Friday, 31 May 2013
(The Old Man And The Sea-People)
This is another one of Byrne's "bitty" issues, where several different plot lines are checked in on - which is fine - and none of them advance particularly far - which isn't. In his later career Bryne will perfect the art of wide-ranging sluggishness with X-Men: The Hidden Years, but he's still building to that level of ability here, so at least the primary plot here develops.
We'll start with that, then. Quick recap: Heather hospitalised by terrifying lake monster, Judd unable to swim, Marrina called in to deal with what might in fact be a long-lost family member. You'd think Marrina would find this a bit of an imposition given her daily routine of being seduced by an underwater king. Still, it does seem like Namor's gotten a little clingly lately; maybe she's glad of the break. Indeed, maybe she's hoping this potential genetic cousin might prove a bit of a hotty. Sure, he slashes the legs of swimmers and drowns and dissects babies, but she can change him.
After a while searching around the bottom of the lake , Marrina finds a cavern leading to a chamber half-filled with air, wherein lies a big surprise. Exactly what lies beneath we don't get to find out just yet, but it's clearly done a number on Marrina; she returns to the surface hungry for blood. First in line - again - is poor ol' Puck. Wasn't Oscar Wilde who said to be eviscerated by one fish-woman can be regarded as misfortune? Maybe Marrina really did find a hot new aquatic lover down there; I know I get a taste for murdering dwarves after I've had sex.
Fortunately for Puck, this time he sees it coming, and is able to keep Marrina from killing him by, I swear to Gods, employing the matador skills he learned in Spain whilst hanging out with Hemingway. Alas, a rampaging fish-woman-pseudo-bull isn't his only problem once a lovesick Namor bounds into view and jumps to all the wrong conclusions. A strange man playing matador with his beloved? We know what he's going to say to that!
With just one puch, the surprised Puck is flattened, but it doesn't take the Prince of Atlantis long to realise he may have picked the wrong side in this particular fracas (someone should compile a list of all the times Namor has slugged the wrong person; I bet it outstrips even Worf's beatdowns). Even once he's figured out his mistake, though, Namor can't bring himself to fight his beloved with his full strength, which makes it hard to deal with the blood-crazed Marrina. Alas, so distracted are Puck and Namor by the strange behaviour of their friend that they fail to notice the arrival of a newcomer, who quickly takes both of them out with Vulcan nerve-pinches/ deadly throat-pointing. The Master has returned!
Elsewhere, Mountie Douglas Thompson gets a call from Anne McKenzie, the woman he secretly loves but is inconveniently on the run from the law, and it turns out Snowbird as well; Aurora continues her battle against her unwelcome spare personality by chopping off her hair (worked for Britney Spears, I guess, so long as the word "worked" no longer works); Elizabeth Twoyoungmen bursts in on her father to explain that she needs his help, but that there's no chance this will mean she'll let up on being a thunderous arsehole.
 Using an increasing spiral search pattern. Is that the most efficient way to cover terrain? I should know this, shouldn't I? I suppose since they know where the creature last struck it makes some sense, though being that close to shore would surely cause a barrier to the spiral.
The main action in this issue takes place over the course of a few hours.
The opening scene with Snowbird is described as taking place on Saturday morning in early spring. Since there's no connection between Snowbird's appearance and the rest of the issue, though, we can split the timeline here, as we so often do with Byrne. It's explicit here that Snowbird's scene predates Marrina's expedition, so we'll place that on the preceding Saturday..
We should also note that its been ten months since Anne McKenzie's arrest. when Thompson starts to think about how she broke out "last...", he was presumably going to finish "year".
Saturday 7th and Friday 13th April, 1984.
X+6Y+37 and X+6Y+43.
Man, I still miss the Specials.
"I promised Guardian my killing days were over when I was paroled into Alpha Flight" - Puck
Eugene Judd a convicted felon? Intriguing...
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
("The same old played-out scenes...")
Oh, I get it. The New Mutants aren't out west, they're in the "virgin America" of the demon bear's demonic realm. The giant red sphere containing Dani's operation represents Illyana's wards thrown up to keep the bear out, and it's come back here where its power is strongest to break through. That makes sense, as far as such things do, I suppose.
It's also brought along Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander to turn them into horrific demon soldiers, which is where most of the interest lies in this issue. Much of this is standard battle-fare, which, fine, but as usual it's not something I'm interested in talking about at length. What makes the battle against Messr. Demonbear above average is the sheer unworldly nastiness Sienkiewicz gives the Corsi/Friedlander revenants.
Fucked up, is what that shit is.
Beyond the extraordinary visuals, this is pretty much a run-of-the-mill fight against malevolent supernatural forces, albeit with a rather strange gimmick by which the spreading influence of the demon bear's evil shadow is periodically displayed on a 14 x 10 grid, white on black, like a Rorschach
test dedicated to nastiness. There are a couple of moments worth briefly talking about amongst the slashing, though. The first is a quick conversation between Amara and Roberto about allowable tactics when facing the brainwashed, with Amara taking the pragmatic "we'll still be just as dead" stance, and Bobby taking the rather strange position that if it comes down to killing Tom and Sharon or letting themselves get killed, they should choose the latter option, because at least they have a choice in their actions. That's... utterly deranged, particularly coming from the usually fairly unsympathetic Sunspot.
The second returns us to the ongoing "can Illyana be trusted" subplot, as Illyana stabs Amara with her soulsword to prevent her getting all demoned up by the bear, and Sam mistaking it for treachery. For all that I can understand why Illyana's history and behaviour makes her a little hard to trust, I'll confess to getting a bit tired of this constant replaying of the angle (Rahne's "och, crivens, but yon lassie be a witch!" is getting real old, too). Hopefully Amara screaming at Sam over his trigger-happy mistrust can put this to bed for a while.
