Tuesday, 25 February 2014

DAZ #38: "Challenge"

(Desperately seeking Alison.)


Crossovers are like buses, it would seem. Beyond both this issue and UXM #195 both involving the X-Men, though, there's not a great deal of similarity beyond a few structural niggles.  Whatever reasons Claremont had for borrowing the Power children from Louise Simonson, he clearly didn't do it as a stunt to drive up sales.

That might not be why the X-Men are here, of course, but an explanation avoiding that conclusion would have some work to do.  A new writer, a new costume, grandiose claims of a new era, the total abandonment of the domestic/career-problem angle this comic has always been at least partially based in; this title has the smell of death about it (though this might be an opinion fuelled by presentism). Parachuting in Marvel's most popular superheroes is the publishing equivalent of Vincent Vega injecting adrenaline into Mia Wallace's heart. In doing so, Dazzler's story becomes theirs. Look at that cover; Alison is all but squeezed from the front of her own book.  Only her hand remains, pointing towards Colossus and Wolverine.  "Look what I have for you", she seems to say. "I promise not to be too much in the way."

In the process of slicing up the narrative so the X-Men can be poured in, though, Goodwin seems to run into problems.  The first four pages of the comic feature neither Dazzler nor the X-Men, instead concentrating on a brand-new character, O.Z. Chase, a bounty hunter with a flippant attitude and a cigar-addicted hunting dog the size of a malnourished cow. We watch him collar a bail-jumper using lasso, shotgun and growling canine, and, whilst the end of the issue makes it clear he'll be coming for Dazzler next (though less clear is why), the overall effect is off-putting, like Dazzler's narrative has been co-opted by the cool new guy who will spice everything up by just being an intolerable douche to the established leads (see also Wolverine and Gambit).

Once we leave Chase to his questionable business ethics and finally join the main plot, there's still no sign of Dazzler for another two pages; it's apparently far more important the X-Men (specifically the two featured on the cover) make their appearance.  They're here to hunt Dazzler for reasons soon to be revealed, meaning here at least they perform the role of antagonists.  And there's something obviously off about framing a book in terms of the title heroine's enemies rather than her own self. The feeling is steadily growing that this latest shake-up behind the scenes has resulted in trying to see just how far Dazzler can be squeezed out of her own book whilst leaving her name on the cover.

When Dazzler finally does appear on page seven, matters improve dramatically. She's been hired on the cheap by some sleaze in San Diego who is now pressuring her to "escort" some of his business friends.  When she objects he immediately turns to blackmail, arguing not many people would pay out for a mutant singer - at a disgraceful discount or no - and she should show some gratitude for him allowing business sense to overcome bigotry by fucking his acquaintances.

It's an unimaginably ugly moment - and one that doesn't last long thanks to Dazzler's unique ability to resign via blinding strobe light (sorry, that should read strobe light!) - but it pushes the original Dazzler concern of attempting to work whilst being hated back into the foreground.  This has always been one of the books two main strengths (the other being its supporting cast of struggling musicians and their strained relationship with management, now alas long forgotten), so it's wonderful to see it hasn't entirely fallen by the wayside under Goodwin, but it makes the fact that Dazzler hasn't so much as a moment to catch her breath after so horrible an encounter before the X-Men arrive to make trouble all too telling.  What was best about the comic is now simply squeezed into the cracks between men with attitude who've shown up to trick boys into reading a comic (nominally) about a woman.

The basic set-up here is that Dazzler has become increasingly sick of being dragged into altercations with super-people (and just people in general) and has decided that not wanting to be a superheroine does not mean she can get away without being trained in the use of her powers.  A little while ago (it's not specified how long), then, she chose to reach out to Charles Xavier, asking for some pointers.  This leads to her spending some time training with the X-Men, during which Logan is an unspeakable nob to her.  I mean, obviously, he's a pain in the arse to all and sundry, but this is a step beyond.  His first objection - that training Dazzler may lead to her getting cocky and slipping up in a way that makes things worse for mutants - is pretty unconvincing; such third-order strategic concerns simply don't fit him well. Cyclops, who cameos here - asked by Charles to help since his power shares similarities with Dazzler's; a nice touch - I could buy thinking along those lines.  Wolverine is just too tactile and immediate for it to work.  His second objection stems from his disgust from her outing herself (which of course didn't happen) which as a result means anti-mutant sentiment has been very much on the up lately.

As a cis white dude, of course, I need to be careful how much I harangue those who I disagree with about how to come out within a specific minority community - even a metaphorical one - but I'm just not seeing how Wolvie's attitude here is anything other than victim blaming (if I want to treat mutantism as a metaphor, then objecting to a man saying a woman secretly wanted the crime committed against her by another man has to be fair game as well).  The best I can come up with is the suggestion that Logan thinks Alison deliberately leaked her mutant identity to the press in an attempt to gin up controversy around her film. Even then I'm not sure about an attitude that says people don't have the right to come out under whatever circumstances they choose, but Logan is suggesting the Dazzler reveal comes attached with a body count of less high-profile mutants, so this is probably a thornbush into which I should not be sticking my hands.

