Tuesday, 19 July 2016

FRS #3: "This Lady Kills!"


(Reheated meal)

Comments

There's not a great deal I can say about this one; it's the third issue of the series, and clearly an instalment which only exists to get us to the four parts Marvel minis of the era apparently all needed to have. The first 15 pages simply retread the material of the second issue, with the White Queen trying to train Angelica to be more aggressive with her powers, and Angelica herself dealing with the resentment of her fellows. This reiteration would be fairly irritating under most circumstances, but compounding the problem here is that Emma is still trying to persuade Firestar (through android training replicas and the "hallucinator" bracelet) that the X-Men desire the young woman's death even after she faced them in UXM #193 and found out there were pretty much OK. Not only does this make much of this issue seem pointless, the need to have Emma explain via flashback what happened during that confrontation means by far the most exciting event of the issue isn't even in the issue, once again raising the question of what this mini-series is actually supposed to be doing beyond filling in some rather uninspiring background on a character only briefly glimpsed before.

There's exactly one moment in the first two thirds of the issue that I like; when Roulette uses one of her bad luck discs to make Angelica trip during a dance class, Empath has to ramp up the teacher's frustration with his own powers to make her explode at Firestar for her "clumsiness". It's maybe not a particularly important thing in the grand scheme of the universe, but I always appreciate the suggestion that an education professional isn't going to start screaming at one of their pupils in the middle of a class because they screwed up. Given the almost endless number of scenes in teenage-aimed stories (and beyond, frankly) in which teachers are portrayed as sadistic tormentors always seventy minutes away from a coronary incident, it's nice when a story reminds us the intersection between those who want to educate children and those who want to terrify and humiliate them is actually pretty small. Of course, this is less an impressive piece of scripting from DeFalco than it is a moment of baseline competence that's somehow ridiculously rare.

In the final third, things get a little better, as Angelica takes a trip home to be reunited with the father who essentially disowned her as a mutant last time they met. It'd be easy to have him remain a one-note bigot and for Firestar to refuse to acknowledge him from the off (which, to be clear, would be a perfectly reasonable position for her to take). Instead Angelica is delighted to see her father, and keen to jump-start their relationship. As always, having never been disowned by my family for an irreducible part of my identity (I've probably come close with my politics, but that's another matter) I can't sensibly describe this as the more "realistic" approach, but I'd characterise it as a more interesting one.

It can't last, of course, Mr Jones, like Rusty in XFC #4, has spent too much of the last seven years hating mutants to be able to process them no longer being just images on the news. His confession to Angelica's "bodyguard" that he sometimes thinks his daughter would be better dead than red mutated has a horrible ring of verisimilitude to it. And he can try all he likes to insist his problem is not one of genetic bigotry but concern for how Angelica manifests her powers, but screaming "Are you crazy, girl?" at his only daughter for the crime of touching a cat makes that a pretty difficult sale. Over the long term, this might actually have been a story with some mileage in it, though one would have hoped it could be written by someone other than a cis-het white guy.

Whilst the final third is a step up, though, it's still not a total success. Frost has only allowed Firestar to come home so one of her agents - dressed as the Star Trek IV boombox punk, for some reason - to fake an attempt on Mr Jones' life. The hope is that this immediate threat to Angelica's last known living relative will finally trigger a willingness to kill. Which is exactly what happens, leaving Emma's pseudo-punk assassin in critical condition, and the White Queen herself in high spirits. At long last Firestar finally cannot claim to have never deliberately microwaved a human's innards. After all that sweat, Frost can finally make use of Angelica Jones as a deadly assassin against... Selene?

Selene. After two issues of Frost plotting to use Jones to murder Xavier - something we already know she didn't do - we suddenly switch to a character not even mentioned in the mini until this issue, when she annoys Shaw (also missing from the first half of this series) and he announces she must be killed.

This is simply terrible writing. It's terrible writing for (at least) three reasons. First there's the fact that failing to introduce Selene until this issue makes it even more clear that this miniseries is just an afterthought to an Uncanny X-Men storyline, rather than anything with its own internal weight. Second, it essentially sets up a final issue in which Emma's plot pretty much has to fail, since there's no way Selene will be taken off the board here rather than in one of Claremont's ongoing series [1]. And third, there's nothing even approaching an attempt here to explain why Angelica's instinctive reaction to save her father will work against Selene. Is the plan to have Selene threaten Mr Jones too? How does Frost intend to get the Black Queen to cooperate? I mean, we still don't even really know why anyone expects Firestar to get the job done in the first place.  Pretty much the only thing we know about Selene is that being thrown into a lake of boiling rock doesn't actually finish her off. Why assume microwaves would do the job, even if Angelica is minded to try? And if Frost and Shaw are using Angelica as their weapon in the hopes that should she fail, the attempt can't be traced back to them, surely having her spend well over a year as an enrolled student at the Massachusetts Academy was an entirely terrible idea.

It's an understandable mistake, sure; the Hellfire Club had never heard of Selene when Frost first took charge of Firestar's education. But that just further demonstrates the structural problems here. This is a story about how Emma failed to get Angelica to murder Xavier, and then undertakes more or less the exact same approach to get her to murder Selene, with what is likely to be the same result. After a rather interesting first issue, this mini has rapidly lost my interest.

[1] Yes, no reader is going to be headed into the final issue wondering whether or not Firestar is going to end up a murderer. But knowing Jones won't kill Selene is not the same thing as knowing she won't die.

Clues

This issue takes place over six days.

It's now been a year and half since Angelica joined the academy, which puts the action here as kicking off in June 1985. This implies it's been six month since UXM #193, which seems rather a long time given Shaw is apparently only just now reading Frost's report on what happened, but this can't be helped; UXM's own timeline makes it clear months pass between Firestar's first appearance and Selene becoming the Black Queen, so this title's implication that the two events more or less follow one after the other has to be ignored.

Date

Tuesday 4th to Sunday 9th June 1985

X-Date

X+7Y+93 to X+7Y+98.

Contemporary Events

Josef Mengele's body is exhumed in Brazil.

Standout Line

"I sometimes think I'd rather see her dead than have her suffer through life as a mutie..." - Bart Jones. Ouch.

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