Monday, 30 December 2013

DAZ #37: Girl In The Machine


("What the hell is a 'bit rate', anyhow?")

Comments

It's probably really difficult to write fill-in issues of a well-established comic, even one so fractured as this one.  Sure, if you're lucky you get a decent brief outlining, or even capturing, the approach of the book.  Even then, though, you're essentially parachuting into unknown territory and hoping the map someone scrawled for you on a beer-soaked napkin will somehow have captured the local geography.

This is by way of saying that whilst "Girl in the Machine" is a mess, it's not clear how much of that we can fairly blame on Bob DeNatale. The issue's biggest problem is simply that there is nothing in the entire story that actually requires it be a tale told about Dazzler. Any superhero or superheroine who can defeat security cameras and walls would have essentially worked.  And yes, the villains here are Revenge Inc., who made their debut appearance in DAZ #34, but here they act as such generic malefactors (here they're hacking into computer systems to sabotage corporations, which I guess could be on the orders of those seeking revenge, but no illumination on the issue is given) that it hardly matters.  This is a superhero story written with hero and villain to simply be plugged in when necessary, and as such it is hobbled from the very start.

So far, as I say, it's not clear that this is something for which we can blame DeNatale for too much.  What we can savage him for is how exhaustingly ridiculous this plot is.  I mean, you come across a lot of nonsense when you dedicate a blog to (for now) Bronze Age comics, but this particular slice of narrative madness is in a class all of its own. Briefly, Dazzler is phoned by old friend Diana asking her to come visit, but when she arrives she discovers her friend has in fact been dead for six months (this is a great start, by the way, and is pissed away almost entirely almost immediately), or so insist the three faintly sinister men who have come to visit Diana's father. Confused by this turn of events, Alison decides to stick around long enough for one of the men, Peter, to show her a video game the family have had installed, wherein each player controls a hologram of a samurai (!) and tries to slaughter their opponent. Kind of like Soulcalibur II, only with technology far in advance of what exists in 2013.  Tragically, the machine goes haywire, and Dazzler heads off to find Diana's father. 

Instead, she stumbles onto Diana herself, who had faked her own death, and is now trapped inside a gigantic machine (!!), having been forced by Revenge Inc to hook her mind up to a computer so as to hack other computers, ultimately making her unable to live without being inside a computer herself (!!!).  Her plan is to get revenge upon Revenge Inc by inviting them to the house and then murdering them all with laser cannons hidden about the property, or through the use of hard-light hologram samurai when that doesn't work (!!!!).  Really, though, this is all just an elaborate way to trick the computer into letting herself commit suicide via the holograms (!!!!!) - which presumably the computer could switch off at any time - and she just wanted to say goodbye to her childhood friend one last time, whilst putting her in a house filled with desperate murderers and a computer willing to kill anyone who sees it rather than let its secret get loose.

Not only is it a plot that doesn't require Dazzler to be the heroine within it, then, it doesn't really require any heroine at all.  It's just an utterly standard revenge plot (with typical collateral damage; neither Diana nor her father surviving their attempt to massacre her former tormentors) spiced up with an astonishing ignorance of what private computers could possibly manage in 1985 - the year of Repton 2, for Pete's sake:

Don't even try the hard-light Repton 2:
those boulders really hurt when they crush you!
If anything demonstrates the fundamentally unsound nature of the plot, it's Peter, one of the three members of Revenge Inc.  He's simultaneously one of the moustache-twirling villains out for a quick buck, and the former lover of Diana horrified to find out what's become of her.  Which would actually be an entirely reasonable - even interesting - contradiction were he not one of the people who subjected her to the process in the first place.  The narrative can't decide whether he's a villain or a put-out ex-lover here, with the end result that he's the only person other than Alison to survive Diana's insanity, and then chooses not to kill the (unconscious) Dazzler because he's suddenly decided he's not a crook anymore.  The whole thing comes dangerously close to suggesting the person we should feel sorry for is the bloke who is no longer getting laid because he turned his girlfriend into a basket-case Amstrad, and who can be forgiven for wanting to get revenge on the girl who's taking revenge over having been used as an instrument of revenge (phew!) because the men who helped him abuse his girlfriend to the point of driving her to suicide also happened to totally be his mates.

In short, it's a terrible and rather insulting story crudely soldered onto a superhero tale, which is then crudely soldered into Dazzler's corner of the universe.  If you're the kind of person that gets a kick out of just how foreign a country the past of comic books can be sometimes, you might want to give this a whirl.  Everyone else: consider yourself warned.

Clues

This story takes place in approximately real time.  Alison gripes about missing Dynasty, which presumably makes this a Wednesday.

Donald - one of the Revenge Inc. goons - mentions the events of "Dazzler: The Movie" as having taken place some months ago, but that shouldn't bother us - it has indeed been months since Dazzler was outed, which is the important aspect of Donald's comments.

Date

Wednesday 10th October, 1984.

X-Date

X+6Y+222.

Contemporary Events

Blake and Jeff continue to search for Fallon while Dominique makes her singing debut at La Mirage.

Standout Line

"When the samurai succeeds in destroying the computer, I will perish with it!" - Diana.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

NMU #26: "Legion"


(Sins of the father)

Comments

Sigh.  OK.  I don't want this post to turn into another browbeating just after I took UXM to task for its problematic attitudes towards Native American characters, and after I've spent so much time slapping John Byrne around for the way he writes women.  For all that it's helped drag this blog out of the mire of bitchy summarising, there's a danger in approaching literally every issue from the perspective of finding ways it fails to live up to the attitudes of a progressive almost thirty years after publication.

So, with apologies to anyone in the audience who wants this topic to be covered in more detail (and really, I'm not sufficiently informed for that in any case), I'll just mention in passing that one does not become autistic following a trauma (no matter what Jenny McCarthy is telling people on television this week) and treating an autistic teenager as a puzzle to be solved - as someone in a dream who must be woken - strikes me as a very bad thing to do.

The autistic child in question is David Haller, known to all X-heads as Legion, a character with no small cultural cache in our world of merry mutants.  He's been revealed as Xavier's child, he kicked off the Age of Apocalypse by accidentally murdering his own father in the past, and has sustained his own title for almost two years (now sadly coming to an end) in the form of Si Spurrier's delightful X-Men: Legacy.  This degree of later work makes it difficult to view this issue, in which Legion first appears but not under that name, on its own terms.  There can hardly be anyone interested in this blog who doesn't already know David Haller suffers from multiple personalities, each one with their own power set.  What, then, are we to make of the book in which the first strands of this long-revealed mystery are woven together?

One option might be to bypass that mystery entirely, at least for the moment, and note a larger theme playing in the background here, that of the methods and mechanisms of looking after others.  We have in this issue David Haller, who has been denied all contact with his father by his mother, ostensibly because she feared what he might do with his psychic power. We've got Rahne Sinclair, an orphan raised by a lunatic Bible-thumper and struggling to believe her foster mother Moira MacTaggert can possibly love her.  And over in subplot corner, we've got Manuel de la Rocha, whose closest equivalent to parental authority is currently Emma Frost, who just put mental blocks in his mind to stop him accessing his mutant abilities (admittedly in response to him essentially gearing up to rape her, so there ain't much in the way of sympathy headed in his direction).  What all three share is an idea of the difficulties in raising children when the mutant question intrudes on proceedings.  Craig sees Rahne as nothing but a creature to point at as an example of demon-spawn. As a member of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost has no interest in De La Rocha beyond the power-play advantages she might gain from his horrifically invasive abilities.

Even the ostensibly heroic Xavier is riven by fears that his use of his powers may cause harm, and that his insistence he is doing the right thing is a claim also made by those he opposes.  Really, though, this isn't about psychic powers.  Reverend Craig has managed to do a supremely unpleasant number on Rahne entirely without supernatural abilities, and the Nazis who left so indelible a mark on Magneto (seen here suffering nightmares so extreme they induce sleep-flying, though at least he has Lee Forrester to look after him) were similarly unremarkable in their genetic make-up.  Every parent has super powers as far as their children are concerned.  Every adult oppressor is an unassailable villain to the children they hurt.

If we make the decision to ignore the naming of whatever post-traumatic response David is undergoing as "autism", then this story can be framed as one about how we might approach helping children who have suffered damage - and perhaps caused it; Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander are now in a coma and labs seem to explode every few hours on Muir Isle - without defining those children in terms of that damage.  In some sense Charles' self-diagnosed failure to avoid "taking advantage" of Gabrielle is symptomatic of another problem, the tendency to see a person as separate from their defining experiences.  The traumas of our pasts are not cankers to be removed.  They inform us too deeply for that. The aim should be to process and make peace with our demons.  If Charles had seen Gabrielle as a beautiful young woman who had survived the Holocaust, rather than a pretty puzzle box he could reward himself with once a solution presented itself, things might have gone very differently.

