Tuesday, 29 January 2013

XMM #3: "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Gory!"

(The horrors we have witnessed.)


It's a bad day when a title like that isn't the most tasteless part of a comic book.  The first four pages of this issue are awash with alien blood as the X-Men and Micronauts - now all under the control of the malevolent entity - carve their way through one of Baron Karza's "outpost kennels". Thanks presumably to the link Xavier shares with their enemy, he witnesses the slaughter in a dream, and is suitably horrified, but that does little to alleviate what is a major problem here: each of the X-Men are now mass murderers (except Kitty, who we now learn is still trapped in Karza's body; I thought they'd swapped back at the end of last issue, but I must have been mistaken).  The peace-loving "soul of a poet" Piotr gets to crush people's skulls together.  Storm incinerates dog soldiers with bursts of lightning.  Wolverine, well, he's just acting like normal, I guess, just with no-one to stop him.

Making a character into a callous mass-murderer, even under mind control, is not something to do lightly. It's horribly uncomfortable to watch whilst it's happening, and the ramifications are deeply problematic: memory-wiping is cheap (almost as much as time-reversal), and rather suggests that the deaths of dozens of people is only a tragedy insofar as it upsets our heroes, and any other response tends to ring hollow, and/or pass far too quickly.  No writer who doesn't want to deal with the fall-out of their stories should be allowed to put pen to paper (I'm looking at you, Russell T Davies).

None of this, in short, is encouraging.

Xavier isn't enjoying seeing "dog soldiers scream and die in droves" either, but the entity now seems to have complete control, and even falling out of his bed in horrified terror doesn't seem capable of waking him up.  The New Mutants spring into action immediately, talking about how they're all worried, and they might have to do something about all this first thing in the morning, maybe.  Not too soon, though; this new wheeze of having everyone hypnotised is making splitting the writing duties in half much harder to detect.

The entity decides to leave one enemy soldier temporarily alive, so he can record events as the entity and his thralls leave, and then blow up the planet.  Kitty-as-Karza receives this rather upsetting youtube link, and makes DeGrayde suspicious when she first starts fretting about the battle's body-count, and then orders the dog soldier program shut down, to spare any further innocent civilians from receiving unwanted upgrades.  Fortunately for her, Karza's detachable rocket gloves are stray-thought-activated, meaning she's capable of remote pimp-slapping her truculent lick-spittle.  As he scurries away, Kitty tries to come to terms with what she's become.  She's so upset even the discovery that Karza can change shapes at will doesn't seem to cheer her up.

But all this death and misery must have finally gotten to the writers, because it's time for a radical change of tack: let's sexualise a fourteen year old girl!

Why is he calling her Ariel?
Holy... cockgargling... Gods.  This is just horrible.  "Sybaritic lusts"? "Lascivious desires"? "My sole hope lies in diverting"?  Ladies and gentlemen, I present: the day Kitty Pryde's body got dressed up like Princess Leia, then almost got raped.  I may be physically sick.

And before anyone argues that the comic isn't condoning this, and that this is just to make clear how evil the entity is: bollocks to that.  We already know the entity is evil. We've seen him destroy two planet's worth of sentient creatures, and engage in brainwashing through unbearable torture.  Which means that whilst I agree there's no sense that the script is looking on this with anything but disgust, there's absolutely no need for the scene whatsoever.  If you don't need anything this vile, and you stick it in anyway, your hands are not as clean as you might want to think. "We should have Kitty threatened with rape because... er..."

We should also note that the entity wants to get hot and heavy with a teenage girl despite having access to the implausibly-proportioned Storm and Marionette, women who respectively have been repeatedly described as stunningly beautiful, and capable of holding the attention of a phantasmic (sic) crowd with their lewd dancing. I mean, Marionette hasn't even got a ridiculous hairstyle.

The absolutely most positive spin I can put on this is that the Entity targeting Kitty is specifically to make him seem even more evil.  Which, see above, but more than that, this is an example of what we shall call Baron Harkonnen Syndrome.  One of the many things about Dune that make it such a phenomenal work of fiction is the sheer number of factions in the novel that all have their own desires and philosophies, and how fascinating their intersection proves to be.  There is no-one in the book who could be considered an unalloyed hero (Duncan maybe the closest the novel comes, and he's killed off as soon as things get tough for the Atreides), and plenty of the characters we might consider villainous - the Emperor Shaddam IV, Gaius Helen Mohiam - are given their own believable motivations for acting the way they do.

The Baron Harkonnen, in contrast, fucks children.

Every time I read Dune, this sticks out like a sore and festering thumb. Making your villain a paedophile is functionally identical to writing WHO IS REALLY FUCKING EVIL FOR SERIOUS every time their name pops up in the text.  Shades of grey just disappear in their entirety.  Which is an appalling shame as regards Herbert's masterwork.  And whilst I'd obviously be utterly insane to suggest an '80s X-book should be held to the same standards as one of the greatest science-fiction novels ever written, it's still aggravating, because if there's one thing that doesn't improve lazy writing, it's associating it with the abuse of minors.

(If I wanted to really pile on, of course, I'd note that all of this is taking place whilst Kitty's mind is outside her body, that is, we're literally watching a male character attempting to sleep with a female character with no anima of her own. I think I've spent quite enough time discussing this wretched five panel scene, however.)

So, where was I? Ah, yes. Whilst Karza-as-Kitty is trying to talk his way out of an utterly horrendous situation, the other X-Men have been chucked into a dungeon, and left undominated, along with the Micronauts.  Wolverine decides to take this opportunity to off everyone before they're forced to carve up another army, but unsurprisingly he's heavily outvoted, with everyone else keen to attempt first escape and then vengeance.  Whilst our heroes wander the entity's domain, giving each other inspirational speeches whilst they try and find an exit, Xavier finds a way out of his coma by using Psyche as a stepping stone, and challenges the entity.  At first the battle goes well, with the professor gaining unexpected help when Karza stabs the entity's inert body whilst his mind is elsewhere. For a moment, it seems the good guys have this all wrapped up, but Xavier freaks out when he tears off the entity's psychic helmet and discovers what was entirely obvious to everyone else since the midpoint of XMM #1: the entity and Xavier are one and the same!

Yes, it's our old friend, the suppressed dark side.  Which has now killed the population of at least one civilised planet, along with a space fleet and two or more large armies. Mass murder and genocide; didn't that lead to the Marvel bigwigs demanding Jean Grey be taken out of circulation?  More to the point, after this horrendous explosion of diarrhetic bullshit, how could anyone get bent out of shape over Onslaught?

I digress. The resulting shock gives Dark Charles an opening, and the professor finds himself replaced by his negative image. Meanwhile, Karza decides to celebrate his apparent stabbing of the entity to death by finding a sniper rifle, and training it on our heroes...


This story takes place over the course of several hours, picking up soon after the previous issue ended and continuing into the following day.


Monday 27th to Tuesday 28th December, 1983.


X+5Y+302 to X+5Y+303.

Contemporary Events

Founding Beach Boy member Dennis Wilson passes away, aged just 39.

Standout Line

"I've become a rocket-powered centaur!"  - Kitty explores Karza's powers, and insists of being whiny about it.  Of course.

Monday, 28 January 2013

XHY #17: "Hunter And Hunted"

(Character problems.)


Nice cover. Note how Kraven has hidden the phrase "the hidden years". This may be another one of Byrne's hilariously bad puns (visual this time, but it still counts), but I prefer to think of it as an attempt to fool people into thinking they were actually buying this:

which, now I think about, plenty of people also hated.  Incorrectly, because it wasn't too bad at all. It certainly craps all over "Hunter and Hunted".

Alas, this is a post about Byrne, not Lobdell.  Let us drag us back into the morass of mediocrity that is The Hidden Years. Once again, as is Byrne's want, we are arrive in media res.  Beast has agreed to be hunted by Kraven, in exchange for the antidote to a poison he's administered to the unconscious Avia.  Unfortunately, Kraven has rather loaded the deck here, having taken advantage of the X-Men's Nepalese adventure to rig death-traps all over the mansion grounds.  There's a good idea in here that Beast is actually finding evading Kraven more difficult in familiar ground, because he's constantly fighting an ingrained sense that he knows where everything is, and that it's all safe.

There will be no further good ideas.

