Saturday, 30 November 2013
Now that Kitty and Logan are back in circulation, we can finally double back and tackle this annual from 1984.
As far as I'm concerned, this annual really doesn't work. Like, at all. Of course, that immediately raises an obvious question: what exactly does a workable annual look like? What, in the end, are annuals actually for?
Spoilers: I've never been able to work that out. Annuals, to me, exist in some some strange limbo, torn between two competing aims. You want an annual to be an event, so that you can persuade more people than obsessive completists to part with their money, but you don't want to make that event too vital to the parent book, otherwise you risk infuriating regular readers who didn't shell out (though of course trying this can increase sales, so Marvel isn't above giving this a try from time to time; see Transformers annuals, my young life ruined by missing).
One way to get out of this bind is to try a story that's of particular note because of it's approach, rather than it's plot. Interesting artistic visions, uncharacteristic focuses, that sort of thing. Claremont seemed entirely cognisant of this fact, judging from his previous efforts. Interstellar hi-jinks, gothic horror, visits to Dante's vision of hell - these are all departures from the norm, albeit not ones that only exist in annuals (see the Brood Saga, for instance). There's also a sense of playfulness that often creeps in; again, this is hardly unheard of in UXM proper, but the temporary cessation (or at least downplaying) of the various melodramatic plot threads perhaps gives the whimsy more chance to shine through.
This approach was ramped up considerably in UXM Annual #7, in which the X-Men chased a playful alien across the world (and through Marvel's main office) in what proved to be an interstellar scavenger hunt. Here, further notches are cranked up as Illyana regales her friends with a tale from her own imagination. The central problem here - along with the fact that this is an idea re-heated from UXM #153, which was also rubbish but at least had bamfs in it - is that one can only dial up the whimsy so much that any claim to being an "event" of any kind is thoroughly defenestrated. Does anyone really need forty pages based around a young girl telling a fluffy story?
Well, obviously, it depends on the story. Fairytales, even those set in space, shouldn't be casually discarded. But Claremont just simply isn't any good at them. He can ape structure (here Kitty goes on a quest to find the woman who killed her parents, which is nothing if not a tried and tested foundation), but his attempts to layer that structure with the kind of imagery and dream-logic that clothe the best fairy tales come to absolutely nothing. Too much effort goes into working "real" people into the storyline so that Claremont can imagine them in different settings - Illyana is an AI, Storm a hotshot pilot, the White Queen a murderous space buccaneer - for anything interesting to actually get done.
OK, that's not 100% fair. There is something going on here, namely Illyana attempting to send messages to Piotr and Kitty (and possibly Ororo) through the story. It's not just a sci-fi tale - a dull and silly one at that; ultra-ice? Flying through black holes? - it's a metaphor for recent developments in the comic. Which, fine, except that a) said metaphors are bulldozer unsubtle, and b) where the fuck does Illyana get off trying to give advice to specific people in front of the entirety of the New Mutants and the X-Men? Trying to give Storm a lesson on the importance of not giving up? I mean, sure, that has a nice resonance considering what Magik went through with a much older Storm in her miniseries earlier that (publishing) year, but even so. Way for the able-bodied white kid to tell the crippled black woman how she should be processing her feelings.
(I should note here in the interest of fairness that it's not clear Illyana is doing this intentionally. She might just have worked Storm's condition into the story without thinking about the effects. That makes things better, admittedly, but it doesn't solve the problem by any means. You think Storm wants to be reminded of what's happened and how terribly it's affected her? For that matter, you think Charles is happy to be reminded he could have ruled a galactic empire with his soul-mate had his duty not gotten in the way? Christ, Illyana. Wanna throw in a reference to Wolverine getting jilted at the Shinto altar while you're at it?)
Really, the only way to salvage this mess is to focus entirely on Illyana's message to Kitty. Putting her centre-stage in her little story is actually quite an interesting move, allowing as it does for her to pull in aspects of three of the times Kitty has been kidnapped. The space setting and heavy featuring of Lockheed (who ends this tale, and I'm not even slightly kidding, fucking an entire planet of lady-dragons who have lost their men and need to get themselves in the family way as quickly as possible; because handing over the same Y chromosomes to an entire world couldn't possibly lead to problems) suggest the tussle with the Brood. Having the White Queen as the villain (who interestingly here can turn herself and others into diamond; clearly somewhere Grant Morrison was taking notes) suggests Kitty's first adventure with the X-Men. Lastly, the death of her father (here literal rather than symbolic) and the attempts to re-write her mind call to mind the events in Japan that led to Sprite becoming Shadowcat.
