Thursday, 30 January 2014

BAB #4: "Checkmate"

(So You Think You Can Rule Latveria?)


If ICE #4 suffered from its need to conclude showing too clearly through the skin of its story, BAB #4 is terminally afflicted. We've reached the end of the mini, you see, and that means the status quo has to be dashed for like its the last lifepod on Starship Titanic.

Yes, fine. It's not like the Beast/Dzzler romance made a great deal of sense, as I've said. Hank seemed to be thinking with Little Beast, and Alison was basically looking for validation.  Plenty of relationships are founded on less, of course, but they tend not to be sold to the onlooker in such hyperbolic terms as we've been forced to wade through here.  "Your ribald humour is just of the reasons I'm crazy about you!" Dazzler tells Hank, as they hang upside-down in the skeleton-strewn dungeon Flynn has to hand for some reason, but there's nothing there backing it up.

Of course, the fact the main driving force of a miniseries isn't working doesn't prevent it feeling cheap when it's casually tossed aside, especially here.  Once our heroes escape their predicament (which we'll get to later), they decide they fell in love as a mechanism for escaping the oppression they both suffer as mutant Americans. They conclude there's no point them trying to make a go of their relationship until they figure out how to live under the yoke of humanity's oppression alone.

Which is catastrophic-level bullshit. Minorities should wait until they've mastered being screwed over by society on their own before they can graduate to facing it as a pair?  What the hell kind of idea is that? Well, it's the kind of idea carelessly tossed out to justify ending a love affair editorial mandate deems not continue, but if you're going to base an entire story around the difficulties of being knocked around by society in general, you need to bring something more to the party than this.

Things get worse when Flynn reveals the sinister truth; he was influencing Dazzler all along using his charisma powers - acquired via his "magnetic gypsy blood", which, fuck off.  I know I've mentioned this before, but to reiterate, ending a story by with a mind-control reveal to cover up people acting irrationally and out of character is a punk move.

Put these problems aside, though, and there is certainly stuff to appreciate here.  Yes, obviously Flynn's plan is shot through with triple-filtrated dumbness. A hundred-odd mutant gladiator plans to take over the whole of Latveria?  I mean, we've seen mutants invade whole countries successfully (though briefly) before, but Santo Marco didn't have Doctor motherfucking Doom as its premiere, and this collection of mace-wielding sadsacks aren't anywhere near Magneto's level - en masse they can't even take down Dazzler and Beast [1].  Unless they can arrange some kind of Mouse That Roared scenario, these people are dead five minutes after they march into Doomton [2].

But that, I think, is entirely the point.  This man who claims to be a Von Doom is desperate to prove he has the dictatorial chops of his presumed father, but he's utterly incapable of pulling it off.  He's the Bill Kristol of supervillains, with a marginally less punchable face.

Which means, I think, that for all his protestations, Doom must genuinely believe Flynn is his son.  Why else did he have a Doombot (the now-deactivated Hugo) watching over him?  Why fly immediately to Los Angeles to check the situation out once his robotic spy was taken out? Why creep around the old theatre watching Flynn's plan unravel rather than take the surely far more Doom-like move of just wading in and slaughtering those who stand in his way?

To check how much of a threat Flynn is? Well, to some extent, sure. But once Doom has made the trip to the States, why not just flash-fry Flynn there and then and be back in time for a pre-supper oppression of the masses?  I think it can only be that Doom is auditioning Flynn.  He even implies as much when he settles in to a theatre seat to watch "the final performance".  Whether or not Flynn can threaten Doom is only one part of the test, the other is whether or not he can impress him.  That's why when Flynn's ludicrous plan collapses in the face of resistance, Doom chooses to lecture him and then leave him alive.  "What ends would be served by your destruction?" he muses as he leaves Flynn helpless on the floor.  But this is Doom. "Why kill you?" isn't the critical question; "Why let you live?" is.  This guy has wasted Doom's time, destroyed what was apparently his finest ever Doombot, and challenged his authority. There is no doubt in my mind that Doom has killed for less.

So I think the truth is pretty clear here, and I give Nocenti credit for not spelling it out. Still, for all that I enjoyed this strand of the story, it neither fits in with the rest of the story (Latveria's dictator would be uncomfortably close to a Doomus ex machina here, except that our heroes had already beaten Flynn themselves), or with the more general tale of Beast and Dazzler.

The end result feels like the collision of two plot ideas - Doom has a son he won't recognise, the beautiful Dazzler meets the beastly Beast - hammered together without the slightest thought as to whether they complement each other, with a thoroughly unconvincing love story layered on top.  Some of the parts are better than others, granted, but they spend so long working against each other it hardly matters.  No matter how well you cook your ribeye steak and your tiramisu, mixing them together in a bowl will never create anything but a mess.

