Sunday, 25 May 2014

ALF #27: "Betrayal"

(The excluded middle.)


This month's Alpha Flight is all about the dangers of looking before you leap. 

So last time around one half of the team found themselves captured by a reformed Omega Flight (minus Smart Alec, who went mad/catatonic last time the teams tussled) led by the resurrected Guardian, who was revealed in fact to be the robot who essentially got the real Guardian killed in the first place.

First order of business for our cybernetic villain is to get his metallic protruberances on the other half of the team.  Before that, though, we need to drop in on what that half is up to. Shaman is busy bandaging up Aurora (Shaman is a doctor: THIS IS IMPORTANT!) after her unfortunate encounter with the bargain-basement Protectobots last issue. Bochs, meanwhile, has been busy finding an alternative body for Sasquatch to take possession of, so that Bochs can have his robotic suit back and gambol once more through marigold fields, crushing each one beneath his giant steel feet as God intended. And it seems like he's hit paydirt; having put together an interdimensional scanner with Shaman's help (Shaman has knowledge of weird alternate dimensions: THIS IS IMPORTANT!) that's picked up a humanoid form built like "a brick shipyard" with almost no recognisable brain-functions. Looks like Walter's house-hunting is finally almost at an end!

I'm pretty uncomfortable about this.  "Virtually no brain-wave pattern that we can detect" sounds like a loophole you could drag Sasquatch's chrome-plated arse through after a three month diet of robo-burgers and oilshakes. This thing is from an alternate dimension and all you've collected is a silhouette.  You can't even photograph it but we're supposed to believe you've performed a serious survey into it's mental capabilities (which obviously might be difficult to measure given its utterly alien origin).  You think anything with opposable thumbs won't come with at least a little nous? Are we saying we'd be happy with Sasquatch pouring his mind into, say, a gorilla?  Because it'd be quicker than Bochs building another suit? This all sounds incredibly sketchy from a moral perspective. It also sounds like an obvious recipe for disaster; I'd put the chances of this extradimensional bruiser not totalling the lab within fifteen picoseconds of being beamed into Canada at about 0.000054%. And I should know.

Just think a bit before inviting this thing round for tea and body-theft.  That's all I'm saying.

Further discussion on the matter is curtailed when Shaman is hit with waves of agony. The robot once known as Delphine Courtney is torturing Talisman, which acts as an automatic SOS beacon with added unpleasantness. Shaman doesn't get anything so useful as a sit-rep from the experience, but it's clear his daughter is in real trouble, so along with Aurora and Sasquatch, he rustles up some teleports, and the team head for battle.

But it's not just Shaman who's picking up bad vibrations. Snowbird has received the message too, and despite her self-imposed exile into the land of infinite sexytimes, she's willing to reveal that she's still on Earth to her former teammates if it means she can save Talisman.  Which is of course terribly noble of her. But remember how I mentioned looking before you leap? We'll be coming back to that.

Shaman, Aurora and Sasquatch arrive to find Ms Naughtybot back in disguise as Guardian. Since they don't know the truth yet, they buy entirely the story "Guardian" sells them that Omega Flight has been dispatched.  The trap is set, but Shaman accidentally short-circuits the plan when he mentions that, lacking for better ideas, he shrank Smart Alec and stuffed him in his medical bag after the villain lost his mind, and has been carrying him around in said receptacle ever since. Even the erstwhile Delphine Courtney - a goddamn robot, need I remind you - has sufficient juice in her empathy circuits to note that this is horrendous. Sure, SA was a villain.  But right now he needs medical care, something which Shaman (HE'S A DOCTOR! THIS IS IMPORTANT) should be entirely aware of.  The fact that his condition was brought about by magic is neither here nor there; what matters is that the actual results of that condition mean he needs to be put in a bed somewhere whilst cared for and observed. Sticking hin in a magic bag because that way he's out of sight is entirely obscene.  Though it's also entirely in keeping with Shaman's character.  Generally speaking it's entirely right and proper to blame a writer for the terrible opinions of their characters if there's no indication anywhere that those opinions should be challenged.  On this occasion, Byrne has us covered.

Which brings us to the centrepiece of the issue. Upon learning of Smart Alec's fate, "Guardian" steals Shaman's medicine bag in the hopes of rescuing his erstwhile co-conspirator. Finding itself unable to find itself a miniaturised colleague, the robot turns his prize inside-out, and everything goes to hell.