The big problem with this issue is Kraven. I don't have a problem with borrowing villains from the rogue's gallery of other heroes, but if you're going to do that, you should at least put some effort into using them properly.  I'll admit I know very little about Kraven (I've read Kraven's Last Hunt, and that's it), so I can't be sure if poisoning his quarry to gain an advantage or begging for mercy after being defeated are as out of character as they seem to me (come to think of it, what kind of hunter secures the agreement of their quarry in advance?), but even if that's all perfectly consistent (UPDATE: and from asking a peerless Spiderman scholar, AKA my mate Chris, I'm more convinced than ever that it isn't), Beast's whole deal is that he's the agile, smart one, and Kraven's attempts to use poisons to dumb Hank down rather makes you wonder why he wants to go after Beast in the first place. Why go to all that effort to find one person you're desperate to hunt (apparently to get some practice in before he tries to kill Spiderman again) if you're going to negate what makes them special in the first place.

The reason seems all too clear: Byrne wanted to write a story about Hank losing control and becoming a true beast. In Byrne's head, this works because Hank has always been terrified of becoming a beast in fact as well as name.  Which is bullshit, quite frankly.  I've no doubt Hank has always worried that others will only ever see him as a beast - or perhaps, less pejoratively, as the dumb jock - but there's never really been any attempt to cast him as a man concerned about unleashing the beast within (he's been worried about how his experiments and later mutations may effect him, but that's very different).  The reason for this is because it would entirely redundant, as it's quite clearly Wolverine's thing.

In sum, then, Byrne has borrowed a Spiderman villain in order to tell a Wolverine story, and just crudely grafted it onto Henry McCoy with very little thought. The final page, in which Hank begs to have his memories of the fight erased rather than live with how violent he became (under, lets remember, the influence of drugs specifically designed to break down his higher brain functions), is clearly supposed to be affecting and tragic, but there's just been too much stupidity required to get to that point: the road-map that led us here was both far too obvious and far too badly assembled.  And this is just the biggest problem in an issue crammed with bum notes. Why does Iceman break off trying to save his best friend in order to fight with Havok over Lorna?  Why does Jean Grey start issuing verbal directions because it would take too long to think them? Why does Cyclops insist they can't hand Kraven over to the police for fear of being recognised, as though a captured villain could never possibly get to the police without being escorted by superheroes in plain clothes?

Whilst all of this is going on, the strange group who approached Lorna in issue 15 are preparing the next move in whatever scheme they've cooked up.  They don't seem to be any great hurry about it, though, possibly because they're ageing at the rate of one week for every decade they spend on Earth.  That's impressive even by Marvel standards.  Eventually they do make their move, though, lifting Lorna remotely into the air and spiriting her away in front of an astonished Alex, providing the issue's cliffhanger.

Oh, and Xavier is still at the Martin household, working to figure Ashley out.  Our old friend Fred Duncan has shown up to lend a hand (and check that Xavier genuinely has returned from the "dead"), which Mrs Martin seems oddly willing to tolerate, possibly because she's quite clearly decided she wants to jump the professor's bones.


Judging by Teri Martin's change of clothes, it seems likely Xavier's story has moved forward a day, and is now only a day behind the main team.  Kraven's hunt seems to be over in a matter of hours.

Tad notes that it's been a little over twenty four hours since he made contact with Lorna, which in turn makes it a little over thirteen hours since Lorna returned to the mansion. Actually, that number should be more like twenty four, given the eight hour journey to and from the Himalayas that she and Alex completed before the X-Men even started giving chase, making the whole period somewhere around thirty three hours.

Interestingly, Byrne gives a value for how long it's been since Iceman joined the team: almost three years.  Since we have it as around two and a quarter years since Jean joined up, that actually tracks remarkably well.


Saturday 12th to Sunday 13th July, 1980.


X+2Y+100 to X+2Y+101.

Contemporary Events

Five hundred children in eleven different marching bands meet in Kirby-in-Ashby in Nottinghamshire, only for more than half of them to collapse without explanation over the course of a few minutes.  The official conclusion was "mass hysteria", a diagnosis which was hotly contested.

Standout Line

"You chatter like a tree full of baboons."
"You dispense pronouns the way Congress hands out tax cuts."

Superbeing smack-talk still had a long way to go before the Avengers movie.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

When All You Have Is A Hammer...

I came across this last week, and thought it needed reporting immediately. I like to think things there go a little like this:

XMM #2: "Into The Abyss!"

(With friends like these, who needs their own series?)


Onto issue 2, and it turns out this comic is structured much as its predecessor was; eleven pages of the Micronauts getting into trouble, and eleven pages of the X-Men trying to figure out what's going on, whilst Karza is a jerk in the background.  It lends more credence to my theory that much of the series was written concurrently rather than collaboratively.  That said, some of the torments the Micronauts undergo seem very Claremontian in nature, though I'd like to think that even at his worst he wouldn't write a scene in which a strong female character is mind-controlled into dancing lasciviously for a baying crowd.

So, yeah, I'm not going to go into much detail again regarding the Micronauts' half of the action, but in brief; they're screwed. After being swallowed up by their foe's power last issue, they've found themselves in some kind of freaky alien world/mindscape, where each of them are subjected to various forms of individualised torture, until they're so mentally scarred they're only too happy for "the entity" to brainwash them.  Also, dress them up as the X-Men, for some reason. Presumably this is connected to the entity's own connection to Xavier - it turns out the invader of the Microverse can only operate at peak capacity when the professor is asleep, and not being disturbed by scantily clad teenagers fighting with towels (I never thought I'd see that much of Rahne's lower half; at least not until the '90s) - but if this series was indeed intended to reverse the flagging fortunes of the Micronaut's own title, having them pussy out, volunteer for brainwashing, and donning the costumes of much more famous, competent heroes seems a damn strange way to go about it.

On to the X-half of the issue, and our heroes have run into a bit of a moral conundrum. To whit: Baron Karza is clearly an intolerable mass-murdering turd, and the X-Men are apparently expected to fight alongside him, in order to ensure that the worlds he's stolen from their rightful rulers stay in his steel pockets. There's a limit to how far we can take this, because we're discussing such a hyperbolic example, but it might be worth spilling a little ink on the topic of international intervention.  Essentially, the X-Men are being asked to forcibly intervene in a military conflict taking place in a different reality.  The question of what gives them the right to do so is an interesting one, as is whether getting into bed with Baron Karza is necessarily the best idea. The Kosovans wanted us to bomb Serbia.  Iraqi insurgents wanted us to kick out Saddam Hussein.  Libyan rebels wanted the same treatment for Qaddafi, and forces in Syria still want our assistance in their own struggle for freedom, despite seeing the corrupt mess of Kosovo and Iraq we left behind, with Libya maybe not shaping up to be any better, even if we ignore the knock-on effect for Mali.

I'm not trying to make a political statement with that, by the way, just noting that a) international intervention is far from without cost to those areas intervened within and b) that doesn't seem to have stopped the requests from coming in. Nor, as here, are those requests uniformly from people we'd be happy to see retain or increase their own share of power.  How much contemporary and future damage are we willing to stomach, and who are we prepared to help out, in order to answer calls for help from those oppressed?

Like I said, we can't go too far with this, because the questions here are already pretty much answered by the construction of this situation. The idea that any amount of post-war fallout and domination by Karza is worth it in order to stop the Entity destroying every inhabited planet is so reasonable that it can't really be assailed.  There's some interest to be had in watching the X-Men work through to this conclusion, in watching them decide that they disgust at Karza's nature and deeds has to be put aside, but the correct conclusion is never really in doubt.  The heroes of this universe have already made that choice, so there's no way for the X-Men to choose differently without announcing that their earth-born morals take precedence over those who actually have a stake in this war.  That might also answer the question of what right the X-Men have to interfere (I'm not sure "the Entity is powered from earth" necessarily cuts it, any more than "the government is getting its weapons from Russia and China" does in this world); if we accept that heroes can legitimately represent the people they protect, then a request of assistance from the Micronauts is all the X-Men need.

(Whether that representation is legitimate is a bigger question, and one we'll return to years from now when we hit Civil War, if not earlier).

Once the X-Men agree to help out, Karza teleports his armour back to his base, and so keeps his body safe, at least - the X-Men won't let Kitty stay behind even though "she" asks to be. Frustrated, Karza projects his mind to check up on his armour, to find his chief scientist and minister DeGrayde gloating over his inert form, announcing loudly that "if my suspicions are correct -- and the armor is now merely an inanimate shell - then the moment of DeGrayde's triumph is at hand!"  You'd think DeGrayde would at least consider the possibility that the Baron is just having a nap, and not loudly announce his intention to start a coup right in front of his master's faceplate before running a few tests, but who knows how the scientific method works in the Microverse.  Fortunately for DeGrayde, Karza needs a fresh supply of genetically engineered soldiers rather more than he needs a rebellious minion squished underfoot.