[1] Though in fairness our protagonists receive back up in the shape of Alex, who's switched sides, and Poltergeist and Link from Heartbreak Hotel, the latter of whom is now revealed as a telekinetic and dressed as a ninja clown. Which, I confess, I did not expect to ever see.

[2] This is my favourite of the locales listed on Flynn's map of Latveria. Wonderfully, the entire centre of that map is taken up with a giant picture of Doom's face, complete with a star in the centre of his forehead which presumably represents the capital.  I hope this is common practice for all maps of Latveria.  Is Doom's face the flag?  Probably? Has he actually carved out a picture of his face across half the entire country so as to gaze imperiously into the heavens? I wouldn't rule it out.


This issue picks up soon after the last one concluded, and takes place over the course of several minutes.


Saturday 11th November, 1984.



Contemporary Events

L. Ron Hubbard is sued for over $225 million by Howard D. "Homer" Schomer, citing physical abuse. Schomer was the highest ranking defection from the Church of Scientology to that point.

Standout Line

"It takes more than a fancy suit and an ill-conceived plan to rise above the rabble as sovereign!"

Man, Doom has himself some awesome tyrant tips to dole out.  He should go on the lecture circuit.  He could easily have the most famous Powerpoint presentation since Al Gore.

"Doom will easily acquire your feeble 'Peace Prize'!"

Friday, 24 January 2014

ICE #4: "The Price You Pay!"

("It can be in any tense, but it must make sense.")


While I await the arrival of my copy of X-Men & Alpha Flight, let's finish off the two miniseries we've been looking at over the last few months. 

First up, we have the concluding part of the Iceman miniseries. Last issue I passed out major credit for DeMatteis combining some bonkers scenes with tightly structured layouts and themes.  This time, alas, it's much closer to the other way round.

Which isn't to say there isn't a theme at all, which is at least something.  We're clearly still on the same beat as the series maintains overall, that of the power struggle we have with our parents. When Iceman and Mirage return to her father Oblivion's dimension and he begins to kvetch about how she doesn't appreciate how much he's given her, Iceman - and we - immediately cotton on to the fact that this is just the same argument every young person has with their parents, over and over again.  Yes, Oblivion is the ultimate expression of this, having quite literally fashioned Mirage from his own anima, but the link is pretty obvious.

This isn't the most original idea in Western fiction, naturally; variations on this particular guilt trip go all the way back to the garden of Eden.  But exploring human nature through the lens of unimaginably powerful anthropomorphic projections of philosophical concepts is a path rather less well trodden.  Sandman is still four years away, after all.

So all of that is to the good.  The problem creeps in when we try to pin down exactly what the story believes it has to say on the subject.  Mirage is the central problem here.  She begins the issue screaming at her father for not allowing her autonomy, and our sympathies are clearly supposed to lie with her. But once Iceman knocks her father over with some frozen water (which is apparently supposed to be a big deal despite Oblivion being indestructible, nigh-omnipotent, and the creator of those particular molecules of oxygen dihydride in the fist place) she turns on a dime and announces she wishes to stay with her father forever.

(Actually, this turns out to have been Oblivion's plan all along, with is pretty fucking creepily manipulative.)

This is a woman who two issues ago was willing to let innocent people be munched to death by flying death-bugs rather than speak to her father.  And now a bad day at the water-park turns all that around?  You can hear the story mechanisms creaking loudly here.  It is almost time to end the series, so the conflict between Mirage and her father must be resolved.

But the mirror conflict of Iceman and his folks needs to be dealt with as well - not much point in a thematic mirror if you ain't going to use it. It's important the book explains how the Drake family differ from the Oblivions, and the answer, inevitably enough, is love.

Which, in a general sense, I can follow.  Once Mirage declares her willingness to stay with her father, she immediately becomes subsumed by him.  The suggestion, then, seems to be that without love, you have exactly two options: cut all ties with your parents, or fall utterly and forever into their shadow.  You need to love them enough not to run, they need to love you enough to let you be your own person.  I'm far from convinced that works as advice, of course; suggesting smothering and control stem from a lack of affection seems too obviously to ignore the correlation between love and the wish to control. But fine, it's a coherent position.

The problem is that Mirage's desire to literally return to her father's bosom is explicitly spelled out as stemming for the love she bears him and has only just learned to recognise. Oblivion is unable to temper his love for the daughter he created from himself because he cannot love her, but the daughter carved from his own nature returns to him out of love.  The left hand is re-writing the right here, and the whole narrative becomes badly frayed as a result.