(It might also be helpful if he could actually listen to Gabrielle's viewpoint regarding their affair, rather than simply declaring it a mistake brought about by his own weakness.  There were two people in that tango, Charles. Blaming yourself entirely is just one more form of self-obsession.)

Whether Charles has learned his lesson is unclear. Perhaps he has not, and his eagerness to delve into the new puzzle of the comatose teenager is what has left him unable to draw the obvious conclusions about Gabrielle's strange attitude towards him. On the other hand, one has to admit the mystery itself is pretty interesting: why would an Israeli boy build a psionic wall around an Arab inside his own head?  That's a potential minefield from an allegorical perspective.  I can't remember if later issues follow through on that, but it's an intriguing premise.

And at the end of the day, all this issue needed was an intriguing premise (although it turns out it also has both the first appearance of Legion and Jamie Madrox's debut in the X-books (thanks to wwk5d for the correction)). It's up to later issues to deliver on the promise.  For now a young boy giggles insanely as his hands burn, rooms explode, and people collapse insensible to the floor, and the grainy image of an Arabian boy screams in silence as he floats from room to room.  Long might the shadow of Legion be (it's the hair), but that should be enough for anyone to be going on with.

Clues

This story takes place over two days.  We could place it directly after the events of UXM #193, but Xavier seems noticeably less fragile than he was in that issue, so we'll move events forwards a week.

Date

Saturday 22nd to Sunday 23rd December, 1984

X-Date

X+6Y+295 to X+6Y+296.

Contemporary Events

Dom Mintoff resigns as Prime Minister of Malta amongst political turmoil and violence.

Standout Line

"Self will visit you from time to time, if you like... so you will not be lonely." - Warlock

There's just something so cute about Warlock trying to make sure the Blackbird is happy doing its job.  I do hope he isn't too distressed when it inevitably explodes in a few issues' time.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Timeline: 1984 (Take 4)

January

2nd   NMU #14: Do You Believe in Magik?
3rd   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
4th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
5th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
6th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
7th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
8th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
9th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
10th UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
10th SWA #1: The War Begins!
10th SWA #2: Prisoners of War
11th  NMU #15: Scaredy Cat!
11th  SWA #3: Tempest Without, Crisis Within!
11th  NMU #16: Away Game!
11th  SWA #4: Situation: Hopeless!
11th  NMU #17: Getaway!
11th  SWA #5: The Battle of Four Armies!
11th  SWA #6: A Little Death...
12th  NMU #17: Getaway!
12th  SWA #7: Beserker!
12th  SWA #8: Invasion!
12th  SWA #9: Assault on Galactus!
12th  SWA #10: Death to the Beyonder
12th  SWA #11: ...And Dust to Dust!
13th  NMU #17: Getaway!
13th  SWA #12: ...Nothing to Fear...
14th  NMU #17: Getaway!
15th  NMU #17: Getaway!
16th  NMU #17: Getaway!
17th  NMU #17: Getaway!
18th  UXM #181: Tokyo Story
21st  UXM #182: Madness
22nd NMU #18: Death-Hunt
23rd  NMU #18: Death-Hunt
23rd  NMU #19: Siege
24th  NMU #19: Siege
28th  UXM #183: He'll Never Make me Cry
30th  UXM #184: The Past... of Future Days
 
February

3rd   KPW #1: Lies
4th   KPW #1: Lies
5th   KPW #1: Lies
6th   KPW #2: Terror
6th   KPW #3: Death
13th KPW #4: Rebirth
14th KPW #4: Rebirth
15th KPW #4: Rebirth
16th KPW #4: Rebirth
17th KPW #4: Rebirth
18th KPW #4: Rebirth
19th KPW #4: Rebirth
20th KPW #4: Rebirth
21st KPW #4: Rebirth
22nd KPW #4: Rebirth
23rd KPW #4: Rebirth
24th KPW #4: Rebirth
25th KPW #4: Rebirth
26th KPW #4: Rebirth
27th KPW #4: Rebirth
28th KPW #4: Rebirth
29th ALF #11: Set-Up
29th DAZ #33: Chiller!
29th KPW #4: Rebirth

March

1st  DAZ #33: Chiller!
1st  ALF #11: Set-Up
1st  KPW #4: Rebirth
2nd DAZ #33: Chiller!
2nd ALF #11: Set-Up
2nd ALF #12: ...And One Shall Surely Die
2nd  KPW #4: Rebirth
4th   KPW #5: Courage
4th   KPW #6: Honor
5th   KPW #6: Honor
29th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
30th UXM #185: Public Enemy!
30th NMU #21: Slumber Party!
30th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
31st MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie

April

(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)
 
1st  UXM #186: Lifedeath
1st  UXM #187: Wraithkill!
1st  UXM #188: Legacy of the Lost
2nd UXM #188: Legacy of the Lost
7th  ALF #15: First Date
13th ALF #14: Biology Class
13th ALF #16: ...And Forsaking All Others...
14th ALF #16:  ...And Forsaking All Others...
14th ALF #17: ...Dreams Die Hard
15th ALF #17: Dreams Die Hard
15th ALF #15: First Date
15th ALF #18: How Long Will A Man Lie In The Ground 'Ere He Rot
15th ALF #19: Turn Again, Turn Again, Time In Thy Flight
18th ALF #20: Gold and Love Affairs!
19th ALF #20: Gold and Love Affairs!
19th ALF #21: ...Love Wraught New Alchemy...

May

(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)

3rd UXM #189: Two Girls Out to Have Fun!
3rd UXM #191: Raiders of the Lost Temple!
4th UXM #190: An Age Undreamed of
4th UXM #191: Raiders of the Lost Temple!
4th UXM #192: Fun 'n' Games!

June 

(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)

2nd  NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
3rd   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
4th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
5th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
6th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
7th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
8th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
9th   NMU #23: Shadowman
11th NMU #23: Shadowman
12th NMU #23: Shadowman
12th NMU #24: The Hollow Heart
12th NMU #25: The Only Thing to Fear...

July

(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)

August

(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)

September

1st  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
2nd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
3rd  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
4th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
5th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
6th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
7th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
8th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
9th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
10th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
11th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
12th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
13th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
14th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
15th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
16th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
17th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
18th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
19th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
20th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
21st MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
22nd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
23rd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
24th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
25th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
26th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
27th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
28th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
29th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
30th ICE #1: The Fuse!

October

3rd   DAZ #35: Brawl!
4th    DAZ #35: Brawl!
5th    DAZ #36: The Human Touch!
6th    DAZ #36: The Human Touch!
7th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
8th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
9th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
10th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
11th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
12th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
13th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
14th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
15th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
16th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
17th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
18th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
19th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
20th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
21st  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
22nd BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
23rd BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
24th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
25th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
26th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
27th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
28th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
29th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
30th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
31th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel

November

1st    BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
2nd   BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
3rd   BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
4t     BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
11th  BAB #3: Showtime

December

14th UXM #192: Fun 'n' Games!
15th UXM #193: Warhunt 2
16th UXM #193: Warhunt 2

Saturday, 21 December 2013

UXM #193: "Warhunt 2"


(Sitting Bullshit)

Comments

The one hundred issue since the relaunch of Uncanny X-Men is a good excuse for a trip down memory lane. The important question, of course, is where exactly we should have that lane take us?

"Warhunt 2" is, quite obviously, a sequel to the original "Warhunt", the second part of the first new story to be told in (the then adjectiveless) X-Men when it returned from cancellation. Few people reading this will need to be reminded that though that the two-part tale beginning with "The Doomsmith Scenario" and ending with "Warhunt" was not the first new X-Men tale to be told following the title's premature death in 1970, that being, of course, "Second Genesis".  Here, we return to Cheyenne Mountain as the X-Men try to free their kidnapped ally Banshee, which necessitates them going up against the US military as a subset of the Hellions try to make things difficult for them.

It's worth taking a moment to try and figure out what made Claremont decide to return to Cheyenne Mountain, as oppose to Krakoa, the Living Island.  The obvious answer - Krakoa was hurled into space at the end of Giant-Size X-Men #1 - we can leave aside; we can be reasonably certain Claremont didn't plump for a return to UXM #94-95 because he simply couldn't conceive of a way to have Krakoa return.  Rather, there must be some quality about "Doomsmith.../Warhunt" that seemed like a good choice for a second look.

