Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Writer: Grant Morrison; Artist: Yanick Paquette; Inker: Serge Lapointe; Colourist: Alex Sinclair; Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
21st Century Schizoid Supermen
pp 01-05 We open with Alix on the job at a superhero convention. Not a comics convention! I thought Morrison was taking a shot at comics collectors in Frankenstein #1. Others have thought he might be taking a shot at fans here, but I don’t think so. Sure, there are lots of pathetic people, but they are all inside the industry.
Alix’s is working as one of two bodyguards to screen starlet, and mermaid, Stellamaris. Star of the sea and the screen, we last saw her on a billboard in Shining Knight #2. She is at the convention to promote her films and to speak out against discrimination – and, apparently, to be the victim of repeated poisonings. Now I didn’t know that mermaids found human women with fake tails and clam shell bras to be offensive, but it’s really the poisonings that have gotten everyone’s attention. Many readers think the poisonings are faked. That she is simply trying to get attention. They haven’t any proof, but… I think they’re right. She is a thoroughly unpleasantly character, always mistreating her son, but she isn’t shown to have any real enemies. She isn’t a superhero, she’s an actress. Sure, she has hired two bodyguards, Alix and Big Thunder, but neither has any experience. Experience is something that might be considered an asset if the threat were real, while inexperience might be to her advantage if it weren’t (they would be less likely to catch on).
In the middle of her interview Stellamaris suddenly makes her first poisoning claim and her guards leap into action. Big Thunder tells Alix that this is “a new situation for me”, but Alix shows some foresight and breaks the reinforced glass. All very dramatic. At this point a narration starts, giving us details of Alix’s situation: her synthetic skin, her financial needs (including the need to take in a British roommate), and her new job as a bodyguard. The narrator is wondering how to break through to her, literally. How to get past the impenetrable skin and kill her. It’s I, Spyder and if we didn’t already know he was a villain, this little speech would clue us in pretty quickly. Not simply because he wants to kill her, but because he is monologuing in the classic Syndrome manner. He has clearly been watching her for some time, but why? He works for Gloriana. Why would Gloriana want Alix Harrower dead?
Stellamaris seems very calm now that she’s out of the giant fish tank she was using to conduct her interview, and sends her son to get her “seagarettes” so she can breathe. Big Thunder suggests Alix “pacify” the fanboys while he goes with their client. I guess it makes him look like he’s doing something.
Before moving on there are a couple of other things to note in these pages. Morrison often puts himself in his stories, visually at least. If there’s a bald character in one of his comics, it’s always fair to wonder if it’s him. The bald character in this one? Stellamaris’ put upon son Nepton! Is this the artist and subject relationship?
And seagarettes! What a great idea. Sounds like something from an old comic, but it appears to be a Morrison original. I couldn’t find any reference showing otherwise.
pp 06-11 With the mermaid gone, the Bulleteer becomes the center of attention. Yes, its life on the superhero D list. She is immediately surrounded by fanboys wanting her autograph. One tells her “I’ve waited in line like forever,” even though she hasn’t been the subject of any signings. They don’t really know who she is, and she knows it. They think she’s the Human Bullet and do know about the train rescue. Behind her is a guy who, he says, is only trying to help. It’s Lucian Crawley, a.k.a. Mindgrabber Kid, last seen in Zatanna #1. He tells her to show more cleavage. When she doesn’t follow her advice, he moves on to plan B and grabs her hand and leads her away from the dangerous fanboys. I know in reading up on this character that he really does have some serious mental powers, but they aren’t on display in this series. In fact, the reason we can look past things like him telling her to unzip her bustier is that he is just too ineffectual to be offensive.
He takes her on an impromptu tour of the convention. First stop: Susan Barr, the original Bulletgirl and now a crabby old lady with a stuffed dog. The stuffed dog was once Bulletdog, the animal sidekick of Bulletman and Bulletgirl. It is worth noting that Lucian gets her name wrong, calling her Susan Parr, so he’s in good form already. They pass by Dumb Bunny’s booth. She was a part of the Inferior Five, a parody comic from the 1960s. It’s a title I was unfamiliar with until an alternative version of the team showed up in Villains United, the Superior Five. There Dumb Bunny became Lagomorph; here she looks a Playboy bunny. It’s not her original costume guys! Lucian walks her past the Eternal Superteen booth, the website Lance Harrower was fixated on. He’s leading her towards the Sweethearts & Supervixens panel, while trying to impress her with his own, In The Pink Corner: Superqueer Bashing, Kid Sidekicks and Life On The Fringes Of The Law. Strangely enough, he’s probably not the first guy to try and hit on a girl by telling her he’s gay. As they enter the S&S panel he brags on his League credentials and tells her that many of these girls were orphans who hid “enormous powers behind some timid persona.” That’s Supergirl’s original story, by the way, but it also serves as foreshadowing for the next issue.
