Thursday, 28 February 2013

ALF #10: "Blood Battle!"

(From the ridiculous to the subprime mortgage.)


Is this the most strangely structured comic I've looked at yet?  As a brief reminder, last time we visited Canada we found ourselves above the Arctic Circle, watching as Walter Langkowski, stuck in his human form due to a broken arm, faced off against the Super Skrull, who'd already killed all five staff members at the research station Langkowski was visiting.  That's all you need to know, really, but of course Byrne still thinks it's necessary to dedicate over half a page to an explanatory flashback.

Not over half the first page, though, because for reasons unknown, we kick off with three pages of James Hudson buying a New York apartment. Because nothing ramps up anticipation of a battle to the death in the freezing Arctic winter like seeing someone signing up for a new mortgage.  To make things worse, this scene is accompanied by some of Bryne's worst writing yet:
And this day, across the majestic Brooklyn Bridge words are spoken and papers signed which are intended to reduce Canada's population by two... while increasing New York's by the same number.
Yikes. Bryne could get two paragraphs out of opening a phone book. 

Time to return to our scheduled episode of Skrull & the Sasquatch, and things don't look good for our hero.  With one arm broken he daren't transform into Sasquatch, which basically limits his options to running away.  Except of course that his enemy is faster than him, which further reduces the choices to one; throw himself down a sleep slope of ice and hope for the best.

"The best" isn't exactly what happens.  Langkowski reaches the ground safely enough, except the ground proves to be covered in a snow deep several feet deep, and he's quickly swallowed.  The good news is, the sudden shock of being buried alive instinctively triggers a transformation, which turns out to repair bones in any case.  The bad news is that the resulting agonising shifting of Walter's skeleton drives him mad, leaving him a savage beast in fact as well as in appearance.

Actually, that has its good side, too, since now he's all roided up, Sasquatch has no trouble beating the alien snot out of the Super Skrull. The shape-shifter only avoids total defeat by breaking out his secret weapon and hypnotising Langkowski.  And a good thing too, because otherwise, we wouldn't get two whole pages of the Super Skrull's story.

I really don't have the energy to run through what we learn here.  Sooner or later, you have to call an end to the madness.  Besides, it's not a good idea to encourage these people.  There's two reasons Byrne has stuck this weird combination of the alien's flashbacks and Langkowski's resultant deductions.  The first is to throw chum to the fansharks by linking ol' Supes' last appearance to this one.  The second is to paper over the cracks in the storyline.

Both of these impulses are interesting, because of how many pixels have been spilled over the years on the subject of how far they should be taken.  The most obvious comparison here from this squid's perspective is Russell T Davies' reign of terror during the Tenth Doctor era.

Those who've read the older blog will know I have very little time for Davies as a sci-fi writer, or for some of the more ridiculous things he's come out with in interviews.  For now, though, let's limit my dislike to two strands: Davies' comments that callbacks to the old series were self-indulgent and alienated new viewers, and what I can only read as an utter disinterest in ensuring his various lunatic ideas and setpieces actually have any kind of logical throughline whatsoever.

I mention this because I've spent a ridiculously disproportionate amount of time online - even by my standards - beating these ideas up, but Byrne's work here is Exhibit A that Davies has a point. The idea that references to the past are in themselves is self-evidently idiotic (though the chances Davies was being entirely straight with his responses is of course minimal); the Tennant era was littered with asides regarding previous adventures.  It was simply that the majority of said adventures were never actually seen, a fact that's lost on the exact same people Davies is trying to claim shouldn't be confused by previous references.  Moreover, one of those irritating issues with such long running multi-author stories as Doctor Who and the X-Men both is a tendency for the artifacts of the past to be reused without regard to the events of the past.  Most commonly this involves a dead character returning without so much as a ghost of an explanation (be it the Master or fully half of the Marvel supervillain back catalogue), but there are many less obvious forms of the problem as well.

In this sense, the two issues are actually one and the same, it's all just a disagreement about when and where explanation is necessary. What separates them is who exactly is arguing for greater exposition.

The debate about how much of any given plot should be explicitly explained, implicitly clear, purposefully mysterious, and just obviously inexplicable, is by far the more interesting of the two battles.  Which is a shame, because for the purposes of this post, it's not really particularly relevant.  That's not true of Byrne's work in general, however.  I tend to agree with Phil Sandifer's take on Byrne that he thinks his readers are idiots, and thus works far too hard to ensure nothing is left unexplained, irrespective of how rubbish those explanations prove to be in practice.  For now, though, let's focus on Byrne's other major failing.

Byrne, I think, has always been a fan's kind of writer, someone who knows what long term readers want to see.  The problem is, there's always been an important difference between what fans say they want, and what works in practice.  A slavish devotion to continuity is the big one here, of course; ensuring every new story fits into the ever-tightening parameters created by those it follows.

Obviously, this isn't a position to which I'm unsympathetic, but I'm not kidding myself, it can get problematic. It certainly does here. Byrne hates (understandably) the idea of bringing back the Super Skrull without any explanation as to how he got there, and so hammers home every step from A to B to justify the reveal. 

The problem here is two-fold.  First, obviously, it makes for boring reading.  If you can't explain a reveal in a couple of sentences, then you either drop the explanation, or you drop the story (my preference would be for the former, but I'll grant it depends how good the story itself is; an overly-padded confrontation based on a double pun certainly doesn't qualify).  The second problem is that Bryne's explanation is so utterly batshit nutball that it ends up working in exactly the wrong direction. Even I'm prepared to admit that no explanation is preferable to an utterly terrible one, and a story about becoming a "living space-warp" and bouncing around a transport beam until developing super lukemia (I'm not joking here, Walter actually offers super lukemia as his differential) is nothing if not uniformly terrible.

So if Davies' true point is that explanations can end up backfiring horribly, well, point taken.

Right. Back to the "action". All of that cosmic cancer seems to have affected the Super Skrull's hypnotic abilities (not something I ever thought I'd type, but not in the top twenty stupid things about this issue), allowing Walt to play possum, helping the alien build a method home until it's time to strike (the alien accidentally helps with this by not bothering with any hypnosis re-ups, which is does make the top twenty).  When the Skrull suffers another attack, Sasquatch throws him into the half-built transporter, scattering unstable molecules all over our unstable cosmos.

The danger passed, Walter begins the long walk back, fretting all the way about whether his earlier bloodlust is a sign he's giving in to the beast within.  Me, I say anything you do with your arm in two pieces counts for very little in terms of predicting trends.  In any case, everyone's favourite ginger monster soon has other things on his mind, when he gets back to his apartment to find Aurora waiting for him...

Speaking of Aurora, this issue's back up strip "Family Ties" finishes off her origin story, as Vindicator arranges her first meeting in decades with her twin brother Northstar.  As with the main story, there's really far more expository detail than's necessary in here; I'm really not all that bothered about the exact details by which the twins ended up growing up without any knowledge of each other.  That said, there are two nice ideas packed away in these five pages.  The first is the idea that the French Canadian Northstar hates the parliament in Ottawa, and has never felt the need to learn to speak English (though the implication here is that he can understand it).  The second is actually really surprising; Byrne hints that Northstar is gay.

I had no idea that Jean-Paul's orientation was implied so early, and it's to Byrne's significant credit.  Looking at the backstory, it turns out Bryne in fact wanted to give more than just nods and winks, but Marvel nixed the plan, due to some combination of the CCA being its typically unpleasant self, and Jim Shooter refusing to allow openly gay characters. We'll have to wait another eight years before Northstar can finally state the truth explicitly, but obviously I'll be keeping an eye on what else is said on the subject as we go on.


The main action in this issue takes place through the night and into the following morning.  Walter's return home to find Aurora takes place just under a week later.  The issue confirms that we are now in winter.


Saturday 10th to Saturday 17th December, 1983.


X+5Y+285 to X+5Y+292.

Contemporary Events

The 45th government of Turkey is formed, beginning a new era of civilian rule.

