Wednesday, 22 May 2013

UXM #186: "Lifedeath"

(Friendly fire.)


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.



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.55 standard years.

(Rogue is 27 years old)

"But which self is mine?"
Contemporary Events

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.

Standout Line

"To be loyal, you must believe in something." - Storm

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