Friday, 31 August 2012

UXM #172: "Scarlet In Glory"

(Outlaw in-laws.)


So a few years ago, my cousin - let's call him Bob, found out his wife - er, Bitchface - was having an affair with his best mate and erstwhile best man, also called Bob.  One quick though acrimonious divorce later (Bitchface never did get over Bob I's refusal to forgive her unconditionally), and we figured the problem was solved, especially when Bob I got remarried, also to someone called Bitchface (who's actually lovely, but I'm committed to this naming scheme now.  Should really have thought ahead).

How naive we were.  Another cousin of mine - Pete, we'll say - was convinced that Bob I had been planning an affair with Bitchface II, and was only interrupted in the process of pulling this together by Bitchface I's infidelity. This was not an opinion he was shy about expressing.  This led to a schism in my family, depending on whether one chose to side with the betrayed and laconic Bob I, or I guess just wanted to cause a shitload of trouble, or something.  This all came to a head when at Pete's urging, his sister invited both Bob I and Bitchface II to her wedding, whilst secretly ensuring the attendance of Bitchface I, with her baby (belonging to neither Bob) as flower girl.

There is a point to airing all of this dirty laundry, I assure you, and it is this: even my lunatic cousin would have thought twice before inviting Bitchface I if, rather than screwing around on her cousin and then stalking him after he moved out, she'd stolen the memories and abilities of the groom's best friend, and then left her to  die.

So you can imagine how surprised Logan is when Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Sprite arrive in the run-up to his wedding and prove to have Rogue in tow.  This just doesn't make the slightest sense.  The decision to include Rogue in the team was questionable enough, but if you squint hard enough you can maybe just about see it given Xavier's obsession with redemption and not letting the past stain the future. Having her tag along with the others as they head for Logan's wedding, without even discussing it with him ahead of time, is a supremely dick move that serves no damn purpose whatsoever.  It's the difference between being willing to parole a convict guilty of terrible crimes, and demanding they be allowed to show up when their victims' friends tie the knot.

And all of this, remember, is coming from someone who's original exposure to the X-Men was the '90s cartoon and comics written more than a decade after this one. That is to say, I know Rogue comes good, and more than justifies Xavier's choice in UXM #171.  I can't imagine how much more of a bum note this idea must have seemed at the time.

Never mind, though.  She's here now, as Mariko points out (though with considerably more finesse), and there are many other things for us to consider.  Who will be Logan's best man?  Is Wolverine more or less likely to threaten to stab people for talking to Mariko once they're married?  And did Charles Xavier just not get an invitation, or has he blown the whole thing off to help a mutant couple he just met yesterday get hitched instead?

Whilst we bend our noble brows to such weighty matters, however, dark deeds are afoot.  The Silver Samurai has returned to Japan, and is poised to attack Logan and so gain vengeance for his murdered father (killed by Wolverine in WOL #4).  Fortunately for the ol' canucklehead, though, Kenuchio-san isn't the only one that's been keeping tabs on him.  His former lover Yukio has taken it upon herself to watch his back, which is pretty decent of her when you consider he dropped her like a burning bar of soap the instant Mariko came back on the market.  I'm not too proud to admit that in her situation I'd be more likely to cheer the Silver Samurai on than I would be to kick him in the face.

She kicks him in the face, starting a battle that Logan overhears. Once Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Storm join the brawl, Kenuchio beats a hasty retreat.  Yukio takes off as well - I guess a post-fracas conversation with Logan would be all kinds of awkward - but in her haste she falls from a rooftop, only to be saved by Storm.

The contrast between the free-spirit act-on-impulse Yukio and the wound-tight-to-the-point-of-constriction Storm is played for all its worth here.  It's one of the two themes Claremont is returning to in this issue (we'll come to the other in a few paragraphs).  Storm is scared that continuing to keep everything under wraps will leave her incapable of caring about anyone or anything, but just as scared that cutting loose will end up getting herself or someone she loves killed.  It's not just Yukio's choice to live in the moment that she envies, then, it's the fact that the ronin's choice came with no apparent cost.

Back inside Mariko's rooms, Logan finds himself facing the unpleasant task of explaining that they can't pump Shingen for information over the Samurai's intended attack, owing to how he disemboweled him last winter.  There's an interesting implication here that Kitty manages to love and idolise Logan mainly by being able to lie to herself regarding exactly what he is, and her occasional brushes with the truth are therefore exceptionally painful.  This leads into the second theme played with by the issue, but it's not time to bring that in just yet.

Whilst the X-Men try to figure out how to respond to the Silver Samurai, Mariko has her own problems.  She's been summoned to a secret meeting concerning her family, and specifically her late father.  Having no wish to drag Logan into the machinations that stained the honour of her clan, Mariko slips out into the night alone.  Moments later, Viper quietly punches her way into the house.  Mariko is walking into a trap, and the former Madame Hydra doesn't want the X-Men in any shape to help her get back out.

Viper dresses as a maid and serves our heroes their tea, which we can assume will not end well.  Which is a shame, as the conversation Logan and Ororo get down to before the poison overwhelms the former (just in time to warn Storm not to drink) is very interesting indeed.  The second theme that I've been teasing is here: Wolverine hasn't the faintest fucking clue how to help his fiancee get out of the hole her criminal father dug her family into, because he can't see any way that slashing people up will help.  This is basically a slight re-jig of a similar theme from NMU #7, but this time it's explicit rather than (barely) subtext.  It's also, to my mind, much more interesting this time around, tied up as it is in Wolverine's psyche.  It's both a reminder that he sees himself as no more than a killing machine (and thus, he argues, not worthy of Mariko in any case), and a look at his strange conception of women.  He's clearly not a misogynist, but he does have a marked tendency to underestimate women, and treat them almost as children.  It's no surprise that his longest relationships with the opposite sex have been platonic ones with very young women.

In short, it's strong Claremont-era character work, and pleasingly free of histrionics to boot.  Like I said, it's a shame it's all interrupted when everyone but Ororo is poisoned.

