Monday, 14 December 2015

FRS #2: "The Players And The Pawn!"

("We are all in this together.")


Firestar issue 2 is something of a wrenching leftwards skid in certain ways. Gone is the framing of a beautiful, intelligent teenage white girl finding reasons to sulk, and in its place we have... well, OK, really it's pretty much exactly the same thing. This, we learn, is a girl who can sulk about an "awful school" which has given her her own pony.

But everything surrounding Angelica's moping has become radically different. Whereas last issue set up a standard teenage narrative into which the idea of mutantism was then dropped, this installment has something of a political taste to it, concerning itself with the practice of cutting teenagers off from the wider world in order to render them vulnerable to indoctrination. In addition to Angelica's attitude, there's a common theme between the issues of her feelings of alienation, but this time the problem stems not from the banal cruelty of teenage girls, but a deliberate policy of Emma Frost. She and Sebastian Shaw have a plan: Angelica Jones (now called Firestar for the first time) is to be forged into an undetectable assassin. Someone the Hellfire Club could use to kill anyone, at any time, an unremarkable civilian who could incinerate her targets without warning. Frost isn't educating Jones, she's grooming her, as made clear by the hilariously unsubtle metaphor of Angelica getting her own horse to groom.

The idea of young people being kept separate from a wide experience of humanity in order to radicalise then to the point where they think nothing of condemning their fellow humans is a rather hot topic right now. It's just been in the last few days, for instance, that there has been a renewed call to force teachers to act as informants on their pupils, as though teachers get remotely sufficient training (or really any at all) on how to actually spot the signs of radicalisation, and as if this inevitably cack-handed extra scrutiny would stop teenagers becoming radicalised, rather than giving them one more enemy to hate. It's hard enough to persuade fifteen year-olds that your on their side to begin with; add in the idea that you're studying for signs of deviant behaviour takes the comprehensive school one step closer to the battleground everyone always says is the last thing they want it to be (so long as avoiding it doesn't require we spend any money or treat teachers with any respect, naturally).

And it's obvious that comprehensive schools are the targets here. More to the point, Muslim pupils at comprehensive schools. Which is why it's so delightful that in this issue, the people doing the radicalising are rich arseholes from the United States, at an academy for the richest of the rich. Because if we want to talk about enclaves carved out of general society, places of learning where students are exposed to no viewpoints except for those deemed acceptable by those with a deep-seated distrust of alternative political philosophies - those whose political axioms can only survive so long as they go essentially unchallenged - it's far from obvious that teenagers being groomed in our state schools, or for that matter in Middle Eastern madrasas, are the ones who are going to cause the most damage. How many people are immiserated to the point of suicide because David Cameron and George Osborne went to Clarendon schools where poverty was no more real for them than goblins? How many bombs have deviated in air currents and killed innocent people in foreign countries because military adventurism in Africa and Asia is to some people simply what Britain is supposed to do.

Angelica isn't intended to be used as a weapon against those with power [1]. She's intended to be used as a weapon by those with power. Frost and Shaw plan for Firestar to boil their enemies from the inside out; to kill without a trace of accountability. A weapon, in other words, of the elite.

It is these nods to the dangers of sealing young people away from the experiences of pluralism [2] that makes sense of Xavier's decision here to allow the New Mutants to attend a dance at Frost's Massachusetts Academy. From whatever angle you look at this, it's a ridiculously dangerous decision. There's some dialogue about how Frost is pretty unlikely to actually literally murder any of them in front of her students (because if there's one thing life in the X-Men teaches a person, it's that a telepath is powerless to deal with someone who remembers something they don't want them to), but there's any number of malicious plots Frost might (and does) have afoot that would be served by the New Mutants' attendance even if she doesn't have them all violently massacred.  And against this risk we have Sunspot, who argues it's important they go to the dance so he can sniff for tail in a different state.

So what could possibly justify this ludicrous risk? It's Xavier's fear that without this kind of experience, the New Mutants will become too insular, too cut off from the world. He needs to risk their safety because the alternative is them never learning anything from anyone other than himself. And for all that I like to give Xavier stick about his classic white male progressive tendency to insist that all types of people should get a say so long as he can be the ultimate arbitrator of who has a point, his decision here cuts against that ugly tendency.

Of course, that choice leads to disaster, with Frost nudging Cannonball and Firestar together so Angelica can have her first kiss. Frost then sets fire to the nearby stables and kills Firestar's favourite horse, blaming the young woman's lack of control over her powers for both. Combined with the amount of time the White Queen has spent conditioning her with training sessions and dreams to fear the X-Men, Frost hopes this will secure Angelica's loyalty forever, leaving her with literally no-one else to trust. One could argue that this is a major problem with the narrative - if you want to imply the pursuit of pluralism involves a refusal to avoid risks, having such a risk go wrong could be seen as a suggestion that such a risk shouldn't have been taken.  Ultimately I think this is some distance from convincing. Partially this is because of plot structure; at most the presence of the New Mutants only very slightly helps Frost's plan. She could just as easily snagged a random teenager from down the street and have him pose as someone from Xavier's. Yes, that would result in a tiny chance of  complications if Angelica ever faced the New Mutants in the field and somehow had time amid the punching to ask whatever happened to Random McFakeguy, but this is surely some distance from a deal-breaker.

More importantly, though, this kind of approach bothers me, since it plays too much into a depressingly ubiquitous mode of thinking that says that if a refusal to avoid risks in the name of progressivism fails even once, it's evidence that it should never have been tried. That if you hire a convict despite warnings from others and they rob you, you should take it as proof that hiring convicts is something only the naive and the foolish would do. That if we let in a refugee that ends up a suicide bomber (and Gods help this country if that happens) it's proof that Katie Hopkins was right and we should have let them all drown in the ocean. That insufferably smug Irving Kristol quip about how "a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged by reality" gets cast about endlessly, a line so disgustingly self-satisfied that the Fates punished him by having his son grow up to be Bill Kristol. Not only is it absurd on its face, now more than ever - how was George W Bush mugged by reality? How was David Cameron? Donald Trump? George "Let them eat sneers" Osborne - it sets an almost impossibly high bar for success; if it is not unalloyed, then it cannot exist. This is not only self-evidently too strong a condition for success, it is transparently hypocritical. To date the left has made no headway with arguing that the near- or total failure of every bombing campaign western civilisation has embarked upon this century to achieve its aims might we should stop reaching for it as a first response. It would seem some ideas cannot survive their first failure, and others can survive nothing but. If liberals are mugged by reality, conservatives mug reality themselves and then complain it only didn't work out because their victims had too little money in their wallets.

But I've strayed off the subject. To summarise, the fact that Xavier's risk-taking has benefitted Frost does not invalidate the need to take such risks. Indeed, given how easily Frost could have achieved her ends some other way, it's entirely possible that this whole might ultimately be counted as a net positive. Alternatively, perhaps next issue is stuffed full of dialogue about how terribly Xavier has erred and that the best way to live is in a state of constant paranoia, because when has that done any harm?  Obviously, that would suck, but my point is that we shouldn't go down the route of assuming this argument is being made until it's made. Otherwise, it's not the writing at fault, it's us.

