Sunday, February 15, 2009

Let's Shan-cercise: How to Get Yourself Into Shape the Xi'an Coy Manh Way!

Looks like Marvel is giving those fabulous new mutants, the New Mutants, a... new... book. Set to star are our classic friends Dani, Sam, Xi'an, Roberto and Illyana and I couldn't be more excited. Dani and Xi'an are perhaps my two absolute favorite Marvel characters. Suck on that, Wolverine! Now's the perfect moment to stoke the New Mutants-mania with a smart ass deconstruction of a classic tale.

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I give you... the story of how Xi'an went from blob to bad-ass in the pages of New Mutants Special Edition #1 by Chris Claremont and Art Adams.

One of the subtexts of the New Mutants series is the forcible undressing and redressing of its female characters-- usually Dani-- in bizarre, fetishy outfits. In this story from circa 1985, the subtext overwhelms the text as the entire New Mutants team undergoes a plethora of strange clothing changes and physical transformations.

In fact, this book is in such a hurry to get to the skin, it opens with the gang frolicking on a beach, their nubile teen bodies on display in skimpy swimwear. In this way Claremont and Adams prefigure the 1990s "bad girl/good girl" art craze. Comic readers might have criticized later books such as Gen13, Lady Death, Witchblade and Fathom for gratuitous cheesecake, but these comics merely extended concepts present in New Mutants practically from the first issue. And nowhere is this more apparent than in this particular tale.

While her pals have fun in the sun, the morbidly obese Xi'an hides out wearing a muumuu in what appears to be some kind of dingy housing project apartment. If you'll recall, world-class gourmand Amahl Farouk had stolen Xi'an's body a while back.

Hello, Bonnie Grape! Not only did Farouk ruin Xi'an's youthful physique, but he also impaired her abilities to put her pink undies away in the bedroom where they belong, instead of in the drawers in the living room. But this is an action-packed Marvel mag, not an issue of Love and Rockets. Within a page of this personal drama, the Enchantress and her flying Viking horde attack.

And since Claremont's plot demands the kids end up in Asgard so he and Adams can work them over, they're ridiculously defeated within the narrative captions of a single tier of panels! It's a plot development every bit as contrived and arbitrary as something in a Jackie Treehorn epic starring Karl Hungus and Bunny LaJoya. This book should be subtitled Mutantjammin'.

Once in the mystic realm of Asgard, we get to what this story is really all about. Dani becomes an armor-clad valkyrie; Amara drinks some kind of magic mead and turns into a faerie who looks like a cross between an Elfquest character and one of the sex-nymphs from Ralph Bakshi's Wizards; and the Enchantress turns Illyana first into a baby (trapped in bondage-y wall chains no less, and still wearing her white bikini from the beach scene... shudder), then into an evil avatar of herself in chain mail and a Darth Vader helmet. Tragically unfunny comedic relief character Warlock changes himself into all sort of stupid things in a vain attempt to induce deliberately the kind of laughter the rest of the story causes inadvertently. Uh... with love.

But most dramatic and happiest of all is what happens to Xi'an. Thanks to one of Illyana's transporter spells, Xi'an ends up in a desert wasteland. But as one of those relentlessly verbose Chris Claremont characters, she retains her ability to state the obvious. Out loud. To nobody:

The problem with deserts is, while they may seem lifeless, they're actually home to all sorts of dangerous fauna. For example:

Giant snake-like monsters! Fortunately for Xi'an, her powers are still working. She can even possess shai hulud! Xi'an Coy Manh no longer needs the weirding module, Stilgar! Long live the fighters, Maud'Dib! Yikes! Too many apostrophes! And as you might expect by now, Xi'an will also soon display copious amounts of bare flesh. Months in the desert leave her muumuu in tatters:

Strategic tatters. Because after a few more months of desert-tracking and sweating and eating only tiny lizards, she has the body of an Olympic swimmer and her rent garments conveniently lend themselves to Xi'an's adapting them into a sexy, savage desert princess bodysuit:

She still has that Claremontian ability to tell, not show. Despite having been so incredibly obese, she displays nothing in the way of stretch marks or excess skin. And she must have somehow had with her an impressive selection of lady's shavers, shaving gel and moisturizers to maintain smoothness in her underarms, legs and bikini area.

Finally, she runs into some friends who are shocked not only by her advanced hygiene but also the recapitulation of her former svelteness. Doug proves himself a master of the obvious as well:

Thanks, Doug. Without your genius for observation, we stupid readers might not have picked up on the subtle differences in the way Adams drew Xi'an at the beginning of this epic and how he depicts her on this page. Well, whatever. It's lucky she's back in fighting shape, because no sooner have they reunited than they're set upon by some human-shaped screentones mounted on what appear to be horse-shaped screentones and she's going to start kicking ass:

Kicking ass and reverse-stabbing people, Hong Kong cinema-style. This is where Butch Coolidge got the idea for killing that one guy with a katana in Pulp Fiction:

Yes, thank heaven you only wounded him, Xi'an. Because an injury caused by a broadsword being driven completely through the small intestine, a kidney and out the back heals quickly and easily and leaves scarcely a scar. Being a war orphan and thus underexposed to pop culture, Xi'an thinks the Black Knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is from a documentary.

Hmm... Pulp Fiction. I've always thought it was kind of odd that such a crappy pawn shop would have an actual katana on display, rather than one of those cheap-ass knock offs shops here in Japan generally sell. Those things wouldn't cut butter, but the sword Butch uses goes right into a man's torso with little effort on Butch's part. And I've always wondered what happened to the Gimp after that scene. Butch just leaves that freak chained and unconscious as he hightails it out of there. I imagine Marcellus Wallace and some of his men killed the Gimp soon after they completed their medieval workout with "Mr. Soon-To-Be-Living-The-Rest-of-His-Short-Ass-Life-In-Agonizing-Pain Rapist." But I bet the Gimp enjoyed it. He would've been right at home in this comic book story.

There. That's how the New Mutants got naked and Xi'an got herself back into shape. And killed some people. Now you can do the same thing. Get fit, get healthy, backwards stab your enemies. Get the new New Mutants book when it comes out in May! I mean, if you're interested. I'm enthusiastic and definitely going to give it a try, but I don't want you to think I'm mindlessly shilling for it. At the very least visit the announcement and check out the sweet preview images by original New Mutants artist Bob McLeod and superstar painter Alex Ross.

Imagine that. Marvel is actually producing a book I want to buy.


D Shannon said...

Wouldn't it have been a lot simpler for the Fates to arrange an instant weight-loss magic spell for Xian? And let's not even go into what she had to Magiver from desert materials to help her deal with those, uh, times that even comic book women must have to deal with...

Joel Bryan said...

Exactly! I still can't get over how well-tended she is when she emerges from the blazing sands! For... er... many reasons.