Across town, Mariko has arrived in her car (not realising that Yukio has "replaced" her chauffeur) at the rendezvous she was given, a deserted dockland warehouse.  There she meets Viper, Harada Kenuchio, and Nabatone Yakuse, obayun of the Yakuza, who has stepped in to officiate.  Negotiations go poorly, partially because Harada is so bloodthirsty and intractable, but mainly because Mariko's position can best be summarised as "Your dad was a prick, you're a prick, and you get nothing, ever."

Except, as Yakuse has already worked out, it isn't Mariko at all, but Yukio in disguise.  The Silver Samurai attempts to kill her for the deception, but she's too light on her feet.  Meanwhile, Viper heads to Mariko's car, sure she must still be inside, only to be knocked out by Storm, who's been waiting in the back seat.  When Ororo arrives to help Yukio against Kenuchio, Yakuse is ecstatic.  Storm has fallen right into his trap.  We're given no clue as to what that means (though his ability to recognise Yukio as Mariko, and his apparent impervious to colossal explosions suggests there's much more to this guy than just being Yakuza), but the immediate effect is that Storm's powers go out of control.  She almost electrocutes the Samurai with her first lightning bolt, and in trying to stop from killing him outright, Storm seems to charbroil her own skin, as well as set fire to the surrounding boxes, which prove to be filled with fireworks.

Yukio saves the day by smothering Ororo with her disguise and tipping them both into Tokyo Bay.  Storm seems miraculously unhurt by her ordeal, but perhaps she just doesn't notice the pain whilst staring in terror at the burning warehouse, the flames of which have unmistakeably taken the shape of the Phoenix.  Kenuchio has made it out alive, as well, and carries away a stunned Viper, swearing that Yukio and Ororo just made his list, right underneath his half-sister.

(Yakuse is unharmed as well, as mentioned above, and watches our heroes from the shadows as they stumble away.  I don't see this ending well.)

Meanwhile, in the intensive care wing of the hospital the X-Men have been taken to, Logan is back on his feet, but just barely.  So too is Rogue, her alien metabolism "borrowed" from Carol Danvers having helped her shrug the poison off.  The others are still in critical condition, but Wolverine, obviously, doesn't want to wait.  Just as with NMU 7, a story with nods to problems that cannot be solved with violence ultimately gives way to solving problems with violence.  Or that's the idea, at least.  Wolverine's so keen to carve Kenuchio up into hibachi he's even letting Rogue come along.  Time for some counter-vengeance!


This is liable to get complicated. First of all, this story clearly takes place after NMU #7, since Storm tells Wolverine of Karma's death. We can also assume that the X-Men didn't abandon the search for their missing comrade the instant the New Mutants headed southeast to Ipanema.

On top of that, a commercial flight to Japan from New York takes the better part of 24 hours, and I'm assuming the flight isn't all that much faster on the Emperor's 747 than it is on any other one.  Given all this, we can assume the X-Men couldn'tarrive in Japan somewhere around a week after the destruction of Viper's Big Sur base.That's still a few days before where we'e placed UXM #171, though, so everything works out just fine.

The chief wrinkle in all this though is that the narration makes it clear Wolverine killed Mariko's father ten weeks earlier.  We've timed it at something more like nineteen.  Ten weeks ago by our count, the X-Men were comatose and undergoing Brood implantation.

The two options here are to ignore the "ten weeks" comment, or to place the Wolverine limited series after the X-Men return to Earth. Publishing dates very much notwithstanding, the latter approach is unambiguously to be the one Claremont intended to take. Not only does a text box in UXM #169 explaining Logan's absence by referring to the limited series, but Claremont seemingly hurriedly rewrote the backdrop to various X-books to replace summer with mid spring and then winter, as he tried to tie UXM, NMU and WOL together.

Bringing Wolverine forwards means ignoring the dialogue in that issue regarding the seasons in those issues.  Leaving it where it is means either ignoring the dialogue here, or trying to further fiddle around with the already entirely screwed seasonal chronology problem that's already present.  I don't intend to go anywhere near that particular clustercuss if I can avoid it, and the other two options mean either altering earlier continuity in favour of later continuity (which I'm keen to avoid where possible) or treating events in the spin-off books as taking precedence over their parent title.

So, when there's no clear rational course to take, I shall fall back on aesthetics: Wolverine is just too well crafted and atmospheric a miniseries for me to fiddle with its dates here.

The issue itself starts in the late evening in Japan, and seems to continue until morning.  I'm not sure if that's quite true; it's difficult to tell, but there's a scene in the final third of the book in which Alex and Scott have a conversation late at night in Anchorage about the remarkable coincidence of Madelyne Pryor surviving a plane crash at the exact same moment, and so stretching the Japanese time-frame past dawn at least makes sense of that.


Saturday 6th to Sunday 7th August, 1983.


X+5Y+155 to X+5Y+156.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.67 standard years

(Colossus is 26 years old.)

"It is good to see you, tovarisch."
Contemporary Events

The US sends F-15s to Chad to aid their government in it's fight against Libyan-backed rebel forces.

Standout Line

"This kind'a scrap's too subtle f'r me, I don't know how to handle it."

Friday, 24 August 2012

NMU #7: "Flying Down To Rio!"

(Never bring an axe to a sun-fight.)


It's sunrise in California.  Dawn is an uncomfortable thing to experience after you've lost someone.  A reminder of new beginnings is the last thing you need.  No-one wants to stagger from the funeral parlour to be asked "So what's next"? The bruised sky is no help to you at all right then.  "Like seeing it from the wrong side" as a witch once said, before we lost her too.

Roberto DaCosta stands by the ocean and lets it soak him.  If you didn't know him, you could make the mistake of thinking he was using the waves to hide his tears.  I figure as soon as he gets cold and mad enough, he'll try punching the Pacific into submission.

