Saturday, 28 June 2014

ALF #28: "Cross-Over"

("I had hoped for a more inspiring epitaph.")


At last, the final John Byrne-penned issue of Alpha Flight.  I feel like I should do something different to mark the event, like last time, but really I can't do much more than wave small flags slowly and with great exhaustion. No winners, only survivors.

Perhaps part of this is the low-key conclusion to Byrne's run here.  I don't mean "low-key" in the sense of being slow and contemplative, I mean it in the sense that it's almost impossible to tell the book is about to change writers at all. Absent Byrne's goodbye note at the end of the issue, I'm quite sure I'd never have suspected this was his final story.  Not that this was uncommon for the times.  We spend so much time these days discussing whether or not a writer has had time to tell their story and develop their themes before the inevitable reshuffle/relaunch/cancellation that it's interesting to look back at an era where that was pretty much unheard of in superhero comics.  Byrne had a few long-running concerns he would return to from time to time, but basically there's never been a point in this run where he'd need more than an issue or two to step off and hand over.

The only real hint that Byrne might have found himself with too little time to do what he wanted is the rather perfunctory way the Omega Flight storyline finishes off here. They're fleeing from the mall before it can be eaten by Shaman's medicine bag, but run into Madison Jeffries, who builds an impromptu Transformer to beat up various Omega Flight members - and kill one of Flashback's future selves, which forces the villain to confront the fact he's now certain to die at some random point in the future like every other person ever - and then literally turn Courtney inside-out.  This all happens very quickly and early in the issue, and feels too random even to really work as deus ex machina (perhaps ironically given Jeffries's skill set). But as Marge Simpson once said, it's an ending, let's leave it at that.

(There's also a weird moment here where Madison tells Diamond Lil that he's convinced she and Wildchild at the very least have been under some kind of mental suggestion/control by Courtney, as murderous vendettas really aren't their style. Which, OK, I always think this kind of reveal is pretty weak - just a way of excusing bad characterisation or plotting - but since Byrne invented these characters and we never saw them in action pre-Omega Flight, there's no real foul here.  What's strange here though is that Jeffries immediately follows this revelation by leaving the two of them to be arrested, announcing he'll see his ex when she gets out in six years or so. So she might actually be innocent but he's not going to bother checking?  Not cool. And I say that with more than one ex-girlfriend I wouldn't shed any tears over hearing they'd been sent to the chokie.)

Of course, a writer's final issue on a book can be remarkable for reasons other than a grand finale or a thematic wrap-up. One option would just to be make sure you go out bringing your A-game.  In truth, there isn't really that much evidence of that here, but I'll certainly grant that this is one of Byrne's stronger efforts.  The rescue of Talisman after Shaman failed to save her personally (despite promising he could) finally provokes Elizabeth to take her father to task for how much of a "Daddy knows best" douchebag he's been ever since she showed up back in his life.  For all that it's taken far too long to get to, it's really nice to see Talisman point out just how huge a dick move it was on her father's part to let her put on her tiara without bothering to explain it could never be removed. It's perhaps a little less justifiable to be so angry over Shaman's broken promise to save her from the bag, given a) if she hadn't gone in three of their friends would have died, b) it's not his fault she wouldn't risk her life for those people without a guarantee of her safety, and c) complaining that Shaman acted badly after she leapt into the void is implicitly arguing that he should have let Snowbird be murdered rather than try to save them both. All of that just means that Shaman isn't clearly 100% in the wrong, though. That's not the same thing as Elizabeth not having the right to feel the way she does, despite Heather's doubtless well-intentioned attempt to come to Shaman's defence.

Calling out Shaman on his patriarchal attitude is probably one of the best character moments Byrne has generated so far in terms of gender politics, and it's particularly appreciated considering how down we've been on him on the topic since the very first issue. This is strengthened by Heather getting angry in the closing pages when she learns Bochs and Langkowski have been searching for a new biological body for the latter to steal and wear as a meat suit, and that none of the people who knew of the plan thought it was worth sharing with her, despite her role as leader. Which goddamn, that's a good point.  I admit I've never actually had anything approaching an employee, but you'd better believe that if I did have, I'd want them to check with me over whether the company's dress code included stolen biped bodies.  It's taken forever for Byrne to deliver on having a woman as leader in the book, but he at least manages something here, just before he bows out.

So it's a top quartile Byrne book, insofar as its slightly sexually progressive (letting your ex get arrested for a crime you're not sure she's guilty of aside) rather than noticeably retrograde, and because there's no ball dropping either in plot or characterisation (and Byrne's latest Transformers rip-off looks actually quite cool and sinister). There was no cringe-inducing commentary on mental health issues. His run doesn't finish off focussing on a completely different team to the one he's ostensibly writing about. Faint praise this all might be - especially for a man with so oddly strong a legacy - but praise it remains.  I am not sorry I had to pay for this book.

