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.

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