Sunday, 27 April 2014
(All of them are lucky, always.)
This is a first for the blog, a book that has absolutely no connection with the X-Universe whatsoever - at least in its first issue - and which is only retrospectively attached to that mythos, mainly because of Claremont's obsession with Mojo, who first shows up in Longshot #4.
There's a credible case to be made then that Longshot (along with Spiral, who also debuts here) represent the first additions to the X-Universe which have a woman listed as co-creator. Technically, there are the characters Ann Nocenti already dreamed up for her four-part Beauty and the Beast miniseries, but it would be tough to argue Longshot isn't an order of magnitude above any one of them in terms of staying power and name recognition. This is where the first mark is made on the X-Universe by a female writer that doesn't fade into obscurity.
It's also the first time we've seen a woman start with a completely blank template. Dazzler and Beast were both well-established when they were handed to Nocenti to play with, and indeed part of why I didn't particularly care for that series was based around how out of character it required both of them to act in order for the plot to advance. Here, with no previous history or upcoming events to constrain her, Nocenti does far better. She's also doing far better than Jim Shooter, whose turgid Secret Wars II was three issues in at the time and which is also like LGS #1 concerned with a powerful being trying to fit in with normal human life. I'll get back to SW2 soon enough (all too soon, in fact), but for now I'll just point out that Nocenti handles the idea far better by both dialling back comical misunderstandings and making those she includes funnier by far, and also by putting at least a little effort into dragging the fish-out-of-water idea into slightly smarter territory (describing money as a potent source of potential energy is a particular highlight).
Really, though, the fact that Longshot is from another dimension is incidental here - beyond it giving Nocenti the opportunity to craft some rather odd villains, including as mentioned Spiral in her debut. What's interesting here is Longshot's power set.
I've written about Longshot and my problems with him before, and I was clearly in a bad mood. A lot of what I wrote there doesn't apply for now, with Longshot's origins unknown and his effect on women not yet suggested. But my problems with his power set remain worth considering. In truth, I think a lot of what I said still stands, but only as regards Longshot as a longstanding character. Here, in his debut appearance, one can still view him as a direct extension of authorial fiat, making the effect very different. Shorn of larger concerns, Longshot can easily be read here as a commentary on superhero comics in general.
What is key here is that for all his knife-throwing, tightrope-walking antics, nothing Longshot does is particularly out of the ordinary for a superhero. Far more ridiculous feats are performed as a matter of course in other books. Which means here, rather than using "super-lucky" as a short-cut, Nocenti is highlighting the ridiculous nature of everything around her. The text reinforces this rather clearly when Longshot is described as lucky when he successfully prevents a nearby woman from being run over, explicitly noting that that oldest of superhero saws - hero happens to be walking by a potential accident and averts it - is actually already supremely against the odds (yes, in this case Longshot indirectly causes the accident, but). In my thirty-four years of life I have exactly once been witness to an event that I might have been able to stop with super-powers; for super-heroes this seems to be a weekly occurrence.
Nocenti isn't done here, however. Having set up her critique of superhero excession/over reliance on coincidence, she goes on to argue that none of that is what's important anyway. Longshot, we learn, is capable of these mind-boggling feats of implausible derring-do when his motives are without reproach. In this issue he sets out to rescue a baby from a gang of kidnappers (actually horrors from his own dimension who followed him when he dived into a convenient tear in space-time). Any action he attempts in the pursuit of this goal is seemingly possible for him, so long as he reminds himself that rescuing the baby is what's important, and not how impressive he appears in the process.
In short, the suggestion is that the superhero formula is follows: wrong to be righted, hero to wish to right it, fun and pyrotechnics whilst the hero does so. Any effort wasted on justifying any of those elements is time wasted that could be filled with heroism and punching.
I'm far from sold on this idea in general - I care far too much about the underlying structure of a story to sign off on what is ultimately a variation on a "popcorn fodder" argument, albeit one which emphasises the importance of noble motives than one usually finds in that position - but it's a coherent statement, delivered well, and that's worthy of respect. Longshot has started off surprisingly well.
So how long before it all goes wrong?
This story takes place over a single afternoon and evening. With absolutely nothing tying it to the X-Universe more generally, we can stick it wherever we like in the time-line, so we'll set it just after UXM from the same month.
Monday 21st January, 1985.
Ronald Reagan is publicly sworn in for his second term, having won re-election with the greatest number of Electoral College votes in history.
"Story of my life. If they're handsome, they're nuts." Clothes store worker.
