Friday, 28 September 2012
XHY #15: "Death Be Not Proud"
(Gets a bit heavy at the end.)
Since my last dip into the Byrnezone was a pleasant surprise, I've managed to work up the energy to tackle another Hidden Years comic, which has been sat on my living room table for months now. I'm not kidding myself that it will be any good, but at least dealing with it will push me over the top into the final third of the book's run.
Hmm. Well, it doesn't start off too promisingly, in the sense that I can't for the life of me tell what in God's name is going on. We kick off with the X-Men returning home from their latest mission, except that last issue left them at the Worthington family mansion. I guess Byrne's realised he's testing our patience with his pages-long flashbacks, and has moved on to re-writing previous scenes instead? Or maybe this was supposed to be the end of XHY #14, and he swapped around some pages at the last minute to do whatever the opposite of in media res is (ex media res?). Points for giving it a go, I guess, but not many points, because it's frustrating, confusing and above all, boring. Actually, I suspect this is all just to cover up Byrne forgetting to explain what happened to Avia after they got back (stuck in some kind of medical cocoon, apparently), but who can tell.
So, we fast forward through a bunch of answers to questions already answerable by long-time readers and entirely irrelevant to newcomers (who can't possibly need to know that a mess they don't get to see was caused by the Fantastic Four) and then we're back at the Worthington place.
Except that we're once going over previous ground, and this time there's no doubt Byrne is re-writing on the fly. This is the second time Bobby has bitched about Warren keeping his family problems secret, and this time Hank takes the exact opposite viewpoint to the one he espoused last time. Doctor Stuart has now changed his explanation for not letting the Worthington know about Warren's mutations (last time it was to spare Warren's mother, this time it was for his father's benefit; both could be true, but why go over this conversation again just to change it)? Four pages in, and nothing new has happened, except for the bits that happened before and have now been messed around with. I (and others) have said this before, but this isn't just poor writing; it's genuinely incompetent.
While the original team are stuck in the world's most badly-researched time-loop, Lorna is wandering through Salem Center, lamenting the recent confirmation that she and Alex are still basically outsiders. Bigger problems may be on the horizon, though; three figures are watching her progress and, recognising her for who she is ("that blonde wig is no disguise"), the one calling himself Tad Carter announces he will make "first contact", tripping her up and dominating her mind through means unknown. She agrees to a coffee date that ultimately lasts nine hours (though you'd imagine a healthy slice of that would be bathroom breaks). At least, that's what Carter calls it; we're forced to let our imaginations loose over what really happened.
On the other hand, if Carter didn't get what he wanted in those nine hours, he's out of luck, because the the instant Lorna returns to the mansion, Alex enlists her in an insane plan to check out a massively powerful mutant signature deep in the Himalayas (if this turns out to be a yeti, I will not be held responsible for my actions), in order to prove that they're not just the guys you leave behind in case you need a lift from Antarctica.
Back at WWIII's place, Doc Stuart is still going on at length about how fragile Warren's mother is. Interestingly, he caps off this by mentioning she's become a born-again Christian, which carries with it an implication I'm sure could annoy more than a few people, though it says nothing about Christianity in general to note that there exist some people who come to it to gain a crutch, rather than anything else. Anyway , the sudden conviction that God exists and loves her (which is actually set-up for the conclusion anyhow) is probably less of a logical stretch than the sudden conviction that Uncle Burtram is marriage material. His tie is crooked and his face is sneering. He looks like he's thirsting for human blood when he asks Warren to be his best man.
The one thing within all of this nonsense that I genuinely like is the idea that there's nothing that superheroes can do about someone making a shitty choice about who they're marrying. A very similar idea was played out with much more style (though sock-puppet theatres staffed by filthy hobos with the socks still on their stinking feet would have more style than this) is the Buffy episode "Ted". The first half of that episode was exceptionally strong, but it couldn't really get away from the central problem that it complexity would drain away the instant the show had to go back to normal, and Ted prove to be a robot built by a madman who is drugging Buffy's mother.