None of this is helped by Iceman's beef with Oblivion.  I mean, fine, he's the dude that started all of this, and it was his minion that killed his father in that time-travel mix-up (how does being the daughter of Oblivion give you a time machine, now that I come to think about it).  Bobby starting a fight makes perfect sense (except on a tactical level, but then since when has Iceman cared about minor details like that?).  The trouble is why he does it, which is his conclusion that all the times in his life he's been riven with self-doubt are actually Oblivion's fault.

Which makes not one lick of sense. Not even one of those tiny licks you employ on ice lollies straight from the freezer, when you fear getting your tongue stuck to your treat.  Not the most non-committal graze of the tongue-tip from the smallest, most nervous kitten.  None.  Oblivion is the avatar of pre-creation and post-destruction.  He is the dust that has settled.  He doesn't fiddle with your emotions when you are alive, he takes you after even death has lost interest in you.  The thought process here seems to be that Oblivion treats his daughter like the Drakes treat Bobby, the Drakes have left Bobby with a self-confidence problem, therefore Oblivion is as responsible for that as Iceman's parents are.

Which means, in short, that a fight which makes no sense breaks out so as to result in a declaration of love that makes no sense, entirely so that the story can head to its conclusion, where Oblivion remembers his deal with Bobby and restores his father to life, and Bobby to our reality.  Whereupon, of course, he gives his parents a lecture about how their love should be more important than what Bobby does with his life, and all is mended.

Well, except the story, of course.  That lies in a smoking heap of delirious ridiculousness.  But it was an interesting ride, for all that.  It never really pretended to be much more than that. Young man gets on roller-coaster with family issues, gets off with new insight.  Job done.

Just not done as well as it might have been.


Once this story escapes the strange timelessness of Limbo, we return to the night of the Drake's disastrous party.   When Angel and Beast show up they specify that this is Friday, necessitating a minor change to the timeline.  Taking this story a day back in time makes no difference to Iceman's timeline, since we've been ignoring him ever since he quit the X-Men, and we don't have Beast showing up in Los Angeles to kick of Beauty and the Beast until over a week later.


Friday 29th September, 1984.



Contemporary Events

Grand Ayatollah Haj Sayyed Abdullah al-Shirazi dies, aged 92.  Amongst other things, al-Shirazi was known for helping to build schools, house earthquake victims, and provide care for civilian victims of Iran's war with Iraq.

Standout Line

"What is union without separation? What is peace without struggle? And what is love -- without hate?" - Oblivion.

Jeez, I dunno.  Obviously fucking preferable?  What is wrong with these people?

Monday, 20 January 2014

NMU #28: "Soulwar"

(Gaps and divisions.)


This is the concluding part to the "Legion" trilogy, and probably my favourite issue of NMU to this point.

The first reason for this is structural. From the very first page, Sienkiewicz goes to work:

It's not all that original an idea to represent the mind as a building, of course, but the point here isn't the structure, it's the gaps within it.

At first sight, the suggestion here is that these empty spaces represent the separations in David's fractured mindscape.  But really, don't all of our minds work like this? We don't walk through door frames as we stroll from room to room.  We jump from place to place like a drunken Nightcrawler.  The process between our thoughts are voids just as much as they are walls.

Which is a way of saying our consciousness is like a comic strip.

In case this idea is missed upon entering the comic, Claremont and Sienkiewicz take pains to remind us when our heroes - and their Legionette hangers-on - finally make their way inside the Arab's mind-fortress and find the remains of his original memories represented by interlocking panels of shape and colour. An arrangement of distinct images and ideas with the spaces between gaps of implicit motion and time. Just as we have inside our own minds. We're spending time here flicking through the comic that appears in our head as we watch the comic inside David's head, which of course is simply the comic of and from Claremont's head. It's panels all the way down.

The second reason this issue scores big is the explanation behind the the behaviour of the Arab boy (now identified as Jemail Karami). He really was a terrorist whose mind was absorbed into David's during the attack that killed David's godfather.  The resulting access to both David's mind and to the accompanying telepathic powers, however, forced an epiphany. Apparently there's just no way the solipsistic obsession with random murder can withstand exposure to other people's viewpoints and experiences. Maybe at heart this is no less cheesy than any other iteration of "the power of love" ending, but rarely is it so appropriate. Making robots' heads explode or un-Dobbying David Tennant is bullshit. Forcing a fanatic to face the human nature of those he wants to believe less than himself works just fine for me. Frankly I wish it were possible to subject pretty much everyone to that kind of empathy injection.