Eventually, after much running around and slings and arrows and claws and Cannonballs, Illyana finishes things off when she starts stabbing all and sundry with her soulsword. The bear is destroye, banishing demons all over the place. The New Mutants returned to the hospital, along with Corsi and Friedlander, now trapped in the bodies of Native Americans, and amazingly, Dani's parents, now freed from the body of a demon bear.
All is once again well with the world, except of course for Dani being paralysed. Fortunately, Dani is part of a very useful extended family, and she's quickly cured by the Morlock healer, er, Healer, on the say-so of Storm (still with powers according to our timeline). This seems like a pretty sweet deal for Ororo, actually; she gets to spend all her time in her high-falutin' fancy mansion whilst her charges live in the sewer, only coming to the surface when she needs a favour from them. In later years, Callisto will accuse her of being a piss-poor leader, and it's kind of hard to argue with that. It also means the X-Men have a way to deal with any injury short of death, which rather lowers the stakes of their confrontations. I can't remember whether this becomes an issue later on, it's something I'll be thinking about as we move forward.
Most of this issue takes place more or less in real time. The post-battle coda is a little unclear as to timing, but it's certainly possible it all takes place the day after the fight before.
Tuesday 24th January, 1984.
It's hard to find much of anything going on on that day other than the Apple release we've already covered. Ronald Reagan wrote a letter, though, which might be of use to anyone with an exam tomorrow on the topic of Cyprus in the early '80s.
"How're you gonna beat him?!"
"The old fashioned way, of course."
"Very funny." - Sam and Illyana
Friday, 24 May 2013
(The beautiful people.)
Out there, in the wilds of LA, where a man can walk for days without sight of unbottled water or a shelter from the buzzing swarms of the self-important, models are beginning to disappear in flashes of light, and what's stranger still, there's no obvious tawdry sexual element to the crimes. Where, we are asked, have all the models gone.
Elsewhere in the City of Angels, Alison Blaire has decided to become a model, because her remarkably extensive skill set is matched only by her disastrous sense of timing. Not that skills are particularly required here, by the way. Alison makes that very clear. Why, modelling is so easy she can do it whilst sat on a chair, photographing herself. Photography is easy too, you see. One might be tempted to point out a comic ostensibly more about domestic concerns than others in the Marvel Universe might want to make Dazzler's professional struggles about her own limitations and the general difficulties of life, rather than constant run-ins with murderers and kidnappers, but she does get to spend more time than usual in her underwear, so it's not like the mission statement of the book is entirely ignored.
(It also gives Alison a chance to create her own dark room, which she then bathes with wan red light using her power set, which is actually quite a nice idea; I'm not sure I'd ever have thought of that).
Sure enough, the agency Dazzler sends her amateur snaps to - which is run by Millie the Model, who clearly hasn't completely retired from the biz since the end of her astonishing twenty-eight year comic series a decade earlier - snap her up, and Alison finds herself awaiting an audience with Ms. The Model herself in the latter's offices. Also present: long-time adversary of Millie, Chili Storm (here misspelled as "Chilie", or perhaps she's simply changed her name in order to remain FRESH and WITH IT and NOW), who tries to scare Dazzler off. But nothing doing! If anything's going to scare Alison away, it'll be the mysterious disappearances of all those models, and she doesn't care about that at all! Even a bit! For some reason!
With her portfolio re-shot by someone who actually knows what they're doing (like that's in any way hard, apparently), Alison goes job-hunting, and by her fourth interview she's in a show, along with Janet, who came up with this idea for a career change in the first place. A few days later, they both get a chance to meet their new temporary boss, Doug Scruggs, the man behind the Scruggs/Huggs line the girls will model (one presumes these are not the sackcloth adult diapers the name evokes). Scruggs is grateful no-one is mentioning this, and still more grateful that Millie's provided such talent for his use, and not that of his arch nemesis Tom Devine.
An arch nemesis? Disappearing models? This is regular three-pipe problem and no mistake. Maybe it's that Chili Storm, our heroine thinks. Why else has she shown up to the show despite not having been hired? It certainly can't be because she's obviously kinda desperate. Besides, there's that suspicious business card dropped suspiciously close to where Storm is suspiciously standing!
"REVENGE INC", the card informs us imperiously. "YOU GET MAD... WE GET EVEN!" This is clearly not the sort of business Congressmen would be willing to refer to as "reputable". Indeed, it strikes one as being nothing more than a retread of the infamous Murder Inc., only with additional options tacked on for the faint of heart. Good thinking, Revenge Inc! Overspecialisation was what eventually did for The Mad Hatter. Well, that and Abe Reles.
There's no time for Alison to get on with her trademark brand of sleuthing (sulk self-pityingly, happen to overhear incriminating phone-call, win), though. The show must go on! And it does! For several seconds, anyway, at which point the models start dropping out of reality like flies that also drop out of reality (if only they all could, the shit-encrusted nightmare-buzzers). Dazzler has just enough time to grab ahold of Chili -who still won't take the hint and piss off, apparently - and accuse her of being responsible, when the two of them disappear as well.
Fortunately Dazzler reappears
They also get a visit from the mastermind of the entire operation: Tom Devine! Another example of what can only be inelegantly referred to as Chekov's C***. Devine's motivations are utterly barking even by comic book standards; he's horrified that his former protege Scrubbs is doing such massive business whilst he remains critically and commercially ignored, so he's decided to take all the money he somehow has despite being a failure and sink it into Revenge Inc., who have used the money to create a teleportation device which could make everyone involved into trillionaires, which they're using to steal every model Scrubbs hires (how Millie failed to make this connection goes unexplained), sure that without models to showcase his clothes, Scrubbs will be history. Devine can then step into the breach using the same models he kidnapped and confessed to who he's now clad in his own clothes, which are, according to the models, awful anyway.
Fucking hell, I love this book.
Unwilling to wait around for Devine's big reveal, Alison waits until their captor has departed, and then lasers the door to the cell open (pretending to have worked through the bolt with a nail file, which the assembled examples of alleged physical perfection let slide without much comment), and they overrun Devine's legitimately baffled staff, with the arch-architect of arch-misery himself being laid out by a punch from Chili, the kidnap victim of my kidnapper being my friend, as I think we can all agree. It's nice when these issues have a real moral message to impart.
