of metal for the mutants to ride, first to a hospital to drop of the wounded conductor, and then - to war!

But are they already too late? Back at the Crusade HQ, Phil has finally broken Xavier, to the point where he's willing to burst Scott and Ororo's brains in order to prove he's all about the Word of God.  Doctor Phil has clearly done his job well, but as he leaves in his limo to head home, he discovers his reward will be: getting kidnapped by Ariel.  Oh, the shame!  Phil's probably relieved when Nightcrawler starts choking him. For all his earlier protestations, Kurt's at least learned something about the value of instilling fear.  We're spared the rest of the interrogation, but I can't imagine it was particularly pleasant.

Back to the Stryker building, and Anne has arrived with Illyana.  The broken bodies of Cyclops and Storm are to be taken to the basement to be incinerated, and the plan is to drop Illyana off on the way, for whatever unpleasant procedures the Purifiers have in mind for her.

Instead, though, the elevator starts to climb.  Magneto, as Anne realises in horror, has finally found them.  The best she can do is to force open the doors and fling herself onto the building's roof, as the master of magnetism pulls the lift to the top of the nearby Twin Towers.  There, Illyana and her brother are reunited, and Wolverine gives Scott and Ororo the once-over, declaring them somewhat less dead that Dr Phil believed. Logan recommends a short course of electro-shock therapy.  The endlessly inventive Magneto obliges, shaking the two X-Men from their near-death states, apparently induced in them by Xavier, who had just enough free will left to not actually scramble their brains.  That's a horrible cliche, of course, but given Claremont didn't make much of their "deaths" to begin with, it's not really all that much of a deal.

What comes next is certainly a lot more interesting; Cyclops is not remotely happy to discover his team are working with Magneto. An argument breaks out almost immediately, with Magneto pouring scorn on Scott for bothering to try and save humanity in the first place, and Scott demanding to know what would make a mutant dictatorship any better.  Magneto's response is arguably the first time that he becomes a sympathetic character as he is (as oppose to having sympathy for what he's endured in the past).  The man is absolutely convinced that with mutant-kind in charge they can eliminate famine, pestilence and war (death might have to wait his turn), and that humanity would happily give up some of what it narrowly defines "freedom" in exchange for never having to go a day with an empty belly or a sore throat.  In all honesty, I can't be entirely sure the man is wrong about that.  The rub, though, is in how many would have be killed or incarcerated to get to that point.  It's one thing to keep someone in food and antibiotics forever, and quite another to start doing that the day after you killed her husband.

Chapter 4

The American media has gathered in Madison Square Garden, awaiting an alleged game-changing sermon from Reverend Stryker.  Discontent is beginning to brew over his hard-line "mutants < human" stance, and tonight, he promises to address that.

And address it he will, though not necessarily in the way anyone might expect.  He's slapped together his own version of Cerebro, and he's planning on having the brainwashed Xavier use it to make contact with as many mutants as possible, before melting their brains.  Even Anne's arrival to warn him of the X-Men's escape and Dr Phil's abduction doesn't phase Stryker: he is on a mission from God, and tonight he fulfils his objectives.  To that end, he heads to MSG, launches into his exceptionally unpleasant and bigoted speech and, halfway through (just as he gets to the point that the Bible mentions neither mutants nor evolution, and therefore scientists are evil and mutants are hellspawn), he activates his Cerebro rip-off.

The effects are instantaneous.  The X-Men begin to bleed from their ears, and nearby mutants pass out from the strain.  Logan immediately notes the bind they're in: if they do nothing, they may well end up dead.  If they attack Stryker on national television, they'll seemingly be making his point for him.

That's an atypically restrained conclusion for the usually bloodthirsty Wolverine to come to, but it turns out not to matter.  The X-Men might cast away whatever reputation they've built up by attacking Stryker, but Magneto has no such concerns. Upon his arrival, Stryker immediately labels him as "self-styled overlord of Earth, enslaver of its people!", but it looks as though at least some in the crowd might be beginning to work out exactly who the real villain is here.  Not that it does Magneto much good, as Stryker redirects the entirety of his mind-weapon against him.  He falls into the crowd, and everything goes mad as most of them try to trample him to death, the security guards try to pull him out, and Stryker's psychic device seems to start affecting random humans as well.

The increasingly damaged and unsteady X-Men launch an assault at the building's entrance, hoping to sweep the Purifiers away as quickly as possible so as to grab Xavier and drag him from the machine.  It doesn't look like they'll make it though; Charles has set up a psionic shield there seems to be no way to penetrate.  Even so, their attack is worrying enough for Anne to run to Stryker to warn him, only for her nose to start to bleed.  That's enough proof for the reverend that she too is a mutant, and, in front of the TV cameras, he tosses her from the stage, apparently breaking her neck in the process.

The mood of the crowd begins to turn.  Some are still intent on blaming Magneto (presumably using my sister's approach to arguing, which states arguments can't start following ridiculous and offensive comments unless someone is unfair enough as to object to them) , but more are realising that a guy who'll instantly turn on his second-in-command is maybe a tad too unstable to be in charge of anything more complicated than a one-man band.

Back at the battle, it's become clear to everyone that they can't work their way forwards to Charles' position.  At Logan's urging, Scott moves to the back-up plan: 'Crawler teleports Wolverine directly behind the professor, whilst Scott ricochets his optic blast of a few walls before clipping Xavier on the temple.  The idea is that either Cyclops can stun their mentor, or Wolverine can kill him.  Fortunately for the mental well-being of all involved, it's Wolverine the professor chooses to feel the brunt of his psychic force, and whilst Logan and Kurt stagger back in pain, Cyclops knocks Xavier out, before turning his eye-beams on Stryker's machine.

