Monday, 30 December 2013

DAZ #37: Girl In The Machine

("What the hell is a 'bit rate', anyhow?")


It's probably really difficult to write fill-in issues of a well-established comic, even one so fractured as this one.  Sure, if you're lucky you get a decent brief outlining, or even capturing, the approach of the book.  Even then, though, you're essentially parachuting into unknown territory and hoping the map someone scrawled for you on a beer-soaked napkin will somehow have captured the local geography.

This is by way of saying that whilst "Girl in the Machine" is a mess, it's not clear how much of that we can fairly blame on Bob DeNatale. The issue's biggest problem is simply that there is nothing in the entire story that actually requires it be a tale told about Dazzler. Any superhero or superheroine who can defeat security cameras and walls would have essentially worked.  And yes, the villains here are Revenge Inc., who made their debut appearance in DAZ #34, but here they act as such generic malefactors (here they're hacking into computer systems to sabotage corporations, which I guess could be on the orders of those seeking revenge, but no illumination on the issue is given) that it hardly matters.  This is a superhero story written with hero and villain to simply be plugged in when necessary, and as such it is hobbled from the very start.

So far, as I say, it's not clear that this is something for which we can blame DeNatale for too much.  What we can savage him for is how exhaustingly ridiculous this plot is.  I mean, you come across a lot of nonsense when you dedicate a blog to (for now) Bronze Age comics, but this particular slice of narrative madness is in a class all of its own. Briefly, Dazzler is phoned by old friend Diana asking her to come visit, but when she arrives she discovers her friend has in fact been dead for six months (this is a great start, by the way, and is pissed away almost entirely almost immediately), or so insist the three faintly sinister men who have come to visit Diana's father. Confused by this turn of events, Alison decides to stick around long enough for one of the men, Peter, to show her a video game the family have had installed, wherein each player controls a hologram of a samurai (!) and tries to slaughter their opponent. Kind of like Soulcalibur II, only with technology far in advance of what exists in 2013.  Tragically, the machine goes haywire, and Dazzler heads off to find Diana's father. 

Instead, she stumbles onto Diana herself, who had faked her own death, and is now trapped inside a gigantic machine (!!), having been forced by Revenge Inc to hook her mind up to a computer so as to hack other computers, ultimately making her unable to live without being inside a computer herself (!!!).  Her plan is to get revenge upon Revenge Inc by inviting them to the house and then murdering them all with laser cannons hidden about the property, or through the use of hard-light hologram samurai when that doesn't work (!!!!).  Really, though, this is all just an elaborate way to trick the computer into letting herself commit suicide via the holograms (!!!!!) - which presumably the computer could switch off at any time - and she just wanted to say goodbye to her childhood friend one last time, whilst putting her in a house filled with desperate murderers and a computer willing to kill anyone who sees it rather than let its secret get loose.

Not only is it a plot that doesn't require Dazzler to be the heroine within it, then, it doesn't really require any heroine at all.  It's just an utterly standard revenge plot (with typical collateral damage; neither Diana nor her father surviving their attempt to massacre her former tormentors) spiced up with an astonishing ignorance of what private computers could possibly manage in 1985 - the year of Repton 2, for Pete's sake:

Don't even try the hard-light Repton 2:
those boulders really hurt when they crush you!
If anything demonstrates the fundamentally unsound nature of the plot, it's Peter, one of the three members of Revenge Inc.  He's simultaneously one of the moustache-twirling villains out for a quick buck, and the former lover of Diana horrified to find out what's become of her.  Which would actually be an entirely reasonable - even interesting - contradiction were he not one of the people who subjected her to the process in the first place.  The narrative can't decide whether he's a villain or a put-out ex-lover here, with the end result that he's the only person other than Alison to survive Diana's insanity, and then chooses not to kill the (unconscious) Dazzler because he's suddenly decided he's not a crook anymore.  The whole thing comes dangerously close to suggesting the person we should feel sorry for is the bloke who is no longer getting laid because he turned his girlfriend into a basket-case Amstrad, and who can be forgiven for wanting to get revenge on the girl who's taking revenge over having been used as an instrument of revenge (phew!) because the men who helped him abuse his girlfriend to the point of driving her to suicide also happened to totally be his mates.

In short, it's a terrible and rather insulting story crudely soldered onto a superhero tale, which is then crudely soldered into Dazzler's corner of the universe.  If you're the kind of person that gets a kick out of just how foreign a country the past of comic books can be sometimes, you might want to give this a whirl.  Everyone else: consider yourself warned.


This story takes place in approximately real time.  Alison gripes about missing Dynasty, which presumably makes this a Wednesday.

Donald - one of the Revenge Inc. goons - mentions the events of "Dazzler: The Movie" as having taken place some months ago, but that shouldn't bother us - it has indeed been months since Dazzler was outed, which is the important aspect of Donald's comments.


Wednesday 10th October, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Blake and Jeff continue to search for Fallon while Dominique makes her singing debut at La Mirage.