The common theme to all three of these stories is that Kitty ends up triumphant at least in part because she is underestimated by her foes, so the fact this happens in Illyana's story as well is either a nice nod to tradition, or a stark demonstration that Claremont really needs to find a new theme for Kitty. Given I'm on record here as hating the constantly reiterated idea that everyone, friend or foe, fails to recognise her unquestionable awesomeness, you can guess which side of that particular line I fall on.
The one indisputable triumph is Illyana's message to Kitty, just because it's so utterly bonkers. I might not be in favour of telling your best friend to suck it up and cut their ex a break in front of all said friend's peeps (and the ex in question), but if you're going to do it, you should at least do it by explaining how easily the boot could've been on the other foot if your friend had fallen in love with a pirate space dragon.
I mean, life is about messing up, right? No way to avoid it. So you may as well do it in the most jaw-droppingly ludicrous method imaginable.
This story takes place over a single evening.
Saturday 5th May, 1984
"Lockheed is indeed alive and unharmed... Albeit perhaps a trifle... worn out." - 'Kurt' leads the rescue mission onto Planet of the Horny Dragonladies.
Wednesday, 27 November 2013
(Slap and tickle)
After a few issues experimenting with first odd pacing and then odd magickal nonsense hijinks, we return to classic Claremont. What that means in practise is some unashamedly old-fashioned action with some interesting ideas bolted on.
We'll start, as the issue does, with a training session organised by Nightcrawler (now team leader following Storm losing her powers and quitting the team, though not the mansion). As is common for Claremont, a simple session in the Danger Room is judged too uninteresting, so instead Nightcrawler arranges a game of hide and seek with Colossus and Rogue, with presumably Rogue's powers of flight and Colossus' ability to tear apart nearby cover (including, for reasons not gone into, giant plugs in the ground) intended to compensate for 'Crawler's teleporting. One wonders how the rules work here, actually. Do you have to see Kurt himself? Just a flash as he disappears? Or even hear a "BAMF" and catch brimstone on the breeze? These are the sort of questions no-one ever thinks to ask.
There's a lovely moment here where Kurt tries to provoke Rogue into demonstrating the "seventh sense" (never could remember what the sixth was supposed to be) Carol Danvers once possessed, and does so by repeatedly 'porting around her, tickling her into the bargain. It's a really fun use of Kurt's powers, and a natural thing for him to want to do in his new role; unlock ways to make the team better.
The thing is, his character slams straight into Rogue's, who despises being tickled. Having been unable to touch anyone properly since her early teens, the idea of physical contact applied simply to piss her off is unbearable. It's a lovely example of different characterisations playing off one another, and the whole hide and seek idea is a refreshing change to endless villain attacks.
Then a villain attacks.
Meanwhile, over at the airport, Xavier, Rachel and Illyana are waiting for Kitty and Wolverine to step off their plane from Japan. Illyana has smuggled Lockheed into arrivals in her bag, which is utterly adorable. Rachel, for her part, is too busy having flashbacks (relatively speaking) to her time in the future, learning that she was sent back by Katherine Pryde just before the latter launched a suicide attack on a Nimrod Sentinel Facility. With the benefit of hindsight, it's obvious Claremont is building up to the Nimrod attack (we met the robot in question last issue), which frankly makes his decision to skip several months towards the end of the issue baffling. I guess Nimrod had to spend ages XP farming until he was ready to take the X-Men on. So many mutant boars dead in the forests of Westchester...
Back at the mansion, Warlock's father Magus has arrived to find his son, and eat as many living beings as possible. This is a fairly cut-and-paste cape-fight, in truth, though it's interesting how entirely Rogue ignores her orders from Nightcrawler, letting Magus try to take her over so as to disorient him long enough for Colossus to pummel him into unconsciousness. Oh, also the scrap features the first instance of Kurt grabbing part of an opponent and teleporting away whilst still holding it. This form of mutilation is clearly agonising for the victim, so it's a great relief that UXM holds to the tried and true tradition of not giving a shit how badly people get hurt so long as they don't look recognisably human.
