Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The mental powers of Liana and Jason... and Xi'an Coy Manh!

The other day I bought the digital version of Colleen Doran's remastered A Distant Soil: The Gathering. I read the first ten or so pages, just enough to get interested. It reminds me of what Chris Claremont was doing with the X-Men around the same time, especially the Marvel Graphic Novel #5: God Loves, Man Kills (November 1982) which introduced some darker, more mature elements. Specifically, kids getting killed for being mutants. Right at the start, too.  This kind of stuff-- and gorier-- happens all the time in the regular monthlies these days, but back then it was startling.

At least it was for me.

By now we're all pretty familiar with the "teens with powers in the hands of sinister researchers" trope.  I'm wondering if good ol' Stephen King isn't the father or at least godfather of this theme in comics.  It wouldn't take much reconfiguring to work Firestarter (1980) into Uncanny X-Men continuity.  And then there's his earlier telekinetic horror classic Carrie (1974) with its epistolary elements for added realism.  I read that for the first time this year and it gave me a strong sense of deja vu.  If only Professor X had detected Carrie White with his Cerebro a lot of kids could have been saved.  Even some jerky ones.  And we shouldn't forget Tia and Tony from Alexander Key's 1968 novel Escape to Witch Mountain, which I first encountered via Disney's sunnier 1975 film adaptation.

When people are working on stories with this element, there are bound to be some similarities.  Why am I telling you all this?  Because right at the beginning of A Distant Soil, I came across this scene:

And this one:
Which immediately reminded me of this, from Marvel Graphic Novel #4: The New Mutants (September 1982):
And this:

Liana and Jason, Colleen Doran's leads, aren't possessing anyone in the same manner as Xi'an Coy Manh as drawn by Bob McLeod, but I'm sure Xi'an would be pleased with how Doran depicts whatever it is they're doing here.  Actually, this early in the story I'm not exactly sure what kind of powers Doran's siblings possess.  They have telekinesis, but the I haven't seen what they can do to the fullest as yet.  I'm looking forward to finding out. 

What's the point of this?  That there are only so many ways to depict mental powers visually and have it read on a comic book page.  McLeod and Doran could just as easily have used the black dots Kirby favored for energy bolts and the movement of water or curvy or dotted lines.  Instead they both hit upon this weird radiating rectangles device and it looks cool as all get out.  And it's just pleasing to me to make a lot of little connections between things.  Magical kids, evil laboratories.  Feeling different or special, identifying with characters who are different and special.  Beautiful artwork in black and white or in color.  Xi'an Coy Manh in just about anything.  After just a few pages of A Distant Soil I'm even more surprised I wasn't all over this back when it first appeared.  It's apparently right in my wheelhouse.

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