Sunday, 6 April 2014
UXM #197: "To Save Arcade?!?"
(After what comes after.)
Colossus is having nightmares.
Dreams in fiction tend to annoy me. Far too often they fall into one of three groups: shameless filler, cheap prophecy (cheap in the sense that it allows writers to visit the lands of mysticism and the supernatural without buying a ticket), and a sledgehammer approach to theme and subtext for writers lacking the skill to underline ideas with anything more subtle than a magic marker.
It does not seem unreasonable to suggest Claremont at least intersects with the group we shall call "sledgehammer writers". What's more - and this is where the problems really start - he's far too willing to indulge his love of whimsy with sprawling scenes devoid of consequence, which lend themselves all too easily to dream sequences.
That said, though, I really like the opening to this issue. Sure, it's overblown, with Colossus being attacked in turn by a copy of himself, a post-Brood Kitty, a Zsaji-lich, and his demon-sorceress little sister. Nor is it within an astronomic unit of subtle; it's just a list of all the people Colossus believes he's been unable to save using his vaunted powers, including himself. Nevertheless, I think it works, for several reasons. Firstly, schlock-horror Claremont is rather more interesting than irritating whimsy Claremont, at least for those of us with an abiding love for cheesy Hammer-style ghosts and goblins. Secondly, by sticking the dream sequence at the very start, it can be considered a summary, and if John Byrne has repeatedly shown us, the state of '80s exposition was wretched enough to to render almost any attempt to deviate from the direct info-dump praiseworthy. Finally, as we've noted before regarding Kitty, if there was ever a time when full-bore histrionics utterly without subtlety is forgivable in (already pretty melodramatic) comics is forgivable, it's when dealing with the hormonal freight-trains that are teenagers trying to work out their love lives.
(Besides, things are at least a little more complicated here than they might seem at first. Kitty never became a Brood, of course. She was saved from that rather nasty fate by the actions of her comrades, including Colossus himself. Morevover, as the script itself points out, Illyana was only ever in a position to become Darkchilde - and to gradually put back together her life, as she is doing - because her big brother saved her from being killed by a tractor at the age of six. This isn't about the actual past, it's about Piotr twisting that past to make himself the centre of it, and thereby feed his inferiority complex. It's a shame no-one is around to hear him awake and note "I clearly hate myself", because someone clearly needs to sit him down and explain exactly how badly he needs to knock this shit off.)
It transpires that our dalliance in the Colossubconscious is not just summary, it is prologue for another spin on the Piotr/Kitty merry-go-round. I thought they'd forged a truce back in the previous year's annual, actually, but then it's far easier to declare a cease-fire with an ex than it is to maintain it. Claremont has already demonstrated at this point that he's willing and capable of dedicating almost an entire issue to the exploration of a relationship between two characters. I'm not sure that this would work particularly well with this particular pair, though - how much self-absorbed wittering can we be expected to take - so Claremont takes a wise tack here and rustles up a slight story to support his tale of unhappy not-quite-lovers - quite possibly aiming to repeat the success he had with "Lifedeath".
So far so good, then, except... Look. There's clearly a hard limit on how much point there is in picking at a plot which is only intended as a delivery system for emotional beats (not that this stops me usually, of course). Even so, Arcade strikes me as a poor choice here. To some extent that's just my standard dislike of the character. Arcade was funny exactly once, in his first appearance, when he worked as a nice parody of the ludicrously involved and minimally justified shticks of Silver age villains. Since then, he has served absolutely no point at all. Indeed, if anything he detracts from the point here. Our heroes have been drafted to act as his bodyguards against an attacker he identifies as Doctor Doom, but ultimately proves to be Arcade's assistant/girlfriend Miss Locke, who is trying to kill him at his request. Not only is this ridiculous, not only is there never any answer to Shadowcat's question as to why Arcade didn't abduct more heroes than just the two of them, the arrival of another couple at the end of a story about Piotr and Kitty demands comparison to our two teenagers, but I'm at a loss as to how to either compare or contrast them coherently. What's the idea here? That there's always a couple more fucked up than you are? That regular outlets of stress through conflict is healthier than sullen silence? Suggestions very much welcome.
So there's really not all that much positive to be said about everything surrounding Shadowcat vs Colossus: Round Who The Hell Knows? What about the main event itself? I'm not sure how many points to give out there, either. The decision to reveal at the end of the issue that Colossus was actually fighting alongside a robotic dupe of Kitty, besides being an obvious twist and a suggestion that Claremont doesn't know where he wants to place his focus, basically relegates Shadowcat to the role of prop in Colossus' story. Again, that's not an unreasonable approach here insofar as it reflects the unbearable solipsism of the average teenager in love, but you need someone to call Piotr on his self-involvement for that to work as a justification.
(And yes, I know we've heard Kitty's side of the story in other issues. This is a title written by a man and aimed overwhelmingly at other men. I trust no further explanation is needed. Also, cutting Kitty's thoughts out of the story makes her pleasure at duping Colossus seem rather cruel, which I don't think was the intent.)
Adding to the problems here is that Colossus' final conclusion that he can move past the damage he's suffered following Zsaji's death, but there's no explanation in the previous pages as to how he gets there. Piotr reaches no obvious epiphany, he simply complains about not knowing how to honour Zsaji's memory, whilst punching a transforming robo-train in a replica of '40s Manhattan (because obviously). Perhaps the suggestion is that Colossus just needed a cathartic outpouring of punches and problems, but if so a) it's desperately unclear, and b) that's really not much of a pay-off.
So that's that, then. Claremont struck at least low-carat gold with "Lifedeath", but "To Save Arcade?!?" does a much better job at highlighting his weaknesses than his strengths. The question at the time must have been: what next? Push further into untested waters? Or fall back onto old favourites?
Time, it transpires, for "Lifedeath II".
Over in subplot corner, meanwhile, Scott Summers finds himself summoned back to the mansion by Moira MacTaggert, Nimrod foils a diner hold-up by murdering the protagonists, and Ororo rises from wherever those mean ol' racists left her to die.
The main story here takes place over the course of a few hours, though some of the subplots are somewhat difficult to reconcile. It's strongly suggested that this is a Friday night, putting this a week further on from the previous story, but we assume Storm did not spend a full seven days unconscious in the wild after being shot by those awful racists. We'll assume she awoke the same day.
Wednesday 13th to Friday 15th January, 1985.
X+6Y+317 to X+6Y+324.
1 Marvel year = 3.19 standard years.
(Beast is 33 years old)
Your humble blogger turns five. What a cute l'il squid I must have been.
"Where are the darn Ewoks when they're needed most?" - Shadowcat.