I'm being purposefully dense here, of course, because it's entirely and in all ways obvious what that quality is: the death of Thunderbird.  Which, yes, can be argued to have an important status, insofar as it's the first occasion when a serving member of the X-Men was killed "in plain sight" (the death of Changeling being a retcon in order to undo Xavier's "death" in the '60s).  The problem though is that "First Dead X-Man (Anyone Remembers)" works as a one-line summary of issues #94-95, but the actual books themselves utterly bungled John Proudstar's last mission. The story was too ridiculous (Count Nefaria and his "Ani-Men"? Really?) to hang a death upon it, it was far too soon after Thunderbird's debut for it to have any real heft (I have no patience for writers who believe they're showing "anything can happen" by killing characters no-one has had time to invest in anyway), and his actual death occurred essentially because he was stupid enough to refuse to get off a plane as it was taking off, all to stop a supervillain who authorial fiat resurrected soon enough afterwards anyway.

None of that was the biggest problem, however. What truly rankles is the that three issues after the new international team of X-Men was forged, one of the three non-white characters has quit and a second has been pointlessly slain.  This last problem looms so large that it haunts the narrative here as well, as John Proudstar's younger brother James decides, some ten months after we introduced in New Mutants #16, to take revenge upon Xavier and the X-Men for the death of his brother.

On the one hand, this is one of the most standard comic plotlines imaginable: heroes are unfairly blamed for tragedy by someone who is therefore determined to see them dead. Fine.  Except that there are cultural issues bound up in this particular iteration that make it more than just a cliche. When John Proudstar spent so much of the little time we knew him forever bitching about the white man, it seemed a little one-note, but there was something to be said for a character so utterly unwilling to let his white comrades forget what centuries of imperialism had gotten them, and what it had cost him.

In contrast, here we have a story in which a bloodthirsty Native American tries to take revenge on a bunch of white people who don't really deserve his wrath, and who are ultimately not only able to talk him out of his violent ways, but persuade him that the white man's method of no longer needing to fight his competition - having already won all the battles that could possibly matter - is the truly enlightened path.

Obviously, this is better than just killing the misguided native and having a good old cry about the tragedy of a life lost because he couldn't tell the difference between those directly responsible for his people's plight and those who are merely beneficiaries of that plight too wrapped up in their own problems to be bothered about that fact. But better does not mean good.  The stink of whitesplaining is simply too strong here. Where does Xavier get off telling Apaches what does or doesn't constitute behaviour which is becoming of their tribe?  I suppose one could try and argue that this is a character fault of Xavier's rather than a structural problem - it's interesting that just a few pages after talking Proudstar down, he's assuming the moral right to decide who should and shouldn't be turned over to the authorities for kidnapping, assault, and breaking into a military facility - but you can tell when a narrative is backing up the positions of its heroes, and this is one of those times.

This being a Claremont joint, of course, there's also some irons in the fire here for future use.  The reappearance of the Morlocks here seems to be set-up for the upcoming Mutant Massacre - Callisto mentioning her collection of subterranean misfits has a exit point near Xavier's mansion seems particularly unsubtle in this regard. Usually I'm all for the Morlocks making an appearance - it's always nice to call the X-Men out for being rich, beautiful people in an almost impregnable fortress who keep insisting mutants shouldn't ever fight back against oppression - but here it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  I mean, the implied image of someone strapping the unconscious Xavier into bondage gear is something I could have done without (for some reason I can't get past the question of who had to put the fingerless gloves and studded armbands on him), but the real problem is the (off-screen) murder of four Morlock children so as to set up a later plotline for Power Pack.

Claremont has become in recent months more and more willing to slaughter characters in order to raise the stakes - see the Dire Wraiths, for example, or Magus - but the idea of killing four children who are nominally under the protection of Storm (currently travelling by boat back to Africa and haunted by visions of glowing mountains and her dead mother) to make an upcoming plot more vital than it might otherwise have been strikes me as shockingly wrongheaded, particularly since the only time we see Callisto here after she and Xavier are informed of the multiple murder is whilst the other X-Men are giggling when he arrives in such strange clothes. Way to make death look like nothing, Chris. The long slide into the moral bankruptcy of the 1990s has already begun, it seems.

Lastly, there's some work going on here setting things up for the showdown with Nimrod. Rachel spends most of this issue essentially useless, unwilling to track her friends because it reminds her of her time as a Hound (this is entirely tiresome, actually; Logan's reference to the Holocaust notwithstanding, I'm just not seeing how surviving being forced to use one's skills for evil should make you unable to use them for good - perhaps though I'm just missing an actual real world analogue). Meanwhile, Nimrod himself/itself scans the radio waves after being invited to stay with Jaime Rodriguez, whom he saved from a mugger a few issues earlier.  Now, I'm all for gratitude, and for treating people with respect even though they're different from you, but I can't believe Nimrod's disguise:


isn't causing more of a fuss than it is.  Looking at those panels keeps reminding me of Operation: Zero Tolerance, where everyone was taking orders from a guy who claimed to be a human who hated mutants and no-one thought to point out his skin was bright cameo pink.


Which yes, as it turns out, is almost certainly a clue/in-joke. It still looks stupid.

 Clues

This story begins the day following the attack of Xavier.  It's hard to tell if it all takes place over a single day.  It reads to me like the main story does, and the epilogue featuring Nimrod takes place a day later, so that's what we'll go with.

We're still in the period before Christmas (assuming Banshee hasn't bought his present for Moira horribly late). Also, it's mentioned that the New Mutants' trip to a Dyson Sphere in their first annual took place "last summer".  We have it instead in mid-spring, but there's no problem with rearranging the NMU timeline a little, since it's already been broken by events in Kitty Pryde & Wolverine.

Date

Saturday 15th to Sunday 16th December, 1984

X-Date

X+6Y+288 to X+6Y+289.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.19 standard years.

(Beast is 33 years old)


Contemporary Events

Nine months into the UK coal miner's strike of 1984-85, and Arthur Scargill is fined £250 after being found guilty of two charges of obstruction during a picket at Orgreave Coal Works near Sheffield. I mention this because it happened to show up when I was looking up 14th December 1984, not because I'm mad or Tory enough to think the biggest story behind the Miner's Strike was the fact Scargill got prosecuted during it. I've visited and taught in enough former pit towns to know what really mattered, but simply writing "Margaret Thatcher was an arsehole" on every blog post until the "Marvel years" count reaches the nineties would simply be too depressing.

Standout Line

"Sean Cassidy's thoughts are on the stitch in his right side, and the bitter cold pre-dawn air slicing deep into his lungs, and the look on his lady love's face when she sees her Christmas present. He circles the island every morning, a ten-mile run, and today he's making superb time, possibly his personal best.

He's tired, but he feels like he can go on forever. In all his rough and tough, helter-skelter life, he's never been happier, or more at peace with his past.

So of course, he gets nailed."

Sunday, 15 December 2013

BAB #3: "Showtime"


("Wherefore art thou blue and hairy, and not at all my type?")

Comments

Ugh. Iceman might have exploded into delirious wonder this month, but Beauty and the Beast is becoming ever more of a slog.

The main problem here is that neither Alison's romance with Hank nor her refusal to leave the underground theatre make so much as a scrap of sense. Given Dazzler's much remarked upon hotness I can buy he's managed to mistake this brief encounter for a profound emotional connection, but Dazzler up to this point has been defined by her shallowness and self-absorption. Indeed, plenty of previous stories have centred on her struggle to overcome her own selfishness and love of bling to do the right thing.  Given this, her romance with Beast needs to be sold, and Nocenti doesn't even come close.  Frankly, it's hard to escape the feeling we're supposed to buy the attraction simply because they're both mutants, and one doesn't have to think hard to see why that's problematic if we're to view mutantism as an analogy for actual minorities (see how much fuss was kicked off when Russell T Davies married off his apparently utterly unsuited black characters together in The End of Time, for example).

This isn't an unqualified failure, to be sure.  There's a scene here where Beast and Dazzler are harassed for the crime of holding hands on the beach that resonates very well with the more general metaphor, especially the enraging, deliberate, sneering, giggling ignorance which they have to deal with.  Even so, it all just feels too artificial; too much like telling us the pair are in love rather than working to demonstrate it.

If they were having fun together, perhaps it would be easier to swallow. But really all the pair do is fight about Alison's devotion to the club.  There's lots of mooning and "why can't he/she just see"-style dialogue, and nothing else. Sure, for two people in a steady relationship the sudden arrival of a major disagreement like this is unquestionably fertile ground for drama. For two people who've been dating - at most - for a week or two, it just seems like a good reason to call it a day.

Instead, they continue to bicker, which is pretty much all they were doing last issue as well, which makes the whole thing feel more than a little repetitive (there's little reason why this couldn't have been just three issues long). Actually, though, it's worse than that, since the second time around Dazzler looks even more idiotic. Last time she was there, someone tried to kill her on-stage, and someone died. Even if it was remotely plausible that this represented someone going off-piste and a tragic accident, respectively, as Flynn and Longride claim, would you really want to hang around at a place who happily hires psychopaths and hands them medieval weaponry? Imagine handling professional wrestlers morning stars and tell me rookies wouldn't run for the hills.