This is very much Roberto's issue, in fact, and that suits me just fine.  Only Rahne Sinclair has any chance of taking his place as the most interesting of the New Mutants, so now that the title has settled in and is ready to start offering us character studies (interlaced with superheroic exploits though they tend to be), Sunspot is an excellent first choice.  Well, first so long as you don't count the Dani-heavy issues that preceded the Brood Queen's awakening, and I'm not going to; Roberto owns this issue far more than Dani did NMU #3 (which reminds me; I really must get around to her piece for SS vs X).

From the ocean onwards, the theme of this issue is "things Roberto cannot punch." After days of searching - and having roped in the X-Men to help - there is no sign of Shan, lost in the detonation of Viper's hideout that everyone else somehow managed to walk away from. On the other hand, his mother has turned up, but that not exactly good news either [1]. An invitation to a archaeological dig in the Amazon doesn't make up for being pushed to the side throughout your life, but Xavier is adamant Roberto go and take the team with him. Why can't he punch Xavier, huh?  Why can't he punch familial resentment?

(Charles mutters to Storm that he's insisting on the trip to get the kids out of danger, what with exploding bases and horrifyingly portentous new mutants - as oppose to New Mutants - to deal with.  This is pretty funny when you realise a thirteen year old Scottish girl has been taken from the spacious outdoors and the protection of the X-Men to an unbearably hot, damp, enclosed place filled with piranhas, poisonous snakes, and the occasional inquisitive bull shark. Plus, her ginger skin will be crackling within 48 hours, guaranteed.)

A week later, and our young heroes are in Rio, staring in disbelief at DaCosta Senior's luxurious mansion (+3 Opulence, re-roll successful saves vs OMG).  But the peaceful exterior is no less a charade than the formal clothes the group are forced to wear for dinner, or the pleasantries Mr and Mrs da Costa exchange with each other before they start going for the throat.  Emmanuel wants his wife to stay home and be safe, whilst he makes enough money to guarantee his family can never be as poor as his past.  Nina wants her husband to realise he has enough money for any ten families, and so rein it in a little with the rainforest-gobbling.

Roberto wants them to shut the fuck up.  They're tearing him apart!  What does a guy have to punch to get a stable domestic life around here, huh?

The next day actually provides an answer, kind of: Hellfire goons.  At least, if he'd managed to punch them when they showed up, they might not have been able to kidnap his mother.  Alas, the team is busy picking out fancy-dress costumes, and the Hellickspittles bundle Senhora DaCosta into a car before speeding away. It only takes the New Mutants a few seconds to work out what's happened, but by then it's already too late; the Hellmooks are having interference run for them by... Axe!

Axe!  His name is Axe!  He has an axe!  His mutant power is an axe, which he has!  I can't tell you any more, since the Marvel Wiki entry on the guy has been deleted, which is only surprising inasmuch as it means someone wrote it in the first place.  The best you can say about all this is that Claremont's come up with so many awesome concepts that the occasional bum note is entirely forgiveable.

(Actually, I'm being cruel: there's more to Axe than just his weapon.  He also has a mean line in pimp-slapping:

so there's that.)

Axe makes short work of his enemies before jumping into the getaway car, but Wolfsbane has his scent.  By the time Rio is in starlight, the New Mutants have found where Sunspot's mum has been stashed.

Roberto is curiously gun-shy, though.  Well, curious is perhaps the wrong word.  It's not like it isn't clear what's going through his head, though since this is 1983, we're told in any case.  His girlfriend died protecting him whilst he was trading punches with their kidnappers back in MGN #4, and his insistence on stomping away from Xavier's plan to aid Team America ultimately cost him Shan.  Actually, in both cases he's being a little hard on himself, but that's how it is with teenagers; even guilt is an expression of self-absorption.  And at least Roberto has flair in his solipsism - this entire issue can be read about how difficult he finds it to be the son of a multimillionaire and also to have kickass superpowers.

Still, it's not like charging straight in and challenging Axe to round two is a particularly brilliant plan, so I don't want to get too down on Sunspot for choosing a more sensible course of action.  Especially since the final scheme is so interesting; using Psyche to pull images of not just fear but of lust from the Hellflunkies (I may be about to run out of synonyms), and alternating between them to scare them senseless.  It seems a little odd that a clandestine organisation of would-be dictators who once prided themselves on hiring the best mercenaries money can buy are now fielding warriors afraid of houses in the dark because they've heard it's haunted and they can hear a wolf somewhere.  Of course, it's not like Axe looks particularly A-list either.  Maybe recruitment took a downturn after Wolverine carved his way through their best and brightest just before Dark Phoenix first took wing.

While the girls are enjoying humiliating Hellunderlings, Cannonball and Sunspot have the job of rescuing Senhora DaCosta.  This time Roberto makes sure he gets things right, distracting Axe for long enough for Sam to get Nina out of range before the real rumble starts.  Last time around Axe got the drop on Sunspot; this time it's the other way round, and Bloke With Axe doesn't last more than two pages against Power Of The Sun Itself.  One can debate whether a story at least loosely based around the idea of Roberto learning he can't solve everything through punching should really end with him solving everything through punching, bu this is an '80s superhero comic, and we shouldn't forget that.

A few days later all is well; the police have finished their investigation of the kidnapping (a giant dude with a mohawk grabbing a woman in broad daylight during a carnival probably helping with gathering witness statements), and the trip to the Amazon headwaters (specifically Manaus) is almost ready to go.

Two people sit in a shadowy car and watch the final preparations at the airport.  One is Sebastian Shaw, Axe's employer.  The other is Roberto's father, who's none too happy that the plan to "deal" with his wife has gone awry.  What interest is he supposed to have in joining the Hellfire Club if it can't even abduct his wife so that... well, I don't know, really.  But he's clearly pissed as hell about something.  No more farming out intra-family business for this tycoon.  Next time, he's going to see to things personally. Even if that means his wife and son never return from the Amazon alive...



This issue stretches over a fair amount of time, actually.  We start off in the California dawn days after the explosion that seemingly cost Shan her life.  It's a week after this that the New Mutants arrive in Rio, another day before Roberto's mother is kidnapped, and a few more days until the Amazon expedition is kitted out and ready to go.