[1] Or more accurately, against those who happen share a nationality with the powerful, or those who happen to be visiting the country of those who share a nationality with the powerful. 

[2] It's interesting that Frost tells Angelica that she's helping her gain practice in using her powers defensively - the kind of defence where you microwave a person to death, naturally - because of anti-mutant sentiment in society. An important step in at least some methods of radicalisation is to persuade the victim that there is no such thing as an innocent person, that the bigotry against them evidenced by society in general means that every member of that society is equally guilty. 


Randal states here that it's been four months since Angelica joined Ms. Frost's academy. This issue takes place over approximately four weeks, and features Xavier in the mansion with the use of his legs. It also features Storm, who left for Kenya six days before this story would be set if we used the dates from the last post. I've moved everything back by a week to keep things workable.


Friday 4th April to Friday 2nd May 1984.


X+6Y+32 to X+6Y+60.

Contemporary Events

The discovery of the AIDs virus is announced by US researchers.

Standout Line

"I didn't ask to be born a mutant!"

OK, so maybe we haven't completely moved past the "standard teenager narrative plus mutantism" model just yet...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Timeline: 1983 Jul-Dec (Take 8)

Here is what's hopefully my final stab at the 1983 timeline.  Things get pretty light towards the end of the year, due to Claremont's somewhat inconsistent handling of the arrival of Amara.


1st   MGN #4: Renewal
2nd  MGN #4: Renewal
3rd   MGN #4: Renewal
4th   MGN #4: Renewal
5th   MGN #4: Renewal
6th   NMU #1: Initiation
6th   NMU #2: Sentinels
9th   NMU #3: Nightmare
9th   UXM #167: The Goldilocks Syndrome (Or: "Who's Been Sleeping in my Head?")
9th   MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
10th UXM #167: The Goldilocks Syndrome (Or: "Who's Been Sleeping in my Head?")
10th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
11th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
12th UXM Annual 6: Blood Feud!
12th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
13th UXM Annual 6: Blood Feud!
13th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
13th DAZ #25: The Jagged Edge
14th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
15th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
16th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
17th MGN #5: God Loves, Man Kills
17th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
18th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
18th OBN #1: Something Slimy This Way Comes
19th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
20th UXM #168: Professor Xavier is a Jerk!
21st ALF #7: The Importance of Being Deadly
21st ALF #8: Cold Hands, Cold Heart
22nd DAZ #26: Against the Wind
22nd NMU #4: Who's Scaring Stevie?
23rd DAZ #26: Against the Wind
23rd NMU #5: Heroes
24th DAZ #26: Against the Wind
24th NMU #5: Heroes
24th NMU #6: Road Warriors!
25th NMU #6: Road Warriors!
27th DAZ #27: Fugitive!
27th DAZ #28: Vendetta!
27th NMU #7: Who's Scaring Stevie?
28th DAZ #28: Vendetta!
28th NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
29th DAZ #29: Fame!
29th DAZ #29: Debt
29th NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
30th DAZ #30: Debt
30th NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
31st NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
31st DAZ #31: Tidal Wave!
31st NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!


1st    DAZ #31: Tidal Wave! 
1st    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
2nd   DAZ #31: Tidal Wave!
2nd   NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
3rd    UXM #169: Catacombs
3rd    DAZ #31: Tidal Wave!
3rd    UXM #170: Dancin' in the Dark
3rd    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
4th    UXM #171: Rogue
4th    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
5th    NMU #7: Flying Down to Rio!
6th    UXM #172: Scarlet in Glory
7th    UXM #172: Scarlet in Glory
7th    UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
8th    UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
9th    UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
10th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
11th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
12th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
13th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
14th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
15th  UXM #173: To Have and Have Not
20th  NMU #8: The Road to... Rome?
21st  NMU #8: The Road to... Rome?
21st  NMU #9: Arena
22nd NMU #9: Arena
23rd NMU #10: Betrayal!
23rd NMU #11: Magma
24th NMU #11: Magma
29th  UXM #174: Romances
31st  UXM #175: Phoenix!


1st    UXM #175: Phoenix!
2nd   UXM #175: Phoenix!
3rd    UXM #175: Phoenix!
5th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
6th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
7th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
8th    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
9th    NMU #12: Sunstroke
9th     FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
10th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
11th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
12th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
13th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
14th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
15th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
16th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
17th  UXM #176: Decisions 
17th  UXM #177: Sanction
17th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
18th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
19th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  
20th  UXM #178: Hell Hath no Fury...
20th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
21st   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
22nd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
23rd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
24th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
25th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
26th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
27th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
28th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
29th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
30th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  


(FRS #1: "Mark of the Mutant!" continues throughout)


(FRS #1: "Mark of the Mutant!" continues throughout)

3rd    DAZ#32: Moon Lighting
4th    DAZ#32: Moon Lighting


1st    FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
2nd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
3rd   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
4th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
5th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
6th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
7th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
8th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!
9th   FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
10th ALF #9: Things Are Not Always What They Seem
10th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
10th  FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant! 
11th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
11th  FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  
12th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
12th  FRS #1: Mark of the Mutant!  
13th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
14th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
15th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
16th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
17th ALF #10: Blood Battle!
26th NMU #13: School Daysze
27th NMU #13: School Daysze

Monday, 26 October 2015

XFA #3: "Regression Obsession"

("A useless, futile thing...")


So far in my still-new coverage of the X-Factor title, the overwhelming theme has been the book's obsession with the glories of the past, and how they can repackaged, replicated and reordered in the present. This book, as is obvious simply from its cast list, has one foot defiantly planted in the 1960s.

This in and of itself is no vice, at least not necessarily. But in issue #3 a sense of dread is beginning to descend. By all appearances, this is not an issue interested in riffing off the past. It is interested only in restoring it.

The most utterly obvious example here of course is Henry McCoy's reversion to his original appearance. As an unrepentant Beast fan I must confess to enjoying the idea of him finally escaping the consequences of a single mad impulse half a decade or so earlier. But from a writer's perspective, the immediate question raised is what we actually gain by having Henry be no longer blue and furry. What potential does a restored Hank have drama-wise? The possibilities of furry Beast were obvious and wide-ranging, hence why those few Amazing Adventures issues in which he was introduced were so powerful. A genius forced to look like an animal by their own arrogant hand. A peaceful intellectual warring with animal instincts and violent rages. These are not in anyway original concepts ("What if Dr Jekyll ALWAYS needed a haircut?" would seem to be the elevator pitch), but they were at least there.  What does a reverted Hank get us, other than one more way in which this title can claim to be resurrecting the past?