Ultimately the X-Men force Magus to retreat, but are too punch-drunk to see where he goes (costing the life of a local policeman - Claremont really seems to be getting into murdering extras to show how unpleasant his villains are). I presume he'll be showing up in New Mutants fairly soon (though we've got the Legion arc to get through first), unless he too has decided to wait until the Christmas holidays to launch his attack.
This story takes place over the course of a few hours.
Xavier mentions here the problems caused for mutants by the recent outing of Dazzler, but we've compensated for that already. In any case, this hardly matters, because the end of this issue explicitly moves the narrative forward to the end of the autumn term at Columbia University. Ordinarily we ignore such gigantic leaps in chronology, but the issue specifically describes the jump as "several months later", which means that we're kind of stuck.
I'm not sure as of yet what Claremont thinks he's doing here. Last issue concluded an essentially unbroken run of tales that were explicitly set in the middle of summer, so he's entirely aware the clock has been moved forward by, at the absolute minimum, four months. What has Nimrod been up to in all this time? What about Magus?
To make this even more strange, Kitty is described as "barely fifteen" before the jump forward (by our timeline that's actually more or less right) despite celebrating her fifteenth birthday in a 1989 issue of Excalibur. Further proof, alas, that the John Seavey theory that indirectly birthed this blog is fatally flawed.
Lacking any great knowledge of the term times of American universities, I've just assumed that the conclusion to this issue takes place on the second Friday of December.
Friday 4th May and Friday 14th December, 1984
X+6Y+63 and X+6Y+287.
1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years
(Beast is 33 years old)
Little Boots is born. That's the musician, not Emperor Caligula. Er, obviously...
"Nighty, you gotta do something 'bout that brimstone stench every time you 'port."
"Liebchen, it's my trademark. What would people say?"
"'Thank you?'" - Rogue and Nightcrawler.
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
(Since UXM #192 explicitly takes place after the conclusion to this series, we may as well get it finished.)
At last we come to the end of Claremont's second double-header miniseries. His first, of course, was Magik: Storm and Illyana, and it's worth remembering the structure of that previous book as we sum up this one. After all, consider the truly impressive number of similarities. A long-standing member of the X-Men (Storm/Wolverine) is called upon to deal with a murderous villain who has harmed them, but from whom they have learned (Belasco/Ogun), and who has now found a girl/young woman (Illyana/Kitty) - associated with the X-Men but currently in a strange land outside their protection - who they have corrupted by giving them new powers (dark magic/ninja skills), which the elder team member must help them to control. At the climax of the story, the girl/young woman must head the wisdom of their older colleague and shake off the villain's influence without killing them and thereby losing their innocence.
That's a truly remarkable list of similarities. Anyone wanting to call it self-plagiarism wouldn't get much of a fight from me. Indeed, part of me wonders why the sudden suggestion in this issue that Ogun planned to take Kitty's body as his own - something not mentioned at all in the previous five issues - was a way of shaking a familiar formula up a little (if so, it failed, serving to do nothing but weaken some of the book's earlier themes). In some ways, this can be forgiven if we think of KPW as being an attempt to improve on the earlier story. And some improvements can most certainly be identified. The world of Japanese crimelords and ninja assassins was a lot less tapped out when this was written, coming as it did before the '90s strip-mining of such ideas, and strikes me as a stronger location to set a story than the shifting nonsense that was Limbo. Related, KPW avoids the problems I have with Claremont's use of magic, which, for those who haven't heard my rants on the subject, is too staid to be interesting and too random to provide either strong story foundations or coherent metaphors. Lastly, for all that I'm not a fan of Kitty Pryde during her pre-Shadowcat days, she has been developed enough to pin a miniseries on, which really wasn't the case with Illyana Rasputin.
(Also, no rapey Nightcrawler, so bonus points there.)
But if we are to look at this series as an attempt to improve upon a formula, we run into one major problem; KPW has a central crisis that MAG avoided entirely. Let's talk about the one major difference between the two stories. In Limbo, Storm knows she is almost at the end of her life. Whatever else she is, Illyana is her last chance to strike against Belasco before the end. There are complexities here, but essentially, we're talking about a passing of the torch.
