Saturday, 30 November 2013
UXM Annual #8: "The Adventures Of Lockheed The Space Dragon And His Pet Girl Kitty"
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.