Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #231

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont's X-Men run.]

“Dressed for Dinner”

The previous issue’s Christmas-in-February diversion was forgivable because it was so heart-swellingly sweet. But with “Dressed for Dinner” – featuring Colossus vs. characters out of a Russian novel – Claremont IS in danger of completely hemorrhaging away the momentum of the X-Men’s startling debut in Uncanny #229. But this is Ann Nocenti’s final issue as editor before handing the reins over to Bob Harras, so perhaps Claremont simply wanted her to go out on something more emblematic of their collaborative relationship: a character-based story, grounded more in the emotional relationships between characters than in straightforward hero/villain clashes.

Or perhaps the converse is true – that Claremont would have continued to meander from his firmly established “Down Under” status quo had Bob Harras not happened to step in and (lacking the empathy of Nocenti or Louise Simonson) forced Claremont to snap back into focus.

At any rate, “Dressed for Dinner” also suffers from the substitution of Rick Leonardi’s clunky obviousness for the hard, sexy alien-ness of Silvestri’s work two issues before. When Rogue eyes up Colossus on Page 3 and thinks, “Oh, lordy – big guy, d’you have the slightest notion – how good you look! Yum!”, the effect is laughable. With Silvestri doing the art, it would have been steamier than hell.

Nonetheless, Claremont is still in good form, and in several places, his writing proves convincing. The dialogue between Peter and Illyana at the end of the issue, for example, though overly extemporized, resolves into a lovely exchange near the end:

Colossus: “What you are does not matter – because you are trying to become something better.”
Illyana: “I keep failing.”
Colossus: “You keep trying.”

Meanwhile, issue 231 is significant in terms of the long-term serial. We get our first hint of the “Inferno” crossover that will dominate not only the X-Men – indeed, not only the X-franchise – but the entire Marvel Comics line during the latter part of 1988. In a borderline audacious bit of self-plagiarism, the plot is a straight crib from what Claremont did for the 1987 crossover, “Fall of the Mutants,” i.e., invading demons from another dimension who want to throw reality into chaos. Indeed, it’s only been four months since “Fall of the Mutants” ended, yet already Claremont is offering up more of the same: “[Illyana] thinks she’s on top, but she’s wrong,” goes S’ym’s monologue on the final page. “Her wild sorcery’s puttin’ too great a strain on the ‘walls’ between Limbo an’ Earth – nasties are startin’ to slip through.”

It’s the same story again – yet, really, this is no different from what superhero comics always do: Villains recurs, stories are re-told. And Claremont is oftentimes quite brilliant at finding new twists with each iteration of a familiar motif. “Inferno” will be far larger in scope than the Adversary story was -- for both better and worse, as we will see.

Claremont also gives his first hints in issue 231 of a fantastic idea that editorial mandate unfortunately will prevent him from completing. It’s not just out of plot convenience that the Gateway transports Peter to Limbo just in time to stop Illyana’s necromancy spell (which we are told at the end would have condemned her soul beyond redemption). Gateway was being deliberately developed as a character who – with his apparently mystical insights and powers – would become the X-Men’s new mentor figure. This would have been brilliant had it come to pass: Rather than be led by the white and privileged Charles Xavier, these genuinely outcast new X-Men would have deferred to the wisdom of a black, disenfranchised Australian.
Unfortunately, Gateway became lost in the shuffle when Bob Harras – acting on behalf of the corporate behemoth that was Marvel Comics – clamped down on Claremont’s creativity, demanding that the X-Men’s status quo return to the familiar, iconic structure: The X-Men live in a mansion and Professor X is their leader.

One of the most frustrating tragedies of that editorial edict – besides Claremont becoming so incensed by it that he quit in 1991 – is that it took the massive potential of the entire Gateway/Outback thread, and drained it dry as a bone.


Anonymous said...