All told, I don't see how all this can fit into fewer than thirteen days.


Wednesday 27th July to Saturday 6th August, 1983.


X+5Y+146 to X+5Y+156.

Contemporary Events

Thomas Sankara becomes President of the Upper Volta, now of course known as Burkino Faso.

The world is given Adhir Kaylan - quite the best thing about Rules of Engagement, though that is not perhaps a particularly feat - but takes away Jobriath, who was both the openly gay performer to be signed to a major record label, but also one of the first internationally known people to die from AIDS.

I confess that this is the only Jobriath song I've heard, but I've always been fond of it.  It sounds like a standard American soft rock ballard (maybe a bit country-tinged) at first, but there's an awful lot more going on here.

Standout Line

"Mess with me, you be chopped down to size -- you dig?!"

Axe's third superpower: the ability to perfectly ape a white guy writing black dialogue in 1983.  Now that's uncanny...

[1] Though we do learn through this that Roberto is of mixed race heritage.  That makes him, I'm pretty sure, the first such character in the X-Books.  I wonder if he's the first in the Marvel universe?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

NMU #6: "Road Warriors!"

(Who are we allowed to punch?)


We're going to stick with NMU for a couple more posts, for reasons which will become apparent later (short version: something happens in NMU #7 which must have taken place before UXM #172).  Last time around, the New Mutants concluded they'd been abandoned by Xavier (now in Mexico trying to help Team America manage their mutant powers), and struck out on their own in an attempt to rescue Psyche, currently a hostage of Viper and the Silver Samurai.

Their first stop, interestingly, is California, where Shan's wicked uncle Nguyen is in the early stages of a floozy party.  It's a nice idea, trying to interrogate him into giving away Viper's location - it's not a plan that's particularly likely to work, but given the team are out on their own, it's about as reasonable a move as they have available to them - but it doesn't quite work out, since the teenagers aren't willing to hurt the guy to get the job done.

We might as well take some time at this point to discuss a major topic in a great deal of fiction, which has actually managed to spill out into the real world due to US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia being, not to put too fine a point on it, a puddle of diarrhoetic stool left to fester and bubble in the summer sun. [1]

There's plenty more regarding my boundless hatred for Scalia over at my other blog, so I'll try to keep the words I waste on him to a minimum here.  His disgraceful, soulless aura is invoked here because he was the guy who argued - not just with a straight face but with a contemptuous sneer for anyone who would disagree - that the authorities torturing people shouldn't be against the law because that would mean having to arrest Jack Bauer.

As obviously and agonisingly stupid as that idea is (I wonder if anyone ever told him his hunting trips should be illegal because of how much losing his mother upset Bambi), Scalia at least realises that events in fiction should not be considered entirely independently of those in the real world.  He's got it entirely the wrong way round, of course.  We shouldn't base the real world on how fictional characters behave; we should consider the validity of fictional characters actions in the context of reality.

Or at least, we should when the characters we're watching are those we're supposed to be sympathising with.  Judge Dredd can beat the crap out of a street hoodlum because Judge Dredd isn't (or at least wasn't) intended to be someone to identify with, so much as someone to enjoy watching him shoot things.  The New Mutants, though - and for that matter, Jack Bauer - are characters we're invited to connect to in some way.

So, when characters who you're at least supposed to be rooting for on some emotional level are faced with the problem of what to do to a guy who you need to spill the beans, we've arrived at an important fictional consideration, and one which has been explored in a very large number of ways.  Sometimes the antagonist can be easily bribed.  Sometimes they're so cowardly that the threat of violence is enough.  Often the heroes are accompanied by someone more morally ambiguous who gets the job done for them.

All of these, of course, are kind of cheating, in the sense that they avoid the moral problem rather than resolving it.  At the risk of somewhat contradicting my earlier point, because this is fiction, we can consider torture in terms of its moral dimensions rather than its real-world efficacy.  All I mean there is that we can bypass the fact that torture is generally regarded as a pisspoor method for extracting accurate information, making it tactically unwise in addition to immoral.  We're setting up a moral dilemma here: hurt someone who can't defend themselves or fail to gain the information you need to save your friend/a city/the world, so let's assume that this is truly the choice to be faced.  What's a superhero to do?

Having drawn all this out it might feel almost like cheating to admit that I don't actually have an answer, but then anyone paying attention would have seen that coming in any case.  Part of why this is such a major question in fiction is precisely because no-one's come up with a compelling answer.  Good guy has to kill bad guy: there's endless permutations of circumstances and motivations that let you get away with that.  Good guy has to reach for the pliers and start extracting fingernails?  Not so much (which, to digress from a digression, is what made Sayid so interesting for five and half seasons of Lost, before he was epically pissed away).  Plus, of course, a reaction of "fuck, I don't know!" is exactly the reaction you're looking for in an audience when you present them with this kind of quandary.

The New Mutants answer to all this is one of the most common ones; indeed, Claremont has used it before in the first Morlock story just a few months earlier, albeit without the torture aspect.  Shan agrees to serve her uncle as his pet mind-stealer for a period of one year in exchange for being told where Dani has been hidden.  It's worth noting that later versions of this scenario undercut this solution by having the heroes refuse to live up to their end of the bargain - to paraphrase The Five Doctor's Cyberleader, "Promises to douchebags have no validity" - but the same basic set-up is still being applied.  Indeed, the answer to the dilemma above that comics seem to have taken in general is to actually deny that characters as rigidly noble as the New Mutants actually exist (Sayid is often heroic, but no-one could mistake him for an '80s good guy [2]).  Maybe that's a cheat as well, but then this whole, wearying thread has been about a choice that's pointedly unrealistic, so complaining there's no way for two obvious constructions to interact realistically is probably a waste of breath even by the standards of this blog.

