Thursday, 2 May 2013

ALF #13: "Nightmare!"

(Silent wight.)


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.



Contemporary Events

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau does not resign.

Standout Line

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