Saturday, 29 November 2014
ALF #30 "Enter... Scramble!"
(Physician, mutate theyself.)
This might not take very long. With his initial justifications complete, Mantlo seems like he might be settling into the most well-worn grooves possible, offering a done-in-one scrap with a new villain. Which of course is a set-up twenty years old just in the X-books, of course, but then Alpha Flight under Byrne was defiantly old-school in a lot of ways, and if Mantlo's aim is to continue the retro-approach (if indeed we want to consider this retro, as oppose to Claremont's approach being ahead of its time) whilst removing the uglier aspects of the gender politics, then that is I suppose progress of a kind.
Still, this is all very Stan Lee. More specifically, it's very Stan Lee when he came up with the idea of the Juggernaut: create a new villain and give him a family tie to the team. To briefly summarise: now that Alpha Flight is once more operating under government auspices, the team have had Langkowski's old mansion rebuilt as a headquarters. There's even a floor-plan, which is a hilariously unnecessary touch, though it is nicely melancholy that they've insisted on putting in rooms for Marrina and Talisman, just in case (I'm also not sure I'd have put in a swimming pool over the lab, either, but I'm not an architect). But a shiny new base isn't too much use if you have no-one to staff it, and with Sasquatch and Guardian dead, Marrina, Talisman and Shaman absent, and Snowbird, Northstar and Aurora increasingly difficult to rely on, Heather figures it's time for fresh blood. Her first port of call: the brother Madison Jeffries has curiously never mentioned before. Maybe he's got powers too! There's surely no reason Jeffries has kept his sibling on the down-low. Sure, it turns out he's spent years inside a hospital, but why would that be an issue?
So Heather comes across as not desperately bright here, as she almost immediately gives Lionel Jeffries the opportunity to escape, but that's not really my problem here. Nor is it how well-worn the path is. It's that the issue has a genuinely good idea at its centre that it seems to have no idea what to do with. Lionel, it turns out, has a very similar power set to his brother, only where Madison manipulates machinery, Lionel is all about the flesh. This may be my childhood love of Transformers speaking, but I think there's something to be mined out of he comparison here. The difference between mechanics and medics (the two roles the Jeffries brothers performed in Vietnam before Lionel's squad was obliterated and his attempts to resurrect them generated a flesh golem), how close the human body is to being viewable as a machine, that kind of thing. I'm not talking anything amazingly insightful, obviously, but even a simplistic compare-and-contrast would have added some much needed flavour to what is otherwise the most standard of superhero runarounds.
Instead, the team simply chase after Lionel - "Scramble" - as he runs around messing up people's DNA codes in the belief that he's "curing" them. The result is visually interesting - if not, you know, pleasant in any way:
but little else. Lionel's motivation - turn everyone into flesh blancmanges because doctors should be able to have total power over life and death - is one of those ideas that manages to somehow be desperately cliche and totally nonsensical at the same time, which is an accomplishment of a sort, I suppose, but not one I feel like applauding. The story concludes with Madison persuading Lionel to use his powers on his own mind, restoring him to sanity and allowing him to heal the damage hes caused, which is nice, but the overall feeling here is of an opportunity wasted.
But all that means the issue is disappointing, rather than actively bad. And again, at least I'm not spitting in rage over the subtexts here - though rather more is made of Puck's stature being a curse than I'm happy with - and it's clear from the final panel, as a fleshy figure slopes towards the exit of the hospital morgue, that this has been building up to something. It may well be when that storm breaks I'll look more favourably upon the initial gathering of clouds.
Though since said figure is apparently the deathly boring nightmare-pun Deadly Earnest, I'm not interrupting my standard respitory pattern.
This story takes place over a single day. Happily, there's no sense of how much time has passed between this issue and last. Indeed, one assumes it must have taken a while to build Alpha's new base. Given how far this title is lagging behind the others, then, I'll move the action forward a full month. At last I can have a new time-line up!
Tuesday 24th July 1984.
President Reagan calls for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, because he was just the goddamn worst.