The next day, Alison quits Millie's Models, having apparently decided not just that the best time to join something is during a spate of mysterious disappearances, but the best time to quit it is just after you've stopped the disappearances for good. Still, clearly being a model is a dangerous business. It's not like being a dancer almost got her buried alive, or being a singer almost got her killed in a plane crash.
But is Alison out of the woods yet? If there's one thing you can be pretty sure of, after all, it's that a company named Revenge Inc. isn't likely to respond to interference with a policy based on "forgive and forget"...
This issue starts during another of Alison's Thursday aerobics classes, and takes place over approximately three weeks.
Thursday 8th to Wednesday 28th March, 1984.
X+6Y+7 to X+6Y+27.
A Ulster Volunteer Force attack leaves Gerry Adams and three others seriously injured.
"But our clothes? They're not the same ones we were wearing when we vanished! Some of them are even polyester!!"
Once again, Dazzler faces a fate worse than death.
Wednesday, 22 May 2013
And now we come to it. "Lifedeath" is one or both of tremendously popular, or highly acclaimed. I don't know which, for some reason, but the amount of times it was featured in ads for "old" comics during the '90s means it must be one or the other.
This is by way of saying that I came to this more or less fresh; knowing it was imporatant but not really anything more. And, in truth, there's a lot here that works very well. It is in large part another of Claremont's character issues, in which the main plot is almost entirely free of super-powered action - indeed, in Storm's case, this is very much the point. Indeed, as is so often the case, what little superheroics we have here actually detracts from the book. Particularly given the book's large size, there seems no reason why the ongoing Dire Wraith plot couldn't have been excised entirely, along with Xavier's search, leaving a 30 page story entirely devoted to Storm and Forge.
Because there's a lot to be said for - and about - it. Like a lot of love stories, particularly those involving people who've just met, much of this tale breaks down into an examination of where Storm and Forge are similar, and where they differ. The former is a list featuring both obvious and slightly less obvious elements - though Claremont is kind enough to explicitly go through said list, so we don't have to do much deductive work. Right at the top: both are mutants. Just below that is the fact that both are crippled, Storm just days ago through the loss of her power, Forge through losing his right leg and hand when accidentally caught in a US bombing run in 'Nam. Beyond that, though, both are emotionally crippled, Storm by her former fears of allowing herself to let loose - which clearly still deeply affects her despite her conscious attempts to move away from that approach - and Forge by, well, kinda just being a bit of a dick, maybe?
The first question here, then, is this: how much sympathy should one reserve for a woman who was previously like a goddess and is now merely of noticeably above average fitness, intelligence, and attractiveness, who gets to live in a sumptious mansion with her closest friends?
To an extent this question is somewhat subsumed by the nature of the man trying to help her through her torment. There's no doubt that Storm has every right to be mortified - the closest I have to a superpower is a half-decent talent for maths, and if I woke up one day without it, I'd be mortified even before the realisation that it would cost me my job - but Claremont has decided to explicitly make the comparison between Storm's predicament and that of a man who's lost his right leg and hand. Is this a reasonable comparison to make? Or is it horribly tone-deaf, or even ableist?
Ordinarily, this would concern me, though as an able bodied white man I'm obviously not eager to play referee between a wealthy-by-proxy black able-bodied woman hounded by anti-mutant forces and a government-protected Cheyenne man lacking a couple of extremities. Here, though, we have an out, because Forge's technological genius has allowed him to completely rebuild his body for most purposes, if not, it turns out, for swimming. Hell, he could probably build himself a weather control device, so the suggestion he and Storm have at least intersecting problems doesn't cause too much of a problem.
(This does open a new can of worns, though, about the difficulty in portraying disabled characters in fictional worlds where their disabilities can be overcome or rendered functionally non-existent by through science or magic. That's a topic for some other time, though.)
The second question follos on from the first, and is more specfic: how much should Forge care about what's happened to Storm?
Obviously, there's more than one strand to Forge's reactions here. In fact, there's at least four: the guilt he feels for designing the weapon, the clear attraction he has to Storm, the degree of empathy generated by his belief the two of them have similar problems, and the general feeling of sympathy one would have for anybody so obviously broken. By his own admission last issue, there's unlikely to be much of the last of those; Forge doesn't really give much of a damn about anyone but himself. It would also be interesting to see how differently things would have played out if Storm were either a) powerless for reasons unconnected to Forge, or b) very, very ugly.
For now, though, let's give Forge the benefit of the doubt, and assume his guilt is a major motivating factor here - that certainly seems to be what is powering his choice to relive his attempts to stop Gyrich last issue via his holodeck. This is a useful assumption because it highlights the primary difference between Storm and Forge; Ororo cares about those she's never met, and Forge cares nothing for anyone until he's met them, if then. Oh, he made some noises a few issues ago about not wanting to use the power-dampening weapon until he'd tested it, but the truth is it did exactly what it was supposed to do, so he can't claim clean hands just because it did its job ahead of schedule. Just as he made it clear to Naze that he had no interest in helping a tribe he no longer had any contact with, there was never any suggestion that he gave any thought to those who would be damaged by his weapon the very instant his own pride allowed him to concede it was finished.
This is what makes "Lifedeath" so tragic. It's his guilt when facing his victim that leads him to bring Storm home and for them to fall in love, but it's the localised nature of that guilt that both set up the situation in which they met, and which causes Storm to boil over with anger (and "accidentally" trash his technological systems) when she finally discovers the truth, by listening in on a phone conversation Forge is having with Gyrich. He tries, as he bound to, to reject his responsibility: "The gun was never meant to be used -- not then, not like that!". It's a woefully inadequate excuse, though, and Storm knows it. Our decisions have consequences, some of which are genuinely unforseeable, but far more which we don't forsee because we decide we're not going to.