Standout Line

"When the samurai succeeds in destroying the computer, I will perish with it!" - Diana.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

NMU #26: "Legion"

(Sins of the father)


Sigh.  OK.  I don't want this post to turn into another browbeating just after I took UXM to task for its problematic attitudes towards Native American characters, and after I've spent so much time slapping John Byrne around for the way he writes women.  For all that it's helped drag this blog out of the mire of bitchy summarising, there's a danger in approaching literally every issue from the perspective of finding ways it fails to live up to the attitudes of a progressive almost thirty years after publication.

So, with apologies to anyone in the audience who wants this topic to be covered in more detail (and really, I'm not sufficiently informed for that in any case), I'll just mention in passing that one does not become autistic following a trauma (no matter what Jenny McCarthy is telling people on television this week) and treating an autistic teenager as a puzzle to be solved - as someone in a dream who must be woken - strikes me as a very bad thing to do.

The autistic child in question is David Haller, known to all X-heads as Legion, a character with no small cultural cache in our world of merry mutants.  He's been revealed as Xavier's child, he kicked off the Age of Apocalypse by accidentally murdering his own father in the past, and has sustained his own title for almost two years (now sadly coming to an end) in the form of Si Spurrier's delightful X-Men: Legacy.  This degree of later work makes it difficult to view this issue, in which Legion first appears but not under that name, on its own terms.  There can hardly be anyone interested in this blog who doesn't already know David Haller suffers from multiple personalities, each one with their own power set.  What, then, are we to make of the book in which the first strands of this long-revealed mystery are woven together?

One option might be to bypass that mystery entirely, at least for the moment, and note a larger theme playing in the background here, that of the methods and mechanisms of looking after others.  We have in this issue David Haller, who has been denied all contact with his father by his mother, ostensibly because she feared what he might do with his psychic power. We've got Rahne Sinclair, an orphan raised by a lunatic Bible-thumper and struggling to believe her foster mother Moira MacTaggert can possibly love her.  And over in subplot corner, we've got Manuel de la Rocha, whose closest equivalent to parental authority is currently Emma Frost, who just put mental blocks in his mind to stop him accessing his mutant abilities (admittedly in response to him essentially gearing up to rape her, so there ain't much in the way of sympathy headed in his direction).  What all three share is an idea of the difficulties in raising children when the mutant question intrudes on proceedings.  Craig sees Rahne as nothing but a creature to point at as an example of demon-spawn. As a member of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost has no interest in De La Rocha beyond the power-play advantages she might gain from his horrifically invasive abilities.

Even the ostensibly heroic Xavier is riven by fears that his use of his powers may cause harm, and that his insistence he is doing the right thing is a claim also made by those he opposes.  Really, though, this isn't about psychic powers.  Reverend Craig has managed to do a supremely unpleasant number on Rahne entirely without supernatural abilities, and the Nazis who left so indelible a mark on Magneto (seen here suffering nightmares so extreme they induce sleep-flying, though at least he has Lee Forrester to look after him) were similarly unremarkable in their genetic make-up.  Every parent has super powers as far as their children are concerned.  Every adult oppressor is an unassailable villain to the children they hurt.

If we make the decision to ignore the naming of whatever post-traumatic response David is undergoing as "autism", then this story can be framed as one about how we might approach helping children who have suffered damage - and perhaps caused it; Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander are now in a coma and labs seem to explode every few hours on Muir Isle - without defining those children in terms of that damage.  In some sense Charles' self-diagnosed failure to avoid "taking advantage" of Gabrielle is symptomatic of another problem, the tendency to see a person as separate from their defining experiences.  The traumas of our pasts are not cankers to be removed.  They inform us too deeply for that. The aim should be to process and make peace with our demons.  If Charles had seen Gabrielle as a beautiful young woman who had survived the Holocaust, rather than a pretty puzzle box he could reward himself with once a solution presented itself, things might have gone very differently.

(It might also be helpful if he could actually listen to Gabrielle's viewpoint regarding their affair, rather than simply declaring it a mistake brought about by his own weakness.  There were two people in that tango, Charles. Blaming yourself entirely is just one more form of self-obsession.)

Whether Charles has learned his lesson is unclear. Perhaps he has not, and his eagerness to delve into the new puzzle of the comatose teenager is what has left him unable to draw the obvious conclusions about Gabrielle's strange attitude towards him. On the other hand, one has to admit the mystery itself is pretty interesting: why would an Israeli boy build a psionic wall around an Arab inside his own head?  That's a potential minefield from an allegorical perspective.  I can't remember if later issues follow through on that, but it's an intriguing premise.

And at the end of the day, all this issue needed was an intriguing premise (although it turns out it also has both the first appearance of Legion and Jamie Madrox's debut in the X-books (thanks to wwk5d for the correction)). It's up to later issues to deliver on the promise.  For now a young boy giggles insanely as his hands burn, rooms explode, and people collapse insensible to the floor, and the grainy image of an Arabian boy screams in silence as he floats from room to room.  Long might the shadow of Legion be (it's the hair), but that should be enough for anyone to be going on with.


This story takes place over two days.  We could place it directly after the events of UXM #193, but Xavier seems noticeably less fragile than he was in that issue, so we'll move events forwards a week.