Actually,Jason, the Gateway idea was idiotic. Claremont's idea was that Gateway either helped S'ym turn Maddie into the Goblin Queen or knew it happened and didn't tell the X-Men and the X-Men would still make him their leader. There's no way you're going to convince me that Wolverine and Havok wouldn't kill Gateway after learning about his role in what happened to Maddie.
And besides, Gateway isn't a brilliant new idea- he's an old stereotype- a magical Negro.

Kevin said...

Whew! I finally caught up! These reviews are great, Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to write all of this up. Claremont is by far my favorite X-men writer, and it's great to see him get the recognition that he deserves here. I actually stumbled upon this blog looking for negative Grant Morrison reviews since I seemed to be the only one that that run left a funny taste in my mouth for. Its great to find a blog (for comics, no less, by god!) where the comments are worth reading as much as the original post. Its really awesome to read some actually intelligent discussion of comics for once, so thanks to all you other commenters as well!

Jason said...

Thanks, Kevin!

Michael, well, hey, I guess since you started your comment off with the word "actually," it means that your opinion is correct and mine is wrong. Thanks for straightening me out.

Anonymous said...

Sorry,Jason. I didn't mean to come off that way. It's just that Gateway as leader has always struck me as a really stupid idea.


Jason said...

No problem, Michael.

Somewhere along the way I developed a knee-jerk reaction to the word "actually." (I blame John Byrne.) So let me apologize as well.

Anyway, to actually engage your points...

Reading the issue which first sees Maddie getting seduced by Sym, I get the impression that Gateway is not assisting in the seduction. He seems to be doing kind of an "Oatu" thing, watching it unfold and helpless to prevent S'ym from doing his business. (There's a bit you might remember, where Maddie faces two paths, one of them leading to S'ym and the other leading ... away from S'ym, I guess? Anyway, she chooses the path that takes her to S'ym, and the narration implies that Gateway is "disappointed" by her choice.)

Later, of course, there is the bit where Gateway tries to warn Psylocke away from the Outback when the Reavers are waiting for them.

I get a sense in those issues that Gateway perceives a lot but can communicate very little -- either because he is trapped in some way or because there are some cosmic rules (like with the Watcher) that prevent him from doing too much.

I think Claremont could have made it work.

As for the "magical Negro" thing ... I do see your point. I'll have to think on it. The thing is, in comics there are lots of multiple iterations of different archetypes (and/or stereotypes). I feel like Gateway only seems like a stereotype if he is positioned in such a context, i.e., oh, another wise old black man.

I am thinking of him in terms of Claremont's ultimate intention, to slot Gateway into the "mentor" role, replacing Professor X (and what is Charles but a wise old white man?).

All that said, I don't deny that Claremont tends to fetishize a lot of these cultures that he brings into the X-Men. Cheyenne Indians in particular get a lot of magical stuff heaped on them, between Forge and Moonstar. But I still like that he puts these characters in, and makes the attempt to make their culture a part of their personas.

I prefer that he makes the attempt to broaden the cultural scope of the X-Men, even if he sometimes seems to latch onto some of the more stereotypically exotic aspects of these cultures in order to give his ethnic characters their distinct identities. That's preferable to not having these characters there at all, I'd think ... ?

I don't know, what are other people's thoughts on this? (Neil Shyminski, care to pipe in?)

Anonymous said...

Jason, the problem I have with the idea that Gateway was a neutral observer and couldn't warn the X-Men is threefold:
(1)He didn't just watch, he disrupted Maddie's dream of living happily ever after with Scott and Nathan.
(2)It seems a bit convenient that S'ym entered Maddie's dreams right after Gateway. What would S'ym had done if Gateway hadn't disrupted Maddie's dream?
(3)He teleported Maddie to meet N'astirh in issue 240. If there were some rules preventing him from warning the X-Men, you'd think he could at least refuse to teleport Maddie anywhere where she could do something evil.
Also, when Gateway does try to warn Betsy about the Reaver, she says "Before you wouldn't talk and now you can't." I took that as meaning Gateway withheld everything before that point of his own free will. (BTW, there's another way of looking at Gateway's warning- the X-Men might have beaten the Reavers had Gateway not intervened.) The fact that we're arguing, though, is more evidence that Claremont lost the ability to clearly explain things in his later years. Either that, or he changed his mind midway.(Remember Dormammu in issue 221.)
BTW, your suggestion that Gateway can't interfere because of some contrived cosmic reason would make Gateway more of a magical Negro- typically a magical Negro can't actually solve the problem directly.

ba said...