Then, they step on stage, determined that this fight will end with words after all.  It shouldn't be hard: Stryker seems to have gone entirely off the rails, demanding all and sundry recognise that he is the chosen of God.  All the X-Men ask is that people consider the possibility that perhaps a mutant is no further from God than any other person blessed with abilities that separate them from the rank and file.  It's even possible that mutants are part of God's ultimate plan for humanity and therefore, in fact, mutants are closer to God than anyone else.  More, in that sense, "human."

Stryker is so offended by the suggestion that Nightcrawler could be considered human that he reaches for his gun, and when Shadowcat defends Kurt (and quite eloquently, in truth), he trains the gun on Kitty. A shot rings out... and Stryker falls to the ground.

This is my favourite part of this whole novel: Stryker is shot not by Magneto, or another mutant, or even Anne (who I assumed must have been responsible when I first read this), but by a random cop.  Some nameless police officer who saw what was happening and acted.  A human mind that the X-Men had persuaded.  Chekov might have been pissed at that, but it works for me.


Magneto and the X-Men watch a news broadcast on Stryker.  He survived the cop's bullet and is loudly insisting that the courts will clear him of all charges.  Magneto rubs salt into everyone's wounds by pointing out plenty of people are arguing Stryker was basically correct, merely too extreme in his approach.  The resultant malaise is so strong that for a moment Charles considers packing it all in and signing up with Magneto, only for Cyclops to slap him down hard, not just for losing faith, but for doing so having spent so much time teaching the X-Men to follow him.  Shamed to his senses, Charles refuses to join Magneto, and the X-Men's original enemy flies into the night.

So after all that, how does this now almost thirty year old book hold up?  Damn well, is the answer.  The artwork is gorgeous, and the story has proven its value by the number of time later writers have attempted to put together something similar.  As a happy bonus, Claremont has dialled the wackiness to zero, and whilst he's never going to be the world's best writer of dialogue, much as with the Wolverine series he did with Frank Miller, his script matches the tone of the story and the artwork pretty well.  This, to me, is where the X-comics truly came of age.


The team roster used in this issue together with the fact the mansion isn't in pieces means this story can only take place either between UXM #150 and #154, or after UXM #167.  The Essential X-Men series seems to think the latter (which is why I'm covering this graphic novel now), which is backed up by the fact that Shadowcat is wearing a costume most similar to that she wears around this time.

On the other hand, she shouldn't even be in the team at present - or at least, she can't be if Cyclops is.  I suppose though one can easily argue that Stryker isn't likely to make the distinction between a former member now transferred and a fully-fledged X-Man..

The story itself takes place over eight days, but the X-Men themselves only become involved on day three.  We'll therefore place this story between UXM #167 and UXM #168, during the week we already assumed separated those issues.


Saturday 9th to Sunday 17th of July, 1983.


X+5Y+100 to X+5Y+107.

Contemporary Events

Chad forces retake the city of Abeche.

Standout Line

"Once more, genocide in the name of God.  A story as old as the race." - Magneto

Friday, 18 May 2012

Where Lurks The Black Widow?

Following on from my earlier comments on Front Row's John Wilson being totally unable to turn in a coherent and honest review about a simple summer blockbuster, Doctor Science over at Obsidian Wings has put together a long post delving into multiple reviews of The Avengers.

The conclusion he emerges with is fascinating: the men writing about the film are commonly totally incapable of sensibly discussing Scarlett Johansonn's role, to the point where on several occasions they, like Wilson, actually start complaining about things that didn't actually take place.

For anyone with an interest in gender relations in comics and their spin-offs (which should be all of us, really; there's still an awful lot of work to do), I highly recommend reading the good doctor's post.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

DAZ #22: "Sisterhood"

(Mothers, fathers, half-sisters, and lesbian foster parents)


Oh.  Apparently Angel still hasn't headed out of New York, even after realising trying to seduce someone by meddling with their family history is a stupid idea.  If he's got another trick up his sleeve to get Dazzler out of her skintight silver catsuit (a goal we share, though in my case it's so she can put something less ridiculous on), I don't know if I want to hear it.  Of course, we may never know, since apparently Angel has been marked for death.  The weapon to be used?  Trained killer eagles, obviously, because they're more expensive, harder to control and tougher to conceal than a gun.  Who wouldn't opt for assassination by accipitridae?

Maybe someone who's trying to kill a highly-trained acrobatic flier, I guess?  Angel's barely clocked the sinister death flock when he starts defensive manoeuvres, dodging and weaving so quickly he not only disorients the birds, but the panel order as well.  Now that's impressive.

Meanwhile, Dazzler is being driven to a recording studio by Lance.  Her first demo is gonna get cut today! But even whilst so excited about her blossoming career, Alison is still looking out for the little guy (so long as doing so doesn't require her to not get what she wants all the time).  On this occasion she sees a skater crossing the road, her ears too full of music from her walkman to notice the blaring horn an oncoming car.

Instantly, Dazzler snaps into action, turning the radio up for a quick boost and lasering the girl's Walkman. Now able to hear the horn, she has time to swerve and avoid being splattered.  This might be one of the most egregious examples of comic-book-time I've seen since the late '60s.  There's time for Alison to fiddle with the radio, aim, fire, the girl to hear the honking of the car and move out of the way, but there's no time for the car itself to break?  Really?  Ahm gonna go 'head call bullshit on that sucker.

