Sunday, 28 July 2013

Beauty And The Beast #1: "Beauty And The Beast, Part 1"

(A creature of surpassing ugliness.)


Released (at least nominally) in the same month, it's tempting to view Beauty and the Beast as a a close companion to the Iceman mini-series.  Not only did they start at the same time, but both are four issues long, and both feature a long-absent member of the X-Men (Beast hadn't been part of that team for over a decade in real-time by this point) and current member of the New Defenders taking some well-deserved - and obviously doomed - downtime.

There is an important difference between the two, though.  Back when I talked about Bobby Drake's newest escapades, I suggested that we didn't need to search too hard in an attempt to justify the series, because having Iceman back for a little while was of interest in itself.  In theory, the same should be true of Henry McCoy.  Hell, it should be vastly more true, on account of Beast being the greatest X-Man ever create.

The problem here is that Beast is utterly unrecognisable here.  There is literally nothing beyond his look and name that connects him with the character we spent more than half a decade with in the '60s, or even the rather more brash iteration we saw in Amazing Adventures after his self-inflicted transformation. Beast does not say "Wotta view!" He doesn't comment on the arrival of another mutant by saying "Get a load of horse-face."  He doesn't grab hold of people and threaten them because he doesn't like the way they're talking to women - if he did think some prick was bothering a woman, he'd have much better ways of locking that shit down - and he doesn't do it out of unthinking jealousy.  And he certainly doesn't give a woman shit because she turns him down when he announces she's leaving with him.

I mean, it's hard enough swallowing this kind of unpleasant chauvinist attitude - a strange thing to write about when reading the first X-book to be written by a woman - without it coming from so educated and thoughtful a character.  There is nothing here, nothing at all, that doesn't feel like this is a team-up between Dazzler and Generic Male Superhero.  Indeed, the title seems to be the only reason they've included Hank at all; there's clearly no interest in doing his character justice.

Whilst Beast is utterly unrecognisable, Dazzler by contrast is wearyingly familiar.  When last we saw Dazzler - in her very own graphic novel no less - she was finding herself increasingly out of sorts as she tried to fit in with Hollywood in order to kick-start her career, only for the people she trusted to betray her.  This time around, she's finding herself increasingly out of sorts as she tries to fit in with Hollywood in order to kick-start her career, only for the man she trusts to betray her.  Er, yay?

That's not entirely fair, I grant, because of the two set-ups, I think this is the more interesting.  OR at least, more grim, and really I don't see the difference between those two adjectives anyway.  Whatever else one wants to say about Beast's behaviour here, he does at least have good instincts.  "Horse-face" is part of Hugo Longride's mutant theatre, and under the guise of helping her career Alex has been systematically ruining what little reputation Dazzler has left, so that she has nowhere else to work but his exploitative freak-show.

The idea of people making use of mutants like this hasn't really been used too much up to this point - there was the occasion Mesmero hypnotised the X-Men into thinking they were carnival attractions, but the grotesque idea wasn't really made use of - and given how often it happened to people born with non-standard body shapes here in the real world (see, for example, the 1932 film Freaks, which depending who you talk to is either a reaction to such mistreatment, or an example of it in itself).  It's something of a shame that Alison is portrayed as being stupid enough to not realise Longride is doing her more harm than good - this is, what, the third time in a row this has happened - but again, that's more of a criticism of this story directly following MGN #12 than a problem in its own right.

What the issue does has to own for itself is how little it does with this idea, though.  It also has to answer for how unimpressive Dazzler comes across here. Longride is apparently applying psychological pressure in order to break her will and leave her helpless to resist him. All of which apparently requires almost no effort on his part.  A fall into a swimming pool, a shitty newspaper story about her, and Dazzler is already close to collapse, to the point where she has to flee the city because her light powers are out of control.  It's frustrating in the extreme to see a genuinely capable (if frequently aggravating) female character to be reduced to a damsel in distress, especially since one of the best features of the fairy tale this takes its name from is the idea that its Beauty who saves the Beast from himself.

Here, Beast appoints himself protector and saviour of Beauty, and it's all very unpleasant. Quite aside from the gender politics issues, Beast acts in an appallingly judgemental way towards Longride's mutant charges, to the point where one calls him on the hypocrisy, and he still dismisses them as "decrepit people".  When Alison disappears - having run to the coast to hide - he immediately assumes the horse-featured mutant he threatened at the previous night's party is responsible, and heads to the guy's hotel before attacking him without warning.

Think about that for a moment. Beast physically attacks a fellow mutant based on a jealous hunt and rumours spread about the group of mutants he belongs to.  The fact that this mook - Rocker by handle [1]- turns out to know Longride is planning something nefarious for Dazzler is entirely beside the point.  This isn't how heroes are supposed to behave.  This isn't how Hank is supposed to behave.

All this comes together when Beast overhears Rocker receiving a tip on Dazzler's whereabouts, and heads to the coast to find her being sheltered by a group of squatters in a nearby house.  There he finds Dazzler pumping out massive wattage, and promises he's arrived to protect her.  You know, from light.  Light she's generating herself.  Actually, proper Beast could probably manage that.  New and unimproved Beast? Shit out of luck, I'm guessing.

But I guess we'll find out next issue.  Next year, in fact, since this post brings us to the end of 1984's X-books (except for that year's Uncanny X-Men Annual, which will have to wait until Kitty and Logan get back from beating up ninjas).  Everyone break out the tiny flags!  Woo!  Tiny flag waves! WOO!

[1] This is probably Doctor Doom's bastard child.  I didn't know he had one until this issue, but given Doom's presence in the prologue it's clear he'll be showing up, and Rocker's shared love of horsie-based statuary and dislike of knocking on the door during the appreciation of same makes guessing his identity reasonably simple. Let this be a lesson to you, kids! Dabble in the black arts; end up with unacceptably equine children.  It could happen to you! 


Like ICE, there's little here to tie the issue to wider X-book continuity, other than the fact that the events of the Dazzler graphic novel are described in the past tense.  Since they share no cast members, we can actually run this simultaneously with Bobby Drake's latest adventure, though this issue takes place over a much longer time frame of around a fortnight.


Saturday 30th September to Saturday 14th October, 1984.


X+6Y+213 to X+6Y+227.

Contemporary Events

The Brighton hotel bombing: the IRA attempts to assassinate Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet.  Five people were killed and several more permanently disabled, but the Prime Minister herself escaped injury.

Standout Line

"Best thing for my hangover is to just relax and look at my sculpture collection." - Rocker

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