Storm makes the obvious connection: Forge lives alone in a building he can make look and feel like anything he wants it to. He allows nothing that exists beyond his construction of reality to intrude - the ultimate epistemic closure. As long as he resides in Eagle Plaza, nothing beyond his walls needs to exist at all. It's just someplace where the money comes from, and occasionally people he need never consider once they've left once more. Forge wants credit for giving a damn when people are forced to enter his all-but hermetically sealed reality, but that's never going to be enough for Ororo, who simply cannot conceive of the idea that the love of someone who cares nothing for others in general can possibly be worth a damn.
And so she leaves him.
Elsewhere in the issue: Xavier attempts to locate his two missing X-Women, along with Nightcrawler's help; and Val heads home after a busy day enabling Neo-McCarthyism only to be attacked by a Dire Wraith wearing a colleague's skin. Ironically, she's saved at the last second by Rogue, but once the Wraiths have been defeated, Rogue sucks out Val's knowledge of Gyrich's new toy, and of the wider political movement behind it. This looks like a job for the X-Men!
Xavier mentions he was knocked unconscious for a full day by the psychic shockwave of Storm's de-powering. It's also taken him a little while to recover to the point where he can use Cerebro. He's not specific about how long that took, but we'll assume his attempts to locate Storm and Rogue take place, along with the rest of this issue, two days after Gyrich pulled the trigger.
Monday 6th February, 1984.
1 Marvel year = 3.55 standard years.
(Rogue is 27 years old)
|"But which self is mine?"|
Current Aston Villa and England team footballer Darren Bent is born. I'd never heard of him before finding his name on Wikipedia, but apparently he's snuck goals past both Wales and Montenegro, so, you know, one to watch.
"To be loyal, you must believe in something." - Storm
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Wherein various people find themselves trying to deal with powerful entities they don't necessarily understand.
Up in the Yukon (I assume it's the Yukon, at least; otherwise including that Robert Service poem is misleading as well as pretentious), Shaman is meeting with Snowbird to ask her to take things easy following her near-death experience in ALF #12. It's difficult trying to get through to a woman with "the wisdom of the Ancients" whose only been alive for six years - its a unique combination of arrogant disinterest and childish petulance that could be hard to crack. Still, that Ancient knowledge didn't bother telling her to stay in Canada, so is it really all that much use ? It also hasn't warned Snowbird about how she's now bleeding black acidic goo all over the place - which she somehow has failed to notice - so you've got to figure they're somewhere between incompetent and actively unpleasant.
Whilst Shaman tries to tame Snowbird, Namor is trying to ensnare Marrina. He's decided that Marrina is so tantalising a child-woman that he wants to make her his queen. Unfortunately, before she can respond to his proposal, she gets an emergency call from Alpha Flight, and the discussion is tabled as she heads out.
But is Namor struggling to understand Marrina, or is it the other way round? Has he overestimated her devotion, or has she underestimated his obsession? After all, when one of his underlings arrives with important business, Namor blows the guy off, and launches into the Atlantic after his squeeze.
Elsewhere, it's time for the latest round between Aurora and Jeanne-Marie. The rules for this bout are very simple: Aurora must at all times be naked and barely covered by a skimpy towel at all times. Jeanne-Marie must try to claw her eyes out through the bathroom mirror. FIGHT!!!
(Match cancelled owing to it being impossible to seat audience inside Aurora's fractured mind where the fight was scheduled to take place).
And now: the main event. What lurks in Lake Ontario?
Heather has joined Puck for some R&R in Toronto, so she can have some time to think through her situation. Puck, frankly, is less than fully helpful here, since his - entirely understandable - desire to cheer Heather up keeps making him say ridiculous things about the importance of living in the now. This isn't an entirely ridiculous bromide in general, of course, but if there's any time some serious thought about the future is warranted, it's when you've lost your home, your job, and half your income. The fact that this is all tied up with something that makes Heather very sad is profoundly unfortunate, but that's the way this particular cookie has crumbled.
Still, it could always be worse. You could be walking along the lake shore when your baby is grabbed and dragged underwater, for instance, which is what happens to a poor young woman just within screaming distance, drawing Heather and Eugene to the scene. Since Puck can't swim for shit, he can't go searching for the kid, so Heather goes for it, since she merely can't see for shit. Unsurprisingly, this all goes wrong, though in fairness that may have less to do with poor visibility/vision than the tentacled monster that grabs Heather and tries to drown her. Somehow she makes it back to the surface, and Puck pulls her free, but the baby, it seems is lost.
(Which is a tad tasteless, really. It's not that you can't kill a child in fiction, but you've got to have a better reason than "horrible lake monster", and you need to have a better way to process the horrendous emotional fall-out than have some bloke point at a devastated mother and effectively say "Cart her off-panel ASAP!")
The creature that grabbed Heather has really done a number on our heroine's legs, so she's taken to Bethune Memorial Hospital to recover, whilst Puck does some detective work, asking the local cops about the creature's MO, which seems to boil down to "capture, dissect, toss on the shore". Not just people, either, but dogs and cats, too, even the occasional seagull, which I guess means Lurky can't be all bad.
Finding all this out leads Puck to conclude he may have put two and two together, and he calls in Marrina. The way he sees it, an freshwater creature with a tendency to rip various different warm-blooded creatures apart and partially consume them can be only one thing: an alligator!
Just kidding. No, Puck thinks it's more likely to be one of Marrina's cousins, which also fell out of the ship on impact but without the damage that's made Marrina sociable, and the human contact that's made her bipedal. Right now it's grabbing things and dissecting them so as to choose a form.
I've little doubt that Puck will turn out to be correct about this, but hot damn, that's a hell of a reach. You'd think a man with Eugene's meticulous beard would have heard of Occam's razor. Besides, if Lurky really is one of Marrina's species, shouldn't it have figured humanity as the dominant species? They're the only ones being pulled in carrying watches and credit cards.