Satya Bhabha is born, and later grows up to be the first guy Michael Cena beats up in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Standout Line

"The women don't seem to have interested you overmuch..." - James Hudson.

Dammit, Vindicator?  How are you supposed to find the forest with all these damn trees in the way?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

SWA #2-4: "Prisoners Of War", "Tempest Without, Crisis Within!", "Situation: Hopeless!"

(Humans vs mutants vs criminal freaks.)


These three issues take us up to one third of the way through the Secret Wars, so I suppose I should go over what happens.  Fortunately, there's nothing particularly complicated that needs explaining.

Issue #2 starts off with a brawl between the two sides which leaves the villains sorely defeated.  Only Doom, Galactus and Ultron escape a beating, though in the latter's case that's only because Galactus has already deactivated him.  Whilst those villains who escaped capture limp away from their encounter, Doom breaks back into their lair (which he renames, inevitably, "Doombase"), hoping to scrounge together something useful, possibly including Ultron's body.  When the villains return, Doom has reactivated Ultron under his control, and it takes very little time to "persuade" the various ne'er-do-wells that they're best off taking orders from the ruler of Latveria from now on.

Meanwhile, the heroes find a base of their own to make use of, as does Magneto, and Galactus spends his time standing on a hillside brooding in silence.  The issue ends with Magneto sneaking into the heroes' base and trying to start a chain reaction in the generators, hoping to provide a distraction for his plan.  Things don't work out and the heroes catch him in the act.  Magneto is forced to retreat, but manages to grab the Wasp and take her with him.

Oh, and the Thing turns back into regular old Ben Grimm, for some reason.

In issue #3, a massive storm engulfs the land, forcing everyone to drum their fingers whilst they wait for enough blue to make a sailor a pair of Lycra super-tights.  Man, what would our heroes give for a weather manipulator or the God of Thunder right now, huh? Seriously.  Clearly lacking such resources, the heroes sit around and snipe at each other, because that's just what they do. Magneto meanwhile seems intent on either recruiting the Wasp or seducing her; possibly both.

Only the X-Men seem particularly interested in being proactive, though their definition of the word is to plot to sneak out and link up with Magneto, so they can all be mutated BFFs. Spiderman overhears their conversation (a little careless of our guys, actually; it's not like they lack the capability of mental conferencing), but Xavier rather callously wipes the experience from Parker's mind to prevent a superhero civil war.  Which would be awful, when you think about it.

While the X-Men flee the heroes complex and Magneto succeeds in getting to first base with Janet van Dyne, Doom is hard at work slapping together two new supervillainesses to help him crush his enemies.  Meet Miss Rosenberg, AKA Volcana, capable of firing bolts of magma from her hands.  Tremble before "Skeeter" MacPherran, the woman now known as Titania, capable of both throwing gigantic rocks through the air and wandering around in a t-shirt and panties for no real reason!  How did Doom gift them with powers?  Who knows!  What the fuck are they even doing on the Beyonder's world?  No answer is forthcoming!  But boy are our heroes in trouble...

Especially since Thor has decided to interrogate the captured Enchantress, and lets her persuade him into talking away from the heroes' base.  Between this, the X-Men's desertion, and the Hulk failing to wake Captain America when its time to change the watch, the sudden arrival of Doom and his forces leads to a very short and one-sided fight.  The heroes have been defeated!

Lastly, issue #4 deals with the battle's aftermath.  Having punched their way through the heroes, Doom's forces leave the compound so Molecule Man can obliterate it.  Somehow, though, they quickly discover the heroes have escaped, and are regrouping five miles away in plain sight.  Titania's response is to start throwing gigantic pieces of twisted metal at them, a tactic quickly copied by the others, in shape if not in size ("Bomb 'em! With, uh... smaller chunks of debris"). The heroes manage to blast the incoming missiles before they can do any damage, but Molecule Man ups the ante by dropping an entire mountain range on them.  That, it would seem, is that.

If only the villains had seen this issue's front cover!  Then they'd know the Hulk has managed to catch the jagged line of towering mountains and kept it from crushing his fellows.  Which is ridiculous, quite frankly, though in a comic in which we're expected to believe Thor won't fuck the Enchantress because she's only indescribably beautiful on the outside, holding up half the Andes doesn't seem too unreasonable.

Speaking of Thor, the sound of the rearranging mountains persuades him to head back to base to check up on things, only to land in the middle of the villains and be disintegrated by Ultron's new, er, disintegrator.  Doom then has Kang boiled off in the same way, presumably to prove the first go around wasn't just a fluke, or maybe just because green and purple is horribly overused in comics and it's time to put a stop to the madness.

Meanwhile, the X-Men arrive at Magneto's base, sneaking in undetected because the Wasp has Magneto using all his concentration turning metal filaments into beauty products for her.  And how is he repaid?  With treachery! Van Dyne flees firing bio-stings at anyone in reach, all because of a little thing like Magneto being willing to murder Captain America if he doesn't let the mutants have the Beyonder's powers.  Women, eh?  Can't live with 'em, can't threaten to murder their friends in cold blood.

Back beneath the mountain range, Hulk is pretty close to collapse.  Fortunately Mr Fantastic has a plan.  There are two parts to his scheme, which are as follows:
  1. Rewire Iron Man's armour to allow the Human Torch and Captain Marvel to direct their power through his repulsor beams, creating a force of massive proportions;
  2. Call the Hulk a c***.
Remarkably, the plan works.  Hulk gets madder, and thus gets stronger, giving Iron Man time to use his re-jigged armour to punch out an escape route.  The heroes find Thor, who'd faked his disintegration earlier and has been trying to dig them out, and together they head to a nearby village, hoping the locals will help them with their wounded.  After some initial suspicions, that's exactly what happens, even when Ben makes a startling transition back to being the Thing, and so everything looks like it might turn out OK after all.

Until Galactus decides it's time to start moving again...

Right.  Summary over, onto the musings.  The most obvious storyline being assembled here with regard to our merry mutants is that of mutual mistrust with baseline humans ("flatscans", to use one of my all-time favourite fictional slurs).  I say "the most obvious" in roughly the same way one might call the sun "the most bright", because this stuff is everywhere, and in all honesty is ladled on so thick that characterisation starts to groan a little around the edges.

Let's zoom out for a moment.  There are, generally speaking, two schools of thought regarding how superheroes in general, and the X-Men especially, are almost always viewed by the public as menaces.  The first group think it too hard to swallow that humanity could be so stupid as to not remember the sheer number of times the entire planet has been saved by "capes", and so short-sighted as to believe that if only superheroes would stop punching the supervillains, Doctor Doom et al would settle down to quiet careers in public service.

The other group are cynical enough to argue that it's precisely how much the human race owes to their self-proclaimed saviours that makes them so disliked.  If there's anything worse than a holier-than-thou type strutting around pontificating on how to live a truly virtuous life, it's the ones that hold you in their debt as well.

Obviously, I'm with the cynics. The only human response that works faster than spinning helplessness into guilt is the one that forges guilt into anger.  I can completely understand why the public would hate the X-Men, even if they believed all that stuff about the M'Kraan crystal.  What I don't believe is that this sneering attitude would extend to the Avengers.

Secret Wars was first published almost twenty years after Scarlet Witch joined the Avengers.  Are we really supposed to believe there's any lingering anti-mutant sentiment amongst the team?  This team that has fought beings so utterly varied and insane it's a miracle they can tell a mutant from a turkey vulture, let alone a flatscan?  That doesn't make any sense to me.  And when you take the mutant element out of the equation, all you really have here is one superhero team sniping at another hero team, and again, you'd think people in that line of work would be a bit more understanding, particularly to people who have saved the entirety of reality.

