Wednesday, 15 October 2014
("At least in dying you don't have to deal with New Wave for a second time.")
It's the little things that make a difference.
The basic "revelations" approach - and how nice of Archie Goodwin to flag up his use of it - is a well-used one. Just about any story built on an mystery connected to an antagonist has to go out on two story beats. First you unveil the truth beneath the mystery that (you hope) has had your audience squealing in confused delight, thereby allowing them to check their beautiful theories against your ugly pronouncements of "what really happened", and then you move onto your finale.
The gravity well generated by this approach is difficult to escape, and in that sense it might be unreasonable to criticise Goodwin too much for falling prey to it. But then it's not the familiarity of the move that's really the problem here anyway. It's how poorly is matches up to what surrounds it.
When you take time in your narrative (six pages in this case, or one eighth of the space still available to the title has left available to it) to unravel your mystery, you're implicitly claiming that your mystery is interesting enough and/or long-running enough to make the big reveal interesting to the reader. In this case, though, neither applies. Dust and Silence aren't totally without merit (Dust in particular is responsible for some lovely moments of gruesomeness), but there's little to distinguish them from any other villain-of-the-week. What's more, they were introduced all of one issue ago. Chase's hounding of Dazzler has been going on for just three more. Even in the best of circumstances, neither "who are Dust and Silence" nor "who hired Chase" are fascinating mysteries begging to be untangled via the kind of Powerpoint presentation approach to exposition comics at the time were still unwilling to evolve beyond. Even the short version - Dust and Silence try to create mutates, the treatment proves eventually fatal, the children of the test subjects (their "New Wave") prove to inherit aspects of the treatment, Dazzler's light proves able to unlock these youngster's powers without killing them - feels like it might be taking more words to explain than is probably necessary. Six pages, this does not need.
But in any case, these are far from the best of circumstances. For one thing, Dust's plan here is pointlessly Byzantine. Why have Dazzler arrested and taken halfway across the country before faking a rescue by mutants (the trio of bikers who caused such trouble last issue)? Why not just phone Alison up and nook her for a gig? It's bad enough that Dazzler is once again being pressed towards the margins of her own book so that this recently introduced master-plan can be revealed. Did it have to be so obviously stupid as well?
The problem here is that Goodwin is dipping his toes in the same ocean which eroded my interest in Secret Wars II. It's a tale too caught up in the author's own additions, at the expense of those ideas they inherited. And whilst DAZ #41 isn't nearly as bad as any given issue of the Beyonder's second outing, that's an exceptionally low bar to clear - less of a high-jump and more like stepping over an underground cable - and in Shooter's defence, given he wrote the original Secret Wars at least the property he trashed was his own. Goodwin can't claim that here. Turning this title into the Dust & Chase Show (feat. Dazzler) is co-opting what the comic is supposedly about, for all that the sales figures at the time must have suggested no-one particularly cared all that much. I don't want to end up one of those people who argue no franchise should ever be allowed to evolve, but if you're going to shake something up so profoundly, you've got to be damn sure you're bringing your A-game. All I see here is the laziest and least pleasant route to "importance" possible; the murdering of a supporting cast member, in this case Dazzler's father. I mean, I appreciate that for once I'm watching a man get fridged in order to spur a woman to action, but - no pun intended - that's somewhat cold comfort.
What these final issues should be doing, in addition to sending Alison out on a high, is reminding us of the potential the series always had, and why comic readers should be sad to lose it. Instead, Goodwin seems intent on squandering this potential still further.
There's just one chance left to make it all work.
This story takes place over the course of four days. It's not clear how much time has passed between this issue and the last, but presumably Stomper headed to Camp Silence pretty quick to beg for forgiveness, for all the good it did. So we'll place the beginning of this story the day after the last one.
Friday 25th to Monday 28th January, 1985.
X+6Y+330 to X+6Y+333.
A French Defense Ministry official is murdered by Action directe, a self-styled libetarian communist terrorist group with ties to the German Red Army Faction.
"She can't shoot many light blasts if she's choking to death!" - Hoodlum #1
Chosen for accuracy as much as for anything else. I'm not getting an awful lot to work with, here...
Saturday, 4 October 2014
(What's past is prologue. And apparently, everything else.)
After the explosive adventures - to say nothing of the avalanche of pages - that made up the '85 annual and UXM #200, it's time for a bit of a rest. This is one of Claremont's now-standard reflective, standalone "fun" issues, though in truth it's rather too stressed out for that final adjective to fit too well. Beyond the (perhaps all that much) more angsty feel to this issue, though, it's very much business as usual. Rachel finds time to sneak into her grandparents' house and fix the memory globe of Jean she'd previously broken Cannonball's biggest problem is a term paper swallowed by his computer. The team even gets to squeeze in a baseball session . There's also a tendency towards Claremont's habit of keeping super-powers out of the picture altogether. Though really it's not so much that they're absent here, so much as simple facts of life. Kitty spends more time fixing a computer than phasing, which she's only doing to get from place to place in the mansion in any case. Indeed, super-powers are not simply downplayed here, they're declared to not be what the X-Men are about in the first place.