Indeed, the only real problem I have with the issue is that Byrne's own cover gives away the page 22 cliff-hanger, as the "almost mindless" creature Bochs has hooked proves to be the Hulk, banished to another dimension by Dr Strange (I think). Thanks to the cover, the cliff-hanger is not only spoiled, but awkward questions are immediately generated regarding how anyone could watch the Hulk and conclude he was almost mindless. I realise this is a bum note generated simply through the need to justify Sasquatch's plan to steal himself a new body, but the end result still comes off as contemptuous of anyone not capable of declining verbs; if anyone out in the real world tried to suggest someone at the Hulk's level of intellectual development should be essentially considered as a courtesy car for anyone rich enough to pay scientists for a mind-swap they'd be pelted with monkey wrenches, and deservedly so.

A minor and qualified success, then, and a damn sight better than Byrne's batting average on the title. Maybe the most damning thing about all this is the thought that this is his A-game after all. But someone else will have to have the final word on that.  I've finished with Byrne until at least the '90s, and at the end of this run I'm not sure I even find him interesting enough to beat up anymore. It's not the last word he'll want, nor one that reflects his unquestionable influence on the world of Marvel comics, but I'm afraid it's the best I can do. "Sometimes, he wasn't insufferable."

Let's move on.


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


Sunday 24th June 1984.



Contemporary Events

Nothing at all. 24/06/1984 continues to be the date interest forgot.

Standout Line

"What happens to me, an' Child, an' Flashie?"
"Looks like Flashback's gonna be busy goin' crackers f'r a bit, Lil."

Friday, 27 June 2014

NMU #33: "Against All Odds"

(You'll find them in the club.)


Part five of the sprawling Shadow Karma epic, and we're still not done.  I have to confess to flagging somewhat at this point. Which is interesting, considering how common five- and six-parters are these days as people "write for the trade", but I guess decompression does in the end have its uses.  After 110 of Claremont's dense pages, I'm very much ready to move onto something else.

Putting that aside, though, what does this issue have to offer us? Well, a lot of it is standard Claremont meat-and-potatoes superhero punching, which as usual is neither too inspiring nor too calamitous for us to discuss fruitfully (as always, though, Sienkiewicz gives everything a nice twist, though the law of diminishing returns might be starting to make its presence felt at the edges it isn't Sinkiewicz, of course, it's Leialoha, and I'm an idiot).  The linking theme here is Storm and Illyana's contrasting approaches to fighting Shadow Karma (currently residing in her Pharaoh nightclub and making couples fall out with each other, which seems a bit penny-ante).

At least, I think that's it, assuming that the first attack against Karma is Storm's idea. It seems to be, given Illyana is calling her boss" during the initial fight, which ends with Dani using her psionic rapport with Rahne to shake off Karma's influence for long enough for the two of them to escape along with Storm and Illyana. From this I assume Storm's plan is to slowly chip away at Karma until her captives are all free and rather more violent tactics come into play.

If this is indeed Storm's approach, then it makes some sense; grind away until the enemy has no super-powered bodyguards and then launch your offensive.  The trouble is that I've no idea how this is supposed to work in the long term. Wolfsbane was uniquely easy to free because of her rapport with Mirage and because SK didn't actually understand what was being pulled. It's not clear how Storm plans to proceed from here, if indeed any of this was Storm's plan to begin with.

And that's all very frustrating, because the back end of this issue is about how Illyana wants to tackle the problem, and instead of contrasting that with a strong alternative approach from Storm, we sort of see our heroes maybe succeeding despite themselves and not deciding where to go next.  Considering this issue references the Storm and Illyana miniseries, which contained a major thread about how Storm wanted to play the long game which Illyana lacked the patience for, not being explicit as to whether this is the same problem appearing in very different circumstances seems like a wasted opportunity.

We're also left uncertain as to why Illyana wants to shift tactics.  Is she worried the long game gives SK too much time to establish a power base?  Does the possessed New Mutants' attack on their hideout suggest they have no way to escape constant assaults by SK, forcing Illyana's hand?  It's not clear.  When she has the opportunity to grab Magma and drag her to Limbo along with Warlock, why doesn't she take it, and at least see whether that releases Amara from control (it'd be pretty amazing if it didn't, I think)? All of this matters because the eventual plan Illyana formulates is so reckless and unpleasant - teleport first Dani and Rahne, then Ororo to SK so they can be mind-controlled, presumably in the hopes of striking against her once her guard is down - it becomes critical to understand what drove her to it.  Can she literally see no other workable option? Or is this just the sort of plan that appeals to her?