Elsewhere in the Microverse, Bioship has found the planet where the Micronauts are being held, and ensures the quickest deployment for the X-Men possible by just slamming straight into the ground.  Efficient.  Nobody is particularly impressed by this display, but it turns out to not be Bioship's fault: he's been robbed of power. The link he used to find Commander Rann is reciprocal, and the Entity clearly knew they were coming. Not only has he set up the device that has now rendered Bioship inert, but he's built a replica of Xavier's mansion, a dozen times too big, for the X-Men to find, and when they get inside, he's taken Xavier's form, and throws the X-costumed Micronauts (also twelve times bigger than our heroes) at them. I'd say that this was the third big clue that the entity and Xavier are linked, except that Karza explicitly said that last issue, and nobody seemed that bothered. It may be that the X-Men rather deserve the pounding they take here. Once the mutants are knocked unconscious, "Xavier" reverts to the entity's conquistador form, and he gloats over his defeated foes.  Next step: to "shake the universe to its very foundations!".


It's not all bad news, though.  Or at least, not bad news right now: Karza's been knocked out of Kitty's unconscious body and back into his own.  It's time for some murderous dictator payback!


The events of this issue apparently take place over a few hours, though it's impossible to tell how long the voyage aboard Bioship takes.


Monday 27th December, 1983.



Contemporary Events

The Grateful Dead play for three hours at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.  Whether they even realised they had an audience is open to debate.

Standout Line

"As the phantasmic (sic) crowd stare silently on... this strong-willed warrior-woman finds herself losing control -- until she performs a lewd dance for the edification of the mob..."

Ugh.  No.  No, thank you.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Miserable Holding Pattern

Things have slowed down a touch around here over the last few days.  In part, this is due to Real Life causing problems (thanks to a combination of the heavy snow, a local bus company, and my inadequate reaction times, I've been without a drivable car since Friday afternoon). Mainly, though, I've not been writing posts because I've been working my way through Secret Wars.

I can't do what I normally do when confronted by a long story, and just write it up issue by issue and see what happens.  There's too much danger some dialogue will surface in the final issue invalidating everything that's come before due to the vagaries of the Beyonder's actions, or something.  Moreover, I haven't decided yet whether each individual issue should get a post, considering how much of the storyline doesn't involve the X-Men at all.

Whilst I read the whole thing, then (for the first time since collecting the Panini stickers back in the mid '80s), and figure out my approach, I'll be sticking to X-Men vs The Micronauts, since that series is all that stands between me and a fully considered run of X-books up to the end of spring 1984, and to The Hidden Years, because I'm only six issues away from finishing that dreadful chore forever.

Hopefully once I've finished the former and gotten half way through what remains of the latter, I'll know what I want to do with Secret Wars, and I can crank that out before moving onto May '84 cover dates, and adventures with amorous dragons, apoplectic sasquatches, and an academy in Massachusetts.  With luck, that'll kick off in the first week of February.  Anyone wanting to skip the intermediate steps should consider themselves forgiven in advance.  I'd join you if I could.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

XHY #16: "Echoes Of A Lost Generation"

(At the mountains of sadness.)


Abi pointed out to me on Sunday that for someone who dislikes so much of John Byrne's comics, I sure do read an awful lot of them.  Regrettably, this reminded me that I still have the final third of the almost indefensible Hidden Years to get through.  I suppose I'd best make a start.

Actually, XHY #16 prove to be not entirely devoid of interest.  Not because it's any good at all, obviously; it isn't.  But it has exposed me to a piece of Marvel history about which I was entirely ignorant, which is one benefit (perhaps the only one) of a comic so deeply mired in nostalgia as this one is.  That said, First Line was only alluded to the year before this was released, but given its position as a retconned group of old-time heroes, that seems strangely fitting as well.

Byrne shows no sign of getting tired of running parallel plotlines (though the main story gets the lion's share, weighing in at eighteen pages), so I'll once again divide my comments along the same lines.

The major plotline in this issue involves the power signature Cerebro picked up in the Himalayas a few issues earlier. The team (minus Warren, understandably) return from their failed mission to save Warren's mother to discover Alex and Lorna, bored of being relegated to non-combatants whilst the original team skip around, have headed to Nepal to check things out. Cyclops and the team take the entirely reasonable position that this is a terrible idea, so head out after them to find out just how much trouble the pair have landed themselves in.

"Trouble" turns out to be the appropriate word, as does "landed", so long as it's preceded by "crash-".  Something up in the Himalayas is chucking rocks at passing planes, and their sentinel craft goes down.  Alex and Lorna are separated in the crash, so the latter goes searching, ultimately finding an ancient ruin holding a terrifying secret...

Meanwhile, back at the mansion, a sinister figure makes his way through the security systems he has somehow been able to overcome. Apparently, he's hunting one of the X-Men (we don't know who, save that they're male), and has found his way to the mansion, and through the robot sentries, through research and inference.  This kind of thing kind of annoys me, actually; if it's possible to just work out where the X-Men live, every supervillain who's failed to do so immediately looks stupid and/or lazy.  Still, this is almost certainly just one of those aspects of superhero comics I have to live with.  In any case, whilst creeping around, Mysterious Figure finds Avia in the medical wing, and knocks her out, concluding she will make a useful bargaining chip.

Somewhere above Nepal, the X-Men are searching for their missing team-mates.  What they find instead is a rock to the fuselage, and so like Alex and Lorna before them, they're forced to crash in the mountains.  They do have one advantage (and I use the word loosely) over their friends, however; they at least know who's responsible for their predicament.

Brobdignagian isn't a word you see used enough,
It's here that things get interesting, or at least they did for me; others with fuller knowledge of the Marvel Universe may have been as unstirred here as elsewhere. The team's white-haired assailant is Yeti, one of the First Line, a superhero group that went MIA just before the Fantastic Four arrived to herald the start of the Age of Marvels.  This is an idea I'd not come across before, and it's worth unpacking a little.  Essentially, First Line were created by Roger Stern and Byrne himself, and featured in a twelve issue mini-series, Lost Generation, that concluded the month before XHY #16 came out. The aim was to retcon an explanation as to why there seems to be no superheroes around who were active between the end of WWII and the arrival of the Fantastic Four (which Lost Generation suggests occurred in 1988). 

The result is, of course, limited by the fact that it was obvious to everyone going in that the story of the First Line wasn't going to end happily; they ain't around no more, after all, and no-one so much as talks about them.  The story of Lost Generation (helpfully summarised in this issue) ended with pretty much the whole team being killed fighting an Skrull invasion, which was then covered up by a paranoid government, denying the heroes their props for saving the world.

That's a typically grim Byrne idea, but whilst on some occasions his work feels cruel to the point of callousness, here it works rather better, partially because the set-up and title of the series both made it fairly clear where things were going.  It also means that the tie-in to that series here, which might otherwise seem like a cynical last-minute advert for a egotistical attempt to tie one's own creations into the history of previous, far more famous works, does at least to work on the level of providing a slightly positive coda to the mini-series.

I say slightly positive, because whilst we do at least learn here that one of the First Line, Yeti, survived his team's final battle (this I think was already implicit to anyone who's read Fantastic Four #99, but that was published more than thirty years earlier), everything else here is still pretty depressing.  Hank and Jean both mention that the First Line are believed by the world at large to have abandoned them, the team knows their word as mutants is so worthless that the true story will never get out, and Yeti has now apparently devolved from superhero to enraged beast.  More depressing still, the Inhumans arrive with Pixie (possibly the only other member of First Line to survive), and she explains Yeti refuses to leave this cold, dead mountain because - as Lorna and Alex have already discovered - he's guarding the long-dead body of his true love. Shorter John Byrne: women don't have to still be alive to cause problems.

Honestly, maybe "slightly positive" is too kind.  To find out someone you thought was dead is alive, but guarding their lover's corpse and gripped by feral madness?  I hesitate to toss around phrases like "fate worse than death", but...

Really, though, that's not the real problem here.  The real problem is in the structure here: the X-Men head to the Himalaya's, crash-land in front of the Yeti, and then Pixie shows up to tell them a story about what happened to her hirsute team-mate.  Then they all go home.  There's no agency here at all, just fourteen pages built around informing the reader about what happened to a character they might not even have heard of, and learning that it was kind of shitty, and then the end. 