Perhaps I'm being unfair.  The proximate cause of all this human/mutant friction is after all Magneto, and his surprising inclusion in the space station of heroes.  I can completely understand why that would stir up tensions.  The problem is in how these tensions spill out.  Xavier's point that an alliance against the - for want of a better term - proactively evil evil-doers is entirely reasonable, especially given the history he has with Magneto (which, granted, there's no reason to believe anyone outside the X-Men are aware of).  Moreover, given the chequered pasts of, say, Hawkeye and the Hulk, it hardly represents an unthinkable muddying of the Avenger's crystal-clear waters. 

That's not to say the idea is necessarily a good one, of course - if nothing else, if Magneto's interested in helping out the heroes he could at least stop being an insufferable prick for five minutes.  Neither though is it the obvious slap in the face the Avengers take it to be, and the immediate assumption jumped to - the muties are hanging out together, what a surprise - is exceptionally ugly.  Certainly, the X-Men's decision to hang out in a separate part of the heroes' base to everyone else doesn't seem hard to understand afterwards.  It also gives an entirely obvious geographic explanation as to why the X-Men aren't on hand to battle Magneto when he sneaks into the base at the end of issue #2, which is why Captain Marvel can piss right off with her "how convenient the X-Men weren't around" bullshit.

I'm not exactly hiding my hand, here, the Avengers are being dickholes.  Though I would say that, wouldn't I?  I said the same thing during A vs X, and the reason then could well be exactly the same as the reason now: I just know the X-Men so much better.  It's certainly true that they could stand to be a bit less aggressive in shouting the Avengers down; not only has Magneto attempted to kill every single one of the assembled mutants at least once (with the exception of Rogue), he shows no remorse whatsoever for sinking the Leningrad.  Which contra Magneto and many fans through the years, wasn't an act of self-defence.  Magneto had already demonstrated he could fry the nuke's tracking systems, meaning they couldn't get anywhere near him.  Killing more than a hundred people who can't possibly harm you is cold-blooded murder even if they're actively trying to rub you out.  If my 82 year old grandmother came at you with a box of Dairy Milk she'd have a better chance of finishing you off than the Leningrad did Magneto; you'd still get time in the chokey if you decided to drown her.

In short, neither side are completely in the right about Magneto, but the X-Men's position is at least slightly less unpleasant than that of at least some of the Avengers.  I can't know for sure, but I'd imagine anyone reading the Avengers at the time might have found their attitude somewhat off.  It's a good job then that Shooter strives for balance, having the X-Men act like total berks in issue #3, not only deciding to secretly leave the heroes in the lurch so they can join up with Magneto, but re-writing Spiderman's memories when he catches them plotting.

Because everything I said up there about superhero solidarity cuts both ways.  If you want to argue about whether Magneto gets to hang out with the cool kids, fine.  You're under no obligation to just shut up and go along with everyone else.  Nor are you obligated to follow Captain America's instructions, just because he's been chosen as leader by the majority.  But once you've had your say, you shut up and toe the line, or you announce you're leaving. Sneaking out the back door because you don't want to explain your intentions is cowardice, pure and simple, and if Professor X is as keen as peaceful mutant/human relations as he claims, you'd think blowing off humans without so much as a text message to go hang around a mutant mass-murderer would be something he'd be keen to avoid.

Actually, maybe this isn't all that balanced after all.  Maybe the X-Men really are coming off worse here?  I mean, however snide Captain Marvel gets, however clearly bigotry seems to run underneath the humans' comments, at least no-one suggested secretly leaving the mutants to fend for themselves.  We'd probably need something really ridiculously over the top from the human contingent to redress the balance.

Enter the Wasp.

I've never liked Janet van Dyne.  Maybe it's because I have no interest in fashion.  More likely it's because I have no time for those people who both are interested in fashion and think there's something wrong with anyone who isn't.  I don't begrudge people their trivial interests - I have more than my share of my own - but I rapidly lose patience with people who are convinced their own ephemera are objectively more important than anyone else's, and that doesn't change just because they're lucky enough to make their money off the back of them.

In fact, there have been no few occasions when I've wondered whether Van Dyne is simply an unpleasant character, or an unpleasant stereotype.  It's certainly not that there's any lack of superficial people in the world, of both sexes, and one could make the argument that the Wasp's obsession with creature comforts and the latest dresses are not too different from Johnny Storm's love of hot chicks and fast cars.  On the other hand, the latter isn't a stereotype of men, but a stereotype of a certain type of young man.  Van Dyne just seems modelled on more broad and generic a trope, and that's a problem.

Whether she's a sexist cliche or not, though, she's certainly a gigantic pain in the arse here.  I actually really like the idea of her pretending to fall for Magneto's seduction routine, because there's no way he'd ever figure out he was being played (having Magneto make her combs from iron filaments is pretty funny as well, though it feeds into the spoiled child routine she has going on that's one more reason to be wary of her portrayal here and elsewhere). Indeed, even if she'd genuinely been into Magneto and his icy-eyed charm, it's typically egomaniacal of the man to openly admit the Avengers might have to be killed if they don't tell the line, and act surprised when the Wasp doesn't respond by making eyes toward the bedroom. Her decision to attack him and the X-Men alongside is his fault, pure and simple.

The devil, though, as we've been told before, is in the details.  Magneto's argument runs as follows: someone's going to end up with the Beyonder's powers, and it cannot under any circumstances be Doom.  Since this would seem to be a battle to the death, then, Doom will have to go into that good night first, because the alternative is just constantly knocking the guy down until he finally has a lucky day and wipes the heroes out.

So far, this is not only plausible, but it might actually be the most sensible option, so long as - and this is crucial - you're in favour of the final result, which is that one of the heroes gets the Beyonder's blessing.  There's two schools of thought on this.  The first would be the standard power corrupts argument.  Under that argument, though, the heroes must enforce a stalemate with the villains, and potentially live the rest of their lives fighting villains to bloody draws, rather than being back home where they can help their own people (that's if the Beyonder doesn't just squish them all for refusing to get with the program).

The second argument is that at least if one of their number became a God, he or she could help their comrades home, to check up on a world that might well not be doing too well without its three most famous super-teams. What are the Hellfire Club up to right now?  Or the Skrulls?  Or Thanos?  It also suggests (and again, this is returned to almost thirty years later in A vs X) that an obvious upside to the arrangement is that there's plenty of non-sinister stuff a heroic God could get to do, like create infinite food and water, or cure malaria.

That's Magneto's pitch.  He wants Doom dead to ensure he can never dominate reality, and figures he should get to be Beyonder Mk II so that he can liberate the mutant population and create a new golden age.

This, of course, is where it all goes off the rails, because whilst the "kill Doom, go home" plan isn't automatically terrible, it should at least be ensured that whomever gets to play God isn't someone who's convinced they deserve the role. It certainly shouldn't be someone so convinced they're right they're willing to kill their ostensible allies, even if, like Magneto, this is suggested only to ensure said allies can't get in the way of eliminating the absolute worse case scenario.

The upshot of all of this is that the situation is horribly complicated.  There is no clearly right answer here.  Magneto's plan is callous, and it calls for murder, and it ends with a former terrorist becoming God, but the problem isn't that his aim is evil, it's that his aim is almost certainly unattainable, and it risks evil being done both as a means to an end, and as the eventual true end itself.  Someone better point this out quick before everything goes to hell.

So what does Janet decide to do when Magneto announces his intention to forge "An age in which men and mutants live together in peace!"? She tells him he's "the most evil scum since Hitler". [1]

This, in the end, is what Secret Wars seems to be telling us: that even those humans sufficiently empathetic to become heroes can only care about mutants in the abstract.  Mutant viewpoints that differ from their own are to be considered only insofar as they demonstrate that mutants are a single amorphous mass of "other".  Two mutants disagreeing with you is not evidence you might be mistaken, it's evidence that all mutants stick together and can't be trusted.  A mutant who wants the ultimate power to end the oppression of his people is worse than a human who wanted ultimate power to wipe as many other peoples off the face of the Earth as he could.

