Tuesday, 2 February 2016
UXM #205: "Wounded Wolf"
("Viene la tormenta!")
UXM #205 is not an easy issue to take on its own terms. The spectre of the '90s looms too large over it. "The bloodthirsty amoral cyborg warrior era" might as well be what we call that decade when we want to confuse people who don't read comics (or watch films, I guess). Given that, the fact that this issue is shot through (sorry) with bloodthirsty amoral cyborg warriors triggers a host of flashbacks ( bought my first X-Men comic in 1995).
In other words, this tale of three cybernetic organisms wreaking havoc in a city just to bring down Wolverine seems like a good example of where it all went wrong. Except, like the soon to appear Batman Year One, things are a little more complicated than that. The problem the comics to follow this one had was not that machine-augmented utter bastards are in themselves a bad concept, at least not necessarily (overplayed to ludicrous levels, sure, but that's something different), it's that presenting them as interesting or cool in and of themselves is lazy at best and harmful at worst.
And Claremont seems to get this. For starters he makes it very clear via Spiral's internal monologue that the idea of someone deliberately undergoing major (and magical) surgery in order to become more like Wolverine is absolutely desperately messed up. You have to more or less literally be insane to see that as something to aim for, to the point where even Yuriko herself (AKA Lady Deathstrike, making her second appearance after showing up in ALF #33, but her first chronologically post-adamantium, though before that procedure she first appeared in Daredevil; comics, man) takes pains to ensure that once Wolverine is dead Spiral will return her to her previous, less stabbyclaws appearance. This is an act of desperation, not some montage offered as a prelude to full-on arse-kickings.
But of course plenty of similar stories try to sell the tragedy of a character needing metal augmentation and then pivot to revel in the resultant carnage - Robocop is an obvious example, though there the glorification of violence is of course at least supposed to be ironic. Claremont needs to do more than shed crocodile tears over what's happened to Yuriko and her three companions, the Reavers (cyborgs slapped together from the remains of three Hellfire guards Wolvie carved up back in issue #133).
Claremont does this in an interesting way: by including Katie Power. Fun fact: Power Pack and Terminator made their respective debuts less than half a year apart, and both less than two years before this issue. It's beyond obvious that the two properties are about as far apart as one can easily get. Which is entirely fine, obviously. One is a former editor having fun with a book designed to not be too taxing - a book that ended up decidedly retro in effect if not in intention - and the other is a dark sci-fi story for adults inspired by a fever dream. But in writing a story featuring both killer cyborg soldiers and Katie Power - not just a member of Marvel's first all-child superhero team, but its youngest member - Claremont allows us to process the former through the eyes of the latter.
What we see through Katie's eyes is uncomprehending horror. With Wolverine rendered incapable of higher thought processes by a wound suffered off-panel, there's no-one, at least at first, to shield Katie from the full unpleasantness of what is happening. The implication is clear: it's just not possible for Power Pack and the Reavers to share the same story space. They're simply too different. If Marvel needs to change, it can head for Power Pack, or it can head for Terminator. It cannot expand to include both. Not yet, anyway, and not for quite some time.
There is a war going on in this issue for the future of the X-universe. Or perhaps a better metaphor is that we're enduring a storm - certainly Claremont is heavy-handed in deploying it. Katie's world has been surrounded by something utterly strange and dangerous. Either she endures it, or she perishes. We know now that ultimately, Katie's world would not be the one to survive (or perhaps more accurately, that it would be buried for decades), but even so, it's important to note Claremont's adjudication here: Katie endures. It's perhaps a small victory by superhero standards, but she succeeds in keeping Logan alive for long enough for him to recover his wits and go on the offensive.
As one might expect given the above (and attitudes to childhood in general) Wolverine doesn't let Katie see what comes next. We get to see it, of course, which might seem like Claremont wanting to have his cake and eat it. What good is it to lament the foolishness of fixating on characters like Wolverine carving their way through their enemies if you end the story with Wolverine carving his way through his enemies? Claremont does try pretty hard to square the circle, though; Logan's entire scrap with Lady Deathstrike is just an excuse to harangue her about how appalling a choice she's made, and how trying to become more like him physically has required she become as little as possible like him psychologically. The whole point of Wolverine, as he is kind enough to explain himself, is that he doesn't want to be who he is, or do what he does. His physical state, his beserker rages, his horrifying kill stats: these are not there to be admired or celebrated. They're there to be unsettled by.
And so, ultimately, Katie's world wins out. The monsters that do not belong are banished, and the storm is lifted. But winning in a story is not the same as winning in the real world, not unless the story is very good. The nineties, of course, arose. In 1990 Power Pack was retooled to make it more "edgy". In that same year Cable was introduced into New Mutants, and it was decided that Rob Liefeld was going to take over writing duties the title, which was almost immediately renamed X-Force. Out in the real world the storm didn't lift, not for a very long time.
Which is not good news for us, because we're going to have to head into it.
This story takes place in approximately real time. Since this story shares no characters with UXM #204, we can set it as taking place on the same day. The issue is clearly supposed to be set in December, given the references to carol singing, but our usual rules about ignoring Christmases apply.
The fact this issue apparently takes place before ALF #33 may mean some rejigging of the timeline in the near future, but I'll wait until Yuriko's appearance there is done with in case further evidence comes to light.
Monday 15th April, 1985.
1 Marvel year = 3.18 standard years.
(At the time of this post, Beast is 34 years old)
"All he does is make growly noises..." Katie Power