Thursday, 22 August 2013

UXM #189: "Two Girls Out To Have Fun!"

("Flames. Flames... on the side of my face.")


Today, we'll be focusing on two refugees from different times; the Nova Roma Amara and the future-fleeing Rachel Summers.

Actually, we'll be focusing on them slightly more than the actual issue does, which is a shame.  Linking up these two characters is an eminently sensible idea. It all plays out pretty obviously: you look at their similar discomfort at 20th Century US culture, and then generate friction over their radically different ideas of what constitutes "normal". It's Introduction to Drama, really.

Which is why it's so frustrating that Claremont doesn't really try it. There's stuff in here about how messed up Rachel's childhood was - at one point she freaks out about having to wear a disguise because it includes a collar, so traumatised is she by having been brainwashed into hunting her fellow mutants in the mid 2000s - but she keeps it sufficiently buttoned up that there's nothing for Amara to bounce off of.  For her own part, Amara seems to have acclimatised to New York sufficiently to no longer be constantly freaking out.  Which I guess makes sense, but I don't think it would have taken too much effort to think of some new and unpleasant encounter that would cause her problems.

Instead, the potentially promising dramatic pairing just becomes a standard superhero team-up when Rachel senses Selene nearby.  I suppose one could argue that this is just one more similarity between the two girls - Selene tried to kill them both, and succeeded in killing Amara's mother - but that still feels like a wasted opportunity. [1]

Maybe this is a space issue, since Claremont also uses this issue to say farewell to Storm, who has decided that without her powers she'd rather not hang around the mansion, and is instead returning to Africa. Seems a reasonable move, though I fear it'll mean another round of catastrosulks from Kitty when she gets back from Japan.  We also spend some time following Jaime Rodriguez as he fights the malign influence of the necklace he found last issue,only to get stabbed in the subway by a mugger who steals (and activates) the necklace. 

Poor old Jaime. Things really don't get any better for him.

Anyway, so: Claremont issue, sub-plots bubbling away and character moments in odd places. Fine.  The main event here concerns Amara and Rachel tracking Selene to the Hellfire Club, where she is being presented as the new Black Queen by the high priest of her cult (New York chapter). Sebastian Shaw seems to find this all somewhat presumptuous, but her power levels are such that his opinion proves to count for very little.  This is interesting, actually, because it sets up a fascinating alternate timeline, but we'll get to that soon enough.

So, whilst Selene is grandstanding, Rachel and Amara sneak into the building, dress themselves up as French maids. I'd make a comment about '80s comics here, but really, a secret society of infinitely powerful and wealthy people who are almost entirely white dudes? There's no way they don't dress their servants up as Yvette.

Sweet childhood memories...
Unfortunately they're found by the butler and forced into serving some of the club's clientele, which apparently involves Rachel wandering into rooms and bursting out laughing at the (presumably) kinky sex-games going on within.  Which, it's good to laugh, I guess.

Things turn sour when we discover Selene knows our heroines are there, however, and she captures them to present as gifts to the still smarting Shaw.  The placation plan rather backfires somewhat, though. Rachel's utter hatred of the idea of being enslaved again leads her to break free of Selene's control and, figuring her enemy will be watching her carefully for hostile signs, shunts her mind sideways into Amara's, so she can start setting fire to all and sundry.  That's pretty cool, actually, if you'll forgive the - what, anti-pun? Nega-pun?

Anyway.  The resulting ruckus allows the X-cavalry to arrive (this is becoming something of a habit), and Selene is rendered unconscious almost immediately.  Xavier asks Shaw if he wants some, but Shaw is content with the situation, and allows the X-Men to leave in peace.

That's a nice touch, and a reminder of how far these comics have already come.  A few years ago it would be impossible to imagine a villain calmly letting the team leave (especially after smashing up so much of his HQ); they would have to insist on a fight on general lack of principle.  Not here though, Shaw is both smart enough to realise a knock-down fight in his own power centre isn't worth the collateral damage, and grateful to the X-Men for subduing Selene, presumably giving him time to figure out a way to keep her in line.

This raises two interesting ideas.  The first I flagged up earlier: what would the current X-Men line look like if Selene had killed Sebastian Shaw?  Not only would that have noticeable effects directly (what would happen to Emma Frost's life, for instance), but it would almost certainly mean directly facing off against Selene much sooner, in what would almost certainly have to be a battle to the death.

Which brings us to the second point.  Amara ends this issue furious over the fact that Selene is basically just being let off entirely, despite being a callous serial killer.  And let's face it, she has a damn good point. Rachel suggests Shaw will be keeping her in line from now on, and I can see an argument (not expressed in the issue itself) that Xavier figures attempting to incarcerate Selene would have changed Shaw's mind on the no fighting front, but simply informing Amara the X-Men do not kill and walking away still feels like a huge cop-out. I am familiar with all superhero traditions regarding the "do not kill" rule, and none of them have ever seemed to me watertight, but this is just stupid.  You can't let a serial killer, who among other victims murdered your own student's mother, walk around free because you're afraid to get your hands dirty. Not if you want to look yourself in the mirror.  And certainly not if you want to look yourself in the mirror whilst wearing a costume.

Still, the deed is done.  And in the short term, the team has bigger problems in any case. Jaime's subway mugger has bitten off rather more than he can chew, and the necklace has released the malevolent spirit of... Kulan Gath!

[1] One obvious idea would be to contrast their feelings on slavery. Rachel's experiences as a mutant-tracking Hound have left her with a deep-seated loathing of the idea of slavery. Amara comes from a culture where owning slaves had been a perfectly sensible idea for at least two millennia.  The script goes so far as to mention slavery several times, but only really from Rachel's perspective (Amara hints darkly at the terrible fate which awaited her had the Nova Roma coup gone differently, but I think that's about something else than slavery per se).

All that said, though, there's little reason to believe 1985 Claremont could have pulled this idea off in a way that wouldn't have been awful to read, so perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies.


This story takes place over the course of a single day.

Jaime Rodriguez mentions that tomorrow is payday, which suggests this issue takes place on a Thursday.

Just before Jaime meets his unfortunate end, he tunes in to a news broadcast we've seen before during the Dazzler graphic novel.  Since said broadcast is lamenting the beginning of shooting on Dazzler's first (and so far only) movie, we'll have to move this story forward into May.  This suggests Ororo has taken her time deciding it's best that she leaves the team, but that doesn't seem unreasonable. Since Wolverine and Sprite are described as still being in Japan, we may need to return to this later, but we're good for now.


Thursday 3rd May, 1984



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.46 standard years

(Beast is 32 years old.)

God, that's a year younger than me. The horror!
Contemporary Events

Standout Line

"The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center lie in ruins."

It's probably not fair to pick up on that line, since it's now so divorced from its original context of Rachel remembering the hellish future. Still, it does its job more effectively these days.

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