Meanwhile, on an archaeological dig at the original Fort Calgary, one final character is going to have a brush with forces beyond her understanding. Two brushes, in fact. The first one is with the haunted skull of a long-dead white man, which seems to have the interesting feature of generating a ghostly scream of "REVENGE!" whenever it's picked up.
The second is far more terrifying. In order to figure out what the spirit in the skull has planned, Elizabeth Twoyoungmen must seek out the man she abandoned fifteen years ago; the man she failed to understand to the point she ran out on her own father: Shaman.
 Obviously, it beggars belief that the ancient Northern gods would have their powers limited to the precise boundaries of modern-day Canada, so interesting questions get raised here. Are there any parts of the US she can go, and any parts of Canada that are off-limits? Dare she face the horror... of Labrador?
This story takes place over a single day. It's been six weeks since the battle against Omega Flight that almost cost Snowbird her life.
Friday 13th April, 1984.
India begins Operation Meghdoot, the attempt to capture the Siachen Glacier in Kashmir that sparked off the Siachen Conflict, which reached a cease-fire in 2003, but is still not officially concluded, perhaps because "highest battleground on Earth" is a cool thing to shoot people over, but more likely because the other side of the conflict is Pakistan.
"Then [the MD] did something really nasty. He told me what I was looking at..."
Autopsies in Toronto can make for unpleasant viewing.
Monday, 13 May 2013
("We're here! We're queer! We don't want any more bears!")
It's a base under siege! Man, that takes me back.
So far as I can tell, the original base under siege - at least with fantastical trappings - belongs to H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed, At the Mansions of Madness contains an astonishing number of fundamental sci-fi and horror tropes, presented with the kind of baffling roughness only possible when bringing something genuinely new into the world.
Lovecraft's influence is most obvious in one of the most well-known versions of the base under siege: John Carpenter's The Thing, which is probably just a few giant blind subterranean penguins away from being actionable. Terrifying remnants of ancient times haunting a remote, frozen realm? Check.
Sinister hyper-intelligent alien forces that caust us to question who and what we can trust about the nature of humanity? Check.
Oh, wait. That's not The Thing. That's Troughton era Doctor Who. Let's try again.
You get the point. Claremont is tapping into a fairly well-mined seam here. Not that is a prima facie problem, of course. It just means were going to be focusing less on what the comic does than on how it does it.
So. Dani has been taken to hospital following her mauling at the paws of a demon bear that's haunted her family for years. The New Mutants have followed along, both to see how her surgery progresses (do trauma surgeons really refuse to wait for x-rays in emergency cases? That seems insanely dangerous, though I guess I can see the counter-argument that definitely dead is worse than probably dead and maybe at a doctor's hands) and to keep watch should the bear return.
Which, obviously, it does. This is a base under siege, dammit, not a base under standard circumstances.
Let's tick our first box, then. The demon bear is a great choice for a besieging force. Its powers are unspecified but clearly considerable. Its form is familiar yet obviously "off" in significant ways. It's motives are utterly unknown (at least at first), but its objective is entirely clear and utterly murderous. All of that scores plenty of points even before we note that Sienkiewicz and Wein are both doing damn well with Claremont's script. Muted colours and deep shadows, and an abundance of red shades - it's all put together very well so as generate the right kind of atmosphere. The claustrophobia of events is increased by including plenty of tall, thin panels, often too narrow to include characters' entire faces. This also helps with Sienkiewicz's use of the demon bear, which is kept predominantly off-panel (in the sense that little is seen at any one time) far more than is necessary considering we all know what we're dealing with here. This is an exceptionally common approach in horror movies, where even when monsters have been identified they spend little time directly in shot. There of course there's also the desire to avoid special effects or cheap make-up being too obvious, but it performs an aesthetic job as well, and Sienkiewicz is savvy enough to know how it will contribute to the feeling of claustrophobia and isolation.
Hey, you know what doesn't enhance the feeling of claustrophobia and isolation? Cutting away from your tale of an isolated, besieged hospital and heading into the infinite blackness of interstellar space. It's not remotely difficult to understand why we're packed off to watch the Starjammers (along with Binary and Lilandra) encounter two organic vessels heading directly for Earth at "ultralight speeds"; clearly this is the next step in setting up Warlock's arrival. But it utterly kills the gathering atmospherics, resetting as it were the claustrophobia counter to zero. Back when these comics had no sense of aesthetics beyond making each individual panel as pretty as possible, this wouldn't have been a problem, but already here, in just the second Sienkiewicz issue, a script which doesn't focus on such issues causes real problems.
Major though it might be, this is the only real blip in the issue. Move it to one side and everything works very well, with Sienkiewicz providing an increasing sense of menace whilst Claremont gradually raises the stakes. Dani comes in horribly injured, and then is upgraded first to almost certainly dead, and then to entirely certainly paralysed. Something - presumably the close proximity of the demon bear and/or its effect upon Dani's special rapport with Rahne - is causing Wolfsbane's transformations to become erratic and misshapen. Tensions get so great that local cop Tom Corsi almost shoots Rahne (though she was a demon-twisted bipel wolf at the time, in fairness), and he's only just begun to calm himself down by chatting up a nurse named Sharon Friedlander when both of them get jumped by the bear.
And Illyana... Well. The young Russian is a little problematic here, actually. Just a little, in that she results in a step sideways from what Sienkiewicz is building rather than a step backwards. Still, this is a tale about a desperate attempt to avoid getting killed in the dead of frozen night by a seemingly unstoppable supernatural ursine. Having Illyana saved in each bear fight by the inexplicable arrival of some kind of stratified body armour sits oddly with the sense of utter helplessness explored elsewhere.
There is a third occasion in which the cramped atmosphere of the hospital is broken, but this final break is entirely deliberate. Apparently frustrated by its inability to defeat its young foes, the furry fiend decides to teleport the young mutants across time and space to a warm day somewhere out west, whilst dangling an apparently hypnotised Corsi and Friedlander in mid-air on either side of a giant red globe playing images of Dani's operation.
