Saturday, 6 December 2014

SW2 #6: "Life Rules!"

(Death takes a holiday.)


As with the preceding issue, I'm giving SW2 #6 its own post, despite the fact that not a single identifiable mutant appears in the entire book.  This is therefore the first issue in the three and a half year history of this blog which I shall dissect in detail even though it has no direct link to the X-Universe.

Or at least, it had no direct link to the X-Universe when it was printed.  One of the big advantages of looking at these books from twenty years further down the train tracks of history is the number of connections you can make between then and now, links that couldn't possibly have been intended at the time but which ultimately dovetail quite nicely. I've mentioned more than once already how much of the basic DNA of almost all of Marvel's crossover events can be traced back to Shooter's two Secret Wars series (how appropriate that I should be writing this as we're gearing up for what should clearly be being called Secret Wars III). This issue continues that trend, and rather focuses it. Along with everything else this miniseries gave birth to, via SW2 #6 it becomes a direct ancestor of Avengers Vs X-Men.

I say this because the two stories, three decades apart, share very similar concerns (as did X-Men & Alpha Flight, actually) namely what superheroism involves when you reach power levels that can rework not just the social order of Earth, but the natural order too. In XAA and AvX, these super-superpowers were granted to mutants via gods.  Here the god themselves - the Beyonder - decides to give the hero gig a whirl. And whilst in theory there should be some fundamental difference in approach between a hero who becomes a god and a god who becomes a hero, in practice the Beyonder takes a rather similar path to both Loki's unwitting stooges and the Phoenix Five; he starts off with street-level small potatoes but rapidly ramps up to larger concerns. As so often seems to happen in these stories (almost invariably written by straight white guys as they are), the idea of major overhauls of the way the world works is presented as something to be resisted. Here, just as with AvX, these essentially conservative concerns are given voice by Captain America, who is none too delighted by the proposed new world order (he's accompanied here by Reed Richards to demonstrate  that the Beyonder's activities are unnerving TO SCIENCE).

This is quite useful, actually, because is allows us to disentangle some of the problems with Captain America's stance in AvX.  I took two distinct issues with Steve Rogers' stance in that crossover. The first was over whether his fear of the Phoenix Five losing control/going too far was in any way reasonable, the second was the fact we were watching a straight white guy with plenty of money (or at least the capacity to raise same without any real problem, I'd imagine) telling an oppressed minority that now they've finally gained the power to shape the world in the way they want rather than live in it rather than suffer it in the shape their oppressors have chosen, they had no right to exercise that power. And really, that second problem was so fundamental it rather overshadowed the first.

Here the issues stemming from ordering a minority around aren't present, so we can focus entirely on whether Rogers (and Richards) are on solid ground fretting about someone announcing it's time to change the world. To which the answer is "sort of". Which sounds like I'm sitting on the fence, so let's dig deeper.  It's at least true that Rogers is right to be nervous - that's just basic prudence - but the key question is whether he's right to be planning an assault on the Beyonder if everything goes to hell (we'll bypass the fact that such an attack would be useless at best and disastrously counter-productive at worst).  It's here that it gets hard to come down on one side or the other of Captain America's stance, because I'm pretty sure he's right for completely the wrong reasons.

Because the thing is, even once you don't have to directly confront the mutant issue, Rogers' argument that the Beyonder's actions could rob people of freedom and that freedom is our most precious possession practically begs for someone to shout "what do you mean 'our', white boy?". I'm sure there's no group of people for which freedom isn't important, but the kind of people who insist that theoretical unspecified curtailements of their choices are their greatest concern also tend to be the kind of affluent white men who don't have to worry about actual ongoing curtailments to their rights, their bodies, or even their lives (see Paul, Rand, or really just about any self-described "libertarian"). We arrive once more a the same point: the people who fret the most about massive change are those who gain the most from the status quo.  The Molecule Man demonstrates this quite clearly here when he lays into the Beyonder for ending death, complaining that there's now no point to eating anything.  As if that's something that would matter to those who were starving to death.  Indeed the total cluelessness of the almost godlike Molecule Man is instructive here: of course the ludicrously powerful straight white guy is furious that major changes are afoot. Of course he puts forward an argument that boils down to "creatures should die to keep me alive because that's what I'm used to". The fact that Owen Reece is obviously capable of an alternative lifesyle - the dude could make a bacon sandwich from a 50 Cent CD if he wanted - just makes the point more clear: plenty of us (myself included) could switch to a less destructive lifestyle without great difficulty, if only we had the will.

But if those who are suffering tremendously are a powerful counter to the position of Rogers, Richards and Reece (now there's a law firm that would make great TV, though the fact no-one involved has a law degree might make gaining clients somewhat tricky), they also work against the Beyonder as well, because an inability to die does not translate into an inability to feel pain, or imply that the paralysed can suddenly move. A coma, presumably, is still a coma. And now anyone hoping for an assisted suicide is entirely out of luck, which strikes me as a pretty intolerable state of affairs. The Beyonder's established problems with forseeing the consequences of his actions doesn't really instill one with faith that this newest plan will be pulled off without some pretty messy hitches.

So it's a wash, then, right? Well no, not really, and not just because the miraculous recovery of Marsha's flowers suggests Death's death promises renewal rather than stasis. Yes, the Beyonder's initial fix comes with its own problems. Every fix does.  That doesn't have to mean you can't take action.  If we wait until every angle has been hashed out, we may well have missed our chance to act in any case. This too, this ridiculous idea that entirely hypothetical constructions of future problems should invalidate pushes for an immediate good, is a conservative construction beloved of those who'd rather everything stayed the same because they're on top. And whilst you can obviously argue about just how immediate a good it is for everyone to no longer be able to die, what made stories like Torchwood's Miracle Day so bleak was there was no hope for a second miracle, in which everyone is young again, and free of pain and disease, and and run and walk and, hell, even fly. With the Beyonder provably capable of doing all that, starting the process by keeping everyone alive to buy the necessary time doesn't seem like all that bad of an idea from humanity's perspective. [1]

We'll never know, ultimately. As soon as the Beyonder's chief of staff realises he's never going to get his hands on another meat feast pizza he flips out and demands to become the next Death. The Beyonder agrees, and the Grim Reaper is back from her short vacation.  Thousands are dead within the next twenty minutes. McDonalds gets back to selling 75 burgers a second.   Somehow this is all supposed to feel like a victory.

Still, I'll give the issue this. I might profoundly disagree with what it's saying (and recognise that it's been said plenty of times before), but at least it's said something.  This is almost certainly the best issue of the series so far, notwithstanding the almost actionable degree to which the cover fails to remotely match up with the contents. I can't say I'm excited for the final third of this mini's run, but at least at this point I'm not dreading it as much as it looked like I was going to.

[1] I am of course ignoring the elephant floating through the cosmos here; it's possible - likely, actually - that the Beyonder has stopped Death on a galactic, universal or even multiversal scale, which carries its own problems.  I don't want to get into that, though. Without clear boundaries on the Beyonder's abilities I've no way to know whether to worry that this far greater scale would actually be a problem, and whilst it's easy to imagine alien cultures for which removing death might genuinely be intolerable, imagining how fictional races might hypothetically view things isn't really helpful when parsing how we as humans should feel about specific ideas.


This story takes place over three days.  There's no indication as to when it starts, so we'll take our usual tack and kick it off the day after the previous issue ended.


Friday 26th to Sunday 28th January, 1985.


X+6Y+331 to X+6Y+333.

Contemporary Events

Apparently Playboy announces it will no longer be stapling centrefolds.  A major slice of history right there, folks.

Standout Line

"You lie... of course! Clearly, he plans to take from me that which is most precious to me! But  if you'd told me that, you knew I'd have you flayed! I forgive you for lying, wretch! I like lies!
"But you shall have your mouth washed out with boiling bowl for uttering the word "jesting"!"