(Speaking of resurrection; note how Beast is shown on the cover: wrapped in the standard visual shorthand for an Egyptian mummy. A nod to those whose time is long past but might yet rise as pale fractions of their former selves, unable to face their irrelevance in the present day? Given what Layton is doing with this issue, that's a pretty hilarious sight gag.)

The sense of what we might call a "traditional" approach to comics were we feeling generous - and a "dated" one if not - continues throughout. The rather interesting interplay between the X-Men's identities as X-Factor and rebel mutants (in effect, attempting to run two conflicting secret identities at once, which must get confusing) that we had last time round is swept away in favour of an utterly standard plot template: the X-Men need to rescue their friend, so they attack a base filled with gun-wielding goons. There's nothing in the A plot that couldn't have been written back before Jean Grey first died. This feeling of a comic out of time is only strengthened by moments like Dr Maddicks' page-long exposition explaining his plan. It's a clunky sequencein any event, but it jars all the more for coming at the issue's conclusion, robbing the story of any momentum whilst we view a psychic slideshow of his life following his appearances in AMA.  I'd have thought it would be obvious to almost any professional writer that the right place for this would've been at the start of the issue - why not have him explain he was searching for a way to regress his son Artie's mutation (which left Artie mute, an interesting wrinkle in the "is a 'cure' for mutants morally acceptable?" debate) to Beast at the top of the issue? Could Layton really have been so incompetent?

Well, who knows, but there is an alternative explanation which helps Layton to come off rather better - perhaps Maddicks reveals his plan so late so as to delay the audience guessing that his genetic meddling might give us back the original, far less hirsute McCoy. But whilst that's an argument that makes sense, it's hardly one that gets Layton off the hook, because it immediately suggests the entirety of this story exists for no other reason than to return Hank to his pre-Brand Corporation days. Maddicks' desperation to "save" his child and Artie's horror at what his father is prepared to do become more or less irrelevant, no more than a nostalgia delivery system. A pointless tale to justify a pointless character cleanse.

Viewing the issue like this makes one suspicious even of what otherwise might be strong material. The revelation that Cameron Hodge has a friend inside the government looking out for mutants is a very interesting one, and his arrival to tell Hodge what a mistake he's made with X-Factor might have given hope at the time that the whole ridiculous idea of the original X-Men abducting their fellows under the guise of mutant hunters was going to be dropped. Coming as it does in this issue, though, readers could be forgiven for fretting that this was similarly an attempt to sweep the present away to allow a return to the past; that as with the tale of Carl and Artie Maddicks, X-Factor was just scaffolding to allow the construction of "The X-Men" 2.0.  Hell, even Jean and Scott's interactions here feel just like the good old days. Scott's refusal to open up might now be because of secretly having an estranged wife and son, but the basic dynamic is unchanged; Jean wants to engage and Scott won't do it, or tell her why. Needless to say, the fact they're interrupted before the conversation can progress absolutely doesn't help matters.

There is, obviously, a hard limit to how long this rush backwards can last. Sooner or later - and it'll be sooner - the reset will be complete, and XFA will have to start moving forwards again. The sooner it does so, the better, but the fear remains that we've already seen the only direction Layton is interested in.


The narration states this issue begins just five minutes after the last one ended. The story itself continues into the following day.


Friday 12th to Saturday 13th April, 1985.


X+7Y+41 to X+7Y+42.

Contemporary Events

Transgender model Carmen Carrera is born.

Standout Line

"So why didn't you just float us up over the fence?!"
"I was showing off!" - Iceman and Marvel Girl.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Time-Line: 1985 Jan-Jun


1st      NMU #30: The Singer and Her Song
2nd     NMU #30: The Singer and Her Song
3rd     NMU #30: The Singer and Her Song
4th     NMU #30: The Singer and Her Song
5th     NMU #30: The Singer and Her Song
5th     NMU #31: Saturday Night Fight
11th   UXM #196: What Was That ?!!
11th   UXM #198: Lifedeath: From the Heart of Darkness
12th   UXM #198: Lifedeath: From the Heart of Darkness
13th   UXM #197: To Save Arcade?!?
13th   UXM #198: Lifedeath: From the Heart of Darkness
14th   UXM #197: To Save Arcade?!?
14th   SW2 #2: I'll Take Manhattan!
14th   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
15th   UXM #197: To Save Arcade?!?
15th   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
16th   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
17th   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
18th   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
19th   NMU #32: To the Ends of the Earth
19th   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
20th   NMU #32: To the Ends of the Earth
20th   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
21st   UXM #199: The Spiral Path
21st   NMU #32: To the Ends of the Earth
21st   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
22nd  UXM #199: The Spiral Path
22nd   NMU #33: Against All Odds!
22nd   NMU #34: With a Little Bit of Luck!
22nd   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
23rd   SW2 #3: The World Is Mine!
23rd   SW2 #4: Love is the Answer!
24th   SW2 #4: Love is the Answer!
25th   NMU Special Edition #1: Home is Where the Heart Is
25th   SW2 #5: Despair
26th   SW2 #6: Life Rules!
27th   SW2 #6: Life Rules!
28th   SW2 #6: Life Rules!


11th   UXM Annual #9: There's No Place Like Home!
22nd  UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
23rd   UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
24th   UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
25th   UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
26th   UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
27th   UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
28th   UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
28th   XFA #1: Third Genesis


1st    UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
2nd    UXM #200: The Trial of Magneto!
10th   SW2 #7: Charge of the Dark Brigade!
11th   UXM #201: Duel
11th   NMU #35: The Times, They Are A'Changin'!
11th   SW2 #7: Charge of the Dark Brigade!
12th   UXM #201: Duel
12th   NMU #36: Subway to Salvation!
12th   SW2 #7: Charge of the Dark Brigade!
13th   UXM #202: X-Men... I've Gone To Kill -- The Beyonder!
26th   XFA #1: Third Genesis
27th   XFA #1: Third Genesis
28th   XFA #1: Third Genesis
29th   XFA #1: Third Genesis
30th   XFA #1: Third Genesis
31st   XFA #1: Third Genesis


1st    DAZ #39: Deathgrip
1st     XFA #1: Third Genesis
2nd    XFA #1: Third Genesis
3rd     XFA #1: Third Genesis
4th     XFA #1: Third Genesis
5th     DAZ #40: Travellers
5th     XFA #1: Third Genesis
6th     DAZ #41: Revelations
6th     XFA #1: Third Genesis
7th     DAZ #41: Revelations
7th     XFA #1: Third Genesis
8th     DAZ #41: Revelations
8th     XFA #1: Third Genesis
9th     DAZ #41: Revelations
9th     XFA #1: Third Genesis
10th   XFA #1: Third Genesis
11th   DAZ #42: Curtain!
11th   XFA #2: Bless the Beasts and Children
12th   DAZ #42: Curtain!
12th   XFA #2: Bless the Beasts and Children
13th   NMU #37: If I Should Die
14th   UXM #203: Crossroads
14th   SW2 #8: Betrayal!
15th   UXM #203: Crossroads
15th   SW2 #8: Betrayal!
15th   UXM #204: What Happened to Nightcrawler?
16th   SW2 #9: God in Man, Man in God!
17th   ALF #32: Shorty Story!
17th   ALF #33: A Friend in Need
30th   NMU #38: Aftermath!