While the teenage mutants try to work out just how far they're willing to go, the Professor has his own problems in north Mexico.  His new bestest friends of all his friends are heading off to do Viper's dirty work and hence save Dani, but they insist on enjoying themselves along the way!  Those ungrateful gitchimps!  Don't they understand that Professor X himself has agreed to mentor them?  That he made the supreme sacrifice and cast aside his young charges in order to help Team America, despite them at no point asking him too!  And now this group of young hog races have the temerity to... race their hogs?  How sharper than a serpent's tooth, indeed.

(In fairness, Honcho takes Xavier's side in all of this, but that doesn't reinforce the professor's point so much as it makes Honcho look like an arse as well. A lecture that boils down to "We could die today, so kindly stop enjoying your lifelong passion" isn't really much use to anyone.)

There's a larger issue for Professor X, though, which is the intense strain he's under trying to keep tabs on Team America and the New Mutants at the same time.  Apparently the plan is for TA to try and secure Dani's release through their deal with Viper, whilst the New Mutants work as back-up in case the bikers fail, or Viper doesn't keep her word.  This, frankly, smells like a retreat from last issue's conclusion, in which Xavier tries to justify to himself his decision to forsake his current class in order to ensure the Team America gestalt doesn't accidentally harm anyone else with their powers.  Certainly the New Mutants themselves don't seem to have any idea about Charles' intentions when they try to shake down Nguyen; it's impossible to credit that Shan would be willing to possess her uncle and threaten to kill him (even if she ultimately couldn't go through with it) rather than taking him to Xavier so he can poke through his memories for them.  Of course, a few pages later it's made very clear that Shan is expecting regular contact with Charles, so who knows what the hell is supposed to be going on?

Even the villains don't seem to be having the best time of it, over at their secret base in Big Sur.  The Silver Samurai has learned that his father has been killed (by Wolverine in WOL #4, published half a year earlier), and is none too pleased, especially since his half-sister has taken over the family assets, and also announced she's marrying the foreigner who killed Yashida's father in the first place.  This will all have some effect upon our timeline, actually, but we'll deal with that when we discuss UXM #172.  For now we'll just say that it's interesting to see one villain in pain over an event which isn't in the issue (or indeed the title) under consideration, and another villain trying to comfort him, rather than treating the whole thing like a colossal waste of time.

We return to Mexico, and more specifically, Black Mesa (which isn't in Mexico, but never mind).  Team America have arrived, and whilst some of them scout out the terrain (and the ominous looking base that is its most interesting feature, unless you're a geologist), the rest have been put to sleep by Xavier so he can better "hone their powers".  Because that's not weird or disturbing in any way.  If the goal in restating the conclusion to last issue was to make the professor seem less calculating and unfeeling, then this sure as Hell isn't helping.

While Xavier is playing Sandman - and freaking out all and sundry - Honcho and Wrench ninja their way into the complex, which proves to be run by AIM.  For those keeping score, then, one villain is trying to keep a second villain from going mad with grief so they can steal something from a third villain, whilst a fourth villain is being pumped for information about the first and second villain.  Phew.  With so much going on Wrench and Honcho barely have time to knock out two female guards and steal their clothes.  Whatever else they are, though, they ain't slackers, and if stripping unconscious women is what they gotta do, then dammit, they're up to the job.  Their newly acquired disguises even get them far enough through the base to half-inch the crystal Viper sent them to find, but it's at that point that everything goes horribly wrong.  Xavier is attacked by a mutant presence lurking somewhere within Black Mesa, which also rather inconveniently explodes.

The explosion apparently marks the birth of a new and horrifically powerful mutant, one that almost fries Charlie's cortex and Lilandra right alongside.  So that's villain number five.  It's raining pricks.  This latest one is particularly problematic since they decide to haunt Shan as she's leading the New Mutants in a sneak attack on the Bir Sur base.  As a result, she gives the game away, and the HYDRA goons start swarming around them like angry snot-green hornets. Their cover blown, our heroes resort to more overt tactics, which has the immediate advantage of freeing Dani from her cell when Cannonball slams through the building, and the rather less fortuitous result of getting Wolfsbane damn near chopped in half by Kenuchio. Shan's team manages to chase Viper and the Samurai away before they can cause any more damage, but when Karma possesses Viper in the process Kenuchio swears his lover will kill her for the insult.

South of the border again, and we learn that Honcho and Wrench somehow survived the detonation that heralded our new threat's arrival - possibly, they muse, due to the strange crystal they've boosted - but the team are far from safe; AIM seems to have sent every hovercar they own after them.  Happily, this provides us with the first moment in the whole story where Xavier turns out to have done something useful; El Lobo is able to consciously focus the gestalt into himself and thus become the Dark Rider.  No more of this possession business.  It's maybe a bit of a sudden leap forward in competence, but then there was never much chance Charles would be the team's mentor for any particularly lengthy period of time. In any event, El Dark Lobo Rider makes short work of the AIM forces, and it's all over bar the shouting.

The bikers return to Xavier to find he's still unconscious, but they quickly bring him round, and they head for Big Sur.  But it's too late! Viper and Kenuchio have blown up the base, and Charles is convinced the teenagers were in there when it happened.

Dun dun DUUUR!


Since last issue, Team America have gone from Washington D.C. to Mexico, and the New Mutants to California.  With the rejig to suggest Xavier has been assisting the younger team after all, we can assume his modified SR-71 Blackbird (which I don't believe has been mentioned before, though my memory may be playing tricks on me) to get people to where they need to go.  It's not unreasonable then to assume the story starts soon after sundown of the same day Charles signed up with Team America.  The story then continues until dawn the next day.


Sunday 24th to Monday 25th July, 1983.


X+5Y+143 to X+5Y+144.

Contemporary Events

Scientists in San Antonio conceive a baboon in a lab dish.  Because science will not be denied!

Standout Line

"The New Mutants do not kill, Robert.  That is our pledge.  If we do not hold true to those beliefs... then we are no better than my uncle."

Since I spent so long talking about the torture issue, I'll keep this one brief: can we please declare a moritorium in arguing that murdering innocents is equivalent to murdering murderers?  It makes everyone sound like an idiot.  Like in that Mitchell and Webb sketch:

"You're asking me to operate outside the law, sir, and if I do that, what's the difference between him and me?"
"He murders nuns!"