(This also ties in nicely with the ongoing saga of Magneto's relationship with Lee Forrester. It's impossible for him to feel emotional and physical attraction to a flatscan without it shaking up his hierarchical worldview, which is exactly what happens, for all the good it does. Sex in a bed floating above the ocean is all very nice, and all, but apparently it can't make up for knowing a year or two earlier your lover would have killed you and not even noticed.)

Of course, it makes absolutely no sense that Jemail has acquired David's telepathic powers - it's the telepathic equivalent of arguing that getting thrown in jail give you access to all the best keys - but in narrative terms, it tracks perfectly. Of course the side of David's mind that sees the worth in others is running the telepathic show. Just as Jack Wayne - the insular xenophobe with no interest in anything but himself - has access to telekinesis to physically force away everything he doesn't want to deal with. Just as Cyndi's omni-directional pointless anger results in the manipulation of flame.  Each personality has made literal their approach, just as these three strands - unabashed sentimentality, outrageous self-obsession, and hyper-sensitive disagreeableness - are literal intepretations of the core of every teenager.

Which makes Dani's ultimate resolution to the chaos inside David's mind - to force the various players to rebuild his shattered psyche under each other's suspicious attentions - not just a neat bit of negotiating, but an important life lesson.  Balance is important, even if it's an equilibrium born of every part of you pulling in different directions.  A kind of negative feedback system for the soul.  Xavier is disappointed when he learns Jack and Cyndi hage both survived Jemail's rebuilding project - though it brings back David himself, which is far from nothing - but then that was never an option. David is Jemail, and Jack, and Cyndi.  You can look at yourself holistically, or you can break yourself into pieces and run through them one by one. You just can't remove them.  Not permanently, not really.  You can rearrange. You can learn to grow what you need and minimise everything else.

But none of you is going anywhere.

Meanwhile, in subplot corner, Empath takes a trip to the Hellfire Club to see if they'll help him gain revenge upon Emma Frost for mentally blocking his powers.  It's not entirely clear why De la Rocha figures this is a smart plan; he's basically asking the Club to back the losing side. Maybe he's hoping they'll figure he'd be more use to them than Emma is, once his powers are returned.  Which doesn't seem all that plausible either, actually, but I can buy someone as deliriously narcissistic as Empath believing otherwise.


This issue follows on directly from NMU #27, and ends a fortnight later when Xavier awakes from his coma.  Poor dude missed Christmas!

Lee Forrester mentions that it's been weeks since she saved Magneto. Which might be fine had Claremont not fast-forwarded everything by "several months" a few UXM issues ago. Tricky thing, this continuity.


Sunday 23rd December 1984 to Sunday 30th December, 1985.


X+6Y+296 to X+6Y+303.

Contemporary Events

The internet Domain Name System is created.

Standout Line

"The creep! He reminds me of the heroes in old-time Westerns -- the ones that went around cheerfully massacring every Indian in sight." - Dani.

Heroics is all in where you're standing.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

UXM #194: "The Juggernaut's Back In Town!"

("In his suit and tie!")


Here we have a curious beast.  UXM #194 is firmly traditional in its overall structure: the X-Men are bushwhacked by a supervillain, look like they're going to lose, but rally towards the end and see him off.  The specifics, though, are rather more unusual than the broad-strokes picture suggests. Indeed, were one feeling charitable, one might label it proto-postmodernism, or at least one might were it not so horribly unwieldy a term.

Our redoubtable heroes don't spring into action here, they require cajolement over three pages. When they finally do suit up and head toward trouble, it turns out the villain they were tracking - an uncharacteristically well turned-out Juggernaut - is simply chatting with a bank adviser (I like to think he's mulling over buying a house with Black Tom where they can retire together), and they all start thinking about an early shower and an evening of canasta.

There’s a part of me that wishes this is what had happened. Sure, it might not have made for a particularly meaty issue – though I’d happily take an issue of thumb-twiddling over another unbearable Claremont fairy tale – but the idea of mobilising to face a super-villain only to head home when he turns out be minding his own business has a strong appeal for me. We’ve already seen Juggernaut on his downtime, of course, but that was a random encounter; this is a deliberate choice to not engage.

We’ve come a long way since the Silver Age. A team of superheroes encounters one of their oldest and well-known villains, and decides it’s not worth a scrap? This is an intriguing choice. Because it isn’t as if Juggernaut isn’t a wanted criminal. He might not be robbing that bank, but he could well be arranging to transfer some ill-gotten loot there, and even if not, there’s every reason to try and apprehend him.

So why don’t our heroes bother to try? If their stated goal is to aid humanity and thereby prove their worth, why consciously decide to leave Juggernaut alone? Admittedly, they are interrupted whilst still in the field, so it’s impossible to know, but it doesn’t even seem like Kurt plans to call the police and let them know where the Juggernaut is. The plan seems to be to simply let him go unless he directly threatens anyone on this specific occasion.

