Saturday, 22 December 2012
DAZ #31: "Tidal Wave!"
("Am I Still Ill?")
Well, this is an interesting one (with absolutely my favourite cover of any comic this blog as so far covered). I've been saying for a while now that Dazzler's "slice of life" aspects are what make the comic so interesting, and, despite it looking like the New York supporting cast have now been written out, this is pushed almost to the very limit here. By "almost" I mean that the book refrains from using Dazzler's powers in anything but the most minor ways until almost the very end, when it slips back into superheroine format and she gets to blow up a tidal wave. Still, at least when the giant wall of water shows up, it's a legitimate metaphor.
The basic plot of this issue involves Dazzler visiting a film set, meeting a stuntman there, and striking up a romance with him (not sure what's happened to Ken, but Alison has been living in California for a little while now; she's probably broken off their already rather wobbly relationship). Not the first time we've seen a variation on that plot, but then, fine, every romance is different. Especially this one, in the context of comics because, brilliantly, the man in question (Bill Remington) isn't a supervillain, or a superhero with enemies, or a spy or a genius being hunted by enemy agents, or anything like that. He's apparently one of the best stuntmen around, which certainly isn't nothing, but it's also not the kind of story seed you'd expect to see in a place like this (except for the action scenes it enables, about which I have as usual nothing to say).
No, what make Remington different from Ken or Angel or Dr Sexypants is that he's pretty clearly suffering from manic depression.
A brief personal side-note: I've been wrestling with depression and attendant panic attacks since I was twelve; due to what doctors have suggested (though has never been confirmed) is probably down to my brain not creating the right sorts of chemicals in the right amounts at the right time. I don't exactly refuse to talk about it - this is exactly the sort of thing that should be talked about more - but I'm a fairly private person and I wouldn't usually just drop it into a blog post, except I figured it was worth noting I might be bringing my own baggage to this take. Pinches of salt may be required.
That said, I'm certainly not entirely off-base here. Remington starts out as being a hyperactive motormouth with almost unbelievable self-confidence, polishing off an $800 000 stunt sequence and then cracking on to Dazzler like it's inconceivable she wouldn't like him. Not in a brash or arrogant way, really, just in a manner that makes it clear he thinks he's worth her time, and if she disagrees, he's not going to let it upset him. It's fun to watch (Shooter's script is once again fairly breezy), but it carries with it the faint trace of something underneath, which Alison seems to pick up on. Not object to, let's be clear, but there's something overwhelming in the speed of Remington's delivery. He's too hyperkinetically upbeat, firing out deliberately cheesy lines like a demented chain-gun.
Hell, he's so secure and confident and maxed out on his brain chemistry that even a near-fatal accident on set which involves him plunging head-first into a burning barn doesn't seem to phase him, so long as he gets to chat Alison up straight away afterwards. I think anyone with any experience with manic depression would be looking for the crash right now.
When it happens, it's in a really unfortunate place, and so needs to be picked apart carefully. Basically, Alison and Bill are on their second date, a candlelight dinner at her new apartment (owned by two rabid mutantphobes, which may or may not come up again later), and he crashes like hell because she doesn't want to get hot and heavy, what with having known him for precisely four days and two meals. Now, whilst I don't see any problem with Bill fessing up to what he's thinking about replacing the cheese course with, it's very tough to watch a guy who responds to getting knocked back (in a not remotely harsh way) by launching into what doesn't look functionally different from a petulant sulk. And here's the thing, if I'm wrong about my thirty-years-removed back-seat amateur-doctor diagnosis of Bill, then he's just a prick and I'm gonna look like I'm defending him. Hell, even if I'm right, there's a world of difference between understanding a reaction and considering that reaction even remotely acceptable.
But I get it. I've had romantic knock-backs (not, I hasten to add, by requesting sex too soon) whilst my depression has been particularly acute, and the weight that crashes down on you is so sudden and total that it's all you can do to continue speaking English and moving around at normal speed. I don't think I ever made my disappointment as obvious as Bill, or left the girl in question feeling quite so guilty over something that's entirely not her problem - I certainly hope I haven't - but I can't be sure. Objectivity as regards your own actions is difficult at the best of times. Add romance and it becomes close to impossible, and sticking mental illness on top of that? You may as well ask someone how long they think they can hold my breath for as a wave the size of Blenheim Palace is crashing over them. It's in your eyes, it's in your ears, and it's pulling you down.
Told you this ends on a metaphor.
Because shortly after Bill starts crashing (Alison persuades him to stick around and continue their sexless date) they discover that an incoming tsunami is headed straight for his house, and there's no chance whatsoever that the building will still be standing tomorrow. Bill heads over to his home, with Alison insisting on tagging along, but when they get there Bill doesn't want to save what he can of his things, he just wants to be left in peace to die in rush of saltwater and the wreckage of his life (he also wants to screw Alison whilst all that is going on, which is the only part of this issue that really seems out of place). To no-one's surprise, Alison declines to participate in this bonking-suicide pact, and flees the building. A few minutes later, Bill does the same, realising he's not ready to die after all.
Not knowing Bill has evacuated, Alison then doubles back, determined to get him out of harm's way, but when she can't find him, she concludes she has no choice but to use her powers to save the house, vaporising the wall of water as it heads towards her, and somehow doing so fast enough to keep Bill's house intact, though she very nearly drowns until Bill, who's also come back (to find Dazzler, natch), manages to resuscitate her.
We end with Bill admitting to himself and Alison that he's basically been sabotaging his own life for years; throwing himself into ever-more dangerous stunts, getting his sulk on over minor romantic hiccups, trying to drown himself in a wall of seawater (he's been self-medicating with booze, as well). Again, this is classically symptomatic of depression, and as Bill promises to find himself help and call Alison again once he's ready, let's finally embrace this reading completely. Consider what the ending here represents: a guy who keeps pushing women away in acts of self-sabotage, brought about suddenly by minor changes in what he sees as the natural flow of a situation, agrees to not just withdraw as he has done with others, and lets her accompany him into the central space in his life, the house that doubles as a representation of his character. As a result, she brings such light along with her that the massive wave that would otherwise crush his life and drown that character simply evaporates.
If I wanted to write a metaphor for the positive effects another person can bring into the life of someone suffering severe depression, I'm not sure I could come up with a more appropriate one.
A more subtle one, sure, but not more appropriate.
Gods, that was all a bit heavy going, wasn't it? I feel quite bad about that. So let's go out on something more cheerful, shall we? Waves can be fun!
This story takes place over four days. Dazzler's new landlady mentions the altercation with a giant purple lizard in a San Diego convention centre happened the day before the issue begins.
Sunday 31st of July to Wednesday 3rd of August, 1983.
X+5Y+104 to X+5Y+107.
American John Sain builds a 12' 10'' house of cards, which considering this issues interest in the structural strength of self-designed buildings strikes me as rather appropriate.
"I said okay, Bill!"
"But... I have a hundred and thirty-two more lines!"
(Of course, it turns out one of them is "What say we save the chit-chat for later and start talking some body language?", so maybe it's best he was stopped when he was.)