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.)