1st     NMU #38: Aftermath!
2nd    NMU #38: Aftermath!
3rd    NMU #38: Aftermath!
4th    NMU #38: Aftermath!
5th    NMU #38: Aftermath!
6th    NMU #38: Aftermath!
7th    NMU #38: Aftermath!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Timeline: 1984 Jul - Dec (Take 6)


(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)

24th  ALF #30: Enter... Scramble!
24th  ALF #31: The Ungrateful Dead!


(MGN #12: Dazzler the Movie continues throughout)


1st  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
2nd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
3rd  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
4th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
5th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
6th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
7th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
8th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
9th  MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
10th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
11th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
12th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
13th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
14th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
15th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
16th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
17th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
18th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
19th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
20th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
21st MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
22nd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
23rd MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
24th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
25th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
26th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
27th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
28th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
29th MGN #12: Dazzler: The Movie
30th ICE #1: The Fuse!
30th ICE #4: The Price You Pay!


3rd   DAZ #35: Brawl!
4th    DAZ #35: Brawl!
5th    DAZ #36: The Human Touch!
6th    DAZ #36: The Human Touch!
7th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
8th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
9th    BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
10th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
11th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
12th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
13th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
14th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
15th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
16th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
17th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
18th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
19th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
20th  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
20th LGS #1: A Man Without a Past
21st  BAB #1: Beauty and the Beast, Part 1
21st LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
22nd BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
22nd LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
23rd BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
23rd LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
24th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
24th LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
25th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
25th LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
26th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
26th LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
27th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
27th LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
28th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
28th LGS #2: ..I'll Wave to You From the Top!
28th LGS #3: Just Let Me Die
29th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
30th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
31th BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
31th LGS #4: You Can't Give it All Away!
31th LGS #5: Deadly Lies


1st    BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
1st    LGS #6: A Snake Coils...
2nd   BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
3rd   BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
4t     BAB #2: Heartbreak Hotel
11th  BAB #3: Showtime
11th  BAB #4: Checkmate
14th  DAZ #37: Girl in the Machine
15th  DAZ #38: Challenge
16th  DAZ #38: Challenge
17th  DAZ #38: Challenge
18th  DAZ #38: Challenge
19th  DAZ #38: Challenge
20th  DAZ #38: Challenge
21th  DAZ #38: Challenge
22th  DAZ #38: Challenge
23th  DAZ #38: Challenge
24th  DAZ #38: Challenge
25th  DAZ #38: Challenge
26th  DAZ #38: Challenge
27th  DAZ #38: Challenge
28th  DAZ #38: Challenge
29th  DAZ #38: Challenge


7th UXM #192: Fun 'n' Games!
8th UXM #193: Warhunt 2
9th UXM #193: Warhunt 2
15th NMU #26: Legion
16th NMU #26: Legion
16th NMU #27: Into the Abyss
16th NMU #28: Soulwar
17th NMU #28: Soulwar
18th NMU #28: Soulwar
19th NMU #28: Soulwar
20th NMU #28: Soulwar
21st UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
21st NMU #28: Soulwar
22nd UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
22nd NMU #28: Soulwar
22nd NGT #1: How Much is That Boggie in the Window?
22nd NGT #2: A Boggie Day in L'un Dun-T'wn
23rd UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
23rd NMU #28: Soulwar
24th UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
24th NMU #28: Soulwar
24th NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
25th UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
25th NMU #28: Soulwar
25th NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
25th NGT #3: To Bamf or Not to Bamf!
25th NGT #4: The Wizard of Oops!
26th UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
26th NMU #28: Soulwar
26th NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
27th UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
27th DAZ #39: Deathgrip
27th NMU #28: Soulwar
27th NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
28th UXM #194: The Juggernaut's Back in Town!
28th NMU #28: Soulwar
28th NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
29th UXM #195: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...!
29th NMU #28: Soulwar
29th NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
30th NMU #28: Soulwar
30th NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
30th SW2 #1: Earthfall!
31st NMU #29: Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion...
31st NMU #30: The Singer and Her Song
31st SW2 #1: Earthfall!

ALF #33: "A Friend In Need"

("You're the most beautiful woman in most rooms.")


So this is nice. With Alpha Flight seemingly having lost some of its spark with the transfer between Byrne and Mantlo (however aggravating the former was) it's good to see an unquestionable improvement in at least one area. This, by the admittedly abysmal standards of the time in general and this title in particular, is quite a nice one from a feminist perspective. Not great, mind you, but with some ideas to genuinely approve of.

Partly the feminism marks given out here stem from the issue's focus. With Heather clearly the main character on this occasion and some time spent checking in on Snowbird and, pleasingly, the seemingly forgotten Marrina. Neither are in good shape - Marrina is still partially devolved and on the run, and Snowbird is suffering from an unknown malady - but it's still nice to see them.

In general, though, this is an issue about Heather Hudson. In particular, it's about the conflict between who Heather is, and who other people want her to be; how they see her versus how she sees herself.

Heather, of course, has always been a character defined in large part by reference to men. She was James Hudson's secretary, and then his wife. She's the secret object of Puck's adoration. And as we learn in this issue, Logan always had a thing for her as well. The three most important men in Heather's life all saw her as the woman for them. On paper, that might sound flattering, but in reality is has led to problems; first Puck and then initially Logan both refuse to help her become a superhero because they're more comfortable with her in the role as superhero's girlfriend. By admitting this Logan comes out of this looking better than Puck - who has apparently told all of Alpha Flight except Heather, which is a punk move - but the problem still remains; Heather can't get what she wants because the men in her life who love her (overtly or otherwise) don't want to see their image of her change. It's all too appropriate that the X-Men's reaction upon seeing Heather approach is to view her as a threat and attack her. Yes, that's an entirely understandable reaction of mutants facing an unannounced super-powered intruder diving towards them at dusk (one of the few times the "superheroes fight due to mistaken identity" riff doesn't feel forced), but it's also an underlining of the central point here, which is that even among strangers, Heather's own status and nature is thoroughly subsumed by the views others have of her.