Maybe Claremont is holding back on that in case he can sucker a few readers into thinking Illyana really has switched sides, but you'd have to have a fairly low opinion of one's readers to try that, and I hope Claremont would be too smart for that.  The question here shouldn't be whether Illyana has turned traitor, but how she expects pretending to will get her what she wants.  Well, that's one question, the other as noted as why whatever Plan A was has been rejected, and why she doesn't at least try something a little less galactically unpleasant before resorting to selling her friends down the river. How much of a problem this all is depends of course on whether you think Claremont is missing obvious alternatives to get a bit of nastiness on the page, or whether it's plausible Illyana herself would end up concocting a horrible plan like this and put it into action without considering less unpleasant approaches.  In the end, I think it's the latter - again, the reference to her actions in Limbo reminds us that her sadistic streak is never fully under control. I actually think this is pretty much the best way to make use of Magik (I think Zeb Wells figured this out in NMU Vol. 3, in fact); not as a character who is actively evil, but as one that's somewhere between chaotic good and chaotic neutral who just can't help coming up with vicious plans for victory that tend to be high on collateral damage.

So I really like the idea of Illyana's scheme, even if its specifics are jaw-dropping in how hideous they are (seeing Ororo under SK's control is especially horrific, but then for some reason my brain associates mind-control with claustrophobia, so what do I know?).  It's just a real shame that the first half of the issue had a golden opportunity to give the second half much greater heft and tie things together in a compelling way, and it simply doesn't really try.


This story takes place over a single night.


Tuesday 22nd January, 1985.



Contemporary Events

This induces a lot of strange half-memories (note the post-Doctor Who Tom Baker voice-over, too):

Standout Line

On occasion, despite myself, I cannot avoid finding Claremont's corniness rather cute.

Friday, 20 June 2014

DAZ #40: "Travellers"

Aim higher, warriors. Aim higher.
(The road is short.)


The terrifying words in that upper-right triangle might strike fear into many hearts at this point, but the intersection of DAZ #40 and the on-going sprawl of "Secret Wars II" does at least offer something useful, from a critical perspective if not in terms of entertainment.

For a while now it's been my contention that Jim Shooter invented almost the entirety of the modern-day comics crossover with "Secret Wars", and whichever concepts eluded him on that occasion were born from his sequel. Indeed we've already covered the first timid steps into the field of tie-in issues, with both Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants featuring imprints on their covers as the Beyonder arrived to interfere with ongoing stories.

Up until now, though, the Beyonder has come and gone through those stories without leaving any real imprint. His appearances have given our heroes plenty of opportunity to engage in various levels of freakout, but there's been nothing to suggest that these issues required anything more than a last minute write-in to remind the punters Shooter needed a new storey on his house.

This issue is different.  The Beyonder actually alters the narrative. Most of what happens here would need rewriting - or at least reframing   without him sticking his indestructible indefinable nose into events.  At the same time, though, his presence is viewed through the general framing of the parent title.  Dazzler isn't usurped by the Beyonder, as O.Z. Chase threatened to do, the Beyonder is forced to approach things from the book's perspective. Which is great, of course; a demonstration years before these crossovers became ubiquitous of how these crossover should be run (the quality of the story here notwithstanding).

Not that everything goes to plan. There's a notable discontinuity between SW2 #4 and this issue. In the former, the Beyonder acted like an utter jerk but eventually agreed to return Alison to Chase. Here, the Beyonder has taken Alison to a mall opening so she can sing and thus celebrate their triumph. I suppose you can wave away the change of destination as the Beyonder just being capricious, but what exactly is this great victory they're celebrating? Dazzler dying and having to be resurrected? The Beyonder obliterating (another) galaxy out of rage? Him stopping controlling her mind to make her think she loved him?

It's not an insurmountable hurdle, as continuity snarls go, I'm just raising it to strengthen my point: almost any feature of modern-day comic crossovers can be found here.