Nocenti tries to explain all this by playing up Dazzler's delight in finding people who can finally accept her, but this ignores the fact that she's already been to Heartbreak Hotel, which is not only frequented by the man she has somehow decided she loves, but which sports not one single instrument of death or hand-to-hand exhibition for braying rich fatsos (they even send out a rescue mission for Dazzler this issue).  With that set aside, there's only two explanations left with her obsession.  The first is her losing control of her powers, a problem which lessens each time she's there (because, it turns out, Flynn has been drugging her).  That seems like comparative weak-sauce as a motivation - or more to the point, it would only work if Dazzler were there under sufferance rather than admiring the scars of her new co-workers - but it's much better than the alternative, which is that Alison is doing this entirely to step out once more into the spotlight.

Don't get me wrong. I'd have no problem in the slightest with a story in which Dazzler utterly abandons her principles, friends, and sense of self-preservation for another moment in the limelight. Were this to be attempted, though, it would need to be sold (you may be sensing a theme here), by which I mean it has to be a theme, not a shortcut to justify nonsense. This is hardly a problem that originated with Nocenti, but once again we're in a situation where our heroine is unbearable but we're still expected to empathise with her.

It's a good thing that we have an alternative protagonist here, then. Or at least it would be, were Hank not once again so horrifically off-model.  The man doesn't use the word "sicko". He most certainly doesn't grab a women and angrily scrawl "warpaint" on her face with lipstick, an act which manages to be both thoughtlessly racist and pretty much count as domestic abuse.  I know I keep saying this, but there's just nothing of "my" beast here. Nocenti seems convinced that intellect is something one simply turns on when in a laboratory, with no qualities that seep into one's general persona.

So there's simply nothing here to hold onto.  It's just two people somewhere between being at their worst and being utterly unrecognisable scowling at each other. In the second half of the book, there is some attempt to explain this when Hank learns the club has been drugging Alison, not only causing her powers to go haywire when she leaves, but interacting with her adrenaline in a manner not explained, but which presumably is stimulating her blood-lust.

This raises an interesting question, which we'll face an awful lot in our tour of the X-Universe. When does being hepped up on goofballs justify ludicrous behaviour? Does the revelation that Dazzler is drugged require me to forgive the ridiculous nature of everything that has happened up to that point?

This is a fundamentally subjective consideration, obviously. For my money, "she was drugged all along" is a perfectly reasonable manoeuvre to pull as a piece of a larger puzzle. Using it as a crutch for lazy plotting? Not so much. Reasonable people can disagree on which side of the fence this issue lies; I think I've made my position pretty clear.

When Beast finds the secret lab in the theatre, he's captured and injected with some kind of bezerker serum.  Tonight, the battle is between Beauty and the Beast.  Which, as much as I love that film, could quite possibly have been improved by giving Belle access to laser powers. The resulting battle comes close to a fatality, but in the end Beast manages to overcome his drugging, and talk Dazzler out of hers (which, if nothing else, is a nice change from women acting as the conscience for raging, testosterone-crazed men; credit where it's due). Unfortunately for the proprietors, someone has to die, otherwise the murder-hungry one percenters out there will want their blood money back.

Which is where everything finally goes crazy. Flynn makes a power play by feeding Longride to his gladiators to meet his contractual obligations. That much makes sense. But then we smash-cut to Doctor Doom in Latveria, where a sweating flunky tells him the man who claimed to be his son is no longer transmitting. In response, Doom demands intel on our star-struck lovers whilst he prepares for a flight to Hollywood.

So, what? Longride was a Doombot? Why was he in the USA, or in the entertainment biz? What's all this about him claiming to be Doom's son? Is there any chance that this can blend in with what's already going on?

I don't know.  But at least it looks like we'll be spared another issue of Hank and Alison sniping at each other over the definition of gainful employment.  At this point, that's good enough for me.

Clues

This story takes place in a single day.  It's mentioned that Dazzler's inaugural bout in the arena took place "last week". Since we have that altercation on a Saturday, this story could pretty much happen any time between the following Monday and a week later. Let's assume for now that the arena bouts are a standard weekly fixture, though. This gives our heroes another week to spend convincing each other they're in love, rather than just enjoying bouts of necking in-between arguments.

Date

Saturday 11th November, 1984.

X-Date

X+6Y+255.

Contemporary Events

Robin Uthappa, an Indian cricket player nicknamed "The Walking Assassin" is born. Check out the 2007 T20 World Cup for his career highlight. Apparently; I'm not an expert.  I'm not interested in any cricket match where I can't forget it's on for two days and still not miss any of the important bits.

Standout Line

"Hey guys, look! It's the "Sizzler"... And she's taking Rin Tin Tin for a walk. Hey, babe, at least put it on a leash!" - Bigot #1

Ah, witty bigots. If only they could bend some of that imagination into thinking up ways not to be dickheads, maybe this world wouldn't be the disgraceful nightmare it so clearly is.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

ICE #3: "Quicksand!"


(Sweet Oblivion.)

Comments

Well, this is a pleasant surprise.  Based on the previous two issues, I wasn't expecting much here other than another twenty-three pages of wacky irrelevance. Instead, what we have here is a good deal more interesting.

Last time round, if you remember, Bobby Drake had accidentally travelled back in time to visit his parents, only for his father to be killed in a cape-fight between himself and Kali, an assassin tracking the original owner of Bobby's purloined time-machine.  Unsurprisingly, such meddling with the space-time continuum quickly resulted in Bobby being erased from existence.

This turns out to be a more involved process than one might think.  Rather than simply crossing over from "being" to "not being" without hassle, Bobby finds himself trapped in some kind of void, filled with memories from his past.  Except there not actually memories.  Beast never said "Exigency! Parabolic! Impecunious!", nor did Jean sing "By the time I get to...  Phoenix...". Darkstar never called him a "capitalist pig" and "money-loving exploiter of the masses".  This is Bobby's past seen through the lenses of his own immaturity.

But the void doesn't just reflect that attitude. It explains it, boiling down Bobby's young life into a series of situations into which he was unwillingly thrust and which he finds impossible to process. Take mutant rights, for example, which here is simplified to Xavier being shot by mutant haters as Bobby tries to give him a piggy-back to Westchester. "Who would shoot a nice bald cripple like you?" he asks, almost like a child, as Xavier falls.  His initial discovery of his mutant powers is shown here literally killing his mother, though his father responds that she won't get really upset unless he fails to become an accountant.

These are pressures with which Bobby simply cannot cope.  Even his own self-pity makes things worse; he can no more face up to the power of his own unhappiness than he can the expectations of others.  In the end, all he can do is hope for oblivion.

This is all presented in five pages of jokes and "guest appearances" (after shouting at Byrne last time for misleading covers, I should really take DeMatteis to task here too; a vision of a character is not an appearance by that character, except maybe if that character is the Vision), which are both fast paced and frequently very funny. The comic plays with structure here as well; the initial crash-landing of Bobby into the void is accompanied by widening panels as he approaches the "ground", the symmetric layout of every subsequent page breaks down at the exact same moment he does. It's all very clever.

So where is Bobby? Well, it turns out he got what he wanted.  This is oblivion, helpfully ruled over by a being calling himself Oblivion, kind of what one of the Endless might have been if Stan Lee had been in charge of designing them.  Oblivion mentions others like him; Death, Joy, Eternity. Presumably Drake escaped the clutches of Death by being written out of life rather than having life end.  Whether or not this is preferable is not yet clear.

Still, it seems Oblivion has plenty going for him.  Access to Bobby's not-quite past, for example.  For every event that happens there are an infinite number of events that could have happened but didn't, and are cast into oblivion.  Does Death get the past that actually took place?  Is there a difference between things gone that once were, and things gone that could have been but weren't?  Oblivion isn't saying. He has a mission for Drake.

It might seem a terrible coincidence for a man so willing to entertain the idea of non-existence has arrived at Oblivion's door.  Greater coincidences have been trotted out across Marvel history than this, of course.  But perhaps there is more to it than that. Perhaps Iceman, subconsciously seeking a way out of his life, didn't protect his father as well as he otherwise might. Perhaps Oblivion's daughter placed herself next to the Drakes precisely because she recognised in them a spark of herself.