Attitudes aside, this is a fairly standard slice of superhero-on-superhero.  After graduating from Xavier's compressed training regimen, Dazzler asks that the X-Men attack her at random sometime in the future, ostensibly to prove she can handle herself, but really as a way of telling Logan to go screw himself - a pure and reasonable motive if ever there was one.  The circumstances of the assault cause more problems, however.  Dazzler has agreed ahead of time to take responsibility for keeping the fight away from innocent civilians, but apparently the near-total destruction of a man's business as the heroes brawl doesn't matter in the least.  And yes, the owner is a scuzzvulture in favour of blackmailing his female employees into prostitution.  Did Logan and Peter know that? Do the people who work in the Harborside Motel deserve to be kicked to the curve because the boss is a horrible human being?  Where the fuck does Wolverine get off complaining Dazzler might give mutants a bad name whilst he and his teammate tear apart real estate in order to test how well Dazzler can avoid collateral damage?

This is the kind of idea that always bugs me in fiction; that only the characters we're told matter actually matter, and that their only duty is to avoid bodycounts because accidentally killing innocent people would make them look/feel bad.  The wider consequences of their destructive rampages are entirely ignored, or at best waved away as being part of the cost of victory, which of course doesn't apply here.  This is a man destroying people's jobs and (temporary) homes in order to justify being a dick to some woman who's only crime is to get better at defending herself and maybe others.  You'll forgive me if my cardial cockles remain unwarmed.

Ultimately Dazzler wins the fracas, of course. Logan refuses to accept defeat until she's actually incapacitated him - Goodwin's Wolverine is apparently a sore loser on top of all his other problems - but Cyclops, acting as referee, ends the fight.  Dazzler has proven herself to everyone but Logan, who announces how concerned he is Dazzler is now a target (which was true before she arrived at the mansion, so why in God's name did he object to helping her out?).

And a target is, in fact, what she has become.  O.Z. Chase has found himelf a new boss, and acquired a new mission: hunt down Alison Blaire.  The whys and wherefores don't concern him.  A mark is a mark, and a client is a client.  But would he still think the same if he knew who had actually hired him.  It's... well, I don't know, actually.  But whoever it is, he has a scary line in Doctor Claw-style hands, and I can't imagine that's a fact that will end up of benefit to our loveable lead.

Well, loveable sort-of lead.  I wonder how much time she'll get to spend in her own book next time?


This story begins at sundown and continues into the following morning, though numerous flashbacks are also involved.

We'll assume around a week passed between Dazzler asking the X-Men for help and her "graduation", and another week passes before the team show up for her test.


Thursday 11th to Thursday 26th October, 1984.


X+6Y+223 to X+6Y+237.

Contemporary Events

The EEC unlocks £1.8 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Standout Line

"When you've come to hunt, don't get sentimental about the prey."

Maybe someone should collect together Logan's most ludicrous macho phrases, and his most gushy, and publish something for him along the lines of The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister.  Though of course the closest character to Wolverine in A Song of Ice and Fire is probably Sandor Clegane, whose own collection of quotations would presumably be entitled The Hound Tells You to Fuck Off.  Either way it would sell a thousand billion copies.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

UXM #195: "It Was A Dark And Stormy Night...!"

(Fuck Whitey.)


This shouldn't take particularly long to write up - it just isn't an X-Men story; it's a Power Pack comic that happens to feature the titular heroes as back-up.

Which purists might object to, and not without reason.  In later years it becomes increasingly difficult to guarantee the nominal stars of an X-book will appear in their own comic, what with all the unwieldy crossovers taking up more and more of the calendar.  That's plenty annoying in and of itself, but at least there's a thematic link underneath it, for all that no-one would be naive enough to believe that was why Marvel were doing it.

This, though? A Power Pack/X-Men crossover? Interrupting a story about the marginalisation and oppression of a minority so that children can piss around in costumes?  What exactly is the impetus here?

Actually, I realise that might be unfair.  At least the common problem of one needing to have read other titles to understand what is going on here has been removed (events here do follow on from a Power Pack story, but the brief explanations given here are entirely sufficient). And I guess one can overlook the diluting of the core metaphor a crossover with the X-Men almost always involves, just so long as the resulting story is interesting enough to justify it.  And maybe this one is, to some people. Me; I think the odds of a story focusing on children being of much interest is very low indeed.  The mores of society rather limits what can actually happen - even by the standards of fiction in which we know the death of heroes is extremely unlikely - and the rules of biology make it unlikely a child will have anything to offer in the way of characterisation other than unbearable solipsism and hyperbolic emoting.  It is no coincidence that most of the best examples of children in film and television specifically relies on them acting in atypical ways, something I presume Power Pack would want to avoid for fear of alienating its target audience. [1]

All of which is to say that when Power Pack awake during a storm one night and find their parents no longer recognise them, I could give precisely zero shits.  An attempt is made to tie this in to current events in UXM by having the kids realise (amidst much whining) that the Morlock named Annalee (last - and first - seen in these pages distraught over the brutal murder of her children) probably engaged Beautiful Dreamer's services to make the Powers forget their children so Annalee could adopt them, but really all that does is remind me how cynical the introduction of Annalee's trauma was to begin with.