Which is incomplete, of course. Everyone is mad, but only the attractive ones can get people to watch long enough to notice.
Monday, 21 April 2014
Last issue was Guardian's tearful reunion with those who thought him dead. This time around he's thrown himself back into the action, leading the whole team (minus Heather and Northstar) into combat once again. There's no time for convalescence when villainous blue/gold robots are on the loose. They can fly! They can shoot constricting electro-ropes! They can even pull this shit:
which makes me somewhat nostalgic for my childhood.
|I only had the arms, though, because my parents hated me.|
Speaking of emotional beats, though, the five robots might be dispatched with contemptuous ease, but Guardian's gung-ho approach ends up with Aurora badly hurt and in need of medical attention. To the observer it might seem he is rather too unconcerned about his team-mate, but there's little time to discuss the matter; Heather has just called in for back-up. Shaman takes Aurora and a very worried Box somewhere they can patch the former up, and Guardian takes Talisman and Puck to back up his wife.
The new battleground proves to be the cavernous interiors of Edmonton Mall (cue Robin Sparkles flashbacks), and the new enemy rather an old one: Omega Flight. Or some of them, at least, Diamond Lil, Flashback, and Wildchild. In theory, our heroes outnumber their foes - Flashback's constant self-multiplication notwithstanding - but somehow Puck, Talisman and Northstar are all quickly defeated by a mysterious assailant working alongside Omega Flight. And each time they strike, they reveal more of their costume. Knowing how this ends, it's hard to tell how many views are needed to figure out it's Guardian, but I don't see how it can be more than two. But I do like the fact that it becomes more obvious visually as it becomes more obvious logically; it's a nice touch.
But what is now clear to everyone else is not yet so to poor old Heather, who has to follow up the indignity of being abandoned in the mall by Northstar with having her newly-returned husband reveal himself to be a robot in a skin suit. And not just any robot; the same robot who was posing as Delphine Courtney during the last tussle with Omega Flight which got Mac killed in the first place.
The problem with all this is how stupid it makes Heather look. Alright, "Mac" kind of covered himself with the line about being partially robotic following his rebuilding by the space jellyfish, but even so, if you can't tell the difference between a robot with "syntho-skin" covering and your own husband when he kisses you, you have to wonder whether you're qualified to be allowed out of the house unescorted. I mean, dear God, Chekov was able to suss those early Terminators out in Salvation, and he was like seven years old at the time.
Leave that aside, though, and I rather like this twist. I mentioned last issue that knowing this was coming renders ALF #25 somewhat lightweight, but I think the reverse holds; without knowing what's coming I think ALF #25 makes what happens here all the more surprising. By offering an immediate solution to the question of why James Hudson lives - one that I suppose we could even call "plausible" by the standards of superhero resurrections - the story plays into the standard model only to sweep it away an issue later.
Of course, all of that relies on you not having paid any damn attention to the cover art, which Byrne drew himself. Still, maybe it only looks like its giving the game away because I already know which game is being played.
Anyways, definitely an issue in the very top tier of a generally disappointing/aggravating title.
This story takes place over the course of a single day.
It's hard to tell how long has passed between this issue and the last one. You'd think it couldn't be too long, what with Heather not yet having figured out her husband is now a cut-price terminator. That said, though, maybe not-Mac has been keeping himself away from her as he set up those training sessions with the Canadian military. Plus, as mentioned, if she can't recognise a robot in rubber skin when it was Frenching her, the woman is clearly useless.
So let's stick this a month after last issue, as we continue trying to make up the time necessary for this title to intersect with "Secret Wars II".
Sunday 24th June 1984.
Khloe Kardashian is born into a world desperate for the kind of leadership only she can provide.
"You look like reasonable robots."
Puck refuses to consider the fact that flattery is illogical.
Saturday, 19 April 2014
(Whatever could have possessed her?)
Part three of this story, and it's time for the breathless action scenes and Big Reveal. Another short one, in other words, especially since two pages of the issue are given over to another in the irregular series of New Mutants character profiles.
Things have been going pretty well for Shadowy Blob #1 so far. His business model of playing everyone off against everyone else clearly has legs. He's been using a holographic projection of Flynn to make the Gladiators follow him, and he's brought in Karma's crime lord uncle to expand his empire. Right now he's got Sunspot and Magma fighting a giant robot secretly containing Shadowcat. Moreover, he's not only photographed every wealthy tosser who's arrived at the games so he can blackmail them later, but he's got Dazzler on the sands firing out a hypnotic light-show that will break every member of the audience when they realise they'll never get to see it again. The narration here suggests this is a punishment worse than prison, but I say we can't afford to take the chance. Lock the bastards up.