You read that right. Oblivion has himself a daughter named Mirage; a piece of himself he gave independence to so as to have more than puppets and the disappeared to engage with. But, as with women and apples, Oblivion has learned to his cost that granting free will to someone you then insist follows your instructions isn't a tactic with a long-term success rate.  Now Oblivion wants her back before she gets powerful enough to overthrow him, and he needs Bobby to do it. If he fails Oblivion runs him out completely, but should he succeed, Oblivion will untangle the recent causality snafu and return his father to this mortal coil.  I'm not entirely sure how that's in Oblivion's jurisdiction, but I'm new to this game.

Either way, the irony here is delicious. Bobby craves oblivion as an escape from his unmanageable life, and all oblivion has to offer is more work.

All of this set-up is quite wonderful.  Alas, the payoff is less interesting. Oblivion sends Bobby from his reality to Mirage's so he can confront her.  There's some potentially interesting morality at play here: should someone give up their freedom in return for the life of someone she's never met or claimed any responsibility for but who is nevertheless dead because of her carelessness? Unfortunately, we skip all that in favour of Mirage freaking out and trying to kill Bobby. I suppose it's hardly surprising she would turn out to be as clearly batshit as her old man, but it does mean the second half of this issue amounts to a fairly standard dose of comic book hyperbole and beat-downs, which is a bit of a shame considering how strongly things started.

We end here with Mirage coming within inches of killing Iceman, but deciding ultimately that her father is the one she has to deal with if she wants her freedon permanently.  So she zaps herself with Bobby in tow back to her home dimension, only to discover this was what Oblivion had been waiting for all along...

Clues

It's hard to say when this adventure takes place, since we have no idea of when in time Iceman actually is when he confronts Mirage.

Date

Unknown

X-Date

X + Unknown

Contemporary Events

Singing and murder and fucking and food, I've no doubt.

Standout Line

"I forgot how dangerous self-pity can be! I'm drowning in my own tears!"

Thursday, 5 December 2013

ALF #21: "...Love Wrought New Alchemy..."



(Actually, it should probably be "don't's".)

Comments

(We're skipping NMU #26 for now, since it explicitly takes place after UXM # 193).

Good morning class. Please take your coats off and sit down. Shooter! Stop flipping off your classmates, you need to learn how to get along. Straczynski; you shouldn't even be in this class, so hop it.

Today we'll be - put those toys away, Mantlo - today we'll be having another lesson on the dos and don'ts of comics.  Once again, we'll be using Byrne's homework as a test case. Don't start sniffling, Byrne!  If you didn't want a bit of constructive criticism you shouldn't have turned in a confused sexist mess every week last term.

Headmaster Lee mentioned at briefing that he'd like us to practice the "praise sandwich" method when critiquing our students' work, but that would ruin the structure of my comments, and that I shall not abide!

Ahem.

Don't structure an issue of a comic so that a villain explaining their origins and plan takes up more space than the villain being defeated by your heroes. If you spend nine pages on a flashback to explain how your villain has lived for centuries through their insane experiments, don't spend four pages from the moment your hero meets her to her abject defeat.

And on the subject of flashbacks, young Byrne:

Don't slap your heroes on the cover fighting a villain who only appears in flashback. If your story isn't interesting enough to find a scene to advertise it fairly, then rewrite your story.

On the other hand, do try pulling some artistic flourishes in your flashback scenes.  Sepia-toned images? Lovely. Never showing Gilded Lily's face after her 1875 car accident so as to leave it ambiguous when things went south for her?  Very nice.

Which reminds me:

Do just suddenly have a character revealed to not be a human but a decapitated emaciated face and lungs atop a robot with wheels.  That's just so gloriously insane it gives me shivers. I don't know if Diablo built her or if she's been replacing pieces of herself for the last century, but then that's what's so great about it.

But don't have her defeated instantly by removing her mask.  See earlier comments. If you have to choose between cutting short the climactic throw-down between hero and villain and truncating the tale of a villain we've never seen or heard of before and who you're going to kill off, for God's sake choose the Tale of How I Went Mad and Murderous. Also, don't take your heroines mental troubles - which you're already on thin ice about, Byrne; we've talked about this before - and use it as an excuse as for why she's suddenly completely helpless and needs her boyfriend to effortlessly rescue her.  This is a modern classroom, Byrne, and I expect contemporary attitudes! Even though I refer to you all by your surnames!

(Oh, and don't give her a terrible approximation at a phonetic stereotype of a French person massacring English.  You'll give Claremont ideas.)

For the love of God, Byrne, don't use nine pages for your first flashback and then take up another page so as to explain what happened last issue. After spending almost half the issue explaining how Gilded Lily got and used her powers, we hardly need it explained what happened to Sasquatch.  Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, don't stick in a page about Snowbird feeling ill.  You've already compromised your structure all to pot. No sense making a bad situation worse, for all that you seem determined to make that your motif.

Right.  That about does it for Mr Byrne.  No sense sulking, young man. If you wanted to avoid these sessions, you should just stop writing sexist stupidly-paced nonsense.  Let's move on to our next subject: uses and misuses of the splash page. Oh stop smirking, Land!

Clues

This story takes place in approximately real time.

Date

Thursday 19th April, 1984.

X-Date

X+6Y+49.

Contemporary Events

Daniel Whitmire and Albert Jackson publish their theory of "Nemesis the Death Star", which according to them orbits the Sun at a range of tens of thousands of AU, entering the Oort cloud once every 26 million years and sending a wave of comets into the solar system to create all sorts of unpleasantness.

No proof of the existence of Nemesis has ever been found, which makes the whole idea delightfully wacky and unhinged.  One wonders Stargate's Daniel Jackson was named in honour of these two astronomical pioneers of weird.

Standout Line

You need the panels for this one, really.


Such horrible, sad last words. Chilling.

(On the other hand, having her death destroy both her lab of unnerving delights and the strange house around her just feels like lazy end-tying.)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

UXM Annual #8: "The Adventures Of Lockheed The Space Dragon And His Pet Girl Kitty"


(Jerkanory)

Comments

Now that Kitty and Logan are back in circulation, we can finally double back and tackle this annual from 1984.

As far as I'm concerned, this annual really doesn't work. Like, at all.  Of course, that immediately raises an obvious question: what exactly does a workable annual look like?  What, in the end, are annuals actually for?

Spoilers: I've never been able to work that out.  Annuals, to me, exist in some some strange limbo, torn between two competing aims. You want an annual to be an event, so that you can persuade more people than obsessive completists to part with their money, but you don't want to make that event too vital to the parent book, otherwise you risk infuriating regular readers who didn't shell out (though of course trying this can increase sales, so Marvel isn't above giving this a try from time to time; see Transformers annuals, my young life ruined by missing).

One way to get out of this bind is to try a story that's of particular note because of it's approach, rather than it's plot.  Interesting artistic visions, uncharacteristic focuses, that sort of thing.  Claremont seemed entirely cognisant of this fact, judging from his previous efforts.  Interstellar hi-jinks, gothic horror, visits to Dante's vision of hell - these are all departures from the norm, albeit not ones that only exist in annuals (see the Brood Saga, for instance).  There's also a sense of playfulness that often creeps in; again, this is hardly unheard of in UXM proper, but the temporary cessation (or at least downplaying) of the various melodramatic plot threads perhaps gives the whimsy more chance to shine through.

This approach was ramped up considerably in UXM Annual #7, in which the X-Men chased a playful alien across the world (and through Marvel's main office) in what proved to be an interstellar scavenger hunt.  Here, further notches are cranked up as Illyana regales her friends with a tale from her own imagination.  The central problem here - along with the fact that this is an idea re-heated from UXM #153, which was also rubbish but at least had bamfs in it - is that one can only dial up the whimsy so much that any claim to being an "event" of any kind is thoroughly defenestrated.  Does anyone really need forty pages based around a young girl telling a fluffy story?

Well, obviously, it depends on the story.  Fairytales, even those set in space, shouldn't be casually discarded.  But Claremont just simply isn't any good at them.  He can ape structure (here Kitty goes on a quest to find the woman who killed her parents, which is nothing if not a tried and tested foundation), but his attempts to layer that structure with the kind of imagery and dream-logic that clothe the best fairy tales come to absolutely nothing.  Too much effort goes into working "real" people into the storyline so that Claremont can imagine them in different settings - Illyana is an AI, Storm a hotshot pilot, the White Queen a murderous space buccaneer - for anything interesting to actually get done.

OK, that's not 100% fair.  There is something going on here, namely Illyana attempting to send messages to Piotr and Kitty (and possibly Ororo) through the story.  It's not just a sci-fi tale - a dull and silly one at that; ultra-ice? Flying through black holes? - it's a metaphor for recent developments in the comic.  Which, fine, except that a) said metaphors are bulldozer unsubtle, and b) where the fuck does Illyana get off trying to give advice to specific people in front of the entirety of the New Mutants and the X-Men?  Trying to give Storm a lesson on the importance of not giving up?  I mean, sure, that has a nice resonance considering what Magik went through with a much older Storm in her miniseries earlier that (publishing) year, but even so.  Way for the able-bodied white kid to tell the crippled black woman how she should be processing her feelings.