Anyway, following an abortive confrontation with the Morlocks that leaves three quarters of Power Pack in Annalee's clutches, and Katie Power in the hospital with a bad case of Masque-face, the X-Men learn of their young friend's plight - partway into the tenth page of their own book - and bust her out of the hospital.

So the X-Men and their little friend head for the sewers and beat up Morlocks until Callisto arrives to call her errant subjects to account.  And that really is more or less all there is here.  With Nightcrawler away on another mission (I don't know if this ties into Secret Wars II, his own upcoming mini, or is just for the sake of making this story work) Logan decides to hand over command to Kitty, which allows for some character development, but otherwise there's nothing here to demonstrate the X-Men are anything other than guest stars here. Particularly since aside from guilt-tripping Annalee - by pointing out stealing children from their parents because she's so upset about losing her children is a classic case of hating something so much you willingly do it to others - Kitty, along with her teammates, don't feature in either the first nine or the last three of the comic's 22 pages.

Or at least they wouldn't except for the final two panels, where Rachel informs them that they've been summoned to the mansion... by Magneto!

[1] I could be mistaken here.  The only Power Pack I've ever actually come across was as reprints in the back of my UK Transformer comics, which means that even as a child who might hypothetically identify with the adventures of the Power family, I couldn't see the point of them, probably because they wilfully refused to be awesome shape-changing alien robots.


This story takes place over a single night.

With next issue dealing with Xavier's return to teaching, it seems clear that this year the X-Men have skipped an on-panel Christmas.  Nevertheless, with Xavier's teaching schedule providing an ongoing measurement of time, it seems appropriate to up the X-Xmas score by one.


Saturday 29th December, 1984



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.20 standard years.

(Katie Power is 14 years old.)

"Kitty, I don't like him, he's scary!"

Contemporary Events

Leo Robin, an American composer best known for his work on the Oscar-winning "Thanks For The Memory" and writing the book for the Broadway adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, passes away aged 84.

Standout Line

"I thought being Energizer would be fun -- we'd have neat adventures, like Luke Skywalker -- but this isn't."
"Neither were his, really."

Wolverine lays down some truth for the younger Power daughter. Confrontations where you lose five sets of phalanges are not fun, children!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

ALF #23: "Night Of The Beast"

(Sudden death.)


It seems I owe John Byrne an apology, or at least a partial one.  Apparently Aurora isn't the reason Walter Langkowski has been freaking out over the last few issues; she's just one of the triggers. Which perhaps isn't all that great of a distinction, but with so many reasons to knock this book, there's no reason to invent new ones.

So if Sasquatch isn't losing control because his girlfriend is socially castrating him (or at least, not just because of that), what really is going on? The gods that created Snowbird know; that's why they struck her down last issue. Which, let's note, is pretty crappy behaviour.  Why not just tell Snowbird what's going on, instead of smashing her to the ground in unbearable agony and then waiting a day to have another go?  Much as in Buffy, it would appear ancient beings of incredible power don't think resting the survival of humanity on a single young woman who didn't ask for the job should mean they can't be sneering pricks at the same time.

Still, whilst their communication skills are horribly sub-par, the message itself is an important one: Langkowski has been infiltrated by one of the seven Great Beasts Snowbird was born to stop, and at any moment it could take over completely.  One more transformation into Sasquatch could do it, if Walter suffers enough pain or anger to lose control.

Meanwhile, over at the private gym Alpha Flight is using to train in, the team hear tell of a super-villain smashing up local real estate, and spring into action - minus an exhausted Heather and the AWOL Snowbird.  When they get downtown to the disaster zone, they encounter Caliber, a quite hilariously terrible super-villain with cliche Ultron-knockoff armour and a line in unbearable dialogue.  He's awful, but deliberately so.  He's only there so he can shoot Sasquatch and cause enough pain for the monster inside him to wake, so he may as well be amusing in how crap he is.  It might be a cheap-shot to suggest a writer like Byrne is ideally suited to this kind of naff antagonist; at least the guy genuinely made me smile.

Caliber is dispatched in short order, but the team now have bigger problems.  Snowbird arrives and, seeing she is already too late, immediately dives in towards Sasquatch, intending to tear out his heart.

Here we have something of a problem, but we need to parse things out a little.  One might be tempted to point out that, once again, the team finds itself in trouble because one of its female members has suddenly become a liability/actively hostile - this is at minimum the fourth time this has happened, and writing out Heather this issue because she's "exhausted" after seeing someone who looks like her dead husband stinks as well - but that strikes me as unfair here.  Moments after her attack it transpires that Sasquatch really is now under the Great Beast's control. It's not clear Snowbird knew that, but given her magical nature there's no reason to assume she couldn't. At worst her crime here is to not explain what she's doing to her team-mates, but if she's hoping a surprise attack will work out for her, there isn't really time for a planning session.

