Saturday, 21 December 2013
UXM #193: "Warhunt 2"
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.
1 Marvel year = 3.19 standard years.
(Beast is 33 years old)
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.
"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."