What this means is that the X-Men are assigning to themselves the moral right not just to beat people up when they cause problems, but actively avoid bringing criminals to justice. We saw this in the previous issue, of course, when Xavier announced the Hellions should go unpunished for their infiltration of Cheyenne Mountain (and James Proudstar’s abduction of Banshee), but there is no small difference between children who are under the tutelage of a power-mad criminal (and in one case motivated by overwhelming grief) and a violent career bully who has caused millions of dollars worth of damage, and who is at best an attempted murderer – can Cain Marko’s swathes of destruction really not yet have led to at least one death?

This idea that self-appointed heroes can claim the moral right to decide the fates of those that break the law is, of course, right at the heart of the superhero genre. It’s also, I think, a curiously American viewpoint – or at least, it's not a British one. US fiction has historically been littered with protagonists who assert the moral right to decide what constitutes justice, and what constitutes atonement. Figures of actual legal authority are to be avoided at best, if not actively worked against.

It would be too pat to try and suggest this entirely hails from the US character in general. That's not to say, though, that there exists no truth in the observation that a country founded on the principle that individual freedom is both paramount and at constant risk of being abridged by the state might also be a country in which the masked vigilante dispenses justice as they see fit and damn what the statehouse says would be welcome. [1]

(Alan Moore's contention that the masked avenger archetype sprung full-formed from a KKK propaganda film, we shall leave for another day.)

This rejection - often but not always implicit - of the force of law can on occasion result in problems, of course. If there's any situation in which it fits naturally, however, it's in regard to the X-books. The simple fact is that no mutant can expect to receive anything even approximating a fair trial (as Dazzler found out to her cost a couple of years earlier). Yes, Juggernaut isn't actually a mutant, but to a jury of your bigoted peers, there's not much reason to hope that technicality will help you out. This puts the X-Men in a hell of a bind, as Claremont is now beginning to explore. If you can't trust the justice system to be actually just, what are you going to do with all these supervillains who stay this side of the line of cackling evil?

As if to underline this basic problem, UXM #194 is the issue in which the X-Men finally meet Nimrod, a peace-keeping robot programmed to execute mutants and super-villains on sight, and conspicuously not programmed to worry about property damage or people within his blast zone whilst he does it.

This has always been the ultimate destination of the X-books' metaphor: that the authorities are always a problem and commonly an enemy. Not just in the way that Spiderman has an image problem in the New York media, but on the level whereby powerful people in the national government offer funding to people who claim they can make you disappear. Being on the shitty end of a FOX News smear isn't something you would recommend to your friends and family, but neither is it anti-miscegenation laws or secretly infecting you with viruses.

Leaving aside for now the difficulties in a group of almost uniformly white men writing about marginalised groups and how they should respond to that marginalisation, the emerging consciousness of the X-books on the subject faced a major obstacle: the Comics Code Authority.

For those not familiar with the CCA, a little history might be in order. By the mid 1950s, comic books were in real trouble. Not in the sense of declining sales - though that was surely part of it - but in the sense of being the target of one of America's regular evangelical freak-outs over the corruption of youth. In 1954, Frederic Wertham released Seduction of the Innocent, a gruesome work of pop psychology that attempted to link every conceivable problem of children or teenagers - real or imagined - to the hyperbolic utterly unrealistic adventures of people in capes punching each other. Grant Morrison has a lot of fun with Wertham's approach in his 2011 book Supergods, but sixty years ago there wasn't a lot to find funny going on. Senate hearings were convened so that wilfully misunderstanding comics and their creators could be given an official seal of approval, and a campaign of persecution by any other name began. Much as with the HUAC witch hunts, the First Amendment suddenly proved to be the last refuge of the pervert, something you were entitled to only if you didn't need it. If there was one thing worse than a pinko, it was declared, it was a pinko hoping to fuck up your kid's minds by showing them pictures of women who were naked under their clothes. [2]

One can understand how problematic the situation had become simply by looking at what was floated as a compromise option: the CCA would be created as an alternative to (utterly unconstitutional) direct government regulation. The adoption of the code possibly saved comics from extinction, in much the same way grabbing the life-ring thrown from the cruiser that just sunk your vessel might save you from drowning. The code contained multiple hideous stipulations. The ban on openly gay characters is one; that lasted until 1989, meaning that openly gay Marvel characters have been on this Earth for less time than Rhianna. The important rule for our purposes here though is this one:
Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.