Over at the Electronic Oz recording studio, Dazzler and band get down to business under the watchful eye of "genius producer" L. B. Holman.  The guys a perfectionist who pisses off the whole band in exceptionally short order, but I've read about Phil Spector; this guy's a pussycat.  Besides, they have plenty in the can by day's end, and it's time to break out the bubbly, though Alison's celebratory mood is slightly tarnished by the absence of Ken, who's buried in his fancy lawyerin' books.

Others are hard at work too.  Over Sutton Place way, Mystique, Destiny and Rogue are discussing their latest evil plan for evil: stealing anti-personnel hawks from the Pentagon (I swear I am not making this up) have apparently not done the job RE: doing the Angel in.  Mystique admits that she'd assumed this would happen (assumed? Couldn't Destiny have told her what was going to happen? Or at least that her idea was scrambled mental on dumbtoast?), but wanted Angel scared, for when they kill him as revenge against the X-Men.

Let's leave such villainous considerations, though, and return to Dazzler's increasingly complex family life.  It's a big couple of days for both of Alison's parents: Carter is sending his wife's mothballed effects to her apartment (letting go of his past like that makes him weep openly, though he may also be upset over having to wear such hideous neon pink trousers). Meanwhile, "Barbara London" is preparing a meal for her second daughter Lois.  Babs is finally going to spill the beans about Lois' kinda-famous half-sister.  She's kind of nervous about coming clean, so much so that she smashes a pair of spectacles, and then calls them a goblet (this issue is starting to look a little slapped-together, actually, but then that's perhaps not surprising coming straight after a double-sized book).  Apparently, the secrets in Barbara's past have always been a wall between her and Lois, but she refused to talk about it.

'm beginning to wonder if there is anything this woman hasn't managed to screw up regarding her family, actually. Her first marriage ended in tatters (though in fairness Carter deserves at least half the blame for that, and probably more), she abandoned her first child to go live with a drug-dealer, then had a second kid to try and cement that relationship, only to end up an abused addict, and when she finally decides to get her and Lois out of that horrorshow, she drives a wedge between the two of them by refusing to talk about what happened before all the cocaine-binges and beatings Lois had been forced to witness.

Outside a New York cinema, we find Alison once again determined to prove that jaw-dropping self-absorption is buried in her family's chromosomes, as she tears Ken a new one for the crime of not abandoning his clients whenever she needs him.  Actually, I think she has a reasonable case in general; just because your partner's job is important it shouldn't mean you can't expect them to make time for you (though right now the argument is about why Ken won't take her dancing immediately after he's taken her to the pictures).  It's Dazzler's approach that's the problem here, storming off to the nearest taxi and telling Ken she'll "maybe" call him.  Maybe if he won't leave people needing legal counsel because he loves her, Ken will abandon them because he doesn't want her to throw tantrums anymore, huh?

Back at her apartment, Alison has second thoughts, wondering if she really is too self-absorbed.  I heard a choir of angels when I read that line, I can tell you.  The answer, young Ms Blaire, is helllllll yeah.  Speaking of angels, rather than just ruminating over whether she's a piss-poor girlfriend, she starts to think about what she should be doing with her powers, and decides to go ask Warren for input.  Which might not be the smartest move, actually.  I'm sure he'll have something useful to say on the topic of superheroism, of course, but if you're worried about whether you're helplessly narcissistic, I don't see Angel being of much use on the subject.

For a moment, it doesn't look like it'll matter in any case; Angel's hotel room appears abandoned.  Actually, though, he's just hiding in the shadows, hoping to surprise whomever it was sent those trained murder-birds his way on page 1.  He's not in the best of ways, covered as he is with cuts and scratches (how good of him to wander around topless to allow Alison to gauge his precise level of damage), but since he's pushing the manly hero image, Dazzler decides she may as well keep him up all night bitching about her problems.  Good work curbing that self-obsessed streak, Ali!

It doesn't even work, really; by morning Dazzler's just as confused as ever.  Warren suggests they visit Xavier at his mansion, and see if he can help.  Alas, Rogue and her foster mothers have other ideas, and  our intrepid duo are quickly intercepted.  As "the sisterhood" explain their plans, we quickly learn two very unpleasant facts, first that Dazzler is about to experience great personal tragedy involving someone she loves, and second that if you punch Angel a few times he gets stupid enough to believe his Colorado-dwelling girlfriend has suddenly arrived to fight a powersucker, a precog, and a shapeshifter who's suddenly nowhere to be seen.  This is a damn harsh thing to say, but Angel deserved Mystique's knee in his testicles.

Whilst Warren attempts to recover from that lowest of all blows, Rogue offers Dazzler a place in their organisation.  A chance to be at the forefront of chick-crime.  Dazzler's reply is a laser to the face, but Rogue has no trouble tossing her away, or decking Angel as he attempts to escape.

The plan now is for Rogue to absorb Angel's memories, presumably to make taking out the rest of the X-Men more simple (though of course once she comes across his memory of being told they're all missing presumed dead, that would rather make the whole jig moot), but she refuses, fearful of growing a pair of wings and looking like a freak (presumably someone told her that her thick grey streaks are perfectly normal for a woman in her early twenties).  The girls fall back on Plan B - take Angel to their hideout and punch him in the gonads some more - but Alison comes to and launches a rescue attempt.  Rogue and Mystique are dazzled before they can respond, but Destiny's blind eyes are of course immune, so Alison relies on a knuckle sandwich to do the job.  Moments later, our heroes have stolen their opponents' helicopter, and made their escape.