Shine on, you crazy bear diamond, I guess. But will this act of obvious madness claim the lives of our heroes? Tune in next time...
This story takes place over the course of some three hours. It's not clear whether or not the boundary of midnight is crossed, but I'm going to assume it has, for thematic reasons if nothing else.
Monday 23rd to Tuesday 24th January, 1984.
X+5Y+329 to X+5Y+330.
"Near as we can figure, sir, she was mauled by a bear."
"In Westchester County? You gotta be kidding."
"Oh course, senhor. This is all one great, elaborate practical joke."
Damn, Corsi! You just came down with a bad case of Sunspotburn!
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
(The Kelly Problem Problem.)
This is one of those issues which really demonstrates Claremont's strengths as a writer, as he takes a number of floating plotlines and ties them all together into something with a significant payoff. On this occasion, we have the paranoid hysterics of Senator Kelly and his fellow politicians, Mystique's undercover identity of Raven Darkholme, Rogue's recent attack on the SHIELD helicarrier, and the newly introduced Forge. More than that, though, we get an honest to God dramatic theme in here as well. This isn't just a book about Claremont's long-term planning, then, but about mankind's short-term thinking, and the problems always stirred up by same.
Let's start where this issue does, and consider the ongoing problem of Senator Kelly. When last we discussed this, I talked about the difficulties in viewing the motivations of Kelly simply through the lens of minority oppression. This, of course, is the primary metaphor of the X-books (which minority is functioning as inspiration is fluid), but it doesn't completely work with regards to things like Kelly's legislation, because the people Kelly is worried about really are as dangerous to American society, at least potentially, as he thinks they are.
What was pointed out in the comments to that post is that Kelly's motivations move the metaphor away from civil rights concerns, and into the gun control debate (the film version of Kelly makes this point explicitly in the first movie, in fact). Which in itself is a civil rights debate, as - let's not mince words here - flat out insane that sounds to a lot of people outside the United States.
It sounds particularly strange given the recent tragedies in America, and we can't really talk about this in the abstract only and pretend Sandy Hook never happened. Following that horrible, horrible incident, the US threw itself into a flurry of arguments over what could or should be done to prevent anything so tragic from ever happening again. Broadly speaking, there were three general suggestions:
- Limit access to guns (or at least ammo) either directly by banning certain weapons, or strengthening laws over who isn't allowed to get their hands on them;
- Accept that a country with a strong national attachment to firearms, and a constitution which can be interpreted to guarantee access to same to the general public, is going to have to pay a horrible price for those facts every now and again, in much the same way as he accept plane crashes rather than ban flying;
- Give more guns out so that the people with guns get shot by other people with other guns.
I've never really hidden my politics here, and I'm even more bullish on the subject over at my main blog, so if those options sound like I've twisted them according to my own priorities, you're right, and I also don't care. This isn't the place for me to go into my issues with the Second Amendment, however. Let's focus on the immediate issue, which is that Kelly demonstrates here that he is definitely in favour of option 3. He wants more guns.
Actually, let's give him some credit, because again the metaphor is shaky. Kelly has decided it's time to break out the power-deactivation gun Forge designed and was waving around last issue. He sees a problem with too much firepower out in the country, and he wants to shoot at it in response. But really, what choice does he have? Option 1 is limiting gun access, but in the case of mutants that literally means removing their powers, and look; that's what he wants to do. With a gun. Options 1 and 3 turn out to be the same here. All we can really say is that Kelly isn't prepared to accept the risk of mutants within the body politic without action, and as I said in my previous post, that's hardly an indefensible position.
I said more in that post, though. I pointed out Kelly's problem isn't so much his goal, it's the laziness of his proposed solution. Rather than spend money trying to work out a way in which dangerous mutants can be dealt with without impinging on the lives of those who don't pose a threat (either due to power levels or to temperament), Kelly just wants blanket solutions. Quick, easy, grotesquely unfair, bound to create a backlash.
This links in to what I was saying above about short-term thinking. I described Kelly's earlier ideas to be very much reminiscent of Republican thinking; why waste money ensuring a law can be fairly applied? His actions here very much reinforce this suggestion. There is little the Republican party (along, it must be said, with far too many Democrats) have proved more comprehensibly over the last ten years and change than their utter, contemptuous disinterest in thinking more than two steps ahead. The invasion of Iraq, the pulling out of Tora Bora, the endless drumbeat to attack Iran, to attack Syria, on and on and on, endless iterations of the idea that Something Must Be Done because Security or Democracy or Resolve or Reputation. What happens next is simply not something John McCain ever has any interest in, any more than does Mitt Romney, George W Bush, or the almost uniquely contemptible John Bolton (I excuse Dick Cheney from this list purely because I don't think he didn't care about horrific consequences, so much as actively welcomed them, hoping the souls of the innocent dead could be used to power a machine replacing failing, coal-powered heart).
Kelly has a problem: Rogue. He doesn't know her motivations, he hasn't bothered with due process. She will never see a trial, even one of the hilariously inept military ones Bush slapped together to deal with those languishing in Gitmo. He has a gun. It's not tested. It may not be safe. No-one knows what will happen when Rogue gets shot by it. The man who invented it proudly announces his total disinterest in anything in the world that isn't himself, and he's still disgusted by the idea of using it in its current form.
Kelly's going to do it anyway.
It's not just him, either. Notice how Val tries to justify using the weapon on Rogue "we won't be any worse off than when we started". Leaving aside the callous disregard Val shows for the teenager they plan to attack - we'll get to this later, but at the very least, the evidence against Rogue is strong enough for me to understand Val's attitude at least to an extent - this is, self-evidently, utter crap. The current plan is to fire a weapon at an exceptionally dangerous mutant, and hope they hit, and that it does the job Forge hopes it will. If not, they've just declared war on a super-strong flying woman who can suck out their memories. The degree to which that could go bad is obvious, but Val blows through it. The next move is never considered.
