Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dani Moonstar and Baron Karza. I take care of both of 'em, which ain't easy, 'cuz when they met... it was moider!

For a moment, I had hope...
You'd probably expect something called The X-Men and the Micronauts (January-April 1984) to be a light romp, a bit on the silly side. After all, one group is known for its various underage members while the other is based on a toy line.  You'd also expect with Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo handling the script it'd be a worthy reflection of their considerable writing talents.  Wrong, wrong and wrong.  It's a queasy slog through some fetishy set-pieces before it finally devolves into a ludicrous mess.

It starts pleasantly enough, with space opera.  Who doesn't love space opera?  The Micronauts lead a lot of clunky-looking spaceships into battle with an unknown invader with a starfleet of his own.  It turns out this mysterious enemy is so terrible our familiar characters, the Micronauts, have even joined forces with their recurring nemesis, Baron Karza.  Karza is a deposed tyrant, a mass-murderer, a thief of bodies and souls.  That his lifelong enemies have teamed up with him-- he's the lesser of two evils-- shows just how nasty a foe this mysterious invader truly is.

I truly did.
Who is this nefarious being, so terrible he causes the Micronauts to compromise years of anti-Karza activism?  The Entity.  With a name like the Entity you wonder why his parents didn't just call him the Being or the Guy.  No, he's the Entity and what the Entity is, is a maniacal mesomorph in a golden gladiator helmet.  He wreaks all this havoc simply because he gets off on it.  Not metaphorically, or in the sense he enjoys causing trouble for its own sake.  It sexually arouses him.  His male member becomes rigid.

Start with Storm.  Of course.
We know this because if there's one thing the Entity enjoys as much as destroying and enslaving, it's talking about destroying and enslaving.  He captures the Micronauts with ludicrous ease and straps them to rocks so he can tell them all about himself, his plans, and his desires.  He's like a celebrity who gives interviews where he can't shut up about his sexual encounters.  The Entity is so lascivious with his captive audience he doesn't stop blabbing about this stuff even when he finally notices Baron Karza.  Karza, being smarter than the Micronauts, takes that as his cue to get the hell out of Dodge.  He jumps in the Bioship, a living robot/spaceship and escapes.

Cut to... Earth.  It's the X-Mansion in Westchester, NY, and the X-Men are lounging about in various states of undress.  Storm poses in a bikini, Nightcrawler juggles because he's an ex-circus performer and Kitty Pryde complains about having to study while wearing only a top and a body suit.  Professor X and the New Mutants are hard at work in the Danger Room when Baron Karza pops in to say hello and borrow a cup of underwear.

That's when Dani Moonstar, with her new codename "Spellbinder," uses her powers on Karza and for her trouble gets beaten up by a toy.  Actually, her entire team loses to teensy-tiny Karza.  I know Karza is practically all-powerful within the framework of this narrative, but the sight of a miniscule figure manhandling normal sized teenagers illustrated in a semi-realistic/slightly heroically-exaggerated style is absolutely hilarious.  At this point you can almost forget the villain's motivation isn't anything so prosaic as conquest or revenge but sexual perversion.  Almost.  It's going to be rubbed in your face later, and considering the Entity's tastes in fun, if he had his way that would be literal.  He would literally rub his genitals in your face.  He no doubt does this to several of the characters in this story at various off-screen moments.

Like a mid-90s chatroom.
Where were we?  Oh yeah...  Karza beats up the New Mutants, fights the fully-grown X-Men to a stalemate, then switches bodies with Kitty Pryde for some reason.  Since he has mental powers enough to control both bodies, he keeps it a secret and Kitty spends most of the following three issues of The X-Men and the Micronauts being puppeted around by an evil dictator from another dimension.  Their personalities start to merge, too, so that Kitty slowly begins to enjoy acting out ruthlessly from inside her black armored prison and Karza, in her body, learns to say things like, "He has a point, Storm.  I... am kinda scared."

It turns out the Entity isn't just some sadistic cosmic outsider come to subjugate both super-teams for concupiscent kicks (thanks, Wallace Stevens).  He's the "evil side" of good ol' Professor X.  Not only is this convenient for involving the ever-popular X-Men in the story, but also Professor X's evil side likes to involve everyone around him in bondage scenarios.

When the idiotic interrupts the disturbing.
In the third issue, we get to see bearded, beefy Commander Rann simper before being killed and resurrected, then stammering, "T-thank you, Father!  I-I'll be good from now on!" while the Entity playfully strokes the poor bastard's chin.  Later in the same issue, Wolverine, in despair at being subjugated so thoroughly and comparing himself to an eager-to-please dog, attempts to murder his teammates then commit suicide as a means of escape.  And if Wolverine hasn't already made the point, formerly proud warrior-king Acroyear falls to his knees and details his similarly ambivalent reaction to complete emasculation while tears stream down his face.  I mean, if you love the idea of mind-controlled heroes fully aware of their debasement and endless pages of them bemoaning it as entertainment, then you’ve come to the right comic.  Okay, we get the point mind control is kind of invasive.  But the book drubs you with this concept to the point where it goes past that mark only to circle around to where the story really seems to be reveling in it.  I just wanted to read about the time Dani Moonstar fought a toy.  Have a few laughs with a little light-hearted entertainment.

But allow me share with you the two most magical moments of all.  