Mephisto demonstrates his HR approach whilst plotting the Beyonder's downfall.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Timeline: 1984 Jan - Jun (Take 5)


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...
21st ALF #22: Rub-Out
22nd ALF #22: Rub-Out


(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!
4th   UXM #192: Fun 'n' Games!
4th   XAA #1: The Gift
5th   XAA #1: The Gift
6th   XAA #1: The Gift
6th   XAA #1: The Gift (Part II)
7th   XAA #1: The Gift (Part II)
7th   ALF #21: ...Love Wraught New Alchemy...
7th   ALF #22: Rub-Out
8th   ALF #23: Night of the Beast
10th ALF #24: Final Conflict
24th ALF #25: ...And Graves Give Up Their Dead../ Up From Lazarus' Box


2nd  NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannonball Caper!
3rd   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannonball Caper!
4th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannonball Caper!
5th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannonball Caper!
6th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannonball Caper!
7th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannonball Caper!
8th   NMU Annual #1: The Great Cosmic Cannonball 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...
24th ALF #26: If At First You Don't Succeed...
24th ALF #27: Betrayal
24th ALF #28: Cross-Over
24th ALF #29: Cut Bait and Run!

ALF #30 "Enter... Scramble!"

(Physician, mutate theyself.)


This might not take very long. With his initial justifications complete, Mantlo seems like he might be settling into the most well-worn grooves possible, offering a done-in-one scrap with a new villain. Which of course is a set-up twenty years old just in the X-books, of course, but then Alpha Flight under Byrne was defiantly old-school in a lot of ways, and if Mantlo's aim is to continue the retro-approach (if indeed we want to consider this retro, as oppose to Claremont's approach being ahead of its time) whilst removing the uglier aspects of the gender politics, then that is I suppose progress of a kind.

Still, this is all very Stan Lee. More specifically, it's very Stan Lee when he came up with the idea of the Juggernaut: create a new villain and give him a family tie to the team. To briefly summarise: now that Alpha Flight is once more operating under government auspices, the team have had Langkowski's old mansion rebuilt as a headquarters. There's even a floor-plan, which is a hilariously unnecessary touch, though it is nicely melancholy that they've insisted on putting in rooms for Marrina and Talisman, just in case (I'm also not sure I'd have put in a swimming pool over the lab, either, but I'm not an architect). But a shiny new base isn't too much use if you have no-one to staff it, and with Sasquatch and Guardian dead, Marrina, Talisman and Shaman absent, and Snowbird, Northstar and Aurora increasingly difficult to rely on, Heather figures it's time for fresh blood. Her first port of call: the brother Madison Jeffries has curiously never mentioned before. Maybe he's got powers too! There's surely no reason Jeffries has kept his sibling on the down-low.  Sure, it turns out he's spent years inside a hospital, but why would that be an issue?

So Heather comes across as not desperately bright here, as she almost immediately gives Lionel Jeffries the opportunity to escape, but that's not really my problem here. Nor is it how well-worn the path is. It's that the issue has a genuinely good idea at its centre that it seems to have no idea what to do with. Lionel, it turns out, has a very similar power set to his brother, only where Madison manipulates machinery, Lionel is all about the flesh.  This may be my childhood love of Transformers speaking, but I think there's something to be mined out of he comparison here. The difference between mechanics and medics (the two roles the Jeffries brothers performed in Vietnam before Lionel's squad was obliterated and his attempts to resurrect them generated a flesh golem), how close the human body is to being viewable as a machine, that kind of thing. I'm not talking anything amazingly insightful, obviously, but even a simplistic compare-and-contrast would have added some much needed flavour to what is otherwise the most standard of superhero runarounds.

Instead, the team simply chase after Lionel - "Scramble" - as he runs around messing up people's DNA codes in the belief that he's "curing" them.  The result is visually interesting - if not, you know, pleasant in any way:

but little else. Lionel's motivation - turn everyone into flesh blancmanges because doctors should be able to have total power over life and death - is one of those ideas that manages to somehow be desperately cliche and totally nonsensical at the same time, which is an accomplishment of a sort, I suppose, but not one I feel like applauding. The story concludes with Madison persuading Lionel to use his powers on his own mind, restoring him to sanity and allowing him to heal the damage hes caused, which is nice, but the overall feeling here is of an opportunity wasted.

But all that means the issue is disappointing, rather than actively bad. And again, at least I'm not spitting in rage over the subtexts here - though rather more is made of Puck's stature being a curse than I'm happy with - and it's clear from the final panel, as a fleshy figure slopes towards the exit of the hospital morgue, that this has been building up to something. It may well be when that storm breaks I'll look more favourably upon the initial gathering of clouds.

Though since said figure is apparently the deathly boring nightmare-pun Deadly Earnest, I'm not interrupting my standard respitory pattern.


This story takes place over a single day.  Happily, there's no sense of how much time has passed between this issue and last. Indeed, one assumes it must have taken a while to build Alpha's new base.  Given how far this title is lagging behind the others, then, I'll move the action forward a full month. At last I can have a new time-line up!


Tuesday 24th July 1984.



Contemporary Events

President Reagan calls for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, because he was just the goddamn worst.

Standout Line

LOL no.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

NMU #35: "The Times, They Are A'Changin'!"

(Change your career, keep your spots)

Trigger warning: attempted sexual assault & (briefly) pederasty.


Much like Alpha Flight #29, which we covered recently (though not so recently as I would like; damn this house-move snorting up all my time), this issue is more or less forced into a familiar structure by outside events. With the former, this involved the title attempting to prove itself viable following the departure of its creator/writer/penciller. Here, the shake-up is entirely in-universe, as Magneto becomes head-teacher to the New Mutants, but the end result is broadly equivalent: the team members question the new status quo - just as the audience are - and ultimately accept it - just as the audience hopefully will.

Tightening the bindings still further, there are two overlapping points that need to be covered during an average "controversial new leader" story - and this really is entirely average. First the newcomer needs to prove there exists some benefit to the new regime, and then everyone else has to conclude those benefits overwhelm whatever baggage us being hauled alongside. Claremont essentially divides these beat between the two halves of the issue.  The first part can be dismissed fairly quickly, since it simply involves Magneto gathering the team in the Danger Room (minus Cypher, who doesn't get to play) and sets about slapping their internal organs out from whatever orifices are to hand. There's not really all that much to say about this, so we'll move straight onto the second stage of Magneto's second job interview. 

This is where things get very interesting and in no small way problematic. Claremont needs an inciting incident through which he can demonstrate Magneto's new-found restraint, and he settles on a trio of drunken men attempting to rape Danielle Moonstar.

Obviously, this is profoundly distressing.  There's never any actual danger the deed will be done, but that doesn't change the fact that a) Dani is physically assaulted by men who want to sexually assault her, and b) this sort of horror is inflicted on thousands of young girls every day, none of whom are lucky enough to have a winged horse to sweep them away to safety.

There's a lot to not like about this.  Firstly, we need to be very careful about the idea that a situation like this turns out OK if the assault is countered whilst everyone still has their clothes on.  And by "OK" here, I mean that there are profound psychological issues an attempted rape can bring on, and there's simply no way Claremont can tackle that sensitively or well. Secondly, the idea that the best way to have a white guy show his heroic chops is to punish people who beat up a young Native American girl ties into all sorts of lousy tropes. Our heroes are the white guys who determine for themselves what's best for Native Americans but with good intentions [1]? I'm not at home to that, especially since it's clear here that Dani's trauma exists in the narrative purely for the sake of Magneto's development.

There's also an issue of narrative laziness to this move, something I like to call "Baron Harkonnen Syndrome" after Frank Herbert's character in DuneDune is a wonderfully complex book absolutely stuffed with complicated, multi-layered characters, all of whom have essentially valid reasons for doing what they do.  No-one is purely good, no villain is entirely bad.  Except Baron Harkonnen, who had sex with young boys. It's a grotesque revelation in a book otherwise dedicated to the complexities of political conflict, and reads like Herbert feared so many shades of grey would lose the reader unless someone emerged as an utterly clear-cut villain (see George RR Martin's Ramsay Snow for a contemporary parallel).  It's a very bad idea, partially because it undermines the complexity of the work, but mainly because it treats victims as disposable objects that exist purely to demonstrate how evil someone is. This is bad enough when framing a character as a callous murderer, but at least there the resulting trauma to the victim is something we don't have to dwell on.

