Wednesday, 11 September 2013

ALF #18: "How Long Will A Man Lie In The Ground 'Ere He Rot"

("My God! Look at all the junk food!")


This is another of Byrne's multi-thread spectaculars, so much as we did with NMU #23, we'll discuss the main story here and then summarise the various offshoot scenes in Subplot Corner.

Ever since this blog began I've been running the "contemporary events" section, in which I nod to historic events concurrent with what I'm suggesting individual comics can be argued to have been set.  Well, one month exactly after Sunspot first felt the effects of acute Cloakism, and during the filming of Dazzler's intended debut feature, Columbia Pictures released Ghostbusters.

The effect of Ghostbusters upon pop culture is well-known, of course; as Spike said in Buffy, the phrase "Who you gonna call" is now forever entirely unuseable in its intended context.  There's also a clear link between the film and this issue. Again, comics borrowing from genre classics is hardly something of a surprise (it seems to me impossible to argue the issue of UXM involving Kitty being stalked by a N'Garai demon wasn't inspired in its entirety by Alien), but the link here is unusual because Byrne has made so odd a choice over what to ape.  He has seemingly no interest in this

or this

or this

or even this

All he cares about is riffing on this:

"Yay! Smaller gas bills!"

A strange choice for an image to replicate, one might think.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Our main plot here follows on from the sudden appearance of Shaman’s daughter, who after years of estrangement needs her father’s help.  As before, it’s difficult to get fired up by the return of Michael’s long-lost daughter because she’s so horribly unpleasant.  The fact that Michael lost his daughter’s trust and love when she was a child because his promise to save her sick mother came to nothing just about works as a beat in a frankly pretty clichéd “Arrogant man of science is brought low and embraces mysticism” way – and by clichéd I mean Marvel has done the exact same plot with a surgeon turned magician already – but bringing her back is a clear mistake.  There’s just no way to get past the fact that someone old enough to vote is treating her father like shit because medical technology only goes so far.  The only words that should be coming out of Elizabeth’s mouth are “Dad, I’m so sorry you had to lose your wife and your daughter on the same day”, and until she offers those up, she can engage in indefinite fucking off.

Shaman investigates the skull his daughter unearthed a few days earlier, and returns a judgement of angry, presumed evil. With nothing else to go on, the two Twoyoungmen head to the police station to await developments. 

It doesn't take long.  Let's head on over to the Stang place, where old Mister Stang - a bastard of the uppermost crotchetiness - is mulling over whether one hundred and seventeen years is far too long a time to spend amongst us.  All that's keeping him in this vale of tears is the love of his great-grandaughter Emily, the only member of his family he hasn't yet chased away. His bitter cynicism leads him to conclude she made contact a year earlier in the hopes of squeezing some money out of him, but apparently she's just genuinely a nice person - surprising given the writer and the chromosone combination.  Her reward is to be attacked by her own scrambled eggs.

So. The thing. It's possible here that Byrne intends for a woman being threatened by the beaten results of chicken ovulation to be funny.  He's playing it exceptionally straight, yes, but that hardly invalidates the comedy theory.  But, there's a limit here.  There's playing things straight, and there's playing things lumpen and dead.  I mean, check this exchange out:
Lucas Stang's great-granddaughter just called up in a major panic. Somthing about her scrambled eggs attacking her!

Yes... yes, that sounds like the kind of thing I've been expecting.  Eggs, after all, have the dubious distinction of representing both new life... and the promise of life unfulfilled.
I simply cannot believe that Byrne wrote that thinking it to be comedy gold.  Of course, before reading this issue, I don't think that anyone could have written those words in that order at all.  So what do I know?

Shaman and Elizabeth teleport their way over to the Stang residence and launch their attack on the world's most violent breakfast. It turns out the eggs are accessing an alternative dimension and using its energies to grow at an alarming rate.  If things aren't brought to a stop soon, the portal could widen to the point where all life on the planet is destroyed. If you want a vision of such a future, imagine evil squamous scrambled eggs everywhere, forever.  Not particularly keen on this idea, Shaman slams shut the portal. 