Regarding Gateway; first off...I think it's inappropriate to call him a "negro." He's an aboriginal australian, which though in some cases are visually similar to africans are just as often not, and the terms refer to two ethnically separate peoples.

I think claremont squandered a lot of the good will surrounding gateway during the cursed x-treme run, when gateway become somewhat more loquacious, his powers more defined, and...of course...that he became the grandfather of bishop (who WAS identified as black american at some point).

Also, i see the inferno and fall of the mutants runs as not too similar. There are only so many different threats a super hero group can face, and inferno was cooking in the oven for years and years. Then again, I consider it the ne plus ultra of x-overs, so perhaps my opinion is a bit too biased.

Also, I happen to like leonardi's work in this. Its cartoonishness is perfect for this story (baba yaga, c'mon!)

Jason said...


Those are all great points.

It's significant, I think, in a couple ways, that Gateway is an aboriginal Australian -- Claremont clearly has a fondness for writing about native peoples (be they Native Americans or Native Australians) as *connected* in a way that other characters are not -- keyed in to major universal goings-on. I feel like this kind of thing -- facile though it is, in many ways -- gets a pass when one considers that this is superhero comics, wherein EVERYONE has some special power. (This is particularly true of Claremont, who -- as Byrne has pointed out -- doesn't let ANYONE in his comics be normal. Even Jean's roommate ends up being an Iron Fist supporting character, a private eye with a bionic arm.)

I feel like in other, more banal contexts, this mysticizing of native cultures might come off as a little less enlightened. But in superhero comics, why not? I think it's kind of fun, and kind of cool. And often times, these characters end up being among my favorites (I've always liked Gateway, Forge, Dani Moonstar, Naze ...)

Ba, "Inferno" and "Fall" are dissimilar in a lot of ways, but I think it's worth pointing out that their basic premise -- demons from another dimension -- are identical.

It is a very Lovecraftian thing, and one of Claremont's pet-favorite plots -- it is, in fact, his FIRST X-Men plot: Kierrok, in issue 96, shows up to take over the world on behalf of the elder gods. (Recall that Len Wein plotted Claremont's first two X-Men issues.) It is a very strong motif, showing up again and again in Claremont's work (the Belasco stuff that sets up "Inferno," for example, or the "Demon Bear"/Naze stuff from the 180s that are the first act to "Fall of the Mutants"; also in the Kulan Gath material).

And I don't think I'm out of line discussing the parallelism between "Fall" and "Inferno," as Claremont will make it explicit himself. He does that bit in issue 242 wherein Storm looks at the Empire State Building and sees Forge's "aerie" overlapping it in her mind's eye.

Also, there's a great bit I only just recently noticed in issue 227 -- the climax of "Fall" -- I didn't actually see this back when I did the blog entry for this issue, but it's great: In the sequence, where the X-Men finally witness what happened years ago in Vietnam, we see Forge -- enraged and thirsty for vengeance -- sacrifice the souls of his battalion to create a gateway that grants the demons entrance into our dimension. One of the characters reacts in horror, screaming, "Did you see? Did you all see what FORGE DID?!?!?!"

The character speaking those lines: Madelyne Pryor.

A year later, Maddie -- enraged and thirsty for vengeance -- tries to do almost the *exact same thing!*


(I saw somebody on a message board recently talkin' about how "Grant Morrison's is the only run on the X-Men that stands up to literary scrutiny." Pffft. My ass.)

neilshyminsky said...