The ramifications for a comic book increasingly interested in tackling head-on its central metaphor of a victimised minority is clear. In the past, Lee had gotten around this by having the original batch of Sentinels be a privately-funded concern. Claremont had kept his nose clean by portraying governmental antagonists as either good-hearted, empathic figures (Senator Kelly) or square-jawed military types acting entirely reasonably with the intelligence available to them (last issue's tangle with the Air Force, for example). This kind of softly-softly approach could only work for so long, of course. The hypercharged melodrama of superhero comics means a metaphor treated at arm's length is liable to disappear. The book needed an official foe, and it needed them to be callous and violent.

Enter Nimrod.

By UXM #194, Nimrod's origin is fairly clear. Between him noting his arrival in New York as temporally anomalous, and him knowing exactly who time refugee Rachel Summers is, the implication is inescapable. By reaching into the future, Claremont can present the face of vicious oppression by the authorities without having his own authorities come down on him. It's a clever solution, not least because it also fits in to this issue's interest in shaking up standard approaches. Author Stephen Donaldson once set himself the task of writing a story involving a villain, a victim and a rescuer, where the villain eventually becomes the victim, the victim the rescuer, and the rescuer the villain (the result being the interesting but horribly difficult to read The Real Story). Something similar is happening here, with the notional villain Juggernaut requiring rescuing from the notional force for justice Nimrod (this leaves the victim to rescuer role to members of a persecuted minority who are determined to be superheroes, of course). With all this reassignment of roles, it's entirely appropriate that Nimrod is eventually defeated by Rogue appropriating her team-mate's powers and using them in unexpected ways.

Stuck in-between the unaccountably popular Gath two-parter and "Warhunt II" on one side, and a Power Pack crossover and the first tie-in to Secret Wars II on the other, this issue might be mistaken for something lightweight. The truth is very different. This is a statement of intent for the X-books - and ultimately Marvel comics in general - that still holds today. Roles are fluid, context is everything.

Pay attention.

(Meanwhile, in subplot corner, the Russians spend some time fretting about whether the US has finally declared war on its own mutant population - something the Kremlin is rather concerned will lead to global catastophe - and Storm arrives in Kenya in time to rescue a local woman from an amorous white hunter. This latter scene is mainly memorable for Claremont's decision to include his second horrific racial slur of his tenure. Last time round, he was at least making an interesting point - albeit not on a topic a straight white man should feel comfortable ponificating about. Here, it's mainly here to remind us how these villains are all racist and stuff, which, if it serves any larger purpose at all, is rather counterproductive, serving as it does to reinforce the notion that racists behave this way, and that anyone outside the envelope of those willing to throw disgusting abuse at non-white people has escaped infection by the Racist Bug.

In short: frowning upon something is not a sufficient talisman for including it in one's work.)

[1] If Britain had an equivalent before the US juggernaut became so unstoppable as to lay its spores the length and breadth of our fiction landscape, it might perhaps have been more interested in the the pursuit of economic justice against the powerful (read: posh), rather than involving a half-dozen people who live in a mansion beating up street-level criminals (see also Reginald D. Hunter's opinion of Batman; summed up as: fuck Batman).

[2] I must confess having been unaware of the severity of what went down in the '50s when I wrote my post on UXM #14 clearly being influenced by the activities of HUAC. I still think some influence exists there, but one wonders whether Lee was drawing upon the ugly birth of the CCA as well, which makes his ability to have said CCA sign off on the issue a delightful irony in an era where irony itself was, if not dead, certainly suspected of dissident leanings.


This issue picks up immediately after the last one ended, and takes place over a single day.  There's a coda here set in Russia either on a Friday or early Saturday (ruined weekend plans are mentioned), which causes a slight problem with timing here.  We can easily move UXM #193 and NMU #26-27 -as well as the epilogue to UXM #192 - to compensate, though.

Wolverine mentions it’s been a tough year, citing the events of Secret Wars as part of the reason why. Happily, our timeline has that story taking place at the start of the year currently ending, so that works out perfectly.

Storm mentioned last issue she would reach her homeland “within a week” from the mid-Atlantic. That’s a trip of some ten thousand kilometres by boat, or around five thousand if she made landfall on the west coast and headed eastwards from there. I don’t know enough about the infrastructure of Africa in the 1980s (or now) to be sure, but this strikes me as kind of unfeasible considering the number of stops necessary in getting a boat round two thirds of a continent, or the multiple borders you’d need to cross to pass through.

However accurate Claremont’s sense of distance, however, it’s clear Storm should not have been able to reach Kenya in-between Thunderbird kidnapping and the X-Men meeting Nimrod. One solution here might be to extend the gap between the events of “Warhunt II” and those depicted here, but various team members spent so much time here complaining they never get a day off it seems hard to credit this. Instead we’ll assume Storm’s storyline is taking place a full week ahead of the rest of the team’s. This shouldn’t prove too much of a problem for future issues.