Leaving the internal variations aside, though, there is a significant problem here, which is that the Beyonder warps the narrative to the point where he has to be fobbed off so as not to fix anything long-term.  We saw the same problem in the last crossover (the short but infuriating X-Men and Alpha Flight), and we saw it again decades later with the recent "Avengers vs X-Men" storyline (see? It all comes back to this miniseries); the idea that insanely powerful super-beings mustn't be allowed to enact global improvements because... well, because that would render the Marvel Universe too unrecognisable, I guess. Irrespective of the actual reason, though, the in-universe excuses are always unbearable. Dazzler doesn't want the Beyonder to help out in the struggle for mutant rights because it's important they do it themselves? That's not even worth a debate? The pretty white rich mutant (well, she could be rich if she was nicer to her father) decides for every mutant everywhere that they don't need the Beyonder's help? I'm sure that will come as a great comfort to all the mutants who are clubbed to death that week. I know given my position in society I need to be careful about spouting off on the subject of how oppressed minorities should fight back, but come on. A God offers to help the human race simmer down and you don't take it?

But the larger problem here is that even if longer consideration would have led to the same conclusion, the Beyonder's offer here overshadows everything else.  The idea of how the Beyonder might be able to aid the mutant cause (or not) is simply more interesting than the material elsewhere in the issue.  It's not clear how much of that is Springer not realising where the best ideas are and how much of it is him being limited by Shooter's story and the upcoming cancellation of this title, but whatever the cause the problem is noticeable.

Which is a shame, because the rest of this issue isn't at all bad. It's perhaps difficult to see how it can develop sufficiently over the two further issues Dazzler has, but the basic plot - Dazzler is being manipulated by a body-hopping man named Dust and a strained voice on his radio named Silence - is at least a solid hook, especially since they have three super-powered trackers at their disposal to chase Dazzler down. At present their plan seems convoluted to the point of self-sabotage - why hire Chase to capture Dazzler if their goal is to free her, unless they want a handy adversary to cast themselves against - but mysteries in the first part of a storyline are nothing new.

The interactions here are deftly handled, too. You've got Alison, Chase, the Road Warriors, and the Beyonder, all with their own goals, and Springer deftly handles their intersection. In particular, the Road Warriors' plan revolves around Chase being a standard mutant hating jerk, which means everything goes pear-shaped the minute it transpires Dazzler actually likes him. Indeed, the whole battle would have been over much sooner if the Beyonder wasn't sneakily piling more and more powers onto the Road Warriors out of a misguided attempt to give Dazzler more "satisfaction", which she values and he doesn't understand.

That's the way to use the Beyonder. Not as a one-note butt of misunderstandings via literalism, but as a bewilderingly powerful being who wants to wants to do the right thing but has no conception of the approach necessary or even what really constitutes "the right thing" anyway. So here he simply prolongs a fight that destroys more and more of the surrounding landscape as Dazzler attempts to escape the pursuers who would already have been defeated if not for the Beyonder's meddling.

So really, we should declare this issue a success and move on.  The Beyonder works here better than he ever has before, and the idea of a body-snatcher (who leaves his former victims in a pleasingly gruesome state) using various other superbeings to corral Dazzler for reasons unknown is a nice enough hook for the last two issues of the run.  If you're going to force a title to use it's third-from-last issue to dance to the tune of an unbearable ego-stroke of a crossover, this is definitely the way to do it.

Still, though.  If only it hadn't needed to.


This story takes place over the course of a few hours.  Since Blaire and Chase are still on the road, we're going to have to move DAZ #39 forward in time here to fit in with Secret Wars II, since otherwise their road trip takes on Kerouac-like proportions.


Thursday 24th January, 1985.



Contemporary Events

Standout Line

"And that strength lasts... upholding the shimmering umbrella of vibrating light molecules through the fiery storm."

Light molecules? Apparently physics is for other people.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

UXM #199: "The Spiral Path"

(Take it outside.)


This is another example of Claremont's frequent cut-and-shut approach to plotting during this period.  This issue can be divided almost straight down the middle as regards its central plot, with the first half dealing with Rachel's problems in assimilation, and the second half focusing on Magneto clashing with the newly-established Freedom Force (previously the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but looking for a career change and a government paycheck) at a Holocaust memorial.

In Claremont's defence, there is at least a coherent theme here; we go from Rachel's traumatic experiences during the mutant pogroms to Magneto's fears that such events will inevitably come about.  As we've argued before, though, that's an idea fraught with problems. For all that the X-Men haven't been a superhero team with a terrible record on diversity, right now their ranks consist of precisely zero non-white characters, only one of which is Jewish (if you include every person living or visiting the mansion right now you've got by my count two Jewish people, two non-white people, and eleven who are neither).  Equating the hypothetical horrors a bunch of white people in a swanky mansion might face with the actual nightmares of the Holocaust always makes me queasy.

