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'!"

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