Saturday 22nd to Sunday 23rd December, 1984


X+6Y+295 to X+6Y+296.

Contemporary Events

Dom Mintoff resigns as Prime Minister of Malta amongst political turmoil and violence.

Standout Line

"Self will visit you from time to time, if you like... so you will not be lonely." - Warlock

There's just something so cute about Warlock trying to make sure the Blackbird is happy doing its job.  I do hope he isn't too distressed when it inevitably explodes in a few issues' time.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Timeline: 1984 (Take 4)


2nd   NMU #14: Do You Believe in Magik?
3rd   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
4th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
5th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
6th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
7th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
8th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
9th   UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
10th UXM #180: Whose Life is it Anyway?
10th SWA #1: The War Begins!
10th SWA #2: Prisoners of War
11th  NMU #15: Scaredy Cat!
11th  SWA #3: Tempest Without, Crisis Within!
11th  NMU #16: Away Game!
11th  SWA #4: Situation: Hopeless!
11th  NMU #17: Getaway!
11th  SWA #5: The Battle of Four Armies!
11th  SWA #6: A Little Death...
12th  NMU #17: Getaway!
12th  SWA #7: Beserker!
12th  SWA #8: Invasion!
12th  SWA #9: Assault on Galactus!
12th  SWA #10: Death to the Beyonder
12th  SWA #11: ...And Dust to Dust!
13th  NMU #17: Getaway!
13th  SWA #12: ...Nothing to Fear...
14th  NMU #17: Getaway!
15th  NMU #17: Getaway!
16th  NMU #17: Getaway!
17th  NMU #17: Getaway!
18th  UXM #181: Tokyo Story
21st  UXM #182: Madness
22nd NMU #18: Death-Hunt
23rd  NMU #18: Death-Hunt
23rd  NMU #19: Siege
24th  NMU #19: Siege
28th  UXM #183: He'll Never Make me Cry
30th  UXM #184: The Past... of Future Days

3rd   KPW #1: Lies
4th   KPW #1: Lies
5th   KPW #1: Lies
6th   KPW #2: Terror
6th   KPW #3: Death
13th KPW #4: Rebirth
14th KPW #4: Rebirth
15th KPW #4: Rebirth
16th KPW #4: Rebirth
17th KPW #4: Rebirth
18th KPW #4: Rebirth
19th KPW #4: Rebirth
20th KPW #4: Rebirth
21st KPW #4: Rebirth
22nd KPW #4: Rebirth
23rd KPW #4: Rebirth
24th KPW #4: Rebirth
25th KPW #4: Rebirth
26th KPW #4: Rebirth
27th KPW #4: Rebirth
28th KPW #4: Rebirth
29th ALF #11: Set-Up
29th DAZ #33: Chiller!
29th KPW #4: Rebirth


1st  DAZ #33: Chiller!
1st  ALF #11: Set-Up
1st  KPW #4: Rebirth
2nd DAZ #33: Chiller!
2nd ALF #11: Set-Up
2nd ALF #12: ...And One Shall Surely Die
2nd  KPW #4: Rebirth
4th   KPW #5: Courage
4th   KPW #6: Honor
5th   KPW #6: Honor
29th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
30th UXM #185: Public Enemy!
30th NMU #21: Slumber Party!
30th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
31st MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie


(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)
1st  UXM #186: Lifedeath
1st  UXM #187: Wraithkill!
1st  UXM #188: Legacy of the Lost
2nd UXM #188: Legacy of the Lost
7th  ALF #15: First Date
13th ALF #14: Biology Class
13th ALF #16: ...And Forsaking All Others...
14th ALF #16:  ...And Forsaking All Others...
14th ALF #17: ...Dreams Die Hard
15th ALF #17: Dreams Die Hard
15th ALF #15: First Date
15th ALF #18: How Long Will A Man Lie In The Ground 'Ere He Rot
15th ALF #19: Turn Again, Turn Again, Time In Thy Flight
18th ALF #20: Gold and Love Affairs!
19th ALF #20: Gold and Love Affairs!
19th ALF #21: ...Love Wraught New Alchemy...


(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)

3rd UXM #189: Two Girls Out to Have Fun!
3rd UXM #191: Raiders of the Lost Temple!
4th UXM #190: An Age Undreamed of
4th UXM #191: Raiders of the Lost Temple!
4th UXM #192: Fun 'n' Games!


(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)

2nd  NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
3rd   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
4th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
5th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
6th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
7th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
8th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannoball Caper!
9th   NMU #23: Shadowman
11th NMU #23: Shadowman
12th NMU #23: Shadowman
12th NMU #24: The Hollow Heart
12th NMU #25: The Only Thing to Fear...


(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)


(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)


1st  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
2nd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
3rd  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
4th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
5th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
6th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
7th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
8th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
9th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
10th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
11th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
12th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
13th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
14th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
15th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
16th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
17th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
18th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
19th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
20th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
21st MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
22nd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
23rd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
24th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
25th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
26th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
27th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
28th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
29th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
30th ICE #1: The Fuse!