Well, not quite the end.  There's still the matter of Mysterious Figure to deal with.  Fortunately, we don't have to wait long; no sooner have the team touched down in the mansion's hangar when the intruder reveals himself as... Kraven the Hunter!  Well, that I didn't see coming, at least.  He's standing over the unconscious body of Avia, and gleefully informs our heroes that unless one of them steps up to face him, he's going to be dining on stuffed bird-woman this Christmas.

Dun dun DUUUR!

(Why is Kraven called that, anyway?  It seems like a really stupid name for a man so bold.  It'd be like renaming Professor X "Dumbass Sprinter". At least Shane Brolly's Kraven in Underworld was appropriately shifty and unimposing, though that always did make me wonder what Bill Nighy was thinking when putting him in charge.)

Meanwhile, Warren discovers to his relief that the mental blocks Jean has placed inside the minds of his uncle and his former doctor prevent them from revealing his status as a mutant (and I still don't get how a doctor goes from "I hate that I delivered a mutant baby" into "I shall murder an innocent woman and life-long friend", but whatever), and Xavier tries to fit in at the Martin household, a process made difficult by Ashley's jittery, mutant-wary mother. Ho, and indeed, hum.


Warren's mother is being carried out of the mansion on a stretcher, which a) means the other four X-Men left Warren with his dead mother before her body was cold, b) they're obviously all dicks, and c) body bags don't get used quite as often as Hollywood might make you think.

The rest of the Himalaya storyline takes place over two days, judging by the darkness of the sky when Kraven infiltrates the mansion and the lighter conditions when the X-Men return home.  The implication from Xavier's scenes ("not quite meanwhile") is that he's only spent one night at the Martin place, which would puts him a day behind the rest of the action.


Friday 11th to Sunday 13th July, 1980.


X+2Y+99 to X+2Y+101.

Contemporary Events

US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who we love dearly around these parts, gets married to Bruce Mann.  The couple are still together today.  Awww!

Standout Line

"Seems like there's a fine line between bein' romantic an' bein' a dope." - Bobby.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

X-Men And The Micronauts #1: "First Encounter"

(Toy story.)


This is a curious one.  It practically screams "toy-line promotion", which certainly seems to check out (indeed Sam is kind enough to provide a lampshade by mentioning the Micronauts in his sister's collection). We here are Year X are not precious about the motivations behind a given comic, though, and since this both features the X-Men and was co-written by Claremont, it clearly falls under our remit.

It's also a pretty quick issue to run through, given it's been divided precisely in two, with the X-Men not showing up until the action switches to Earth at the top of page 12 (one wonders if the writing duties between Claremont and Mantlo were shared the same way; it's difficult to tell from the text, though the second half reads like standard Claremont and the first reads like him on the worst day of his life, which might just be Mantlo's style; I don't know).  I don't feel the need to dwell much on the first half, but in brief, there's these Micronauts, right, superheroes who fly around in "Bioship", which is a Gobot that sings Earth spiritual numbers in a possibly racist accent.  They live in the Microverse, a miniature universe which is being invaded by forces so overwhelmingly and horrifyingly powerful that they've been compelled to forge an alliance with their arch-nemesis Baron Karza (think Doctor Doom with more interest in helmets) in the hope they can defend themselves.  Their initial encounter - with what proves to be a vicious army led by an Earthling psyker dressed as a conquistador - goes horribly wrong, with the entire Micronauts team captured, save Bioship, who escapes with Karza, hoping to find aid elsewhere.

Screenwipe.  Over at the Xavier pad, it's a typical day.  The professor is training the New Mutants, Kitty is whining and complaining, Ororo is in her bikini to offer the lads some side-boob.  Business very much as usual.

Until Karza arrives, detachable fists flailing.  He's got it into his head that the monstrous invader of his own realms is linked directly to Xavier (did Claremont just accidentally create Onslaught?), and he doesn't think much of putting questions ahead of punching on his to-do list.  He carves his way through the New Mutants, but the senior team prove a bigger impediment; they hold him off until Bioship can follow Karza through whatever interdimensional rift they're using, and explain the situation.

It's all a big misunderstanding, it would seem, but at least no damage was done.  At least, that's what Karza wants everyone to think.  In fact, he's swapped minds with Kitty following her attempt to phase through him, a fact he's keen for no-one to glom onto.  Conveniently for him, Kitty has lapsed into unconsciousness due to the strain, so she's not able to contradict him.  Equally conveniently, he possesses sufficient psychic power to not only keep Xavier in the dark, but to animate his own armour (now housing Kitty) so as to seem still himself as he explains the situation.  The X-Men agree to help out, and so Bioship shrinks them all down to doll size so they can head over to the beleaguered Microverse, all save Xavier, apparently because the talking spaceship with the shrinking ray isn't able to slap together a miniature wheelchair, and because a shrink ray that can work on flesh, adamantium and clothing is helpless against wood ("What, it doesn't do wood?").  The issue ends with our heroes stepping into the Microverse.

So what can I say about all this? I mean, so far, it's just a replay of UXM Annual #3, only with toys and less padding.  That's a swap I'd be happy to make, true, but it doesn't really lend itself to in-depth analysis.  Let's just go with this: I expected little from this issue, and I was neither disappointed nor pleasantly surprised.


Xavier mentions that Magma is now a part of the New Mutants team.  He's also unable to walk, which handily puts this issue between NMU #13 and NMU #14.  Less handily, that's only a gap of a week (NMU #14), and yet apparently it's a fine warm day, despite it snowing a few days later (NMU#14 again).  I think we'll just have to assume Storm is in a bikini because it's bright, not necessarily warm (we know that her powers make her immune to cold, after all), and that when Kitty calls this a lovely day, she means considering the time of year. It's also possible Ororo's fiddling with the weather again, too.

The story itself (at least that part which takes place on Earth) lasts for a few hours at most.


Monday 27th December, 1983.



Contemporary Events

Pope John Paul II visits his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca in Romes' Rebibbia prison, in order to forgive him.

Standout Line

"At last -- free of that accursed flying hand!" - Sunspot

Sunday, 13 January 2013

ALF #9: "Things Are Not Always What They Seem"

(Ten Things I Hate About Byrne)


Jeez, Byrne.  Can you and puns just get a room already?  This all passed embarrassing penchant a ways back, you're into full-blown fetish territory now.

Does everyone get it?  Does everyone see how clever Byrne is being here?  He's rewritten The Thing so that "the Thing" is the Thing!  So when the title warns us "things are not always what they seem", he actually means "Things are not always what they seem", because sometimes the Thing might actually be the thing out of The Thing!

Laugh? I nearly bit my hands off with my chest.

(Oh, and the base commander?  Named after the largest community in Antarctica.  How terribly clever.)

There's only fourteen pages in the main strip this month, so there's not a whole lot to say, not least because Byrne is far too in love with his own cleverness to really do much with his set-up.  The plot, such as it is, has Walter "Sasquatch" Langkowski visiting an Arctic base that's been detecting odd radiation signals.  Once Langkowski has his equipment set up, he uses the base's radio dish to "hook" the source of the radiation, which makes exactly zero sense, and it turns out to be the Thing, which is almost as ridiculous.

Yancy Street's most famous son is clearly in a bad way, so Walter turns into Sasquatch in full view of the base's staff (though there's only five other people in the whole compound), and carries the Thing to the doctor's office.  There Grimm is pronounced "alive, but covered in fucking rock".

With Thing delivered, Sasquatch considers his good deed done for the day - though since he apparently ripped the Thing from an interplanetary transporter beam, you'd think he'd be a bit more contrite [1] - but he's made a terrible mistake!   Something has gotten in, immolated the doctor, and abducted the Thing!  Something that can bend a chain-link fence in half and smash through an exterior wall like paper.

That's what Commander McMurdo believes, anyway.  Walt isn't so sure, noting the open window and the tracks leading away from the broken wall, with no corresponding incoming footprints.  In Langkowski's view, something inside the room leaned out of the window, smashed the wall inwards to mislead pursuit, and then left, carrying the Thing, and bent the chain-link fence in the wrong direction as well.

The problem with this theory is that it's all my balls, relying as it does on those viewing the room to conclude that because the attack seemingly came from the outside, there's no reason to follow the tracks leading away from the base.  That's not even remotely sensible.  Now, if the attacker could have faked his tracks as well, we might have something.  But that'd require walking backwards, which is clearly out of the question. I bet our mysterious assailant wished he was a shapechanger!

Obviously, Walter sets out, following the tracks.  As he goes he pieces together his theory: the attacker must have been in the room all along, suggesting invisibility, and must have stretched four feet out of the window to use super-strength to smash open the wall, having burned the doctor to death. 

Sound like anyone we know?