And really, this is how we're supposed to conclude that Magneto might not be all that bad?  Because whilst he's a mass-murderer, he at least hates rapists? Talk about your low bars.  Pretty much everyone hates rapists. Hell, I'm sure most actual rapists hate rapists, because of the horrifically effective way culture has evolved to reassure rapists that their rapes don't really count. I made this point when discussing UXM #200, but if you want to rehabilitate Magneto you really have to process his own mistakes; simply pointing out the Nazis and/or rape gangs are objectively worse isn't going to cut it.

On top of all of this, it's completely obvious just how hard Claremont is pressing his thumb on the scale here.  Magneto's plan is to head to the criminal's hideout and threaten them with death if they ever show up on his radar again.  Apparently this is impressive and represents personal growth because he doesn't kill them on the spot.  But this only actually works our because Magneto scares the three men enough that they decide themselves they'd be better off turning themselves in. What would have happened if they hadn't? Are we really supposed to believe Magneto would keep tabs on them indefinitely? What if the next time they decide a woman's consent is irrelevant Magneto's off saving the world? What if next time they go after someone who isn't a mutant and suddenly Magneto has better things to do?

Really, there's no plausible way to interpret Magneto's actions here other than a reminder that he'll protect his own.  Which is laudable in it's own way, but because his own are our own in the context of reader sympathies, it's easy to miss the fact that his approach here will really allow him to only protect his own. Which is exactly what led Magneto to become a killer in the first place; he decided his own subjective beliefs about who got to live and die - who got to be punished - trumped everybody else's.

In short, a lack of body-count notwithstanding, this issue is the most Magneto that Magneto has never been. That the New Mutants lap it up because on this occasion they know and love the person whose decisions he is co-opting makes this all worse, not better.

I'll give the issue this, though. It has made me more willing to accept the idea of Magneto as the New Mutants' head-teacher. Not because it's made me think more of him. Because it's made me think less of them.

[1] Tellingly Sam's biggest problem with Magneto deciding he's going to deal with the rapists himself is that it should be the team's job, which ignores Dani just as much.


Since this story involves the New Mutants learning who will be their new head-teacher, I assume it takes place on the same day the X-Men return from Paris.


Monday 11th March, 1985.



Contemporary Events

Thousands of Doctor Who fans wake up two days after "Timelash" began and discover to their horror that it still isn't all a dream.

Standout Line

"I can yell 'Don't shoot' in any language there is..." - Cypher.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

DAZ #41: "Revelations"

("At least in dying you don't have to deal with New Wave for a second time.")


It's the little things that make a difference.

The basic "revelations" approach - and how nice of Archie Goodwin to flag up his use of it - is a well-used one. Just about any story built on an mystery connected to an antagonist has to go out on two story beats. First you unveil the truth beneath the mystery that (you hope) has had your audience squealing in confused delight, thereby allowing them to check their beautiful theories against your ugly pronouncements of "what really happened", and then you move onto your finale.

The gravity well generated by this approach is difficult to escape, and in that sense it might be unreasonable to criticise Goodwin too much for falling prey to it. But then it's not the familiarity of the move that's really the problem here anyway.  It's how poorly is matches up to what surrounds it.

When you take time in your narrative (six pages in this case, or one eighth of the space still available to the title has left available to it) to unravel your mystery, you're implicitly claiming that your mystery is interesting enough and/or long-running enough to make the big reveal interesting to the reader.  In this case, though, neither applies.  Dust and Silence aren't totally without merit (Dust in particular is responsible for some lovely moments of gruesomeness), but there's little to distinguish them from any other villain-of-the-week.  What's more, they were introduced all of one issue ago. Chase's hounding of Dazzler has been going on for just three more.  Even in the best of circumstances, neither "who are Dust and Silence" nor "who hired Chase" are fascinating mysteries begging to be untangled via the kind of Powerpoint presentation approach to exposition comics at the time were still unwilling to evolve beyond. Even the short version - Dust and Silence try to create mutates, the treatment proves eventually fatal, the children of the test subjects (their "New Wave") prove to inherit aspects of the treatment, Dazzler's light proves able to unlock these youngster's powers without killing them - feels like it might be taking more words to explain than is probably necessary. Six pages, this does not need.

But in any case, these are far from the best of circumstances.  For one thing, Dust's plan here is pointlessly Byzantine.  Why have Dazzler arrested and taken halfway across the country before faking a rescue by mutants (the trio of bikers who caused such trouble last issue)? Why not just phone Alison up and nook her for a gig?  It's bad enough that Dazzler is once again being pressed towards the margins of her own book so that this recently introduced master-plan can be revealed. Did it have to be so obviously stupid as well?

The problem here is that Goodwin is dipping his toes in the same ocean which eroded my interest in Secret Wars II.  It's a tale too caught up in the author's own additions, at the expense of those ideas they inherited.  And whilst DAZ #41 isn't nearly as bad as any given issue of the Beyonder's second outing, that's an exceptionally low bar to clear - less of a high-jump and more like stepping over an underground cable - and in Shooter's defence, given he wrote the original Secret Wars at least the property he trashed was his own.  Goodwin can't claim that here.  Turning this title into the Dust & Chase Show (feat. Dazzler) is co-opting what the comic is supposedly about, for all that the sales figures at the time must have suggested no-one particularly cared all that much.  I don't want to end up one of those people who argue no franchise should ever be allowed to evolve, but if you're going to shake something up so profoundly, you've got to be damn sure you're bringing your A-game.  All I see here is the laziest and least pleasant route to "importance" possible; the murdering of a supporting cast member, in this case Dazzler's father.  I mean, I appreciate that for once I'm watching a man get fridged in order to spur a woman to action, but - no pun intended - that's somewhat cold comfort. 

What these final issues should be doing, in addition to sending Alison out on a high, is reminding us of the potential the series always had, and why comic readers should be sad to lose it.  Instead, Goodwin seems intent on squandering this potential still further.

There's just one chance left to make it all work.


This story takes place over the course of four days. It's not clear how much time has passed between this issue and the last, but presumably Stomper headed to Camp Silence pretty quick to beg for forgiveness, for all the good it did. So we'll place the beginning of this story the day after the last one.


Friday 25th to Monday 28th January, 1985.


X+6Y+330 to X+6Y+333.

Contemporary Events

A French Defense Ministry official is murdered by Action directe, a self-styled libetarian communist terrorist group with ties to the German Red Army Faction.

Standout Line

"She can't shoot many light blasts if she's choking to death!" - Hoodlum #1

Chosen for accuracy as much as for anything else.  I'm not getting an awful lot to work with, here...

Saturday, 4 October 2014

UXM #201: "Duel"

(What's past is prologue. And apparently, everything else.)


After the explosive adventures - to say nothing of the avalanche of pages - that made up the '85 annual and UXM #200, it's time for a bit of a rest. This is one of Claremont's now-standard reflective, standalone "fun" issues, though in truth it's rather too stressed out for that final adjective to fit too well. Beyond the (perhaps all that much) more angsty feel to this issue, though, it's very much business as usual. Rachel finds time to sneak into her grandparents' house and fix the memory globe of Jean she'd previously broken Cannonball's biggest problem is a term paper swallowed by his computer. The team even gets to squeeze in a baseball session [1]. There's also a tendency towards Claremont's habit of keeping super-powers out of the picture altogether.  Though really it's not so much that they're absent here, so much as simple facts of life. Kitty spends more time fixing a computer than phasing, which she's only doing to get from place to place in the mansion in any case. Indeed, super-powers are not simply downplayed here, they're declared to not be what the X-Men are about in the first place.

This, after all, is the issue in which Ororo and Scott duel for the right to lead the X-Men, and Cyclops comes up short despite Ororo having lost her powers. She doesn't need them. Speed, skill, a decent plan, and above all focus is what gets her the win, and with it the top slot. This difference between her and the currently all-to-pieces Cyclops (and we'll get to that in a minute) is underlined during the actual bout, in which Cyclop's internal monologue is all over the place, whilst Storm's is utterly silent.