But we'll come back to the Holocaust problem here. Let's start with Rachel. She's feeling particularly depressed today because her unsuspecting father has returned to the X-Mansion but he's too busy to talk about what's bothering her (she's got a point; how long can it take for Scott to hear his mentor ignored doctor's orders after his mugging and is therefore going to be dead in a month or so?).  Feeling utterly anchorless, she decides to mooch around the gravestone of her mother, and the (currently empty) house of her grandparents.  Shockingly, this somehow fails to provide her with the boost she needs.

What it does do, however, is remind her of her mother's final days (at least, her final days in our universe. At least, her final days in our universe as we thought we understood them at the time).  Apparently Jean's survival in Rachel's reality came not from her avoiding becoming the Phoenix, but by having a smarter support network to get her through the experience (presumably stopping her from atomising all those plants with dreadlocks and waking up the Shi'ar. Overwhelmed by the resulting combination of unbearable loss and survivor’s guilt, Rachel decides it’s time she embraced her mother’s legacy, and became Phoenix herself.

This development is both confusing and concerning. Confusing because it’s not at all clear how Rachel is actually accessing the Phoenix Force here, or even whether that’s happening at all. Is she just willing herself to a greater power level? Or is this change purely at the level of cosmetics and attitude?

And speaking of attitude, I’m really struggling to figure out where Rachel gets the idea that the Phoenix is hers “by right”. Haven’t we suffered enough at the hands of people who think just because your parents had something, you should have it too? Monastic dynasties have caused no end of problems through the centuries.  More recently, variations on that theme have brought us President George W Bush, the recording career of Julian Lennon, and the idea that it should ever be appropriate for Bill Kristol to speak in public or really at all.  And none of that has the sheer destructive potential demonstrated by the Phoenix. When your narrow data set tells you 50% of the people to use the force before you ended up flash-frying an entire planet, a little more thought is surely required than “Hey, my mom had it”.

Not that I’m even slightly against the idea that Rachel has suffered too long and too much, and deserves to feel safe and empowered.  It’s just the nature of the power she’s chosen, and more to the point that she’s showing no evidence that her new conviction to save the world comes attached to any sense of how that can safely and sensibly be done.  Tremendous power is no use unless you’ve got a damn good targeting system and surgical precision – I would be almost no more help to the world in general if I were given the Russian nuclear codes, and potentially a good deal less – and if you have a coherent, long-term view of what you want and how you can use your power to get it.  Yes, the Beyonder seems like a pretty good place to start, if for no other reason than to put Secret Wars II out of everyone’s misery, but what comes after that? Who do we disintegrate next to obtain peace on Earth?

There’s a certain irony in this idea of combining utterly understandable rage over despicable treatment with the acquisition of terrible power, considering we’re about to delve into the Jewish reaction to the Holocaust.

Which reminds me…

Voted for unanimously in Congress (this was before the days that the Republicans literally stopped being able to agree over whether mistreating puppies or destroying the world's economy was a bad idea), the US Holocaust Memorial Museum wasn't started until three years after this issue came out, and wasn't finished until the '90s.  So it's not really the case that Claremont wrote a story in which an actual monument to the horrific ability of mankind to slaughter itself with maximum cruelty for minimum reason is trashed in a super-brawl.  Just, you know, a place that was planned to be that.

No-one who's been reading this blog for a while will be surprised to learn how unsettled this idea makes me. I've said before that there's a real danger attached to explicitly linking the mutant struggle to others in the past (as oppose to making the metaphor clear), both because suggesting your fictional characters are in some way comparable to actual human beings who have suffered horrors most of us can't even imagine is a rather clueless move, and because in the case of the X-Men, as people far smarter than me have pointed out, the central moral seems to be that when faced with violent and occasionally even state-sanction bigotry, it's best to try and talk calmly to people as much as possible.  To say this position sits uneasily with the results of the Nazi's rise to power is to create a phenomenon for which the word "understatement" can no longer be sensibly applied. There's something rather unsettlingly arrogant to show a bunch of costumed lunatics beat each other up inside a crumbling monument to the hideousness of the real world and expect us to care about the results.

Not that everything here is terrible.  The initial two pages, as Magneto and Shadowcat absorb the memorial, are actually really nice, contrasting Kitty’s self-consciousness with her knowledge that she’s doing something bigger than herself, and reunions and the sharing of knowledge between all these people affected by the Holocaust is affecting, all the more so for being so understated (until Magneto starts musing on the nature of heroism, at least). And sure, maybe the fact that Magneto knew Kitty’s great aunt is a bit of a coincidence, but it’s not like I know how close-knit the community of Holocaust survivors should be, and in any case coincidence in fiction is annoying when it leads to lazy plotting; using it to generate moments like this should get an automatic pass.

But then the attack begins.

