Friday, 26 October 2012
UXM Annual #7: "Scavenger Hunt"
(It was never like this with Anneka Rice.)
It's interesting that Cyclops is up on the cover there, since he doesn't appear in the comic at all, presumably being busy on his honeymoon.
The rest of this comic is not interesting. I've said it many times at the other blog, and I think at least once here, but Claremont is always at his very least interesting when he tries to be zany. Sure, his melodrama tends to be desperately over-egged, but at least you can latch onto it. Carefree Claremont is just a rickety assembling of mutually incompatible ideas, with more than a hint of self-indulgence to it.
Exhibit A is "Scavenger Hunt". More precisely, there's a section inside this book that perfectly encapsulates the very worst Claremont excesses. Since that's what I want to focus on, we'll power through the bits that lead up to it. The one sentence pitch to this story goes as follows: the X-Men are playing baseball when Galactus shows up and steals their house.
Now, fair enough, that's a fantastic idea (no pun intended). Anyone who doesn't think that's a great start to a story is frankly in the wrong hobby. I can fully understand anyone who might be worried the payoff can't possibly match it, of course, but as kick-offs go, that takes some beating. And in any case, Claremont drops at least one hint that "Galactus" isn't actually the real deal (it's hard to imagine The Hunger That Does Not Cease describing anything as "neat" in it' literal sense, let alone as slang).
The X-Men attempt to give chase, and as the story progresses they meet more and more superheroes, each of which has something stolen from them, and most of whom decide to blame the X-Men. One could argue that this is in itself a form of self-indulgence - Claremont deciding he's going to drag the entire Marvel Universe into one of his foolish flights of fancy - but if you're going to link in the X-Men to rest of the Marvel line, an annual is a good place to do it. It's the execution that's problematic here. It's one thing to decide you want to have a Nick Fury cameo in your silliness, it's another to have him fail to notice when a shape-changing alien steals the eye-patch off his face.
But it's the last item on the alien's shopping list that causes the real problems: he wants Stan Lee. Now, in terms of meta-narrative, that makes perfect sense. What's a collector going to go for after he steals things from every major superhero but the guy who created most of those superheroes in the first place? As a subdivision of a narrative, though, it's a total disaster.
OK, so, one should always admit their biases. I hate fourth wall breaking. For some reason it pisses me off even when it shouldn't, like in 30 Rock for example, but I really can't stand it in any situation where I have invested in the narrative (which is not the same thing as suspension of disbelief, I hasten to add, lest Dr Sandifer show up and start shouting at me). I think I just love fictional histories too much (witness the growth of this ever-more ridiculous blog) for me to see it as anything but a frustrating and self-destructive interruption. That said, I'm generally perfectly alright with Deadpool, which suggests either that it's different when the idea is baked into a character from the start, or, and I think this the more likely option, it's not so much that the fourth wall mustn't be broken, so much as if you're going to do it, you better damn sure you stick the landing.
This is not a landing that has been stuck. It has not been velcroed. It hasn't even been that thing where you've been lying naked entwined with someone else and you have to peel yourselves apart when it's time to make a cuppa. This is an astonishing seven and a half pages of Marvel bullpen references built around the X-Men fighting an alien, during which they run into seemingly every employee on Jim Shooter's books. I'm at a loss to understand who this is aimed at. I've read every X-book from 1963 to this one, and I only dimly recognise most of the names here. I certainly have no idea about whether the personal traits they're exhibiting are accurate, or funny caricatures, and the fact that every person here (save Claremont himself) has their name and job title included suggests plenty of people weren't supposed to know who was who.
In which case, what was the point at all? There's a great moment in the first season of The Office in which David Brent, with typical cluelessness, describes how sometimes people are left confused by his jokes, and he has to explain to them why they're funny. "And then they say 'oh, yeah. Yeah, you are the best'. It's their opinion!". It feels like the same thing here: "Michael Golden is a prodigal freelancer working with Marvel. Meeting actual Marvel characters is thus amusing."
Not only is this self-indulgent and unfunny, but it throws the pacing all to shit as well. If you've got a shape-changing alien calling himself "The Impossible Man" running around town nicking everything that isn't super-nailed down, you have to keep the pace up, just so as to stop people thinking too much about how ludicrous this all is. Forcing your readers to trudge through panel after panel of names and titles absolutely kills that. Even if you do end it with the lovely image Colossus hugging a sabretooth tiger to try and keep it calm.
The long chase finally ends when Rogue grabs the alien from behind in an attempt to absorb his powers. The resulting backlash, but it also encourages the alien - "last survivor of the planet Poppup" - to stop and talk. He's pretty pissed off about Rogue's attack, but soon becomes upset when he realises just how much grief he's been causing, and takes the X-Men to his secret stash in the Gobi Desert. This has all been a trial, he explains, a method to decide which of his family who fled Galactus eating their planet (so he's not the last survivor, I guess) gets to be in charge.
This, needless to say, is full-on ridiculous soup. And even if it wasn't, I don't think it would be racist to tell the Poppupian to go fuck himself; he's on our world now, and we have our own ideas about how to gain and apply authority. You don't get to just steal everything in sight and justify it through your own crazed desire for influence. <INSERT BANKER JOKE HERE>.
Before the team can decide what to do about all this, though, a rather large alien armada pops into existence in the Mongolian sky. The Impossible Man's relatives have been causing quite the interplanetary stir, it would seem. Luckily, Empress Lilandra is on hand to demonstrate her flair for inter-species diplomacy, promising to adjudicate the Poppup's competition and see the stolen items home, in exchange for the Poppup's promising to behave, and the other aliens to not attempt reprisals, something which as Lilandra points out could well go badly in any case.
So all's well that ends well. Unless you're the Impossible Man, that is, who somehow loses the competition despite having spent all that time filching from the great and the good (presumably he was beaten by whichever Poppupian started half-inching from DC superheroes; if you manage to nick Batman's bat-pants then You. Have. Won.). At least he gets to stick around long enough for an iced lolly, though, so he can't claim this has been a total waste of time.
Would that we could say the same.
The presence of both Wolverine and Rogue places this at least after UXM #174, and more likely after UXM #175. The introductory narrative implies spring has just arrived, but this is impossible since Wolverine's aborted wedding took place in mid spring. Also, it's hard to imagine Kitty and Illyana wanting to hang by the pool wearing bikinis and eating iced treats in a New York spring.