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.

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