In interrogating that, Mantlo is pulling double duty, because in having a female character insist on her right to control who she is on her own terms the story strikes not just against the sexism in stories of the time, but begins the process of answering the criticisms of the title's own past. Byrne never had any problem with writing Heather like a lame sidekick to her superhero husband, just as he had no problem writing Aurora as simply a deranged woman for first her brother then Sasquatch to worry about. Here we learn that this approach is no longer sufficient. Heather may have let James and Puck and Logan define who she was - hell, the dialogue here suggests Heather did the exact same thing to herself - but she's made her choice regarding who she wants to be, and she will let no-one stop her from reaching that goal. Tragically and utterly obvious though such ideas should be, and simplistic though their treatment is here, that's some proper feminism right there.  Even when the issue starts to waver by taking us on an extended Wolverine flashback (about how he first found out about his adamantium claws, a strange tale to be telling here rather than in Uncanny..., perhaps) it's saved by having Heather yell at Logan for his so-called love for her having turned into the desire to protect her, whether she asks for it - whether she needs it - or not. It's a reminder that whilst the desire to protect someone you love is a perfectly reasonable impulse, you can easily take it to the point where you're putting someone in a glass case, and that, like erecting pedestals for women, is no less of a sexist attitude for being well-meaning. It's particularly refreshing that the man Heather is upbraiding is Logan, already at this point probably the most popular X-Man since "Second Genesis" debuted - no-one else has been in two minis with their name in the title. It was already starting to occur to Marvel that they had a cash-cow on their hands, so an on-panel feminist critique of him, however milquetoast, is somewhat impressive.

There's even more here, though, because for Puck and Logan at least (along with the sadly departed Mac) the point at issue is their deep attraction for Heather. This reminds me all too well of my younger days, when the girls and young women deemed most attractive were surrounded by swarms of boys and young men. The one's who were scurrilous arseholes were one thing, but the bigger problem - if only by volume - were the men who were convinced that they were being nice, and thoughtful, and kind, and helpful, when really they were treating the object of their desire as just that - an object. I confess shamefacedly that in my teenage years I was one of those boys convinced that women only went for arseholes [1], but my own treatment of women wasn't any better, because it was still utterly wrapped up in what I wanted and what I thought I deserved. And that can end up being even worse for those you claim to care so deeply about, because when you make friends with someone and then pull the rug away from them with ultimatums of "love" you cost them much more than an underage drunk kissing the wrong girl at some profoundly depressing house party. 

Adults, of course, are not supposed to behave or think this way. But there's a lot of ways we're not supposed to behave and things we're not supposed to think that stubbornly refuse to leave us. So, rather unfortunately, it's not as though either Puck or Logan are behaving in a totally unbelievable way. And besides, this is a book aimed at teenage boys. Having adults behave as badly as they tend to and showing why that behaviour is bullshit is a damn good use of the title's time, at least on occasion.

Given all this it's then rather a shame that this issue also features the first appearance of Lady Deathstrike, a female character once again defined - at least in her early appearances - entirely in terms of her father and her hatred of Wolverine.  Since none of that is mentioned here, though, I don't want to complain about this too much; on its own terms, this issue has a great deal to recommend it.

[1] I do still wonder if there is some small truth to this in teenage circles, not because straight sixteen year old girls are attracted to horrible sixteen year old boys, but because the teenage boys they're attracted to have learned - consciously or otherwise - that they don't actually have to be nice to be popular. To the extent there is any truth here, there is no doubt in my mind that it works just as powerfully in the opposite direction, my taste in women was by and large appalling when I was sixteen. Because what I was interested in was how pretty they were.

(Of course, an even simpler explanation is that teenagers, by and large, are all arseholes for much of the time. Finding excuses to dislike someone dating the person you wish was with you is not a particularly difficult job when no-one involved is old enough to vote.)


This story takes place immediately following the previous issue, with Heather still on the flight she began in ALF #32. This causes problems, since the current Alpha Flight timeline we've been using is still so far behind the parent title that Magneto is still eight issues away from his trial. Obviously, with Mags leading the team in this issue that's not going to work, and we can't move this issue alone forwards because it ties in so well to the last one. Fortunately ALF #32 gave no indication of when it was set, so I can move both this and the last issue forwards to contemporary issues of UXM. In particular, we'll set them both the day after the Beyonder returns to his own reality.

Colossus mentions that it's been months since the original Guardian died. By my estimation it's been a little over a year in fact, but that's close enough, especially since Piotr could be forgiven for not having rigorously kept track of what Alpha Flight has been up to.


Tuesday 17th April, 1985.



Contemporary Events

Luke Mitchell (Lincoln Campbell in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I long ago lost track of) is born.

Standout Line

"I sense strange troubled thoughts...!"
"You're describin' half the human race, sweetheart!" - Rachel and Rogue

This issue even passes the Bechdel Test! You know, very briefly...

Thursday, 1 October 2015

NMU #38: "Aftermath!"

("A Godforsaken fucking tomb.")


A familiar approach in later years, this is the New Mutant's "Secret Wars II" comedown issue, although really it's just the first installment in their comedown arc. Which is fair enough; being brutally and callously murdered only to be raised from the dead as bodyguards for your murderer is exactly the kind of mind-fuck you can imagine taking a while to untangle.

Obviously doing this story justice is rather difficult. There's no real-world analogue for being brutally murdered and then resurrected by your killer (not unless you're the most cynical Christian imaginable) but the closest analogue must be some kind of horrifically traumatic near-death experience deliberately brought about by someone vastly more powerful than you, and there's no real hope that something like that could ever be satisfactorily worked through in a superhero comic, or at least not in a superhero comic where the heroes have to go back to punching people in a couple of weeks.

The degree to which this matters is open to debate; one would hope there are very very few people who can come close to understanding what the New Mutants are going through, which makes questions of accurate depiction of distant concern, and clearly something had to be done to address the events of last issue. In any case, Claremont's solution to the impossible problem of tackling an utterly unrecognisable situation in a ludicrously short space of time by shifting the focus to Magneto's struggle to help his charges, rather than their own experiences. In general this is not an approach I'm happy with, since it subsumes the story of the victim(s) into the story of the observer, but there are two things to be said for using it here.  The first is the aforementioned unreality of all that happens here; it's harder to object to someone not telling their own story when that story has no meaning for the real world (though as mentioned there may be people who can come close to relating here, and I'm not sure they'd be happy with the focus on Magneto). The second is that it allows Claremont to at least mine the comic's set up, as he offers up a story about how the adults just cannot understand what the children's problem is.

In fact, what Claremont manages here is genuinely impressive. The idea that the teenagers' trauma would lead to them being listless, inattentive and unconcerned with the future is at least plausible; they don't see any point in embracing or preparing for a life they know can be snatched from them at any time. You can't strive for a future you can't imagine existing. But as well as being a plausible approach regarding the New Mutants' trauma, it represent perfectly a common form of teenage behaviour, and in a way that actually strengthens the idea that this is how our heroes would respond to their trauma. There are, fundamentally, two types of school pupil who aggravate their teachers; the badly behaved, and the apathetic. The former are the ones who terrify the student teachers - hardly without reason; I was all of four weeks into my main teaching placement before one of the maths teachers was poisoned - but it's the latter who are ultimately the bigger problem. You can teach a child to behave (and if you can't a decent school will have strong support structure in place). What you can't teach them to do is care.

