Wednesday, 31 July 2013
XHY #20: "Worlds Within Worlds"
(Time's running out; better slow things down.)
Now that 1984 is firmly in our rear-view mirror, and whilst I'm working on putting together my TWTYTW post on those particular twelve months (nickel summary: "that escalated quickly"), let's finally polish off this rather unlovely series from the start of the millennium. Just three more issues to go, of which this is the first.
(Pause for medicinal liquor.)
Right. So; where were we? Havok, Lorna and Angel are all prisoners of the Promise, a group of mutants determined to sleep out the years until the conclusion of the inevitable human-mutant wars, at which point they'll declare themselves our new overlords. The rest of the team escaped the clutches of the Promise, only to be captured by the Moleman, who remains enraged at surface-dwellers for the shitty eye-wear they've been flushing into the sewers. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier is politely rebuffing the amorous advances of the single mother with whom he's staying, since his only interest lies with her elementary-age daughter.
Actually, Xavier's rather bizarre working holiday looks like it's coming to an end. Almost certainly, this is because the title is, too. There's a noted and rather wrenching change of perspectives here. Ashley Martin: child mutant is thrust into the background so we can focus on the suddenly introduced threat of an alliance between Magneto and the Submariner. Last time (way back in UXM #6) their dealings didn't go so well, but here Mags is somewhat smarter. Why demand Namor join the Brotherhood when he can just suggest siccing the entire Atlantean war machine on the surface dwellers? The fact that the instant Namor started his war-drums The Thing decided to start firing missiles at him from the Baxter Building probably hasn't hurt Magneto's case, either.
So the Martins look like they're done, as Xavier sends his astral self to confront Magneto and receive his declaration of war. So too does the long-forgotten idea that Xavier has been acting strangely ever since his return from "death" before the series began. These losses are a pity (well, the second one certainly is; the Martin plot was really starting to drag), but you can't really blame Byrne for that. Much better writers and much stronger series have fallen to pieces when faced with immanent cancellation.
With all that said, though, Byrne doesn't seen too keen to wrap up either the Promise or the Mole Man stories too quickly. The subterranean adventures of Scott and friends don't get any further than them waking up in the Mole Man's clutches and attempt escape, instead getting bogged down in fighting his monstrous pets. That's amazing progress compared with Warren's story this issue, though. Last time we ended with Angel freed from the Promise's cryo-tubes by a defector from their ranks. You'd hope that by the time this issue is done, he might have made some progress in either springing Lorna and Alex from their similar predicament, or figured out where the other original X-Men have gotten to.
Instead, he spends the seven pages given to him here helping his rescuer, Lucy, try to rebuild her life.
Now, let's be clear. Superheroes taking time out to help people on the domestic level is a thoroughly wonderful thing to do. I don't even want to go so far as to suggest that this is ill-timed, because I'm not a teenager any more, and I should be past the point where I'm insisting moments of quiet drama should be pushed aside when there's a massive smack-down to get to.
So if we're going to criticise this screeching halt in a narrative that's already running out, we need to get down to the specifics. Which, lucky us, are pretty terrible. The basic idea of someone returning to their family to find years have passed in what was days or even hours for them is hardly an original story. Byrne puts a somewhat interesting twist on it by having Lucy's son (now decades older than her) be an anti-mutant bigot who basically tells her to get stuffed, but whatever advantages a new ingredient offers are cancelled out by the resulting ugliness. Having Angel take time out to help someone with their family; fine. Having him take time out to watch someone get shouted out and tossed out of what was once their home; not so much.
It doesn't help that Lucy is so problematic a character. Not only do we learn she's forced Angel to help - by using her mutant powers of persuasion - but her explanation for why she joined the Promise is so unbearably awful it's breathtaking. Lucy explains how she ran away because she was having problems in her marriage and didn't understand what "emerging one week a decade" meant, assuming it meant - and I swear I am not making this up - "emerging one week from now". "I was just an ignorant housewife", she informs us, as though the problems with offering us a female character so disgracefully stupid wasn't already clear enough. You thought you were abandoning your two young children without explanation for just a week? Well all is forgiven now, sweetheart. Fancy a coffee?
So a failed family reunion, an escape attempt making no progress, and a left-field declaration of war. For all that we're willing to forgive Byrne for the shitty hand he's been dealt here (though, c'mon, this was not a series that deserved to enter its third year; the fact that almost more than four times as much of this title exists as does S.W.O.R.D. is conclusive disproof of a loving God), hope aren't exactly high that the final two issues are going to provide a satisfactory conclusion to what we've worked our way through thus far.
Let's not jump to conclusions, though. Let's see what happens when the shooting starts.
This story takes place over the course of a few hours.
Monday 14th July, 1980.
Former Nazi and convicted war criminal Walter Reder is reduced by a military tribunal from life imprisonment to five further years of incarceration followed by parole. Reder was one of the men responsible for the Marzabotto massacre, one of the worst single atrocities committed by Nazi forces in Western Europe. He expressed regret for his part in the atrocity whilst in jail, but recanted his apology once freed and safe -having been received with full military honours - in Austria five years later.
"But what resistance do you have... to the mind-numbing glare of the Valley of Diamonds?" - Mole Man.
2001, ladies and gentleman. A man was paid for writing those words in 2001.