(Actually, there's a way in which that bothers me; concentrating totally on how Scott sees the fight and giving us nothing on Ororo's interior monologue has unfortunate optics considering the differences in gender and race. Having said that, I'm perfectly happy believing that this is an approach Claremont would happily have taken at any point he wanted to underline someone's lack of focus, and the resulting problem is an unfortunate coincidence. If nothing else, it's hard to be too down on an issue that takes a questionable approach to comparing a white man and black woman which involves the latter thoroughly trouncing the former and therefore getting to take charge of everyone.)

So what is it that's got Scott so het up? He's terrified about what to do without Xavier, and having only an allegedly reformed super-villain's word that the man is even still alive. Which honestly, isn't actually the most ridiculous idea in the world.  But it's horrifically badly timed, considering how Madelyn has only just given birth to their baby boy, a fact that Cyclops is pretty much completely ignoring. There's a certain irony in Scott fretting so much over the loss of his de facto father that he's neglecting his newborn son, but there's more to it than that.  This is about setting Cyclops up as a man so obsessed with what he's lost in his past that he's completely oblivious to the benefits of the present. This is actually a major motivating factor for Cyclops throughout his life. He started off defining himself by the loss of his parents and (arguably more importantly) his ability to see the world like everybody else. Later, he becomes consumed by the idea of trying to shape each new iteration of the X-Men to be as close as possible to how they operated in the early days. He gets so good at this that once he drifts from this model everyone completely loses their shit, calling him first a power-mad dictator and then an unhinged terrorist.  Reasonable people can disagree about to what extent Cyclops actually deserves those titles, but really that debate would come down to how much Cyclops obsession with the past convinced people any change would indicate severe problems, and how much it objectively would indicate those problems.

That's all to come, though; I'll presumably talk more about it in the 2060s (it's not just Cyclops who can't get out of the past). Returning to the issue at hand, the point here is that everyone else is either embracing the future or at least making peace with the past. The arrival of baby Summers has everyone cooing (even Wolverine isn't threatening to gut him, which is practically a declaration of love). Charles is - admittedly with difficulty - coming to terms with the fact he might be exiled from Earth, but he has his soul-mate Lilandra to keep him company. Rachel fixes her "grandparents'" memory globe, making peace not only with her mother's shade but also her own past mistakes. And Storm proves quite spectacularly that she's ready to get back in the game, powers or no powers.

Whilst all this is going on, though, Cyclops is fretting about the loss of Charles and how he doesn't get to be leader of the X-Men anymore. The idea that the team might be able to function both without its founder and its original leader just utterly bowls him over. Which makes him entirely unbearable here - I'm not willing to say I have zero sympathy for him, but my sympathy lies so completely with Madelyne that what I can spare for Cyclops isn't really worth mentioning - but it does serve a very important function.  With X-Factor about to debut, Claremont is clearly doing some groundwork in building up to Cyclop's shitty behaviour in that title.  And really, though I don't have a much more positive take on that upcoming storyline than everyone does, I have to say Claremont does a good job of polishing a messy turd here. Playing up Cylops' obsession with the past and his fear of losing what matters to him both reminds us of how much Jean's return would mean to him, and the removal of aspects of that past through Charles' disappearance and his defeat at the hands of Storm makes a sudden appearance of a link to the past more important now than ever before. Surrounding him with people moving on just makes Scott's condition more obvious, and more tragic.

Which seems like a pretty good place to sign off. You can complain about what precedes it, and you can sure as hell complain about what follows. But this particular slice of the mutant cake is probably baked just about as well as it could have been.

(I really do have to start leaving the room when Fliss is watching Great British Bake Off...)

[1] Which for some reason includes a cameo from Ronald Reagan and Donald Regan. Since said cameo doesn't end with Rogue punching both of them square in the spunk-fobs, the scene is a rather depressing reminder of how terrible superheroes are at fighting real villains.  Oh well.


This story takes place over either one or two days.

I don't have any definitive proof of this, but I suspect the baseball game in this issue takes place the day after the team return from Europe. Super-powered they may be, but I'm sure they'd still want to shake the kinks out from a twelve hours plus aeroplane ride.

Speaking of that trip, the team had to get from Paris to New York in between last issue and the next, and Madelyne needs to have had time to return to her previous svelte figure having given birth to baby Christopher. That should take a couple of weeks at least, which puts this story as kicking off about a week after Magneto and Charles say their goodbyes.


Monday 11th to Tuesday 12th March, 1985.


X+7Y+10 to X+7Y+11.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years.

(Beast is 33 years old)

Contemporary Events

Mohammed Al Fayed buys Harrods.

Standout Line

"It begins." - Uatu, the Watcher.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

NGT #2: "A Boggie Day In L'Un Dun-T'wn"

(Nightcrawler > The Fonz)


I was quite down on the first issue of this mini, arguing it was all over the place, a riot of colour and ill-matching designs in search of a plot.  In truth, the plot here isn't much stronger, but it is at least far more focused, which actually removes a lot of the problems.

It's once again desperately simple fare. Here Nightcrawler must defeat the sorcerer and rescue the princess, all with rather unexpected help from his piratical former buddies, who aren't about to let some bad blood stop them gaining the princess for themselves. That's as far from original as Nightcrawler is from home right now. That means the story has to rely on two alternative planks, focusing on how Kurt getting through a pulp fantasy tale works differently to how any other hero might attempt it, and ramping up the weirdness so at least the issue can plausibly make the case that its unique specifics make up for its tired generalities.

And in fact Cockrum at least makes a fist at both of these. Kurt's acrobatics allows him to lead Shagreen's gigantic rock-snake-worm guardian to its bosses own sanctum (never rely on a killer monster your own doors can't stop), and the concluding sabre-duel beneath and ultimately atop a gigantic flying squid employ both Kurt's love of swashbuckling and his skills at it.  However many final duels you've seen before, very few of them will involve the hero wielding three blades simultaneously, or define victory by stabbing a shark in the face [1]. It's a shame Kurt has to give up his bonus swords so quickly, actually; did Cockrum simply fail to realise how bad-ass this approach was?

Glorious weirdness is thick on the ground, as well.  Not the randomly-generated lunatic chic of last issue, but playful off-kilter stuff.  Quite aside from a four-armed shark-faced antagonist, the early pages of the issue are infested with the Boggies Kurt spent all of the last instalment being mistaken for; naked two-foot creatures with miniature bat-wings between their arms and bodies, but dead-ringers for Nightcrawler beyond that, even before you factor in their teleportation skills. Considering their cutesy appearances and sarcastic, odd speech patterns, I suspect these creatures put us in Marmite territory, but personally I rather like them. From this point forward I shall never refer to Lockheed as anything other than "Snappyface Toymonster", and the Boggies' general approach of lambasting Kurt for his total cluelessness is a nice counterpoint to our favourite teleporter's effortless heroics. Each one is a Yoda with a better sense of humour and less interest in trousers.  What's not to love?

Which is really all there is to say about this issue. Well, I suppose I could delve into the aggravating nature of the "hero selves helpless princess" motif employed here, but honestly this iteration is so utterly devoid of originality there's a low ceiling on what ripping it up could possibly achieve (Cockrum does shake things up a wee bit by adding some horniness to his innocent princess; reasonable people can disagree over whether that's in any way an improvement). A cliche can be harmful, of course, but at its 15, 232, 155th iteration doesn't strike me as a fruitful place to begin the hammering. It feels more sensible to just confess that there's not a great deal to be said about this book, which isn't to say it's bad, just that its positives are obvious and uncomplicated and its negatives so well-trodden that further bitching seems redundant.

Besides, with this issue ending with Nightcrawler being teleported to a new dimension, there might well be plenty of things to complain about next time around. On this occasion, I'll simply stop here.

