Saturday, 19 July 2014

Nightcrawler #1: "How Much Is That Boggie In The Window?"

(Ten pounds, in my case. Ugh.)


So, this is something new.  I'm going to have to talk about artwork.

This is the third time in the X-Universe that an artist has been allowed to produce the pencils for their own strips (and one of the two previous examples was Obnoxio the Clown Vs. the X-Men). As such, it's hard not to compare this issue against the work of Byrne, the only other writer in the X-Universe who by this point in the franchise's development can plausibly claim to be as well known for their artwork as their plotting.

There are all sorts of ways this book can be considered superior to the average Byrne joint.  There's not much in the way of gender issues, though the fantasy/sci-fi princess is one more casualty of the prevailing pre-millennium opinion that "regally dressed" is synonymous with "rapidly approaching naked":

Cockrum could also teach Byrne a thing or two about flashbacks, cramming the necessary back-story to this issue (which comes from a completely different comic, of course) into half a page. This is low-hanging fruit, though. Our interest should lie not in the obvious pit-falls Cockrum has managed to avoid, but how he measures up to his fellow artist-writer when they're at their best.

This is difficult for me to do, naturally; I'm just not any good at critiquing visuals.  I know when something looks ugly to me, and I can talk about major deviations from the norm. Beyond that, I tend to run out of things to say.  So bear with me if this isn't my most insightful post.  All that said, though, the difference between Bryne's #ALF art and Cockrum here is that the former favours a generally rather meat-and-potatoes style, with occasional flashes of the much more interesting.  I don't mean this as a criticism, particularly, there's nothing wrong so far as I can see with a comic that uses its visuals as an underlining of the text, rather than a potential distraction to it. Byrne's occasional experimentation - the monochrome city of the Great Beasts, the gorgeous technicolour wig-out of the dimension within Shaman's medicine bag - are all the more striking for being meted out sparingly (all of this must be taken with a pinch of salt given my comparative disinterest in art to begin with, of course).

In comparison, Cockrum is throwing it all onto the page almost from the very beginning. Nightcrawler and Lockheed  whisked away to an alternate dimension (via a Danger Room snafu we'll discuss later) and immediately find themselves in the grip of an inflatable air-squid-thing.

Elsewhere we have a flying pirate ship not entirely unreminiscent of Jabba's sail barge (which almost meets its end the same way when Kurt takes exception to their villainous ways), a royal yacht, also flying, and a gigantic city, which also - well, you get the idea.

All of which look very pretty (I especially like the squid, but then I would, wouldn't I?). The problem is that whilst it all works just fine in isolation (except maybe the city, which looks too much like something you'd pull out of someone during emergency surgery), the overall effect is too disparate. No two things here look like they're plausibly from the same culture, or possibly even world. There might be some in-comic explanation for that, but even if there is, the end result is just a riot of colours and forms. Nothing has any context. A world where the population (so far as we can tell right now) never touches the ground could lead to some fascinating world-building, but there's none of that here, just page after page of Cockrum chucking what he can at us. By the time Nightcrawler is kidnapped by his former pirate buddies and sold to a slavemaster with the head of a shark, the eyes are not so much well-fed as suffering indigestion.

Like I say, I'm probably the wrong person to listen to on stuff like this. But there's a broader point here, which is that if you're not digging the art on display there's not much else here. Nightcrawler gets to play pirate for a few weeks until they come across another ship and he quickly learns that actual pirates are colossal, violent dicks, but as revelations go that's about the most banal possible. There's a lot of stuff about people mistaking Nightcrawler for a "boggie", but aside from it clearly being something undesirable neither we nor Kurt have any idea what it is or whether the mistake will cause problems (though at least it leads to a nice Lewis Carroll joke at Lockheed's expense). What we've got here is a very Claremontian dimension hop with nothing to sustain it but a kind of clichéd fantasy weirdness.

The only really interesting idea in the book is how 'Crawler is spirited away to this strange land in the first place; he describes the Well at the Centre of Time he encountered on an earlier adventure, and when Kitty tries to replicate it in the Danger Room, she somehow generates the real deal, causing our hero to be sucked out of our reality. The cynical amongst us might suggest this is a transparent attempt to get the action going with as little effort as possible, and indeed there's not enough time spent establishing how impossible this is to make me believe it's a plot point to be returned to later as opposed to essentially handwaved away. Even so, there's something inherently interesting in the idea of the image of something actually being the thing itself (see, for example, Doctor Who's "Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone", or Ringu, from which the former shamelessly and gloriously cribbed). I'm sure there's some kind of philosophical theory on this idea, like how if you draw a settlement on the wrong place on a map eventually a settlement will grow there from all the people who show up expecting to find it.  I wish I could remember what it was called. My much smarter friends tell me it might have something to do with post-structuralism (Baudrillard argues that today there is no such thing as reality, which at least implies what we create and what actually is cannot be usefully distinguished), or maybe substance theory, which says there's no difference between an object and an image of an object if the stimuli we take from them are equivalent. Others say it all goes back to Platonic ideals; @RedFoxglove tells me "You can track it all back to Plato's "idea reality", where material beings are just representations of conceptual ones, but idea and copy have equal existence. But it's also a belief phenomenon, if you look at cargo cults and voodoo."  Which is useful, because the best example I had until now was Linda Kowalski panicking about photographing Aborigines in Crocodile Dundee.

Whatever the idea's provenance, I love the idea of drawing a picture of a girl drawing a picture (which is essentially what Kitty is doing when you get down to it) which then becomes the real deal. Because everything else in comics works the same way; we process the pictures as if they shift between panels. Of course there's no difference between an image of the Well and the Well itself, not to people who themselves are lines on paper. Perhaps the lesson to be taken here is that some of us (and I most definitely include ourselves) spend too much time worrying about how one particular set of curves and colours got onto the page, when the answer all along was "because I drew it; now sit down and start reading".  For any number of reasons I'm not a fan of that suggestion, but I guess it has a certain value in liberating comic stories from a coherent cause-and-effect model that we already know long-term they are incapable of cleaving to in any case.

So I guess in the end it's not entirely just a bunch of pretty pictures.  Well, except for the fact I've no reason to believe Cockrum realised he was making that point.  And that the point is basically that a comic can be a bunch of pretty pictures. 

To which I guess the only response I can give is: in that case, couldn't you have made the pictures just a wee bit prettier?


This story takes place over the course of a few minutes (according to "our" reality, at least).  The last time Kitty and Illyana were both in the mansion was just before NMU #29, so we'll place that story there.


Saturday 22nd December, 1984



Contemporary Events

Madonna's "Like A Virgin" begins its six-week reign of the US charts.

Standout Line

"It's a boggie!"
"--And his frumious bandersnitch!"
"Shouldn't that be bandersnatch?"
"Nope-- too small."

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