(I should note here in the interest of fairness that it's not clear Illyana is doing this intentionally.  She might just have worked Storm's condition into the story without thinking about the effects.  That makes things better, admittedly, but it doesn't solve the problem by any means.  You think Storm wants to be reminded of what's happened and how terribly it's affected her?  For that matter, you think Charles is happy to be reminded he could have ruled a galactic empire with his soul-mate had his duty not gotten in the way? Christ, Illyana. Wanna throw in a reference to Wolverine getting jilted at the Shinto altar while you're at it?)

Really, the only way to salvage this mess is to focus entirely on Illyana's message to Kitty.  Putting her centre-stage in her little story is actually quite an interesting move, allowing as it does for her to pull in aspects of three of the times Kitty has been kidnapped.  The space setting and heavy featuring of Lockheed (who ends this tale, and I'm not even slightly kidding, fucking an entire planet of lady-dragons who have lost their men and need to get themselves in the family way as quickly as possible; because handing over the same Y chromosomes to an entire world couldn't possibly lead to problems) suggest the tussle with the Brood.  Having the White Queen as the villain (who interestingly here can turn herself and others into diamond; clearly somewhere Grant Morrison was taking notes) suggests Kitty's first adventure with the X-Men. Lastly, the death of her father (here literal rather than symbolic) and the attempts to re-write her mind call to mind the events in Japan that led to Sprite becoming Shadowcat. 

The common theme to all three of these stories is that Kitty ends up triumphant at least in part because she is underestimated by her foes, so the fact this happens in Illyana's story as well is either a nice nod to tradition, or a stark demonstration that Claremont really needs to find a new theme for Kitty. Given I'm on record here as hating the constantly reiterated idea that everyone, friend or foe, fails to recognise her unquestionable awesomeness, you can guess which side of that particular line I fall on.

The one indisputable triumph is Illyana's message to Kitty, just because it's so utterly bonkers.  I might not be in favour of telling your best friend to suck it up and cut their ex a break in front of all said friend's peeps (and the ex in question), but if you're going to do it, you should at least do it by explaining how easily the boot could've been on the other foot if your friend had fallen in love with a pirate space dragon.

I mean, life is about messing up, right?  No way to avoid it.  So you may as well do it in the most jaw-droppingly ludicrous method imaginable.

Clues

This story takes place over a single evening.

Date

Saturday 5th May, 1984

X-Date

X+6Y+64.

Contemporary Events



Standout Line

"Lockheed is indeed alive and unharmed... Albeit perhaps a trifle... worn out." - 'Kurt' leads the rescue mission onto Planet of the Horny Dragonladies.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

UXM #192: "Fun 'N' Games!"


(Slap and tickle)

Comments

After a few issues experimenting with first odd pacing and then odd magickal nonsense hijinks, we return to classic Claremont.  What that means in practise is some unashamedly old-fashioned action with some interesting ideas bolted on.

We'll start, as the issue does, with a training session organised by Nightcrawler (now team leader following Storm losing her powers and quitting the team, though not the mansion). As is common for Claremont, a simple session in the Danger Room is judged too uninteresting, so instead Nightcrawler arranges a game of hide and seek with Colossus and Rogue, with presumably Rogue's powers of flight and Colossus' ability to tear apart nearby cover (including, for reasons not gone into, giant plugs in the ground) intended to compensate for 'Crawler's teleporting. One wonders how the rules work here, actually.  Do you have to see Kurt himself? Just a flash as he disappears?  Or even hear a "BAMF"  and catch brimstone on the breeze?  These are the sort of questions no-one ever thinks to ask.

There's a lovely moment here where Kurt tries to provoke Rogue into demonstrating the "seventh sense" (never could remember what the sixth was supposed to be) Carol Danvers once possessed, and does so by repeatedly 'porting around her, tickling her into the bargain.  It's a really fun use of Kurt's powers, and a natural thing for him to want to do in his new role; unlock ways to make the team better.

The thing is, his character slams straight into Rogue's, who despises being tickled.  Having been unable to touch anyone properly since her early teens, the idea of physical contact applied simply to piss her off is unbearable.  It's a lovely example of different characterisations playing off one another, and the whole hide and seek idea is a refreshing change to endless villain attacks.

Then a villain attacks.

Meanwhile, over at the airport, Xavier, Rachel and Illyana are waiting for Kitty and Wolverine to step off their plane from Japan. Illyana has smuggled Lockheed into arrivals in her bag, which is utterly adorable. Rachel, for her part, is too busy having flashbacks (relatively speaking) to her time in the future, learning that she was sent back by Katherine Pryde just before the latter launched a suicide attack on a Nimrod Sentinel Facility.  With the benefit of hindsight, it's obvious Claremont is building up to the Nimrod attack (we met the robot in question last issue), which frankly makes his decision to skip several months towards the end of the issue baffling.  I guess Nimrod had to spend ages XP farming until he was ready to take the X-Men on.  So many mutant boars dead in the forests of Westchester...

Back at the mansion, Warlock's father Magus has arrived to find his son, and eat as many living beings as possible.  This is a fairly cut-and-paste cape-fight, in truth, though it's interesting how entirely Rogue ignores her orders from Nightcrawler, letting Magus try to take her over so as to disorient him long enough for Colossus to pummel him into unconsciousness.  Oh, also the scrap features the first instance of Kurt grabbing part of an opponent and teleporting away whilst still holding it.  This form of mutilation is clearly agonising for the victim, so it's a great relief that UXM holds to the tried and true tradition of not giving a shit how badly people get hurt so long as they don't look recognisably human.

Ultimately the X-Men force Magus to retreat, but are too punch-drunk to see where he goes (costing the life of a local policeman - Claremont really seems to be getting into murdering extras to show how unpleasant his villains are).  I presume he'll be showing up in New Mutants fairly soon (though we've got the Legion arc to get through first), unless he too has decided to wait until the Christmas holidays to launch his attack.

Clues

This story takes place over the course of a few hours.

Xavier mentions here the problems caused for mutants by the recent outing of Dazzler, but we've compensated for that already.  In any case, this hardly matters, because the end of this issue explicitly moves the narrative forward to the end of the autumn term at Columbia University.  Ordinarily we ignore such gigantic leaps in chronology, but the issue specifically describes the jump as "several months later", which means that we're kind of stuck.

I'm not sure as of yet what Claremont thinks he's doing here.  Last issue concluded an essentially unbroken run of tales that were explicitly set in the middle of summer, so he's entirely aware the clock has been moved forward by, at the absolute minimum, four months.  What has Nimrod been up to in all this time?  What about Magus?

To make this even more strange, Kitty is described as "barely fifteen" before the jump forward (by our timeline that's actually more or less right) despite celebrating her fifteenth birthday in a 1989 issue of Excalibur.  Further proof, alas, that the John Seavey theory that indirectly birthed this blog is fatally flawed.

Lacking any great knowledge of the term times of American universities, I've just assumed that the conclusion to this issue takes place on the second Friday of December.

Date

Friday 4th May and Friday 14th December, 1984

X-Date

X+6Y+63 and X+6Y+287.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years

(Beast is 33 years old)


Contemporary Events

Little Boots is born.  That's the musician, not Emperor Caligula. Er, obviously...

Standout Line

"Nighty, you gotta do something 'bout that brimstone stench every time you 'port."
"Liebchen, it's my trademark. What would people say?"
"'Thank you?'"  - Rogue and Nightcrawler.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

KPW #6: "Honor"


(Ninja wallflower)

Comments

(Since UXM #192 explicitly takes place after the conclusion to this series, we may as well get it finished.)

At last we come to the end of Claremont's second double-header miniseries.  His first, of course, was Magik: Storm and Illyana, and it's worth remembering the structure of that previous book as we sum up this one. After all, consider the truly impressive number of similarities.  A long-standing member of the X-Men (Storm/Wolverine) is called upon to deal with a murderous villain who has harmed them, but from whom they have learned (Belasco/Ogun), and who has now found a girl/young woman (Illyana/Kitty) - associated with the X-Men but currently in a strange land outside their protection - who they have corrupted by giving them new powers (dark magic/ninja skills), which the elder team member must help them to control. At the climax of the story, the girl/young woman must head the wisdom of their older colleague and shake off the villain's influence without killing them and thereby losing their innocence.