With a "y", Jason, a "y". ;)

I have to side with Michael on this one. And contrary to ba's point, while Gateway is not a Magical "Negro", he resembles one (yes, even physically - by virtue of his non-whiteness, but also the details of his appearance) in too many ways to so casually dismiss the point. I also think that it speaks in a very unfortunate way to Claremont's racial fetishism that only the racially marginalized are religious, and that this religion is often of a magical sort. Ironically, when Jason made the comparison to Forge I saw Forge's resemblance to a Magical Negro kind of figure rather than Gateway's resemblance to a more complicated and non-stereotypical character.

But Jason is also right to point out that these figures would be, effectively, 'whitened' if they weren't given some sort of cultural specificity. Fair enough.

The problem is, though, is that these characters, especially when they're the only Native American or Aborigine in the book, carry what Kobena Mercer calls the 'burden of representation' - the expectation on the part of a normative white audience that they can and do always already represent a shared experience of their race. Xavier can escape being reduced to an old white guy because we barely even process his whiteness, and I can't recall his ethnicity or religion having ever been mentioned. And, additionally, given that the book has quite a few old white guys, he carries no such burden. But Forge and Gateway can't escape being linked to those stereotypes because they're marked as non-white and so compelled by their readers (white and non-white alike, often) to express every racial (un)truth, all at once. As singular readers, we can suspend our demand for them to carry that burden, but that doesn't mean that their writing, reception, and meaningfulness aren't intimately bound up with it regardless.


But as for Gateway as mentor? I dunno. My 8 year-old self remembers thinking that he was a dick. Why do they need a mentor, anyway?

Geoff Klock said...

I think Gateway should have become the leader of the X-Men, but it should have turned out about 100 issues later that he's like Peter Sellers in Being There and they all sort of IMAGINED he was guiding them.

ba said...

I think you just like referencing that movie, geoff!

Oh, and speaking of random characters becoming significant...jean roomed with misty knight, and when she died, scott dated colleen wing...misty knight's partner!

Jason said...

Sorry, Neil. I'm always so proud of myself for remembering that first "Y" that by the time I get to the end I end up phoning it in ...

Thanks for knowing that I meant "Shyminsky" and posting anyway. :) Your words make utter sense. I do still wonder, though, what is the solution? Would Claremont have had to introduce several aboriginal characters all at once, making each one distinct (and only one "spiritual"?). Since Gateway is the first aboriginal Australian character introduced into the comic, what is the appropriate way to handle him? Or, maybe I should say, how ideally would we want to see Gateway portrayed (proceeding from the premise that the way Claremont did it was inappropriate or wrong-headed)?

It's interesting that Claremont actually DID introduce multiple Native American characters into the X-canon -- indeed, two lead characters who are members of the same tribe. (Forge and Dani). Interesting as well that he never actually had those two characters meet or interact in any way. And we also got a few other Cheyenne characters thrown into the mix, although none of them lasted long or hung around much (Dani's grandfather, who died in her first appearance; her parents, who showed up later; and Naze, Forge's mentor (there's that word again!)".

I'm not sure what to make of any of this, really, though I think it is surely to the good that the X-canon became strikingly ethnically diverse under Claremont's pen. Moreso, it seems to me, than the stable of characters associated with Marvel's other big guns, like Spider-Man or even The Avengers. (What did they have back in the 80s, like one black character each?)

Here's an anecdote to end the evening: When I was doing my first read-through of the Claremont run (my first time doing it, I mean, when some of them I had not yet read, even once), I told my girlfriend of the time (who is Native American) that, yeah, Chris Claremont, he's really cool and guess what, he just introduced a Native American girl (meaning Danielle Moonstar, in "New Mutants"). And her response was, "Let me guess, does her name have the word 'Sun' or 'Moon' in it?"

So it goes ...

neilshyminsky said...

Jason wrote: I do still wonder, though, what is the solution? Would Claremont have had to introduce several aboriginal characters all at once, making each one distinct (and only one "spiritual"?).

Generally, the only solution to the problem of the 'burden of representation' is to increase the number and diversity of representations, yeah, and thus reduce the weight of the 'burden'. This is the direction that Mercer takes his discussion of black film in Britain, anyway. And that's not really a great answer, no, when we're talking about a single author on a single comic book. But it still exists and we still have to confront it.