The area in which I did my teacher training was not a fun place to visit, and what I saw strongly suggested it wasn't improved by having stayed their through your childhoods. When I think back on the kinds of small, economically devastated former pit towns I worked in, I start thinking that Lord Howell's greatest sin wasn't in calling the North East desolate, but in failing to realise the extent to which his comments were accurate (which is little, but not none), his party is the reason why. Thatcher tore the heart out of those places no less surely than the Beyonder murdered the New Mutants, but when you kill a community the individuals who remain go on living. They go on living, and they go on having children, children who grow up seeing vast swathes of the adults around them living their lives on the dole because there's no other way to generate money. For an entire generation - perhaps even two by now - the assumption among the schoolchildren in these former mining communities was that school was just what stood between playing in scrubland and spending a life not being able to find work.

Try telling those kids that if they work hard enough they can improve their futures, and see the looks you get. They will stay with you, I promise you.

So as much as I question making this story so about Magneto (there is some stuff from Dani's perspective too, in fairness) the resulting image of a new teacher trying to pull students from an existential funk strikes me as an enormously powerful one. This is all the more true for how closely it cleaves to certain subsections of our own world (one wonders whether the Guthries are fated to go the same way one day). Like so many new teachers, Magneto has not yet built up an understanding of how children can be motivated, or the vocabulary he needs to do it. He knows what punishments he can dole out, but he has no idea how to use such sanctions in a constructive way. Even were he more experienced, thought, there's always the horrible possibility that the only thing that could potentially save these kids is to get them rolled in a different school where they would have a chance to interact with children whose backgrounds give them hope for the future. Enter Miss Frost and the Massachusetts Academy. In the context of the story the transfer is from a school without a telepathic teacher to one with (playing on Magneto's fear of being unable to replace Charles, in another nice touch), but within the metaphor of hopelessness, this is clearly about taking those who believe their lives have no meaning and taking them somewhere where they can learn what life can offer to those fortunate to have above average skills/talents/intelligence/whatever.

I must be careful here, because this is cleaving dangerously close to an argument in favour of private schools, or at least in favour of some kind of voucher system that can take those who are sufficiently gifted out of state schools and into private education. That's not what I actually think at all; what I think is that the obvious correct response to failing state schools is to make state schools better. It may well be true that voucher systems really are of benefit to those students who can make use of them, but the result is that those left behind are even more bereft of hope, even more aware of how thoroughly the deck has been stacked against them for reasons entirely outside of their control (it also relies on our society being even-handed and thoughtful about how we define "gifted", which I completely don't believe we're realistically capable of). So technically speaking, in terms of the metaphor Magneto makes the wrong decision politically.

But of course we don't need our heroes to make the right choice every time. They have to be allowed to make mistakes once in a while. Indeed, this is ultimately I think an entirely forgivable error on Magneto's part; he's inexperienced, his charges won't talk to him, and he has the luxury of being able to send his entire school to somewhere "better" rather than having to pick and choose which students get the break.  It's also worth noting that in a few issues the recuperation of the New Mutants will prove to only be possible with Magneto and Frost working together - true co-operation between social strata, in the language of the metaphor. So Magneto's mis-step here, born as it is of frustration and concern and fear, is entirely understandable.

So much so in fact that it's actually a real shame that it turns out he's being manipulated by Empath to feel as rotten and confused as he does. The set-up here is almost perfect in terms of what it shows us about students and teachers and the difficulty in instilling hope. Magneto's reactions are so human and believable that learning it took Empath to push him to those straits actually makes me think less of Magneto, though I suppose if you wanted to argue Mags would never see so clearly through his colossal impenetrable arrogance without psycho-emotional manipulation, I'd have a hard time arguing with that idea.  In the end, though, Empath's involvement simply serves to give something for Magneto something to punch (or intend to; we'll see next issue how successful he is) and given how wonderfully this issue works in reminding us that there are some fights that simply can't be won with a square jaw and a strong right hook, distracting us from that fact seems unfortunate. Again, though, since this story-line ultimately ends with Magneto and Frost both realising the New Mutants can only be helped with time, space, and compassion, perhaps Empath's intrusion here doesn't actually make all that much of a difference in the great scheme of things.

In short, you can question the specifics here, and you can certainly ask why the tale of these children's recovery is being filtered through their teacher rather than told themselves. But the tack Claremont has taken here does much to remove the bite from that line of criticism; there's just too much to be said for showing us the complexities of pupils who are bereft of hope from the perspective of the teachers who just don't know how to help them.

Of course, what we really need now is to see those same issues from the student perspective. Roll on NMU #39.


This story takes place over at least a week. Doug Ramsey's father notes that his son has been depressed for at least a couple of weeks. We'll therefore set this story to end just a hair under three weeks after the Beyonder was returned to his own dimension.

That places us in the early weeks of spring. This is contradicted slightly both the amount of snow on the ground (my limited understanding is that late April snows aren't unheard of, but this density pretty much is) and the fact someone says "Merry Christmas" at the local party, but there's no way to deal with that without unpicking the whole of "Secret Wars II". Problems exist here anyway since Magneto states here that he agreed to take over the school in summer, which would put his X-books on a time scale slightly faster than that in real life. But this would require the events of "Secret Wars" to have taken place over the course of well over a full year, which isn't plausible for all sorts of reasons. This is one of those occasions where we're just going to have to ignore our lyin' eyes.


Monday 30th April to Monday 7th May, 1985.


X+7Y+47 to X+7Y+55.

Contemporary Events

This cheque is cut, apparently. Points available for naming the movie.

Standout Line

"Brightwing?!! You're bowing!?! To a frog?!?" - Dani

Oh, I forgot to mention: Thor is in this too. As a frog. Man, I love this stuff.

(Full credit to Claremont for his permutation approach to punctuation there, too.)

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

UXM #204: "What Happened To Nightcrawler?"

(Serious failure.)


Sweet magnetic Jesus, it's Arcade again.

I'm sure at this point that my feelings regarding Arcade are sufficiently clear that I don't need to go over them again, I shall simply point out here that at this point his failure rate involving the X-Men has gotten high enough for severe monster fatigue to be setting in. Not that he's intended as a genuine threat of course (making his back-story utterly ridiculous, but never mind); Arcade is only wheeled out when Claremont is in the mood for some lighthearted hi-jinks.

Which in theory is fine, and indeed necessary from time to time. I figure I have it in me to recognise the benefits of fun romps even if I'm not a fan of the mechanism being cranked to generate it. But the problem here is bigger than Arcade's presence, it's that this is fundamentally not the Nightcrawler story to be telling right now.

I understand the temptation, after months of anguished cloth-rending over the capricious omnipotence of the Beyonder, to unwind with a simple tale of damsel rescue as a palette cleanser before the next global crisis. I also understand the desire to choose Kurt Wagner for the focus; swashbuckling adventure is what he does, as he reminds us here. My principal objection here is not one of content (though I do have issues there, as I shall get to) but of timing: Kurt's existential angst here is horrible, but it's fascinating, and it deserved to be explored rather than shoved aside.