Walt makes the connection at roughly the same moment as the Super Skrull (for it is he!  He could shape-change all along and is just selectively an idiot!) obliterates the base in a wave of flame.  Most of the staff are killed instantly, Megan Masterson (who'd been flirting with Walt earlier) passes away in Sasquatch's arms, blind and horrifically burned. Langkowski is understandably furious, but the shockwave from the base's destruction may have broken his arm, which means he may have to face the Skrull Empire's premier warrior as poor old bog-standard Walt...

Today's back-up strip is called "A Stranger In My Mirror", and concerns itself with Jeanne-Marie Beaubier.  I've discussed at tedious (though I'd argue necessary) length the unease with which I view Byrne's ham-handed treatment of mental illness, so the fact that this strip begins with Jeanne-Marie trying to commit suicide doesn't really fill me with hope for the story.  Initial suspicions are rapidly confirmed as we learn Jeanne-Marie is a pupil in a Catholic boarding school, where they still figure the best way to treat young girls is to starve or beat the wickedness out of them, and where claiming one's suicide leap was foiled by a sudden ability to fly is a very, very wicked act indeed.

I will confess that I have absolutely no experience with girl's boarding schools.  I saw ten minutes of St Trinian's, once, and I dimly remember them appearing in at least one Carry On film, but that's about the sum of it. That means I'm on dodgy ground suggesting a Catholic education in (presumably) the 1970s wouldn't look anything like this, but it does strike this uninformed observer as being ridiculously hyperbolic. Starvation for lying.  Beatings for wearing make-up.  Presumably Byrne is piling on the misery to justify Jeanne-Marie's break-down (so she can start talking to her other personality in the mirror, which I'm on much firmer ground in dismissing as having had its day), but it all seems fairly ridiculous and frankly a little distasteful.  Especially after callously murdering five people in the previous fourteen pages.  I wonder if Byrne wanted to get a jump on the blood-drenched '90s?

Jeanne-Marie is taken over by her alter ego once, disappears for three days, and returns covered in make-up, which freaks her out so much she manages to go five further years without her alternate personality surfacing.  "Aurora" finally breaks out once more, however, when Jeanne-Marie returns to her old school as its newest member of staff.  Disgusted by Jeanne-Marie's timidity and refusal to accept her mutant gifts, Aurora heads out on the town in the most immodest clothes she can rustle up. This, obviously, leads to her being grabbed by rapists, because we all know what happens to pretty women who dare to be seen in the streets wearing alluring clothing (that said, Aurora is deliberately walking dangerous streets for the thrill).

Aurora's would-be attackers quickly realise they've bitten off rather more than they can chew, however, when she punches the first guy out without either of them even seeing her hand move.  The second goon is soon seen off by Wolverine, who was tailing Aurora (because he noticed something "odd" about her: riiiiiiight).  This is clearly just a way to get Aurora connected with Alpha Flight, but even so its aggravating that despite the fact that Aurora is clearly capable of fighting off her attackers herself, she still ends up being "rescued" by Wolverine.

Still, never mind.  Wolvie says he'll take Aurora to meet "Jimmy" Hudson in Ottowa, see if she wants to sign up with him. I'm sure that'll give her all the chances anyone could want to punch hoodlums in the testicles.  Hurrah!

The narration here mentions that winter is encroaching, which helpfully means that we can put it within a month of the New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men issues with the same cover dates.  The story itself takes place over a few hours.


Saturday 10th December, 1983.



Contemporary Events

Democracy returns to Argentina as Raul Alfonsin begins his first term as President.

Standout Line

"But everything enlarges proportionately? Heart? Lungs? Even your G.I. tract?" - Megan Masterson

Roughly translated "Why, what an amazing story, Dr Langkowski.  Tell me, when you become the giant, inhuman Sasquatch, do you remain just as full of shit as you are now?"

[1] While we're on the subject, why was the beam showing up for so long that there was time to get Langkowski up into the Arctic to take a look? Are there regular beamings going on?  Why doesn't Walt find that suspicious?  Or is it just that the beaming process is really slow, like an old dot matrix printer?  Sometimes you can come out of those things green because the transporter pad's run out of red.  Maybe that's why redshirts were always the first to die in Star Trek: it was costing Starfleet a fortune to keep buying the cartridges.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

UXM #180: "Whose Life Is It Anyway?"

("Now nothing ever ever goes my way.")


This is the last issue of UXM before the majority of the team are whisked away to fight in the Secret Wars, meaning there's not really any point in kicking off any kind of storyline here (other than the one involving Kitty and Doug, which runs on into NMU #15;  first Amara, then Illyana, now Kitty and Doug - the remaining original teenagers must be wondering what the point is anymore).  This gives Claremont the opportunity to bring one plotline to an ostensible close, as well as set things up for the events of Secret Wars.

What this means in practice is an issue with almost no action in it.  Indeed, the one scene that involves much more than talking involves Storm beating up some muggers, and even here, she doesn't actually use her powers offensively (for those counting, this is the second time Claremont has injected action into an otherwise dialogue driven issue by having Storm confront street criminals).  If it hasn't become clear by now, let me just state for the record: I have no problem with a comic book devoid of super-punching.  Indeed, it's generally a very nice change of pace.  A much bigger concern here regards how much of the dialogue in the issue comes from or involves Kitty Pryde, a character I've been pretty down on since she first showed up as the '80s broke.

So here's the good news: this is by no small margin the strongest Kitty-centric issue the series has managed to date.  Even more impressive, it's actually not at all bad in comparison to the book as a whole. 

The reason for this, I think, is in the theme of the issue.  This isn't so much an issue about Kitty as it is an issue about change, which simply features a great deal of time spent looking at a teenager's reaction to change through Kitty.  It's a subtle point, but it makes a big difference.

It also allows Claremont to structure the issue very well.  The three sections that make up the first half of the issue each include a character talking about how they feel they've changed, and then the next section involves other characters talking about how they view that person's change from the outside. 

We begin with Xavier and Ororo, two characters that are coming at the issue of change from opposite directions.  Xavier's change - the newfound use of his legs - is unambiguously positive, but he's not sure how far he can push himself; how much he needs to force himself to apply the brakes.  Ororo, on the other hand, isn't sure whether her change is positive, but doesn't know how to find the brakes at all, or whether in fact she'd be better accelerating.  It's a little like the Donkey Paradox, really.  For those who haven't heard of it, the Donkey Paradox features a donkey equidistant between two identical piles of straw, and suggests that, by having no way to choose between those piles, the donkey will remain stationary until it starves to death.

The paradox is intended as a swipe at utilitarianism (actions and consequences can be reduced to a measure of desirability), rather than an actual model of animal behaviour, but Ororo's version is the more interesting one, because she's caught between two options that are equally attractive, but for utterly different reasons.  That, I suggest, takes the problem outside the world of mathematics and into something we all recognise.  Two directions we're not sure we want to take, and a status quo that is clearly unacceptable.

Ororo has an additional problem to worry about, of course; Kitty, who's taking every opportunity possible to complain about what a bitch Storm has become these days.  This leads us into the second section, where we find Kitty herself at the arcades [1], along with Doug Ramsey.  Their conversations here are interesting for three reasons.  The first lies in Kitty's description of her feelings about Storm.  Consider:
DOUG:  Have her feelings for you changed?
KITTY: I don't know.  In a way, I don't really care, because my feelings for her have... She knew what she meant to me -- how important she was -- why did she have to become different ?! It isn't right, Doug, it isn't fair!
As usual, the self-absorption here is pretty suffocating, but there's a lot more going on.  Claremont is offering up a very common teenage attitude, which is that change is in itself a bad thing. This is hardly the first time Kitty has suggested a dislike of change, of course, but in actual fact, when you read back through her appearances, there's at least some evidence that the audience is supposed to agree with her on each occasion.  We're certainly supposed to agree that transferring Kitty to the Massachusetts Academy was a poor move, even before we discover what's going down over there.  Her hatred of Storm's new persona is given legitimacy by Ororo's own admissions that she's not sure the road she's headed down is a remotely good one.  And on the issue of Kitty's parents, well, you can't blame a girl for wanting to have her family stay together, after all.

So this section, and the final confrontation between Ororo and Kitty later on, takes us into new territory for the character, the recognition that has Storm changed just as significantly but in a less bloodthirsty direction, Kitty might well still be having this conversation.