This being the issue where things need to start going wrong, of course, things start going wrong. Somehow Kitty manages to escape her conditioning at the same time as Rachel, Illyana and Sam arrive in their designated role as cavalry. When Dazzler joins in as well, there's simply too many minds set against SB#1 for him to use his new-fangled possession trick to keep himself out of harm's way.
(Which is actually kind of interesting, We know from later stories that the Shadow King - for it is he, not that he's mentioned by name here - can deal with many minds at once. But right now he seems far too keen on using his newly-borrowed bag of tricks, despite them clearly not being the best tools for the job. I guess he's just caught up in how new and fun they are. Like how when you unlock a crazy powerful new weapon in a game and you can't stop using it even though you've no idea how to make the most of it.)
This can only work for so long, of course, especially when the Gladiators are either defeated or persuaded to give up by Dazzler (this being the final stage of the Dazzler redemption story that has never made any sense in concept or offered any interest in execution, so at least that's gone), so eventually the Shadow King is forced to deploy his final weapon; revealing himself to be possessing the body of the original New Mutant, Karma, believed dead all these months by our teenage heroes, who are all too young and new to the superhero game to be aware of the "if you haven't seen a body..." rule.
The surprise generated by this revelation gives Shadow Karma the time s/he needs to escape, but now her former team-mates know she's alive, the hunt is on. For a few moments the idea of handing over the search to the senior team is mooted, but between Sunspot refusing to believe Xavier had been unable to sense Karma's thought patterns after her supposed death, and the general feeling that Magneto's new role at the mansion raises some problems (both of which are fairly good points, actually), they decide to have Kitty cover for them with the adults whilst they launch a rescue mission.
The hunt for Karma is on!
This story takes place in approximately real time.
Saturday 5th January, 1985.
The Japanese launch the Sakigake probe to Halley's Comet.
None of them, really.
Friday, 11 April 2014
It appears it's time for our second issue of O.Z. Chase Investigates feat. Dazzler. Still, at least this time she's allowed to properly feature on the cover, pictured here trying to beat a man to death with a blancmange stepladder.
But at least some things have improved since last issue. Dazzler may be missing from fully one third of this issue, but with the X-Men gone, this no longer feels like a book accidentally mis-named. This is helped by a plot which returns to the central DAZ theme of mutant/human relations. Doctor Piper blames Alison for his daughter Melissa being in some kind of non-responsive state, unable to do anything but murmur "Look at the light...", ever since attending a mutants' right rally Dazzler had shown up for. It's not hard to see the link, of course, but multiple experts have suggested a Dazzle-blast was simply an inciting event, with the underlying cause being that the kid was a junkie, and he is a shitty father.
Whether this is actually a more sensible diagnosis of Melissa's condition, I shall leave to others more knowledgeable to decide. It hardly matters here - Piper has concluded one single person is to blame for his woes, and there's nothing that will change his mind.
In one sense, Piper's quest for vengeance (which amongst other things keeps him from spending any time with the daughter whose doctors have told him is ill because he didn't spend enough time with her) seems ludicrously overblown. Certainly it's hard to muster up any sympathy for the guy. On the other hand, push him backwards through whatever process turns actual people into literary metaphors, and it's perfectly clear who this guy represents; the dissatisfied and downtrodden (or those who insist on thinking of themselves as downtrodden) who need to gather all their frustrations and failures into a single avatar of their misery and hate it until it burns. Applying bigotry like a loan consolidation company, essentially.
Here's the thing, though. When Piper catches up with Dazzler - incapacitating Chase along the way, because Piper's not the sort to share his toys  - and the inevitable throwdown begins, Alison brings the whole thing to a halt by hitting Piper with so powerful a flash that he too drops into borderline catatonia, unable to do anything by whisper about the light. Which, the fact Piper is a bigoted murderous cockmonger notwithstanding, means he was actually right.
Which suddenly forces us to take a screaming handbrake turn into a completely different story. We've talked before about the fault line between mutants as a metaphor for minorities and a metaphor for metal barrels that kill people, and Piper's story straddles that divide in a rather complicated way. On the one hand, the idea that Dazzler's powers can cause problems for those that surround here has legitimate story potential - the subdivision of "with great power comes great responsibility" that actually frames the use of power itself as the problem. On the other hand, though, if you're going to start cooking with the minority metaphor, you can't then bring in the gun metaphor, because the only conclusion to draw from the combination is that minorities are genuinely dangerous. Yes, in this case, dangerous to exactly the kind of unbearable bastard who has more than earned a large degree of synapse-frying. But not, apparently, just to them.