Also: looking, again, at the list of Forge, Naze, and Moonstar - even when he introduces multiple, important characters with the same ethnic background, the range still isn't all that impressive, is it?

Jason said...

In what terms? Are the differences between Forge and Dani any narrower than, say, Professor X and Cyclops?

Anonymous said...

Jason,I didn't see Maddie doing the exact opposite thing within one year as brilliant. I saw it as bad writing. The point is, Claremont couldn't get her there naturally. When you have to bring in magical dream sequences to do a 180 degree turn in characterization instead of getting it done gradually, then it's bad writing. (In Claremont's defense, he's said in interviews that Harras told him Maddie had to go from making speeches about why innocent people shouldn't be forced through the Siege Perilous to trying to kill babies in a few months, but it's still bad writing.)
Claremont introduced Sara Wolfe, Dr.Strange's Native American secretary, when he was writing Dr.Strange. I have a feeling that Claremont intended her to become a sorceress, but Stern decided to keep her as the normal person in the series.
Neil, strictly speaking Forge isn't a magical Negro. Usually, a magical Negro has no real past or motivation and can never use his powers to help himself out of bad situations. Forge,OTOH, has a detailed past and understandable motivations and routinely uses his powers to help himself get out of trouble. Gateway, OTOH, is practically the poster boy for the magical Negro stereotype.

Jason said...

The reason I love that it is Maddie who is the most horrified at Forge's actions, yet she ends up doing the same thing a year later, is that it's got a great sort of sense of, "We hate when we see ourselves in other people" kind of feel to it. Like Maddie realized in some metaphysical way that she was witnessing her own future, hence her extreme revulsion.

I don't think the writing is bad, when I actually read the issues. The scene with Maddie getting stripped of her identity has always been very powerful, and her hallucinogenic sequence in part four of the Genosha arc ("I am what I am. What men like you have made me.") is rather chilling as well.

And I like that the corruption happens so hard and fast, in about six issues ... it mirrors and kind of bookends Maddie's history as a character, considering that it only took her about seven issues between meeting Scott and marrying him. In both cases, there's a sense that it was inevitable, and unpreventable.

And I like the parallelism between Maddie's descent and Jean's (or Phoenix's) in the Dark Phoenix Saga. If anything, the corruption in "Inferno" makes more sense to me, because it feels less externally imposed. Madelyne's rage has its core in something very relatable (the Scott abandonment), whereas in Dark Phoenix it is entirely externally driven. (We are told that Jason Wyngarde is just bringing out the natural nastiness that Jean has inside her, but it rings a bit false.) Madelyne in "Inferno" is a force of nature and I find her sympathetic and for the most part find myself rooting for her.

(People bring up the "killing babies" thing a lot, but ... I don't know, that is too extreme and ridiculous for me to think of in "realistic" terms. I mean, the literal text of the story is absurd, of course -- decent, normal woman becomes baby killer. It's absurd on that level.

The subtextual level is more interesting and more the wavelength that interests me. On that level, the baby (who is a non-entity, let's face it, the thing didn't even have a NAME until "Inferno" got underway -- three years after it was born) is just a symbol. Barely even that. He's a macguffin.

I don't know. None of this is probably an adequate defense of the crazy evolution of Madelyne Pryor. But I love her; she is so quintessentially Claremontian in her chaotic arc.

Anonymous said...

I think that the literal text is so flawed it's impossible to appreciate the subtext.(This is a recurring problem with Claremont's work- remember Rogue and Rachel letting the Juggernaut go in issue 194?) Maddie is angry at Scott but still loves him. Then,she gets tricked by a demon in a dream and turns evil. The problem is that relying on a trick to turn a character evil IS cheating. It's not a natural evolution. OTOH people getting married quickly is such a common theme and does happen in real life.
And the justifications for Maddie turning evil are more based on misogynistic logic than Maddie's previous behavior. Let me put it to you this way- did Storm have a legitimate reason to be mad at Magneto after she thought he killed Jean in Morrison's run? Yes. Would a story where Storm tortured and killed Luna in revenge be bad writing? Unless it was properly set up, the answer is yes. Because Storm taking revenge on an innocent is out of character.
The other problem, and you can't deny that this is bad writing, is that Gateway's involvement is never explained or addressed. But Claremont seems to want us to think that Gateway isn't evil. You can't just have a character let a mother become a danger to her son and just expect the readers to still think he's not a monster. Now, if Claremont clearly explained it, then we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Jason said...