Things don't end there, though. Shaman is concerned. What if the expanding death-eggs were only a diversion? Upstairs, they find Lusas Stang, surrounded by the white light of Impending Evil.  Apparently Stang has been waiting one hundred years for the spirits to come mess his family up, which is why he's been doing his damndest to keep anyone he cares about away and safe.  Since Emily is here, though, Lucas decides she might as well die first and save him.  Which I assure you makes no more sense on the page than it does in summary.  Maybe if Byrne had had more space he could have explained more thoroughly - God knows, extensive explanations are usually his most favourite thing ever - but then that would have meant cutting down on the scrambled egg fight scene, and nobody would have wanted that.

Anyway, so it is that Emily first becomes possessed by Ranaq, the Gerat Devourer, and then starts trying to kill Elizabeth with villanous demonic eye-beams.  Elizabeth's latent mystical powers trigger in response, setting up a supernatural duel that could kill either or both women, so Shaman steps in to expel Ranaq without hurting Emily. Always nice when a man can save a helpless woman, especially one so beautiful but haunted by demons, and over the efforts of some other woman to, like, totally overract.

(Some may argue at this point I'm just twisting things to take cheap shots at Byrne.  Others will realise the fact Byrne's work can be so quickly and easily twisted is a valid criticism in itself).

With Emily saved and Stang still alive (albeit catatonic), the immediate danger is passed. This week's episode of When Haunted Skulls Get Pissy isn't quite over yet, though.  For their next trick, the amazing Shaman and his lovely daughter will wow you with their greatest feat of all - a pilgrimage 100 years back in time in order to slap around the Ghost of Angry Mr Stang Past.

We're going all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.  Pass the 3D specs and hold on tight.

In subplot one, we learn that those who might claim Byrne cannot multitask are sadly mistaken. This conversation between Heather and Judd combines both the former’s plans for rebuilding Alpha Flight and a remarkable degree of product placement.  I don’t know how much McDonald’s paid for John Byrne’s immortal soul, but I bet they’d been hoping for Claremont. If they’d caught that fine fat fish, imagine how different eighties culture could have been.

Heather starts off by phoning up former members of the team, hoping she can put together a more centralised unit (why this is useful when half your team can get across Canada almost immediately and the other half need to hitch lifts on aeroplanes isn’t explained).  Northstar rudely refuses (though how cool is it that he has a nearly-naked young man answering his phone for him?)  and Shaman, of course, isn’t about.

(Just as an aside: what the heck  is “Where the heck is High River?” all about? Any knowledgeable Canadians in my audience?)

The second subplot concerns poor old Douglas Thompson, who waits in the wilderness hoping to meet the woman he once knew – and still loves – as Anne McKenzie, now revealed as Snowbird.  He’s been waiting for days for a response on his admission of love.  It’s not really too nice to leave someone hanging like that – though I can’t claim to be objective on that point, which is all I’m going to say – but worse is to come when she returns to tell him she does love him but it can never work because she’s all messed up and yadda yadda.  When will emotionally distant women stop tormenting poor pure-hearted men? Seriously, does anyone know if Byrne ever got therapy over his fixation with implausibly curvaceous but emotionally difficult women?  Because damn.

(Oh, and for bonus ick factor, we should note that when Snowbird tells Doug she can't love him, he responds by grabbing her and forcibly kissing her. Because how can a woman knows how she really feels without a man sexually assaulting her so she knows what she's missing?  The idea people still wrote this crap within my lifetime is genuinely depressing.)


This story takes place over a single day. Dr Twoyoungmen's receptionist states it's been two days since his daughter arrived, placing this issue one day after the conclusion of ALF #16. That would make it something like eight days since Doug made his feelings known to Snowbird, which seems a bit long. But clearly Byrne wants to suggest this man is suffering unbearably for the crime of loving a woman, and we should respect that.

Well, not respect it, obviously, but factor it in. Hell, Byrne wrote that Doug's confession happened in early Spring, and claims this issue that Canada is getting its first taste of winter. We're ignoring this idea because it makes no sense to the wider timeline (ALF #15 would have to stretch over eight months), but it gives you some idea of how ludicrous the Snowbird storyline has become.


Sunday 15th April, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Forty train stations in the Punjab are plundered by extremist Sikhs.

Standout Line

"M-my scrambled eggs...!?!?"

No comments:

Post a Comment