Sunday, 16 February 2014
ALF #23: "Night Of The Beast"
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.
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.
"Thus, let a technicality provide us with the means to destroy the beast..." - Snowbird.