We return once more to Alison's apartment, where she and Warren discuss their adventure and how likely the villainous trio are be planning revenge, but Dazzler has more immediate problems right now: her half-sister has just shown up...


There's no suggestion as to when this story takes place, though since Rogue mentions her fight with the X-Men in UXM #158 it must be at least early May.  There's also the fact that Warren talks about Xavier's mansion in the present tense.  That puts this story somewhere around the time Xavier formed the New Mutants (so even if Dazzler had made it to the mansion, she'd have been asking advice from a man taken over by a Brood embryo).

We'll therefore place this story about a week before MGN #4 begins.


Sunday 5th June, 1983.



Contemporary Events

Standout Line

"Maybe I am too self-centered, too narcissistic."

Friday, 11 May 2012

Timeline: 1983 Jul - Dec

1st     MGN #4: Renewal
2nd    MGN #4: Renewal
3rd    MGN #4: Renewal
4th    MGN #4: Renewal
5th    MGN #4: Renewal
6th    NMU #1: Initiation
6th    NMU #2: Sentinels
9th    NMU #3: Nightmare
9th    UXM #167: The Goldilocks Syndrome (Or: "Who's Been Sleeping in my Head?")
10th UXM #167: The Goldilocks Syndrome (Or: "Who's Been Sleeping in my Head?")
12th UXM Annual 6: Blood Feud!
13th UXM Annual 6: Blood Feud!
17th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
18th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
19th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
20th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!

Timeline: 1983 Jan - Jun (Take 6)


6th      DAZ 6: The Hulk can be Hazardous to Your Health!
7th      DAZ 6: The Hulk can be Hazardous to Your Health!
8th      DAZ 6: The Hulk can be Hazardous to Your Health!
8th      DAZ 7: Fort Apache, the Hulk!
9th      DAZ 7: Fort Apache, the Hulk!
11th    DAZ 8: Hell... Hell is for Harry!
12th    DAZ 8: Hell... Hell is for Harry!
12th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
13th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
14th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
15th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
16th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
17th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
18th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
19th    DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
19th    DAZ 10: In the Darkness... a Light!
19th    DAZ 11: ...Lest ye be Judged!
20th    DAZ 11: ...Lest ye be Judged!
24th    DAZ 12: Endless Hate
25th    DAZ 12: Endless Hate


4th   UXM 144: Even in Death...
5th   UXM 144: Even in Death...
8th    DAZ 13: Trial... and Terror!
9th    DAZ 13: Trial... and Terror!
21st DAZ 14: ...Without Getting Killed or Caught!...
24th DAZ 15: Private Eyes
25th DAZ 15: Private Eyes
28th UXM 145: Kidnapped!
28th UXM 146: Murderworld!
28th DAZ 16: Black Magic Woman!


1st       UXM 145: Kidnapped!
1st        UXM 146: Murderworld!
1st        UXM 147: Rogue Storm!
1st        DAZ 16: Black Magic Woman!
2nd     UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
3rd      UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
4th      UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
5th      UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
6th      UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
8th      UXM 149: And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!
8th      UXM 150: I, Magneto!
9th      WOL #1: Wolverine
10th    WOL 1: Wolverine
11th    WOL 1: Wolverine
12th    WOL 1: Wolverine
13th    WOL 2: Debts and Obligations
18th    DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
19th    DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
20th    WOL 3: Loss
20th    DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
21st    DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
23rd    WOL 4: Honor


1st    DAZ 18: The Absorbing Man Wants you!
2nd   DAZ 18: The Absorbing Man Wants you!
2nd   DAZ 19: Creel... and Inhuman Treatment!
3rd   DAZ 19: Creel... and Inhuman Treatment!
3rd   DAZ 20: Out of the Past!
3rd   DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
4th    DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
5th    DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
6th    DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
7th   UXM Annual 5: Ou, La La -- Badoon!
         DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
8th   UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!8th   

         DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
9th   UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!
9th    DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
10th UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!10th 

        DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
11th UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!
11th UXM 152: The Hellfire Gambit!
11th  DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
12th UXM 152: The Hellfire Gambit!12th 

          DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
13th UXM 153: Kitty's Fairy Tale13th 

          DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
14th  DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!

26th UXM 154: Reunion
27th UXM 155: First Blood
27th UXM 156: Pursuit!
28th UXM 156: Pursuit!
28th UXM 157: Hide-'N'-Seek!


3rd   UXM 158: The Life That Late I Led...
7th  UXM 159: Night Screams!
8th   UXM 159: Night Screams!
9th   UXM 159: Night Screams!
10th UXM 159: Night Screams!
11th UXM 160: Chutes and Ladders!
15th UXM 161: Gold Rush!
16th UXM 161: Gold Rush!


6th   UXM 162: Beyond the Farthest Star
7th   UXM 162: Beyond the Farthest Star
8th   UXM 163: Rescue Mission!
8th   UXM 164: Binary Star!
9th   UXM 164: Binary Star!
9th   UXM 165:Transfigurations!
10th UXM 165: Transfigurations!
10th UXM 166: Live Free or Die!
11th UXM 166: Live Free or Die!
12th MGN 4: Renewal
13th MGN 4: Renewal
14th MGN 4: Renewal
15th MGN 4: Renewal
16th MGN 4: Renewal
17th MGN 4: Renewal
18th MGN 4: Renewal
19th MGN 4: Renewal
20th MGN 4: Renewal
21st MGN 4: Renewal
22nd MGN 4: Renewal
23rd MGN 4: Renewal
24th MGN 4: Renewal
25th MGN 4: Renewal
26th MGN 4: Renewal
27th MGN 4: Renewal
28th MGN 4: Renewal
29th MGN 4: Renewal
30th MGN 4: Renewal

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Deconstructing The Assembly

Right.  Now that I've seen The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, if we must), my little prior data conflict problem from a few weeks ago has now been resolved.