3rd   DAZ #35: Brawl!
4th    DAZ #35: Brawl!
5th    DAZ #36: The Human Touch!
6th    DAZ #36: The Human Touch!
7th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
8th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
9th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
10th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
11th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
12th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
13th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
14th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
15th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
16th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
17th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
18th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
19th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
20th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
21st  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
22nd BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
23rd BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
24th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
25th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
26th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
27th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
28th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
29th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
30th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
31th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel


1st    BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
2nd   BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
3rd   BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
4t     BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
11th  BAB #3: Showtime


14th UXM #192: Fun 'n' Games!
15th UXM #193: Warhunt 2
16th UXM #193: Warhunt 2

Saturday, 21 December 2013

UXM #193: "Warhunt 2"

(Sitting Bullshit)


The one hundred issue since the relaunch of Uncanny X-Men is a good excuse for a trip down memory lane. The important question, of course, is where exactly we should have that lane take us?

"Warhunt 2" is, quite obviously, a sequel to the original "Warhunt", the second part of the first new story to be told in (the then adjectiveless) X-Men when it returned from cancellation. Few people reading this will need to be reminded that though that the two-part tale beginning with "The Doomsmith Scenario" and ending with "Warhunt" was not the first new X-Men tale to be told following the title's premature death in 1970, that being, of course, "Second Genesis".  Here, we return to Cheyenne Mountain as the X-Men try to free their kidnapped ally Banshee, which necessitates them going up against the US military as a subset of the Hellions try to make things difficult for them.

It's worth taking a moment to try and figure out what made Claremont decide to return to Cheyenne Mountain, as oppose to Krakoa, the Living Island.  The obvious answer - Krakoa was hurled into space at the end of Giant-Size X-Men #1 - we can leave aside; we can be reasonably certain Claremont didn't plump for a return to UXM #94-95 because he simply couldn't conceive of a way to have Krakoa return.  Rather, there must be some quality about "Doomsmith.../Warhunt" that seemed like a good choice for a second look.

I'm being purposefully dense here, of course, because it's entirely and in all ways obvious what that quality is: the death of Thunderbird.  Which, yes, can be argued to have an important status, insofar as it's the first occasion when a serving member of the X-Men was killed "in plain sight" (the death of Changeling being a retcon in order to undo Xavier's "death" in the '60s).  The problem though is that "First Dead X-Man (Anyone Remembers)" works as a one-line summary of issues #94-95, but the actual books themselves utterly bungled John Proudstar's last mission. The story was too ridiculous (Count Nefaria and his "Ani-Men"? Really?) to hang a death upon it, it was far too soon after Thunderbird's debut for it to have any real heft (I have no patience for writers who believe they're showing "anything can happen" by killing characters no-one has had time to invest in anyway), and his actual death occurred essentially because he was stupid enough to refuse to get off a plane as it was taking off, all to stop a supervillain who authorial fiat resurrected soon enough afterwards anyway.

None of that was the biggest problem, however. What truly rankles is the that three issues after the new international team of X-Men was forged, one of the three non-white characters has quit and a second has been pointlessly slain.  This last problem looms so large that it haunts the narrative here as well, as John Proudstar's younger brother James decides, some ten months after we introduced in New Mutants #16, to take revenge upon Xavier and the X-Men for the death of his brother.

On the one hand, this is one of the most standard comic plotlines imaginable: heroes are unfairly blamed for tragedy by someone who is therefore determined to see them dead. Fine.  Except that there are cultural issues bound up in this particular iteration that make it more than just a cliche. When John Proudstar spent so much of the little time we knew him forever bitching about the white man, it seemed a little one-note, but there was something to be said for a character so utterly unwilling to let his white comrades forget what centuries of imperialism had gotten them, and what it had cost him.

In contrast, here we have a story in which a bloodthirsty Native American tries to take revenge on a bunch of white people who don't really deserve his wrath, and who are ultimately not only able to talk him out of his violent ways, but persuade him that the white man's method of no longer needing to fight his competition - having already won all the battles that could possibly matter - is the truly enlightened path.

Obviously, this is better than just killing the misguided native and having a good old cry about the tragedy of a life lost because he couldn't tell the difference between those directly responsible for his people's plight and those who are merely beneficiaries of that plight too wrapped up in their own problems to be bothered about that fact. But better does not mean good.  The stink of whitesplaining is simply too strong here. Where does Xavier get off telling Apaches what does or doesn't constitute behaviour which is becoming of their tribe?  I suppose one could try and argue that this is a character fault of Xavier's rather than a structural problem - it's interesting that just a few pages after talking Proudstar down, he's assuming the moral right to decide who should and shouldn't be turned over to the authorities for kidnapping, assault, and breaking into a military facility - but you can tell when a narrative is backing up the positions of its heroes, and this is one of those times.

