Saturday, 15 June 2013
NMU #21: "Slumber Party!"
("What is this Earth concept you call 'onesies'?")
OK, so this story has a pretty clear moral. Charles Xavier, you see, is all liberal and forgiving and nurturing, so he gets a dozen or so high school girls to show up at his mansion and have pillow fights (sure, he's "away" for the night, but there's no way the security cameras ain't rollin'). Magneto is all angry and shouty and into the blowing up of things, so he's visited by a super-speedy asteroid that blows up his sexy new space station. Bad times.
I really like the idea of seeing the Xavier Institute through the eyes of total newcomers - ones that aren't in on the truth - and whilst squealing schoolgirls might not have been my first choice, it certainly makes sense in the context of this series. Plus, it's nice that none of the newcomers turn out to be spies or supervillains; all that's on their minds is mimicking Jackson's dance moves and prettying up Rahne. Tonight's entertainment is all about the sentient stellar object that's ruined Magneto's new digs.
It's also about poor old Sam and Roberto, who didn't get invites to the pillow fights for obvious reasons - maybe Xavier paid for them to see the Yankees get their heads handed to them. Things get no better for them when they get home and find themselves barred from the front door by a tiny but gorgeous redhead. Psyche! It's Rahne, but she's been make-up, er, upped, so that she's all pretty now.
Sigh. The plain girl who could be gorgeous if she just put a bit of effort in. I can't tell you how much this cliche pisses me off. It's basically saying that the people society doesn't automatically deem sufficiently attractive should just make more of an effort. Maybe if you tried harder to cling to the artificial concept of beauty we've developed as a culture, you'd have more luck with the lads. I'm not trying to make some overarching point about the worthlessness of make-up, here - I like when my girlfriend puts on eyeshadow when we go somewhere nice, just as she likes it when I throw on some cologne and a proper shirt - it's the idea of it having massive transformative power to the point where every other visual cue a person gives off is overwritten that causes the problem. If you're conception of Rahne is so predicated on her facial structure that you literally fail to recognise her once she's been visited by the Maybelline fairy, you simply cannot possibly be worth the effort.
Stung by being kept out of their own home (and, in Sam's case, being punched in the solar plexus by an outraged werewolf), the two boys head off into the grounds, and soon find themselves chasing down a meteorite that's come down nearby, and which veered ninety degrees in mid-air to do it. The pair drag the rock from the lake where it landed, and leave it in the mansion's labs for Xavier to look at when he gets back.
The solution to the mystery of the meteorite is obvious, of course, not just for those of us picking through the history of the X-books, but for readers at the time. This is no space-rock at all, but a sentient being on the run from his murderous father, just as he has been for a couple of issues now. This is Warlock, and given the sheer size of his legacy, it's worth taking a moment to focus on what we can consider his actual introduction, as oppose to brief teasers.
The first thing to say is that he looks absolutely fantastic. I've been banging on about my love of Sienkiewicz's work since he first arrived on the title, and that's not about to stop now. A jet-black mix of circuits and cables and punk-fucking rock, all forced sideways through some kind of utterly alien filter? Delightful.
Claremont deserves his share of the credit on this as well. For all that Warlock's speech patterns can be charitably described as "Marmite" (charitable in the sense that I've never seen anyone but Claremont himself profess to like it), Warlock's method of consumption is both fascinating and disturbing, involving as it does changing organic matter into cybernetic structures and then sucking the life out to create strange circuit-laced statues. It's one part Borg (four years before they appeared in TNG), one part Medusa, meaning its tapping in to two fears - that of being turned into stone  and that of being turned into the other - that have followed humankind around for millennia.
