Friday, 14 December 2012

ALF #7: "The Importance Of Being Deadly"

(Three Typical Men And A Baby)


Well, I'll give John Byrne this much: he can certainly condense his most infuriating tendencies into remarkably small spaces, which at least provides ample warning with minimum investment.  If there was anything that sums up Byrne's infuriatingly loose relationship with comedy (I say infuriating because on occasion he's genuinely pretty funny; see Puck in ALF #1 or the hilarious "Snowblind") it's that Byrne not only thought giving a man named Ernest the nickname "Deadly" was funny enough to put in a comic, but that he worked the same pun into the story's title, and rewrote Oscar fucking Wilde to do it (the issue misquotes Douglas Adams later, just to really drive the point home, though Byrne insists his script was correct and somehow got altered).

So much for the hilarious comedy, then.  The other aggravating but mercifully brief burst of stupidity concerns the opening scenes of the book, in which Northstar takes his sister (currently in her uptight school-mistress persona to see a psychiatrist.  Which, fine, good idea.  Except that the shrink in question talks to Jeanne-Marie for one session and then just says "Everything looks fine".  Because she didn't actually suffer a personality break whilst he was watching her.

The idea that a psychiatrist good enough to be hired by the famous Northstar has no way to detect psychological issues so deep-rooted and extreme that they've led to dissociative identity disorder unless he actually watches the crazy in real time is utterly absurd.  Or, if there really is no way to detect such things by an hour's observation, you'd expect a psychiatrist to know that, and not just blow off concerns that anything is amiss.  This is exactly why I was leery about the whole Aurora psychology plot - it's just too obvious that Byrne hasn't the subtlety to handle it, and it's now equally clear that he didn't bother putting any work into researching the condition either. 

As though that wasn't enough, Doctor Bosson also tells Northstar it's a shame his sister doesn't dress like the "devastatingly beautiful woman", which is so creepily inappropriate it's hard to process.  Yes, Bosson then argues it's not up to them to decide how she presents herself [1] (perhaps this is Byrne's conception of feminism, you don't get to tell women to do, you just get to bitch behind their backs about how you wished they were trying harder to please you), but the damage is still done, and we've hit the trifecta of Byrne's writing problems in the '80s: he's not nearly as funny as he thinks he is, he doesn't think ignorance should be a bar to tackling sensitive issues, and the most evolved his thinking on women ever gets is that literally physically controlling them is usually bad.

Indeed, any chance of bypassing this kind of unsettling commentary goes out of the window two pages later, when Jeanne Marie has her bag stolen.  The trauma immediately causes her to lapse into her Aurora personage, at which point, my hand to Gods, her blouse splits open of its own accord to reveal her cleavage.  Naturally, this is the scene chosen to go on the front cover.  I feel like I need a shower.
The would-be purse-snatcher is dealt with very quickly, but he's back on the streets almost as fast. Turns out he's on the payroll of a local crime baron, "Deadly" Ernest St. Ives.  The Beaubier twins then meet up with Jean-Paul's old friend Raymonde, a man who happens to have a cafe business which is struggling due to the aforementioned St. Ives.  Things are so serious that Raymonde has hardly any time to crack onto Aurora (and I'm really not sure the phrase "chameleon goddess" is as much a compliment as he thinks it is) before he begs for help.

Or at least, he tries to, but is interrupted almost immediately by his precocious daughter, Danielle. Her attempts to divert the conversation fail to bear fruit, however - apparently because Aurora is pissed off people aren't paying attention to her - and eventually Raymonde fesses up: St. Ives has hired thugs to harass the cafe's customers, and Aurora's run-in with that mook five pages earlier probably wasn't a coincidence - he must have heard Jean-Paul talking about the old friend he had nearby.  Indeed, it's only seconds later that more of St. Ives' men show up, knocking Northstar and Danielle aside as they kidnap Raymonde and, for some reason, Aurora.

