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."