[1] If anyone can remember what that is. 

[2] Or a '90s antihero, for that matter, since he has a conscience and no pouches.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

NMU #5: "Heroes"

("Fuck, yeah!")


Ooh!  Team-up! Ordinarily I'd argue that five issues is far too soon in a new title's life to try something like this - you really should be concentrating on fleshing out your new characters, not displacing them with old ones - but Team America are sufficiently obscure for this to just about work.

Which is not to say I'm particularly impressed by them.  Introduced only a year earlier in Captain America, only half of them are shown here - performing tricks at a carnival that the New Mutants are visiting.  There's R U Reddy, a real candidate for the most badly-named character ever in a medium infamous for truly terrible monikers.  Then there's El Lobo, a man so arrogant and self-regarding he not only talks in the third person but translates his own name after saying it. [1]

Also, some guy named Cowboy, who we don't care about.  Calling someone on a bike Cowboy is stupid, anyway, no matter what Bon Jovi try to tell you.  It's like calling an ironclad Unprocessed Ore.

We get a sweet moment from Roberto, whose desperate for autographs from Team America but insists their for his sister so as to remain cool (a goal already out of his reach, but it's fun to watch him try), and then all Hell breaks loose when green-clad goons crash the carnival and knock our patriotic biker squad from their steel horses metal vehicles.  Our heroic teens find themselves cut off from Professor X (whose powers are on the fritz after another abortive attempt to walk), but between their powers and Team America's ability to run people over, the attack is quickly beaten back, much to the consternation of two shadowy figures.  These two, a woman in a long green gown and a tall guy in a samurai costume, were hoping to draw out Team America's mysterious guardian, the "Dark Rider", and are none to pleased to have instead uncovered a nest of neophyte mutants.  The woman sends her Japanese henchman in to sort things out.

Said henchmen is, of course, the Silver Samurai.  I hope that doesn't sound racist.  I don't think all Asian men look the same when dressed as samurai.  It's just that the other samurai don't make nuisances of themselves. They're happy enough to let their legend wind down.  Not Kenuichio-san, though. He's on a mission to prove his honour by beating up some children.  Nice.

After smacking Shan so hard she's knocked out and deflecting Cannonball into the nearby stands, the Samurai effortlessly defeats El Lobo, which is enough to finally bring out the Dark Rider.  Imagine everyone's surprise when Harada chops DR's bike in half, pulls him from the wreckage, and unmasks him to reveal... Dani?

Rather put out by this strange development, the Silver Samurai teleports back to base, and takes Psyche with him, so his mistress Viper can sort it all out.  With Karma unconscious and possibly concussed, and Sam barely able to stand, no-one is any position to stop him.

Later, Dani awakes. The black costume she wore as Dark Rider is gone, replaced with green clothes, presumably lifted from one of Viper's henchpeople.  Viper herself has organised a little test for young Ms Moonstar: ride the nearby motorbike through an oncoming storm of giant spiked death wheels. Unfortunately, Psyche has never so much as touched a hog, and she comes within an inch of being squished almost immediately.  Confused, Viper stops the trial, and has Kenuichio-san drag the teenager up to see her.

At this point, everyone's confused, including us.  It's Dani that gets the worst of the deal, though; she's so scared and bewildered that she loses control of her powers, and gives Viper front-row seat to her own shell-scarred childhood.  This, needless to say, does not go down well.

Whilst we speculate on what horrible revenge the former Madame Hydra has in store, and whilst Xavier - with help from Colonel Rossi, last seen in NMU #2 - tries to work out just what happened to Dani at the carnival, Viper takes a trip to see Honcho, head of Team America.  Presumably, whatever she thinks is going on, she's prepared to assume kidnapping Psyche has removed the threat of interference from the Dark Rider.  That makes more sense than the alternative reading: that now Viper has a hostage she can threaten if TA don't tow the line.  It's not like young girls are in particularly short supply, for all that it felt that way when I was a teenager.

Viper's terms are simple: Team America lift something for her from a secret base in the Sierra Madre, or she kills Dani.  For all Honcho knows, of course, Dani doesn't even exist (notably, Viper makes no effort to suggest executing the girl would cost TA the Dark Rider), but he agrees to play along, buying time for the rest of the team to arrive.

When the others do show up (summoned by the now-departed Viper), an argument breaks out between those who want to let Dani die (El Lobo), and those who aren't total arseholes (everyone else). Still, Honcho makes the smart point, which is they're not trading a heist for saving a hostage's life, they're trading a heist for the possibly saving a possible hostage.  That's to say nothing of having any idea about who'll get it in the neck if Viper gets what she's angling for.

It's a nice, albeit brief, rise above the standard MO of comics of the period, in which a hero always does what a bad guy with hostages wants and always succeeds without causing any casualties and the villain always doublecrosses them and the hero always wins and saves the hostage anyway.  Hearing someone say "Hang on, are we sure this is the right way to go" is new, and it's laudable.  The conversation doesn't go any further, though, because Xavier arrives alongside the New Mutants, and lays down some truth for those assembled.

Charles, we learn, has figured out theat Team America is a "projecting gestalt", mutants that together impart their skills onto a random bystander in times of danger, up until now entirely without knowing it.  This, of course, makes no sense.  I mean, that's common enough for a Marvel superbeing, but how did they meet in the first place?  They were all projectors and they liked motorbikes? Or is "loves crotch-rockets" a secondary mutation, now?

Leacing that aside, Xavier leads us into our second moral quandry in the issue: are Team America responsible for Dani's situation?

