Saturday, 6 December 2014
SW2 #6: "Life Rules!"
(Death takes a holiday.)
As with the preceding issue, I'm giving SW2 #6 its own post, despite the fact that not a single identifiable mutant appears in the entire book. This is therefore the first issue in the three and a half year history of this blog which I shall dissect in detail even though it has no direct link to the X-Universe.
Or at least, it had no direct link to the X-Universe when it was printed. One of the big advantages of looking at these books from twenty years further down the train tracks of history is the number of connections you can make between then and now, links that couldn't possibly have been intended at the time but which ultimately dovetail quite nicely. I've mentioned more than once already how much of the basic DNA of almost all of Marvel's crossover events can be traced back to Shooter's two Secret Wars series (how appropriate that I should be writing this as we're gearing up for what should clearly be being called Secret Wars III). This issue continues that trend, and rather focuses it. Along with everything else this miniseries gave birth to, via SW2 #6 it becomes a direct ancestor of Avengers Vs X-Men.
I say this because the two stories, three decades apart, share very similar concerns (as did X-Men & Alpha Flight, actually) namely what superheroism involves when you reach power levels that can rework not just the social order of Earth, but the natural order too. In XAA and AvX, these super-superpowers were granted to mutants via gods. Here the god themselves - the Beyonder - decides to give the hero gig a whirl. And whilst in theory there should be some fundamental difference in approach between a hero who becomes a god and a god who becomes a hero, in practice the Beyonder takes a rather similar path to both Loki's unwitting stooges and the Phoenix Five; he starts off with street-level small potatoes but rapidly ramps up to larger concerns. As so often seems to happen in these stories (almost invariably written by straight white guys as they are), the idea of major overhauls of the way the world works is presented as something to be resisted. Here, just as with AvX, these essentially conservative concerns are given voice by Captain America, who is none too delighted by the proposed new world order (he's accompanied here by Reed Richards to demonstrate that the Beyonder's activities are unnerving TO SCIENCE).
This is quite useful, actually, because is allows us to disentangle some of the problems with Captain America's stance in AvX. I took two distinct issues with Steve Rogers' stance in that crossover. The first was over whether his fear of the Phoenix Five losing control/going too far was in any way reasonable, the second was the fact we were watching a straight white guy with plenty of money (or at least the capacity to raise same without any real problem, I'd imagine) telling an oppressed minority that now they've finally gained the power to shape the world in the way they want rather than live in it rather than suffer it in the shape their oppressors have chosen, they had no right to exercise that power. And really, that second problem was so fundamental it rather overshadowed the first.
Here the issues stemming from ordering a minority around aren't present, so we can focus entirely on whether Rogers (and Richards) are on solid ground fretting about someone announcing it's time to change the world. To which the answer is "sort of". Which sounds like I'm sitting on the fence, so let's dig deeper. It's at least true that Rogers is right to be nervous - that's just basic prudence - but the key question is whether he's right to be planning an assault on the Beyonder if everything goes to hell (we'll bypass the fact that such an attack would be useless at best and disastrously counter-productive at worst). It's here that it gets hard to come down on one side or the other of Captain America's stance, because I'm pretty sure he's right for completely the wrong reasons.
Because the thing is, even once you don't have to directly confront the mutant issue, Rogers' argument that the Beyonder's actions could rob people of freedom and that freedom is our most precious possession practically begs for someone to shout "what do you mean 'our', white boy?". I'm sure there's no group of people for which freedom isn't important, but the kind of people who insist that theoretical unspecified curtailements of their choices are their greatest concern also tend to be the kind of affluent white men who don't have to worry about actual ongoing curtailments to their rights, their bodies, or even their lives (see Paul, Rand, or really just about any self-described "libertarian"). We arrive once more a the same point: the people who fret the most about massive change are those who gain the most from the status quo. The Molecule Man demonstrates this quite clearly here when he lays into the Beyonder for ending death, complaining that there's now no point to eating anything. As if that's something that would matter to those who were starving to death. Indeed the total cluelessness of the almost godlike Molecule Man is instructive here: of course the ludicrously powerful straight white guy is furious that major changes are afoot. Of course he puts forward an argument that boils down to "creatures should die to keep me alive because that's what I'm used to". The fact that Owen Reece is obviously capable of an alternative lifesyle - the dude could make a bacon sandwich from a 50 Cent CD if he wanted - just makes the point more clear: plenty of us (myself included) could switch to a less destructive lifestyle without great difficulty, if only we had the will.