The concept of a person of faith coming across something so incomprehensibly powerful as to meet their definition of God is sci-fi staple, obviously. But the fact it has been done elsewhere doesn't imply there's no value to it being tried here. Nightcrawler's faith is already more complicated and interesting can you might find elsewhere because of his status as a mutant. Kurt faces a daily battle to reconcile his Catholicism with the fact that literally millions of other Catholics believe he is evil, either because of his appearance, or because of his genetics. The metaphor shines strong here; how do gay Christians maintain their faith in America when so many of their fellows insist they exist on a scale somewhere between sinners and out-and-out abominations? There was real potential here to use the mutant idea for something stronger than generating bizarre powers and cheap melodrama, but Claremont doesn't reach for it.

He does, in fairness, start strong with the argument between Kurt and Amanda Sefton that results in the sorceress leaving him in fury. I can't even come close to blaming her; Kurt - already on the sauce first thing in the morning - asks whether she used her magic to make him love her. That is not the kind of shit anyone should have to put up with. But at the same time that question, though unbearably cruel, is something I can understand as striking Kurt right now. After all, if the Beyonder really is God - and I don't remember there being anything in the Bible that Yahweh does that the Beyonder couldn't replicate - and his infinite compassion is revealed to be instead self-absorbed petulance, how can Kurt expect all of us profoundly flawed sinners to be any less selfish and manipulative? Kurt and Amanda's breakup is horrible and vicious, but within the context of the story it makes sorrowful sense.

Seeing Nightcrawler deal with all of this could have been fascinating. Would he have cast his faith aside? Or would he have concluded that the Beyonder's resemblance to how he always pictured God was proof that God himself must be vastly more than Kurt or any other human could ever possibly conceive; that he must be as far beyond the Beyonder as the Beyonder is beyond us? And if he did come to that conclusion, would it reassure or terrify him?  There's so much to work with here, but instead Kurt is offered a young woman in distress so he can pretend once more to be Errol Flynn.

It is, admittedly, nice to see Nighcrawler enjoying himself; the problems surrounding the sudden gear-shift into unironic swashbuckling dents the fun, it doesn't ruin it. I mean, I could point out that Kurt having so much fun in his attempts to save Judith Rassendyll rather suggests the mortal danger she's in isn't all that important, reducing her to a prop in 'Crawler's recovery story.  But the whole tone and intent of the issue makes it clear that Rassendyll has to make it out alive and unhurt, so her status as plot device/trophy is no more egregious than similar examples in a million other stories. That doesn't make it OK, but ultimately its a general criticism rather than one to push too far here, especially since the issue ends with Judith calling Kurt on his adrenaline-junkie approach, 'Crawler refuses to let the point hit home, and it's immediately swallowed by the last-panel revelation that Judith is the last of the Elfburgs and Queen of Ruritania, so there's not much sense the narrative wants the idea to sink in too far, but it's something.

So whilst this story bears the fingerprints of centuries of male dominance, the specific problem is in how something potentially fascinating is cast away in favour of another nonsensical romp in Arcade's playground. And I do mean nonsensical. A brief list of the ludicrous moments in this issue include the idea that Arcade's man-catchers are perfectly disguised as garbage trucks but have a sound so distinctive Kurt can hear it from a mile away; the authorities twice having checked the abandoned fairground, found no trace of Arcade's lair, and so just left it alone; and Arcade being able to hold a Mad Max drag-strip race across a vast trackless desert in the comfort of his own subterranean lair [1]. I could go on, but I'm getting annoyed and I assume you're getting bored.

So I'll stop there. This is a deeply silly and inconsequential romp, both of which are fine things, but it comes at the cost of undercutting something far more interesting. But the fact that such interesting ideas are there, nibbling at the edges of what we see, is encouraging. The force behind the mutant metaphor continues to grow.

[1] Yes, yes. I know. "Holograms". Bollockograms, more like. I can get behind a hologram replicating an environment. I can even get behind it being able to give the impression of driving through it. But multiple cars carrying real people? You need actual physical space to pull that off.  Of course, this has been pissing me off since I saw my first holodeck, so I'm willing to accept the possibility that this might pretty much just be my problem.


This story starts in the morning and goes on over several hours. With no link to the rest of the X-Men, there's nothing to tie this story to the wider time-line, so I'll assume this tale takes place the morning immediately after the Beyonder's sunrise defeat in UXM #203.

Nightcrawler mentions that Kitty and Piotr last encountered Arcade a few months ago, which fits with our time-line.


Monday 15th April, 1985.



Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.17 standard years.

(At the time of this post, Beast is 34 years old)

Contemporary Events

South Africa lifts its ban on interracial marriages. I know I've used that one before, but I can't find much else. And anyway, it's important enough to mention twice, I think.

Standout Line

"Being an X-Man was fun! We were mutants -- outcasts from human society because of the powers we were born with -- but our hearts were light! Now, everything is grim. The joy -- the romance -- the innocence -- all gone."

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Firestar #1: "Mark Of The Mutant!"

(The All-Consuming Fire)


Reading this book is an odd experience for me, providing me as it does with the earliest link to my own X-Men history. The very first time I ever heard of the X-Men (to the best of my fading memory) was lying on the carpet in my parent's living room, watching Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends on some Saturday morning magazine show (Saturday Superstore? Going Live? I think it was BBC1, but I'm not even sure on that). Much of what happened in the episode where Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar teamed up with the X-Men I'd long forgotten [1], but the residual memory - remembering how desperately impatient I was between the two halves of the episode, split up with what always seemed like hours between in the standard cruel manner of such morning shows - is part of what prompted me to tune in to the X-Men animated show in the early '90s, where of course I became lost forever.

So seeing Firestar in comic form - the only female character there was in the show that exposed me to the X-Men, and along with Daphne from Scooby-Doo likely almost entirely responsible for my redhead preference - is wonderfully circular for me.  And it's circular in general, of course; the Spider-Man comics were successful enough to generate a cartoon series, which in turn was successful enough to generate first a cameo for its only original main character, and then her own miniseries. These days such circularity is everywhere, with Marvel's movie sideline now having grown so massive at its parent format dwindles that is now quite clearly wagging the dog. Scuttlebutt has it in fact that sweeping changes are coming in the wake of "Secret Wars III" (it's important to be able to count, folks) which are designed to bring the Marvel Universe more in line with the world the films portray, with the X-Men therefore marginalised so the Inhumans can take their place. How true this is remains to be seen (or at least it does for me; I've still not reached SWIII in my reading).

But enough of the circumstances: what of the plot? I've been talking recently about the value of taken well-worn stories and dropping a mutant into them to see what happens. "Mark of the Mutant" is very much an example in point. The basic structure here - teenage girl starts new school, falls foul of the established dominant clique, but turns the head of the local hunk, while a father who just doesn't get it looks on helplessly - was a fully-established staple long before Tina Fey got around to skewering it in Mean Girls.

