Friday, 13 February 2015
NMU #36: "Subway To Salvation!"
("Why is it during the hard times there are only one set of footprints in the sand?"
"Those are the times I was flying over New York in a magic subway car.")
Finding God can do strange things to a person. Having God find you apparently makes things stranger still.
First, let's dispense with the obvious: the degree to which Sunspot is shaken here by meeting the Beyonder doesn't particularly make sense considering how that encounter actually played out in SW2 #8. Basically the Beyonder doesn't even engage the New Mutants there, busy as he is with other things. "Lucky escape" is the phrase, rather than "All existence has been rendered meaningless by this encounter". I don't see this as a failing of this particular issue, though. If there's a decent story to be wrung out of how the New Mutants deal with meeting someone who, if not technically a god, is clearly more powerful than the actual gods our heroes hung out with just a few weeks earlier, there's little sense in ignoring that fact because the awful mini you're tying into has dropped the ball.
Whether there is such a story lurking beneath the surface, of course, is a different matter. And the early indications are pretty good. It appears that a close encounter with the Beyonder has knocked all the fight out of Sunspot, leading to him seeming distracted in training sessions and loudly announcing he didn't join the New Mutants to become a superhero, but just to learn how to live with being a mutant. Which might have been true initially, but even the most cursory glance at Sunspot's attitude over the last 36 issues and assorted specials - most especially his time in Asgard - makes it pretty hard to swallow the idea that his goal is a low profile and a quiet life. It's not as though it's tough to understand why the concept of the Beyonder could shake Roberto up, obviously, but the timing is interesting. After all, young master DaCosta has only just emerged apparently unscathed from the adventure which saw his mind invaded by a seemingly unstoppable tyrant who forced him to slaughter innocents, and seemed poised to use him and his closest friends as murderous flesh-puppets for the rest of their lives.
So why the sudden change of heart now? Why is Roberto suddenly once more consumed with regret and sadness over the death of his girlfriend Juliana, gunned down before his first meeting with Professor Xavier? Well, I'm rather giving the game away phrasing it like that, so I'll come out with it. Before Xavier, Roberto's authority figure - one he didn't choose - was an egomaniac with a thirst for power and very little interest in how chasing after that power would affect those in the way. With Charles gone, Roberto's new authority figure - whom he didn't choose - is an egomaniac with a reputation for thirsting for power and having very little interest in how chasing after that power will affect those in the way. This isn't about the Beyonder, it's about daddy issues. Or rather, to the extent that this is about the Beyonder, it's because the Beyonder is yet another solipsistic berk on a power trip. He just happens to have all the power already.
All of which is pretty interesting, and another smart riff on the crossover Claremont found himself lumbered with. Alas, the rest of the issue can't really deliver on this opening. Again, it's not clear whether this is Claremon't fault - the problem here is the need to include the Beyonder, much as it has been for this whole miserable crossover, and I don't want to lay that at Claremont's door either. But an understandable problem is still a problem, and watching the Beyonder stick his omnipotent mullet-framed fizzog into the proceedings is as frustrating and disappointing as always.
Still, whilst there's nothing in the rest of the issue to match the inspired conflation of religious crisis and daddy issues, there is more on the subject of sudden shifts in faith, as Sam and Illyana both declare themselves Team Beyonder. In the latter's case, this is at least partially because the Beyonder removes her Darkchilde persona and attendant responsibilities, transferring them to Shadowcat without either girl's consent or knowledge (Claremont declines to explore the obvious mile-in-her-shoes opportunity this presents, probably due to lack of space). Sam's conversion, in contrast, comes about because he's brought to visit Illyana's new flying subway car of evangelism. Yes, this is a thing. No, I've no idea why. Forget it Jack, it's Claremont town. You'd rather hope that neither of these events would cause so vast a sea change as signing up for the Big B newsletter, but that seems to be what's happened. I'll bet mind control is involved there somewhere. There always is. Forget it Jack, and review my previous comments.
Either way, there's something rather familiar in Illyana's conversion. Towards the end of the issue Kitty finds herself captured by some of the rampaging demons currently tearing through New York - why? No-one seems bothered enough to ask - and about to be sacrificed, and all Illyana can do is insist her mission for the Beyonder is too vital to interrupt for anything so trivial as her best friend's imminent death. And yes, she changes her mind in the end. Of course she does; this is a Claremont joint, and this is more or less exactly the same ending as he wrote for UXM in the same month. But before she returns her mind to earthly concerns, she acts as an admittedly hyperbolic example of a certain subset of the born-again religious. You might well know the type; the ones who have lived their lives in the eye of a hurricane of their own selfishness, and so can't help but make their new faith all about themselves too. When all you can do is talk about how important your relationship is with God, you're not fooling anyone about where your obsession lies, any more than those parents who can't shut up about how well their kids are doing.
Which is interesting. Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway. It does at least tie in with Sunspot's concerns at the start of the issue, giving us a bridging theme to help us get over the weak monster-runaround in the middle (and did we really need another instalment of "Who can Warlock kill for sustenance guilt-free?). I might not be inclined to thank God for that, but I can't deny that it's something.
This story takes place over a single afternoon.
Bobby is mentioned as still being thirteen in this issue. This is flatly ridiculous, as an absolute bare minimum of twenty-one months have passed since his debut, at which point he was already a teenager.
The afternoon this story takes place on is referred to being an Indian summer, which would place this story somewhere in Autumn. This gives us some real headaches, however, since we know Madelyne had to have given birth to Christopher both around Christmas and only days before Magneto took over the X-Men. With that latter event still clearly something which our protagonists are having to adjust to, there's no way to sensibly push this story forward eight months, especially since Claremont wants us to believe this is taking place less than a year after the graphic novel which preceded NMU #1.
Tuesday 12th March, 1985
Stromae is born. Twenty-five years later he takes Europe by storm with this, which I'd never heard of before, despite it reaching number one in a pretty impressive nineteen different countries.
"And with that, the subway car -- as beautiful and pure a machine as Illyana has become a person... takes to the sky... as if this is what it was born to do!"
I just... I got nothing.