Because change is just something teenagers react badly to. From my own teenage years and experience in teaching, I can tell you there's a very high probability that any teenager you talk to figures their adult life will see them and their current friends utterly unchanged, except with access to cooler stuff.  That, perhaps, is why the three obsessions most of my teenage friends (to differing degrees) seemed to have - the three measures of maturity they were willing to entertain - was how much they could drink, how quickly they could learn to drive, and how far they could push the envelope in terms of their developing sexuality.  To almost anyone below the age of sixteen, adulthood means driving, drinking, and having sex, and everything else staying exactly the same, always.

Claremont reinforces this with two lovely moments of teenage dialogue; Kitty's use of the phrase "it isn't fair", which from the mouth of a teenager almost always translates as "it isn't what I want" [2], and Doug Ramsey admitting he's been worried about Kitty's recent bad moods in case it's because of him, which as a slice of teenage solipsism is hard to beat.  Between this and constant churning of hormones over in New Mutants, Claremont's handle on teenage characters has certainly improved by this point.

The third point to note, as Colossus notes in the following section and Ororo points out to Kitty later on, is that Kitty is demanding stasis even as she goes through major changes herself, as all fourteen year olds will, and whilst she's talking to a guy she's started hanging out with so much her current boyfriend (if indeed that's the correct term) is convinced he's losing her.  In other words, it's not so much about a fear of change as a desire to be the ultimate arbitrator of what changes should and shouldn't be allowed. When she announces her plan to follow Doug to Massachusetts to ensure the Hellfire Club aren't after him, you'll notice she doesn't scream the place down because Xavier has changed in how much more he listens to her ideas.  Stasis is fine, improvement is excellent, worsening is unfair.

Kitty's "do as I say, not as I do" attitude to change is important, because it means that when we move to the third section, in which Peter admits to Logan he's afraid of losing Kitty, but figures it might well be inevitable, he's probably right, but not for the reasons he gives.  He thinks the potentially insurmountable obstacles are his comparative ignorance and their wildly different cultural upbringings, but what's really happening is that a man who at somewhere around his twentieth birthday has gone through much (though of course by no means all) of the changes of youth is watching someone who still has so far to go set off on that journey, with no idea of where they will eventually end up.

With these three reflective sections over, the issue moves on to more standard superhero business.  As mentioned, Storm gets into a fight with some muggers, only to discover their victims are more scared of her than they were of their attackers (they have the decency to thank her, at least).  Back at the mansion, Kitty unveils her plan, and Xavier rather randomly reveals that Doug is a mutant (how exactly Xavier knows both this and what Doug's powers are is not explained; one wonders whether Amara was right to question whether Xavier's self-imposed restrictions on his telepathy are really as reasonable as he assumes).  With that out of the way, it's time for Storm to confront Sprite.

If there's one part of this issue that I'm not sold on, it's why Ororo has chosen this exact moment for their confrontation.  She's been stewing about this for a while, true, but neither her conversation with Xavier nor her confrontation with the muggers in the botanic gardens offer any obvious impetus.  I'm sticking with my theory that this is coming up so it can be cleared off the board before Storm heads into the Secret Wars, but it would be nice to have hidden that a little.

That said, the argument itself is well constructed.  Ororo explains in detail her problem pretty much stems from realising she's willing to sacrifice her friends for the greater good, and not being able to decide whether that should be considered a good thing, and how that's rubbing up against her traditional unwillingness to follow her emotions, leading to her paradoxically becoming more and less passionate.  Kitty, for her part, is insistent that she needs some kind of stable point in her life, and with her parent's divorce Storm is the only port left in the, er, storm.  That's pretty much the smartest way to express Kitty's position, actually, but the problem lies in Kitty's definition of stable, which basically requires that Storm have no identity beyond what Kitty requires from her.

(Indeed, there's an echo of this at the beginning of the issue in which Xavier notes to himself that he'd never noticed before how attractive a woman Storm is.  It's an awkward (and distantly familiar) note, but it does tie into the larger theme of how hard Storm once worked to be almost sexless and without passion, and how she's no longer interested in maintaining that facade.  I don't see how else you can get to a position where Storm becomes more attractive with that godsawful haircut...)

Ororo's reply is basically that Kitty has every right to not be a fan of her new approach, but she has no right to argue Ororo should feel bad for making whatever changes to her own life she wants to. Storm also notes that she bears some responsibility for the situation, having originally liked the idea of being a surrogate mother, but having come to realise that this isn't a particularly healthy relationship, especially since a) Kitty already has a mother, and b) Kitty is part of a team Storm leads and might one day have to sacrifice.

The conversation ends on a positive but not saccharine note; Kitty doesn't agree to be happy about New Storm, but agrees that she neds to accept her.  With that concluded, the comic jumps forward a week to Kitty and Doug's trip to New England.  Things go badly wrong almost immediately when the White Queen reveals herself on board their plane; apparently that whole "coma" thing didn't really take.  Kitty tries to send the Professor a mental distress call, but it's too late: the X-Men have already found and been kidnapped by a giant spaceship!


This story takes place over the course of a week.

We can place this story immediately after the events of NMU #14, which in our new view of the timeline puts it just after New Year.  The narration tells us winter has hit New York with a vengeance after an Indian summer, which suggests we may be setting this a little later than was intended, but it doesn't seem utterly implausible.

At least, it doesn't seem utterly implausible in comparison with the snarled shit-parade of recent continuity.  Kitty makes a reference to Wolverine's aborted marriage ceremony happening in spring, which agrees with the Wolverine mini-series and other comments around the time, but as usual we're sidestepping that in order to make the beginning of NMU and the X-Men's time in space make any sense at all, date wise.


Tuesday 3rd to Tuesday 10th January, 1984.


X+5Y+309 to X+5Y+316.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.51 standard years.

(Illyana is 22 years old)

Contemporary Events

The Victoria Agreement kicks off the existence of the Indian Ocean Commission, which joins Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles, and the French overseas department of Reunion in various forms of co-operation, in the interests of boosting trade and tourism.

Standout Line

"Massachusetts is, I believe, part of the civilised world..." - Nightcrawler.

[1] There's a lot of nostalgia for me in this scene; I remember begging my parents to let me play in arcades every time we so much as went to a town I'd heard might have one.  The realisation that "arcade" could also simply refer to a shopping centre was one of the great disappointments of my early life.

Also, note here that Kitty breaks an arcade machine by getting past 99 999 999 points and causing it to crash.  Is this perhaps the earliest recorded prediction of the Millennium Bug? Claremont really was a visionary...

[2] Though in truth this is hardly an affliction of teenagers alone, the world would be a much better place if more adults were capable of conceiving of fairness as anything other than the process of determining what one wants and working out how to justify it.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

NMU #14: "Do You Believe In Majik?"

(The bimbo outta Limbo)


Ordinarily, I'd be kicking off my look of the April-cover X-books with Uncanny X-Men, but on this occasion we're going to start with the younger sibling, for reasons which shall no doubt become clear.

There's quite a bit to be said about NMU #14, both good and bad.  It's clearly an important issue, marking as it does Illyana's induction into the X teams, a move that resulted in her becoming one of the top tier of X-Men characters a little under thirty years later.

The introduction itself is... odd, and like so much of Claremont's work exceptionally inconsistent.  The best way to run through this issue is probably by breaking it up into A plot and B plot.  Indeed, I should mention in passing that Claremont has gotten pretty good at breaking down his comics without them seeming too bitty.  In fact, the model applied here - distinct main plot and sub plot that seem unconnected but dovetail at the end (at least thematically), then a cliffhanger from out of nowhere - is still alive and well in the 21st century.  Lost relied on it pretty much every episode.

The A plot involves the aforementioned introduction.  Teebore mentions over at his gaff that it's strange it took Claremont over a year and a half to make use of Illyana, which is a fair point, but I suspect the reason for the delay was to give Claremont time to write Magik: Storm and Illyana.  As it was Marvel had to rush out the last issue of said mini, presumably to ensure the conclusion hit the stands before either this issue or UXM #179, both of which give the game away somewhat.

Anyway, after all this time, Illyana decides to get into the game. I'm again in agreement with Teebore on how low-key her induction is here (and I mean low-key to the point where no-one actually mentions it happening), though after so many issues centring on Amara, the light touch makes for a nice change.

All of that is pretty much fine, then.  Claremont also gets bonus points for putting as much effort as he does into contrasting Illyana's beaten-down apathy with the childish innocence of the rest of the team, who throw snowballs at each other and giggle as they shop, whilst she stands quietly in the corner and wonders what possible value anything in her life has.  For once, Claremont manages to avoid taking a hammer to the idea, leaving it obvious but not explicitly stated, which is a nice change.