[1] Not that Nightcrawler would do that. His X-Men honour would never allow him.  Shark-Dude has to accidentally fall off the squid instead, as is traditional.  The accidental death-by-gravity that absolves the hero from blame, I mean. Not toppling off a floating gas-filled cephalopod.


The continuing effects of the time differential between dimensions means that technically, this is all still happening on the same day as NGT #1.


Saturday 22nd December, 1984



Contemporary Events

White man Bernard Goetz shoots four black teenages in a New York subway, after they surround him and ask for five dollars (they will later be described as muggers; muggers being well known for a) showing no weapons, b) asking for money rather than demanding it, and c) setting their own exceptionally low bar on their score rather than aiming for everything their mark is carrying. All but one recovers (the fourth is paralysed). Goetz is ultimately found not guilty of any charge other than a single illegal firearms possesion count.

Standout Line

"He's going to sacrifice her? Kill her?"
"Of course kill her, stupid! Not gain bigmagic power by nicemaking kissykiss!"

Sunday, 21 September 2014

SW2 #5: "Despair!"

(Despair is right.)


We'll cover this issue on its own. Not because it's any good - it isn't, though I suppose in this ongoing train wreck this is one of the ones that most avoids damaging houses or knocking over pensioners.  But it's worth running though this one on its own, partially because it sets up a fairly major shift in the story which will take us through into the final third of this benighted series, and partially because this is by some distance the most mutant-heavy issue of this title so far.

It's also, relatedly, the debut of Tabitha Smith, AKA Time Bomb, AKA Boom-Boom, AKA Boomer, AKA Meltdown. As one of very few 20th century X-folks who've survived in general rotation without either Stan Lee or Chris Claremont having any hand in their creation, Tabitha Smith generates interest through rarity if nothing else.

And that isn't all there is. Tabitha, we learn, has run away after her father learned she was a mutant and responded by punching her in the face. Now she's on a mission to find the school she's heard about that functions as a haven for mutants. X-folks have had problems with their families before (Iceman is the most obvious example, though in truth we didn't actually learn that until soon before he and his father made up in any case), and they've been threatened with exclusion and even violence before (see Nightcrawler's introduction). But the explicit mentioning of a young mutant suffering physical abuse from a parent simply for being who they are is new.

This is clearly a logical step in continuing the build the mutant metaphor. Which isn't to say it can't be problematic as well. It's a brave step to take. Domestic abuse is always a difficult topic to write about without seeming crass, and it's a particularly uneasy fit in a genre where punching people at the slightest provocation seems to be generally regarded as a spiffing idea. Shooter's tack here is to compare the Beyonder's loneliness over Dazzler's rejection (and, implicitly, his status as the only one of his kind) to similar feelings in Tabitha stemming from her father's abuse. Which is perhaps an interesting comparison, in theory, but the problem here is obvious: being rejected by a girl is a common problem for the intended audience of this comic. Being a young girl beaten by her father most definitely isn't. You can't push this parallel without being entirely unequivocal that implying anything but the most skin-deep similarities is thoroughly awful.

Which might well be what Shooter is trying, in truth. There's certainly no lack of indications that the Beyonder is exactly that sort of solipsistic arsehole. He sulks about how his infinite power doesn't help persuade a woman to love him; a fairly transparent iteration of the disgracefully rich man whining that they're only 95% immune from the constant unbearable shitstorm of reality. Even more damning, he accompanies Tabitha to Xavier's mansion even though he knows the X-Men are leery of him, and when they inevitably attack (apparently having learned nothing from his previous admonitions about mutants having good reasons to be a little less knee-jerk about who they consider threats) he simply yawns and disappears. This has the direct effect of forcing Tabitha to flee from the only people she knew of who could maybe have helped her sort out the damage her father and wider society have done to her life. And throughout all of Tabitha's genuinely upsetting confessions and knock backs, the Beyonder remains utterly uninterested, using her as nothing but a sounding board for his solipsistic mooching.  Later in the issue he prepares to obliterate the universe just to force a reaction from the Celestials, sparking a battle that wrecks an alien city and which very plausibly kills people too. Literally the best thing you can say about his behaviour in the first two thirds of this issue is that he doesn't allow her to commit suicide after he prevents her speaking to the people she's travelled so many miles to find.

But if the idea is to skewer the Beyonder for his self-involvement, Shooter takes a tremendously anaemic approach to it. Tabitha doesn't blame the Beyonder for the damage he causes, instead begging him to come back when he leaves, setting the time bomb that would have killed her if not for his intervention. We return to the fundamental problem of this entire mini: the Beyonder expands to fill everything, denying any other character the time they need to respond satisfactorily.  And of course this is particularly problematic here. It's one thing for the Beyonder to wave his hand and give Power Man a massive pile of gold.  It's another for him to wave his hand and remove Tabitha's black eye. It's not that we should want this thirteen year old kid to keep the marks of her abuse. It's that they need to be healed, not just be waved away to demonstrate the protagonist's good will.

Actually, I'm being a little unfair here.  The one part of this issue that I think works is Tabitha's insistence that whilst she's perfectly happy for the Beyonder to remove her bruise, he's not to remove her mutant power. He can heal the damage, but he is determined to remain who she is.  This, at least, is how things should be, I think - a separation between wanting to be rid of the effects of bigotry and wanting to be rid of the slices of your identity that sets the bigots off. It's also interesting that the Beyonder neither offers nor Tabitha asks him to remove the memory of her father beating her. I'm not in any position at all to speculate on whether survivors of domestic abuse might wish for their memories of what they've suffered to be wiped, but on balance I think it was the right choice not to try it here. If you want to introduce such heavy and difficult subject matter, it needs to be processed, not waved away.

Except ultimately that's what Shooter does, as Tabitha finally gets sick of the Beyonder's pointless acts of destruction and insults him enough for him to teleport her from the ruins of the city below the Celestials and back to Earth. Ultimately this is what rankles most of all; it's time for the Beyonder's interminable, joyless story to continue, so the determined, lonely little girl running from a father who hit her for no good damn reason at all has to be set aside. Well, OK, she's still in the final pages, phoning the Avengers to explain how terrifying the Beyonder is and then helping to set up a trap for her new acquaintance so the Avengers can beat the crap out of him (they stop when he refuses to resist, which is odd since their entire plan revolved around attacking him before he could resist because any resistance and they'd all be dead), but that's just plot mechanics; it could have been anyone who made the call.

All of which is to say that there's no longer the merest scrap of doubt; this is a book about things that happen to the Beyonder, and absolutely nothing else. An already thin idea stretched past the point of all reason has become as self-involved and dull as it's own protagonist. I'd rather read the worst five issues of X-Men: The Hidden Years than revisit this series up to now.

But change is in the suffocating, humid air! Next issue begins the career of the Beyonder, superhero!  Can that finally turn around this wagon and offer us something better? And dear Gods, can it possibly get any worse?


This story takes place in approximately real time.


Friday 25th January, 1985.



Contemporary Events

Pretty much nothing.

Standout Line

"I should've put a bigger time bomb in his lasagna."

Never mess with Tabitha Smith. Not if you want to ever eat dinner without fear again.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

LGS #4: "You Can't Give It All Away!"

(Won't somebody think of the children?)


I've been very complimentary of this series, and the good news is that isn't really going to change here. As I've been saying, each issue puts effort into deconstructing superhero comics, and occasionally fiction more generally. LGS #4 most certainly maintains this approach, though here the specifics are a little harder to untangle.

So let's start with what's obvious. The central scene in this issue involves a group of children playing at being interstellar buccaneers (views differ on whether this imaginary outfit are the "Starslammers" or the "Star-rammers"). The boisterousness of this play-acting results in an argument between the parents of some of the children over how their little ones should play most appropriately.  The mother wants them to avoid introducing violent elements into their games, and fears television is corrupting their innocent little minds. The father, in contrast, thinks an awareness of the uses of violence is a basic part of any child's development - no-one will mess with your person if you walk down the street with an assault rifle, or mess with your country if you seed your deserts with ICBM silos. His worry is that they read too many comic books, with all that fantasy nonsense and such.