So the problem doesn't come from Snowbird.  It's something deeper. For all that the Sasquatch freak-out storyline has been in play since issue #20, the sudden reveal that Sasquatch is possessed and must die now is unearned and cheap.  It's a crappy way to deal with a character that's been a mainstay of the book since it started.  There are plenty of examples in fiction of the possessed hero trope, and in pretty much all of them the audience gets the chance to process it, and the heroes get the chance to try and save them.  They might not always succeed, of course, but at least the poor schmuck under mystical control is shown to be important enough to be fought for. Here there are exactly six pages between Sasquatch revealing he is possessed and Snowbird tearing his heart out, killing the beast and Walter both.

Obviously I'm biased, with Walter being my favourite member of the team, but I feel comfortable stating that for any major character, killing them off with neither time to realise they are in danger nor mourn their passing is terrible writing.  And yes, the issue ends with the team deciding to quest for Walter's soul, but with his body and superhuman identity gone, there's a pretty low ceiling on how much this can mitigate the central problem here.

The circumstances of the crisis raises problems as well. If Snowbird's gods had explained the situation a day earlier instead of slapping her around, she could have warned Walter to remain in his human form and everything would have been OK.  Worse, since we now know every loss of control Sasquatch suffered brought him closer to being taken over, it makes Aurora's flagrant disregard for his feelings a central contribution to his death.  Given the problems this book demonstrates around women in general and Aurora specifically, that's really something we could have done without.  Lastly, and probably least importantly, for all that I fully support the idea that villains placed in a narrative for mechanistic reasons should probably be corny and naff, when that mechanistic reason is setting in motion the death of a main character, I'm not sure how well that idea holds up.

So, yeah.  It's not very good.  There was no reason to rush through so important an event, and the end result is the distinct feeling that Byrne is too excited to get to what comes next for poor old Walter to give the character's original iteration the send-off he deserves, and his fans the pay-off they've more than earned.


This story takes place over the course of a few hours.  It kicks off the day after Snowbird's collapse, which itself we're assuming occurs a day after XAA wraps up.


Tuesday 8th May 1984.



Contemporary Events

The USSR announces they will boycott the '84 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  Despite having existed for two years at this point, Channel 4 do not offer up an embryonic form of "Gay Mountain" in response.  Thirty more years must pass before people are ready for that.

Standout Line

"Thus, let a technicality provide us with the means to destroy the beast..." - Snowbird.

Monday, 10 February 2014

XAA #2: "The Gift (Part II)"

("Can the panel imagine what it might be like to have no imagination?")


Suddenly everything becomes clear.

When last we met our temporarily-allied pair of super-teams, they had traced Scott Summers, his wife Madelyne, and a group of scientists to the Arctic Circle, where the erstwhile Cyclops and co had unearthed a mystical shaft of light that transforms humans into super-beings with snazzy powers that could potentially improve the world. The suggestion of what this new group of socially-conscious quasi-gods could accomplish took priority over exactly who had created this phenomenon, and why.

Given Loki's presence in the last issue, this should probably not have been a mystery.  My defence on not immediately making the link is that the shaft of light (or at least its effects) appeared in XAA #1 before Loki's announcement that he would help the world, which strikes me as a bit of a cheat now we know he created the light following that decision.  Still, who knows how time works in meta-Valhalla. It does at least result in the awesome idea of a Norse village buried beneath the Arctic ice; British Northerners will know what I mean when I say it summoned childhood memories of Jorvik as Kitty, Rachel, and Talisman explore its long-dead halls.

All is not well above with our new overlords, however.  Anodyne - as Madelyne has taken to calling herself - may be able to cure any sickness, but somehow that doesn't extend to helping Shaman, who is now close to death.  Two more of the newly-promoted super-beings offer to help Wolverine find Snowbird before she dies, but despite their powers at tracking and animal control, the search somehow turns up empty. Once the X-Men realise Wolverine was duped, the whole sorry story comes tumbling out: the drawback of the beam of light is that the creations and wielders of magic cannot survive its proximity.

This throws up a new wrinkle in the philosophical mine-field Claremont set up last issue, and produces a genuinely fascinating problem.  In the last issue it was suggested that exposing the world to the shaft of light would remove anti-mutant bigotry because everyone would essentially be a mutant, and because the resulting super-race would no longer lack for anything, which presumably would mean people would be less inclined to beat each other up. I noted in my previous post how unpersuasive I thought this was, but now the goalposts have shifted a little.  Now anti-mutant sentiment is on the back burner, and the question before us is this one: if we can create a system whereby food, clothing, and housing can be generated in infinite amounts at no cost or effort, is that not worth the lives of a tiny subset of the population?

And the subset must indeed be tiny, because it is still possible for even superheroes like Tony Stark of Hank McCoy, who spend much of their time around people with links to the mystical, to reject the idea magic even exists. Yes, some of that can be attributed to ideological blinkers, but their dismissal suggests a phenomenon rare enough for them to brush off, rather than feel compelled to take apart to figure out what's "really" going on. It certainly seems like magic users are rarer even than mutants in the Marvel Universe, which means, what? One in a million? One in ten million?  We could be arguing here over whether infinite shelter and nourishment for humanity would be worth the cost of fewer than a thousand lives across the globe. The Ethiopia famine which took place in the mid '80s cost over four hundred times that number of human lives. Is the loss of our magic users too high a price to prevent that from ever happening again?