This being a Claremont joint, of course, there's also some irons in the fire here for future use.  The reappearance of the Morlocks here seems to be set-up for the upcoming Mutant Massacre - Callisto mentioning her collection of subterranean misfits has a exit point near Xavier's mansion seems particularly unsubtle in this regard. Usually I'm all for the Morlocks making an appearance - it's always nice to call the X-Men out for being rich, beautiful people in an almost impregnable fortress who keep insisting mutants shouldn't ever fight back against oppression - but here it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  I mean, the implied image of someone strapping the unconscious Xavier into bondage gear is something I could have done without (for some reason I can't get past the question of who had to put the fingerless gloves and studded armbands on him), but the real problem is the (off-screen) murder of four Morlock children so as to set up a later plotline for Power Pack.

Claremont has become in recent months more and more willing to slaughter characters in order to raise the stakes - see the Dire Wraiths, for example, or Magus - but the idea of killing four children who are nominally under the protection of Storm (currently travelling by boat back to Africa and haunted by visions of glowing mountains and her dead mother) to make an upcoming plot more vital than it might otherwise have been strikes me as shockingly wrongheaded, particularly since the only time we see Callisto here after she and Xavier are informed of the multiple murder is whilst the other X-Men are giggling when he arrives in such strange clothes. Way to make death look like nothing, Chris. The long slide into the moral bankruptcy of the 1990s has already begun, it seems.

Lastly, there's some work going on here setting things up for the showdown with Nimrod. Rachel spends most of this issue essentially useless, unwilling to track her friends because it reminds her of her time as a Hound (this is entirely tiresome, actually; Logan's reference to the Holocaust notwithstanding, I'm just not seeing how surviving being forced to use one's skills for evil should make you unable to use them for good - perhaps though I'm just missing an actual real world analogue). Meanwhile, Nimrod himself/itself scans the radio waves after being invited to stay with Jaime Rodriguez, whom he saved from a mugger a few issues earlier.  Now, I'm all for gratitude, and for treating people with respect even though they're different from you, but I can't believe Nimrod's disguise:

isn't causing more of a fuss than it is.  Looking at those panels keeps reminding me of Operation: Zero Tolerance, where everyone was taking orders from a guy who claimed to be a human who hated mutants and no-one thought to point out his skin was bright cameo pink.

Which yes, as it turns out, is almost certainly a clue/in-joke. It still looks stupid.


This story begins the day following the attack of Xavier.  It's hard to tell if it all takes place over a single day.  It reads to me like the main story does, and the epilogue featuring Nimrod takes place a day later, so that's what we'll go with.

We're still in the period before Christmas (assuming Banshee hasn't bought his present for Moira horribly late). Also, it's mentioned that the New Mutants' trip to a Dyson Sphere in their first annual took place "last summer".  We have it instead in mid-spring, but there's no problem with rearranging the NMU timeline a little, since it's already been broken by events in Kitty Pryde & Wolverine.


Saturday 15th to Sunday 16th December, 1984


X+6Y+288 to X+6Y+289.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.19 standard years.

(Beast is 33 years old)

Contemporary Events

Nine months into the UK coal miner's strike of 1984-85, and Arthur Scargill is fined £250 after being found guilty of two charges of obstruction during a picket at Orgreave Coal Works near Sheffield. I mention this because it happened to show up when I was looking up 14th December 1984, not because I'm mad or Tory enough to think the biggest story behind the Miner's Strike was the fact Scargill got prosecuted during it. I've visited and taught in enough former pit towns to know what really mattered, but simply writing "Margaret Thatcher was an arsehole" on every blog post until the "Marvel years" count reaches the nineties would simply be too depressing.

Standout Line

"Sean Cassidy's thoughts are on the stitch in his right side, and the bitter cold pre-dawn air slicing deep into his lungs, and the look on his lady love's face when she sees her Christmas present. He circles the island every morning, a ten-mile run, and today he's making superb time, possibly his personal best.

He's tired, but he feels like he can go on forever. In all his rough and tough, helter-skelter life, he's never been happier, or more at peace with his past.

So of course, he gets nailed."

Sunday, 15 December 2013

BAB #3: "Showtime"

("Wherefore art thou blue and hairy, and not at all my type?")


Ugh. Iceman might have exploded into delirious wonder this month, but Beauty and the Beast is becoming ever more of a slog.

The main problem here is that neither Alison's romance with Hank nor her refusal to leave the underground theatre make so much as a scrap of sense. Given Dazzler's much remarked upon hotness I can buy he's managed to mistake this brief encounter for a profound emotional connection, but Dazzler up to this point has been defined by her shallowness and self-absorption. Indeed, plenty of previous stories have centred on her struggle to overcome her own selfishness and love of bling to do the right thing.  Given this, her romance with Beast needs to be sold, and Nocenti doesn't even come close.  Frankly, it's hard to escape the feeling we're supposed to buy the attraction simply because they're both mutants, and one doesn't have to think hard to see why that's problematic if we're to view mutantism as an analogy for actual minorities (see how much fuss was kicked off when Russell T Davies married off his apparently utterly unsuited black characters together in The End of Time, for example).