Even if the weapon was guaranteed to work (and its carrier guaranteed to hit), however, Val is guilty of ridiculously short-term thinking. To get the weapon, she's had to steal if from Forge, who immediately responds in exactly the way you'd expect him to; he quits. This is the man who the government hoped would replace Tony Stark, and they've pissed him away because Val Cooper and Senator Kelly want Rogue dealt with as soon as possible. What happens when another mutant comes along who can't be affected by Forge's prototype? What happens when the gun runs out of power, or breaks, or turns out to be less than 100% effective? That's the kind of time you could really do with a genius-level inventor about the place. Whoops!
And really, what makes Rogue such a major and immediate threat to make her risk losing Forge over? Kelly's presentation of the facts, intended to justify the move against Rogue, is illuminating here. Taken piece by piece, they are actually reasonably damning. Rogue did work for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She did first fight the X-Men in the Pentagon and then mysteriously swap sides. She did attack the SHIELD helicarrier, and Kelly has no reason to doubt SHIELD's own conclusion that the agent killed during that attack died at Rogue's own hands.
But look at what Kelly's assumptions combine to form. He thinks Rogue's team change might be evidence that the Brotherhood and the X-Men have been in cahoots all along, the fight in the Pentagon being a distraction whilst someone deleted all relevant files on the X-Men from the official database. But if that's true, if the two groups are allies, the battle in which the X-Men seemingly saved Kelly's life from the Brotherhood must have been faked too. They must have wanted Kelly alive.
Why on earth would they do that? There are only two reasons that I can think of. The first is that they wanted Kelly to feel threatened, so he'd crack down on mutants more strongly. If that's true, he's about to give them exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, perhaps they wanted Kelly to feel indebted to the X-Men for "saving" him, hoping to manipulate him at a later date. But if that's true, what the hell are they thinking adding Rogue to their roster a few months later? What kind of secret alliance has a revolving door policy among its members?
Kelly, in short, has put just enough thought into this to come up with some vaguely plausible conspiracy theory he can use to start shooting at things, and no more. There's no watertight case for what he wants to do, and there's no thought about the possible consequences. Really, then, this is the third option from those given above. Do what you want to do anyway, use just enough brain cells to dream up a rationale (people who want to shoot kids won't do it if they think a teacher might be armed, because of the ruthless logic evidenced by would-be mass murderers), and refuse to consider the consequences whilst insisting those consequences don't matter because of how bad things are now.
With all this going on, is it any wonder the attack is ultimately botched? The government forces track Rogue down whilst she's having a heart-to-heart with Storm. Indeed, Storm has demonstrated her trust in Rogue by allowing her to experience her memories and her powers, which means that when Rogue is first clipped with the anti-mutant gun, she loses control of the elemental forces she currently wields. This creates a storm on the nearby Mississippi, and Storm and Rogue therefore can't escape their attackers because they have a tugboat to save. A half-baked government attack leading to civilians being put in harm's way? Who could have seen that coming?
Worse is to come. Whilst Rogue and Storm are struggling to bring the tug in, Agent Gyrich - leader of the assault force and brandishing Forge's neutraliser - sees an opportunity to shoot Rogue down whilst she's busy trying to save innocent lives. An apoplectic Forge arrives in time to spoil Gyrich's aim, but that only means he hits Storm instead.
Let's take a second here to marvel at how much of a disgusting person Agent Gyrich is. By hitting Ororo he sends the surrounding storm into overdrive, and a lightning bolt hits the tug, detonating its fuel and blowing the vessel apart. Miraculously, the crew are thrown clear (or at least some of them are), but Gyrich just almost got a dozen people killed in the process of shooting and crippling a woman charged with no crime. His response is to argue "she was aiding an abetting" their true target. The aid in question? Trying to save some lives. Not criminal activity.
Agent Gyrich, ladies and gentlemen. Blowing up civilian locations is fine if it also catches people who haven't turned in people judged without trial to be threats to the state. It's a supremely contemptuous and arrogant position that rightly makes Forge gag with sheer rage. It's also pretty much the official position of the Obama administration regarding Afghanistan drone strikes. So, you know, at least we've reached a position of bipartisanship here. I mean, Storm isn't even American. If someone had pulled this crap outside of Kabul, there'd be talk of medals all round.
There are other things going on in this issue - Rachel phoning her father Cyclops but not having the guts to talk to him, a nice conversation between Mystique and Destiny over the possibility Rogue will lose her powers, and Destiny pointing out Mystique isn't showing any more interest in her foster daughter's own desires than the US government is. Really, though, those scenes detract from a very powerful theme: the infinite cycle of short-term self-destructive half-baked reactions to external and internal threats that lies at the root of so much human tragedy. There will always be Robert Kellys willing to shoot first and ask questions later, and Val Coopers ready to insist that the reactions of both one's friends and one's enemies are utterly irrelevant when planning one's actions (I've been using American politics as my point of comparison in this post despite many of the principles involved being entirely generalisable, but this at least is a predominantly US phenomenon).
And there will always be Henry Gyrichs, who will cause indiscriminate pain and suffering, and motivate revenge attacks against the people he's ostensibly serving, and who will sniff, and stick two fingers up at the world, and say everyone he harmed had it coming and it's not his problem and anyway what's the big deal.
And sooner or later these Kellys and these Coopers and these Gyrichs will press exactly the wrong pressure point at exactly the wrong time, and everything will go completely to hell. In the world of the X-Men, that means the start of a years-long plotline in which Storm cannot use her powers to defend humanity. Out here in the real world, it can be so very much worse.
This story takes place over a single day.
It's been months since Rogue joined the team, and weeks since her visit to the helicarrier, according to Rogue herself and Storm, respectively. By our count, it's been a week and a half, so we'll move this story forward a few days to compensate. This actually gets us to it having been six months exactly since Rogue joined the team in UXM #171, so that works just fine.
Saturday 4th February, 1984.