Let's start by comparing Wilson's comments on the film with what I like to call "objective reality."  Wilson's comments can be divided into three groups: bafflingly stupid, deliberately mendacious, and actual unquestionable falsehoods.  His least ridiculous claim is that the film has weak dialogue.  That's certainly a position I disagree with pretty strongly, but whatever floats one's boat, right? Of course, his one actual example of crappy dialogue "They're gods, basically!" is misquoted, mis-stressed, and shorn of context, but at least all those words did appear in the same sentence at some point.  Not all of his objections are so grounded in fact.

Wilson's next objection is that the film is deeply anti-feminist.  I suspect he has at least a ghost of a point here (though as his co-host pointed out, he's basically complaining that Whedon hasn't done enough of a job restructuring the sausage-fest source material), but he undercuts whatever argument he could sensibly construct on the topic by crafting his examples from whole cloth.  There is not only one female character unless you whisper under your breath "who's an official member of the Avengers."  I'd not argue for a second if Wilson were to suggest Maria Hill deserved more screen time, but just pretending she doesn't exist to make the claim of sexism easier to apply is the work of a hack.  Pepper Potts gets little more than a cameo, but in her brief time on screen she shows herself completely able to stand up to Stark's overwhelming charm and force of will, and frankly beats him down more than once as well.

(From here on in, there are minor spoilers, folks)

UXM #168: "Professor Xavier Is A Jerk!"

(Initiation fites.)


Last time on Uncanny X-Men, a newly-cloned Xavier announced that whilst he was glad to see the X-Men had kept Kitty alive during their adventures in space, the sheer implausibility of having managed that trick was evidence that Sprite would be better off joining the theoretically less danger-courting new mutants.

Kitty has not responded well to this suggestion, and has been griping at anyone who'll listen ever since it happened.  Even Illyana is sick of Kitty's bitching, and points out anyone who didn't spend more than half their childhood in a demon dimension has no business complaining to her about how life is unfair when you're a kid.  Stevie makes a similar point about pointless whining when Kitty screws up her dance practise, but Ms Hunter is able to make more of an impression, and Sprite resolves to prove her worth to the Professor by any means necessary.  Illyana's response to this is pitch-perfect teenage girl: "I've been telling her this for a week now. Why doesn't she listen to me?"

Things seem tense across the team. Storm's powers seem to be out of whack, Scott has buggered off to hang out with Lee Forrester (a reunion filled with repression and stupidity, natch), and Nightcrawler and Wolverine are arguing regarding Kitty's situation.  They were both originally dead set against Xavier's choice, but Nightcrawler is having second thoughts.  He definitely has the best of this argument, pointing out that Kitty is a little young to be repeatedly risking her life, especially since her powers are still sufficiently untested to make her a potential liability.  Logan for his part is reduced to arguing any lifestyle carries its dangers, which is sophistic in the extreme, and that "a decision can be logical, an' sensible -- an' still wrong", which is basically just an admission that he's got nothing.

Over in the gym, Xavier's got his own problems, he's barely any further along in his quest to persuade his new legs that there's nothing wrong with them.  He's at least gotten to the point where he can walk without unbearable agony, but he can only do it by directing all of his telepathy inwards, which makes him useless to the team, something he's entirely not keen on.

It's interesting how context changes things.  If you'd given Xavier this deal ahead of time - you can walk whenever you want if you switch off your powers whilst you do - he'd probably have (no pun intended) jumped at the chance.  There's no downside to having the option.  Giving him a body that should work and then finding out afterwards that this is the catch is a whole different matter.

Either way, Lilandra decides that this is the best moment to pile on, and tells him she's heading home. Man, I feel for them. Long-distance relationships are tough enough over the length of a country; once the intergalactic void comes into play, it's going to be a real slog.

(Still, it could be worse. Xavier could be going out with someone who places cuddly toy replicas of himself in front of his crotch when he's trying to be sexy, like 'Crawler does this issue.  I swear, his relationship with his foster sister is messed up on so many levels.)

The next day sees the opening moves in Operation Reverse The Jerkiness Of The Jerk.  This is another one of those moments where Kitty's character genuinely works, when the "teenage girl" label that floats above her like a blinking neon sign still allows her to be more than one note.  I love how she tries both reason and passion, and when that fails, she falls back on being as helpful and complimentary as possible, in the hopes that this will make Xavier soften.  My sister used to try the same thing on my father with similarly disappointing results.

Days later, Kitty shows no sign of quitting, but it seems pretty clear that it's game over.  If you can't persuade your teacher to let you risk your life by calling him handsome, then what else is there left to try?  That's a question that's going to have to wait a little while, though; Kitty's detected something not quite kosher in the tunnels beneath the mansion, and she suits up to check it out.  Xavier rides telepathic shotgun, and warns her to be careful, but Sprite is characteristically blaze about the whole deal.