On the other hand, after Wolverine has finished training Kitty, he has to go on being Wolverine. This causes a major problem, because where Magik and Storm fulfilled different roles in their story, Kitty and Logan are sharing the same space in the narrative. Both of them need to beat Ogun, and in a story obsessed with the Japanese ideals of honorable combat (or more to the point, Western notions of Japanese ideals) only one of them can.
This is no small concern. It guarantees someone is going home without their cathartic release. If it's Kitty, that pulls the rug out from her entire narrative in the miniseries, because she goes from overcoming Ogun to prove herself to needing Wolverine to bail her out when things gets rough - exactly what Logan argued a couple of issues earlier would be a terrible result for her. In terms of the miniseries itself, Logan can probably get away with having Kitty defeating Ogun, but long-term problems creep in instead - you can't have Shadowcat doing Wolverine's job without it damaging Wolverine's status in the narrative (you can bypass this problem by letting Wolverine's status shift, but it'll be a little while until his boat is rocked so far as that).
Perhaps inevitably, the choice is made to poorly serve Shadowcat, and it's Wolverine who gets the chance to take Ogun down. You could, of course, colour an argument that this is the more sensible choice, since Kitty really only needed to prove she could stand up to Ogun, not beat him (indeed, beating him would have the effect of making him seem rather less than the unstoppable ninja killer he's been made out to be). The problem with that theory is that Kitty stands up to Ogun in issue 5, meaning she's pretty much treading water here whilst Wolverine gets all the actual action.
There's some evidence that Claremont understood this. Towards the end of the issue, once Wolverine has defeated Ogun, he offers Shadowcat the opportunity to murder her tormentor and gain revenge. This at least brings her choices back into the story, but of course Heroic Actions 101 means there's never any doubt as to which way she'll jump. When she refuses to do the deed, Wolverine reveals he was testing her, and that killing Ogun would have condemned herself to be like him.
Can we please stop with this shit? When Illyana refused to kill Belasco it was aggravating, but at least all the mystical crap about damning her soul should she give in to the darkness was based around magical rules which whilst entirely arbitrary can't exactly be called wrong. Here it's much easier to call foul. "Killing makes us no better than them" is possibly the absolute worst cliche in comics that doesn't involve implicit or explicit bigotry (David Brothers over at 4thletter! has been walking this beat for a while now too). I'm not even faintly interested in listening to someone telling me that there's no moral distinction between a man who violates the minds of children and murders for profit and a girl who kills a man who violates the minds of children and murders for profit, particulary when said man is so deep in the Japanese underworld there's every reason to believe the authorities won't dare give him more than a slap on the wrist. I'm especially not interested on this theory coming from Wolverine of all people.
And all this becomes even more of a problem when seconds later Oyun grabs a blade and tries to kill Kitty, at which point it's immediately fine for Wolverine to stab him through the heart, even though by shouting at her to phase, he ensures she's in no danger whatsoever, and knowing Ogun can't get through his healing factor. I refuse to accept that there is some kind of airtight moral rule by which it's a grotesquely corrupting act to kill an unrepentant multiple murderer in-between killings, but doing so whilst they're in the middle of an attempted killing that cannot succeed, that's all fine and dandy. It's clear Ogun is dead because we're at the end of the story and he needs to be gotten rid of. This is kind of a problem in and of itself, but attaching it to some holier-than-thou lecturing about the importance of avoiding killing anybody compounds the problem.
So that's that, then. Two admittedly interesting storylines that can't function properly in the same place, and end up being both being annoyingly familiar and finding new ways to be problematic. We're a long way from the focused triumph of the original Wolverine mini-series.
Still, Kitty is less annoying as Shadowcat than she was as Sprite. This much, I cannot deny.
This issue picks up directly from the previous one. The majority of the action is condensed into a few minutes. It's not clear whether the epilogue takes place on the same night or not. The wounded Wolverine has found time to change, but Kitty has not. It might be Wolverine did so immediately so as to get out of his costume. On the other hand, it seems a little late to be taking Akiko out for ice-cream, so we'll assume the epilogue takes place on the following day.
Sunday 4th March to Monday 5th March, 1984.
X+6Y+3 to X+6Y+4.
Three times Oscar-nominated actor William Powell passes away at the age of 91.
Iran accuses Iraq of having deployed chemical weapons during their war (which would continue for a further four years). The United States gets very annoyed about this nineteen years later.
