Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Uncanny X-Men #145-#147: One does not simply walk out of Murderworld

Uncanny X-Men #145-#147 features Arcade again, I'm afraid. But it's worth talking about anyway.

I've had to go over it several times now and I still can't quite make sense of the plot.

It sees the X-Men be blackmailed through threats to their families and friends (the Greys, Colossus's sister, who we saw in Giant-Size #1 but now gets a name - Illyana, Amanda Sefton, Stevie Hunter, and Moira) by Miss Locke into helping rescue Arcade from the clutches of DOOM, who finally (after 18 years!) makes an appearance in these pages. It's serious business, even moreso than the loss of the team on Krakoa, as Xavier goes around summoning stray X-Men: he declines the help of the Avengers but contacts Beast, and calls on Alex and Lorna, and Bobby (who is doing some kind of economics course at university now), and tries to get hold of Scott. Banshee is already on the way on Concorde.

I'm going to digress for a moment now to talk about travel arrangements, if only to avoid talking about Arcade for a little bit longer. Let's assume Banshee is on Muir Island when he realises Moira has been kidnapped. If they are popping over to Stornoway as often as they do, it seems to be fairly close to Lewis, but it's definitely stated as being off the north coast, north of Cape Wrath. So, it's probably near Durness. We could pretend it's Eilean Hoan. Now, we know Banshee drives, so once he's got to the mainland, it's two and a half hour's journey to Inverness, where he'll probably fly direct to Heathrow, and then transfer onto the Concorde to JFK. During this epic journey, he at no point thinks to pick up the phone. He just knows he has to be in New York as soon as possible. Why should he assume that Moira has even been taken to the US (faster than he was?) Never mind that mobile phones break horror stories, landlines break 1980s X-Men.

With the X-Men assembled (so to speak), they are divided into two squads. Ororo, Peter, Kurt and Logan go and assault DOOM's medieval castle in upstate New York. That had been constructed by DOOM but had been recently sublet or squatted by Toad as an amusement park, in Marvel Two-in-One #68, we are helpfully informed. Whatever. Storm is sent in as a decoy to try and chat to Doom and distract him, while the others infiltrate. This plan doesn't go so well, and Arcade turns out to be in league with Doom rather than a prisoner! (Or maybe not?) They all end up trapped in custom-designed puzzle prisons. Oddly, we're told that DOOM is the one responsible for these, not Arcade, which smells a bit like a late dialogue change or miscommunication in plotting? It's never made clear what Arcade actually did against DOOM, and he's eventually happy to let him go with an apology. This doesn't sound like DOOM to me, nor to John Byrne, who will later retcon this as being a DOOMbot.

The X-Men imprisoned at DOOM's Murderworld escape cleverly. Nightcrawler is first, using gravity and momentum and updrafts in an unusual outbreak of actual physics. As Logan escapes, we are reminded of his berserker rages, something we were told of in #96, but not really seen since (justified by him saying that he's not really had them since joining the X-Men but is slipping). Warren and Peter also break free, leaving only Ororo, who's been trapped in a steel form not unlike Colossus, only without the ability to move. The weather is getting worse, and when she's freed she goes, well, a bit Dark Phoenix. In a way that's not merely reminiscent of that, but explicitly mentioned in the text. She's able to control it, eventually. This gives us some strikingly similar imagery: compare these three covers of #50, #101 and now #147.

There's clearly a thing here, about powerful women and whether or not they are able to control the forces of nature that are unleashed through them, or whether their poor branes might overheat from all of the raw energy. Even the very words on the cover: "Rogue Storm", "Dark Phoenix". What's next - "Stray Polaris"? Now, I can't point to any specific instance of this and say "that one, that's sexist". But there's a pattern, and it's an unfortunate one. You can do this trope with men, it's just that... well, the X-Men hasn't, not yet. Well, not until September 2012, anyway. On the other hand, issue #145 thoroughly passes the Bechdel test, as it begins with Stevie and Ororo having a conservation about the ballet they are attending. (There had been an earlier pass, when Misty and Jean talked about Misty's trip to Japan, and studiously avoided talking about boys because that would break the plot).

What happened to the other guys? Well, the B-team - Alex, Lorna, Sean and Bobby, went to the Murderworld to free the hostages directly. There, they are a confronted by a series of custom-made traps and stop me if you've heard this one before.

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