Tuesday, 25 December 2012
MSI #3: "Soulquest"
("It is unavoidable. It is your destiny.")
Now this is more like it.
As was fairly obvious at the end of last issue, issue #3 is indeed about Belasco getting his chance to influence Illyana. Fortunately, though, Claremont takes a different approach here which improves the narrative considerably. Instead of Illyana's increases in age taking place mid-panel, here the story picks up two years after MSI #2 ended. That's a much better way to mark the passage of time. It's particularly effective here, because whilst the last two major jumps forward in Illyana's personal timeline can be essentially boiled down to "meditative coma" and "being punched a lot", this latest two-year slice of our heroine's life has quite clearly been utterly horrific.
The basic idea here has been alluded to before, but Claremont finally hammers it home: Illyana is caught at the LaGrange point of three competing impulses: ambition, love, and fear. So far, so standard dramatic fare. What makes things more interesting here is how all three bleed into each other in Illyana's mind. She hates Belasco, so she must learn more of the black magic he offers so as to defeat him. She fears what Belasco wants from her, so she must defeat him. She loves Cat, so she fears what the feral remains of her former friend will do to her, knowing Illyana will not kill her. Which in turn makes her want to learn more from Belasco in order to keep herself safe.
This, I freely admit, is an excellent set-up. Illyana knows that she's being tempted by Belasco, and knows that part of her wants to accept, so she's completely unable to separate her desire for power from her desire to stop her monstrous host. When a spectral Ororo appears to speak to Illyana, the young girl blurts out her plan to defeat Belasco with his own magic, and Storm is horrified, seeing this as exactly the kind of endgame Belasco has in mind. Worse, by Illyana's own admission, there's reason to believe the Dark Gods actually prefer her to Belasco, which means that even if she succeeds in destroying her mentor, she may simply be catapulting herself into an eternity of servitude at the hands of his own masters (this is known in geek circles as "Returning the Jedi", or at least it should be).
In short, this is a tremendously interesting confluence of desires, which stands out in marked contrast to the overblown, objectionably simplistic rhetoric of the last two issues. It's also notable how well Claremont's shift in approach has aided the atmosphere the script invokes. The idea that Illyana has spent two years in a castle filled with demons, learning blasphemous sorcery from Belasco half the time and being chased by the carnivorous ruin of her former friend, aware that Belasco wouldn't even care if she was killed due to his ability to raise the dead, is genuinely chilling. Putting the time-jump into the gap allows us to imagine the horrors Illyana must have endured, which is vastly more effective than showing them, particularly given Claremont's habit of undercutting himself with leaden, ill-placed humour. There's also a scene in which Cat finally remembers Illyana just enough to be heartbroken when the young sorceress blasts her in self-defence that's honestly quite sad.
All this takes us to the mid-point of the issue, when events take a sudden turn: Illyana learns that she can control "stepping discs" that can teleport her from place to place. Given that this power manifests at the exact same point as she's lamenting her inability to find spells that can teleport from place to place, there are two ways to look at this. Either Illyana's power was always going to be teleportation, and this is the greatest coincidence Claremont managed in a writing career filled to the brim with them (though I suppose it might not have manifested until she really wanted it), or there's something more going on here, and something to do with being a mutant reaching puberty in Limbo has caused the normal rules of mutant biology to be rewritten somewhat. Personally, I'm entirely happy with the latter approach, but your mileage, as always, may vary.
Whichever way you want to go with it, though, Illyana summons a stepping disc, and jaunts herself out of the castle. Again, though, Limbo has rules all its own, and instead of merely changing location, Illyana manages to throw herself back in time as well. Briefly trapped in the past, she watches a younger Storm battling Belasco. With none of the accumulated weaknesses of advancing years to hold her back, Storm seemingly has no problem beating the lord of Limbo. Defeated and desperate, Belasco begs for mercy, only for Storm to kill him.
Here, alas, is where the false equivalency bullshit slams into us once again. Storm's reward for slaying Belasco is to be turned into a demon herself, because by not observing Queensbury rules and/or the Geneva Convention when fighting a demonic horror with the stated goal of destroying humanity itself, she has demonstrated that she is "no better than the creature she fought."
At least when the X-Men argue that slaying supervillains is morally problematic and may end up just leading to greater suffering, you can comprehend the point. The idea that you have to stop fighting an extra-dimensional embodiment of pure murderous evil whenever it asks you to is just unspeakably idiotic. The idea that choosing not to do it is as bad as choosing to murder billions of innocent lives for your own amusement is several orders of magnitude worse. I realise I keep banging on about this, but then this mini-series keeps bringing it up as well, and seems determined to present it in a more ridiculous fashion each time.
The one useful result of all this is that Illyana learns that Belasco is in fact immortal whilst in Limbo, so her earlier plan to spellcast him to death is worse than useless, since it'll irrevocably corrupt her soul in exchange for nothing. Ironically, once she returns to the present, she discovers that this is exactly what Storm is trying to do; she's attacked the castle and seems determined to give killing Belasco another go.
Illyana attempts to join the fight, hoping her stepping discs can be of use, but Cat jumps her before she can get her bearings. The resulting fight costs the erstwhile Kitty Pryde her life, which manages to be more affecting than I'd anticipated (this might have something do with Illyana's reaction, recognising the horror intellectually, but utterly unable to feel it on any emotional level. Sometimes there's nothing more painful than realising how many things can't cause us pain anymore).
Whilst our heroine is battling with the frozen remnants of her soul, Belasco has bested Storm. It seems he still bears a grudge over Ororo shaking off the demonic influence that dominated her after she thought him dead, and it's time for payback. More specifically, it's time for Illyana to demonstrate how far she's fallen by assisting her master in murdering her friend, the situation rendered with a total absence of subtlety on the front cover.
It's a good job villainous over-reach is so rare a problem, huh? I mean, what could possibly come next?
In conclusion,then, this issue manages to improve on its predecessors, but only by waiting until the halfway point to start sucking, rather than going for it from page one.
This issue is, like the previous two, a bit tricky to sort out. It's not clear why Storm, having resolved at the end of last issue to kill Cat and Illyana so as to save their souls, would wait two years to put her plan into action. On the other hand, there's no way to tell how much preparation she needs, and more to the point, no reason to believe time in Belasco's castle flows at the same speed as in Storm's garden.
Sunday 13th May, 1984.
Eeeeeurgh, I'm starting to run out of stuff for this. Um, it's Mother's Day all over the place? That'll have to do it.
"Ororo gives him the fate he deserves... Only to get the fate she deserves for his murder..."
Tonight on "Morality with Claremont", we explain how murdering a demon who deserves to be murdered means you deserve to become a demon who deserves to be murdered! Or something.