"did Storm have a legitimate reason to be mad at Magneto after she thought he killed Jean in Morrison's run? "

How the heck would I know? :)

The thing for me is that, I think, Claremont's actual prose was so fluent at this phase in his career that I was happy and willing to follow him down these weird paths. The involvement of a demon in Maddie's corruption is a genre convention, and a way of externalizing her internal transformation -- the important thing is what happens just before that: Her seeing the video footage of Scott and Jean. That's the catalyst, and the thing that puts her on the threshold.

I can see where it could be argued that it's kind of bullsh*t to have Maddie pretty much gotten over Scott leaving her, but then she goes over the edge when he finds out he left her FOR ANOTHER WOMAN. I see where the "misogyny" accusations come from, but I always find those hard to justify where Claremont is concerned. His work is indictable on any number of counts -- and I am glad that people are willing to call them out in these comments, because I tend to gleefully ignore Claremont's shortcomings in this blog-series.

But to call Claremont a misogynist (not to say that you did that), when he is one of the few (and one of the first) to bring women to the forefront in a mainstream superhero comic, is off-base. The X-Men canon is more filled with female heroes and villains than any other. It's a little less rare now, but Claremont was way on the forefront of trying to even out the gender-balance in superhero comics. He's given us so many great female superheroes, and many of them have been hugely redemptive. So Maddie chooses the wrong path (as contrasted against all of the Claremont characters whose arc is redemptive). Putting that down to misogyny is unfair.

And, I do hate that we never got the story on Gateway (and the Outback computers, and the final match between the Reavers and the X-Men), but I don't call it bad writing. Claremont might have addressed it had he not left when he did. That was just Claremont's style, and it was part of what made the X-Men addicting. It is "bad" in that -- because of when Claremont left -- this was one of the threads he did not return to. But I don't find the actual writing of this era bad, at all. It is esoteric and tangled at times, yeah, but I love it.

I also like that Maddie's selling her soul to get what she wants, that actually has a precedent in an earlier Claremont work ("X-Men/Alpha Flight"). Don't know if that was Claremont's intent at the time, but it works out nicely (for me) in retrospect.

neilshyminsky said...

Michael: Forge isn't, no. My point was simply that in trying to distance Gateway from the Magical Negro type by way of appeal to Forge, Jason caused me to realize how many of those attributes are also present in Forge.

Jason: The problem in comparing Dani and Forge to Xavier and Cyclops is that the latter two are only two white men among dozens in the X-books. They're ethnically ambiguous - in fact, they have no distinct ethnic or cultural character of any kind - and they're never called upon, nor are they expected, to represent and speak to their race.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that they don't carry a burden of representation, which means everything. Forge and Dani do, which is why their similarities stick out so much more problematically, especially given the very limited number of Native American representations in X-Men and super-hero comics on the whole.

Jason said...

Well, you wrote that the range among Forge, Naze and Dani is "not really all that impressive."

What I'm wondering is, what is problematic about Forge and Dani, as Claremont wrote them. What are the similarities that make the range "unimpressive"?

To what degree -- and in what ways -- would the two characters have to be different for it to work?

It just seems a bit "damned if you do, damned if you don't" in a way. It feels like there is a line there, and on one side of the line is, ah, he's just painting all the members of this ethnic group with the same generic, stereotyped brush. On the other side of the line, it seems like it would just be like, oh he's trying too hard too make this second Cheyenne character totally different from his first one. How desperately politically correct.