It turns out that there are two possible sources of disturbance.  One proves to be Lockheed, the tiny purple dragon Kitty befriended in the catacombs beneath Sleazeworld.  The other is a cadre of Sidrian hunters, the unpleasant pseudo-spiders that destroyed the X-mansion in a fit of pique fourteen issues ago.  Apparently the little bidders made themselves a nest before trying to take out half of New York, and the younglings are finally ready to throw down.  Between Kitty and Lockheed however, the aliens are distracted long enough for Colossus to show up and engage in a little pest control.  Whilst the mutants take out the alien vanguard, Lockheed demonstrates his intelligence by torching the nest, having seen thousands of eggs there.  Thousands.

When everything has calmed down, Xavier admits that he is impressed with how Kitty handled herself, and restores her to the team.  Thus, for what is by my count the 5,973,659,357th time, Kitty proves all those mean nasty adults wrong by not being totally incompetent, in this case by avoiding being killed long enough for Colossus to show up and save her.  Needless to say I remain, as ever, entirely underwhelmed.

Epilogue: Scott Summers arrives in Alaska with his brother and his father, to meet his grandparents for the first time.  For whatever reason, though, they're unable to receive the plane in person, and instead the Summers boys are greeted by Madelyne Pryor, a young woman wearing a thick fur-lined jacket, a nervous smile, and Jean Grey's face...


Eeeeeeurrgh, this is an unholy mess.  It's clearly meant to be Christmas - both Scott and Kurt mention this fact, and everything is covered in snow.  On the other hand, this is almost certainly set between NMU #3 and #4, since in that latter issue no mention is made of Kitty being part of the junior team.  Moreover, in NMU #2, a few days at most before the X-Men return from space, the young mutants are invited to a spring dance "a month from now", which they attend in NMU #4.

Unless this spring dance is taking place in January, we've clearly got a problem.  Complicating matters still further, Dani mentioned the day of the X-Men's return that the weather was almost like summer, which makes it hard to believe it's mid December.  And, as always, we have the fact that the X-Men were kidnapped in or just before summer, and their space adventures clearly lasted weeks, not months.

Of course, we already have some precedent here regarding ignoring festive seasons.  We're going to have to do that again (along with the spring dance in NMU, but we'll get to that later).  As regards the terrible snowstorm that's enveloped the mansion, I think our best bet is once again to make use of the Storm get-out, and assume her misery over losing Sprite from the team has caused her to start subconsciously generating snow storms.

The story itself takes place over several days, as Kitty tries to persuade Xavier to put her back on the senior roster.  Cyclops has had time to finish hanging around with his father and get down to Florida, and Illyana has clearly been struggling to not punch Kitty right in her mopey mouth for a while, so we'll assume a week has passed since Xavier was cloned.  That break allows us to take a suggestion from UXM.Net and bring UXM Annual #6 forward to around here.  That story didn't make much sense at the time, since it featured the X-Men living at the mansion despite it having been destroyed, but nestled here it just about makes sense, if we assume Storm's relapse into vampirism was enough to shut Kitty up for a couple of days.


Sunday 17th to Wednesday 20th of July, 1983.


X+5Y+108 to X+5Y+111.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.68 standard years.

(Colossus is 26 years old).

"I am virtually indestructible."


 Contemporary Events

The government of Poland announces the end of martial law, and amnesty for political prisoners.

Standout Line

"We can't send Lockheed home, Professor.  He doesn't have one anymore.  And since the X-Men were partially responsible for that, we owe it to him to look after him."
"Eminently logical, Kitty.  If I say no, will he eat me?"

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

DAZ #21: "Alison Blaire, This Is Your Life"

(In which no-ones come out smelling of roses.)


We begin in the air, soaring over New York City as Angel takes Alison to try and get through to her broken father.  The flight lasts just long enough for some expository flashbacks - and an entirely gratuitous cameo by Spiderman - and then we're at the Blaire residence.  Carter's doctor isn't overly keen on Alison's plan, noting that from all appearances she's the reason her father has gone doolally in the first place, but Dazzler is determined to at least try and penetrate whatever is going on inside Carter's mind.

And what do you know, it works. Carter almost immediately regains sufficient critical faculties to tell his daughter that she can go fuck herself unless she's willing to toe the line.  All of his recent suffering will be for nothing, apparently, unless she agrees that he's in total control of her for all of time and she apologises for thinking for himself.  Prick.  Clearly Alison agrees, pointing out that she's really not the one in this conversation who needs to be asking forgiveness. Loving daughter vs lunatic control freak who won't even talk about his only child's mother.

At the mention of Dazzler's mother, Carter flies into another of his patented doucherages. "I'll tell you what I've been protecting you from all these years -- and maybe you won't be so glad to have heard it when I'm through!". And so begins the story of Dazzler's mother.

Actually, for a moment, just for a second or two, I thought I'd finally worked out exactly where Carter was coming from.  When he begins my mentioning Katherine was a singer as well, I figured I knew where this was going. There's a brilliant moment in Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human in which a character realises his arsehole father had spent years trying to pressure him into becoming a doctor because that was the only thing his father knew was definitely a good thing to be.  Carter presumably feels the same way about being a judge, and if Katherine's singing career ended in tragedy, he'd have something he knew most certainly wasn't a definite good.  Combine that with genuinely believing not talking about Dazzler's mother was an exercise in protection, and his supreme nobbishness actually starts to make a great deal of sense.

That's what I was thinking for about five panels, anyway.  Then we find out he was ordering Katherine to quit singing the instant he stopped needing her income to get him through law school.  Prick.