This isn't an unqualified failure, to be sure.  There's a scene here where Beast and Dazzler are harassed for the crime of holding hands on the beach that resonates very well with the more general metaphor, especially the enraging, deliberate, sneering, giggling ignorance which they have to deal with.  Even so, it all just feels too artificial; too much like telling us the pair are in love rather than working to demonstrate it.

If they were having fun together, perhaps it would be easier to swallow. But really all the pair do is fight about Alison's devotion to the club.  There's lots of mooning and "why can't he/she just see"-style dialogue, and nothing else. Sure, for two people in a steady relationship the sudden arrival of a major disagreement like this is unquestionably fertile ground for drama. For two people who've been dating - at most - for a week or two, it just seems like a good reason to call it a day.

Instead, they continue to bicker, which is pretty much all they were doing last issue as well, which makes the whole thing feel more than a little repetitive (there's little reason why this couldn't have been just three issues long). Actually, though, it's worse than that, since the second time around Dazzler looks even more idiotic. Last time she was there, someone tried to kill her on-stage, and someone died. Even if it was remotely plausible that this represented someone going off-piste and a tragic accident, respectively, as Flynn and Longride claim, would you really want to hang around at a place who happily hires psychopaths and hands them medieval weaponry? Imagine handling professional wrestlers morning stars and tell me rookies wouldn't run for the hills.

Nocenti tries to explain all this by playing up Dazzler's delight in finding people who can finally accept her, but this ignores the fact that she's already been to Heartbreak Hotel, which is not only frequented by the man she has somehow decided she loves, but which sports not one single instrument of death or hand-to-hand exhibition for braying rich fatsos (they even send out a rescue mission for Dazzler this issue).  With that set aside, there's only two explanations left with her obsession.  The first is her losing control of her powers, a problem which lessens each time she's there (because, it turns out, Flynn has been drugging her).  That seems like comparative weak-sauce as a motivation - or more to the point, it would only work if Dazzler were there under sufferance rather than admiring the scars of her new co-workers - but it's much better than the alternative, which is that Alison is doing this entirely to step out once more into the spotlight.

Don't get me wrong. I'd have no problem in the slightest with a story in which Dazzler utterly abandons her principles, friends, and sense of self-preservation for another moment in the limelight. Were this to be attempted, though, it would need to be sold (you may be sensing a theme here), by which I mean it has to be a theme, not a shortcut to justify nonsense. This is hardly a problem that originated with Nocenti, but once again we're in a situation where our heroine is unbearable but we're still expected to empathise with her.

It's a good thing that we have an alternative protagonist here, then. Or at least it would be, were Hank not once again so horrifically off-model.  The man doesn't use the word "sicko". He most certainly doesn't grab a women and angrily scrawl "warpaint" on her face with lipstick, an act which manages to be both thoughtlessly racist and pretty much count as domestic abuse.  I know I keep saying this, but there's just nothing of "my" beast here. Nocenti seems convinced that intellect is something one simply turns on when in a laboratory, with no qualities that seep into one's general persona.

So there's simply nothing here to hold onto.  It's just two people somewhere between being at their worst and being utterly unrecognisable scowling at each other. In the second half of the book, there is some attempt to explain this when Hank learns the club has been drugging Alison, not only causing her powers to go haywire when she leaves, but interacting with her adrenaline in a manner not explained, but which presumably is stimulating her blood-lust.

This raises an interesting question, which we'll face an awful lot in our tour of the X-Universe. When does being hepped up on goofballs justify ludicrous behaviour? Does the revelation that Dazzler is drugged require me to forgive the ridiculous nature of everything that has happened up to that point?

This is a fundamentally subjective consideration, obviously. For my money, "she was drugged all along" is a perfectly reasonable manoeuvre to pull as a piece of a larger puzzle. Using it as a crutch for lazy plotting? Not so much. Reasonable people can disagree on which side of the fence this issue lies; I think I've made my position pretty clear.

When Beast finds the secret lab in the theatre, he's captured and injected with some kind of bezerker serum.  Tonight, the battle is between Beauty and the Beast.  Which, as much as I love that film, could quite possibly have been improved by giving Belle access to laser powers. The resulting battle comes close to a fatality, but in the end Beast manages to overcome his drugging, and talk Dazzler out of hers (which, if nothing else, is a nice change from women acting as the conscience for raging, testosterone-crazed men; credit where it's due). Unfortunately for the proprietors, someone has to die, otherwise the murder-hungry one percenters out there will want their blood money back.

Which is where everything finally goes crazy. Flynn makes a power play by feeding Longride to his gladiators to meet his contractual obligations. That much makes sense. But then we smash-cut to Doctor Doom in Latveria, where a sweating flunky tells him the man who claimed to be his son is no longer transmitting. In response, Doom demands intel on our star-struck lovers whilst he prepares for a flight to Hollywood.

So, what? Longride was a Doombot? Why was he in the USA, or in the entertainment biz? What's all this about him claiming to be Doom's son? Is there any chance that this can blend in with what's already going on?

I don't know.  But at least it looks like we'll be spared another issue of Hank and Alison sniping at each other over the definition of gainful employment.  At this point, that's good enough for me.