Now there's a question.  Georginanna (TA's sole female member) argues that suggesting they are is deeply unfair.  No-one chose to possess Dani; they never even realised such a thing was possible.  There are things we're responsible for because we chose to do them, or we chose not to stop them.  There are even things we're responsible for because we knew they were plausible results of our actions: I'm responsible for a seagull trapped in a sixpack holder I throw out without cutting up; it doesn't matter that I neither pulled it over the bird's neck myself, nor failed to chop up the plastic because I think seagulls have it coming to them. [2]

But who could see the ability to subconsciously possess people coming?  "You heading to the pub, Frank?  "Best not, Sally; I can't rule out the possibility that I could subconsciously possess someone along the way."  Xavier's response is fascinating: once you know you're responsible for something bad, it's actually not as bad to have done it deliberately as it is to have done it accidentally, but not be bothered to fix it. Active evil is better than evil through selfish apathy, in other words, because it's not that your moral compass that's awry, it's your refusal to head in the direction it's pointing.

Obviously, there are limits to how far that argument can be taken - though it's particular apposite in this case when you realise that Team America held Dani hostage as surely as Viper did, and suppressed her sense of self at the same time - but Honcho buys it for now.  This then triggers another crisis - Claremont is really cooking, here - because Xavier wants to play along with Viper, both to ensure Team America don't possess anyone else and to buy time for the X-Men to show up (they may well be overseas at this point, as we'll get to with the next UXM post). 

The New Mutants see this plan as betraying Dani.  What if Viper kills her whilst everyone's twiddling their thumbs?  What if she's being tortured?  Why does Xavier seem so keen on leaping to the aid of an entirely new group of mutants instead of focusing on the one he already has (this is something Xavier does an awful lot, as I argue here).  This seems the least ambiguous of the dilemmas this issue presents; it's obviously better to send the X-Men in after Dani than the New Mutants, who already were soundly beaten by the Silver Samurai even when he was distracted by Team America.  That said, it's hard to fault Roberto's reading of the professor's behaviour, because Charles is so awesomely terrible at actually explaining his motivations in any approachable way.  Academics, huh?

It doesn't really matter who's in the right here, though. The New Mutants are heading out, and they're not coming back with all their limbs without Psyche.


This story takes place over a day and a night, leading in to early morning.


Saturday 23rd to Sunday 24th July, 1983.

Looks like we've reached the NMU balance point!  From now on the vagaries of Marvel time will likely mean assuming these issues took place before their actual publication date, rather than after.


X+5Y+142 to X+5Y+143.

Contemporary Events

Rather appropriately, considering the ongoing Summer Olympics, Aaron Peirsol is born, an American swimmer who won seven medals (five gold, two silver) over the course of three Olympics; Sydney, Athens, and Beijing.

Less inspiring is the beginning of Black July, an anti-Tamil progrom carried out in Sri Lanka by violent mobs.

Standout Line

"That has to be the solution!  It's so obvious, I don't know why I didn't see it immediately!"

What?  What?  Tell us what's so clear to you, oh mighty Xavier!

"Team America is a projecting gestalt.  In moments of extreme danger, any one of you can project the combined abilities of the team onto another, thereby creating the entity known as the Dark Rider.  It is a form of possession. wherein the host consciousness is submerged beneath your group persona."

Oh. OK. Um... does Cerebro just inject LSD directly into your skull?

[1] This, of course, is just a particularly obvious and ridiculous example of an exceptionally irritating Claremont tic: to have foreign characters say brief phrases in their native language and then translate them into English.  Which literally no foreign person I have ever met has ever done, unless I've said "I'm sorry, I don't understand; I know this is your country, but have you put more effort into international communication than I ever did?" in-between.

[2] Though for the record, seagulls are one of the most unambiguous manifestations of evil to exist on our planet.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

XHY #14: "Yet No More Like My Father..."

("If any person here present...")


Whilst browsing the quite exceptional TARDIS Eruditorum (which I was turned on to by our newest follower Abigail, who is running a blog similar in spirit to this one, only with less pedantic obsession with time or clumsy dick jokes), I happened to come across Sandifer's appraisal of John Byrne:
[T]he fact that John Byrne thinks comics are for stupid readers is fairly clear to anyone who has actually read a John Byrne comic...
This, of course, is entirely true, and manages the rather irritating feat of effortlessly compressing much of my last fourteen issues worth of complaining into a single sentence.  You could argue, I suppose, that XHY being so constantly teeth-grinding in its patronising approach is genuinely retro, which isn't so much an illogical argument as totally beside the point.  There's clearly nothing wrong with retroism as an idea, but generally speaking, the idea should be to recall the faults of the past and have gentle fun with them, not repeat them verbatim.  When people walk around Beamish, they do not expect to run the risk of contracting smallpox.

All of which is just a bit of throat-clearing before I go on to savage another issue of Hidden Years.   Four months after that story began, Xavier and Beast are still facing off against Ashley Martin.  There's simply no way anyone can think that's good storytelling. Two X-Men against a young girl and her pet robot and it's taken five issues to work through.  We finally get to the end of that strand here, as the police arrive and Xavier puts together a half-true explanation of what happened, but with the Sentinel already in pieces and Ashley psychically separated from her mutant power, this is a pointless epilogue to a pointless story in a pointless place.

"Not quite meanwhile" (how many times did Byrne write that over the last ten issues?  And how high did he get before he realised how terribly structured all this is?) at the mansion, the newly returned Iceman, Havok and Lorna use Cerebro to locate Scott's group (Florida, apparently, and we'll come back to that).  Rather than go ask them what's going on, of course, they decide it makes more sense to search the mansion, since there's a mess in the lounge.  This is spectacularly out of character for Iceman, of course.  This is a guy who a year ago travelled across the Antarctic Ocean by ice-sled in order to fight through dinosaurs until he found his team-mates who might have been in trouble. Maybe that act of foolish bravado has temporarily cowed him.

At least over at Blob's place, there's some action going down.  Cyclops and Angel are still fighting their way through Mastermind's illusions and Blob's mooks.  They also have Candy Southern to worry about, but Angel leaves her on an acrobat's platform to keep her safe.