Stating the obvious, then, we're being invited to pick a side here. The only question in any doubt is whether we're to pick from the two options given to us, or generate a third by rejecting both. And it's clear we're never going to be down with Dad. Complaints comic books are just fantastical nonsense? In a comic book? 98% of the audience are going to hotly deny the charge, and the other 2% are going to say "Sometimes, and isn't that just wonderful?".  But of course it's his stance on weaponry that's the real problem here. Walk down the street with a gun and no-one will mess with you? Good job his kids are white, right? But even for white folks, walking down the street with a gun may end up with you shooting someone. With you shooting yourself.  Who in their right mind talks in public about nuclear missiles being "good etiquette"? This is a man from whom children are learning? A guy who thinks the world is safer for the advent of nukes?

So obviously, we're meant to realise this man is an idiot. That's not the same thing as immediately dismissing him, however. As imbecilic as his position is, it's desperately common, so we need some kind of coherent statement against it. Which, of course, is what Nocenti gives us. The father opines his children need a dose of reality from time to time, and that's exactly what happens; the kids see Longshot's increasingly monstrous companion Pup and decide to track him down, just like heroes would do. Which might be entirely fine, except they go get hold of a gun to do it. Because that's what Pa says heroes need.

The problem here is not that fantasy is bleeding into the kid's fantasies, it's the other way round. Kids are supposed to act out what look to adults like incomprehensibly weird ideas. They're not supposed to know how to use a firearm, something we're seemingly reminded of a weekly basis in the US news. A bit of light demon-chasing has now become something genuinely dangerous. And yes, looking at it from a certain angle, it's questionable as to whether hunting Pup without a weapon is actually any less dangerous than doing it with one, but that too is letting reality intrude. Narrative convention is pretty clear on these matters, a gang of kids chasing a demon will get scared but end up safe. A gang of kids chasing a demon whilst packing heat is in real trouble.

Reading this as a clash of two narratives is, of course, entirely the point. The father's definition of "reality" is utterly ridiculous. It is no less a fantasy than the kids' dreams of fighting amongst the stars. This idea of colliding narratives is being played out on a larger canvas, too, as Mojo breaks through from his own world into the main Marvel Universe, to start causing all kinds of hideous trouble.

(We should pause on that for a moment, actually.  In his later, Claremontian years I don't particularly care for Mojo; in his hands he becomes the kind of teeth-grinding "zany" character Claremont seems so endlessly fond of. But the Nocenti original, it turns out, is generally unsettling, a delusional unbalanced murderer, what you might expect the Joker to be like if he traded in his spine for magic powers and a TV network.  One minute Mojo is demanding everyone wear his face so they're no longer ugly, the next he's setting people on fire for wearing Mojo masks and thus breaching copyright. It's properly unnerving.  And it only gets worse...)

Which brings us rather neatly to the mother's position, and her criticism of television. A broadside against the potential problems of TV contained in a comic book is interesting considering how much of a beating comics themselves have taken from the busybodies and witterers of the world, but I guess at least comics can help you read, so there could plausibly be at least some members of the "choose an entire medium and call it awful" brigade who'll rate the idiot box below the funny pages. And at a surface level, it looks like Nocenti counts herself amongst them. After all, what is Mojo but the ultimate end product spewed from the vicious process of network television evolution? Mojo is a network president who literally lacks the spine to resist the lowest common denominator of ultra-violent spectacle. Indeed, he revels in it, and the power he gains from his viewing figures. Everything they see is his, a truism he has twisted into a physical law: if he sees it, he owns it.

But let's credit Nocenti with more intelligence than to write a comic lamenting the violence of television whilst including two different punch-ups between her titular character and other Marvel heroes (first She-Hulk, then Spider-Man, both after Longshot for the diamond theft last issue). The complaint here isn't quite so simple as "television is too violent", rather that television focuses on violence for the wrong reasons. You can see Spider-Man and She-Hulk attacking Longshot over a misunderstanding and see entirely superfluous punching, or you can see it as people trying to be the most moral and useful people they can be. We can focus on the how of the struggle, or we can focus on the why. Nocenti's earlier issues have already made it clear where she stands on that subject. The punching is no more important the explanation of super-powers ; they're all just mechanisms to generate the central point: being a moral person is important.

But then, just because violence can serve this purpose doesn't mean it can't have other effects, nor that there's no limit to how much you can pepper your story with punching before you begin to undermine your underlying message.  Marvel demonstrated this all too well themselves in the '90s, of course. Whether the television of the mid-'80s deserves to be criticised on such grounds, I'm not sure - a quick scan of the most popular US shows of the time reveal nothing more violent than shows like Street Hawk. But whilst it's not clear how much TV deserves to be held up as a villain here, nor is it clear how much that's the intent.

So let's concentrate on what we do know, which is this. We have a choice as to whether we want to focus on how violence is applied, or the reasons it was employed to begin with.  Those that insist most forcefully that we must live in the real world are those most ill-equipped to recognise what reality actually is (indeed the final panel of the issue has Pup staring straight at the reader, vocally daring us to deny that he isn't real). We have to realise what stories are and what they do. With Richochet Rita now in Mojo's hands, and Pup preparing to tear Longshot up into the world's luckiest steak tartare, it's probably best to remember what we're in this for.

Because things are about to get very unpleasant.


This story takes place over a single day. Timing is tricky, since the news reports at the beginning imply it's only been a day, perhaps two at most since Longshot broke in to the power station and made off with his swag - any longer and it's not clear why it would still be on the news. On the other hand, Rita mentions that he disappeared from set (ostensibly to the hospital) "last week". I suppose we could work off the pleasingly cynical idea that the power company has been leaning on the media to keep reporting the crime until they get their diamonds back, and if we move the action forward by three days we get to Saturday and could maybe say the previous Wednesday constitutes "last week".

So, er, that thing. We'll do that.


Saturday 2nd February, 1985.



Contemporary Events


Standout Line

"My dad says nukes are the best weapons... let's get some of those first!"

Friday, 5 September 2014

ALF #29: "Cut Bait And Run!"

(Fishing for compliments.)


It's time for a changing of the guards at Alpha Flight, though that cliché hardly does the situation justice.  John Byrne wasn't just the first guy kicking it in the security hut; he was the original king. Sure, it wasn't exactly an untroubled reign, but it was certainly a popular one. So what do we get from the heir to the kingdom?

Fresh voices and fingers are nothing new for comic series, obviously. What's interesting is the evolution of the approach taken with them. Back in the '60s, they were underplayed, at least in the X-Books; everything was "STAN LEE PRESENTS!" irrespective of what he actually had to do with a book, and in-continuity changes tended to be rather small-bore, at least just after kick-off. As time went on, it seems like new arrivals became more feted, but that's a dubious conclusion to draw since of course from 1975 through almost all of 1985, the only X-Book to see a change in writer was Dazzler. That makes it hard to tell whether incoming talent was being celebrated due to changes in the fundamentals, or just because trying to revive interest in a flagging book necessarily requires a different approach to that of not rocking the boat when a successful talent decides they've had enough.

Either way, we moved from trying to keep changes on the down-low both in and out of the fictional universe to boldly announcing new talent and new directions. ALF #29, however, takes it a step further in a way we haven't seen before: the simultaneous replacement of writer and artist (I couldn't pull a Mike Mignola page out of a stack of Byrne's output, but Mantlo is far too verbose to pass for Byrne even if he had a better handle on the characters' voices than he does) is used as a springboard to have the characters themselves debate whether it's worth carrying on, or whether their best days are behind them. That's a great idea, and hard as I've been on Bill Mantlo in the past, I give him full credit for introducing it to the X-Books.

So, some background. ALF #28 and #29 form the first and last third of a three-issue story, with Incredible Hulk #313 slotted in between. ALF #28 dealt with Walter Langkowski's soul being sent into another dimension by Roger Bochs so Walt could snag himself a new body, only for the returning figure to prove to be the Hulk. I've decided not to do a post on the Hulk book - Langkowski only shows up at the very end, so the connection to the X-Universe is pretty tenuous, and it would cause chronology problems as well - so to summarise it, Walt realises Bruce Banner's mind is still trapped inside the Hulk's body, and so chooses to let himself fade into nothingness rather then evict his old roommate, despite Banner actually being desperate for Langkowski to take up residence so he doesn't have to suffer any more.

