Monday, 12 November 2012
UXM #177: "Sanction"
(Magenta knee-highs finally carry the death penalty!)
(For those wondering, if indeed anyone is, the TWTYTW post for 1983 will be along just as soon as I can get hold of the first issue of the Magik miniseries, the only X-book with a 1983 cover date that I've yet to read)
Let's talk a bit about audience intelligence, because it's going to be pretty important to the first third of this book. I've always been interested in what has to happen in a given narrative before a given person begins to suspect they've been suckered. When does a Star Trek fan start to think what they're watching is actually all taking place on a holodeck? When does an X-Men fan start figuring Mastermind has slapped together another illusion? When does pretty much anyone decide that they're probably watching a dream sequence?
And, as a corollary, how much difference exists between when that suspicion dawns, and when the writer intended it to dawn.
Take "Last of the Time Lords", for example, the season finale of the revamped Doctor Who's third year. At the end of the previous episode, the Master has ordered the execution of ten percent of the human race, and as this episode opens, we learn that's exactly what happened, because the Doctor is now a fucking boggart or some damn thing.
The instant you know that the murder of some six or seven hundred million people did in fact take place, any remotely genre-savvy viewer knows that what we're seeing isn't sustainable, that something will happen later on that means those deaths "didn't happen", where I'm using quotes simply to forestall the sort of idiotic "but it's all fiction" comments such discussions elicit, despite the context being entirely clear.
Now, the fact that this happens so early into the episode and the entire thing immediately becomes an exercise in trying to work out whether we should care about anything that subsequently happens is an excellent illustration of why Davies is so infuriating a writer, but that's a rant for another time (and the other blog). My point is that any writer who wants to negate the narrative validity of events needs to put effort into ensuring they do it in the right way. Most importantly, you don't want the gap between realisation and reveal to be very long at all, and once the curtain has been pulled aside, you don't want the audience to feel any investment they've put in to have been completely wasted.
The way Claremont tackles all this here is quite interesting, in part because he ends up working against himself. But six paragraphs into this post, let's talk about what's actually going on. The issue begins in media res, as Mystique runs through a funfair with Wolverine hot on her heels. The choice of location is already a clue; generally speaking (though this is of course not an immutable law), one doesn't set a fight to the death next to a rollercoaster unless one is making a point. If one stops to consider which of the X-Men's past foes is most associated with a funfair (narrowly squeezing out Mesmero for that time he hypnotised the team into thinking they were a carnival attraction), alarm bells might already be ringing.
What seals the deal, though, is when on pages 2 and 3 Mystique murders first Wolverine, and then Sprite. There's just no-one with any experience of narrative who's going to believe Logan and Kitty are dead, or at least that there won't be some eleventh hour miracle that will return them to life. This sequence goes on for over six more pages, however, as the shape-shifting villain kills her way through the entire team (along with Cyclops; another clue, albeit an entirely redundant one). So, if we assume no-one is going to fear that the book's eponymous super-team really will be wiped out, what's the point?
In all truth, some of it does seem a little like indulgence on Claremont's part. The sequence where she uses a mechanism she set up inside the hall of mirrors to use Cyclops' eyebeams to kill Colossus is just utterly ridiculous, the kind of ludicrous over-planning that couldn't possibly work, but Claremont seems to think is badass. Mystique's use of her new combat suit is equally problematic; how can she shift into a perfect copy of Wolverine is she's wearing a full-body suit? And how lucky she morphs into it at the exact moment the X-Man it's designed to counter (Storm) attacks.
That's not what we're supposed to be focussing on, however, even if it's silly enough to make bypassing it tricky. The point to all this obvious fakery is the truth it reveals: Mystique has no problem murdering the foster daughter she and Irene took in as a young girl, but she can't bring herself to kill Nightcrawler.
This is not the first indication of some relationship between the two characters, but until now it hasn't been followed up on (perhaps Claremont is setting up the Nightcrawler miniseries, which ends up being released in the following year), and the implication here is that Mystique's training session is illuminating for precisely this reason.
The problem is in how the truth is revealed: Mystique hired Arcade to build robot X-Men she could train against. That's not a silly idea in itself (or at least, no more so than we're used to around here), but to justify why Mystigue couldn't gank a robotic replica of Kurt, she has to state outright that she was fooled into believing the robots were real. In short, it's one of those get-outs that Claremont employs from time to time that entirely rely on a character being indescribably stupid, and which hurts the previous narrative as well (why should we be surprised that Mystique is immune to the after-effects of a 'Crawler port if she was merely fighting a robot all along). It's particularly ridiculous when we learn that Mystique is going through all this in order to be able to defeat (and possibly kill) the team, just so she can get her foster daughter back. If that's true, it makes no sense that she can destroy a Roguebot, but not a Crawler one.
In any case, once Mystique chickens out of deactivating a robot, the simulacrum knocks her out, and the session is over. I quite like Arcade's approach, actually; he's giving Mystique use of his hideout and robots for free, but in each session one robot is programmed to murder her (in this case, Rogue, which as Arcade notes is a nice touch).
With that dealt with, the comic presents a small moving forward of the Ororo/Kitty sub-plot, as Kitty tries to convince Stevie Hunter that Storm has undergone a more serious change than a simple loss of fashion sense. Stevie finds this somewhat difficult to believe, which I'm sympathetic to considering Sprite's talent for hyperbolic drama, but Ororo somewhat unnerves her when she arrives and admits Kitty may well have a point.
Somewhere in near orbit, the Starjammer is finally ready to depart. Both Xavier and the Summers brothers have chosen to remain on Earth, and after the earthlings have been beamed down, Corsair and Lilandra take the ship into warp, on a mission to take back the Shi'ar Empire.
Back in New York City, it's ballet time. Peter and Kitty are double dating (if they're actually technically dating at this point) with Kurt and Amanda. Kurt is feeling restless, aware that he hasn't chased up on Mystique's mysterious clues about his heritages last time they fought, and determined to be more proactive. This is clearly being built up to be a big thing, though obviously the fact that Mystique and Nightcrawler are simultaneously brooding over it is quite ridiculous.
Sprite and Colossus have their own problems. Having parked the Rolls some distance from the venue, they're trying to enjoy a moonlit walk, but Kitty is rather spoiling it by brooding over her new friend, Doug Ramsey (who'll be showing up in New Mutants a few months from now). Her usual self-involved rambling is mercifully cut short when the top floor of a nearby building explodes. Colossus rushes up to help before Kitty can talk any more, only to find it's a trap!
The Blob is up there with a holographic projector and a mean pimp-slap, that knocks Colossus through the wall and into a flamebird fashioned by Pyro. Once the fires have brought Colossus to white-hot temperatures, Pyro drops him to the ground below, where Avalanche throws a half-dozen liquid-nitrogen tankers straight at him.
The result? Not good...
According to Stevie, it's been several weeks since the X-Men returned from Logan's aborted marriage, but that's entirely consistent with what we have.
And we're finally back in synchronicity with the comic's timeframe! After spending so much time telling us it was winter immediately before Wolverine's wedding ceremony, we're told here that "several weeks" later, we're in early autumn. Clearly this is ridiculous, but it works for our purposes, so I'm not particularly concerned.
The story itself takes place over a single day, but once again I'm running a parallel time stamp for Cyclops' appearance. Since the Starjammer could beam him up from anywhere on Earth, there's no reason he can't have said goodbye to his father immediately after landing following his adventures with Madelyne in the Pacific.