I could be totally wrong, though. Maybe it just speaks to Claremont's limitations as a writer.

(Or the limitations of the genre, but I don't want to hide behind that.)

I love Dani Moonstar, though, because she reminds me of my ex-girlfriend. Those Native gals, I love 'em! (They're all the same, at the end of the day, really, aren't they?)

Anonymous said...

Jason, Claremont has said that he was ordered to turn Maddie evil by Harras. As for Maddie "choosing" the wrong path, Maddie's remark when agreeing is "What the heck? It's just a dream." Let me put it to you this way- if I were to give you a bottle that said Pepsi, and it really contained poison,and you drank it, could it be said that you chose to kill yourself?
And the reason it's considered misogynism is that everything Maddie has done up to that point- dying to save the world, helping the X-Men- is ignored, and the justification for Maddie turning evil is that she's a woman who was dumped. And it's bad writing since her whole personality changes- she goes from frontier woman to corrupted and decadent aristocrat.

Anonymous said...

Jason, a couple of other points. A particular work of a writer can be misogynistic without the writer being a misogynist. For example, Whedon was praised by feminists for Buffy, but he was criticized by many feminists for Dollhouse, because many felt that the staff of the House was portrayed sympathetically even though they basically kidnapped Sierra and brainwashed her into a sex slave. It's legitimate to consider each work on its own.
About Gateway- the problem I have in this case is when a writer has a character do something that we would usually consider evil and then suggests that there's a good reason for it without explaining what that reason is. It's bad writing- the character isn't evil because the writer says he isn't.

Jason said...

Who is this "Whedon" person of which you speak?

Just kidding.

Sinerely, Michael, your points are all well-taken. Thank you for them.

First a quick note: When I talked about the "choosing the wrong path" moment, I'm referring to an earlier part of the story, where those are literally the words used. During the hallucination, she is walking down a road that forks, and she chooses a direction that makes Gateway "disappointed." That's the moment I'm talking about.

It doesn't negate or contradict your points in any way, I just wanted to be clear about which moment I meant.

As for Gateway, to me his role in that sequence is so esoteric that I have a hard time saying that he has done anything wrong (or right). The implication is that there is a significance to Gateway's presence that we don't yet know, and the explanation will come later. That it never does is frustrating, but it may have eventually come had Claremont not quit. It seems clear there was at least one more "Outback" story left in Claremont.

Dunno. You say, "the character isn't evil because the writer says he isn't," but really, no definitive statement was made either way, in the text. It is only through interviews that we know what Claremont intended, but have no idea how the execution was going to go down. It's hard to criticize the ending to a story that didn't end.

And, the Madelyne seduction scene. It's f*cking brutal, isn't it? It's not just a mislabeled bottle of poison. The hallucination in which Scott strips Madelyne of her identity, a piece at a time, and gives them back to "the original" is heart-wrenching. Presuming S'ym is behind all of this, you can't reduce it all to the bit with the fingernails and Maddie's off-the-cuff, "What the heck, it's a dream." The brainwashing begins before then, and it's pretty damn harsh. And the narration and artwork both tend to suggest that a lot of Madelyne's corruption happened during THAT sequence, and the fingernail bit was just the capper. (I'm thinking of the bit when we see the sun bake away the mannequin-Maddie, and then she emerges from the water looking harder and more dangerous.)

These are great, chilling scenes. They are -- dare I say it? -- good writing. You say that it is all down to Madelyne turning evil "because she got dumped." I say that is reductive. She's been stripped of everything at this point, and in a moment of weakness (the revelation about Jean), she falls victim to a really nasty bit of brainwashing. She is encouraged to indulge the worst part of herself, and she goes for it.

What can I say? I've re-read these issues quite a few times as a result of doing this blog series, and they work for me. Every dang time!

Anonymous said...

But that's the point- she never KNOWINGLY chooses to hurt anyone, but we're supposed to see her as evil and the person who at the very least knew what was happening and didn't warn her friends as good. It just doesn't work. And Claremont was a complete hypocrite, considering that he blamed the Avengers for not doing anything to help a brainwashed Carol and let Gateway off the hook for doing the same thing with Maddie.