A prick who clearly doesn't learn from his mistakes, too - Alison was clearly the second person he drove away by constantly demanding he knew what was best for them. Alison responded by moving out and cutting all contact; Katherine's tack was to start screwing another guy, who despite getting her hooked on drugs, she apparently loved enough to start carrying his picture around alongside Carter's in the heart-shaped locket Alison now sports.  Which, as little sympathy as I have for Judge Blaire, is clearly a bitch-move of gargantuan proportions.  Worse is to come, though, when she waits until Carter is out with Alison to slouch off to her new man Phil and his drug den, leaving a note claiming she wants to protect her toddler daughter by never having to see her again.  Wow.

Alison does not respond particularly well to any of this, and runs from the house, convinced her father is lying, or at the very least twisting the truth so far out of shape it might as well be a lie.  It's time to head over to "Barbara London", then, to get the other side of the story, as Alison's mother opens up to a shocked Vanessa.  Unsurprisingly, we learn that falling in love with and then marrying your drug dealer is A Bad Idea.  Not so bad as Katherine's next move, though, who's response to learning Phil is cheating on her is to have another daughter, in the hope that her worthless shell of a marriage will suddenly become peaches and cream once the coke-pushing philanderer has another mouth to feed.

Readers will not be surprised to learn that this plan does not work.  Instead, Phil decides to add wife-beating to his resume.  It takes a good three or four years for Katherine to kick her habit and walk out on Phil, but this time she takes her daughter with her.

(I'm not sure whether there's a moral we're supposed to be seeing here: leave your husband and become a abused crack-whore.  Perhaps that's just me being over-aware.  Still, the horrible travails of Katherine Blaire/Brown don't serve the plot in any way, and were it me, I wouldn't just chuck in an abusive drug-dependent relationship just to provide colour.  Maybe it's intended to fuel another theme in the issue, though, which is that a spectacular amount of men in show business are worthless goitlizards.)

Vanessa is sympathetic to this tale of woe, but only up to a point, which is basically that absolutely none of the horrible things Katherine went through has anything to do with the fact that she abandoned Alison, and needs to get over herself about that.  This is not a message that is gratefully received (sugar-coated as it is), though, so Vanessa settles for persuading Katherine to at least finally watch Dazzler perform.

The next day, a distinctly distracted Dazzler arrives at Osgood's office to find her boss has sniffed out a job opportunity for her.  Concert promoter Les Mitchell, also present, wants her to replace a cancelled act at Carnegie Hall, and pull her strings in the superhero community to bring out a crowd of capes, with the lion's share of the proceeds to go to a local hospital.  Alison cautiously accepts (I'd probably have run it past the Avengers etc first, but what the hell; it's for a good cause), but finds herself immediately regretting it as Mitchell pinches her arse on his way out.

Now this is genuinely interesting. Not just "interesting considering it's 1982" interesting, but genuinely worth considering.  The dilemma of a woman who faces accepting sexual harassment as a condition upon advancing her career has been explored at some length in fiction (though how much of it predated the '80s, I'm not sure).  This is something different, though, this is whether a woman should swallow sexual harassment, even minor sexual assault, in order to ensure a charity gig that could raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for the ill can go through.  I'm not going to come within a thousand light-years of offering an answer on that, but it's at least a different and more complicated set-up than we often see.

Alison's response is to wait until Les leaves (though she may just have been fighting through her disbelief about what's just happen) and then explodes at Harry.  Her manager's response, alas, is wearily predictable: she's over-sensitive, he didn't mean any harm, that's just what he's like, there's a lot of sleaze in show business.  That's some weak shit right there, pal.  At least "Pretend you haven't noticed he's a grab-happy pervert or the orphans don't get their kidney dialysis" is a point worth considering.

In any event, Dazzler resolves to do the gig, get the hospital their money, and stay as far away as possible from Fingerwander McSexpest.  Alas, the combination of working for so vile a slug and her family meltdown make it impossible to concentrate during rehearsals.  Even running through something by the Boss ("Hungry Heart" wouldn't be my first choice, but it's a solid pick) doesn't seem to work. Les, who's been hanging around the practice session, suggests Alison might do better if she tries some "happy pills".  Basically, then, this is about Dazzler being offered/led down the same path her mother was, though since she doesn't really know the whole story about any of that, the parallels are somewhat lost.  Regardless, Alison tells the mook to go fuck himself, and after taking the rest of the day to calm down, spends the next day bargain hunting with Vanessa and then venting first to Ken and then to Warren.

I'm still not sure exactly where everyone stands in this little love triangle.  Alison insists she and Warren are just good friends, but she describes Ken as her best friend, which long and bitter experience has taught me is  often not good news where romantic liaisons are concerned.  And when the Angel knocks on her window and Dazzler opens it to talk to him, their exchange seems entirely platonic (he even apologises for messing around in her family's business), but their goodbye kiss seems a little too hel-lo, if you know what I mean.


A week later, and it's the night of the concert. Many of America's superhero royalty are gathering for the concert - the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Iron Fist and Power Man with their dates Misty Knight and Harmony Young, Wonder Man and his date Beast (please, like it isn't obvious). Peter Parker is there taking pictures, before slipping into costume and walking down the red carpet (I guess the Daily Bugle isn't going to be too complimentary about this particular charity gig), and Daredevil attends in his civilian guise.  Even Wendell Vaughn, Quasar himself, arrives in a Project: PEGASUS car, presumably hoping showing up for a charity gig might win him back some of the points he lost for helping to keep Dazzler a prisoner ten issues back.