These are America's heroes.  These are the first shots fired in America's second civil war.  This is where a dislike of mutants stops being shorthand for villainy or at least fearful, violent ignorance and starts simply being one more facet of human psychology.  All of which is exceptionally important, and long overdue, because if you're going to get serious about mutants as a metaphor, you've got to make it smarter than "rascists are all idiots and dicks".  What we see in these three issues needed to happen.

But my God, does it look ugly at it's being born.

[1] Obviously, the fact Wasp says this to a Holocaust survivor makes it all the more unpleasant, but it's pretty unlikely Janet actually knows Magneto's history, so I'm not inclined to criticise her for that, at least.  Mind you, a few panels later Xavier is announcing he himself is no better than Hitler because he wiped thirty seconds from Spiderman's mind to prevent a pointless battle between the X-Men and the Avengers.  A sense of proportion is apparently something mutants and humans alike lack in the Marvel Universe.


Magneto confirms that the days and nights on the Beyonder's world are approximately equivalent to our own.  Therefore these issues taking place over twenty-four hours or so on that world means the same time has passed back on Earth.


Tuesday 10th to Wednesday 11th January, 1984.


X+5Y+316 to X+5Y+317.

Contemporary Events

Standout Line

"None may touch the person of Magneto!"

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

NMU #15: "Scaredy Cat!"

(Home alone.)


Whilst the X-Men are off fighting over the smoking husk of an obliterated galaxy, let's take a look at what the New Mutants are up to.  When last we left the junior team, Kitty was accompanying Doug Ramsey on his visit to the Massachusetts Academy, only for both of them to be abducted by the very much no-longer-in-a-coma White Queen!

The next morning, suspicious of the lack of communication, Illyana secretly casts a scrying spell, sending her over to academy to check things out for herself.  Sure enough, she finds Kitty tied to a chair, with the White Queen hovering over her like a scantily-clad fart.  Apparently the White Queen has decided to take a leaf out of Xavier's book and go into the mutant recruitment business, but she's not too picky about her methods of persuasion.  Kitty's going to toe the line if she wants her parents to not be bankrupted by Frost's various methods, and Doug is currently under mental domination and believes he's making out with Kitty.  Which is really, really vicious, actually, especially given how gleefully Emma shows Kitty what's going on in Doug's brain.  Fortunately - using a very narrow definition of the term - the White Queen has discovered that Kittty's fallen for Doug in return, so it could be worse.  So long as you're not Colossus, obviously.

Illyana finds further snooping impossible when Kitty sees her astral form and gives the game away.  Which is interesting because, as the young Ms Rasputin notes, that shouldn't be possible at all.  This is as good a time as any to start keeping track of unanswered questions in the X-books.  I've been meaning to do this for a while, but as we approach and finally enter the '90s, such mysteries are liable to pile up.  Here's a list of those I've noticed so far:
  1. How did Toad escape the planet he was stranded on by "the Stranger"?
  2. How did Magneto find the X-Men's base to strike at them in UXM #17?
  3. Who built the Magneto robot Mesmero was unwittingly working for until UXM #58?
  4. Who was the mysterious mutant detected outside the Sentinel base in UXM #59?
  5. What is the relationship between Nightcrawler and Mystique?
  6. How did Emma Frost end up in a coma?
  7. Why can Kitty see Illyana whilst the latter is using spellcasting to travel from her body?
Abi tells me the first question might have been answered in Avengers #47-#49. There's really only two possible answers to question 4; it's either Xavier or Magneto.  Given the former was hiding in a psi-proof bunker to fool the Z'Nox at the time, Magneto is a far more likely candidate, especially since it was during this story that we discovered Mesmero was actually working for a robot duplicate of the master of magnetism.  Indeed, it seems plausible that an earlier draft involved Magneto revealing he himself has built the robot (answering question 3) and then helping the X-Men out, but for whatever reason that idea was scrapped.

Question 5, of course, is dealt with later, and question 6 is explained in this very issue; turns out Mastermind hit Frost with such a barrage of extremely personal and utterly horrific illusions that she lapsed into catatonia to protect herself, before ultimately managing to drag herself back to consciousness through sheer force of will.

Anyway, I digress.

The instant Emma Frost sees Illyana's spirit-presence, she fries it with a psi-bolt, flinging Illyana back into her body, which is now screaming in agony. The resultant noise awakens the other New Mutants, who run to her aid, only to find that she's rather unfortunately leaking flying demons at an alarming rate.  This necessitates a few pages of battle as our heroes attempt to round up the escaping gribblies.  Really, this just feels like marking time, though there is a nice moment involving Cannonball sulking at Amara already having more control over her powers than he does. Blam notes in comments over at Gentlemen of Leisure that this is pretty clearly a metaphor for the difficulty in controlling one's responses as a teenager, and that "uncontrollable thrust" in particular ain't exactly subtle, which is an excellent point, though in the context of complaining that women seem so much better at it, the metaphor becomes a little bit too "if only men could be more like women", perhaps.

Whilst the others battle the rampaging phantasms, Dani tries to help Illyana, and discovers the truth in the process; everyone's favourite Russian girl has a nasty sideline in demonic sorceressing (sorceressness?). This isn't something any of them are particularly keen on, but there's bigger fish to fry: Kitty has to be rescued, but not only have the X-Men disappeared, but the Fantastic Four and Avengers that Xavier told them to call in emergencies have disappeared as well.

With no teacher and no allies, and no-one with the ability to fly a plane or the license to drive a car, the New Mutants have no option but to raid the back of the sofa to try and scrimp together the bus fare to Massachusetts.  This is a nice echo of the time the senior team (then only a couple of years older than Sam and Dani themselves) needed to fly to Europe to affect a rescue of their own, and were reduced to busking in the park to raise cash. That's one of my all-time pre-Second Genesis comics, so it's a nice link, even if there's no indication that Claremont is referring to it specifically.

Whilst on their bus ride, Sam finds time to talk to Rahne about her insistence that both Illyana and herself are Satan-spawn. Sam's considered opinion is that this is bullshit, and as a fellow committed Christian, he's just the person to point this out.  The nub of his point is that Rahne has confused the word of her minister with the word of God, an entirely obvious point that nevertheless seems to escape an awful lot of people.  Respecting someone's religion is not the same thing as respecting their own personal spin on that religion.  We generate those ourselves, and we must answer for them ourselves.  The massive organised push in America - and far from stamped out over here, as we learned only a few days ago - to label homosexuality as somewhere between terrorism and comet impact in terms of hideous dangers has nothing to do with being Christian, and everything to do with the most hideous form of bigotry justified through religion to make sure people can claim their pointless, incoherent loathing can be confused for a spiritual principle.

Once the New Mutants get to their destination, it's an easy task for Magma to burn her way inside the academy, and the search for Kitty can begin.  It doesn't take too long, since Illyana already knows where she is, but things can't go all that smoothly, not with only one page to go.  And sure, enough, "Kitty" is just a hologram, an illusion to trap our heroes, and the White Queen arrives to slam it closed!

Dun dun DUUUR!


It's made very clear here that this story takes place the day after the Beyonder swipes the X-Men.  It starts early in the morning, and concludes in early evening.  It's worth noting that the trees are all entirely bare, supporting our assumption that this story takes place in winter.


Wednesday 11th January, 1984.



Contemporary Events

The New York Times reports on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USA and Vatican City.

Standout Line

"I suggest we crack open our piggy-banks." - Roberto.  Superheroism is never as glamorous as you'd think.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Secret Wars #1: "The War Begins!"

(Let's hope no-one left the gas on.)


So after reading the first half of Secret Wars, I've decided that there's definitely enough material to put together more than one post on the series.  The next post after this will cover issues two to four, after which, we shall see.

So, let's start with background, for the uninitiated.  It's actually almost absurdly simple.  An alien entity of incalculable power named the Beyonder has decided that he'd like to watch the superpowered community of Earth slap each other about, so he abducts several dozen of them, placing the villains in one space station and the heroes - along with Magneto, and unsurprisingly we'll come back to that - in another.  He then obliterates an entire galaxy so as to take the best chunks of the best planets available, so he can superglue them into a battleground for the Earthlings to beat seven shades of recently-abducted shit out of each other.  The space stations are brought to the ground, and the battle begins.