Jason said...

Hm. But how could Gateway have gotten ON the hook, if nobody knew about his involvement in that scene?

(Another problem -- and this I agree is really crappy -- was how Simonson retconned Madelyne as having been evil long before that scene. That stuff in X-Factor 38 really screwed her up, saying she was already a bitch as far back as Fall of the Mutants, if not Uncanny 201.)

Anonymous said...

Jean had Maddie's memories, so the X-Men should know about Gateway. Although, I'm not sure if Claremont and Simonson realized that until after they were off the books.
The Maddie-was-always-evil retcons don't work. They contradict Maddie's thought balloons in like a zillion places.

neilshyminsky said...

Jason wrote: What are the similarities that make the range "unimpressive"?

The mysticism and magic wielded by all three of the Cheyenne characters, for one. You'd think that every Native American had magical powers.

Jason wrote: It just seems a bit "damned if you do, damned if you don't" in a way.

To a degree, certainly, which is why I said the only real answer is a multiplicity of representations which would alleviate the burden that comes with being one of only a very few. It's a really difficulty thing for an individual writer to accomplish, but it can only happen if individual writers make an attempt. And it's a burden that exists because so many (mostly male, mostly white) writers haven't bothered to try very hard, and so haven't left a very useful tradition to follow.

Jason said...

That's the thing, though. Dani didn't wield magic. She was a mutant power, and her power was telepathic in nature, not mystical.

When she was later endowed with a mystical power, it was explicitly NOT tied into her Native origins. Indeed, as written, it was said to be in *conflict* with her heritage (connected, as it was, with Norse -- "white" -- mythology).

Jason said...

"She was a mutant power." Sorry. That should read, "She was a mutant," of course.

Jason said...

Sorry, I keep forgetting stuff I wanted to say. Three posts in a row, woo hoo!

If you want to expand it to all of Claremont's Native characters (not just the Cheyenne), there are two who are not "mystical" at all -- the Proudstar brothers. (And note that Len Wein was the one who wanted to kill off John Proudstar, in only his third comic-book appearance. Claremont wanted to keep him alive -- and, eventually, introduced John's younger brother into the canon as a new, equally non-"mystical" Thunderbird.

I am not saying Claremont was perfect -- and certainly he wasn't un-impugnable -- in his representation of non-white characters ... but Native Americans seemed to fare pretty well under Claremont's pen, all in all.

neilshyminsky said...

I'm thinking of the Demon Bear, Jason, and how Dani was protected from it by magic, which subsequently failed and so the Bear's magic yadda-yadda-yadda... The Norse addition is a neat idea, though not too different in nature from Forge's technological power and its seemingly antithetical relation to his shamanistic abilities. (That said, Claremont seemed to want to show that the two could could actually compliment one another.)

The Proudstars are quite different, yeah. Though Thunderbird was an entirely annoying characters for his resemblance to a shallower and even more problematic stereotype - the minority who blames everything on the white man, and whom we are to understand is his own worst (and only?) enemy. :/

Jason said...

Thanks, Neil. I get you now.

Has there ever been an X-Men comic that featured Forge and Dani in a scene together, interacting? I know Claremont never wrote such a scene during his initial X-run. (I wish he had.)

Anonymous said...

While it was impossible from a narrative standpoint to have revealed the information so early, I think a more logical pattern to Maddy's downfall would have been for her to find out she's a clone, and that her baby was just a genetic experiment, then find out that Scott is back with the woman she was cloned from, *then* have her lose it and make a deal with a demon.

If it could be shown that her whole world crumbled, she was no longer sure what she was, everything she knew was a lie, and the child was just the end-product of an experiment, she would have proper motivation for nihilistic, baby-killing revenge. Instead she learns all of this after she becomes the Goblin Queen, and uses it as final motivation to try and kill Jean. Obviously, the way the information was parceled out, this couldn't be done. But at least her motivation at the very end had some real impetus behind it.