The result then is two very interesting story ideas that combine into something problematic. I don't want to ignore the fact that I'd probably have been very interested in either storyline, or that there's a legitimate case to be made that not realising (or agreeing) that the two in combination produce a rather unfortunate form of destructive interference isn't a particularly inconceivable position in the mid '80s. There's real promise here. You know, three issues from the end of the title.
Like so much of the mid '80s, then, we can label this as the birth pangs of a new, more progressive approach to the X-metaphor. Which, if nothing else, is better than the horrific teenage phase we're heading inescapably towards.
And speaking of things that can't be avoided, Dazzler ends this issue in Chase's custody, despite his increasing misgivings about hounding a woman essentially for the crime of singing whilst mutated. He's got orders to take her to Colorado for some reason, but with Secret Wars II #4 standing between this issue and next, we can probably assume Chase is going to get himself gang aft agleyd pretty rapidly.
 This leads to my favourite DAZ moment in months, when Chase begs his dog Cerberus to free him from the collapsed phone-box he's been trapped in, only for the dog to saunter over and start devouring the treats in his pocket. Everyone knows cats are pricks who'll betray you at the first opportunity, but clear-eyed dog-owners know full well how quickly man's best friend will turn against us the instant they figure they'll get a Dentarask out of it.
This story seems to take place over a single day and night. It's not clear how long Chase has been searching for Dazzler, but with the next issue of this story taking place after Dazzler's appearance in Secret Wars II, I think we're going to have to fast-forward the narrative some distance. Let's assume Chase has been tailing Dazzler for a little over two months at this point, whilst taking other bounties on the way to keep him solvent.
It's the final day of the fourth test of the West Indies tour of Australia. Yeah, I know. I got nuthin' else; sorry.
"Street's clear... no trap'd be this obvious! Gift city, bro!"
A rather left-field choice this time, but I just love this line from a carjacker in San Diego. Apparently if something looks too good to be true, it clearly can't be.
Sunday, 6 April 2014
(After what comes after.)
Colossus is having nightmares.
Dreams in fiction tend to annoy me. Far too often they fall into one of three groups: shameless filler, cheap prophecy (cheap in the sense that it allows writers to visit the lands of mysticism and the supernatural without buying a ticket), and a sledgehammer approach to theme and subtext for writers lacking the skill to underline ideas with anything more subtle than a magic marker.
It does not seem unreasonable to suggest Claremont at least intersects with the group we shall call "sledgehammer writers". What's more - and this is where the problems really start - he's far too willing to indulge his love of whimsy with sprawling scenes devoid of consequence, which lend themselves all too easily to dream sequences.
That said, though, I really like the opening to this issue. Sure, it's overblown, with Colossus being attacked in turn by a copy of himself, a post-Brood Kitty, a Zsaji-lich, and his demon-sorceress little sister. Nor is it within an astronomic unit of subtle; it's just a list of all the people Colossus believes he's been unable to save using his vaunted powers, including himself. Nevertheless, I think it works, for several reasons. Firstly, schlock-horror Claremont is rather more interesting than irritating whimsy Claremont, at least for those of us with an abiding love for cheesy Hammer-style ghosts and goblins. Secondly, by sticking the dream sequence at the very start, it can be considered a summary, and if John Byrne has repeatedly shown us, the state of '80s exposition was wretched enough to to render almost any attempt to deviate from the direct info-dump praiseworthy. Finally, as we've noted before regarding Kitty, if there was ever a time when full-bore histrionics utterly without subtlety is forgivable in (already pretty melodramatic) comics is forgivable, it's when dealing with the hormonal freight-trains that are teenagers trying to work out their love lives.
(Besides, things are at least a little more complicated here than they might seem at first. Kitty never became a Brood, of course. She was saved from that rather nasty fate by the actions of her comrades, including Colossus himself. Morevover, as the script itself points out, Illyana was only ever in a position to become Darkchilde - and to gradually put back together her life, as she is doing - because her big brother saved her from being killed by a tractor at the age of six. This isn't about the actual past, it's about Piotr twisting that past to make himself the centre of it, and thereby feed his inferiority complex. It's a shame no-one is around to hear him awake and note "I clearly hate myself", because someone clearly needs to sit him down and explain exactly how badly he needs to knock this shit off.)