That's a truly remarkable list of similarities.  Anyone wanting to call it self-plagiarism wouldn't get much of a fight from me. Indeed, part of me wonders why the sudden suggestion in this issue that Ogun planned to take Kitty's body as his own  - something not mentioned at all in the previous five issues - was a way of shaking a familiar formula up a little (if so, it failed, serving to do nothing but weaken some of the book's earlier themes). In some ways, this can be forgiven if we think of KPW as being an attempt to improve on the earlier story.  And some improvements can most certainly be identified.  The world of Japanese crimelords and ninja assassins was a lot less tapped out when this was written, coming as it did before the '90s strip-mining of such ideas, and strikes me as a stronger location to set a story than the shifting nonsense that was Limbo. Related, KPW avoids the problems I have with Claremont's use of magic, which, for those who haven't heard my rants on the subject, is too staid to be interesting and too random to provide either strong story foundations or coherent metaphors.  Lastly, for all that I'm not a fan of Kitty Pryde during her pre-Shadowcat days, she has been developed enough to pin a miniseries on, which really wasn't the case with Illyana Rasputin.

(Also, no rapey Nightcrawler, so bonus points there.)

But if we are to look at this series as an attempt to improve upon a formula, we run into one major problem; KPW has a central crisis that MAG avoided entirely. Let's talk about the one major difference between the two stories. In Limbo, Storm knows she is almost at the end of her life. Whatever else she is, Illyana is her last chance to strike against Belasco before the end.  There are complexities here, but essentially, we're talking about a passing of the torch.

On the other hand, after Wolverine has finished training Kitty, he has to go on being Wolverine.  This causes a major problem, because where Magik and Storm fulfilled different roles in their story, Kitty and Logan are sharing the same space in the narrative.  Both of them need to beat Ogun, and in a story obsessed with the Japanese ideals of honorable combat (or more to the point, Western  notions of Japanese ideals) only one of them can.

This is no small concern. It guarantees someone is going home without their cathartic release.  If it's Kitty, that pulls the rug out from her entire narrative in the miniseries, because she goes from overcoming Ogun to prove herself to needing Wolverine to bail her out when things gets rough - exactly what Logan argued a couple of issues earlier would be a terrible result for her.  In terms of the miniseries itself, Logan can probably get away with having Kitty defeating Ogun, but long-term problems creep in instead - you can't have Shadowcat doing Wolverine's job without it damaging Wolverine's status in the narrative (you can bypass this problem by letting Wolverine's status shift, but it'll be a little while until his boat is rocked so far as that).

Perhaps inevitably, the choice is made to poorly serve Shadowcat, and it's Wolverine who gets the chance to take Ogun down. You could, of course, colour an argument that this is the more sensible choice, since Kitty really only needed to prove she could stand up to Ogun, not beat him (indeed, beating him would have the effect of making him seem rather less than the unstoppable ninja killer he's been made out to be).  The problem with that theory is that Kitty stands up to Ogun in issue 5, meaning she's pretty much treading water here whilst Wolverine gets all the actual action.

There's some evidence that Claremont understood this.  Towards the end of the issue, once Wolverine has defeated Ogun, he offers Shadowcat the opportunity to murder her tormentor and gain revenge. This at least brings her choices back into the story, but of course Heroic Actions 101 means there's never any doubt as to which way she'll jump.  When she refuses to do the deed, Wolverine reveals he was testing her, and that killing Ogun would have condemned herself to be like him.

Can we please stop with this shit?  When Illyana refused to kill Belasco it was aggravating, but at least all the mystical crap about damning her soul should she give in to the darkness was based around magical rules which whilst entirely arbitrary can't exactly be called wrong. Here it's much easier to call foul. "Killing makes us no better than them" is possibly the absolute worst cliche in comics that doesn't involve implicit or explicit bigotry (David Brothers over at 4thletter! has been walking this beat for a while now too). I'm not even faintly interested in listening to someone telling me that there's no moral distinction between a man who violates the minds of children and murders for profit and a girl who kills a man who violates the minds of children and murders for profit, particulary when said man is so deep in the Japanese underworld there's every reason to believe the authorities won't dare give him more than a slap on the wrist.  I'm especially not interested on this theory coming from Wolverine of all people.

And all this becomes even more of a problem when seconds later Oyun grabs a blade and tries to kill Kitty, at which point it's immediately fine for Wolverine to stab him through the heart, even though by shouting at her to phase, he ensures she's in no danger whatsoever, and knowing Ogun can't get through his healing factor. I refuse to accept that there is some kind of airtight moral rule by which it's a grotesquely corrupting act to kill an unrepentant multiple murderer in-between killings, but doing so whilst they're in the middle of an attempted killing that cannot succeed, that's all fine and dandy.  It's clear Ogun is dead because we're at the end of the story and he needs to be gotten rid of.  This is kind of a problem in and of itself, but attaching it to some holier-than-thou lecturing about the importance of avoiding killing anybody compounds the problem.

So that's that, then.  Two admittedly interesting storylines that can't function properly in the same place, and end up being both being annoyingly familiar and finding new ways to be problematic.  We're a long way from the focused triumph of the original Wolverine mini-series.

Still, Kitty is less annoying as Shadowcat than she was as Sprite.  This much, I cannot deny.

Clues

This issue picks up directly from the previous one. The majority of the action is condensed into a few minutes.  It's not clear whether the epilogue takes place on the same night or not. The wounded Wolverine has found time to change, but Kitty has not.  It might be Wolverine did so immediately so as to get out of his costume. On the other hand, it seems a little late to be taking Akiko out for ice-cream, so we'll assume the epilogue takes place on the following day.

Date

Sunday 4th March to Monday 5th March, 1984.

X-Date

X+6Y+3 to X+6Y+4.

Contemporary Events

Three times Oscar-nominated actor William Powell passes away at the age of 91.

Iran accuses Iraq of having deployed chemical weapons during their war (which would continue for a further four years).  The United States gets very annoyed about this nineteen years later.

Standout Line

"Actions have consequences, and an honorable man takes responsibility for his deeds." - Carmen Pryde.

Friday, 15 November 2013

KPW #5: "Courage"


("When last we met, I was but the learner...")

Comments

Ah! At last the purpose of this mini-series swims fully into focus. This is the story of how Sprite becomes Shadowcat, and how Wolverine shifts from being her protector to being her sensei. That doesn't entirely clear up the rather schizophrenic nature of the series, but it does justify its existence, and handily gives me a hook to discuss what's going on.

Given the insistence in giving Kitty and Logan equal billing, there are two questions to be discussed here: how wise and successful is Kitty's transformation, and does Wolverine's new role do anything for his character.

The sudden upgrade of characters in superhero comics is a trope which does not, to put it mildly, have an unblemished record. All too often it's an admission of failure, a confession that a character isn't working for some reason.  Such things happen, of course, in long-running storylines, but even if one is unwilling to write that character out (or under editorial mandate to keep them in circulation), slapping on extra laser-beams or psychic shenanigans seems the laziest method possible of sparking the creative fire, with the possible exception of killing off a family member.

There are, as I've already discussed, problems with Kitty's transformation into Deadly Ninja Kitty (TM); it's too fast, too unpleasant, and it removes too much of her agency. All that said, this issue does confront these problems by focussing on Kitty's inner monologue, in which she makes clear she sees the future not as a choice between fighting Ogun and forever running in fear from him (which was Logan's framing, and which never really made sense), but between living a normal life in the suburbs, and risking her neck employing her mutant ability. Her horrific treatment at the hands of Ogun and the resulting new skill set stops being the focus, and becomes just a single part of a larger puzzle, that of how to regain agency in the wake of being utterly shafted by life.

This is a powerful theme of course, familiar to essentially everyone in the world, and it ties directly back to the central metaphor of the X-books. I don't mean to imply here that being a mutant is in itself to have been shafted, simply that to be a mutant in a culture so thoughtlessly and dangerously hostile to your nature counts as a fairly major crimp on your day.  Seeing characters navigate that seemingly immutable fact is central to the mutant story.

All this also folds back into the one idea in the story of Kitty's treatment by Ogun that I really liked; deconstructing the tired old training-by-montage trope by having someone gain their abilities immediately and only afterwards to actually earn them (it might seem that idea is somewhat contradicted by how difficult Kitty found her post-ninja training, but I think that's just a case of her having the skills but not the stamina).  The end result is a young woman no longer willing to justify her self-absorption as part of her age, and starts wondering about how to become a woman. The process is perhaps a little overwrought - "I like the shadows a whole lot more than the daylight" - and comes bolted to a rather worrying scene in which she paints dark slanting circles around her eyes and announces herself indistinguishable from a Japanese teenager (?! And !! ?!, I say!), but it does the job. Plus, Shadowcat is one of my all-time favourite superhero names. so there is at least that.