We can't really go any further into picking apart this hypothetical question without noting how much it misses the point.  The reason famine claims so many lives is not that humanity lacks the resources to feed itself; it's that the people with the resources don't have any interest in doing so.  We may indeed come to a point where humanity genuinely is too widespread for the planet to support us, but we're not there yet. Consider the shitstorm thrown up in the UK just recently over the idea that people should be prosecuted for taking food from supermarket bins. For a depressingly high number of people, it's more important people should continue to own food they no longer intend to eat or sell than people who need that food can get at it.  The idea that this can be solved if food becomes easier and cheaper to create is a tempting one, but it assumes that access to the magical light that can create such walking replicators would be available equally to all countries and all social classes, which is simply ludicrous.  Fifteen minutes after Summers revealed his secret in the Arctic, the world would be at war over who gets to become enlightened post-humans first (Joe Haldeman explored this idea in his novel Forever Peace, which basically posits the idea that countries who do not control such miraculous technology would rather war against those who do than simply sit and wait patiently for their technologically advanced neighbours to deign to notice their problems).

So as an actual solution, it seems to obviously fall short. That said, there might be other ways to help it work.  Between them, the X-Men, Alpha Flight and those on Madelyne's flight might well be able to recruit people from every country to go through the light, keeping the results secret until it was too late to stop everywhere in the world becoming a paradise simultaneously. I find myself particularly attracted to the idea that the easiest way to do this would be to recruit the very types of people the authorities wouldn't even notice going missing, which keeps the secret safe and ensures the people recruited understand precisely what it is they are fighting to end.

It's at least a plausible solution, I think, enough to give the moral considerations under all this some teeth. If we could guarantee the plan would work (and the point at which the body count kicks in would be the point at which it's too far advanced to stop, I would think), is it worth the cost?

This is, of course, an age-old moral stumper.  If you could press a button to save a thousand people at the cost of one life, would you do it?  This situation is a little different, however.  Scott and Madelyne and their colleagues have already decided to push the button.  The question for the X-Men and Alpha Flight is whether they should actively block the button.  The pusher has to decide whether she has the moral authority to kill someone for utilitarian reasons.  The blocker has to decide whether its better a thousand people die than anyone be allowed to make that decision at all.

I don't feel remotely qualified to talk about what the potential blocker should do here.  The most practical argument might be to point out the blocker may have to kill the pusher in order to save one life at the cost of one thousand, which seems a fairly crappy trade.  Anything more than that, and my brain starts to rebel. I suppose that given this refusal to pick a side I run the risk of looking cowardly when picking apart other arguments on the subject, but then one needn't have an answer oneself to know when other answers are terrible.

That said, there's really only two arguments here I really dislike.  The first is Kitty's. When Peter announces he will stand with Scott, he says it's because his time as a peasant farmer in the USSR has persuaded him humanity needs saving, even if that requires the sacrifice of life (years later, we will discover he is more than willing to put his life where his mouth is).  Kitty's response is to insist he thinks about the specific people he's talking about; Snowbird and Shaman, Doctor Strange, his own sister. I can completely understand someone thinking like this - I'm not taking a pop at Claremont himself here - but this is disgraceful. Arguing no-one has the right to kill x number of people to save 10 000 times that number has a moral underpinning I can at least process.  Arguing the decision should be swayed because you don't know any of the lives you'd be saving causes me great problems, for reasons which I assume are entirely obvious.

Once everyone has made their choice, and battle-lines have been drawn, it's time for our heroes to beat on each other. It's kind of like a proto-Civil War, only over an issue that you can genuinely imagine dividing the heroic community, rather than Millar's attempt, in which it's almost impossible to credit Iron Man getting more than three or four people to sign up to his "Be Dicks For America!" tour.

The thing is, though, this puts Claremont in something of a bind.  It's clear the button will never be pressed, for editorial reasons as much as narrative ones. If this fight produces a KO, it's obvious who will be left bleeding on the mat. Sensible people can disagree about how much fun it is to watch heroes tear strips out of each other (I personally love it), but with the outcome in no doubt, the appeal is noticeably lessened.

So Claremont takes the obvious way out; he injects new information that changes the formulation of the underlying disagreement.  Not only is proximity to the light fatal for magic users, but use of the light destroys the subject's capacity for imagination.

When Rachel discovers this, she announces "This changes everything!".  Um... why?

This is where my real frustration with this story lies.  The idea that the deaths of hundreds to save the lives of hundreds of thousands is treated as being worthy of consideration. The idea that the people who volunteer to help fix the world might not be able to draw neat pictures as a result is utterly beyond the pail.