Once in we find that the panel consists of Betti Kane (Flamebird), Thumbelina, Etta Candy, Li’l Hollywood, and Ms. Mesmer. The middle three each have their roles in this saga. We’ve met Etta in Zatanna. Thumbelina is a part of Eternal Superteens, and will be speaking with Alix in a second. And Li’l Hollywood was a member of the Newsboy Army. The question we hear is directed at Li’l Hollywood. The fan is nervous and rambles on a bit, but his question is interesting and informative. He fondly remembers her old TV show with Frank Gorshin and then asks if its true that Millions the Mystery Mutt is immortal and running the US banking system, and if that has anything to do with the “cauldron of rebirth ‘Kid Scarface’, the late Vincenzo Baldi, was supposed to have been found in Slaughter Swamp.” Yes, the sentence structure is a little skewed, but the guy’s nervous. But very well informed. We don’t actually get an answer. She is surprised to learn that Vincenzo is dead. It happened just that morning (meaning that I, Spyder has come directly from L.A.). She may be a senior, but she looks about 20. Her power is that of an ‘super-impressionist’. She can make herself look however she wants.
Next is the awards show. Booster Gold is the presenter. Aquaman wins for best comeback. Alix is at Stellamaris’ table. The starlet is complaining about her son. She blames his human side and complains about the “ksss” sound we make (as in the x in Alix). Apparently fighting speciesism only goes one way. Alix sees Thumbelina head to the bathroom and gets up to follow her. At another table sits Li’l Hollywood, Lucian, who is sitting away from the rest, in no good temper, two Blue Boys (they didn’t wait long to revive that franchise!), someone who may be Pat Dugan, a.k.a. Stripesy, a Golden Age Seven Soldier, and the King of Cats, Karl Kyle. Yes, Selina’s brother! They are drinking a toast to the late Jackie Pemberton, Gimmix of Seven Soldiers #0. They talk about her and the story that the ghost of Greg Saunders visited Ramon Solomano. It’s interesting that Hollywood’s facial features seem to change in the last panel, making her look more like Gimmix. She sends her petulant sidekick off for drinks, but assures him that his time is coming. Like their fans, the Newsboy veterans seem to know a lot about the story that is unfolding around them. Vincenzo knew that Vanguard represented the coming of the Sheeda. Ed knew that Jake had an important role. And now it seems Lucian does too. And he does, but he won’t appreciate it. He won’t even realize it.
pp 12-18 Alix follows Thumbelina into the washroom and finds her shooting up in the toilets. "It's not what it seems," she assures her, it’s her shrinking serum. Still, I can't be the only one that thinks it sets an appropriate tone. The girls of Eternal Superteens aren't associated with class. Alix asks about Sally Sonic and Thumbelina can guess the rest. She's slept with your husband! Not strictly true, but essentially, yes, she had an online affair with Lance and the end result was our heroine, the Bulleteer. Thumbelina tells her that turning men against their human wives is Sally weakness. How is it a weakness? Because it is predictable. Put in a given situation, she will always act the same way. Luckily for her, she isn't an actual crimefighter.
As they talk, we very clearly see the image of a spider on Alix's right shoulder. It’s a listening device, a bug, through which I, Spyder is monitoring her. The question is, how long has it been there? We don’t see it on her shoulder in panel two, but its there in panel five (we’re on page twelve). Thumbelina appears to touch her shoulder while getting up, but that’s the left shoulder. On page five Big Thunder does touch her right shoulder, but as it’s clearly not there in the intervening pages, I don’t think he’s the culprit either. Two solutions present themselves. It was there all along, but Morrison and Paquette chose to hide it from readers until now, so we would understand how Dalt could hear her. Others at the convention didn’t know her or might have assumed it was a tattoo. Or, the bug is robotic and placed itself on her without anyone’s assistance. There really isn’t any evidence to support any one of these ideas over the others. Dalt is digesting what he learns from their conversation and notes that Alix’s husband’s online affair was with a British woman. And her new roommate is also…
Alix’s investigation into Sonic is cut short by Thumbelina’s schedule. She’s presenting an award. Thumbelina’s handbag turns into a pretty neat little flyer, though I suspect the handle might be a problem. They leave the bathroom and Alix finds the drunken Lucian waiting. He wants to team up, fight crime, date. It’s the same thing he tried on Zee. He thinks they could be the new Green Lantern/Green Arrow – which is a whole new take on that partnership for me, but I was never a reader. She points out that he’s gay and he replies, “Do I look gay?” I can only assume that Scots aren’t quite as PC as North Americans. He says that’s it’s a lie he tells for two reasons. It puts off the sexual attentions of his mentor and it makes him stand out. “Why are you all so obsessed with being special?” she asks. It’s a question that gets a moment of honesty out of him. He had an adventure with the Justice League when he was a kid and he has lived on the memory, or perhaps in the shadow of the memory, every since. He wants to be special. He believes he is. He could misuse his powers, but he doesn’t. He wants to believe he’s better than the others, the “losers”, but you suspect he doesn’t. He’s afraid life has passed him by and his opportunity to be a Leaguer with it. Big Thunder comes and offers to take him up on his dreams of a team up, “the pink and the proud.” I suspect Thunder isn’t just pretending to be gay.