Friday 21st and Friday 28th December, 1984


X+6Y+294 and X+6Y+301.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years.

(Beast is 33 years old.)

Contemporary Events

The USSR launch the Vega 2 space probe for a fly-by mission past Halley's Comet.

Standout Line

"Don't say "thanks" or nothin'. Jerk." - Juggernaut fails to achieve Rogue's basic gratitude standards.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

ALF #22: "Rub-Out"

("If only I could be as cool as you.")


There are two obvious conclusions to draw from this issue.  The first is that Northstar is an arsehole.  The second is that John Byrne is an arsehole.

Neither of these, strictly speaking, can properly be called a revelation. It's the depth of nastiness here that is remarkable. Northstar we can at least forgive for failing to phone Sasquatch when Aurora (now once more calling herself Jeanne-Marie) arrives after three days of solid flying.  Not because it isn't a supreme dick move, but because he's fictional. Alas, to our eternal chagrin, the same cannot be said of Byrne.

This month's adventure takes place at a circus.  Alarm bells are already ringing, because the X-books don't do to well with circus stories. Mesmero didn't do UXM any favours, and the Wolverine & The X-Men story in which our heroes tried to deal with Frankenstein's monster inside an insane carnival was simply too bonkers to be processed by mortal minds. More than that, though, it's something of a problematic fit; bringing a group of people derided as freaks to a circus and extracting entertainment from them.  Perhaps there's a slightly problematic form of voyuerism that taints the entirety of superhero comics, when I come to think about it, but it's most obvious when you put the carnival barkers in the foreground.

Of course, there are very few situations Byrne cannot take and make much, much worse.  Here, the plot is not so much circuses are fun and so are costumed misfits, it's that circuses are dangerous because the freaks who live there are murderous scum.  When Jean Paul answers his friend Clementine's cry for help, he heads to her circus with Jeanne-Marie in tow, to discover "Clemmy" has lost control of her business to the villainous Pink Pearl.

As the cover above makes clear, Pink Pearl is not your average lady.  She is rather... expansive.  The script takes as many opportunities to point this out as possible.  Pearl's real name is "Pearl Gross". She can't be killed with knifes because she's just too well-padded. She defeats her enemies by smothering them in her not inconsiderable belly. When she does this to Jeanne-Marie, she awakens as Aurora with no memory of what just transpires, and immediately labels Pearl "obscene."  In other words, it's not just that this woman with her unorthodox body shape is an evil, violent bully, her mere existence is somehow a problem independent of her nature.

This is, simply put, disgusting, and no-one with the wherewithal to have reached this blog needs me to explain why. Nor is Pearl the only example of this abominable attitude; merely the most prominent. The "it's 1985" excuse ain't gonna cut it either, not when Tod Browning had blown the lid off this particular line of bullshit back in 1932.

In the wake of all this unpleasantness, the actual plot seems beside the point, but for the record, Pearl has taken over Clementine's circus so that she can bomb an upcoming summit between the US President and the Canadian Prime Minister. She's confident that if the if the bomb gets traced back to the circus, the authorities will assume Clementine is to blame, owing to her youthful activities with the Quebec Sepratiste movement. Essentially this simply serves as a vehicle by which the plot can reveal Jean-Paul was also a member of the movement, though apparently as part of a less violent cell than Clementine's, who used to blow up post-boxes (whether this was intended to injure those nearby is not stated).  Usually so transparent a move to reach a revelation would bother me, especially since Jean-Paul doesn't admit to his involvement, Aurora infers it from the astonishingly scant evidence that Jean-Paul is fiercely pro-Quebec and knows a woman revealed to be an ex-terrorist. Given how utterly wretched this issue's story has been in every other way, though, it's blatant nature as an excuse for Northstar's sister to out him as a former terrorist ranks among the very least of its problems.

Issue rating: a thousand "ughs".

Meanwhile, in subplot corner, Heather is convinced she sees her dead husband Mac on the rainy streets of Vancouver, and Madison Jeffries helps Robert Bochs put together the final touches on the new improved Box model, AKA Middle-Age Colossus.

With beta testing finally complete, it's time to embark on a mission of retribution.  Mac's death shall at last be avenged!


Aurora/Jeanne-Marie states it took almost three days for her to reach Northstar.  Since it's apparently evening when she arrives, we'll assume we're only two calendar days further on from when she met Gilded Lily. This story then continues into the following day.

