Wednesday, 9 January 2013
NMU #14: "Do You Believe In Majik?"
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.
Over one hundred people are killed in a riot in Tunis.
"It was the little things that hurt most -- realizing in my room that all my clothes were too small."