It transpires that our dalliance in the Colossubconscious is not just summary, it is prologue for another spin on the Piotr/Kitty merry-go-round. I thought they'd forged a truce back in the previous year's annual, actually, but then it's far easier to declare a cease-fire with an ex than it is to maintain it. Claremont has already demonstrated at this point that he's willing and capable of dedicating almost an entire issue to the exploration of a relationship between two characters. I'm not sure that this would work particularly well with this particular pair, though - how much self-absorbed wittering can we be expected to take - so Claremont takes a wise tack here and rustles up a slight story to support his tale of unhappy not-quite-lovers - quite possibly aiming to repeat the success he had with "Lifedeath".
So far so good, then, except... Look. There's clearly a hard limit on how much point there is in picking at a plot which is only intended as a delivery system for emotional beats (not that this stops me usually, of course). Even so, Arcade strikes me as a poor choice here. To some extent that's just my standard dislike of the character. Arcade was funny exactly once, in his first appearance, when he worked as a nice parody of the ludicrously involved and minimally justified shticks of Silver age villains. Since then, he has served absolutely no point at all. Indeed, if anything he detracts from the point here. Our heroes have been drafted to act as his bodyguards against an attacker he identifies as Doctor Doom, but ultimately proves to be Arcade's assistant/girlfriend Miss Locke, who is trying to kill him at his request. Not only is this ridiculous, not only is there never any answer to Shadowcat's question as to why Arcade didn't abduct more heroes than just the two of them, the arrival of another couple at the end of a story about Piotr and Kitty demands comparison to our two teenagers, but I'm at a loss as to how to either compare or contrast them coherently. What's the idea here? That there's always a couple more fucked up than you are? That regular outlets of stress through conflict is healthier than sullen silence? Suggestions very much welcome.
So there's really not all that much positive to be said about everything surrounding Shadowcat vs Colossus: Round Who The Hell Knows? What about the main event itself? I'm not sure how many points to give out there, either. The decision to reveal at the end of the issue that Colossus was actually fighting alongside a robotic dupe of Kitty, besides being an obvious twist and a suggestion that Claremont doesn't know where he wants to place his focus, basically relegates Shadowcat to the role of prop in Colossus' story. Again, that's not an unreasonable approach here insofar as it reflects the unbearable solipsism of the average teenager in love, but you need someone to call Piotr on his self-involvement for that to work as a justification.
(And yes, I know we've heard Kitty's side of the story in other issues. This is a title written by a man and aimed overwhelmingly at other men. I trust no further explanation is needed. Also, cutting Kitty's thoughts out of the story makes her pleasure at duping Colossus seem rather cruel, which I don't think was the intent.)
Adding to the problems here is that Colossus' final conclusion that he can move past the damage he's suffered following Zsaji's death, but there's no explanation in the previous pages as to how he gets there. Piotr reaches no obvious epiphany, he simply complains about not knowing how to honour Zsaji's memory, whilst punching a transforming robo-train in a replica of '40s Manhattan (because obviously). Perhaps the suggestion is that Colossus just needed a cathartic outpouring of punches and problems, but if so a) it's desperately unclear, and b) that's really not much of a pay-off.
So that's that, then. Claremont struck at least low-carat gold with "Lifedeath", but "To Save Arcade?!?" does a much better job at highlighting his weaknesses than his strengths. The question at the time must have been: what next? Push further into untested waters? Or fall back onto old favourites?
Time, it transpires, for "Lifedeath II".
Over in subplot corner, meanwhile, Scott Summers finds himself summoned back to the mansion by Moira MacTaggert, Nimrod foils a diner hold-up by murdering the protagonists, and Ororo rises from wherever those mean ol' racists left her to die.
The main story here takes place over the course of a few hours, though some of the subplots are somewhat difficult to reconcile. It's strongly suggested that this is a Friday night, putting this a week further on from the previous story, but we assume Storm did not spend a full seven days unconscious in the wild after being shot by those awful racists. We'll assume she awoke the same day.
Wednesday 13th to Friday 15th January, 1985.
X+6Y+317 to X+6Y+324.
1 Marvel year = 3.19 standard years.
(Beast is 33 years old)
Your humble blogger turns five. What a cute l'il squid I must have been.
"Where are the darn Ewoks when they're needed most?" - Shadowcat.