Listening, I, Spyder now realizes how he can get to her. Her weakness is that she listens. Yes, we know she’s not self-involved, but he gets an insight from considering this: her ears are a way past her metallic skin. He leaves his room – getting points from a fanboy for the jet pack – and ddwaits for an opportunity to shoot. Inside Alix suggests that the three of them team up and help her find Sally Sonic. She takes off her helmet and helps Mindgrabber Kid up off the floor. Dalt fires and Lucian has his big moment. Alix shifts her weight in helping him and so the arrow goes right past her and hits Big Thunder. Luckily Big Thunder is invulnerable too. Li’l Hollywood took on Lucian because, she told him, he had a special destiny to save the world and, given their relationship, I think she is the one who brought him there to order to fulfil that destiny. If Lucian ever realizes that this was it, it would kill him.
p 19 “I can’t miss. I never miss. Not unless I mean too.” I, Spyder is not taking this turn of events very well. He lands on a nearby roof only to be met by another surprise – the ghost of Greg Saunders. This is the late Saunders’ second appearance in this mini. The last time was in a dream of Ramon Solomano. The Vigilante shot the Hand through the heart and, after enough time to confess everything to Alix and Helligan, he died. Whether Dalt can even die a second time is a good question, but Saunders is here to remind him whose side he’s on. If he did switch sides, of course, it would enable him to rationalize missing Alix (he meant to) and it would mean that three members of the Miracle Mesa team were still active. Of course, of these three two are dead and Alix never went west for the adventure in the first place.
p 20 Inside the convention hall everyone is rushing over to see the arrow that was fired at Alix and no one is paying any attention to Stellamaris. Suddenly she’s being poisoned again! The only person there is her son, and he is ignoring her. Did he poison her, or has he heard her cry wolf too many times? Mind you, whichever it is, it was never his attention that she was trying to get.
pp 21-22 Back home after her adventure, Alix recounts events to her new, British roommate Sara Smart. But Sara isn’t too smart. She makes one of the more formulaic mistakes bye accidentally giving out information she shouldn’t know. Of course, she is already reaching for her whistle when she does this, so maybe she is ready to throw off her disguise anyway. And, of course, at this moment Alix realizes that Sally Sonic and Sara Smart have the same initials. They must be the same person! Sally reveals herself and attacks. There aren’t any witty one liners, but there are two visual puns. Sally tears the place apart. She’s a homewrecker! And she grabs the refrigerator as a weapon – turning the ‘woman in the refrigerator’ syndrome into the ‘woman under the refrigerator.’ Issue one of this mini gave us the origin story, issue two placed Alix within the broader context of the Seven Soldiers story, issue three has introduced her to the world of superhero sub-culture, and issue four will give her a nemesis. But we’ll deal with the next issue next issue.
This issue also introduced Alix to three kinds of pseudo-heroes. Stellamaris thinks being famous makes you a hero. Mindgrabber Kid thinks that he should be given credit for simply not abusing his powers. He’s like a child who expects the gold star simply because he comes to class. And Dalt thinks being the winner makes you the hero. After Neh-Buh-Loh and his spider riders beat him, he switched to that winning side. After events in this issue, he may well be reconsidering that. (Okay, we know what he’s going to do. Humour me.) It’s the Hollywood hero, the pop psych, or self-esteem, hero, and the sports hero. As for Alix herself, so far she isn’t thinking of herself as a hero. In fact, you might have notice that when she is asked who she is, her reply is “Alix” and not the Bulleteer? Her greatest strength right now is that she hasn’t allowed herself to be pidgeon holed by others. Yes, she has found herself stuck in the role her husband wanted, but she hasn’t surrendered her sense of who she is to it.