I want to stop here so I can avoid making the same mistake this series does, namely papering over how the setting of Secret Wars is assembled.  I made a great deal of noise whilst discussing the Micronauts miniseries about how tastelessly large that series body count was, and how little time was spent reflecting on that fact.  The opening issue of Secret Wars cranks this up a whole host of notches, by obliterating an entire galaxy and using the remnants to assemble a suitably varied planet for the Marvelites to fight over. 

Doubtless the intention is to demonstrate conclusively how powerful the Beyonder is, and to make the ground our heroes and villains will fight over is appropriately interesting (though there's nothing in these issues at least that couldn't have just been done on a single world, so long as that world wasn't created by George Lucas).  The trouble is that neither goal needs to be accomplished this way; the Beyonder's bona fides don't need any further proving, because he's basically a MacGuffin here.  And even if I'm wrong about that, then what better way to demonstrate his power than have him construct a new planet for his playthings, rather than assemble one from various other planets. Even if that doesn't work - I suppose one could argue that a lack of imagination is fundamental to the Beyonder, hence why he has to steal superheroes in the first place, rather than creating them - there's no reason to tag a galaxy-sized butcher's bill onto the proceedings.

In fairness. the introductory narration mentions that the galaxy in uninhabited.  But if that's the case, why are there plants, animals and sentient aliens on the planet the Beyonder created?  I'm speculating here, but it strikes me as plausible that stressing the destroyed galaxy was uninhabited was a last-minute editorial call.  Even if I'm wrong on that, though, our superheroes have no idea that the Beyonder managed to find an entire spiral galaxy devoid of life. It certainly looks a damn sight like our own galaxy, in which you can't be in space for more than ten minutes without Skrulls or Kree or Badoon showing up to ruin your pleasure cruise.

What that means is that our heroes just watched what they had every right to think was the slaughter of countless slaughter of billions of billions.  How does that not ride over everything else here?. How are superheroes - people who by their very nature believe in caring about people they've never met and probably never will - supposed to cope with death on a literally galactic scale?  Alright, with the Beyonder promising godhood to whomever wins his gladiatorial contest, our guys are going to have to nut up (and our gals are going to have to, er, do we have a female equivalent to "nut up"? Because we definitely need one, and no-one wants me to be the one in charge of crafting it).  Captain America was practically designed to fill that sort of role.  But even if the nightmare the heroes witnessed on their way to try kneeing Doom in the cyber-ghoulies can't be allowed to stop them doing their jobs, it should colour everything else.  Why are the X-Men arguing about whether the other heroes are pro-mutant enough?  A whole fucking galaxy just blew up.  How is Colossus able to lust after an alien girl the heroes meet in a village near their base?  A whole fucking galaxy just blew up.

I remember how things felt on the 12th of September, 2001.  It was my friend's 20th birthday, and we'd arranged a few days earlier to go to a little pub we knew out on the moors that she's a big fan of.  We spent a third of that day debating whether we could stand to go, and another third sitting in a nearly empty pub heavy with silence, trying to make whatever vapid chitchat we could to distract our friend from the thousands of people in a country most of us had never been to that had been cruelly murdered the day before.  The remaining third involved watching the news and trying to turn our brains back to the position they'd held in our skulls before the first tower was hit.

This is the original sin that hangs over the whole series.  If you're going to open with something as horrifying as the flash-frying of a whole galaxy, you'd damn well have a solid reason to do it (and inserting "no-one lives there" as an aside to the reader doesn't change that if your characters don't get to find that out). Quite honestly, updating Contest of Champions so that the villains could join in just doesn't cut it.  If "Logopolis" taught us anything, it's that stories including interstellar destruction that aren't about interstellar destruction can be uniquely unlikeable, but I guess no-one thought to tell Shooter.

Apart from this massively problematic opening, what else is there to say? Well, first of all, if this was intended at least in part to act as an advert for whatever corners of the Marvel Universe a given reader had not yet explored, it doesn't strike me as particularly effective. The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from seeing all those Marvel luminaries crammed into the same panel isn't that more money should be shelled out upon watching heroes strutting through America, it's that hanging out with the bad guys is awesome.  This will be taken advantage of - and stretched to breaking point - during the '90s, of course, in which villains become entertaining and heroes become callous murderers, so I'm aware of where this line of thinking can ultimately lead, but damn, it's still much more fun to watch Galactus massacre Ultron for being a dick than it is to watch the heroes take it in turns to see who can thrust out their chin the furthest.

Indeed, the only particularly interesting exchange to be had over at the heroes' base is the obvious one: what the hell is Magneto doing hanging out over there?

I spent some time trying to pick this apart, actually.  For a while I figured the real question was why Magneto and Doom ended up on different teams.  Monomaniacal egomaniacs convinced that they are the logical choice to lead their people into a new golden age?  Check.  Willing to perform acts of massive destruction with potentially horrifying body counts along the way?  Check.  History of working alongside heroes when it suits their ends? We got that one too.

The more I tried to figure that one out, though, the more I started to see larger cracks in the proceedings. When I think of Secret Wars, the story that feels to me most like its logical ancestor is the old Star Trek episode "The Savage Curtain", in which Yarnek, another massively powerful alien entity, decides to force various major figures into a death match on an alien world; in this case, Kirk and Spock, ably assisted by Abraham Lincoln and the Vulcan philosopher Surak against Genghis Khan and a clutch of villains from the future and/or space.  It's not a tremendously good episode, really, especially for anyone leery of the idea of holding Honest Abe up as some kind of human paragon, but it does contain a nice idea at the end.  When the fighting is done, and only Spock and Kirk are still standing, their captor confesses that he saw very little difference in how those history viewed as heroes fought for their lives in comparison to how the alleged villains behaved.  Kirk responds by noting that they had been fighting for the safety of the Enterprise, which clearly wasn't the villains' motivation, and Yarnek admits that Khan's gang had been fighting in exchange for greater power.

Now, there's something inherently problematic about arguing that it's one's goals that determine whether you are a good person, as oppose to your actions.  That goes without saying.  That's not something to discuss today, though.  What's interesting for our purposes is that Yarnek's actions are superficially similar to the Beyonder. However, where Yarnek was forced to offer different prizes to each side in order to force a confrontation, the Beyonder offers the same prize to both sides, which is basically godhood.

This is the critical difference.  In offering each side what they wanted, Yarnek contaminated his own experiment, but at least he understood what was motivating his captives.  The Beyonder doesn't seem to be remotely interested in whether those he's forced into competing have the slightest interest in the prize he's offering.  That is, he doesn't seem to have any awareness of or interest in the motivations of the people he has abducted.  The clearest indication of this is probably the idea that an offer of godlike powers is something he can expect to motivate Thor.

So the fact that Magneto and Doom have more in common with each other they do with either of the two camps the Beyonder has sorted his captives into doesn't seem particularly relevant, because it doesn't seem that the Beyonder even understands why the two sides oppose each other in any case.  Indeed, anyone who can try acting neutral and disinterested in a battle between superheroes and supervillains whilst torching entire galaxies suggests that the Beyonder, like Yarnek before him, has no grasp of human motivation.  The difference is that the Beyonder doesn't care.

So if the goal isn't to gain some kind of insight into the human condition, what exactly is going on?  That's not a difficult question to answer, and once again we can return to the classic Trek series for the answer:

I t seems something of a letdown to hit so unenlightening a mark after all that build-up, but the truth is the truth.  The Beyonder is essentially Mellvar, a grotesquely powerful fanboy determined to have his favourites dance to his own particular tune.  Obviously, that's obvious in its obviousness.  But it's worth considering just how far the fact spreads.  Why, for example, is Cyclops around despite having quit the X-Men?  Because superfan Beyonder thinks he should be part of the X-Men.  Why is Xavier back in his wheelchair, despite being at least close to the point where he can walk at will? Because that's the mental picture the Beyonder has of Charles.