At this point both the twins are caught in something of a bind; they don't want Ernest to get his way, but they don't want to reveal their superpowers in front of people who know their public identities.  I'd have thought given how much close Jean-Paul is to Raymonde (we learn a few pages later that Raymonde basically raised him), he'd forget about protecting his identity, but in fairness he probably doesn't realise quite how dire the situation is.  Raymonde and Aurora are manhandled to a nearby car, where St. Ives is waiting.  He summarily executes Raymonde with some freaky touch-based power, and assuming his goons have kidnapped Raymonde's daughter, bundles her into the car and drives off.  Actually, I suppose it's not unreasonable for St. Ives to assume Jeanne-Marie is Raymonde's daughter, given his goons brought her to him, but what the hell is the thugs' excuse?  They just walked in, ignored Danielle entirely, and instead grabbed the woman who looks nothing like Raymonde in the slightest.  Idiots.

Anyway, as the villains drive off, Danielle is left devastated by her father's death, and Jean-Paul swears to kill St. Ives for what he has done.  One might note that the only reason St. Ives was able to kill Raymonde in the first place is that Northstar considered his secret identity more important than the risk to his adopted father, but this, I imagine, would not be the best time to bring it up.

That's it for the main story this issue (a mere 13 pages), since this time we not only have the customary back-up strip, but a two-page "unconnected interlude", in which Alec Thorne, AKA Smart Alec (no, I can't believe it either) from the now-defunct Gamma Flight is headhunted by a woman named Delphine Courtney, who makes Alec's superpowered mind an offer it can't refuse.

Meanwhile, over in the past, we have "Let a Child be Born", in which a bunch of archeology postgrads are digging up a slice of the Arctic Circle, whilst their supervisors try to remember their names.  One of the put-upon students, named Richard, eventually finds what looks like a very spartan ceremonial headdress. During the night, it begins whispering to him, and when he puts it upon his head, three figures appear from out of the air.  Often when such spernatural visions show up, there's a certain amount of mystery involved regarding exactly what it is that they want.  Not here, though.  These spirits - or gods, as they claim to be - are entirely direct: they want Richard's love-juice for Granny Nelvanna.

This is not a proposition that Richard finds particularly to his liking, which I can very much understand.  As it turns out, though, Richard's objections are rather more narrow than mine would be; Nelvanna simply has herself turned into a beautiful blonde, and Richard happily fucks her.  How romantic. 

(Actually, she does also mention that the coupling is necessary to save the world, but she's definitely putting the emphasis on a night of sweaty sex).

Alas, it turns out screwing shape-changing gods in order to get them pregnant has consequences.  Richard finds himself thrown forwards in time nine years, and goes mad to boot, fated to one day be the man who'll awaken tundra (as we saw happen in ALF #1).  On the other hand, the whole affair definitely has an upside for Shaman who, drawn to the area by forces unknown, finds himself acting first as midwife to Nelvanna, and then guardian of her baby, already grown to the size of a one-year old.  The baby who, if you haven't guessed, will one day become Snowbird.


There's nothing here that ties this story down to any particular time, so we'll once again jump a month forward.  The issue itself takes place over the course of a few hours.


Thursday 21st of July, 1983.



Contemporary Events

The Soviet Antarctic Vostok research station records the lowest known temperature ever reliably measured on Earth; a hideously cold -89.2C. Which, if nothing else, is cold enough to make ice cubes from pure ethanol, which would doubtless spice up an otherwise dull vodka mule.

Standout Line

"This is your... daughter?  But how?"

C'mon, Jean-Paul!  I know you catch your trains at the other side of the station, but you must have picked up on some of the basics.

[1] To be entirely fair, I should go into more detail.  Bosson is making the point that even if he could first detect and then help with Aurora's issues, he wouldn't just be able to flense away the personality Northstar dislikes in favour of the one he prefers.  This, alone in the scene, is actually a great point: Northstar's desire to help his sister is entirely appropriate, but the image he has of how to help her is completely selfish.  Bosson's point on wishing she wouldn't dress so dowdily but recognising that's a judgement he has no right to impose on her is by way of analogy.  Which, fine, except it's a horrible analogy that mires us in Byrne's standard problem of being able to do almost nothing with female characters other than examine what behaviour they set off in men.

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