(Those who are about to die of boredom salute you!)
Last time around we spent some time kicking UXM #196 for ignoring Secret Wars II about as much as it possibly could whilst avoiding potential legal action. On first glance, we might want to aim the same accusation at NMU #30. Certainly the kick-off here suggests this. We last saw Illyana throwing herself into Limbo with Shadowcat, Cannonball, Dazzler and Rachel Summers, after the Beyonder had forced her into her Darkchilde persona as part of his apparent quest to do as much pointless damage in nine issues as is possible. This transformation had no impact on SW2 #1 itself, so at the very least there was an implication that Claremont would do something interesting with it here.
Instead, we get a couple pages of our heroes panicking before Kitty gets hold of her roommate's soulsword and bisects her as neatly as circumstances allow. This restores Illyana to factory settings (assuming Belasco is running the factory, of course) and they heard back to the real world to get back to the interrupted gladiator story.
It's a stronger tie-in than UXM #196 - praise fainter than a three-day old fake tattoo, of course - but other than characteristically strong Sienkiewicz artwork it still feels desperately unnecessary. There's a hint here that Kitty's use of the soulsword will cause her problems down the road, but there's still the definite feeling that this is less "Secret Wars II continues..." and more "Secret Wars II is summarily dismissed...".
Maybe not, though. The Beyonder rocks up here, during Kitty's rescue op. Some background on that: Kitty's plan is to pose as a techie and infiltrate Flynn's operation; there she'll knock out the power and spring Roberto and Amara in the confusion. Dazzler offers to go with her, is rebuffed, and completely unsurprisingly decides to go along anyway, because Kitty is fifteen and being a pain in the arse. Besides, Dazzler has to return to the gladiators so that she can prove... well, that's less than clear. That everyone is wrong and she isn't addicted to fighting, I guess. Which is kind of like trying to prove you're not addicted to heroin by shooting up (they make her take a stronger version of the drug they hooked her on last time, too, which rather compromises the fuck out of this as a scientific experiment). But whatever. Not one line of this Dazzler plot has made the slightest sense since she showed up here.
Anyway, whilst Sam, Rachel and Illyana wait outside the venue for Kitty's signal, the Beyonder shows up to stare at people some more. Specifically, he seems interested in Rachel this time, going so far as to share his conception of reality with her before Sam freaks out and blasts everyone away. In itself, that's still not a terribly impressive crossover example, but combine this with the Beyonder tailing Rachel in UXM #196 (which is clearly intended to follow on from this), and Rachel mentioning here that the Beyonder reminds her of stories about the Dark Phoenix, and the roughest sketch of a conclusion begins to emerge. Given SW2's reputation, we might take some comfort in that.
Elsewhere in this issue, Amara and Roberto act like complete arseholes, terrorising Dazzler for having the gall to enjoy the adulation of the crowd whilst she works to ensure each bout ends without a fatality (and whilst trying to prepare them for the coming escape attempt). And OK, basking in the applause of bloodthirsty scum like these particular audiences is a bit of a strange way to get your jollies, but if I were being applauded for style points whilst specifically preventing what the shits in the bleachers have ostensibly paid for, I think I'd be a little chuffed as well. This plotline resolves with Dazzler reaching the most obvious conclusion possible, that she wants the adulation without the violence. Kitty calls this proving herself a hero, I say it just means Alison isn't the thoroughly despicable human being this story has been determined to paint her as.
Much more interesting, though, is the shadowy villain controlling events. Interesting how? Well, he captures Kitty and locks her inside a giant war-robot of, ah, idiosyncratic design:
which he then sets on Sunspot and Amara in the arena. That, I submit, should do for a start. More than that, though, I really appreciate how Claremont is building up to the big reveal. Knowing the truth ahead of time, it's fun to watch him scattering clues or, more often, red herrings. The body shape and declared gender come under the latter heading (is the human body really capable of so extreme a change in weight, though?), but the phone call to Xi'an Coy Manh's villainous uncle is a great nod to what's really happening. I don't think anyone is actually expected to be able to put the pieces together yet - we don't know enough about the Shadow King, for a start - but Claremont is clearly having fun stirring the pot, and I'm enjoying watching him do it.
Which is more than I can say for this damn gladiator plotline. Bollocks to this damn gladiator plotline. Let's try and move things along here, OK?
This issue picks up immediately after the Beyonder turned Magik into Darkchilde, but the majority of this issue takes place over two evenings. Cannonball notes that the latter of these is Saturday, so we'll start the main events of this issue on the first Friday following first contact with the Beyonder on Earth. This means a gap of six days from that encounter, but this is easily explained away by another problematic jaunt courtesy of Illyana.
Monday 31st December to Saturday 5th January, 1985.
X+6Y+304 to X+6Y+310.
The internet domain name system is created.
"This affair is proceeding wonderfully... which prompts the prudent man to immediately prepare for disaster."
Our shadowy foe proves himself commendably pragmatic.