So why is Magneto with the heroes?  Because that's what the Beyonder thinks is coolest.  There's no point digging for anything deeper, because we're at bedrock already.  The Beyonder is the MacGuffin that allows Jim Shooter to write the most pure strain of fanfic imaginable, designed to set the lizard brains of as many readers aflame as possible.  Indeed, why else would one start off with the entirely pointless destruction of a galaxy if not to scratch the same itch that the entirety of Marvel's '90s output was aimed at - destruction without connection.

The ways in which Secret Wars represents a beginning are obvious. In other ways, though, we're looking at the beginning of the end.

Things get rough from here.


We're going to run into a common problem as regards dating here, namely that the team are stuck on an alien world, with no clues as to how long the days last, or how long it took for them to travel there.   That said, given the Beyonder has such crazy power levels, and that he built this world to act as a battleground for humans, it's at least plausible that they arrived in system more or less as soon as they were abducted, and that this planet has been created to have the same day length as Earth.

This issue itself takes place over the course of an hour or less, I think; it's difficult to be sure.


Tuesday 10th January, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Former Argentine President Reynaldo Benito Antonio Bignone was arrested.

Standout Line

The whole Ultron vs Galactus throwdown is pretty funny.

ULTRON: "Perhaps Ultron will slay you less efficiently, more slowly, for this indignity, organism.  Perhaps Ultron... RAAARRK"
THUNDERBALL: "That is one baad dude!"

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

XHY #19: "Broken Promises"

(Because "no tubes" means "no tubes".)


Well, this isn't going to be fun for me.  We open with Beast lost inside some kind of jungle, being chased by a gigantic beetle. 

I hate insects.  I'm scared to death of them.  And that's almost the literal truth, in that if you locked me in a room with a loaded gun and started pushing cockroaches under the door, they wouldn't have enough friends to put together a football team before I shot myself in the head.

So, you know, admit your biases: I'm not just looking through my "dislike Byrne" glasses, but my "fucking hell kill that thing" binoculars, as well.

Fortunately for both Beast and myself, Cyclops quickly shows up to help, soon followed by Marvel Girl and Iceman (of Havok and Angel, there is no sign).  After some brief exploration, it becomes clear that a) they're in a forest that's gigantic, as opposed to having been shrunk, and b) said forest has been built within or on top of some kind of non-human structure.  It's likely the former, not just because Xavier finds his psionic link with the team cut off, but because we learn the Mole Man is watching our heroes on his monitors.  Still smarting from his encounter with them "many months ago" (or, if you prefer, UXM #34), he seems pretty keen on turfing them out of wherever they've been dumped.

And dumped they have been; Tobias Messenger sends his astral self to inform them that they're being kept in the uber-copse indefinitely, presumably to keep them out of trouble (as well as flesh out his back story for no good reason, which adds nothing to the story[1] but still make for a few extra entries for a Things Past post, I guess).  He makes some token effort in trying to appeal to their rational sides, but it doesn't get very far, mainly because he's convinced it's only because of their indoctrination at the hands of Xavier that Iceman would have any reason to object to Lorna being kidnapped.  I mean, there's bad arguments, and then there's just offensively stupid.  Like, "I'm offended you thought that was even worth trying as an argument".  Still, I guess the team will have plenty of time to get over it, assuming they're not squished by a beetle the size of a bungalow.

Unless, of course, they can all escape.  Iceman provides the answer, filling dents Cyclops has made with his blasts with ice, and using the resulting expansion to force larger holes ("Remember, ice expands as it freezes!" he announces happily, which is no more true than claiming corpses stop breathing as they die, but then Bobby is exactly the kind of person to make that mistake, and to be honest, that' quite an elegant solution), and allowing them to descend into a network of tunnels beneath the forest.  Things start of bad when Iceman finds there's insufficient humidity for him to remain iced up ("nothing for you to freeze but your own bodily fluids", Hank points out, which is an image I'd suggest not spending too much time mulling over), and get worse when the team encounter a giant fan that almost sucks them to their doom.  They're saved in the nick of time when netting clicks into place to guard the fan blades, but when the fan stops working (apparently, and amusingly, because of Cyclops attempts to blast it to pieces a few moments earlier), the suction cuts out and our heroes end up plummeting one hundred stories down.  Jean erects a TK bubble to prevent them all from being splattered, but it can only do so much, and none save Beast manage to remain conscious, a state he enjoys for a few seconds before Mole Man arrives and knocks him out anyway.

But where has Angel been in all of this?  We know Alex and Lorna have been shoved into stasis pods as "new recruits", but what about Warren?  Turns out he's been put on ice as well, presumably so the women folk have someone to coo over in the radiation-scarred bone-yard The Promise seem convinced lies in their future. But Messenger has made a fatal mistake in allowing his womenfolk some post-apocalyptic beefcake, because one of them has a plan (I think her name might be Lucy?  I haven't been keeping track; it's like naming lobsters in seafood restaurants, it'll just bum you out when they're pointlessly killed).  She's managed to fiddle with her pod's timer to release her just after the others have fallen asleep, and she frees Angel too, in the hopes that he can help her gain revenge on Messenger for stealing her life.

Will she succeed?  Will the Mole Man seem any less arbitrary in his conclusion next time?  Will that hideous beetle show up again and scare SpaceSquid witless? Why exactly is Messenger so convinced that abducting women and sticking them in tubes is the only true path to enlightenment? These and other questions may or may not be revealed whenever I can bear to return to this Godawful series.

At least I get to do some Secret Wars now.

[1] OK, that's not completely true.  There's an interesting idea buried in here, albeit one done before, regarding how someone deaf and mute since birth would process being suddenly able to receive and transmit thought waves.  Would they process other people's thoughts in the same way?  Would the thoughts they send "sound" like the voice in one's head telepathy is commonly likened to in fiction?  Or would it be more akin to receiving an email inside your brain?  Indeed, could a deaf person even interpret the thoughts of a hearing person?

That, I think, is an idea with some genuine mileage.  Byrne's idea is that Messenger will just always sound like he's shouting, because telepathy wielded by a deaf person is just like when my late grandfather used to demand beer at full volume because his hearing aid had run out of batteries.


There's no indication of how long it takes the X-Men to awaken and regroup following their kidnapping, but I think we can assume it occurs on the same night.  After the X-Men recover, the story takes place over the course of several minutes.


Monday 14th July, 1980.



Contemporary Events

Standout Line

"That enclosed central core will most likely contain vertical mass relocation units."
"You mean elevators?" - Hank and Bobby

I'm mainly highlighting this because of how horribly terrible it is.  Hank wouldn't call an elevator a "vertical mass relocation unit".  He'd call it an "elevator", because he's not pointlessly over-descriptive unless there's an odd poetry to it.  I'd call this evidence that Beast is one more character Byrne clearly doesn't really get, but last issue proved that so conclusively that further indications seem entirely superfluous.

Friday, 8 February 2013

XMM #4: "Doppelganger!"

("And so we write finis to a very ugly story.")


OK, so remember how last time I was all up in this title's grill about putting a teenage girl with no mind of her own in a situation where she was almost raped?  Well, this issue kicks off with a half-naked teenage girl attacked by her formerly trustworthy teacher, who whilst crowing over his new access to pretty young playthings" which will be "easy pray to my insatiable lust", uses his "psychic fingertips" in a "sensual caress" until she collapses "in the throes of indescribable... pleasure", which then turns her evil.

I ask you, people of the internets; what the fuck am I possibly supposed to do with that?  Almost thirty years after this comic came out, there are still powerful forces in the US who want to ban gay people from teaching in schools, in case their gay suddenly surges up and gets all over the kids and they turn gay and sinful too.  I don't want to think how much worse public was in the mid '80s, and this is the plotline we're going with, here?  An evil teacher who orgasms his students into becoming evil like him?  Holy shit, but shut that down.