Of course, transmuting life into cybernetic snacks is all fun and games until somebody loses a dragon. Lockheed has a near miss when he runs into Warlock, and the resulting ruckus alerts the New Mutants. From here things move into the standard pattern of heroes stepping up in strict rotation to fail to punch out the enemy. This offers Claremont a chance to remind us of Illyana's recent battle against acute armour manifestation, but otherwise doesn't offer us much to do. I suppose the inclusion of a host of curious schoolgirls brings us something new, requiring as it does some fancy explanations from our regulars. Rahne becomes a pet wolf, injured comrades become victims of falls in dark rooms, the remains of Warlock's snacks (most noticeably a demon Illyana summoned to fight him who got exactly nowhere) are now statues, that sort of thing. At one point the girls see Sam flying past the window, but apparently the sight of his hypnotic tuckus helps distract them (he's in naught but a towel throughout the battle, which I suppose is intended as payback for months of excessive Dani-flesh), and he seals the deal by being so relentlessly unpleasant to them that all they remember is what a dick he is.
Meanwhile, the toroidal tapestry of endless violence begins to fray when Dani determines Warlock is sentient - by scaring the crap out of him, natch - and decides that communication should be the order of the day. Lacking any other means to get through to their visitor, the teenagers have little choice but to recruit Doug Ramsey as a cypher. This causes no end of headaches, since it involves simultaneously revealing to Doug that a half dozen of his acquaintances are mutants, and they're a secret superhero team, and there's intelligent life outside the solar system, and one of them has arrived and is trying to kill people. Oh, and that he's a mutant too. If I were Doug I'd have been calling Sam the rudest word imaginable in every language on the planet, in strict alphabetical order.
As understandably put out as Doug is, the plan is at least successful. Warlock has already managed to interface with the mansion's computer, so it's not hard for Doug to do the same, and the first seeds of a friendship are born. Warlock explains the rather brutal reproductive methods of his kind: babies are mass-produced on an assembly line, but apparently each is a clone of an earlier individual. Some time after being "decanted", a child must fight against the previous iteration to the death. That's an interesting way to keep a population stable; you always have the exact same number of people, and they're regularly replaced by younger versions of themselves when they get too old to effectively defend themselves. It does make me wonder who settled on the number and identity of those individuals, but that's just me.
Anyway. The New Mutants are successful in befriending Warlock, and thanks to his experience with the computer (I assume) Warlock now knows how to draw power from a wall-socket without overloading the system. The inquisitive giggle-pack are all safely squirrelled away, and when Xavier returns later that evening, he gets over his surprise at Warlock's arrival (and associated property damage) with commendable speed, welcoming him to the team.
Just as a parenthetical, I wonder exactly what that's about, anyway. What in the idea of being turned to stone grabs people so much? Is it all from the same source? Is it some kind of comment on mortality, in which people escape the inevitable march towards death, but in the most horrible way possible - kind of a worst-case scenario for gaining immortality? Or have I just watched "The Five Doctors" one too many times?
This story takes place over a single night.
It's not clear how long Dani has been convalescing in hospital. I assumed Healer had fixed her right up at the end of last issue, but perhaps that would have raised too much suspicion. It seems a bit strange to force Dani to spend her time in the hospital because a total recovery would strain credulity when you've already reassembled her spine, but then I'm not the strategic genius that Charles Xavier is.
Regardless, this presents us with the useful opportunity to pull New Mutants forward to synch with our newly rechronologicalified UXM. Slumber parties strike me as kind of a Friday thing (we didn't really go in for that sort of stuff in the north-east of England in the '90s; we pretty much spent our evenings getting wasted on glue and hunting mutants in the Middlesbrough hinterlands), so we'll place this two days before the Direwraiths attack Eagle Plaza.
Friday 30th March, 1984
Champion tennis player Samantha Stosur is born. The US ends its participation in the multinational peace force in Lebanon.
Warlock opens a fridge.
"How marvelously this person stores within itself organic fuel, maintaining freshness for future consumption. Why does it refuse even the simplest binary comcall?! Perhaps the inhabitants of this orb are not hospitable to visitors?"
Well, that or the fact that you've opened some dude up and are playing around with his internal organs, 'Lock. Who's to say?