So if all that's worked out just fine, what's my beef here?  Well, it all stems from the return of S'ym.  S'ym was one of Belasco's demonic employees, until Illyana cut him near in half with her soulsword minutes before escaping Limbo.  Now it turns out the wound wasn't mortal, and he's made the journey over to our dimension to drag Illyana back into the pit. My minor issue - which really is minor - is that I'm not a fan of having S'ym survive his fight against Illyana.  Gods know, she made sure enough she'd killed her friends Cat and Ororo, it sits uneasily with me that she'd not put in as much effort into making sure a vicious thug like S'ym ended up six feet under.  I'm not saying it makes no sense that a demon could recover from what mortally wound a man, I just don't like the idea.

Like I said, a minor objection.  A much bigger problem is the fact that we already know Illyana would have no problem blasting S'ym into ugly purple chunks if she was of a mind to - Claremont goes so far as to remind us of this on page 10 - but she's unable to do so because S'ym's arrival has her all discombobulated.

There are two problems with this.  This first is that it's a bullshit way to artificially extend a storyline.  Obviously there's nothing wrong with a plot which denies a character access to their standard power set, and so makes previously negligible threats into significant dangers (see for example Buffy's "Helpless", which is awesome).  What's objectionable is basing that denial around the character just having a freak-out, which both damages your character by making them seem incompetent and foolish, and devolves the rest of the story into plays for time until the heavy artillery gets their act together and does what she should have in the first place.  Needless to say, this is exactly what happens here.

The second problem with this approach forms my final complaint about the issue as a whole, as well as with NMU #13: if you're introducing a character so powerful that your plot requires she be too scared, too confused, or even too unused to hot sun, in order to prevent everything being all over immediately, then your character is too powerful to begin with.  This wasn't quite such an issue with Magma last issue, since she wasn't actually in combat.  Here, it just kills the narrative dead.  Illyana is a teleporting mutant and nigh-unstoppable teenage sorceress.  Rahne can change into a wolf.  Combining such power imbalances on a single team requires a defter touch by far than Claremont demonstrates here.  Combine this with how truly scary Magma's abilities can be, and you're left with the four remaining original characters being dangerously overshadowed by the newcomers.

(I'm also not entirely thrilled by three consecutive issues featuring problems arising from female characters just not being able to settle down and act calmly, though since this is the first comic I'm aware of where team members losing control are more likely to be women if only because the team is two-thirds female, I'm inclined to cut Claremont a great deal of slack here. 66.7% women is good going for 1984, and is still all but unheard of today, at least outside of books like Birds of Prey that are based and sold specifically on the premise.)

So no-one can stop S'ym, it all looks bleak, and then Illyana finally gets involved and returns the demon to Limbo, though not before she's extracted a promise of allegiance, and erased the memory of Stevie Hunter (the only witness to the confrontation).  What's going on in the B plot?

Turns out it's all about Xavier this week.  Poor guy has been in an awful funk ever since Lilandra left signal range, and whilst he's sulking, the New Mutants are trying to put together a surprise party for him without getting close enough for him to read their minds.  That, in fairness, is a lovely little idea.  Eventually the team pull said party off, and Xavier is game enough to attend despite being a notorious mood-killer, feeling awful after losing his soul mate, and having been punched in the face by a demon not three hours earlier.  What a trooper.

But as it happens, he does have at least one reason to celebrate: he's finally managed to conquer his psychosomatic agony and start walking again!  That's some interesting timing, isn't it?  Just after Lilandra moves out of range, the old safety pins spool back up, huh?  Are we supposed to believe this is mere coincidence?  Personally, I think it's much more likely Xavier was faking in the hope of getting Lilandra to stay with him, or at least get a few bonus pity fucks.  Lilandra using some kind of long-range pain generator to keep keep him from cheating on her for as long as she could also strikes me as distinctly plausible.  Whatever the reason (I'm not sure it's ever really explained, not that it particularly strikes me as necessary), it gives him a chance to dance with Illyana, which both draws a line under both characters, and affords Illyana a moment of panic, convincing her that "he knows!".  I haven't the faintest idea what this is a reference to, but maybe it'll go somewhere later.

So, like I said, everything comes together in the end.  Time for the cliffhanger out of nowhere: Doug Ramsey shows up to tell Kitty he's been offered a foundation scholarship... at Emma Frost's Massachusetts Academy!

Dun dun DUUUUR!


Well, this has become horribly complicated.  It's clear from the opening of this issue that it's supposed to follow on directly from the conclusion to Magik: Storm and Illyana, and UXM #180 in turn follows on from this.  That causes more than a few problems with Claremont's insistence that we're pretty much one full year on from Illyana's disappearance and return in UXM #160.

The first point to make is that this is patently insane by Claremont's own timeline.  Illyana disappeared before the X-Men were kidnapped and taken into space.  During that time, Xavier rebuilt the mansion, the New Mutants experienced a New York spring, and then the X-Men returned just in time for Christmas.  The last three issues of UXM took place in early Autumn.  There's just no conceivable way it's been a year, and the fact that Claremont changes his mind about Illyana's age from MSI #4 and here underlines how scattershot all of this has been.

Of course, we've been pissing all over Claremont's timeline for months now, because it hasn't made a lick of sense for quite some time.  We might be better placed to make this latest revelation fit, and it's really not in the spirit of this blog to not even try.  The snow in this issue suggests we're somewhere between November and April; more likely December and March.  We could move therefore move the action forward to March, except firstly it's only been a week or so since Amara arrived at the mansion, and secondly it seems that this New York snowfall catches everyone by surprise (or at least that the kids aren't bored of it by now), which suggests early winter rather than the run-up to spring.

I think the bet way to combine all of this is to extend the length of time the New Mutants spent on holiday after surviving the coup in Nova Roma (Claremont is considerate enough to lend credence to this idea by implying Roberto and Amara have been getting it on under palm trees while we've not been looking).  We can then move everything forward to the second day of January (there'd be no shopping on the first, I presume), which makes it only eight months since Illyana returned, but at least means it was in the previous year.

All of this will mean some changes to the timeline for Uncanny and Dazzler (Alpha Flight is sufficiently far removed for it not to be an issue), but we'll deal with that when we cover UXM #180 and DAZ #32.

Oh, and this issue can't take place on a Thursday.


Monday 2nd January, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Over one hundred people are killed in a riot in Tunis.

Standout Line

"It was the little things that hurt most -- realizing in my room that all my clothes were too small."

Friday, 4 January 2013

Timeline 1983: Jan - Jun (Take 8)


6th DAZ 6: The Hulk can be Hazardous to Your Health!
7th DAZ 6: The Hulk can be Hazardous to Your Health!
8th DAZ 6: The Hulk can be Hazardous to Your Health!
8th DAZ 7: Fort Apache, the Hulk!
9th DAZ 7: Fort Apache, the Hulk!
10th ALF 5: What Fools These Mortals be...
11th DAZ 8: Hell... Hell is for Harry!
11th ALF 5: What Fools These Mortals be...
12th DAZ 8: Hell... Hell is for Harry!
12th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
12th ALF 5: What Fools These Mortals be...
13th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
14th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
15th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
16th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
17th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
18th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
19th DAZ 9: The Sound and the Fury!
19th DAZ 10: In the Darkness... a Light!
19th DAZ 11: ...Lest ye be Judged!
20th DAZ 11: ...Lest ye be Judged!
24th DAZ 12: Endless Hate
25th DAZ 12: Endless Hate


4th UXM 144: Even in Death...
5th UXM 144: Even in Death...
8th DAZ 13: Trial... and Terror!
9th DAZ 13: Trial... and Terror!
21st DAZ 14: ...Without Getting Killed or Caught!...
24th DAZ 15: Private Eyes
25th DAZ 15: Private Eyes
28th UXM 145: Kidnapped!
28th UXM 146: Murderworld!
28th DAZ 16: Black Magic Woman!