Fact. BTW, the "M" Angelica is referring to is a shape in her palm
her grandmother insists is proof of her specialness.

Throw in a beloved grandmother who dies near the end to generate extra tears, and you're all set to go.

Now, the broad strokes of this kind of narrative are problematic. The basic idea that you should be yourself and ignore bullies and people will like you is fine, I suppose (though I tend to think the idea that bullies are best ignored is generally one spouted by those not inclined to bother getting involved), but in practice it always revolves around the heroine being conventionally attractive and them being rewarded for their perseverance with a conventionally attractive boyfriend.  This boils the blood for two reasons: firstly it treats physical attractiveness in your partner as something you earn by being a good person - God forbid we suggest that being being nice you might end up with someone who is also nice - and secondly because it taps into the idea that "the bullies are only jealous" which again works as a bromide rather than a solution, and in addition directly implies certain people are better than other people, generally for reasons beyond anyone's control. I understand the impulse of my teachers to tell me I was being bullied (not in the worst way, really, when I compare it to the experience of others, but still) because they were jealous of how smart I was, but the idea that this doesn't mean being smarter than someone doesn't mean being better than them is not something my teenage brain was equipped to handle, and I don't think I've ever been able to shake this concept from my subconscious. Not fully, at least.

Firestar #1 suffers from all these problems, but since they're inherited from the narrative which mutantism is invaded, that's to be expected. What's important is how much adding the X gene to proceedings does to critique the standard set-up. Whilst exploring that, it's useful to compare the story of Angelica Jones with that of Katherine Pryde, who also features here. Kitty Pryde, I know, gets a lot of love from people, in no small part because Claremont - conditional on his addiction to garrulous melodrama - managed to write her as a fairly believable teenage girl. Which is a fair point (though as I've noted before believably irritating teenagers are still irritating teenagers), but if we're pinning any part of Kitty's popularity on her being a realistic teenager who happens to also be a mutant, we have the non-trivial problem of her also being a computer science genius. Shadowcat's story is not and never was about taking an average teenage girl and making her a mutant, it was about taking a standard genius-level superhero - Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Hanks Pym and McCoy, on and on and on - and seeing how they work as a teenager. It's not a standard narrative with added mutants, in other words, it's a standard mutant narrative with added youth and inexperience.

That's not what we have here. Angelica Jones is described by her father as very intelligent, but it doesn't seem to have translated into her grades; she's certainly a far more average kid than Kitty is, even if the rules of her narrative means she has to be pretty. But the comparison with Shadowcat raises an important point; what exactly is the difference between a teenager who's unique amongst her peers for her amazing ability at programming computers, and a teenager who's unique amongst her peers for her amazing mutant powers? Sure, the latter is impossible, but while I'm hardly an expert, it seems to me that Kitty's skills with computers are no more plausible than her ability to walk through brick walls. There's an obvious and at least slightly welcome difference in how well Angelica's power fits into the story, at least: her emerging heat powers means she's quite literally going to... well, take your pick. Get hot under the collar. Feel her blood boil. Demonstrate a fiery temper (making her a redhead always was a little on the nose, but there you go). Heat is something we associate with anger, with impatience, with frustration, which is to say with being a teenager. That horrible burning sensation all over your body at just how perverse and unfair and badly cobbled-together human life is and how nobody more than five years older than you has the slightest fucking interest in doing something about it. The all-consuming fire we had when we were young, spilling out in all directions as we raged at the world that might actually be OK if it would just listen.

To be a teenager is to be on fire forever. There's a reason it was Johnny Storm who got to be the second Human Torch, after all.

But nodding at Sue Richard's little brother just demonstrates how obvious the metaphor here is. Whatever Stan Lee's many strengths, generally speaking if he works a metaphor into one of his characters you shouldn't feel too smug about being able to spot it. In other words, comicdom's most talented hack writer ever dreamed this up in the '60s, seeing it rejigged here isn't particularly impressive. Especially when you consider that we're supposed to have another metaphor to call on here: mutantism. Long gone are the days where being a mutant was just a way of bypassing questions about how someone acquired their powers (not that that wasn't a smart idea in itself). Being a mutant is different to being super-human. This is what I mean about the value of placing mutants in standard narrative templates; it's analogous to putting minorities into narratives they've previously been excluded from. There is always much to debate on which minority groups are being and have been included in this way, how well that inclusion has been handled, and whether this seemingly endless parade of cis-het white male writers are the best people to be doing it in any case, but the attempt is still supposed to be made.

So how much use does FRS #1 make use of its built-in metaphor? Alas, almost none.  There's a point towards the end in the wake of her grandmother's death where Angelica showcases her powers to her father, who freaks out, fretting to himself that his daughter is a "freak" and a "mutie" - odds that Angelica will tell him she wishes he'd died rather than Nana by this mini's end can't be worse than one in two - but otherwise her status as a mutant is only relevant insomuch as it provides the justification for the X-Men to try and recruit her only to find Emma Frost has arrived there first. It's a MacGuffin in other words, at least in this first issue, which given we already know Firestar will sign up for the Massachusetts Academy one way or another means it doesn't convince even on the unengaging terms it sets for itself.

All of which rather underlines the central question of why we needed a Firestar miniseries. Rogue hadn't had one yet. Cyclops hadn't had one. Any of the New Mutants, beyond the one Illyana shared with Storm. Literally the only mutants to have solo miniseries at this point were Wolverine and Iceman (with Longshot being retrospectively added to the list much later). There is something delightful about giving a female mutant her own series so soon, and I don't want to ignore that. From a certain perspective the idea of saying "Iceman was on that show and got a miniseries, why can't Firestar" and willfully refusing to consider any additional context is a wonderfully maximalist position, and it should be applauded.

So maybe we can argue this series' mere existence is enough. That doesn't mean it couldn't have started better.

[1] I remembered only that Nightcrawler smelled of brimstone when he jaunted, and that there was a girl with a rubbish costume who could walk through walls. I didn't even remember the TV Thunderhawk could turn into a bear, which I guess was probably for the best, John Proudstar's run was cruel and pointless enough without being upset that there was no longer an opportunity for Logan to ride into battle on a grizzly.


This story takes place over several months, beginning on the first day of the new school year, and continuing through to mid-December. I more or less at random found a county in New Jersey and made use of the term dates to give an idea of when this story starts.

The first page tells us this story takes place before UXM #193.  Since that story takes place (according to our timeline at least) in early December, I'll put this story some way further back, during the previous winter. That puts this somewhere around the first appearance of the Hellions in New Mutants #16, which seems about right.


Monday 5th September to Monday 12th December, 1983.


X+5Y+186 to X+5Y+284.

Contemporary Events

St Kitts and Nevis becomes an independent state. New Caledonia however has the offer of independence withdrawn by France after violence erupts between French ex-pats and the indigenous Kanak population.

Standout Line

This one is really the kind of "What were they thinking?" that you have to see for yourself: