Sunday, 2 March 2014

NMU #29: "Meanwhile, Back At The Mansion..."

(A skirmish before the war.)


There may not be an awful lot to say about this issue, being as it is classic Claremont.  It's interesting what classic Claremont actually means, however. This is, after all, the second time in 29 issues that the New Mutants have found themselves forced to fight each other in gladiatorial combat.  It's been just a few weeks since Claremont had the entire superhero population of NYC transformed into amnesiac Dark Age warriors, who proceed to beat the shit out of each other. Fellow traveller Abigail Brady just got through looking at the X-Tinction Agenda (which I should get to early in the 2020s, I reckon), in which Claremont co-pens a story in which various heroic mutants are mind-wiped and pressed into service as combatants against  their former comrades.  When Claremont returned to the X-Men for his rather brutally savaged post-millennial run, one story will feature the X-Men kidnapped by a slaver who wants to sell them as gladiators.

I'm not actually sure if this represents a particular tic of Claremont's, or it's just something about superhero comics in general.  Certainly the hero-vs-hero model is neither one he created nor one that fell from fashion once he himself did - though of course that doesn't preclude his love of it helping to explain its seeming ubiquity - and it's clear that this kind of internecine super-slapping is exactly what a significant proportion of the comic readership loves to see.  As to the gladiator aspect, well, let's just say that for someone with the job of entertaining people by setting up bouts of violence, the Colosseum can't really take much stretching to reach for. Hell, we only just saw Ann Nocenti making use of the same idea in Beauty and the Beast, which we'll be coming back to.

Even so, the sheer frequency with which Claremont returns to this well is interesting.  I mean, it's interesting in an academic sense.  In terms of actual storytelling, I rather wish he'd find a new theme.

You want specifics, I suppose.  On this occasion Amara and Roberto have been swiped, forcing Cannonball and Magick (the only other New Mutants around, with everyone else on Muir Island sorting out the Legion fiasco) to mount a rescue single-handed (and in swimwear).  Their efforts fail when the kidnappers board a plane and hit the chasing Cannonball with their afterburners, causing him to lose concentration and stop blasting.  At this point the freezing high-altitude air knocks the fight out of him, and only a well-placed teleport disc from Magick stops him hitting the ground. [1]

It's not a total loss, though; they've captured one of the hoods, and through him learn their friends are on their way to LA. Illyana then teleports herself and Sam there, only to arrive a week late due to poor targeting. With the trail now seven days cold and the pair desperately low on resources, Sam take Illyana to Lila Cheney's place (featuring Guido Carosella on door duty; hello, Strong Guy!) for some support.

This is where things get a little odd.  First we learn that Dazzler has taken a job with Lila, probably hoping she can get further as a mutant backing singer than she could as a mutant headline act.  This might seem a bit of a coincidence, perhaps; Dazzler tries to escape anti-mutant hysteria by joining the band of someone who then turns out to be a mutant - a fact she only discovers when Lila is careless enough to teleport her to Cheney's Dyson Sphere along with Illyana and Sam - but forget it, man.  It's comics town.

Besides, more coincidences are on their way.  It just so happens Magma and Sunspot have been abducted by the same outfit of underground gladiators that tried to trick Dazzler into joining back in Beauty and the Beast. We may be maxing out on the abuse of probability here, but there are bigger fish to fry.  In this recent flurry of crossovers (this is the third in two months, and Secret Wars II will be kicking off once I've choked down another Alpha Flight) it's worth talking for a few moments to talk about some of the perils of a shared universe.

Obviously, I'm fiercely in favour of sandbox settings as a general rule - I would hardly be writing this blog otherwise. That said, there are some obvious disadvantages, which NMU #29 illustrate quite well.  The great advantage of shared universes is that almost no-one remains forgotten forever.  Sooner or later your old favourites will show up again.  The great disadvantage is that when those old favourites do show up, they can be terribly off-model (physically and/or psychologically), have frustratingly minor parts, and then eventually get killed off to generate cheap drama (the ur-example of all this probably being Angelo Torres Espinosa); a particularly galling trick since it pisses off older readers and causes newcomers to wonder what all the fuss is about.  Above all, it means that every character who reaches a satisfying conclusion to their own particular journey will (as Claremont found out to his sorrow with Cyclops) eventually be dragged back into the action as though nothing had changed.

