Friday, 4 January 2013
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.
"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.