This, after all, is the issue in which Ororo and Scott duel for the right to lead the X-Men, and Cyclops comes up short despite Ororo having lost her powers. She doesn't need them. Speed, skill, a decent plan, and above all focus is what gets her the win, and with it the top slot. This difference between her and the currently all-to-pieces Cyclops (and we'll get to that in a minute) is underlined during the actual bout, in which Cyclop's internal monologue is all over the place, whilst Storm's is utterly silent.
(Actually, there's a way in which that bothers me; concentrating totally on how Scott sees the fight and giving us nothing on Ororo's interior monologue has unfortunate optics considering the differences in gender and race. Having said that, I'm perfectly happy believing that this is an approach Claremont would happily have taken at any point he wanted to underline someone's lack of focus, and the resulting problem is an unfortunate coincidence. If nothing else, it's hard to be too down on an issue that takes a questionable approach to comparing a white man and black woman which involves the latter thoroughly trouncing the former and therefore getting to take charge of everyone.)
So what is it that's got Scott so het up? He's terrified about what to do without Xavier, and having only an allegedly reformed super-villain's word that the man is even still alive. Which honestly, isn't actually the most ridiculous idea in the world. But it's horrifically badly timed, considering how Madelyn has only just given birth to their baby boy, a fact that Cyclops is pretty much completely ignoring. There's a certain irony in Scott fretting so much over the loss of his de facto father that he's neglecting his newborn son, but there's more to it than that. This is about setting Cyclops up as a man so obsessed with what he's lost in his past that he's completely oblivious to the benefits of the present. This is actually a major motivating factor for Cyclops throughout his life. He started off defining himself by the loss of his parents and (arguably more importantly) his ability to see the world like everybody else. Later, he becomes consumed by the idea of trying to shape each new iteration of the X-Men to be as close as possible to how they operated in the early days. He gets so good at this that once he drifts from this model everyone completely loses their shit, calling him first a power-mad dictator and then an unhinged terrorist. Reasonable people can disagree about to what extent Cyclops actually deserves those titles, but really that debate would come down to how much Cyclops obsession with the past convinced people any change would indicate severe problems, and how much it objectively would indicate those problems.
That's all to come, though; I'll presumably talk more about it in the 2060s (it's not just Cyclops who can't get out of the past). Returning to the issue at hand, the point here is that everyone else is either embracing the future or at least making peace with the past. The arrival of baby Summers has everyone cooing (even Wolverine isn't threatening to gut him, which is practically a declaration of love). Charles is - admittedly with difficulty - coming to terms with the fact he might be exiled from Earth, but he has his soul-mate Lilandra to keep him company. Rachel fixes her "grandparents'" memory globe, making peace not only with her mother's shade but also her own past mistakes. And Storm proves quite spectacularly that she's ready to get back in the game, powers or no powers.
Whilst all this is going on, though, Cyclops is fretting about the loss of Charles and how he doesn't get to be leader of the X-Men anymore. The idea that the team might be able to function both without its founder and its original leader just utterly bowls him over. Which makes him entirely unbearable here - I'm not willing to say I have zero sympathy for him, but my sympathy lies so completely with Madelyne that what I can spare for Cyclops isn't really worth mentioning - but it does serve a very important function. With X-Factor about to debut, Claremont is clearly doing some groundwork in building up to Cyclop's shitty behaviour in that title. And really, though I don't have a much more positive take on that upcoming storyline than everyone does, I have to say Claremont does a good job of polishing a messy turd here. Playing up Cylops' obsession with the past and his fear of losing what matters to him both reminds us of how much Jean's return would mean to him, and the removal of aspects of that past through Charles' disappearance and his defeat at the hands of Storm makes a sudden appearance of a link to the past more important now than ever before. Surrounding him with people moving on just makes Scott's condition more obvious, and more tragic.
Which seems like a pretty good place to sign off. You can complain about what precedes it, and you can sure as hell complain about what follows. But this particular slice of the mutant cake is probably baked just about as well as it could have been.
(I really do have to start leaving the room when Fliss is watching Great British Bake Off...)
 Which for some reason includes a cameo from Ronald Reagan and Donald Regan. Since said cameo doesn't end with Rogue punching both of them square in the spunk-fobs, the scene is a rather depressing reminder of how terrible superheroes are at fighting real villains. Oh well.
This story takes place over either one or two days.
I don't have any definitive proof of this, but I suspect the baseball game in this issue takes place the day after the team return from Europe. Super-powered they may be, but I'm sure they'd still want to shake the kinks out from a twelve hours plus aeroplane ride.
Speaking of that trip, the team had to get from Paris to New York in between last issue and the next, and Madelyne needs to have had time to return to her previous svelte figure having given birth to baby Christopher. That should take a couple of weeks at least, which puts this story as kicking off about a week after Magneto and Charles say their goodbyes.
Monday 11th to Tuesday 12th March, 1985.
X+7Y+10 to X+7Y+11.
1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years.
(Beast is 33 years old)
Mohammed Al Fayed buys Harrods.
"It begins." - Uatu, the Watcher.