"Actions have consequences, and an honorable man takes responsibility for his deeds." - Carmen Pryde.
Friday, 15 November 2013
("When last we met, I was but the learner...")
Ah! At last the purpose of this mini-series swims fully into focus. This is the story of how Sprite becomes Shadowcat, and how Wolverine shifts from being her protector to being her sensei. That doesn't entirely clear up the rather schizophrenic nature of the series, but it does justify its existence, and handily gives me a hook to discuss what's going on.
Given the insistence in giving Kitty and Logan equal billing, there are two questions to be discussed here: how wise and successful is Kitty's transformation, and does Wolverine's new role do anything for his character.
The sudden upgrade of characters in superhero comics is a trope which does not, to put it mildly, have an unblemished record. All too often it's an admission of failure, a confession that a character isn't working for some reason. Such things happen, of course, in long-running storylines, but even if one is unwilling to write that character out (or under editorial mandate to keep them in circulation), slapping on extra laser-beams or psychic shenanigans seems the laziest method possible of sparking the creative fire, with the possible exception of killing off a family member.
There are, as I've already discussed, problems with Kitty's transformation into Deadly Ninja Kitty (TM); it's too fast, too unpleasant, and it removes too much of her agency. All that said, this issue does confront these problems by focussing on Kitty's inner monologue, in which she makes clear she sees the future not as a choice between fighting Ogun and forever running in fear from him (which was Logan's framing, and which never really made sense), but between living a normal life in the suburbs, and risking her neck employing her mutant ability. Her horrific treatment at the hands of Ogun and the resulting new skill set stops being the focus, and becomes just a single part of a larger puzzle, that of how to regain agency in the wake of being utterly shafted by life.
This is a powerful theme of course, familiar to essentially everyone in the world, and it ties directly back to the central metaphor of the X-books. I don't mean to imply here that being a mutant is in itself to have been shafted, simply that to be a mutant in a culture so thoughtlessly and dangerously hostile to your nature counts as a fairly major crimp on your day. Seeing characters navigate that seemingly immutable fact is central to the mutant story.
All this also folds back into the one idea in the story of Kitty's treatment by Ogun that I really liked; deconstructing the tired old training-by-montage trope by having someone gain their abilities immediately and only afterwards to actually earn them (it might seem that idea is somewhat contradicted by how difficult Kitty found her post-ninja training, but I think that's just a case of her having the skills but not the stamina). The end result is a young woman no longer willing to justify her self-absorption as part of her age, and starts wondering about how to become a woman. The process is perhaps a little overwrought - "I like the shadows a whole lot more than the daylight" - and comes bolted to a rather worrying scene in which she paints dark slanting circles around her eyes and announces herself indistinguishable from a Japanese teenager (?! And !! ?!, I say!), but it does the job. Plus, Shadowcat is one of my all-time favourite superhero names. so there is at least that.
Having made her decision to become Shadowcat, and to christen her new identity in Ogun's blood, her next port of call is to Marijo's penthouse, where she (correctly) assumes Ogun will try to reacquire her. This results in her defending Wolverine's former fiancee and his adopted daughter from his evil ex-sensei. It would be tough to make it any more obvious that she is filling Wolverine's role here. Even the format is reminiscent of Wolerine's initial mini-series.
So where does that leave Wolverine himself? Well, that's the thing. Whilst Shadowcat is quite literally crossing swords with Ogun, Logan is doing nothing but heading off to help out, whilst taking some time out to call Caremen Pryde on his bullshit decisions. Which, fair enough, dude needed to be slapped around, but it's not exactly classic Wolvie, is it? He shows up in the final panel, once Kitty has stepped through the traditional spirited-but-ultimately-doomed combat with Ogun, because that's how final panels are supposed to be, but once again, for at the very least the third time, this title has proved to not be big enough for both title characters at the same time.
Maybe the final issue will finally confront this head on. As I said above, Logan seems to be moving from the role of protector to that of sensei, which almost by definition requires he takes a back seat - though that itself seems to be in tension with where this issue finds itself - but it's becoming hard to see how Wolverine justifies his inclusion in the title for any other reason other than to generate more money.
Kitty mentions it has been a few days since she left Wolverine to hunt down Ogun. We'll therefore set this issue two days after the last one.
Mariko mentions that Akiko was only orphaned a few months earlier (in UXM #181). By our timeline, it's been around a month and a half, so that more or less works.