Claremont doesn't kill off any of Dazzler's former comrades here, but otherwise, this is a case in point. Max and Ivich are both very much off-model, for a start.  Max doesn't even get any dialogue here (Axe gets more screen-time despite being the worst villain introduced in an X-book since The Locust); he's just someone for Cannonball to attack when his team's plan of sneaking into the games and having Lila 'port out his friends goes awry.  But why is Max even here?  When last we checked in on the Gladiators (all of three months earlier), he'd decided he'd had enough.  Flynn had been deposed as the Gladiators' commander after Dazzler and Beast humiliated him - with help from Doctor Doom.  Now, he's just back in charge without explanation.  Yes, later issues may explain this (and we should note that Flynn seems to be working for someone else now; a corpulent shadowy figure who recognises the New Mutants on sight), but that doesn't help with the fundamental issue here that Beauty and the Beast - little as I thought of it - came to a coherent, happy ending that Claremont has completely undone so he can engage in his hobby of making people beat each other up with outdated weaponry for no reason.

(While we're on the subject, I'm not at all convinced anyway by Claremont's portrayal of Dazzler as basically having to fight herself not to become a gladiator again - it was the sense of camaradie and belonging she craved, her taste for the arena faded the moment she realised it wasn't play-fighting - but when you're reading a writer with such a taste for setting up these kinds of matches, having a character admit she's a sniff of blood away from voluntarily trying to murder a stranger, the whole thing takes on a rather unpleasant taste.  Beauty and the Beast isn't ancient history.  It finished three months before this was published, and seeing the degree to which Claremont has twisted its characters and setting to feed what is essentially a fairly throwaway story - the ultimate reveal of the shadowy figure notwithstanding - is frustrating.)

Anyway; Lila orders Guido to get them tickets to the next Gladiator match, but I guess he failed, because they have to bluff their way in (not tricky when one of you is a terrifying demon sorceress). Their charade doesn't last long when Dazzler sees her former friend Ivich about to be killed in the arena; she jumps in to help and the plan is shot.  Fortunately the resulting fracas is ended by the arrival of Magneto.  He's been sent by Xavier to recruit the New Mutants for an upcoming fight with the Beyonder (and just as Mags was getting his Lee Forrester on; how awkward). Sunspot and Magma refuse to abandon the Gladiators, ostensibly because they're being forced to fight with the threat of powerless kids being thrown into the ring in their place should they quit, but also perhaps because they're already on the drug Flynn uses to control recalcitrant employees.  Frustrated, Sam has no choice but to join Magneto and head back to the mansion.  Secret Wars: Round 2 is about to begin...

[1] I can buy that Cannonball's "blasting envelope" can protect him against rapid pressure changes just as it does the frigid air, but when he stops and starts feeling the cold, shouldn't he get the bends as well? It'd be like opening all the windows in a mid-flight 737.

Yes, yes. Complaining about comic science is like wondering why women in porn films never worry about the sexual history of the plumber she fucks before he can so much as check the drains.  Still, though, these are the thoughts that swing through my head.


Thanks to Illyana's unreliable teleporting abilities, this story takes place over a week (skipping Christmas, as far as I can tell).  We'll kick it off the day after Xavier left for Scotland, so as to give him time to get away from New York before the snow that closes down the airport hits.


Sunday 23nd to Sunday 30th December, 1984


X+6Y+296 to X+6Y+304.

Contemporary Events

Sam Peckinpah - one of those people whose work I've only ever seen parodied rather than in its actual form - dies aged 59.


Standout Line

"That smart mouth is gonna take you far, baby-doll -- like to the Moon!"

Oh, Guido. You hilarious threatener of teenage girls, you.

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