1st UXM 145: Kidnapped!
1st UXM 146: Murderworld!
1st UXM 147: Rogue Storm!
1st DAZ 16: Black Magic Woman!
2nd UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
3rd UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
4th UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
5th UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
6th UXM 148: Cry, Mutant!
8th UXM 149: And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!
8th UXM 150: I, Magneto!
9th WOL #1: Wolverine
10th WOL 1: Wolverine
11th WOL 1: Wolverine
12th WOL 1: Wolverine
13th WOL 2: Debts and Obligations
18th DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
19th DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
20th WOL 3: Loss
20th DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
21st DAZ 17: The Angel and the Octopus!
23rd WOL 4: Honor


1st DAZ 18: The Absorbing Man Wants you!
2nd DAZ 18: The Absorbing Man Wants you!
2nd DAZ 19: Creel... and Inhuman Treatment!
3rd DAZ 19: Creel... and Inhuman Treatment!
3rd DAZ 20: Out of the Past!
3rd DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
4th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
5th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
6th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
7th UXM Annual 5: Ou, La La -- Badoon!
7th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
8th UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!
8th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
9th UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!
9th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
10th UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!
10th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
11th UXM 151: X-Men Minus One!
11th UXM 152: The Hellfire Gambit!
11th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
12th UXM 152: The Hellfire Gambit!
12th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
13th UXM 153: Kitty's Fairy Tale
13th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
14th DAZ 21: Alison Blaire, This is Your Life!
26th UXM 154: Reunion
27th UXM 155: First Blood
27th UXM 156: Pursuit!
28th UXM 156: Pursuit!
28th UXM 157: Hide-'N'-Seek!


3rd UXM 158: The Life That Late I Led...
7th UXM 159: Night Screams!
8th UXM 159: Night Screams!
9th UXM 159: Night Screams!
10th UXM 159: Night Screams!
11th UXM 160: Chutes and Ladders!
11th MSI 1: Little Girl Lost (flashback)
11th MSI 2: Cold Iron, Hot Blood (flashback)
11th MSI 3: Soulquest (flashback)
11th MSI 4: Darkchild (flashback)
15th UXM 161: Gold Rush!
16th UXM 161: Gold Rush!


5th DAZ 22: Sisterhood
6th UXM 162: Beyond the Farthest Star
6th DAZ 23: Fire in the Night!
7th UXM 162: Beyond the Farthest Star
7th DAZ 23: Fire in the Night!
8th UXM 163: Rescue Mission!
8th UXM 164: Binary Star!
8th DAZ 23: Fire in the Night!
9th UXM 164: Binary Star!
9th UXM 165:Transfigurations!
10th UXM 165: Transfigurations!
10th UXM 166: Live Free or Die!
11th UXM 166: Live Free or Die!
12th MGN 4: Renewal
12th DAZ 24: A Rogue in the House
13th MGN 4: Renewal
13th DAZ 24: A Rogue in the House
14th MGN 4: Renewal
14th DAZ 24: A Rogue in the House
15th MGN 4: Renewal
16th MGN 4: Renewal
17th MGN 4: Renewal
18th MGN 4: Renewal
19th MGN 4: Renewal
20th MGN 4: Renewal
21st MGN 4: Renewal
21st ALF 6: Snowblind
22nd MGN 4: Renewal
23rd MGN 4: Renewal
24th MGN 4: Renewal
25th MGN 4: Renewal
26th MGN 4: Renewal
27th MGN 4: Renewal
28th MGN 4: Renewal
29th MGN 4: Renewal
30th MGN 4: Renewal

MSI #4: "Darkchild"

(End of an error.)


Here we reach the end of this second X-Men mini-series.  I've not been entirely kind to this story overall - though I'll admit it gets better as it progresses - but will the final chapter turn me around on it?

Well, not really. Like this issue before it, MSI #4 can at least claim to be entirely competent.  It knows its theme and sticks to it, and throws in a couple of nice ideas.  Given this series started off with apparently no clue about what it wanted to do other than fill in a gap (which having read the whole thing I can now say with full confidence should have been left a mystery), tying the whole thing together is better than might have been feared.

Really, though, it's all depressingly obvious.  I had the series pegged halfway through the second issue: Illyana learns from Storm, then Cat, then Belasco, and puts it all together to save humanity at the end.  As it turns out, this is exactly what happens.  Combine this with the fact that we already know that Illyana spends seven years in Limbo and then escapes, and there's nothing surprising to distract from the rather obvious and basic template.

The biggest shock here is that, having killed Cat at the end of last issue, Illyana kicks this one off by stabbing Storm to death.  This is interesting for several reasons.  Firstly, it's an implicit refutation of a recurring argument in the series (that I've already railed against several times) that murder is invariably an evil act.  Here Illyana murders Storm in order to save her from the agonising extraction of her soul.  An act of compassion, essentially.  It's also interesting to note that Storm concluded at the end of issue 2 that she'd have to kill Illyana to save the girl's soul, which means that not only have their positions been reversed, but that Belasco has been the only one of Illyana's three teachers to not try and kill her.

He does however banish her, sending her to the wilderness without access to her stepping discs, and without the ability to die, ensuring maximum torment.  Before this, though, Illyana manages two last jaunts, one to Ororo's garden in Limbo, which is already dying without the weather witch to sustain it, and to her own home in the USSR.   Here she meets her parents, who not surprisingly cannot reconcile a teenage girl clad in sabretooth tiger fur with their six year old little girl, and throw her out.  This gets across the fact that the damage has already been done to our heroine more than any amount of "I hate Belasco, but I love him" dialogue, though Claremont certainly goes to great lengths in his attempt to disprove that hypothesis.

Once out in the wild Illyana returns to Ororo's garden, to take shade against the magical blizzard forever enveloping the land in the huge oak tree that is all that remains of Storm's creation.  For some time (presumably two years, though it's not actually clear), Illyana survives by leeching energy from the tree, trying and failing to create new life to regrow the garden, and seeing it explode in corruption whenever she tries.  Ultimately, even the mighty tree she shelters beneath runs out of energy, and collapses to the ground.

I said this was all kind of obvious. Our heroine has had everything stripped away: her past, her future, her friends, even her shelter (and I think Claremont could have stood to dial back the strength of the bond formed here twixt girl and tree; I like deciduous growths as much as the next person, but come on...). It's time for her to suddenly work out how to beat the villain.  Three and a half issues into the series, and we've arrived at the most important point.

And... it's just so horribly pedestrian.  Illyana concludes that Storm could create acorns because a commitment to life was her defining feature.  Illyana wants to do it as part of a larger plan of survival and revenge, which won't work.  She needs to aim directly at what she wants.  She doesn't need an acorn; she needs a sword.

Is that really what we've been working towards?  She can just fashion the McGuffin Blade and everything's peachy?  Illyana herself notes that if she'd worked that out sooner it would have saved a whole lot of bother, and as usual, this blog holds to the priciple that if your own characters are complaining they've wasted their time, you've messed up somewhere along the line.

It doesn't help that in addition to gaining her weapon, Illyana's realisation just suddenly turns her disks back on.  Yes, there were suggestions last issue that Belasco may have ended up with a pupil rather more popular with the Gods than he himself is, but that can't do the heavy lifting needed here.  Basically, after an issue of Storm counselling non-violence as regards Belasco, an issue of Cat demonstrating the folly of violence against Belasco, and an issue in which Illyana learns violence against Belasco is not only ineffective but counter-productive, the ultimate solution turns out to be: violence against Belasco?

That said, the strands do tie together, as I've said, so long as you see Illyana's triumph coming not from what she accepts from each teacher's approach, but in what she rejects.  She refuses the passive role Storm played, but also refuses Cat's approach of thoughtless, headstrong violence.  When she finally fights Belasco, the kindest reading of this book is that this balance is what allows her to win out.  The rather less kind reading would just have it that she wins because she's more powerful and the Chaos Gods would rather see her in charge than Belasco, but on this occasion let's try and stay positive.  The same problem rears its head when Illyana refuses to kill Belasco and take his place; is she denying the Gods because she's rejecting Belasco's philosophy that what one wants and what is best for you are the same thing?  Or because she got to see what trying to do Belasco in got Storm years before: i.e. less than nothing.

Like I say, I'm trying to stay positive.  A story that can be reasonably read two ways is no bad thing, even when the duality seems more plausibly due to lack of thought than intentional ambiguity.  Looked upon favourably, this series ends up doing it's job; filling in the gap with a story that works on its own terms.

It just doesn't do anything at all beyond that.  Illyana defeats the bad guy, refuses to kill him, and goes home.  All boxes ticked, all questions answered.  Events happened, and no more needs to be said.

I still say that's a damn shame.


This one's a little confusing; Illyana states that she has no idea how long she spends banished from Belasco's citadel, but later says she's been away from Earth for seven years, which means her exile had to have lasted two years. How she comes to that conclusion isn't explained.

It snows during Illyana's recitation of her story, which apparently isn't unheard of mid-May in upstate New York.


Sunday 13th May, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Standout Line

"I made the supreme effort... and Ororo's tree, the supreme sacrifice."

Holy lizardballs, Illyana.  Keep some perspective.  Captain Oates made the supreme sacrifice.  Ororo's tree just fell down after a while.