Wednesday, 20 November 2013
KPW #6: "Honor"
(Since UXM #192 explicitly takes place after the conclusion to this series, we may as well get it finished.)
At last we come to the end of Claremont's second double-header miniseries. His first, of course, was Magik: Storm and Illyana, and it's worth remembering the structure of that previous book as we sum up this one. After all, consider the truly impressive number of similarities. A long-standing member of the X-Men (Storm/Wolverine) is called upon to deal with a murderous villain who has harmed them, but from whom they have learned (Belasco/Ogun), and who has now found a girl/young woman (Illyana/Kitty) - associated with the X-Men but currently in a strange land outside their protection - who they have corrupted by giving them new powers (dark magic/ninja skills), which the elder team member must help them to control. At the climax of the story, the girl/young woman must head the wisdom of their older colleague and shake off the villain's influence without killing them and thereby losing their innocence.
That's a truly remarkable list of similarities. Anyone wanting to call it self-plagiarism wouldn't get much of a fight from me. Indeed, part of me wonders why the sudden suggestion in this issue that Ogun planned to take Kitty's body as his own - something not mentioned at all in the previous five issues - was a way of shaking a familiar formula up a little (if so, it failed, serving to do nothing but weaken some of the book's earlier themes). In some ways, this can be forgiven if we think of KPW as being an attempt to improve on the earlier story. And some improvements can most certainly be identified. The world of Japanese crimelords and ninja assassins was a lot less tapped out when this was written, coming as it did before the '90s strip-mining of such ideas, and strikes me as a stronger location to set a story than the shifting nonsense that was Limbo. Related, KPW avoids the problems I have with Claremont's use of magic, which, for those who haven't heard my rants on the subject, is too staid to be interesting and too random to provide either strong story foundations or coherent metaphors. Lastly, for all that I'm not a fan of Kitty Pryde during her pre-Shadowcat days, she has been developed enough to pin a miniseries on, which really wasn't the case with Illyana Rasputin.
(Also, no rapey Nightcrawler, so bonus points there.)
But if we are to look at this series as an attempt to improve upon a formula, we run into one major problem; KPW has a central crisis that MAG avoided entirely. Let's talk about the one major difference between the two stories. In Limbo, Storm knows she is almost at the end of her life. Whatever else she is, Illyana is her last chance to strike against Belasco before the end. There are complexities here, but essentially, we're talking about a passing of the torch.
On the other hand, after Wolverine has finished training Kitty, he has to go on being Wolverine. This causes a major problem, because where Magik and Storm fulfilled different roles in their story, Kitty and Logan are sharing the same space in the narrative. Both of them need to beat Ogun, and in a story obsessed with the Japanese ideals of honorable combat (or more to the point, Western notions of Japanese ideals) only one of them can.
This is no small concern. It guarantees someone is going home without their cathartic release. If it's Kitty, that pulls the rug out from her entire narrative in the miniseries, because she goes from overcoming Ogun to prove herself to needing Wolverine to bail her out when things gets rough - exactly what Logan argued a couple of issues earlier would be a terrible result for her. In terms of the miniseries itself, Logan can probably get away with having Kitty defeating Ogun, but long-term problems creep in instead - you can't have Shadowcat doing Wolverine's job without it damaging Wolverine's status in the narrative (you can bypass this problem by letting Wolverine's status shift, but it'll be a little while until his boat is rocked so far as that).
Perhaps inevitably, the choice is made to poorly serve Shadowcat, and it's Wolverine who gets the chance to take Ogun down. You could, of course, colour an argument that this is the more sensible choice, since Kitty really only needed to prove she could stand up to Ogun, not beat him (indeed, beating him would have the effect of making him seem rather less than the unstoppable ninja killer he's been made out to be). The problem with that theory is that Kitty stands up to Ogun in issue 5, meaning she's pretty much treading water here whilst Wolverine gets all the actual action.
There's some evidence that Claremont understood this. Towards the end of the issue, once Wolverine has defeated Ogun, he offers Shadowcat the opportunity to murder her tormentor and gain revenge. This at least brings her choices back into the story, but of course Heroic Actions 101 means there's never any doubt as to which way she'll jump. When she refuses to do the deed, Wolverine reveals he was testing her, and that killing Ogun would have condemned herself to be like him.
Can we please stop with this shit? When Illyana refused to kill Belasco it was aggravating, but at least all the mystical crap about damning her soul should she give in to the darkness was based around magical rules which whilst entirely arbitrary can't exactly be called wrong. Here it's much easier to call foul. "Killing makes us no better than them" is possibly the absolute worst cliche in comics that doesn't involve implicit or explicit bigotry (David Brothers over at 4thletter! has been walking this beat for a while now too). I'm not even faintly interested in listening to someone telling me that there's no moral distinction between a man who violates the minds of children and murders for profit and a girl who kills a man who violates the minds of children and murders for profit, particulary when said man is so deep in the Japanese underworld there's every reason to believe the authorities won't dare give him more than a slap on the wrist. I'm especially not interested on this theory coming from Wolverine of all people.
And all this becomes even more of a problem when seconds later Oyun grabs a blade and tries to kill Kitty, at which point it's immediately fine for Wolverine to stab him through the heart, even though by shouting at her to phase, he ensures she's in no danger whatsoever, and knowing Ogun can't get through his healing factor. I refuse to accept that there is some kind of airtight moral rule by which it's a grotesquely corrupting act to kill an unrepentant multiple murderer in-between killings, but doing so whilst they're in the middle of an attempted killing that cannot succeed, that's all fine and dandy. It's clear Ogun is dead because we're at the end of the story and he needs to be gotten rid of. This is kind of a problem in and of itself, but attaching it to some holier-than-thou lecturing about the importance of avoiding killing anybody compounds the problem.
So that's that, then. Two admittedly interesting storylines that can't function properly in the same place, and end up being both being annoyingly familiar and finding new ways to be problematic. We're a long way from the focused triumph of the original Wolverine mini-series.
Still, Kitty is less annoying as Shadowcat than she was as Sprite. This much, I cannot deny.
This issue picks up directly from the previous one. The majority of the action is condensed into a few minutes. It's not clear whether the epilogue takes place on the same night or not. The wounded Wolverine has found time to change, but Kitty has not. It might be Wolverine did so immediately so as to get out of his costume. On the other hand, it seems a little late to be taking Akiko out for ice-cream, so we'll assume the epilogue takes place on the following day.
Sunday 4th March to Monday 5th March, 1984.
X+6Y+3 to X+6Y+4.
Three times Oscar-nominated actor William Powell passes away at the age of 91.
Iran accuses Iraq of having deployed chemical weapons during their war (which would continue for a further four years). The United States gets very annoyed about this nineteen years later.
"Actions have consequences, and an honorable man takes responsibility for his deeds." - Carmen Pryde.