Sunday 4th March, 1984.
Ai Iwamura is born. Sixteen years later, she appears in Battle Royale for all of five seconds, an achievement I will never be able to match.
"No place -- nobody -- is safe from a ninja." - Kitty.
And just like that, thirty-seven thousand '80s and '90s fplotlines are haphazardly generated.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
(Sometimes it's hard to not be a woman)
We seem, at last, to have followed the downward spiral into outright self-parody. Which afflicts a great many ongoing stories, of course, some of them much better than this. In this case, it seems to be a descent into hitherto undreamed of levels of sexist bilge, which means it's not merely unenjoyable, but hard to laugh at, too. Really, anger seems like the only appropriate response.
Let's start with the B-plot here, since that continues the story from the last two issues. After their jaunt to the past, Alpha Flight finally have themselves some time to discuss what's happened and decide on what to do next. Unfortunately, what Snowbird and Shaman want to do most is bicker over who and what Shaman's daughter is and represents. They do this in front of Talisman, ignoring her entirely. When she calls them on this, pointing out she has no interest in being part of some hinky prophecy, her attempts to remove the tiara that started this whole business leaves her in agonising pain. The tiara can't be taken off!
Whereupon Shaman says "I wish there had been more time to inform you of what you faced". Let's just stop here, for a little while, and absorb the full horror of this. Shaman knew that his daughter - a daughter he had just been reunited with that day after a decade and a half of estrangement - wouldn't be able to return to her normal life - the life she chose - and would instead have to remain forever in the mystical world he is part of, and he didn't tell her because there wasn't time? There aren't enough fields in Texas for the amount of bullshit I'm calling on that. Their visit to the past accomplished nothing beyond filling in gaps for the curious. Shaman explicitly states they had to ensure they didn't change anything, making the whole jaunt an intelligence gathering trip. This is supposed to have been so important there was no time to tell his daughter about what she was letting herself in for? Is there any more stupid insistence than we must time-travel to the past immediately? Fuck, as they say, that noise.
It's very difficult to get past all this. A father decides his daughter's entire future, knowing full well it cannot be changed, and goes ahead with it without letting his daughter make an informed choice because he can't wait to get to his own shit? That's obscene. But does Elizabeth object to or even note any of this? Dear reader, she does not.
But Shaman isn't finished with his patriarchal shit-show just yet. He's noticed Puck making eyes at Heather as she slowly begins to rebuild her life after her husband's death. This, he concludes, cannot be allowed to go on without comment. Once Heather leaves to try and get hold of Walter Langkowski over living arrangements, Shaman corners Puck in the kitchen. There, he informs him he knows Puck's feelings, suspects Heather might one day feel the same way, and tells him to make sure when Heather "needs someone again", he makes sure he gives everything to make sure she's OK.
Looked at from some angles, this might not seem too bad. We can dispense with the "all this proves Shaman is sexist, not the story" argument straight away, of course - if a story keeps hitting the same beat and nothing is provided as push-back, the specific source of those beats is irrelevant - but one can take the position that a guy discussing with his friend how to best handle his feelings for a devastated widow is completely reasonable.
As an isolated incident, that might even work out. Shaman's advice is unsolicited, but other than that, I've had plenty of conversations with friends of both sexes that run along roughly similar lines. Coming just two pages after we learn what Shaman has allowed to happen to his own daughter, I'm far less prepared to be forgiving, particular since his meddling is taking place in a comic that repeatedly suggests that women are all just crazy, broken and emotionally unavailable in different ratios, and it's simply a man's job to suffer through the resulting storms.
Look. I'm not going to pretend I don't get it. As a younger man, I was found women in a mess to be attractive - of course in retrospect, they all just happened to be physically attractive as well; how surprising - so I can't claim complete innocence. And it's certainly true that if you're going to write melodrama, there's a damn good chance any given pairing is going to involve a lot of navigating emotional baggage. It'd be nice if the way fiction tends to portray a man's baggage so very differently to that of a woman, but that's a much broader problem that I'm not inclined to heap on Byrne in 1985, not when there's so much bigger problems here.