Also attending: Carter Blaire, and his ex-wife Katherine.  Obviously, neither of them know the other will be there, and Dazzler has no idea about the arrival of either of them.  More fun that way, no?

Besides, it's not as though Alison doesn't have enough things to contend with.  Lance is being an arsehole, screaming at and threatening the roadies.  Osgood is on her case about how crappy her rehearsals for the gig has been. And "Lucky Louie", the "vibe" player for the warm up band (The Tycho Brahes, nice) has volunteered to be the next guy to offer her some chemically-enhanced fun-times.  Gods, this is being laid on rather thickly, isn't it?  Alison's never had the easiest road to success, but so far her problems - idiots in charge, lack of opportunities and money, personal life getting in the way - are things that at least on some level resonate with the reader (it's one of the things I liked about the book in its earlier stages).  This sudden onslaught of "men in showbiz are perverted shouty drug dealers" just as she's learning the truth about her mother is kind of hard to swallow.  Especially since Lance being a dick to the hired help isn't really something limited to showbiz, and Osgood was well within his bounds to tell Dazzler she needs to shape up (Fingeroth may have been aware of this, hence why Alison jumps to the idea that Osgood might have sent Louie to dope her up in the hopes of improving her performance).

Anyway, this has left Dazzler in more of a mess than this story is.  What better time for her father to walk in to her dressing room?

This time, though, it's with good news.  Carter has emerged from the crucible of madness with clear eyes: he was, after all, just being a dick all these years.  He can hate his daughter's career and support her right to choose it at the same time.  Dazzler is delighted by this development, of course, and so happy to have her father back in her life that she's prepared to admit recent developments have made her realise he's at least been right about some of the less savoury aspects of show business.  And because of that, and because of Carter's apology, she makes a momentous decision.  From now on, her career is going to be on her own terms.

She picks up her coat to walk home with her father.


Listen here, you worthless preening egomaniac: you have a show to do.  A show you agreed to do.  A show the mightiest heroes in the world have taken time out from saving that world to come support. A show for which the resulting not inconsiderable revenue will be donated to healing the sick.  You do not get to blow it off because this is the first day since you were sixteen that your father hasn't been a cunt.

(All this less than a fortnight after she couldn't decide whether breaking a promise to herself was an acceptable cost to saving her friends and their baby.  God, how is a woman who's mother abandoned her and father disowned her such a spoilt fucking brat?)

Fortunately for Riverside Hospital, Vanessa arrives backstage just in time to wish Dazzler well, and on learning of the massive strop in-progress, spills the beans about Katherine, hoping that performing for her mother will appeal to Dazzler in a way that saving lives and not giving the finger to 98% of the friends she has in the world clearly doesn't.

Because she's her, of course, this becomes a moment of great personal anguish.  Sure, she'd like to not let her friends or her mother or charity down, but she'd also rather hang out with her dad now instead of after the show (maybe, though this isn't said, she's worried he'll cut her off again if she goes on stage.  In which case, bollocks to him).  In the end, she manages to force herself to do exactly what common human decency would require, and she goes out on stage.

Credit where it's due, she might have been half an inch from quitting, but once she's decided to go ahead, Dazzler always plays a blinder (pun very much intended).  After two hours of knocking it out of the park, she finds time to thank her audience, and to let them know there's someone very special sitting out there.  She dedicates one of her own songs to her mother, and let's rip.

It is, let's not beat around the bush here, a fucking awful song.  Well, it has fucking awful lyrics, at least, though that in itself has certainly never stopped people from loving a pop song (and plenty from other genres as well).  Dazzler hopes that if nothing else, "A Young Girl's Dreams" will persuade her mother to come to her dressing room after the show; to that end she kicks out her superhero friends, Ken, and an apologetic Harry.  Katherine doesn't quite get as far as Alison's room, but our heroine hears her skulking around backstage, and a long-overdue reunion is finally conducted, not just between mother and daughter, but former husband and wife as well, as Carter arrives on the scene.  Frankly, I can't believe either of Dazzler's parents would want to be within ten miles of each other, but it might ruin the happy ending if the two of them started sniping straight off the bat.

Instead, Katherine takes her leave, promising that she'll keep in touch.  Immediately regaining one parent will have to be enough for Alison.  Well, that and a massive superhero shindig back at the flat; clearly the Avengers aren't to good at taking "no" for an answer.  At times it's been more of a struggle for me to get through the first volume of Essential Dazzler than it was for the eponymous heroine, but this is a nice not to leave it on, as Alison and Ken dance through the small hours to the Rolling Stones.

This issue begins immediately after the previous one ended, and takes place over around ten and a half days.

The X-Men don't attend Dazzler's charity concert. An editorial box explains this is because they are currently in space, but according to our timeline, they've just finished fighting Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, and are having a night in listening to Kitty's fairy tales. I guess they were too knackered to head out for a concert.  Or maybe the promoters decided (perhaps wisely) that mutant superheroes might be more trouble than they were worth, speaking both in terms of promotion and health & safety.


Sunday 3rd to Thursday 14th of April, 1983.


X+5Y+33 to X+5Y+42.

Contemporary Events

The space shuttle Challenger makes its maiden voyage.

Gloria Swanson dies, aged 84.

Standout Line

"Here comes my favourite platter: "Beast of Burden"!"  - Beast

Ah, Hank McCoy.  Biologist extraordinaire, unfailingly courageous and moral righter of wrongs, and now kick-ass DJ into the bargain.  It's not even slightly difficult to understand what Wonder Man sees in you.