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.

No comments:

Post a Comment