Tuesday, 7 May 2013

UXM #185: "Public Enemy!"

(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.



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.54 standard years.

(Rogue is 26 years old.)

"Perhaps ah'm not as rotten as ah liked t' think."
Contemporary Events

Fred Aquilera sets the world distance record for Frisbee throwing (168m), which is what I call an event.

Standout Line

"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.

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