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.

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