Sunday, 22 September 2013

UXM #190: "An Age Undreamed Of"

(You've been Gathed.)


There are times, we all know, when lightning is caught in a bottle.  When those who run the gambit from mediocre to barely competent somehow strike gold - to mix one's metaphors terribly - and produce a work of inexplicable quality. Some people call this the Richard Kelly effect, though I think that largely overlooks the fact that Donnie Darko isn't really all that good.

Blah blah blah, equal and opposite reaction.  Sometimes creators one has no reason not to trust as a safe pair of hands at the very least lay a turd of such staggering proportions any analysis feels like performing an autopsy in a hot sewer.

This is the story of one of those times.  Nothing about this issue works.  The basic drive is one of those worst-of-both-worlds ideas, which is too ridiculous to take seriously and too unfunny and violent to work as a romp. Essentially, Kulan Gath - an insane sorcerer who presumably escaped from the cursed jewelry we saw last time around; KG to his friends - casts a spell which turns New York into a Dark Age town. Guns become swords, cars become horses, 20th Century New Yorkers become loincloth-sporting peasants (with oddly contemporary speech patterns), with their memories rewritten accordingly but with full knowledge of the - epoch-adjusted - relationships they have with others.

Whether this idea is actually as bad as I think it is is, admittedly, a matter of personal taste.  What seems to me more objectively clear is that a) it can't support two issues, each three pages longer than average, b) the fact this is all apparently an attempt by KG to get revenge on Spiderman makes the X-Men seem like extras in their own book, and c) requiring Valerie Cooper to explain all this through multiple pages of exposition is supremely clumsy. I suppose framing it as a briefing is a step or two above starting with phrases like "As you know, sir...", but that's faint praise.

It's a pretty awful briefing, as well.  Not in terms of quality - not just - but because it lets Claremont toss off the line "Gath also practises human sacrifice on a monstrous scale... exclusively... children".  That's just not something you chuck into a plot and then leave alone. Sacrificing children? This is now the most horrific situation the X-Men have ever faced, and they don't even know who they are. This is just ramping up the body-count for a cynical correlation with dramatic heft. It's bullshit when Rob Liefeld does it (as one day we shall discuss in eye-bleeding detail) and it's bullshit here.

(It's also an immediate clue that this story will end with the whole affair undone through magicosity. I suppose my hatred of that particular ending should make me grateful for the head's up, but it doesn't seem to have worked that way.)

Oh, and also, while we're still at the briefing, there's one gentleman there who responds to learning the X-Men are within the city by announcing his desire to have mutants rounded up and done away with. This gives another man there, a general who helped liberate Buchenwald, the chance to wax eloquent on the subject of modern-day Nazis. Which, look.  I'm all in favour of hating Nazis, and everything, but if we want to get anywhere close to serious about mutants as an metaphor for real-life minorities, deconstructing bigotry has to involve something more complicated than Godwinising the book - particulary when Jim Shooter is putting out far more interesting takes on the idea over in the still-running Secret Wars. OK, Stryker was no less strident in God Loves, Man Kills, but that was as part of a commentary on religious extremism.  Being a cockdonkey in a Whitehouse briefing is something completely different. Every time we pat ourselves on the back for resisting the most extreme and obvious bigotry, we run the risk of concluding that this is what prejudice looks like, blinding us to its millions of more subtle and more pernicous forms.  It's how right-wing politicians can simultaneously argue Martin Luther King Jr. is a conservative hero and that affirmative action is the real racism.

Anyway.  Into Ye Olde New Yorke. Storm lives on a boat and dresses like a trollop.  Turns out KG's spell doesn't so much revert women's clothing to the Dark Ages as to a particularly outre Anne Summers line. Apparently Claremont's twin love of piracy and corsets here reached the point where Nightcrawler's fantasies and the entire female contingent of Hellfire dressing like the cast of a Blue Ribbon film just aren't going to cut it. I always said a violet-furred swashbuckler was just a gateway drug.

Storm finds herself being hunted down by the Morlocks - now being used as KG's enforcers, which makes little sense, since they're neither temperamentally inclined to follow someone like KG nor powerful enough to make them an obvious choice for domination - and in the resulting fight, she and Callisto are washed down the Hudson and out of the spell's radius.  Quickly recovering, they're keen to get back into the city and take on it's new ruler, but they're somewhat short on friends. The Avengers and the X-Men have no idea who they are, the New Mutants have already been forcibly recruited by KG (Warlock excepted), and Xavier and Caliban have been crudely welded together through magical genetic antics.

There is one potential ally left within the city, however. It'll take more than KG's cheap parlour tricks to keep down Selene, either because of her tremendous sorcerous power, or because she's the only woman in Manhattan who could only have obeyed KGs magical directives by putting more clothes on.  Piggybacking on "Lady Rachel" Summers' psychic powers, she hammers out a deal with Storm and Callisto: she'll provide enough magic protection for them to re-enter the city with just enough memory remaining to compel them to ruin KG's shit.  Oh, and to believe Selene is their friend, which sounds like a loop-hole wide enough to get Xavier's gigantic new Calibarse through.

Not that it might matter. No sooner have the Avengers and X-Men objected to the Morlocks trying to arrest Magik and inadvertently started a rebellion when KG ambushes and kidnaps Selene (along with Spiderman).  Now all that's left to stand against him is a dozen or so amnesiac superheroes.  Will that be enough? We've only got 25 pages to find out!


This story takes place over a single day.

The New Mutants are caught up in this madness, but that's fine, since we're setting this between NMU #21 and #22.


Friday 4th May, 1984



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.47 standard years

(Beast is 32 years old)

Contemporary Events

Diana Dors dies, aged 52.  "She couldn't act much, but she put on a show."

Standout Line

"How do you feel, Callisto?"
"Furious. I hate owing my life to you." - Storm and Callisto.

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