But if those who are suffering tremendously are a powerful counter to the position of Rogers, Richards and Reece (now there's a law firm that would make great TV, though the fact no-one involved has a law degree might make gaining clients somewhat tricky), they also work against the Beyonder as well, because an inability to die does not translate into an inability to feel pain, or imply that the paralysed can suddenly move. A coma, presumably, is still a coma. And now anyone hoping for an assisted suicide is entirely out of luck, which strikes me as a pretty intolerable state of affairs. The Beyonder's established problems with forseeing the consequences of his actions doesn't really instill one with faith that this newest plan will be pulled off without some pretty messy hitches.
So it's a wash, then, right? Well no, not really, and not just because the miraculous recovery of Marsha's flowers suggests Death's death promises renewal rather than stasis. Yes, the Beyonder's initial fix comes with its own problems. Every fix does. That doesn't have to mean you can't take action. If we wait until every angle has been hashed out, we may well have missed our chance to act in any case. This too, this ridiculous idea that entirely hypothetical constructions of future problems should invalidate pushes for an immediate good, is a conservative construction beloved of those who'd rather everything stayed the same because they're on top. And whilst you can obviously argue about just how immediate a good it is for everyone to no longer be able to die, what made stories like Torchwood's Miracle Day so bleak was there was no hope for a second miracle, in which everyone is young again, and free of pain and disease, and and run and walk and, hell, even fly. With the Beyonder provably capable of doing all that, starting the process by keeping everyone alive to buy the necessary time doesn't seem like all that bad of an idea from humanity's perspective. 
We'll never know, ultimately. As soon as the Beyonder's chief of staff realises he's never going to get his hands on another meat feast pizza he flips out and demands to become the next Death. The Beyonder agrees, and the Grim Reaper is back from her short vacation. Thousands are dead within the next twenty minutes. McDonalds gets back to selling 75 burgers a second. Somehow this is all supposed to feel like a victory.
Still, I'll give the issue this. I might profoundly disagree with what it's saying (and recognise that it's been said plenty of times before), but at least it's said something. This is almost certainly the best issue of the series so far, notwithstanding the almost actionable degree to which the cover fails to remotely match up with the contents. I can't say I'm excited for the final third of this mini's run, but at least at this point I'm not dreading it as much as it looked like I was going to.
 I am of course ignoring the elephant floating through the cosmos here; it's possible - likely, actually - that the Beyonder has stopped Death on a galactic, universal or even multiversal scale, which carries its own problems. I don't want to get into that, though. Without clear boundaries on the Beyonder's abilities I've no way to know whether to worry that this far greater scale would actually be a problem, and whilst it's easy to imagine alien cultures for which removing death might genuinely be intolerable, imagining how fictional races might hypothetically view things isn't really helpful when parsing how we as humans should feel about specific ideas.
This story takes place over three days. There's no indication as to when it starts, so we'll take our usual tack and kick it off the day after the previous issue ended.
Friday 26th to Sunday 28th January, 1985.
X+6Y+331 to X+6Y+333.
Apparently Playboy announces it will no longer be stapling centrefolds. A major slice of history right there, folks.
"You lie... of course! Clearly, he plans to take from me that which is most precious to me! But if you'd told me that, you knew I'd have you flayed! I forgive you for lying, wretch! I like lies!
"But you shall have your mouth washed out with boiling bowl for uttering the word "jesting"!"
Mephisto demonstrates his HR approach whilst plotting the Beyonder's downfall.