The real complaint here is that this shtick has become pathological. Moving to the A plot, we see exactly the same concept being played out; messing with Aurora's power set (which, remember, Sasquatch did whilst not telling her what he was doing, and with no idea as to whether his meddling could be reversed; sound familiar?) is causing her unexpected problems. Specifically, she's complaining all the time and making out with other men in front of Sasquatch, "for fun", all whilst wearing an utterly ridiculous costume.
|Super-speed presumably comes in handy |
during extended bikini-wax sessions
Let's all try as hard as we can to think what could possibly be upsetting him. What "outside power" as he puts it could possibly be driving him crazy and unable to focus on doing good? I've never read these Alpha Flight issues before, so it's entirely possible I'm wrong, but if this doesn't turn out to be over how his girlfriend has turned into a dirty slutty slut getting her slutty slutness all over the place, I'll be amazed. Relieved, but amazed.
The two lovers head off the next day to some property Walter owns on Vancouver Island, to see whether it will work as a base for Alpha Flight. Sure, he hasn't seen it in thirty years, and the locals all say the place is haunted by the nine-times widowed woman who lived there until the '20s, but who believes in ghosts twenty-four hours after their friends fought a hideous demon?
In fairness to Walter, though, it's not a spirit that haunts the house, though that's only because the widow from fifty-five years earlier is still alive. As well as a freakishly long life-span - she wears a gold mask, so its impossible to tell how well she's holding up - it turns out she has a nasty habit of turning her husbands into gold statues. A villainous woman who literally reduces the men she marries into nothing but wealth? How...inevitable.
(She can cloak people in utter darkness as well, apparently entirely so that Byrne can repeat his "Snowblind" joke with thought bubbles in otherwise completely black panels. If you're wondering if the joke works so well when you replace super-punching with a woman attempting to avoid severe psychological damage, the answer is no.)
In conclusion, then: Byrne turns in his most sexist issue yet, and spends so much time laying out said sexism that it takes sixteen pages for the story to start. Then that story is immediately sexist. Goddamn.
Elizabeth Twoyoungmen notes that only 72 hours ago she was still a college student, which suggests three days have passed since she became Talisman. The theme of oncoming winter once more appears, but we've dealt with the problems of this idea before.
The story itself straddles two days.
Wednesday 18th to Thursday 19th April, 1984.
X+6Y+48 to X+6Y+49.
The police siege of the Libyan Embassy in London is in the second of its eleven days, with WPC Yvonne Fletcher having been shot and killed the morning before by machine-gun fire from the first floor of the Embassy.
"Elizabeth was raised within the whiteman's culture. To her mind -- and rightly so -- there is only one place in history for a Messiah. " - Shaman.
I didn't mention this in the comments, because I wanted to focus on the gender politics, but what exactly is this line supposed to mean? I can't decide whether its a vote for assimilation into majority culture, or just a ridiculous non sequitur.
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
(Whose cloak is it, anyway?)
At long last the interminable Suncloak/Wagger story limps to a conclusion. It happens over twenty pages here so that Claremont can fit in two more page-long character descriptions. Interestingly, one of them is about Legion, which marks his first ever appearance. It's an interesting idea to bring him in here, rather than wait for him to appear on-panel. We'll discuss how well this works when he arrives in NMU #26.
For now, though, we still have Tandy and Tyrone to deal with.
There are two things our heroes have to nail down to bring this story to a close. First, they need to figure out how to transfer the Cloak and Dagger powers from Rahne and Robero back to Tandy and Tyrone. Second, they need to keep Tyrone calm enough for long enough that they can get the first job done.
OK, so. Tyrone. We may have some problems here. I mentioned last time around that I quite liked Tyrone insisting to Tandy that without their powers there was literally nothing they had in common (whilst confessing that a white British guy like myself could only speculate on whether this was actually a sound idea). Here, I'm not sure things go so well.
We'll start with page one, in which we are told the pair's lives were "cursed forever, they thought, by the powers they wielded as Cloak and Dagger." Really, though, how true is this? Cloak was certainly in trouble; the darkness he bore was never fully under his control, and recently that seemed to be getting worse. He had to balance his desire to use his abilities with the fear that doing so would injure or even kill him. Tandy, so far as I can see, got the ability to shine really brightly. When Roberto - also a dark-skinned youth - acquired Cloak, he started trying to eat his friends. Rahne became Dagger and just looked like a million dollars whilst staying in a swanky hotel.