I suppose on one level there’s something a little subversive going on here, as Claremont is basically suggesting the US government (and Reagan specifically; Claremont is careful to remind us of him when Mystique persuades Val Cooper to employ her) would be happy to smash up the most sacred of locations as long as it results in being rid of undesirables, and if they can do it through the use of proxies. Considering the horrific policies of the Reagan era towards any number of Central and South American countries, dragging the practice into an arena white America might be inclined to pay attention to at least has the right motivation behind it.

But there’s just not enough sense that this is what he’s aiming for (not that even if he was I’d be on board with the specifics of this approach). Instead, the main aim here is for Magneto to realise how destructive his chosen life has been, even to those he would be inclined to help, thereby setting up his trial in UXM 200. For all that Kitty spends the whole fight insisting they should honour the building rather than reducing it to rubble (even Colossus seems perfectly happy smashing through walls if it allows him to begin the punching a few seconds sooner), the overall impression is one of convenience, which classes horribly with what the memorial is and what it represents. Just as writers shouldn’t drag in issues they’re not able or willing to handle with sufficient sensitivity and complexity (see rape in fiction, pretty much every example of ever), they shouldn’t get to drag in such potent symbols of the physical and emotional trauma of an entire people.


With there being no link here to Storm's African (and later Madripoor) adventures, this issue can follow on directly from UXM #197. This story takes place over two days.

It's worth noting that the X-Men and Alpha Flight miniseries,  in which it was announced that Madelyne Pryor was pregnant, happened about eight months ago according to the time-line.  That means Moira's warning about Xavier possibly not living to see Scott's child born leaves Chuck with very little time left. It also means Scott has left his wife whilst she's massively pregnant, which I guess at least shows precedent for the shit he's going to pull when X-Factor #1 rolls around.


Monday 21st to Tuesday 22nd January, 1985.


X+6Y+326 to X+6Y+327.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.22 standard years.

(Beast is 33 years old)

Contemporary Events

The youth! The hair!

Standout Line

"Have I become the image of those I hated?" - Magneto

Monday, 9 June 2014

Time Marches On

One of the problems with starting a new blog whilst recovering from a booze-filled celebration of your anniversary is that it can be hard to remember the associated birthday.  But I'd like to note my satisfaction in having kept this place going for three real years, seven Marvel years, and twenty-two years of publication history, and to say thank you to my small but awesome band of followers and commentators.  The easy part is over now.  Time to head with gritted teeth into the spiralling darkness of the approaching '90s...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

SW2 #2-4: "I'll Take Manhattan!", "This World Is Mine!", "Love Is The Answer!"

(Throw the baby out with the bath water. Then retrieve the bath water.)


When I was eight years old my sister and I would go to our friend's house down the street and play make-believe. One of our favourite games involved me pretending I was an ambassador from a subterranean race.  These underground dwellers had various special powers - brought about by... well, we never really came to a conclusion on that - and had access to indescribable sums of wealth via coins made from pure diamond.

I thought it was an OK game - I preferred the one where we were having a sleepover attacked by disembodied cannibalistic heads - but more than a quarter of a century later, its clear it's a scenario best left in childhood. It certainly wouldn't do to base multiple issues of a high-profile comics crossover on the idea.

Jim Shooter, it's fair to say, disagrees. What else is the Beyonder but my childhood fantasy writ large; an infinitely powerful being exploring Earth with access to whatever money he needs to buy things and people to play around with. Quite frankly, there's more than a whiff of self-indulgence here. Shooter created the Beyonder, which explains his interest in the character, but what is there to him that could interest anyone else?  In the original "Secret Wars", he was clearly nothing but an extra-galactic MacGuffin, existing purely to explain why the most popular Marvel superheroes would end up spending twelve issues punching each other and various supervillains in their gamma-irradiated faces.  I'm baffled as to how anyone could look at that story and decide the best plan would be to remove the team-up aspect and the actual war in order for the sequel to focus on someone so utterly functional.

Which is what we end up with here.  And it's awful. The Beyonder's infinite power robs these issues of any dramatic potential, which basically leaves us with three options: social commentary, wish-fulfilment, and discussing the limits of power. Shooter is kind enough to separate these threads into three consecutive issues, which at least offers us some structure.  That's pretty much where the compliments have to end.