Which is all kinds of depressing and powerful, but we're not looking at that today. We're looking at what happens when Hulk gets home and doesn't think much of Vancouver. Smashing, inevitably, ensues.

This immediately sets up Hulk here as a force of entropy. Ostensibly, he's trashing Boch's lab and the surrounding Vancouver real estate because he wants to return to his desert home, or failing that level the city until it looks as close to a desert as possible.  In practice, though, he's reducing complicated structures to their constituent elements.  This is important here. If all Mantlo wanted was to have Alpha Flight overcome a villain and thus demonstrate their continued relevance, than any misanthrope with a pulse and criminal tendencies could have done the job. The Hulk has the added advantage of representing thoughtless, omnidirectional chaos, the gradual (or not so gradual) grinding down which threatens to break everything apart, sooner or later. In that sense, the team are not fighting a supervillain (well, super-antihero) so much as they are fact of life.

Which connects, of course, with the state Byrne has left Alpha Flight in. Heather is still panicking about whether she has any business leading a superhero team when the closest thing she has to a power is above-average typing chops (the closest this issue comes to ringing my gender politics alarm bell, which comes as a great relief, as I'm sure you can understand). Aurora is distraught over the loss of her partner Sasquatch, and Northstar is finally ready to admit being crushed on her behalf. Shaman has lost his self-belief and with it his powers, on account of having needed himself a bit of deus ex in dealing with his own bizarre machina so as to rescue his formerly estranged - and re-estranged like you wouldn't believe - daughter. Oh, and the first thing Hulk does when he arrives is to smash a gigantic hole in Boch's robot chest, which doesn't go down too well at all. Not because it kills him - being bonded to the machine saves him from death in some way - but because he immediately panics that the wound will prove fatal eventually.

To recap, then. A force of (roughly speaking) nature arrives, and proceeds to tear everything down. And even though the facts on the ground demonstrate that the team is now more or less functionally equivalent to the team that was, everyone panics and assumes it's time to launch their towel on whatever trajectory will stop the pummelling quickest. As a metaphor for a popular book undergoing a seismic change in creative team, I'd say that's pretty damn apt.  Clever, even.

But there is a problem here. Mantlo does a solid job of selling us on the existential crisis dragging the team down, but there's no real move anywhere to explain why this worrying is unnecessary. The most pat way to do this would be to have the team defeat the Hulk. To his credit, Mantlo doesn't settle for that, having Alpha maybe help a bit in directing Hulk outside of Canada a wee bit quicker. But if that isn't going to be the reason to keep the team going, there needs to be something else. All we get here is the newly-reintroduced Snowbird giving everyone a lecture on how Alpha Flight was important therefore still is, before Gary Cody arrives to announce Alpha Flight can have funding again.

Which, if we're going to treat the rest of the issue as a metaphor for the people behind the book casting around for a reason to continue - and I want to do that, because otherwise this is just about a big green guy punching things out of homesickness - then what are we to take from the conclusion? ALF should keep going because it used to be great and also there's money in it?  Pass.

I realise all that seems like it falls somewhere between damning with faint praise and completely unleavened damning. But I don't want to sell this issue short. We're still early enough into the history of the X-Books that metaphors of any kind are desperately thin on the ground.  I will take this one, and be glad, especially since even the most confused and self-defeating metaphor constitutes an improvement on the sexist bilge this title has dealt in until now.

Unless it's a confused and self-defeating sexist metaphor, obviously. On this occasion, it isn't.  There is most certainly still time for one to slouch into view.


This issue follows on directly from ALF #28, and takes place over the course of several minutes.

Sunday 24th June 1984.



Contemporary Events

There was nothing on this day last time I checked, so it'd be rather strange if that had changed.

Standout Line

"I have a hole where my heart should be."

Box gets poetic. As well as, you know, horribly damaged.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Claremont Climb

As threatened, I've put together a chart demonstrating the explosion in Claremont's X-output from his first gig in 1975 to the end of 1985. I've not included X-Men and the Micronauts because it was co-written, and feels predominantly like Mantlo's work, but everything else is there.

It's a pretty phenomenal growth rate. And just about 900 pages of comics in a single year? That's around 41 regular-sized issues. That's far from unheard of these days, but I wonder how many writers were managing to offer up so large an output in the days before decompression?

Monday, 25 August 2014

UXM #200: "The Trial Of Magneto!"

("The whole freaking system is out of order!")


A trial, of course, is the last thing this is.  Diagetically, at least. A trial implies a ruling; a decision as to how much punishment you actions warrant, if any.  And here, that's precisely what we don't get.  The judges of the UN Security Council get no opportunity to comment decisively on Magneto's innocence or otherwise. But of course this hardly matters, because the aim here isn't to demonstrate Magneto's innocence to the court, but to demonstrate to us his viability as a hero.

With hindsight, and I presume to anyone at the time keeping an eye on the solicitations, this must have been an obviously necessary step.  Magneto is about to take charge of the New Mutants, with the "dying Xavier" storyline coming to an end here (with Corsair and Lilandra whisking Charles off for a bit of space healing). That means some effort has to go into persuading the audience that the new status quo makes at least a little sense.

The issue attempts this in two ways.  By far the less interesting of these is the inclusion of Andrea and Andreas, AKA Fenris, AKA the twin children of Baron Strucker.  Magneto's arrest and trial has at last pinned him down for long enough for the malevolent siblings to take a break from shooting random Africans in Kenya and slap together a plan for revenge.  The thing is, though, that said plan makes very little sense.  Committing acts of terrorism and claiming them as acts of support for Magneto might help sway the judges against him, but even if it looked like those judges needed any help in disliking the defendant, Fenris' aim isn't to get him locked up, but to find and assassinate him.  What good does a bombing campaign do for them?  The only advantage is has is that they ultimately use a fake attack to distract the X-Men whilst they try to finish of Magneto, but it's only the bombing campaign (which the terrorists have made to look like attacks by our heroes) that actually means the X-Men need distracting in the first place. It's like warning someone they're going to be robbed so you can distract them with a fake robbery whilst you rob them [1]; it's just a mad closed circle.

But all that only really matters if we're supposed to be concentrating on what Fenris is up to.  We're not.  We're just supposed to be remembering that there are far worse villains out in the Marvel Universe than Magneto, and some of them are his sworn enemies. It's an attempt to redeem Magneto in part through the "bigger asshole theory", and whilst there's almost no rhetorical heft in the "at least he hates the Nazis" in general, it does at least remind us that Magneto's history and motivations have always (well, since UXM #150, anyway) been more complicated than the label "villain" would suggest.

Which brings us to the second method for selling Magneto to us: the trial itself.  There's no doubt on who's side Claremont is here, resulting in the entire process being used to justify and exculpate Magneto, whilst chief prosecutor James Jaspers (the UK's attorney general, which I didn't know we had one of) reveals himself as an unhinged racist.  This deck-stacking is obvious almost from the first.  Jasper's opening statement is actually pretty good. I mean, it's awful from a progressive perspective - all about how oppression doesn't exist if it isn't codified into law and the oppressed have an obligation to work within the system to clear whatever hurdles that system has placed in their way, exactly the sort of shit the US Supreme Court has been spouting recently, and which the events in Ferguson these last weeks have brought the lie to once again - but at least it lines up with the opinions of an awful lot of people who we could legitimately call well-intentioned.  "You should do it like MLK did it" is both a bad thing for the oppressors to tell the oppressed, and tends to rather smooth the edges off what MLK was up to in any case, but it can genuinely come from people who wish to be of help, especially in the context of a legal case, which by it's very nature is concerned with the application of authority as it currently exists, rather than how we might wish it did.