Once again Byrne wishes us to believe it is winter. Once again, this is utterly compatible with his own story. We could, I suppose, insert several months into the story between Aurora's arrival and the circus plot, but that leaves Sasquatch (and Snowbird) hanging for too long. There's also a reference here to the Canadian government changeover in September 1984, when the Progressive Conservative Party (now there's an oxymoron for you) took power in a landslide. As always here, actual historical events don't factor into our analysis, but it's an interesting background detail.

Northstar mentions it's been months since he last saw his sister.  The adventure he refers to is Contest of Champions, which is considered the first ever superhero crossover event, but which I decided lay outseid the remit of this blog, containing as it does nothing that effects our merry mutants even in the short term.  Nevertheless, this reference suggests that CoC lies between ALF #8 and this issue, which in turn means months must have passed since ALF #8. Our timeline has this gap as being nine months, so that's all entirely cool.

(Of course by Bryne's own reckoning it should be well over a year, but there you go.)


Saturday 21st to Sunday 22nd of April, 1984.


X+6Y+51 to X+6Y+52.

Contemporary Events

Thriller ends an astonishing 37-week run at the top of the US album charts when the Footloose soundtrack knocks it from the pedestal.

Standout Line

"And just what is Jean-Paul doing here? With a woman!" - Aurora

For all the (deserved) kicking Byrne is getting elsewhere on this blog, I continue to give him credit for making Northstar's sexual orientation almost impossible to miss.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

NMU #27: "Into The Abyss"

(Crowded heart.)


I am David Haller. I am not a puzzle to be solved. I am imperfect, of course. Who among us can claim otherwise? Perhaps my imperfections are greater than others. Perhaps they can be more easily addressed and worked upon. But I am a person to be understood, not a box to be opened.

Did my mother ever truly realise this, I wonder?  Yes, she waited until I was a danger to others before she chose to have my mind invaded and reshaped.  But was that out of love for me? Or for hatred of him?

I am a trap for telepaths and their friends. I swallow Xavier and Dani, Tom and Sharon, Moira and Rahne, Gabriel and Douglas. Why? To become what? Supplicants? Playthings? Friends? An escape route? An impenetrable ebony dome lies in the centre of my mindscape, and it keeps its secrets. Outside, my tanks and helicopters prowl, ready to destroy the very psyches I have brought to this place. I am not a riddle to be solved? Please. I am a riddle who must be solved, as an alternative to the deaths of eight people.

I am an Arab face, screaming in a language no-one ever bothered to learn. They call me a terrorist, trapped in the mind of my final victim.  It is an easy thing to believe, I imagine. Xavier brings along his cliched experiences like a tattered coat. The gleeful malice of Amahl Farouk. The naive loyalty of Jetstream. To these mutants, Arabs are villains and fools.  Why should I be any different?  I yell for them to listen to my warnings, but there is no-one to understand. My only hope: a white boy gifted with the ability to translate any tongue without having to expend effort to consider what that tongue means. The white boy can understand us perfectly without ever having met us? I'm sure he believes that.

I am Cyndi. I set fire to rooms, and occasionally people. It is simple blind luck I am not a murderer already. But then luck is central to my existence. What else can it be that has made me a pretty and feisty girl?  Would my crimes be so forgiven by the interlopers in my mind were I otherwise?

I am Jack Wayne. I am a telekinetic and a charmer. You should never trust a man who can pull off a moustache so well as I can. A few hours ago I was throwing metal shards at exposed skin, but such things are easy to forget when you are the only voice offering explanation. I want to bring everything crashing down in this war-torn stretch of a boy's imagination. Paris should not be adjacent to Beirut, and neither should be burning. It's time for a change, and the more violent that change the better.

But why do it myself, when I can hand the knife to another? Killing a child is one thing. Persuading his father he has no option but to do the deed himself is so much more interesting.

I am Charles Xavier's son. It is not clear I will ever be allowed to be anything else.  Even after his death - not the one I caused, the one that stuck - my existence will revolve around the ways in which I resemble him, and the ways in which I do not.  It will be difficult to the point of impossibility to persuade anyone I should be doing anything but making those similarities as complete as possible.

All that is years away, though. Today, I am a comatose question mark for my parents to fight over. A blank slate onto which they can push their disagreements. A MacGuffin via which the people you know better than you know me can be seen to agonise.

I am David Haller, and I would like to be free.


This story picks up more or less immediately after NMU #26, and takes place on the same day.


Sunday 23rd December, 1984



Contemporary Events

The Christmas Massacre takes place in Italy, as 17 people are killed and almost 300 wounded when a train is bombed by the Mafia, hoping to distract attention from government investigations into their organisation.

Standout Line

"Have you noticed, Professor, you and the geek look a lot alike."

Dani vs subtlety: subtlety loses!