I mean What. The. Fuck? How the hell can we possibly be comparing the ability to create with innocent lives, and suggesting the former is where our concerns should lie? I mean, yes, this again is an utterly false choice generated by Cyclops' ludicrous scheme to expose everyone to the light so that mutants aren't weird anymore (the script goes so far as to point out mutants would still be hated because only they can imagine, which given how completely terrible Scott is here at thinking outside the box strikes me as pretty ironic).  What we'd be talking about here is people who volunteer for exposure, despite knowing the cost to their webcomic or whatever, in order to help their fellow man.  How can we possibly view this as a greater cost than those who wake up one day to find their cool magic powers are now eating them from the inside out? And even if the whole world did have to give up imagination as an alternative to the creation of paradise on Earth, how is that so clearly a worse fate than an actual death toll?

(Indeed, one could actually put together some fascinating questions on this.  You stand in a room with two buttons before you.  If you refuse to push either button, one thousand people die.  Pushing one button will kill a random person.  Pushing the other button will remove every copy of every play by Shakespeare throughout the world.  Make your choice.)

Coming from anyone, this would be a difficult sentiment to swallow. Coming from a writer, it's close to unbearable. I'm sure Claremont considers having his imagination snatched from him a fate worse than death.  Let's not make the assumption that this sentiment extends worldwide.

Ultimately, all of this falls by the wayside when our protagonists learn Loki is behind all this.  Faced with full knowledge of how his largess has a tendency to bite, and with his petulant rage at being questioned over his gifts prompting him to attack everyone with Frost Giants, the conflict receives a swift and perfunctory resolution (the meta-Gods arrive at the last minute to save everyone, because at this point why not?).  All is quickly restored to the status quo, with our new quasi-gods becoming mortal once more, and Snowbird and Shaman recovering from the brink of death. The world is once again safe from the horrors of plentiful food and shelter.

What a victory.


This story takes place over the course of a few hours, starting at night and moving into the following day. It's stated that these events take place in midwinter, but Mac's death in early March would force this to be some ten months later, which completely fails to track with events in Alpha Flight.


Sunday 6th to Monday 7th May 1984.


X+6Y+66 to X+6Y+67.

Contemporary Events

Human rights abuser and murderer of civilians Jose Napoleon Duarte is elected as President of El Salvador. He was already the leader of the military force that took power in a 1979 coup d'etat. Inevitably, the US have been implicated in his rise to power.

Standout Line

"Humanity alone carries within itself the power to create paradise on Earth -- on its own terms, by its own efforst -- without the gifts of mechinations (sic) of greedy gods. Which, for better or worse, is how it should be."

Fuck right off. If you want to tell me the benefits of feeding and clothing the whole world isn't worth the death toll that deal requires, I will listen to you.  If you tell me that the actual receiving of that gift - that wonderful opportunity to make the world what it should be - is in itself bad because we should have to struggle to do it, you should be set on fire and hurled into a pit.  This is the exact same kind of vicious, thoughtless crap spewed by Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, and every other libertarian joker this world has ever vomited out.  The struggle is what matters. Giving people what they need makes them less liekly to try.  The lies the rich and successful tell themselves so they can believe the people less fortunate than they are not only deserve to be that way, but are better off because of it.

It is the reason things are the way they are. It is the reason these crooks can smile smugly on TV, when by rights they should spend every moment of their lives listening for the sound of sharpening guillotines.  It is the reason I will hate these people until my last breath.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

X-Men And Alpha Flight #1: "The Gift"

(Heroic hyperinflation.)


It's that rare beast: the two-part mini.

Philip Sandifer once said over at his gaffe that two-part Doctor Who stories (of the original flavour) are pretty much unworkable by the structure of the show: the first episode has to mark time until it can whisk away the curtain for the big reveal, then the second episode has to rush through everything necessary to tie the story up.

Nowadays, of course, twenty-three minutes is easily sufficient time for Who to burn through a resolution, but by the same token, half an episode of noodling would be unthinkable.  Similarly, with 48 pages each, it's entirely possible the resolution to this two-parter will tick all the right boxes.  But it sure feels like we're treading water here.

So, with more than two standard-length comic books to fill before we really get to the point, what's a writer to do with two super-teams. The answer is obvious: FIGHT!

First, though, we have to get through the introductions.  I'll start off here by noting that figuring out where to pitch the opening of your cross-over miniseries strikes me as a legitimately tough job.  With Uncanny X-Men and Alpha Flight the first and second most-bought comics of December 1984, a certain degree of cultural suffusion must be going on even for non-readers, but by the same token, it's clear Alpha Flight isn't some minor concern kept afloat by the most dedicated buyers of Uncanny X-Men. Both books would have had fans that needed to be caught up on the current goings on in the other title.  Add to that the people who buy neither, and are buying this out of curiosity (bear in mind this is 1984, before either X-books or miniseries in general had become slightly less common than hydrogen molecules), and the fans of both titles, and you have a difficult juggling job to do.

All of which is to say this wasn't a pass you'd surprised to see fumbled.  And fumbled I think it was.