With that nod towards fair-and-balanced dealt with, though, things quickly slew in one direction. The opening gambit of Gabrielle Haller, as defense counsel, is to move that all Magneto's crimes committed before his forced rejuvenation at the hands of Mutant Alpha be stricken from the record.  In legal terms, this is an utterly absurd suggestion. OK, it's clearly true that we lack the technology-  at present - to physically regress an adult back to childhood.  But in the Marvel Universe such a procedure is far less unthinkable. Reed Richards could probably knock up a machine for the job in his lunch hour. The idea that, in such an environment, a person need only get to their rejuvenation machine to have all previous crimes expunged is flatly ridiculous, though I guess the fact that only the richest people could afford such tech would guarantee them at least four votes on the current US Supreme Court. But we don't need to dabble in hypothetical technological breakthroughs here. Current case law does the job for us, with only minimal tweaking. You can't, for instance, escape a trial on the grounds of amnesia; you don't have to remember a crime to be punished for it. And Magneto remembers his past life just fine. Indeed, his entire identity relies upon it. Haller herself is smart enough to realise this, demonstrating that Magneto has been de-aged specifically by referencing his youth in Auschwitz, a fairly blatant attempt to solicit sympathy. Indeed, had Jaspers been more savvy, he might have let this insane suggestion go unchallenged, since the inevitable consequence of holding Magneto's pre-reversion life null and void is that no-one gets to care anymore about his unimaginably horrific childhood.

But that doesn't occur to him. And somehow, the court allows this ridiculous interpretation to pass. Now, it's true that a few years watching the Roberts court piss all over precedent, the Constitution and basic common fucking sense has led me to conclude that there is basically no legal theory sufficiently unmoored from reality for it not to get the thumbs up from someone in a robe, it seems pretty much unarguable that you wouldn't see five humans dismiss dozens of entries on a defendant's list of crimes (including murder; I flat-out refuse to believe Magneto's conquering of San Marco was achieved without a body count) because of an absurd reading of what constitutes culpability. There cannot be a single actual human being in existence who thinks that, for example, the US would forgive a man for trying to steal their nuclear missiles if he briefly became a baby before you managed to arrest him.

All that said, though, it's inescapably obvious as to why Claremont pulls this trick; it's the only way to make use of Magneto from this moment forwards. The murderous, petty douchebag that haunted UXM from its first issue had to be put to rest so that the new improved Magneto, all grey areas and tortured desperation, can take flight. And whilst the specifics of Claremont's action on this matter leave something to be desired, I'm far from convinced any other approach wouldn't have seemed entirely arbitrary, which means we're faced with the choice of either accepting an unconvincing break from the past, or not using Magneto as anything other than that dude who invaded that place pizzas come from one time. If a plausible argument for taking the latter path exists, then I have yet to see it.

With the opening statements having so successfully washed away the majority of Magneto's sins, the trial boils down to the sinking of the Leningrad and the destruction of the city of Varykino. Frankly, both of these seem like slam dunks for the prosecution.  As I mentioned fifty issues back when Magneto did the deed, there's simply no plausible legal theory under which destroying the Leningrad can be claimed as self-defence; it's only self-defence if a failure to act might actually cause you harm. The intent of your attacker is irrelevant, only their capacity. If a madman concludes you are a vampire and tries to kill you with a Super-Soaker filled with holy water, you don't get to kill them and claim they started it. That rather obliterates Magneto's argument in the criminal terms this trial is running on, but even if we looked at it from the rules of war Magneto wants to frame his actions in terms of, the Leningrad was helpless against him and fully under his control, making her crew POWs by any reasonable definition, and we tend to frown on the mass execution of such people.

All of which James Jaspers could have easily pointed out. Instead, he begins screaming at the defendant, demanding he admit his actions were the opening moves in a plan to take control of the world. Which, even if that were true, isn't the smart direction to take this. The point is that whether Magneto is a wannabe dictator or not,  Leningrad is just as lost. Varykino is no less destroyed (and as always the comments on no-one having been killed when the city fell strike me as highly implausible and rather skips over the fact that being a refugee in Siberia isn't something everyone is going to get out of with their fingers and toes intact). Forcing Magneto and Haller into defending the human cost of his actions would be a thread with some real bite to it. Instead, Jaspers' outburst shifts tracks into the field of international politics, which is where Magneto can make his strongest case. Take a look:
 By what right do those self-same great powers hold me hostage, with their nuclear arsenals?! I am a citizen of neither the United States nor the Soviet Union... yet they possess the capability to slay me and mine. I live, I prosper, solely because two men on opposite sides of the globe choose to keep the peace.  I can just as easily, arbitrarily, be condemned.

Unlike others, however, I have the power to do something about it. I thought, mistakenly, those nations would best understand their own language of violence.  Unfortunately, force begat force -- and, as always, innocents paid the price,  A price -- I discovered too late -- that was too high.
What Magneto is saying here is not without weight, of course. No-one needs to hear the five permanent UN Security Council members hectoring others about believing they have the right to endanger the lives of people who have neither quarrel with nor influence upon them. I'd conservatively guess something like 90% of statements of condemnation from nuclear states boil down to "How dare you do what we do!". That said, though, tu quoque is pretty much the automatic go-to defence for pretty much any dictator who ends up at the pointy end of a tribunal. No-one's hands are clean, not at this level. Which means the only two options is to let criminals punish criminals, or let everyone go free once they reach the point where they're playing with the big boys. Neither choice is palatable, but I know which one I'd rather choke down.

All of which Attorney General Sir Shoutypants might have thought to point out, had he not been so busy pretending he was in a drunken spat at the Bullingdon Club. And alas, the moment is soon wasted, as Fenris attacks, Charles departs and Magneto melts away in the confusion, deciding that Lady Justice isn't someone he wants to dance with after all. But again, justice was never the point. Persuading us we're better off with Magneto out and on our side is. It's one more iteration of that charmingly American idea that redemption is more important than state justice, so long as we get something out of the deal.

And as far as that goes, it's a decent stab, though it does it by making everyone else seem worse than Magneto rather than making him seem all that much more heroic. We can just about consider this job done. And it's certainly a job worth doing for the sake of future stories. And it's probably entirely safe to say that had Magneto's trial reached its conclusion, things would have gotten very bloody and complicated in a way Marvel comics just weren't equipped to handle in the 1980s, and maybe still aren't today. Even so, I can't help wishing the 200th issue of The Uncanny X-Men worked better in its own right, rather than stumbling along in the process of setting later stories up. An awful lot of Marvel Universe traditions have their roots in Claremont's writing. This is not one of my favourite examples.

[1] Which admittedly is most of the plot of The Lies of Locke Lamora, but Scott Lynch has rather more panache on his side than Claremont can claim.


From a comment made by Madelyne, we know that the X-Men spend just over a week back on Earth before Xavier is whisked away into space, so we can reasonably put the time-span of this issue at eight days.

When it actually begins in relation to Magneto's arrest in UXM #199 is a bit trickier, because we have to think about how quickly a criminal trial featuring a team of judges from the UN Security Council can feasibly be put together. It took the UN War Crimes Tribunal for Slobodan Milošević almost eight months to start following his extradition, for example. I don't think it would take quite so long in Magneto's case - when the US and Russia want to nail your balls to the wall, I'd imagine things start moving rather faster - and the fact Maddie was so close to giving birth in previous issues prevents us from moving too far ahead in any case. Nevertheless, I'm going to assume a full month has passed between the last issue and this, and I'm going to move UXM Annual #9 forwards as well as a result.

Which means it's been seven in-universe years exactly since Magneto first tangled with the X-Men, which seems rather fitting, all things considered.


Friday 22nd February to Saturday 2nd March, 1985.


X+6Y+358 to X+7Y+1.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years.

(Beast is 33 years old)

Contemporary Events

Julio Maria Sanguinetti is signed in as the first democratically-elected President of Uruguay after a twelve-year dictatorship

Standout Line

I'm not sure anything here is going to beat Magneto's little speech, but Colossus reacting to being hit with an energy beam with "As usual, only my costume suffered" is legitimately chucklesome.