Issue #2 deals with the Beyonder attempting to process the basics of human life. This comes across as a little strange - he observed us for years before wanting to explore the nature of human desire but he doesn't know about food or gravity? - but we can set that aside; the much bigger problem is how lazy this all is.  If you want to craft jokes and provide askance comments on society this is pretty much the most obvious route you can possibly take.  That means you have to work hard to avoid the path of least resistance. Shooter almost never even tries to move beyond phoning in cheap shots and obvious misunderstandings. The Beyonder thinks you eat everything a hot-dog vendor gives you including the glass bottle your soda came in! Ha ha!  The Beyonder will "step outside!" if you ask him to, even if he has to go through a fourteenth floor window! HA HA HA!  Alongside the seemingly endless scenes of the Beyonder failing to understand idioms and synecdoches, he asks penetrating questions of US society like "what are clothes?" and "why is eating?"  This isn't a warped mirror held up to our culture, this is people trying to figure out how any of this is their problem, which is at least a feeling the reader can sympathise with.

There is one nice moment where the Beyonder greets Luke Cage by punching him full in the face, as a few days in the hyper-violent Marvel Universe has led him to experience far more surprise attacks than he has handshakes. And I do like the fact that over the issue the Beyonder actually gets more useful information from a black bag lady and from Luke Cage than he does from three high-profile white superheroes. Because if you want to know how to fit into a world that doesn't seem to have been constructed with you in mind, why would you ever ask someone Caucasian?

This pattern continues in issue #3 when the Beyonder encounters a hooker who, once again, is rather more use to the Beyonder than, say, Mr Fantastic [1]. Aside from this one interesting note, though, this issue manages to be even worse than its predecessor. As awful as SW2 #2 was, at least it was making points about the difficulties of assimilation, even if those points were as lazy and uninformative as is humanly possible.  In this issue, the Beyonder befriends some rather... interestingly designed street criminals, and gradually works his way up the food chain by providing gold and protection to his new friends.  In between he eats whatever he wants in the finest restaurants without getting fat, and lazes on a gigantic hydrofoil in the ocean fucking models, each and every one of which has fallen in love with him (where "in love" here translates naturally to constantly pestering him for more of the penis from Beyond).  It all seems like rather grotesque wish-fulfilment: use your powers of awesomeness to get hot women to fall in love with you and let them fuck them in ménage a huit on your sparkling hydrofoil in-between eating insane amounts of food and hanging out with gangsters without having to be afraid of them or hurt anybody to get your kicks.  That's a damn cynical way to read this tale, I admit, but I'm utterly at a loss to explain what else this story can possibly be about. There's just nothing else to it. There's no insight or moral; no-one spends any time worrying about whether a life of crime is moral or worthwhile. Except for Toots, the streetwalker the Beyonder encountered at the start of the issue; she falls for him and realises it was only the attention of a good man that was stopping her from breaking through her self-hatred and realising her current job was disgusting and she could become a woman of character.  There's just so much to hate in that idea.

There's not even any real connection to the wider Marvel Universe aside from the briefest of cameos - including, hilariously, Circuit Breaker from Transformers, the only occasion I'm aware of when a character from that title appeared in a "mainstream" Marvel book:

- which I thought was supposed to be the thin thread on which this whole exercise is self-indulgence was hanging. Reducing the characters who made Secret Wars a success in the first place to bit parts is inexplicable enough. Removing them entirely to focus on what the Beyonder does when no-one we care about is around is an exercise in toe-curling egotism, and the results are appropriately terrible.

(It also makes the covers of this series pretty much actionable under trades description legislation - the Beyonder "conquers the world" by deciding one day to control everything in it, and no-one even notices but the Molecule Man.  The implied confrontation with the Avengers happens a) after the Beyonder has relinquished control, b) at the very end of the book, and c) entirely off-panel. It seems the people in charge of covers realised these issues had chuff-all to recommend them on their own terms.)
Issue #4 is at least a step in the right direction, in that in this issue the Beyonder decides it is time he investigated that thing you Earthlings call "love". Finally we have a problem that the Beyonder can't immediately answer with his unlimited power - indeed, figuring that fact out is what the issue is pretty much all about.  But the simple fact that we've moved into an area where immediate success isn't guaranteed for the Beyonder doesn't mean we suddenly have a reason to give the slightest of shits about what he's up to. And there's still some weird and not unconcerning issues around the margins. I'm fine with Molecule Man telling the Beyonder that love shouldn't be a business deal, but rather less with Beyonder deciding that his latest girlfriend Sharon (who of course he has to resurrect after she kills herself because he left her) only considered their relationship a business transaction, because the "ecstasy" he brought her is just a commodity. Way to devalue a woman's sexual experience, Beyonder!