This story takes place in a single day.  It's mentioned that Dazzler's inaugural bout in the arena took place "last week". Since we have that altercation on a Saturday, this story could pretty much happen any time between the following Monday and a week later. Let's assume for now that the arena bouts are a standard weekly fixture, though. This gives our heroes another week to spend convincing each other they're in love, rather than just enjoying bouts of necking in-between arguments.


Saturday 11th November, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Robin Uthappa, an Indian cricket player nicknamed "The Walking Assassin" is born. Check out the 2007 T20 World Cup for his career highlight. Apparently; I'm not an expert.  I'm not interested in any cricket match where I can't forget it's on for two days and still not miss any of the important bits.

Standout Line

"Hey guys, look! It's the "Sizzler"... And she's taking Rin Tin Tin for a walk. Hey, babe, at least put it on a leash!" - Bigot #1

Ah, witty bigots. If only they could bend some of that imagination into thinking up ways not to be dickheads, maybe this world wouldn't be the disgraceful nightmare it so clearly is.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

ICE #3: "Quicksand!"

(Sweet Oblivion.)


Well, this is a pleasant surprise.  Based on the previous two issues, I wasn't expecting much here other than another twenty-three pages of wacky irrelevance. Instead, what we have here is a good deal more interesting.

Last time round, if you remember, Bobby Drake had accidentally travelled back in time to visit his parents, only for his father to be killed in a cape-fight between himself and Kali, an assassin tracking the original owner of Bobby's purloined time-machine.  Unsurprisingly, such meddling with the space-time continuum quickly resulted in Bobby being erased from existence.

This turns out to be a more involved process than one might think.  Rather than simply crossing over from "being" to "not being" without hassle, Bobby finds himself trapped in some kind of void, filled with memories from his past.  Except there not actually memories.  Beast never said "Exigency! Parabolic! Impecunious!", nor did Jean sing "By the time I get to...  Phoenix...". Darkstar never called him a "capitalist pig" and "money-loving exploiter of the masses".  This is Bobby's past seen through the lenses of his own immaturity.

But the void doesn't just reflect that attitude. It explains it, boiling down Bobby's young life into a series of situations into which he was unwillingly thrust and which he finds impossible to process. Take mutant rights, for example, which here is simplified to Xavier being shot by mutant haters as Bobby tries to give him a piggy-back to Westchester. "Who would shoot a nice bald cripple like you?" he asks, almost like a child, as Xavier falls.  His initial discovery of his mutant powers is shown here literally killing his mother, though his father responds that she won't get really upset unless he fails to become an accountant.

These are pressures with which Bobby simply cannot cope.  Even his own self-pity makes things worse; he can no more face up to the power of his own unhappiness than he can the expectations of others.  In the end, all he can do is hope for oblivion.

This is all presented in five pages of jokes and "guest appearances" (after shouting at Byrne last time for misleading covers, I should really take DeMatteis to task here too; a vision of a character is not an appearance by that character, except maybe if that character is the Vision), which are both fast paced and frequently very funny. The comic plays with structure here as well; the initial crash-landing of Bobby into the void is accompanied by widening panels as he approaches the "ground", the symmetric layout of every subsequent page breaks down at the exact same moment he does. It's all very clever.

So where is Bobby? Well, it turns out he got what he wanted.  This is oblivion, helpfully ruled over by a being calling himself Oblivion, kind of what one of the Endless might have been if Stan Lee had been in charge of designing them.  Oblivion mentions others like him; Death, Joy, Eternity. Presumably Drake escaped the clutches of Death by being written out of life rather than having life end.  Whether or not this is preferable is not yet clear.

Still, it seems Oblivion has plenty going for him.  Access to Bobby's not-quite past, for example.  For every event that happens there are an infinite number of events that could have happened but didn't, and are cast into oblivion.  Does Death get the past that actually took place?  Is there a difference between things gone that once were, and things gone that could have been but weren't?  Oblivion isn't saying. He has a mission for Drake.

It might seem a terrible coincidence for a man so willing to entertain the idea of non-existence has arrived at Oblivion's door.  Greater coincidences have been trotted out across Marvel history than this, of course.  But perhaps there is more to it than that. Perhaps Iceman, subconsciously seeking a way out of his life, didn't protect his father as well as he otherwise might. Perhaps Oblivion's daughter placed herself next to the Drakes precisely because she recognised in them a spark of herself.

You read that right. Oblivion has himself a daughter named Mirage; a piece of himself he gave independence to so as to have more than puppets and the disappeared to engage with. But, as with women and apples, Oblivion has learned to his cost that granting free will to someone you then insist follows your instructions isn't a tactic with a long-term success rate.  Now Oblivion wants her back before she gets powerful enough to overthrow him, and he needs Bobby to do it. If he fails Oblivion runs him out completely, but should he succeed, Oblivion will untangle the recent causality snafu and return his father to this mortal coil.  I'm not entirely sure how that's in Oblivion's jurisdiction, but I'm new to this game.

Either way, the irony here is delicious. Bobby craves oblivion as an escape from his unmanageable life, and all oblivion has to offer is more work.