1 Marvel year = 3.54 standard years.
(Rogue is 26 years old.)
|"Perhaps ah'm not as rotten as ah liked t' think."|
Fred Aquilera sets the world distance record for Frisbee throwing (168m), which is what I call an event.
"Whatever Rogue did, she -- and especially Storm -- are supposedly innocent until proven guilty. That's the law, Gyrich! Only for Storm, a trial's superfluous. Thanks to you, she's already condemned!" - Forge.
Thursday, 2 May 2013
After two comic posts on the trot about the forces of undeath (both real and faked), it's time to consider the chill fingers of Death himself from a rather less... escapist perspective.
Let's start with this. The first eleven pages of this issue are simply wonderful. There is more dialogue on the front cover than the whole first half of the book. In part this is possibly practical - funeral dialogue is very difficult to write without sounding either inappropriately callous or (far more often) terribly mawkish. But it also acts as a kind of underlining of James Hudson's death, an opportunity for some nicely stark images of black-clad mourners contrasted against white Canadian skies, and demonstrates that whatever else one might want to say about John Byrne, the guy can commit to the use of mime and still demonstrate that Northstar is an utter dick.
I'm willing to give points out for the title, too. When all the mourners (save the nearby Wolverine) disperse, Heather watches as her husband's tombstone shatters, revealing a burning skeleton reaching out for her. The fact that Byrne has already called this story "Nightmare!" makes it explicit what's going on, but that's all to the good. It's a announcement that the terrifying spectre chasing Heather (who Logan tries to stop, and gets his faced burned off for his troubles) isn't real, and so isn't the point here. The point is how utterly screwed up Heather is by her loss. When she wakens with a horrified "NNOOOO!" (the first spoken word inside the comic), we learn she's been having this same dream for the past month, ever since Mac's death.
The question then is not what the creature from Guardian's tomb is, but what it represents, and how Heather can exorcise it.
In a book that too often (as I've lamented many times before) treats its female characters as objects of lust at worst and problems to be solved at best, this is real progress. Yes, "The Case of the Wobbly Widow" is one more example of one of the book's women struggling with internal problems, but the specifics matter. A woman grieving over her husband is not a woman wanting to fuck so much she tries to blow off rescue missions. In a medium which has repeatedly and fairly been targeted with criticism over the use of female characters as nothing more than props to be damaged so as to affect the male characters, this inversion is welcome.
All of that is theory, though. The central question here is how well Byrne explores the territory he's been pretty smart to map out.
You can guess what's coming here, can't you?
In Byrne's defence, his choice of using the first half of this issue as a silent dream-sequence - which I defend utterly - doesn't leave him much room to start exploring the after-effects of Mac's death. On the other hand, that being the case, his decision to spend three pages explaining how Guardian was killed is all the more ridiculous. It's baggage the issue cannot afford, and it's presence is utterly pointless. There are essentially two types of people who'd be reading this issue in the summer of 1984; regular readers who already know why James is dead, and newcomers who Byrne has just had sit through eleven pages of silent reflection over the death of some guy they no nothing about. This issue has already decided which of these two groups to aim for; this kind of bet-hedging just guarantees no-one will come out satisfied.
The in-story justification of this recap is to explain to former Department H liaison Gary just what happened to Guardian, and to ask what the Canadian government intends to do about the death of the country's premiere super-hero. Heather, it would seem, is seeking closure through official recognition. And closure is clearly important here; James Hudson was immolated by his own power-pack, so nothing remained to be buried. Some kind of state funeral - or at least state announcement - might be of some use in holding back Heather's night terrors.
Of course, it's not as simple as all that. Gary can't do a blessed thing, because the government has retroactively scrubbed Department H from the records. Alpha Flight, officially, never existed. Heather responds by expressing outrage that a man could die for Department H and receive not so much as a mention in dispatches. I don't want to shout down a widow, or anything, but this is flatly not what happened. Guardian died because a man he pissed off before he ever joined the department kidnapped his wife, and the rescue attempt went south. All Department H had to do with the incident was to allow James to keep his mechanical super-suit (allowing him to at least save his wife) and not make a fuss about the fact he was running his own unsanctioned super-group (allowing them to help in releasing Heather). The scrubbing of Alpha Flight's records is a supreme dick move, but on the matter of James Hudson's death, their hands are entirely clean.
Gary is too nice to say all this to Heather's face, however, and they part on good terms, albeit because Heather is grateful Gary chose not to be a typically spineless bureaucrat, which I'm not sure is a conclusion Gary is entirely happy to hear.
So what next for our heroes? Well, things look pretty bad. With James dead, Heather is adamant that Alpha Flight should be retired too; it was always her husband's dream. With there being no body, and with the Canadian government refusing to admit who her husband was, Heather can forget about life insurance, and with her husband gone and her supposed new job just bait to draw her in, she can no longer afford the brownstone they were renting in New York. Her old position has been filled, her old apartment let out to another. This is not a good month for Heather Hudson.
On the other hand, things could always be worse. She could live in Toronto, by the St. Lawrence River (which I didn't think was beside the St. Lawrence, actually, but never mind). That's what Jacob Vandernet decided to do, and look what happens to him. Sucked into the water and killed by terrifying forces unknown.
Say, I wonder if this is something the comic will be coming back to...
This story takes place over a night and a day. During the latter, Gary mentions that Pierre Trudeau resigned the day before, which should tell us exactly when this issue is set. Unfortunately, Trudeau retired on the last day of June 1984. Mac died on the second day of March 1984. It has been, according to Shaman, a month since that tragedy.
Canny readers may see the problem here.
For all that I like to give Claremont grief for not being quite able to keep his timelines straight, at least his problem is a tendency to get his seasons confused. Attaching a specific date to an issue and giving an utterly incompatible date two issues later is a whole other level of carelessness. I guess we can handwave all this by saying Trudeau retired three months earlier in the Marvel U (traditionally we should hypnotism, or maybe One More Day), but it's an aggravating problem nevertheless.
Monday 2nd April, 1984.
Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau does not resign.