Horribly, there's still twenty-one more pages to get through after this. Though I guess if nothing else, a few pages of mediocre team-up action look a lot better in comparison to unbearably skeezy mind-rape.

When last we left our heroes, they'd escaped from their prison, not realising this was brought about by Baron Karza (still in Kitty Pryde's body) stabbing the entity apparently to death, which in turn Karza doesn't realise didn't really make any difference, now Xavier and the entity have swapped places. Karza tries to lever his apparent victory to his maximum advantage by trying to shoot Commander Rann with a sniper rifle, but Wolverine sounds the alarm in time and Colossus' armoured chest takes the shot instead.  Nightcrawler jaunts over to the sniper's nest, and is understandably astonished to see who's holding the rifle, but bigger problems appear when Karza's fleet arrives in orbit and begins trying to blow the entity's planet to bits.

This, at least, is an idea I love: swapping Kitty and Karza's minds around, but then put the X-Men under threat not from Karza, but Kitty herself, who's ordered the bombing without knowing her friends are below.  It doesn't last for long, though; the mortally wounder Professor manages to get through to her, and she beams down to the planet to rescue him, leaving explicit instructions with DeGrayde to cease the bombardment.  Naturally, he ignores her, having decided his lord's recent erratically empathic behaviour makes this the perfect opportunity to stage a coup, especially since the only action required on his part is to not press the button marked "Cancel bombing planet to dust".

Down on what she quickly realises is a still very much beleaguered planet, Kitty runs into Karza, and she finally has an opportunity to make a grab for her body.  Naturally, this is exactly when the X-Men and Micronauts arrive, having followed "Kitty's" trail, and a standard hilarious superhero misunderstanding seems wearyingly inevitable.  Fortunately, Claremont and Mantlo have it in them to at least spare us that, with Xavier very quickly explaining what's happened.  Of course, he's doing all this from inside the entity's body, so his "mind-swap" story has more than a slight ring of self-service to it. The X-Men buy it anyway, though, thanks to some rudimentary detective work from Wolverine. 

Of course, this just means they know who everyone is on this planet that's moments away from disintegration.  Our heroes call in their Bioship (who has been waiting all this time to be asked to help out, something which is either a nice idea about how sentient ships might not reason the same way we do, or just as stupid an idea as having him sing old American spirituals; I'm really not sure which), who whisks them away, just as the bombardment by Karza's fleet is joined by the entity's attempts to obliterate the entire Microverse!  It seems he's taken time out of his busy child raping plans in order to redesign Cerebro as a weapon of interstellar destruction.

(It always strikes my cold, dead academic mind as interesting when something like this happens, i.e. a character decides rather than raping a teenager they're going to kill billions of people and this comes a relief to the reader.  The human mind is a strange device.)

The entity quickly obliterates Karza's fleet (along with the luckless DeGrayde, which is a bit of a shame as he was kind of fun) along with an unknown number of frontier worlds, not all of them uninhabited.  If last time the X-Men's involvement in the mass slaughter made the whole affair seem horribly unsettling, this time round it's just entirely unaffecting.  Once you get above a certain level of off-hand destruction, it just stops having any effect, other than cheapening the story.  The old quote attributed to Stalin that "the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic" might be deeply unpleasant and cynical, but in fiction at least, there's no doubt he was on to something.

Amidst all this pointless bloodshed - including the entirety of Karza's war machine, which as I understand it included vast numbers of conscripts across multiple inhabited world - the Micronauts realise the entity plans to destroy the "Enigma Force" that somehow maintains the Microverse.  With no way to battle their foe whilst still inside the Microverse, Fireflyte uses her connection with the Enigma Force to throw Bioship and his passengers out into our reality, and onto Xavier's lawn. Alas, by this point all of the New Mutants have been orgasmed into being evil, and they've more than happy to kick the heroes diminutive heinies back into the collapsing Microverse.  As it turns out, a half-dozen amateurs against two highly trained and experienced teams at one-twelfth scale is actually a surprisingly fair fight, though Magma's decision to start pouring lava into Bioship's breached hull doesn't look like it will end particularly well, and it hardly helps when Lockheed shows up and decides the best way to protect Kitty's mind is to destroy her foe, and so sets about trying to burn Kitty's body to cinders.

Really, though, the X-Men and the Micronauts are just buying time whilst Xavier's astral form searches the mansion for his adversary.  Finding his own body proves little challenge, but working his way through his co-opted mind (visualised as endless mirrors reflecting each other's images, which I freely admit is a really nice idea) is somewhat more challenging.  Fortunately, the entity is distracted, busy both directing the New Mutants in their attack, and trying to get Kitty and Karza to kill each other, as punishment for "deceiving him" (read: allowing him to almost rape a young girl with the mind of a fully-grown man - Gods I hate this series).  Ironically, the resulting stress of the situation ends up causing Karza to finally figure out how to phase, and by passing through his own body, the mind-swap is finally reversed.  Obviously, this makes absolutely no sense, but then there was no reason to expect that it would, and at least it's all finally sorted.

Meanwhile, Xavier's mind faces off against the entity, even while the damaged body he's stuck in evacuated from the dying Bioship by Nightcrawler.  With time fast running out for the Microverse, and more importantly with only three pages left, there's no time for subtlety, and Xavier simply causes his own brain to undergo an embolism that apparently obliterates his dark side, though induces a stroke at the same time.  With that wrapped up, there's just enough time for Bioship to use the last of his life-force to grow the X-Men back to their normal size, Fireflyte to sing the Micronauts back home, and for... Xavier to start talking?

Yes, gentle readers, we end on one final dose of the purest nonsense, as Xavier reveals he only pretended to give himself a stroke, so his dark side would flee and, finding his body destroyed, pass away.  How such a trick is supposed to have worked on someone actually in Xavier's brain at the time is not discussed, other than Xavier insisting that because the entity would know he was prepared to do it, he'd believe that he had done it.  You know, just like you can persuade someone you're so murderously angry you've actually shot them.

Anyway, that's how it all ends. And now that everything is back to normal (unless you're one of the inhabitants of a bare minimum of two sentient worlds now obliterated by the entity, of course), how does the whole series shape up?  Well, I've kind of shown my hand here already, so I'm basically just reiterating here: this is four issues of the most uninspired team-up-by-rote storytelling imaginable, spiced up with occasional moments of levity that I'll go so far as to call "interesting", but certainly won't stretch to "funny", and which is then inexplicably mixed with massively hyperbolic body-counts and at least three separate counts of really, really disturbing moments in which women/teenage girls are mixed with threatened rape/forced sexualising in ways that don't so much leave a bad taste in your mouth, as screw the bad taste to your soft palate and so your lips up on the way out.

I did quite like Bioship, though; even if he did look like a Gobot.  Also, he's dead now.


This story is confirmed to take place before Xavier once again learned to walk in NMU #14. It begins immediately after the previous issue's conclusion, and takes place over the course of several minutes.


Tuesday 28th December, 1983.



Contemporary Events

Standout Line

"I ain't so hot on the idea o' stayin' trapped at six inches, neither."
"You'll >tik< get usedta it."
"But will the frauleins?" - Logan, Bug and Kurt.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

XHY #18: "Promise Of A New Generation"

(Anything worth doing is worth avoiding for as long as possible, and then trying to horn in on later.)


With this series mercifully close to concluding, it's time for Byrne to start tying his plots up.  At this point there are three left, by my count.  We still don't know why everyone is insisting there is something "off" about the Professor (this seems likely to be dropped, actually).  There's still no end in sight for the Ashley Martin story, which at this point just seems entirely pointless.  It's not just that nothing is happening (this issue, the Professor and Teri Martin explain entirely obvious things to each other, and she continues to try and get the professor to notice she wants him to - I was going to say "jump her", but that's probably pretty insensitive).  It's that it isn't even noticeably building, or working with tension.  It's just two pages an issue of the Professor staying at a strange woman's house and fiddling with her daughter's mind.  It's not quite as creepy as that sounds, but it's no less boring.

