Tuesday 8 July 2014

Re-reading my first comic

The other day, going through some boxes I'd had in storage at my parents' house, I found the first comic I ever read. Well, the first American comic, the actual first comic I ever read was Sonic The Comic #2 (I missed the first issue and I've been trying to find those comics for years). This first US comic was X-Factor #112 (dated July 1995). My grandmother bought it for me when I was eleven, back when corner newsagents still stocked US comics.

I read it again last night for the first time since that afternoon in my granny's kitchen in 1995. I was actually surprised that it was quite good. I tend to slag off nineties comics a bit, especially Marvel, but this was a nicely plotted little piece. Oh, the exposition is terrible but maybe there's a bit of nostalgia at work because I really enjoyed the over-the-top hyperbole John Francis Moore puts into his caption boxes. Here's a sample, quoted verbatim:

They search in silence until they locate their prey - - and then these hunters - - living weapons of circuitry fused flesh - - announce themselves with seismic intensity.”

You'd never get anything like that these days. That might be a good thing but since those days narrative captions and thought bubbles have sort of merged together. As much as I like Peter Parker and Batman's internal monologues I think there might be room for a bit of third person every now and then.

Of course, there are nineties tropes in evidence of which I am less fond. The main villains of the issue are Japanese Yakuza cyborgs. You can't get more nineties than Japanese Yakuza cyborgs with, of course, minutely detailed circuitry all over their skin and black hair highlighted in almost-neon blue. Then there's the anatomy of the female assassin Fatale (the two settings of '90s codenames: they were either direct to the point of idiotic bluntness or completely meaningless, this later demonstrated by a quick cutaway to recurring X-Factor annoyance Random). Look at her: herpelvis ends at about mid-thigh, her waist is improbably tiny and her breasts frankly defy description. That said, Jeff Matsuda is the guest penciller on the issue and he does have a distinctive style, not exactly anatomically precise and perhaps a little at odds with his inker (Al Milgrim, as it happens, before he moved into pencilling). I swear there's one panel where Forge (a man) has bigger tits than Mystique (not exactly a modestly-proportioned woman at the best of timees). Actually, speaking of those two...

Something that struck me with this comic is that we're in the early days of Mystique being a prisoner/member of X-Factor. I don't know how long she was about before this issue but there's what looks very much like the first instance of her, shall we say, aggressive flirtation with Forge. Now, I love the Mystique/Forge relationship, as screwed up, unhealthy and sometimes murderous as it gets. I know I bang on about the more stable and emotionally healthy relationships that DC used to go in for but there's something to be said for an irredeemable black hat lady pushing against a hero's boundaries.

Times change, though, and I even noticed a bit of subtext between Mystique and Polaris. Polaris chucks an EMP at the Yakuza cyborgs, leaving them twitching in pain on the floor. Look at the last panel: Mystique's smile says it all, that sense that her interest in Polaris has changed now she's proved dangerous and assertive, plus the fact that Mystique's face is framed by (and seemingly looking directly at) Lorna's hips and bottom. To be clear: there has never been a moment in the existence of this character when she wasn't queer. Chris Claremont conceived her as gay and she's generally been written as bi under most writers and she is clearly checking out Lorna's bum in that last panel.

Or I've developed a dirty mind in the last 19 years, one or the other.

(Scans used under the terms of fair use.)

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