Apparently, the simple act of inverting Shaman's medicine bag generates the Void, a sucking vortex of power that looks like a cross between a rainbow spider-web and an exploding Phalanx, and which would be perfectly happy to swallow the entire world.  This, quite frankly, seems like a terrible property for a man-purse to have.  Who amongst us hasn't turned a wee bag inside out whilst trying to find a biro? I can't see a comatose miniaturised genius being any easier to find.  You grab something you think is what you want but which is actually the hem of the bag and POOF! World over.

Anyway, once everything goes a bit Bing Kong Tong, the Guardian robot and its mates beat a hasty retreat.  Unhappily, Shaman can't do the same, both because he bears responsibility for the expanding multi-coloured deathweb, and because Heather, Northstar, Puck, Aurora and Sasquatch have already been swallowed up. The problem now is two-fold: no-one can dive in and rescue them without someone on the outside to act as an achor, and no-one can go in their in the first place without risking insanity and worse.  No-one, that is, save Talisman. Which is its own problem, as Elizabeth is understandably reluctant to dive into a roiling, insanity-inducing realm to try to drag out four grown humans and a robotic shell.

And so Shaman makes his second mistake.  It's a mistake that fits in perfectly with both the theme of the issue and with Michael Twoyoungmen's past, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch.  Thirteen years ago Dr Twoyoungmen promised his five-year-old daughter that his medical chops were up to the task of saving her mother. It's a completely natural thing to say - a natural mistake to make - and I was never really sympathetic to Elizabeth's decision to blame her father for the accidental lie his mother's death made of his insistences. This time, though, Shaman isn't promising to defeat an as-yet unidentified medical condition. He's promising to care enough about his daughter to pull her out of a mess he's asked her to enter, so that she won't go mad and die.  Failing to keep that promise would be utterly unforgiveable.

So Talisman jumps in.

It takes her little time to find the adrift Alpha Flight and nudge them in Shaman's direction. It seems everything will go to plan... and then disaster strikes. Remember my warning about looking before you leap? Turns out Snowbird didn't get the memo, and she was jumped by "Guardian" the moment she arrived.  Shaman now has a choice to make: help Snowbird, or save Talisman.

In thematic terms, this makes perfect sense: Shaman is absolutely primed to view everyone's lives as his to save, and once again that arrogance is in danger of damaging his family (and rather more directly this time), primarily because he's sure he understands the Void well enough to know in advance when the point of no return will arrive (HE'S A DIMENSION-HOPPING DOCTOR! HOW IMPORTANT!). Alas, in terms of actual plot logic, this is total crap. "Guardian" has captured Snowbird, but he hasn't actually threatend to kill her. Talisman is right at the edge of the Void, and will take but a second or two to free. This is made rather clear in fact when Shaman reaches into the Void, pulling out instead of his daughter the material he needs to distract Snowbird's captor.

In short, Shaman chooses a teammate who wasn't certain to be doomed within the next few seconds over his daughter who absolutely was.  This might be superficially of use in forcing Shaman to relive the horrors of his past, but it's only possible because a female character is being thoughtlessly fridged to do it. That's not the sort of dramatic beat we should be celebrating.

But then this isn't the end. There's a crossover coming to sort everything out, which won't resolve the problems of this issue, but will at least draw a line under them.  It's time, in other words, to dive back into the shallow, brackish waters of Secret Wars II.

Not just yet, though. It's high time we returned to our only current female author, and her voyage into meta-commentary.

Let's get our Longshot on.


This story takes place over the course of a few minutes.

It's mentioned here that Box and Sasquatch-as-was have been working for a little while on the "get Walt a body" project Bochs dreamed up in issue 25. We've got the Gantt chart as having taken up a month so far, which seems reasonable.


Sunday 24th June 1984.



Contemporary Events

I think the fact that last time around I listed the birth of Khloe Kardashian as being the most newsworthy thing to happen on 24.6.84 indicates there's really nothing for me to go with here.

Standout Line

"Just to recap for you..."

Christ Jesus, Byrne, would you put some fucking effort in? There must be thousands of approaches to exposition/recapping less clunky than this. The fact this dialogue is the start of Bochs explaining to Aurora the state of play regarding her own goddamn boyfriend just makes it all the worse.

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