It is, in short, hard to believe the two kids have suffered equally. This, in a story about the white daughter of a rich supermodel and a stuttering black teenager who blames himself for killing his best friend and ran from somewhere in Harlem that was, like, not fun, is an issue. I'm not saying the power to look totally gorgeous is necessarily the best thing ever - and you better believe I recognise the underlying problem of having a white teenager be super-pretty and a black teenager be super-sinister - but making the two of them out to be equally screwed over by life strikes me as the exact wrong way to go about the duo. Cloak and Dagger are a team because their shared need and ability to help youngsters overrides the fact that they have almost nothing in common. It's a statement that what unites us is more important than what divides us, or what we allow to divide us.
This problem of unreasonable comparisons resurfaces when Xavier decides to give Tyrone a psionic pep-talk. Or does it? This is one of those intersections where I have no idea which side to come down on. Is it a rich white man telling a young black man that he understands his pain and things aren't as bad as he thinks? Or is it a man who survived domestic abuse - abuse for which his special abilities formed at least part of the 'reason' for - explaining that things can, in fact get better? I prefer to think it's the latter, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's both.
Maybe we should just fall back on an old classic, and have a go at Professor Xavier. Even if we decide his pep talk to Tyrone wasn't self-absorbed whitesplaining, the fact he secretly includes Tandy in their telepathic tete-a-tete is an utter dick move. If Xavier is, as he claims, not reading Tyrone's mind, he has no idea what revelations could come spilling from the terrified teenager. And if he is poking around, he's just a flat-out liar, and worse, a white guy lying to a black kid because he's sure he knows best.
Xavier considering himself the ultimate and only arbiter of morality is hardly a new phenomenon, of course. So let's move on to the proposed cure for all these troubles. I'm somewhat less interested in this section. It's not that magickal shenanigans don't grab me. It's more that magic in comics is so nebulous and slapped-together that it holds no interest as a concept. All that matters is that what gets done with it is interesting in itself.
And I'll credit Claremont with this: the plan is certainly pleasantly out there. Basically, since Illyana's attempted exorcism failed last week because she could neither contain the power sets nor pass them on to anyone else, Charlie has called in Rogue - much more experienced with such matters, of course - to absorb and keep hold of the errant energies until Illyana has time to transfer them to their original owners. All whilst inside Limbo and therefore vulnerable to demonic attack at any moment.
At least it's adequately manic, then. It's also nice to see Xavier calling in a specific X-Man for a specific task, rather than the usual approach of throwing as many mutants as possible at a problem until it somehow more or less resolves. I'm a little less sold on the specifics here - the idea the Xavier can control precisely which parts of a person Rogue can absorb despite being unable to read her mind seems a little out of left-field - and I don't remember this being mentioned again despite its obvious utility - but really, Ty's crisis of confidence has been just about the only particularly interesting part of this whole damn story line, and with that out of the way anything that wraps this all up gets my vote.
And wrap things up it does, despite a last-minute bid for freedom by Suncloak (I tell you, a couple of issues centering around exactly what Tyrone's "power" really is and wants would have been a lot more interesting, though no more relevant to this book), and an alarming moment where it seems Xavier's connection through Rogue to Wagger will grant him full access to Dagger's power set. Fortunately this takes the form of gaining a glowing white ring around one eye, rather than the desire to wear a skin-tight catsuit with strategic sections cut away.
So everything's fine now. Roberto and Rahne are safe and well, and Cloak and Dagger have gone back to beating up stereotypical pimps to keel white kids safe. Everything is back to normal by the end of the issue.
Just that "Legion" idea to worry about, then. Still, a long-lost son of Xavier with at least three powers, one of which is the ability to set shit on fire just by thinking about it? I don't see that being too much of a problem...
This story takes place over the course of a single night.
Saturday 11th May, 1984.
Eight teenagers are trapped and killed when the Haunted Castle attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey burned to the ground. Six Flags was taken to court where the prosecution noted multiple warnings from safety consultants that the Haunted Castle should have sprinkler systems had smoke alarms. The defendants argued the fire was an act of arson, and so a total lack of basic fire-safety systems wasn't really to blame for the deaths. You know, like how if you leave your toddler in a bear pit and a bear deliberately bites them, there's absolutely nothing wrong with your parenting skills.
The defendants were found not guilty.
It's Slick the