Halfway through this issue (wittily entitled "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!"), the Entity, after having dressed Kitty Pryde in some kind of chiffony harem girl outfit, attempts to seduce her.  He's even wearing a Hugh Hefner-style robe over his armor and has a snifter of fine liquor.  Courvoisier, perhaps?  Doesn't bother to take his helmet off, though.  I suppose knowing it’s Baron Karza’s thousand year old consciousness inside Kitty’s underage body makes it slightly less creepy—until you once again face the fact that the Entity is the dark id of her trusted mentor and teacher and thinks he's about to score with a teen.  This takes the power exchange to a new level of wrongness—really, you have to wonder just what the hell was going through the writers’ heads when they scripted this—because here, revealed for all to see, are Professor X’s secret fantasies.  This is the stuff that goes on in the recesses of his brilliant mind when it’s idling.  I’m sure we’ve all had passing inappropriate thoughts at one time or another.  That’s human.  This, however, is a comic that uses those micro-fancies as not only the fuel for its villain’s scheme, but also his existence.

Unfortunate implications, indeed.
This leads to a mind-boggling scene in #4 where the Entity, in the guise of his normal self Professor X, Dani's trusted mentor and the man her grandfather specifically chose to look out for her wellfare, literally orgasms Dani Moonstar into joining his ever-growing harem.

On panel.

That's all it takes:  a single super-duper psychic climax and the promise of more to come and Dani immediately tosses aside everything she believes in and the very person she was up until that moment.  Sure, there's mind control involved as well.  Gotta have a little of that for seasoning.  She's no longer herself, but there's no getting past that it comes as the result or some kind of side-effect of the sexual assault.  The new Dani wants more of this treatment, too.  Also note when Dani loses herself, she alone among her teammates doesn't put on her regular team uniform.  Everyone else turns evil but they keep their ordinary, non-evil fashion sense.  New, improved evil-Dani, on the other hand, decides to wear some variation on what's supposed to be Native American clothing.  I thought she was going for the Dani Pornstar look she sports in New Mutants #17 when she joins Illyana in Limbo and dons a torn deerskin halter top and ass-less chaps, but that book is cover-dated July, three months after this book.

Well, I don't know why she doesn't just put on her New Mutants uniform like the rest of the kids.  The story, which will belabor explanations at its end, doesn't see fit to spend any time telling us.  There may be a real-world reason, though.

The X-Men and Micronauts isn't the first mainstream superhero comic to fill itself with barely sublimated sexual subtext-- or text, in this case.  A more honest comic would actually acknowledge there's more to Professor X's duality than just some split-personality villainy that leaves his usual benign self blameless.  It would deal with Dani's mind-rape by her trusted teacher as something more than just an extra-sleazy way-- both in-story and, inadvertently, at the script level-- to add a layer of difficulty to the final battle. A better story would probably would just leave it out altogether since, as a plot detail, it's completely gratuitous.  After all, it wouldn't have been that difficult to simply have Entity-Professor X use his position of trust to talk Dani, Sam and the others into fighting the Micronauts.  But that wouldn't have been as decadently fun as involving Dani with a sex fiend, right?

Still, all the darkness and humiliation might be worth it if this story had anything interesting to say about betrayal of trust, loss of self or built towards some kind of revelatory moment.  But no such luck.

Why isn't she wearing her regular costume?
Mantlo and Claremont separately wrote some fantastic stories, which means it’s reasonable to assume together they’d work up some kind of synergistic magic.  Unfortunately, X-Men and Micronauts once again proves the old adage about making assumptions.  Have you ever been watching a Major League baseball game when a top pitcher uncorks something so wild you think, “Jesus, you actually have to be a pretty damn good athlete to throw something that erratic?”  Any fool can bounce one to the plate.  It takes a top flight hurler to wing something off at such a cock-eyed angle that leaves everyone goggling in disbelief.  This is the comic book equivalent of that kind of wild pitch, a misfire so wrong it could only have come from a couple of men working in such complete confidence of their mechanical writing skills no one thought to say, “Uh… no.”

Don't worry, Prof.  Not your fault, huh?
Essentially, after they’ve exhausted all the readers with these padded-out scenes of tops and bottoms, Mantlo and Claremont abruptly end it all with a song-and-dance number.  Arbitrary metaphysics and the ridiculous rules of comic book psychic warfare.  Oh, and a whole lot of body-switching plus some perfunctory fisticuffs-- Dani gets her ass whipped again, this time by a teensy-tiny Bug and Wolverine-- and then a sequence where Professor X and the Entity in their naked ghost forms writhe around in some nether region. Fortunately, for no discernable reason, while in the Microverse-- where presumably the laws of physics are completely different thanks to the whims of plot device-- Professor X’s Entity-self has the ability to alter reality with a snap of the fingers, while in our universe he’s only an orgasm-inducing mind-reader and susceptible to naked ghost-wrestling on the astral plane.

I truly feel for Jackson Guice and Bob Wiacek (Kelley Jones is in there somewhere, too), because they draw their asses off in the service of this mess.  Starships and superheroes, exploding planets and naked ghosts.  As far as Michael Golden impersonations go, this is one of the better ones.  And for their efforts, they get to illustrate the last couple of pages which consist of characters standing around like a bunch of idiots while Professor X fills their heads with a huge wheelbarrow-full of complete horse shit.  This lets the poor readers know what they just witnessed because it doesn't make much sense otherwise and the writers need to wrap it all up before the page count runs out.

Marionette of the Micronauts, as confused and disappointed as anyone else, asks, “How’d we beat that all-powerful godlike pervert?” and Professor X helpfully explains, “Well, I tricked him.”  With the script already badly stressed, the seams finally come undone, groaning in protest.  And if you're wondering just how empty of substance this tedious exhibition of soft-core fetishism has been, the final proof comes with Professor X’s conclusion where he blames the whole mess on the darkness inside us all, then says words to the effect of, “It’s too bad I can’t resurrect all those micro-people I murdered or un-rape all of you, but I can’t, so let’s never speak of this incident again.”  And they never did.

I'm so very sorry to have done this to you.  Here, this will make you feel better:

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