Having made her decision to become Shadowcat, and to christen her new identity in Ogun's blood, her next port of call is to Marijo's penthouse, where she (correctly) assumes Ogun will try to reacquire her. This results in her defending Wolverine's former fiancee and his adopted daughter from his evil ex-sensei.  It would be tough to make it any more obvious that she is filling Wolverine's role here. Even the format is reminiscent of Wolerine's initial mini-series.

So where does that leave Wolverine himself? Well, that's the thing. Whilst Shadowcat is quite literally crossing swords with Ogun, Logan is doing nothing but heading off to help out, whilst taking some time out to call Caremen Pryde on his bullshit decisions. Which, fair enough, dude needed to be slapped around, but it's not exactly classic Wolvie, is it? He shows up in the final panel, once Kitty has stepped through the traditional spirited-but-ultimately-doomed combat with Ogun, because that's how final panels are supposed to be, but once again, for at the very least the third time, this title has proved to not be big enough for both title characters at the same time.

Maybe the final issue will finally confront this head on. As I said above, Logan seems to be moving from the role of protector to that of sensei, which almost by definition requires he takes a back seat - though that itself seems to be in tension with where this issue finds itself - but it's becoming hard to see how Wolverine justifies his inclusion in the title for any other reason other than to generate more money.

Clues

Kitty mentions it has been a few days since she left Wolverine to hunt down Ogun. We'll therefore set this issue two days after the last one.

Mariko mentions that Akiko was only orphaned a few months earlier (in UXM #181). By our timeline, it's been around a month and a half, so that more or less works.

Date

Sunday 4th March, 1984.

X-Date

 X+6Y+3.

Contemporary Events

Ai Iwamura is born. Sixteen years later, she appears in Battle Royale for all of five seconds, an achievement I will never be able to match.

Standout Line

"No place -- nobody -- is safe from a ninja." - Kitty.

And just like that, thirty-seven thousand '80s and '90s fplotlines are haphazardly generated.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

ALF #20: "Gold And Love Affairs!"


(Sometimes it's hard to not be a woman)

Comments

We seem, at last, to have followed the downward spiral into outright self-parody.  Which afflicts a great many ongoing stories, of course, some of them much better than this. In this case, it seems to be a descent into hitherto undreamed of levels of sexist bilge, which means it's not merely unenjoyable, but hard to laugh at, too.  Really, anger seems like the only appropriate response.

Let's start with the B-plot here, since that continues the story from the last two issues. After their jaunt to the past, Alpha Flight finally have themselves some time to discuss what's happened and decide on what to do next.  Unfortunately, what Snowbird and Shaman want to do most is bicker over who and what Shaman's daughter is and represents. They do this in front of Talisman, ignoring her entirely. When she calls them on this, pointing out she has no interest in being part of some hinky prophecy, her attempts to remove the tiara that started this whole business leaves her in agonising pain.  The tiara can't be taken off!

Whereupon Shaman says "I wish there had been more time to inform you of what you faced".  Let's just stop here, for a little while, and absorb the full horror of this.  Shaman knew that his daughter - a daughter he had just been reunited with that day after a decade and a half of estrangement - wouldn't be able to return to her normal life - the life she chose - and would instead have to remain forever in the mystical world he is part of, and he didn't tell her because there wasn't time?  There aren't enough fields in Texas for the amount of bullshit I'm calling on that. Their visit to the past accomplished nothing beyond filling in gaps for the curious. Shaman explicitly states they had to ensure they didn't change anything, making the whole jaunt an intelligence gathering trip.  This is supposed to have been so important there was no time to tell his daughter about what she was letting herself in for? Is there any more stupid insistence than we must time-travel to the past immediately? Fuck, as they say, that noise.

It's very difficult to get past all this. A father decides his daughter's entire future, knowing full well it cannot be changed, and goes ahead with it without letting his daughter make an informed choice because he can't wait to get to his own shit? That's obscene. But does Elizabeth object to or even note any of this? Dear reader, she does not.

But Shaman isn't finished with his patriarchal shit-show just yet. He's noticed Puck making eyes at Heather as she slowly begins to rebuild her life after her husband's death. This, he concludes, cannot be allowed to go on without comment. Once Heather leaves to try and get hold of Walter Langkowski over living arrangements, Shaman corners Puck in the kitchen. There, he informs him he knows Puck's feelings, suspects Heather might one day feel the same way, and tells him to make sure when Heather "needs someone again", he makes sure he gives everything to make sure she's OK.

Looked at from some angles, this might not seem too bad. We can dispense with the "all this proves Shaman is sexist, not the story" argument straight away, of course - if a story keeps hitting the same beat and nothing is provided as push-back, the specific source of those beats is irrelevant - but one can take the position that a guy discussing with his friend how to best handle his feelings for a devastated widow is completely reasonable.

As an isolated incident, that might even work out. Shaman's advice is unsolicited, but other than that, I've had plenty of conversations with friends of both sexes that run along roughly similar lines. Coming just two pages after we learn what Shaman has allowed to happen to his own daughter, I'm far less prepared to be forgiving, particular since his meddling is taking place in a comic that repeatedly suggests that women are all just crazy, broken and emotionally unavailable in different ratios, and it's simply a man's job to suffer through the resulting storms.

Look. I'm not going to pretend I don't get it.  As a younger man, I was found women in a mess to be attractive - of course in retrospect,  they all just happened to be physically attractive as well; how surprising - so I can't claim complete innocence. And it's certainly true that if you're going to write melodrama, there's a damn good chance any given pairing is going to involve a lot of navigating emotional baggage. It'd be nice if the way fiction tends to portray a man's baggage so very differently to that of a woman, but that's a much broader problem that I'm not inclined to heap on Byrne in 1985, not when there's so much bigger problems here.

The real complaint here is that this shtick has become pathological.  Moving to the A plot, we see exactly the same concept being played out; messing with Aurora's power set (which, remember, Sasquatch did whilst not telling her what he was doing, and with no idea as to whether his meddling could be reversed; sound familiar?) is causing her unexpected problems.  Specifically, she's complaining all the time and making out with other men in front of Sasquatch, "for fun", all whilst wearing an utterly ridiculous costume.

Super-speed presumably comes in handy
during extended bikini-wax sessions
While all of this is going on, Walter is struggling to control a series of terrible rages that have started befalling him.  These rages are making it hard to keep his mind on the serious business of helping people, but oddly enough they never happen while he's by himself.

Let's all try as hard as we can to think what could possibly be upsetting him.  What "outside power" as he puts it could possibly be driving him crazy and unable to focus on doing good?  I've never read these Alpha Flight issues before, so it's entirely possible I'm wrong, but if this doesn't turn out to be over how his girlfriend has turned into a dirty slutty slut getting her slutty slutness all over the place, I'll be amazed. Relieved, but amazed.

The two lovers head off the next day to some property Walter owns on Vancouver Island, to see whether it will work as a base for Alpha Flight. Sure, he hasn't seen it in thirty years, and the locals all say the place is haunted by the nine-times widowed woman who lived there until the '20s, but who believes in ghosts twenty-four hours after their friends fought a hideous demon?

In fairness to Walter, though, it's not a spirit that haunts the house, though that's only because the widow from fifty-five years earlier is still alive. As well as a freakishly long life-span - she wears a gold mask, so its impossible to tell how well she's holding up - it turns out she has a nasty habit of turning her husbands into gold statues. A villainous woman who literally reduces the men she marries into nothing but wealth? How...inevitable.

(She can cloak people in utter darkness as well, apparently entirely so that Byrne can repeat his "Snowblind" joke with thought bubbles in otherwise completely black panels. If you're wondering if the joke works so well when you replace super-punching with a woman attempting to avoid severe psychological damage, the answer is no.)

In conclusion, then: Byrne turns in his most sexist issue yet, and spends so much time laying out said sexism that it takes sixteen pages for the story to start. Then that story is immediately sexist.  Goddamn.

Clues

Elizabeth Twoyoungmen notes that only 72 hours ago she was still a college student, which suggests three days have passed since she became Talisman.  The theme of oncoming winter once more appears, but we've dealt with the problems of this idea before.

The story itself straddles two days.

Date

Wednesday 18th to Thursday 19th April, 1984.

X-Date

X+6Y+48 to X+6Y+49.

Contemporary Events

The police siege of the Libyan Embassy in London is in the second of its eleven days, with WPC Yvonne Fletcher having been shot and killed the morning before by machine-gun fire from the first floor of the Embassy.

Standout Line

"Elizabeth was raised within the whiteman's culture. To her mind -- and rightly so -- there is only one place in history for a Messiah. " - Shaman.

I didn't mention this in the comments, because I wanted to focus on the gender politics, but what exactly is this line supposed to mean? I can't decide whether its a vote for assimilation into majority culture, or just a ridiculous non sequitur.