This is where thing get interesting, because they start unravelling.  Angel is sure Candy will be safe atop the platform, because Mastermind can't create solid objects.  Which, of course, doesn't make any sense.  Back when Wyngarde was messing with Jean's mind, she certainly thought the horses and daggers were real enough.  Which isn't to say Angel isn't wrong.  Mastermind can't create solid objects.  But he can create what appear to be real objects, and that's what matters.

I think Byrne is trying to argue here that Mastermind's illusions become intangible once you know he's involved.  But that doesn't really make a great deal of sense, either.  How does knowing one thing is an illusion help you with anything else?  Why don't the X-Men automatically assume Mastermind is involved at all times, if it's that simple?

In fairness, this kind of confusion isn't something you can really blame on Byrne, or even on Marvel.  These are just the problems every character of this type produces.  That said, Byrne contradicts his own position a few pages later, when the now defeated evil mutants are bundled into paddy wagons, and Cyclops later frets that the fuzz might also have been illusions. One handshake, and that would all be cleared up, but Scott is still baffled.  That, at least, is all on Byrne.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes.  So the X-Men escape from the Blob's clutches, essentially because - and this part I genuinely do like - Kruger shows up to take revenge over the fake payment they gave him.  I'm not sure how he found them (though given how ill-defined and expansive Kruger's powers are, there's no reason to assume he didn't totes just know where they are), and the timing is awful convenient, but there's something at least slightly interesting about the X-Men blundering around until someone else shows up to sort everything out.

Once Kruger has taken out the old guard, someone has to deal with him, and Candy's ridiculous boots are up to the job.  But after she kicks him in the face, yay, even unto his lapse of consciousness, things take a turn for the worse.  Kruger has brought some of his circus freaks as back-up, you see, and they're understandably none too happy about watching their leader and protector getting knocked out by a pair of bright yellow go-go boots.  He might have been a slaver, but he was their slaver, keeping them safe in a world more than happy to let them fall off a cliff, and maybe give them a nudge as well.

That's a sound basis for a strong ethical debate: how do you persuade the people who owe their home and security to a criminal to let that criminal be handed over to the authorities.  Naturally, Byrne blows this, and here, he blows it bad.  Jean Grey, apparently one of the most gorgeous women in Marvel from the way everyone goes on about her, ambassador of perfection from the ranks of the beautiful slice of homo superior, tells the forgotten, marginalised unpowered mutants that they've been wrong all along.  Kruger may have clothed and fed them, protected them from the baying mob, but he was a total dick to them as well.  It's a poor argument, and their immediate willingness to abandon Kruger once the pretty ones point out the "truth" to them leaves something of a sour taste.  Learning out later that Jean "nudged" Kruger's followers into agreeing with her doesn't make it any better, either, though at least Scott displays the proper distaste when he learns what his girlfriend has done.

With Kruger, Blob, Unus and Mastermind apparently on their way to jail, the three mutants and Candy board the X-Jet, helpfully left nearby by Kruger, and head back to base.  En route, Candy finally reveals the reason she came looking for Warren in the first place: Warren's uncle, a supervillain long thought dead, has suddenly resurfaced, and plans to marry Warren's mother!

This leads us to another problem: Warren hasn't told her mother about who murdered her husband, for fear of piling too much onto her.  God forbid the woman gets closure, of course, but this is a implicit nod to something which rapidly becomes entirely explicit, the idea that Warren's mother is incapable of being given bad news of any kind, in case "her grief would utterly consume her".  That's an actual diagnosis from the family doctor.  Which leaves Angel and the other original X-Men (Xavier is still helping Ashley and Alex and Lorna haven't been invited to this, the world's most ridiculous intervention) determined to stop a wedding without actually being able to say anything to the upcoming bride.  I can buy Warren being dumb enough to not want to upset his mother with this, but getting everyone else to sign up to this pisses me off.  "Never been strong" is not a diagnosis.  It's a piss-poor reason to treat a woman like she's made of eggshells.

It's certainly not like trying to talk to the would-be groom is going to help; the man's so lunatic the last time Angel fought him he punched his way out of Angel's grip whilst being saved from a burning building, and was presumed dead following his resultant fall.  How he survived we don't know, but he's back, and his light based powers (this guy was the original Dazzler) are more effective than ever, as he's more than willing to demonstrate.

But what can our heroes do? They may see right through Uncle Burtram's act - "Your feigned hurt feelings have all the veracity of the declarations of love with which I'm sure you wooed Warren's bereaved mother.", as Hank tells him (or maybe Scott does, there's some sloppy pencilling or colouring work which makes it hard to tell), with Byrne's typical ear for natural dialogue, but they're under doctor's orders to not let Kathryn Worthington find out the truth.  The resulting broken heart, we learn, would only kill her!

Lame, lame, lame...


We learn here that the Blob picked up his captives from Kruger in the Antarctic Ocean, and took them to Florida.  That's a distance of just under 6,500 miles, which the villains travel by boat.  This causes some problems, since it already makes no sense that Alex, Bobby and Lorna got back to the mansion to find it already empty.  It's ridiculous to think Jean, Scott and Warren could already be in Florida by the time they think to check Cerebro; that's a sea journey of a week at best.

This isn't the first time Byrne has failed to put any thought into travel times, of course; another reason why he shouldn't be allowed near split timelines, or really word processors.  If we take into account the journey time, though, we run into problems both with the Iceman et al storyline, and also that of Beast and the Professor's.  We'll just have to assume Fred Dukes has some kind of supersonic catamaran, or something.

It's difficult to determine just how long this issue lasts, but it seems likely that the group set off to deal with Warren's family woes the day after their reunion at the mansion.


Thursday 10th to Saturday 12th July, 1980.


X+2Y+98 to X+2Y+100.

Contemporary Events

A group of Iranian soldiers are arrested and charged with plotting with the US, the USSR, and Israel to overthrow Ayatollah Khomeini.

Standout Line

"Hey, rube!!"
"That traditional circus call for help won't do much good, friend!"

What? How? How could anyone possibly think that this is how people speak?  You could mail random dictionary pages to a Burmese monkey house and get back scripts that ring with more natural dialogue.