The third dangling plot is what this issue concentrates on.  Angel is flying back to the mansion, having left Candy to wrap up the fall-out of his parents' murders and his uncle's arrest - this being what we can all agree exactly what girlfriends are for, obviously - when he catches sight of Lorna flying through the air, seemingly in a trance.  Naturally, he gives chase.  Ordinarily I might be annoyed at this coincidence, but at this point anything that can move the plot along is probably to be welcomed.

Back at the mansion a fight has broken out between Alex and Bobby over Lorna, because Bobby is a disgraceful prick. Seriously, let it go: she's made her choice.  This time around he's being particularly ridiculous, insisting Alex is to blame for failing to stop Lorna's assumed abduction.  Alex shoots him down spectacularly by pointing out the only thing he could have done for Lorna have been to, er, shoot her down spectacularly.

In any case, Angel then phones with details of where Lorna has been taken to, and the X-Men saddle up.  Angel guides them to what looks like an office building surrounded by woodland and a sturdy looking wall.  Also, it turns out, some kind of forcefield that makes people fall asleep when they touch it (Angel rather cruelly lets Alex try this out rather than explain it, though since he was taking a leaf out of Bobby's "I don't know what's happened but I assume you're incompetent for not dealing with it" book at the time, I can't really blame Warren).

Also also, there's a giant yellow underground monster on guard duty.  Unfortunate!

Meanwhile, inside this well-protected structure, Lorna is introduced to her captors. Tad Carter she already knows, having been stalked and hypnotised by him a few issues earlier.  The group is led by Tobias Messenger (guess what he has to impart?), a mute man with VERY LOUD telepathic powers, perhaps because Byrne considers this ironic.  All are older than they look (one is a kid claiming to have been born in 1945), and most were previously captive workers of the quite hilariously racist villain the Claw.

(Seriously, Byrne; you couldn't find an old-time villain slightly less offensive?  This guy makes Doctor Who's Celestial Toymaker look positively progressive.)

Once the Claw was killed, Tobias contacted the group and they came up with a new mission: go into suspended animation, and pop out for a week each decade to check whether the time is right (they also named themselves "the Promise", presumably for fear their timeline-monitoring plan didn't make them seem ridiculous enough).  They want Lorna to sign up, apparently because she's the X-Man least affected by Xavier's "indoctrination". Messenger even goes so far as to ask "What did [Magneto] do that was very different from what Xavier has done to his X-Men", which, once people start chucking out false equivalences that horrendous, it's time to smile politely and start shuffling backwards towards the door.

Except that outside the door, things aren't going at all well for our heroes.  They've managed to avoid being squished by the giant subterranean yellowbeast (which is like yellowcake, only alive and not radioactive and Colin Powell never made shit up about it but still expects us to listen to his opinions), but now the monster -apparently and hilariously called "Craig", by the way - has acquired back-up, in the form of an emaciated masked angel-zombie, which is pretty grim.  Except it's also a monstrous Jack Frost-type-thing, too! And a flame-belching sludge beast!  And, er, a really ugly redhead.

Wait a minute!  Craig isn't a monster at all!  He must be an illusion caster. Iceman sees Angel as the flying zombie, and Iceman sees Angel as the Judderman (do not watch that video unless you are incapable of feeling fear).  Beast sees the fire-vomiter when he's looking at Cyclops, and Cyclops, well, he sees the yellowbeast and the more familiar version.  Jean sees and knocks away her doppelganger, only for Cyclops to then see her as some twisted riff on Polaris, somehow.

None of this really makes any sense, but in Craig's defence, confusion is exactly what he's going for.  Unable to tell what is and isn't real, the X-Men do a fine job of beating each other into unconsciousness, save Alex, who being the last man (because the Summers brothers' inability to hurt each other with their powers has been put in abeyance here because whatever, fanboys) standing has to be taken out by the Promise's resident shape-shifting energy-vampire (at least, I think that's what she is).

Back inside, and the Promise are laying their cards on the table: they're convinced an all out mutants vs human world war is coming sooner or later, and their plan is wait until the war ends, and then explain to all the blood-drenched, hollow-eyed mutant survivors busy trying to shake off the guilt and PTSD brought about by eliminating their parent species that having hidden in stasis tubes like total goddamn cowards - rather than helping to either avert the war or help their side win it - they're obviously exactly the kind of people to be in charge of the post-human deserts of earth.

Seriously, just how far up your own arse do you have to be to assume the only reason mutants don't consider you their greatest mind is because of all those humans still running around? It's crazy enough when someone like Doom talks about himself as the natural ruler of inferior minds (i.e. all of them), but at least he gets his hands dirty.  Messenger's plan is to enter the top tier of control in a mutant-only world by specifically avoiding the power struggle that will form those tiers.  Every now and then I toy with the idea of starting the Supervillain Blackboard blog, in which we could take a look at the early planning stages of amazingly stupid schemes (like this one); I'm guessing Messenger's looks like this:

Foolproof. At least the Underpants Gnomes managed to keep the plan simple, and none of them had to watch their familes grow old and die whilst they hid in tubes.

Not that Lorna can do much about it, with her team-mates unconscious and imprisoned, and in a complex made entirely of non-metal materials.

At least, I assume it's made entirely on non-metal materials. Otherwise the fact that on the final page Lorna's forced into a stasis-tube-suit (maybe they have a better name for it) and then forced into a stasis-tube-suit-suitable-stasis-tube (they definitely have a better name for that) is utterly fucking ridiculous! Why, it's almost as though the comic has completely bypassed both Polaris' agency and capacities entirely, in order to advance the plot. Unpossible!


The narration in this issue tells us summer is coming to an end.  This is an odd slip-up for Byrne to make, given how well he's generally been doing at keeping the timeline consistent with what happened in UXM before it was cancelled. It UXM #54, Alex was graduating during spring. XHY #8 specifically states that was four weeks before the X-Men and Fantastic Four teamed up to strike back against the Z'Nox in that issue. We assumed late spring for Alex's ceremony, but even so, it's hard to see how two months could have passed between XHY#8 and this issue, what with each adventure following directly on from the last, and with the overlapping story lines making it tough to insert time mid-issue.

I honestly don't see any sensible place to add any time between XHY #8 and here, so we don't really have any option but to ignore the comment on the season, or assume that summer is ending in that it's become unseasonably chilly.  This makes little sense in the middle of July, but them's the breaks.

This story itself picks up twenty minutes before the last issue ended, and continues late into the night/early the following morning.

(As an aside, Byrne pretty much explicitly states that this adventure is supposed to happen a decade before the "dawn of a new millennium".  Depending on how loosely he means that, this presumably means his view is that The Hidden Years is set between ten and twelve years before the contemporary X-stories at the time (Eve of Destruction being the first that comes to mind).  Whether this makes much sense or not is something we'll come back to eventually.)


Sunday 13th to Monday 14th July, 1980.


X+2Y+101 to X+2Y+102.

Contemporary Events

The mathematician and physicist Felix Berezin passes away, aged just 49. Berezin contributed to supersymmetry, supermanifold and quantum field theory, and the "Berezin integral" is named after him.  Berezin joined the mathematics department of Moscow State University at 25, and remained there until his death, despite the university having refused to let him undertake his graduate studies there due to his Jewish origin (a policy of discrimination abandoned during Khrushchev's liberalising reforms).

Standout Line

"Lorna?  Since when can you... fly?" - Angel

Well, it amused me, anyway.  Even if it is the kind of non-joke Mitchell and Webb skewered in their Thatcher: The "The Bits That Haven't Been Done Yet" Years sketch:
"When you're writing something that's set in the past, you can make lots of references to things that you know are going to happen". 
"People love that. It makes you look really clever and witty without having to think of a joke."