All of this set-up is quite wonderful.  Alas, the payoff is less interesting. Oblivion sends Bobby from his reality to Mirage's so he can confront her.  There's some potentially interesting morality at play here: should someone give up their freedom in return for the life of someone she's never met or claimed any responsibility for but who is nevertheless dead because of her carelessness? Unfortunately, we skip all that in favour of Mirage freaking out and trying to kill Bobby. I suppose it's hardly surprising she would turn out to be as clearly batshit as her old man, but it does mean the second half of this issue amounts to a fairly standard dose of comic book hyperbole and beat-downs, which is a bit of a shame considering how strongly things started.

We end here with Mirage coming within inches of killing Iceman, but deciding ultimately that her father is the one she has to deal with if she wants her freedon permanently.  So she zaps herself with Bobby in tow back to her home dimension, only to discover this was what Oblivion had been waiting for all along...


It's hard to say when this adventure takes place, since we have no idea of when in time Iceman actually is when he confronts Mirage.




X + Unknown

Contemporary Events

Singing and murder and fucking and food, I've no doubt.

Standout Line

"I forgot how dangerous self-pity can be! I'm drowning in my own tears!"

Thursday, 5 December 2013

ALF #21: "...Love Wrought New Alchemy..."

(Actually, it should probably be "don't's".)


(We're skipping NMU #26 for now, since it explicitly takes place after UXM # 193).

Good morning class. Please take your coats off and sit down. Shooter! Stop flipping off your classmates, you need to learn how to get along. Straczynski; you shouldn't even be in this class, so hop it.

Today we'll be - put those toys away, Mantlo - today we'll be having another lesson on the dos and don'ts of comics.  Once again, we'll be using Byrne's homework as a test case. Don't start sniffling, Byrne!  If you didn't want a bit of constructive criticism you shouldn't have turned in a confused sexist mess every week last term.

Headmaster Lee mentioned at briefing that he'd like us to practice the "praise sandwich" method when critiquing our students' work, but that would ruin the structure of my comments, and that I shall not abide!


Don't structure an issue of a comic so that a villain explaining their origins and plan takes up more space than the villain being defeated by your heroes. If you spend nine pages on a flashback to explain how your villain has lived for centuries through their insane experiments, don't spend four pages from the moment your hero meets her to her abject defeat.

And on the subject of flashbacks, young Byrne:

Don't slap your heroes on the cover fighting a villain who only appears in flashback. If your story isn't interesting enough to find a scene to advertise it fairly, then rewrite your story.

On the other hand, do try pulling some artistic flourishes in your flashback scenes.  Sepia-toned images? Lovely. Never showing Gilded Lily's face after her 1875 car accident so as to leave it ambiguous when things went south for her?  Very nice.

Which reminds me:

Do just suddenly have a character revealed to not be a human but a decapitated emaciated face and lungs atop a robot with wheels.  That's just so gloriously insane it gives me shivers. I don't know if Diablo built her or if she's been replacing pieces of herself for the last century, but then that's what's so great about it.

But don't have her defeated instantly by removing her mask.  See earlier comments. If you have to choose between cutting short the climactic throw-down between hero and villain and truncating the tale of a villain we've never seen or heard of before and who you're going to kill off, for God's sake choose the Tale of How I Went Mad and Murderous. Also, don't take your heroines mental troubles - which you're already on thin ice about, Byrne; we've talked about this before - and use it as an excuse as for why she's suddenly completely helpless and needs her boyfriend to effortlessly rescue her.  This is a modern classroom, Byrne, and I expect contemporary attitudes! Even though I refer to you all by your surnames!

(Oh, and don't give her a terrible approximation at a phonetic stereotype of a French person massacring English.  You'll give Claremont ideas.)

For the love of God, Byrne, don't use nine pages for your first flashback and then take up another page so as to explain what happened last issue. After spending almost half the issue explaining how Gilded Lily got and used her powers, we hardly need it explained what happened to Sasquatch.  Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, don't stick in a page about Snowbird feeling ill.  You've already compromised your structure all to pot. No sense making a bad situation worse, for all that you seem determined to make that your motif.

Right.  That about does it for Mr Byrne.  No sense sulking, young man. If you wanted to avoid these sessions, you should just stop writing sexist stupidly-paced nonsense.  Let's move on to our next subject: uses and misuses of the splash page. Oh stop smirking, Land!


This story takes place in approximately real time.


Thursday 19th April, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Daniel Whitmire and Albert Jackson publish their theory of "Nemesis the Death Star", which according to them orbits the Sun at a range of tens of thousands of AU, entering the Oort cloud once every 26 million years and sending a wave of comets into the solar system to create all sorts of unpleasantness.

No proof of the existence of Nemesis has ever been found, which makes the whole idea delightfully wacky and unhinged.  One wonders Stargate's Daniel Jackson was named in honour of these two astronomical pioneers of weird.

Standout Line

You need the panels for this one, really.

Such horrible, sad last words. Chilling.

(On the other hand, having her death destroy both her lab of unnerving delights and the strange house around her just feels like lazy end-tying.)