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

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