Tuesday, 16 June 2015
NMU #37: "If I Should Die"
("What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night" - Crowfoot, Siksika First Nation)
This is about as far as you can get from the swashbuckling larks. Everything here that isn't gloom is doom instead. Well, there's a brief bit at the start featuring the kids relaxing whilst the senior team is away. These little "slice of life" sections are always some of Claremont's best, even if they tend to be stuffed with more corn than just the kernels Amara is popping to make snacks. Even here there is sadness, though, as Rahne is forced to take the others to task for cheering on a Western filled with villainous "Indians" whilst their friend Dani is in the same room. Not being American, and to my great shame never having to my knowledge ever met or spoken to a Native American (though I've read writing from some) I can't tell whether this is too heavy-handed or not, but I personally appreciated it. Especially since Dani is trying to talk to her Cheyenne mother but can't hear her over the sound of hooting teenagers rooting for the US Cavalry. That's a hell of a metaphor about the violent overwriting of indigenous dialogue by colonial oppressors to be found tossed away on the first page of an '80s superhero comic.
But then what is the Beyonder but the ultimate colonial, a force come to our lands to overwrite the story of humanity however he sees fit, secure in the knowledge we cannot stand against him, and utterly convinced that this same weakness makes us ineligible to contribute to the discussion of our fate. It's the ultimate white man's fear: that someday someone else is going to do to us exactly what we did to others for centuries with impunity . Shooter's main SW2 title rather bypasses this in favour of elevator-pitch tales of hilarious misunderstandings and reality-juggling, but Claremont here takes the far more plausible route (to the extent that phrase has meaning here) and presents the arrival of the Beyonder as being a terrifying black swan event that would terrify you so much every internal organ would vacate your body.
Here Claremont ties in the sheer incomprehensible horror circling humanity's head by tapping Dani's status as an agent of death, specifically Hela. I've discussed before my discomfort with having a native American forcibly added to the ranks of the force of a white culture's god, but it certainly has some power here. There's a particularly nice moment in which Dani sees death hovering over each of her friends, but the form death takes depends on the beliefs of each New Mutant - so for Illyana it's a demon, for Amara it's Pluto, etc. For some reason Sam's death appears to be Jesse Custer, but then I suppose he did do more than his share of killing, so fair enough. Roberto manages to escape the portentathon, since he's elsewhere, doing a bit of standard hero work and Claremontian brooding, presumably to remind us that normal service at least continues somewhere; that the Beyonder's shadow does not yet cover everything. But for everyone else on the team, it looks like being a pretty bad night.
For Beyonder, God of Imperialism, is a jealous deity, easily offended. He offered Illyana the chance to join him willingly last issue, and she refused. He came to her all smiles and gifts, and yet she rejected him, wanting to choose her own path. What is the Beyonder to do in response to such obvious and total irrationality? How could anyone fail to see his way is the best way? Who else can claim such power? Why would he have such total control over reality if not to rearrange it as he saw fit? Illyana's refusal is a sign she does not understand. Worse, that she would happily doom her own people rather than attempt that understanding.
The Beyonder turns her to dust the moment he sees her.
The rest of the New Mutants try desperately to avenge their friend, but the fight is obviously hopeless. Indeed, the only reason it happens at all is because the Beyonder seems to want to toy with them, offering them hope specifically so he can take it away, as Dani puts it. This is more or less inarguable, given the Beyonder could have erased them all from existence without them even knowing he was there. Ultimately, though, the effect is the same; the Beyonder murders the team one by one (in a way that's probably the most horrifying team wipe-out I can remember since Alan Moore gave us The Fury) and then erases them from the entire timeline. Removing their stories utterly, and replacing them with his own.
 Claremont underlines this by gifting Dani a vision of her grandfather explaining how some amongst the Cheyenne believed the white man had been sent to punish them for their pride. I confess I've been unable to find anything on whether this is something that was genuinely believed at the time, or whether it's entirely fictional.
This story takes place over a single evening.
Sam mentions that summer is almost over, though since he turns that into a discussion about Thanksgiving it's not clear quite how good his grasp of chronology is. In any event, with the Beyonder having been on earth since at least the start of the year (see UXM #196) placing this issue eight or so months later strikes me as letting him plague the planet for entirely too much time - the gaps between issues of #SW2 would have to become too large. We can move the timeline on a few weeks, though, since it's clear from the next UXM issue that the X-Men have spent quite some time in San Francisco trying to sort out the mess there.
Friday 13th April, 1985.
American model, burlesque dancer and actress Carmen Carrera is born.
"They're watching some dumb cowboy movie -- of course we're the bad guys -- yeah, I wish things were different too." - Dani.