Which reminds me; Burtram proves to be a madman who is drugging Warren's mother. Ted wanted compliance, however, and Burtram wants dead (though both share the idea that the delivery system - pizzas in one case and tea in the other - are literally addictive, which makes perfect sense for Ted's MDMA derivative, and none whatsoever for poison). Worse still, Doctor Stuart is in on the plan, for reasons that aren't so much as touched on. Valued family friend my arse!
It isn't long before the jig is up, though. Burtram stupidly increases the dose of poison, perhaps terrified his fiance will live long enough to demand her carnal rites on the wedding night, but as a result Kathryn faints in front of the X-Men, and Beast notices the blue tinge to her lips betraying oxygen narcosis, which is a symptom not so much of poison as diving underwater. You can get blue lips from narcotic drugs, but those don't really tend to involve aqualungs and tremendous external pressure, as a rule. Still, what's the point in differentiating between all the stratified levels of meaningless shit this book is presenting us with.
The moment Beast realises something is amiss (or more to the point, realises Stuart should notice something is amiss but apparently hasn't), Burtram bursts in wearing his Dazzler gear. I guess he wears it whilst eavesdropping just in case, despite that being fucking ridiculously risky and totally pointless since Warren knows who he is in any case. Still, if Uncle B had any interest in avoiding risk, he'd just have taken the massively obvious step of delaying poisoning his fiancee/wife until after her super-powered son had left the vicinity. We're clearly dealing with an idiot. Written by a fool.
Dazzler's moment of "It was me all along, MWUHAHAHAHAHA!" ends exactly as you'd expect it too, when he exits the building at the crappy end of a ruby-red optic blast. Before he has time to stand back up, Angel jumps him, and proceeds to beat the ever-loving shit out of him. Ultimately Scott and Hank drag him off his uncle, and Jean uses her powers to shut down his access to his light show, leaving him defenceless. Now helpless, and doubtless in no inconsiderable amount of pain, there's only one thing for Burtram to do: immediately rat out his partner.
So why did Stuart do it? Because he goddamn hates mutants, that's why! That's why he spent his entire life as a friend to the family! That's why he's kept Warren's secret all these years! That's why he poisoned an innocent mother and decades-old friend in order to help out a supervillain who wanted some easy cash! Because mutants, you idiots! MUTANTS!!!
I mean, talk about your narcotics. You'd have to suck up an entire Afghan poppy field to make sense of this crap. It's like hating Muslims so much you become Catholic so one day you can punch out the Pope.
And then we reach the end. Warren's mother took too strong a dose of the poison, and within an hour she'll be dead. This leads us to something that is actually very moving; Angel's unhidden wings leads the woozy Kathryn to assume an angel has taken her son's form, and come to take her home to heaven. Not wanting to break the illusion, Warren picks up his mother and flies into the sky, to make his way through the clouds until she passes away in her arms.
For all I've hated the journey, that's a beautiful, heart-breaking destination that genuinely chokes me up a little. Maybe that's because Beast's final words here - quoting Shakespeare - "May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest" reminds me of the song below, and through it a loss of my own four years ago, but I don't think that's fair to Byrne. This time, this moment, he got perfectly right.
Goodnight, Kathryn. And goodnight Pauline, too. Wherever you've found yourself, I hope there are cats for you to play with.
The mangled intro makes it difficult to tell, but I'll assume this story partially overlaps with the last one. The events at the Worthington mansion play out over the course of a few hours.
Friday 11th to Saturday 12th July, 1980.
X+2Y+99 to X+2Y+100.
The Pope concludes his visit to Brazil by sailing down the Amazon river. No-one at any point attempts to punch him out of hatred for Muslims.
"Your being alive to attend is not required!" - Dazzler
If I ever get married, I'm sending anti-invitation cards to my many hated foes. At long last, I know what I'll be writing in them.