Monday, 31 December 2012
ALF #8: "Cold Hands, Cold Heart"
("The challenge is determining exactly who is guilty of what.")
So I'm not really sure what to make of this one. I mean, it's not good, there's no confusion on that account, but it's not good in a really curious way. Byrne clearly wanted to confound the audience's expectations, but doesn't seem to have any idea how to go about it. It's like he's reverse-engineered a standard plot-twist template from any number of thriller films, but never worked out how it all fit together, like a monkey clubbing its enemies to death with a loaded pistol.
To reiterate the plot (which, of course, Byrne himself does, though with more reason this time, and at least some attempt at brevity), Northstar's friend Raymonde has been killed, and Aurora kidnapped, having been mistaken for Raymonde's daughter Danielle, all at the hands of local crimelord "Deadly" Ernest, who has designs on Raymonde's cafe. So the questions here are: how did Ernest kill Raymonde with a touch, and why did he want to swipe Danielle?
The first thing to note here is that this snatching of the "daughter" makes very little sense. One can just about string together a motive - maybe Ernest knows the daughter, who only just showed up in Raymonde's life, has been left the cafe in Raymonde's will and hope to lean on her - but there's nothing even approaching a reason given in the text. So, when Northstar confronts Ernest in his home (after finding it partially deserted, presumably just to take up a page of an already slim story) and discovers Aurora and Ernest are getting on splendidly, we're not supposed to know what to think. Ernest makes some cryptic comment about having "concluded business" with Aurora, but there's no hint as to what that means. Those with filthy minds might jump to their own conclusions.
The obvious conclusion is that Ernest and the daughter were in on this the whole time, but that doesn't entirely make sense either, because why wouldn't Ernest recognise Aurora wasn't Danielle? Even if he'd never met her, wouldn't he put some minimal effort into convincing himself of her identity before engaging in criminal conspiracy talk?
So that doesn't seem very likely, but to make sure we don't come to that conclusion, Byrne introduces a new costumed vigilante, Nemesis, an obviously female revenge-crazed swordwielder, who Northstar meets whilst Ernest has him locked away, and immediately assumes must be Danielle. A suddenly-appearing daughter with a mysterious past? You can see why that would lead to an assumption of "super-hero" around these parts.
Except when Nemesis confronts Ernest (having killed most or all of his guards, apparently whilst Northstar looked on, which is admittedly a very Jean-Paul thing to do), and chops him into tiny pieces, it's revealed that she's not Danielle at all. In fact, as Aurora reveals, Danielle and Ernest really were in cahoots all along.
So yes, that's all kind of surprising, in its way. But it's only surprising because it makes chuff-all sense. First of all, there's the problem alluded to above; why would Ernest just spill the beans to someone his men told him was Raymonde's daughter because she was one of two women in the cafe at the time? What did Danielle get out of the deal, and how was she of any help to Ernest in any case? As I say, these are not unanswerable questions, but if your audience is having to piece together their own justifications for why your twist might not be obviously ridiculous, then you have fucked up.
On top of that, who the hell is Nemesis, if she's not Danielle? Apparently just some random vigilante thrown in as a red herring. I can't see any justification for her otherwise, unless it's as set-up for the comic's conclusion.
Because whilst I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek about it taking a filthy mind to take Ernest's comments the wrong way, it would clearly be ridiculous to assume Aurora genuinely screwed her way out of danger. That's just not how Marvel comics operate. Hell, it's not how almost any fiction operates, because it's an astonishingly bleak idea and most writers are smart enough to know that storylines in which women exchange sexual favours for their own lives aren't to be attempted except with great care.
So when Aurora asks Northstar how he could think Nemesis was Danielle, when Aurora's own interactions with Ernest proved he and Danielle were on good terms, and Northstar casually responds that he just assumed Aurora fucked the guy - because after all, she did it with Sasquatch, right? - it's just awful. Because whilst Northstar probably is exactly enough of a prick to suggest something like that to his own sister, and whilst Aurora is appropriately horrified, telling Jean-Paul she wants nothing more to do with him, it's tough not to read the earlier attempts at misdirection as being an actual, albeit implicit, attempt to lead the audience into thinking that's actually what happened. In a vacuum, that could conceivably be a comment on either writer or on the assumed audience, but after the last seven issues of women being treacherous lunatics, I'm not inclined to cut Byrne any slack at all.
Oh, and the reason Ernest can kill with a touch? A side-effect of the time during the First World War when Death tried to claim him and he beat her off. Seriously.
It's backup strip time again here in ALF, with "Genesis", in which James and Heather Hudson track down Michael Twoyoungmen and Narya, apparently so Heather can follow the strange blonde woman as she walks around naked at night. But this nocturnal bout of peeping-Tom action takes a sinister turn when Narya transforms into an owl, leading to awkward questions the following day. Luckily, Shaman is forthcoming enough that James decides to hire him and his adopted daughter.
Thus is Alpha Flight born.
This issue picks up after several hours have elapsed, and continues late into the night.
Thursday 21st of July, 1983.
The Polish government ends 19 months of martial law.
"Ernest is dead, cheri. If this country had a nice civilised death penalty, you would join him." - Aurora
And just when you thought a comic couldn't piss you off any more than it's managed already...