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.

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