Not completely, by any means. The summary of Alpha Flight is short and effective, picking up on Sasquatch's recent problems with his powers without any references that would confuse the newcomer.  The characters are sketched fairly well with minimum dialogue, and while one might wonder at Aurora's opening moments involving her offering Walter Langkowski some non-specified sexual release in Shaman's clinic so as to cheer him up, I've had offers like that myself, though at least the bearer of the proposition had the courtesy to suggest it in my own office.

The problem here is the X-Men. We get a page of the New Mutants goofing around for absolutely no reason I can think of (maybe this will get a call-back next issue, though the title of the mini makes me think that would be its own problem) before heading over to the mansion to watch a training session with the X-Men.  Man, Claremont loves him a training session, doesn't he? Despite the fact that they almost invariably are interrupted and/or go horribly wrong.  You'd think after a while the team would go on strike until Xavier takes health and safety a bit more seriously.

On this occasion the proverbial spanner in the works is Rachel Summers, who suffers a kind of psychic seizure which someone overrides the computer to create a tactile hologram of her future. This sort of thing drives me crazy.  Not just because the idea Rachel can manipulate code with her mind at astonishing speed (which is fine for a mutant power, but not when dropped into an established character's repertoire without explanation), but the idea that losing control can lead to such a specific, complicated and precise reprogramming.  It's like suggesting da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in thirty seconds because he stubbed his toe.

What this really is, of course, is an excuse for Claremont to keep his plates spinning RE Uncanny subplots.  Which isn't this comic's job.  Claremont did a fairly good job of keeping his previous miniseries walled off from more general concerns, but here there's nothing that distinguishes this from one of his double-sized UXM issues.  Which, as I've argued before, is fatal for a miniseries - if you're not using it to do something different, don't bother, and "the X-Men meet Alpha Flight and the resulting fight lasts a bit less time than usual" really isn't going to cut it.

(On the other hand, I really rather liked the return of Cyclops, mainly because Claremont makes it very clear that the dude is entirely happy being out of the superhero business and with his new wife (we have them as having been married for eight months now). It's nice to not see him brooding over whether he's made the right choice and blah blah blah.  The inclusion on his northbound flight of a flagrant mutant hater is also a nice set-up for what's coming later: the discovery of a device that can make everyone into a de facto mutant isn't one that's going to thrill the whole world, whatever mutants themselves are hoping for.  Scott's loadmaster mentions The Lathe of Heaven, but for my money the relevant sci-fi classic here is the Forever War, and the time-drifting heterosexual who comes back to Earth to find the whole planet has become gay whilst he's been away.)

Right, so, plot. Rachel's freak-out is over a vision she's had of Cyclops and Madelyne being shot out of the sky by an atmospheric special effect Cyclops says reminds him of Shaman's powers.  This being a superhero comic - general motto "There ain't nuthin' mellow 'bout melodrama!" - Rachel considers this ample provocation to fly to Canada and attack Michael Twoyoungmen along with anyone nearby.  Naturally, the X-Men find themselves dragged into the resulting fracas until Xavier can wrench Rachel's mind out of her body to give her a stern talking to.

Which doesn't really cut it, to be honest.  As Shaman points out, it's sheer luck no-one was killed because Rachel thought her father thought Shaman might be behind the crashing of his aircraft which might possibly have been deliberate.  Indeed, one thing Rachel does - to reach inside Aurora's head and switch her personality back to Jeanne-Marie - is so fucking disgusting I'm amazed Xavier doesn't try to mindblast her back to the future on the spot. I realise that it might be by own history that makes me boil with rage at watching a woman's mental disorder fucked around with whilst taking superfists hitting superfaces in my stride, but at least when two superheroes trade punches, they have an idea of what damage they'll do to each other. Rachel is taking an instrument she cannot possibly understand (for all that she can access it in ways we can't) and screwing with it to make her plan to maim or kill someone she's angry with.  Fucl, quite frankly, that.

(Of course, if I'm so enraged by Rachel's actions here, can I justify Xavier's decision to return Aurora to the forefront of her brain? Is meddling any better when you're restoring the status quo, especially when "the status quo" basically just means the state of affairs that happened to be in effect when you arrive?  This one I'm less sure on, but I'm vaguely on Xavier's side, figuring a rapid return to what you've found offers the greatest chance of allowing whatever approach Aurora/Jeanne-Marie, her family, her friends, and her doctors have figured out is what is best for her.)

Once the truth comes out, then the traditional internecine slap-down comes to a close. With Scott's plane missing at the same time Cerebro picked up a massive mutant signal near the crash and Snowbird having one of her periodic collapses over major mystical uprootings, the decision is made to find the source of the problem.  The X-Men and Alpha Flight are joining forces.

(Meanwhile, for reasons as yet unexplained, Loki of Asgard has travelled to the realm where the Gods of the Gods reside, to ask for a boon after saving Earth.  The unfathomable beings who reside there make the entirely reasonable point that redemption is not usually quite so quid pro quo as Loki is making out here.  Thor's half-brother is stung by the rejection, but vows that saving humanity once isn't good enough for these meta-deities, he'll just have to put on a repeat performance.)