(Yes, yes, this is a character, not the author. I'm not inclined to give Shooter much in the way of charity at this point. If he can have someone take time to point out you shouldn't eat glass to the Beyonder, there's time for it to be pointed out that women get to base their love for someone on whatever they damn well please, even if it is something so ludicrously unreasonable as "how it will make [them] feel." Who doesn't love someone because of how it makes them feel? That's like saying it's wrong to eat if all it does is make you feel not hungry.  But then there isn't really time for Shooter to go through this with Sharon; she's too busy being amazed that the Beyonder might want to fall in love with a man. The Beyonder explains that's fine because he can easily be a woman as well as a man. THERE CAN BE NO OTHER EXPLANATION!)

Anyway, the Beyonder searches for a woman whose love can't be bought, and settles on Dazzler, a woman who pre-Beast had two relationships in a row with men she wasn't particularly sold on, but who splashed out significant amounts of money on her. Having looked for someone whose love can't be bought, and chosen someone whose love can be, if not bought, at least subsidised, the Beyonder proceeds to attempt to buy her love. He tries flowers, tours of amazing places, a magic ring, access to a recording studio. All we really learn here is that the Beyonder can't actually remember his own plans. We also have the frustrating scene of the Beyonder accusing Dazzler of hypocrisy because she fears him for his power whilst being upset over humans for fearing her power, and she agrees rather than pointing out the important difference that she only ever uses her powers in shows and self-defence, and the Beyonder uses his to abduct women and sexually proposition them.

When showering her with gifts doesn't work, the Beyonder moves on to arranging a legit concert for Dazzler, which doesn't work because he fast-forwards her to the gig itself, so it comes across as one more cheap stunt, and fakes an attack by the Avengers to gain sympathy, which doesn't work because Alison isn't an idiot.  His last gambit is to offer Dazzler half of his power so she can understand him, only to discover she doesn't actually want to deal with what she sees.

I suppose as morals go, this isn't a bad one. You can't buy a woman's love, or trick her into it.  You have to actually meet her on her own terms, show her who you are, and hope that she approves.  As conclusions go, this is amazingly obvious, but the truth is so many men are incapable of grasping these ideas that maybe underlining them in crayon is actually necessary.

So one dull issue, one disastrous one, and a meandering mess which even generously can only really be considered one step forward, three steps back in its gender/sexual politics. It's not an encouraging scoreboardd at present, to put it mildly. In amongst all of this nonsense is at least one interesting feature; Shooter is clearly using this series to kick-start other stories in other titles.  The Beyonder releases a dark elf villain of Thor's, for example, as well as freeing Shaman's daughter Talisman from her father's medicine bag.  Really, Shooter had already come up with this idea of seeding a crossover with jumping-off points with his previous effort, but here the idea is perhaps more fully committed to.  It's a reminder that whatever else Shooter is, he was positively uncanny in predicting what comics crossovers would look like thirty years on.

Which just makes how horrible these issues are all the more perplexing.

[1] In Reed's defence, the Beyonder did come to him for answers whilst he was battling to save his wife from the influence of the Hate Monger.  This though raises another problem. Who could have thought it made sense for sections of important battles in Fantastic Four to be resolved here?  Are they repeated in FF proper, making this almost entirely redundant? Or did FF readers actually have to buy this issue to fully understand what was happening?


Issue 2 is described as taking place a few days after the Beyonder's arrival on Earth. This clashes with the Uncanny X-Men time-line, though, and for obvious reasons we'll be taking the latter as gospel.  We'll therefore move the beginning of these issues to the day following the Beyonder's encounter with Rachel Summers. Issue 3 continues on directly, and spreads over at least ten further days.

Issue 4 takes place over two days, but also intersects with Alpha Flight, which causes some fairly major timing issues.  Or at least, it would if the Beyonder was incapable of time travel.  It's clear he wants to pay Shaman for the privilege of using his medicine bag (to extract an engagement ring; what that's doing in the bag and why the Beyonder can't make his own with his infinite powers of awesomeness is never explained), and returning Talisman to the real world makes perfect sense as a quid pro quo.  There's no reason why the Beyonder couldn't have stepped back in time to the exact moment Talisman was swallowed, in fact by the strange measures of such things, that might actually make more sense than the coincidence of the Beyonder needing something from Shaman's pouch at the very same moment Shaman requires the Beyonder's aid to rescue his daughter.

On the other hand, we really will have to change the Dazzler time-line; there's no reason to see why the Beyonder would pluck Dazzler from the past rather than the present.


Monday 14th to Thursday 24th January, 1985.


X+6Y+319 to X+6Y+329.

Contemporary Events

Your humble blogger turns five. Also, BT announce that their classic red telephone box is to be slowly phased out

Standout Line

"The experience is consummated!"

A happy ending to the Beyonder's trip to Spidey's bathroom.