The world turns, and the combined forces of the X-Men and Alpha Flight - including Northstar, who is presumably only there because Aurora is too enraged with Rachel to let the team in on Northstar's terrorist past - are headed north in a DeHavilland Otter that anyone but Claremont would just have called a plane.  The trip offers an opportunity for bonding and youthful angst, but frankly none of that is as interesting as Nightcrawler's pilot cap thing.  He looks so dapper!  Has there ever been a more interesting confluence of interests within the same X-Man?

Once they get to their destination they find first a glorious golden city in a meadow amidst snowbanks, and then Cyclops, sans ruby glasses.  He's been cured!

This is where things get interesting, and also aggravating.  Scott and Madelyne, along with their loadmaster and passengers, have found a shaft of light in the Arctic Circle that turns any non-mutant that touches it into a superhuman.  Maddie herself is now Anodyne, and has the power to heal, hence Cyclops' new and improved non-death eye.  Others have the abilities to generate food, or buildings, or control animals.  But it's Anodyne who is the most interesting, because she epitomises the insane plan of Scott's companions to bring peace and goodwill to all men by using the strange light to make everyone into a superhero.

Let's put aside for now the utterly insuperable logistical problem this plan entails.  Let's not even linger on the surely self-evident truth that humanity managed to cycle through a bewildering array of atrocities against itself in the millennia before mutants came along in anything like contemporary numbers; returning everyone to a level playing field won't work better this time just because we have all sorts of interesting new ways to tear pieces out of each other. Instead, we'll focus on the horrible arrogance at play in the idea that the best idea for the world is for everyone to become the same.

The specifics of this need some careful unpacking, because no-one needs or wants to hear a white guy arguing that it would be a bad idea for oppressed minorities to suddenly become the only game in town (Claremont's Lathe of Heaven reference at the start of this issue suggest that's exactly where's he going, alas).  We could try and skirt around this by pointing out only Cyclops (to the best of our knowledge) is the only mutant in the group, but there I'm not sure we need to. I think even I can safely point out the problem here: mutants are a fictional minority, but the ideea of forcibly pulling a minority into the majority is already a suggested course of action in the real world.  Whether it be the idea of praying people straight, giving deaf children cochlear implants, or discussing methods by which to prevent autistic children from being born, the idea that certain people are to be considered disadvantaged and require "improving" is a pernicious and common one.

And if this were Claremont's point, I'd be right behind him. But if it is, why does Anodyne get to "cure" Puck of his dwarfism? Yes, she asks his permission, but all that means is the average-sized guy writing this comic believes dwarves don't want to be dwarves anymore (this is mitigated by the pain Puck's dwarfism causes, but with the amazing powers at Anodyne's disposal it's hard to credit the idea that she couldn't relieve his pain without changing his height).  And this is why it doesn't work, because Claremont is setting himself up to decide who should and shouldn't be happy for a move into the mainstream.  There's still another double-size issue to deal with, so it's possible this will be dealt with far better next time around, but right now things are looking somewhat bleak.

Speaking of which, the issue ends with Snowbird missing from the plane - despite being only hours from death - and Shaman's medicine bag is suddenly overflowing with gribbly demons with a taste for human flesh.

How will our heroes get out of this one?


This story takes place over a night and the following two days.

This is a difficult comic to place in the wider continuity - something we're going to have to get used to as the train-lights of the '90s rush toward us.  Since Sasquatch is still, er, a Sasquatch, this issue has to take place before ALF #23.  Really, it has to take place before ALF #21, since that was the issue Snowbird first suffered from the attacks that led to her leaving the team and Langkowski leaving (briefly) this mortal coil.

On the other hand, Talisman's involvement means the book has to fit in after ALF #20, since that issue concludes her introductory story.  And naturally, ALF #20 and #21 are two parts of the same story, which then bleeds into ALF #22.

There's nothing for it but to split the time-frame so Snowbird's part in ALF #21 gets pushed forwards.  Then we can assume this adventure takes place immediately after Aurora leaves Northstar in disgust at the conclusion to ALF #22.

We might therefore want place this adventure the day after ALF #22, and save Snowbird's collapse for whenever this two-part miniseries concludes.  This doesn't quite track with the X-Men's activities, though, since this period falls between UXM #189 and #190, whilst Logan and Kitty are still in Japan.  They get back in UXM #192, though, so we'll simply place this new story inside the months-long gap in that issue.  The result is moving ALF forward by a week and a half or so, but that's not particularly serious.


Friday 4th to Sunday 6th May 1984.


X+6Y+64 to X+6Y+66.

Contemporary Events

(Even if you hate Belle and the Devotions, you should watch the preamble to this video.  It features continental linking that is almost impossible to comprehend ever being suggested seriously, and for an added bonus boasts that curiously '80s ability to simultaneously be utterly recognisable as of its time and utterly unrecognisable as having belonged to this planet, ever.)

Standout Line

"Jean-Paul. teamed with a woman?!?" - Heather.

I continue to love the efforts of first Byrne and now Claremont to rub Northstar's sexuality in the CCA's conservative, bigoted face.