Wednesday, 23 June 2010

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #33: The Ninja and the Fanboy

Man, do I have to do this one?

Well, at least it won't take very long, I suppose. This one has "contractual obligation" written all over it. Or maybe more like "for completists only". Given that few things define obsessive comic fans like their burning desire to own every issue even tangentially related to their particular favourites, regardless of price or quality (oh, how it is regardless of quality!) it seems entirely appropriate to dedicate an entire post to an X-Man who managed exactly one year on the team before being rather ignobly dispatched and never spoken of again, barring a brief ressurection so that Greg Land had one more chance to trace a photo of another porn star and pretend it was art. I don't care about her, you don't care about her, no-one misses her or wants her back. Hell, I've discussed this set of articles with major-league X-Fiends who have forgotten she existed. I might as well try to paint air. Dammit, though, she's on the list, and we're damn well going to discuss her.

Except that I can't, really. Ironically, my completism has failed me. Kwannon's entire tenure took place during the four year hole I still have in my X-Men collection, between my first ever foray into the X-Universe (UXM #323) and what is currently the final entry in the Essential X-Men series (which rather sadly seems to have ground to a halt, actually). I've read the first two issues of her legendarily confusing introduction three-part introduction, but that's all, and it wasn't really all that much help. We've talked a great deal about how the various X-Men introduced in the early '90s are both products and of their time, and despite her brief lifespan, Revanche is no different.

Right. Background. Near as I (or anyone) can figure, Kwannon’s story runs like this. After the few remaining X-Men attempted to escape their seemingly certain deaths by leaping into the Siege Perilous - a baffling mystic doohickey that wipes the mind and transports you randomly to some other part of the globe so as to allow you a chance at a second life (which it is apparently adamant you attempt without any clothes), Psylocke’s unconscious body is discovered by Japanese crime lord Matsu’o Tsurayaba. This comes as a fairly pleasant surprise for him, as he’s only just found himself in possession of a comatose girlfriend worryingly close to death’s door (he had been busy trying to kill her boss). He therefore pays Spiral - a sorceress/mystic/inter-dimensional lunatic for hire - to swap the two women’s brains around, allowing his girlfriend Kwannon to once again live, and in the body of a former British supermodel to boot.

Spiral, being deliciously psychotic, decides that simply switching two psyches around is far too boring, and instead leaves portions of both minds in each body. Rather unimpressively, Tsurayaba then hot-foots it with his girlfriend’s body (which doesn’t make any sense at all), and turns her into the perfect assassin. She then partially regains her memories following a fight with Wolverine, and returns to the X-Men.

The British body, however, is also convinced she’s the true Psylocke, thanks to misinformation from Nyoirin, the guy Tsurayaba had been trying to kill two paragraphs ago (still with me?), who had also been in love with Kwannon, who believed the purple-haired Caucasian contained her (so I’m not sure why he was so keen to make her believe otherwise). Having found out what she believes is the truth, Kwannon renames herself Revanche, and heads off to Westchester to kick some impostor arse. The resulting grudge match leads the X-Men to conclude they won’t get any peace until they sort all of this bonkers shit out.

Written down like that, it doesn’t seem too bad, I guess - a little dense, but not too insane. You have to read it to appreciate how ridiculously mind-bending it all is. Fake diaries, brainwashing, everyone being in love and simultaneously ignoring everyone else: it’s literally impossible to work out what Nicieza intended, what he threw in as red herrings, and what he was going with but changed his mind about at the last minute. It’s like the last five minutes of Clue, only it goes on for three months and it’s played impossibly, ridiculously straight. If Gambit was mystery plus attitude plus charm, and Bishop was mystery plus attitude plus murderous tendencies, then Kwannon was just endless mysteries, tying themselves and everything around them into knotted fractals, drowning everything in confusion and sword-fights and tits. Like I said, so '90s.

Perhaps there's some mileage to be had by considering the sheer depth of self-contradictory murky bewilderment, though. In employing character dissection as a cautionary tale. I mentioned whilst discussing Bishop that most of the decade's X-Books owed a significant debt to Twin Peaks, undisputed ruler of the "Answer a question with a question" business model for at least a decade plus change, until Lost stuck its ugly mush into the international psyche. Peaks unprecedented success - to say nothing of its quality [1] - must have made the decision a no-brainer, but being David Lynch is a harder job than it looks (it's not all monkey close-ups and lesbian sex, you know, though admittedly that's the lion's share of it). On the other hand, comic audiences refresh themselves rather more quickly than those of TV shows - plenty of fresh meat every few months, or at least there was back then - so an imperfect copy might still do the job.

Apparently, it did just fine, for a while at least. No issue was complete without a shadowy figure or vague allusion to an X-Man's past. Abandoned bases were also very much in vogue. Questions atop questions atop questions threatened to swallow entire comics whole, and they just kept coming. It became increasingly clear that the absolute best-case scenario was that some of them would be answered in a last-minute and desperately unsatisfactory fashion (usually in an expensive crossover, natch). Just as likely, you'd never find out at all. The Legacy virus was constantly built up for years, and almost cured at least twice (both storylines were quietly dropped) before the wrtiers lost interest, and finally wrapped it up in a couple of issues years afterwards in a move that, Colossus' death notwithstanding, was pretty obviously a house-clearing exercise - much as Kwannon's death at the hands of the virus itself was, now I come to think about it. Like Twin Peaks, or the X-Files "mythology" episodes, or Bendis' Avenger arcs, it was all build-up, no payoff. Every. Single. Time.

Except, and here's the thing; I knew all that, and it worked on me anyway. I was trying to work out why whilst thinking about this post (and how much I didn't really want to write it), and it occurred to me that the obsession I have with completing my collection and of cataloguing answers might actually stem from exactly the same place. I can't back that up with anything massively compelling, since I don't understand where either of them comes from in the first place, but a collection of comics is a collection of history, and so is a collection of answers. Maybe that's it. Or maybe it's just that bizarre competitive edge to collecting. I have more books than you. I know more secrets. It's all just assembling a jigsaw; why else do so many trade paperbacks have spines that form a picture once all of them are pushed together?

I guess my point is this. Revanche was pointless. No-one had any idea what to do with her other than spin out stories that didn't have any point to them because the characters they revolved around existed only to power those revolutions. The whole thing is better off forgotten. But, and this is a major but, more so even than the endless Wolverine copies (both literal and metaphorical) and vicious bloodbaths, she was the inevitable end-product of our own ridiculous obsessions. Surely every comic character is designed to appeal to comic fans, and some are designed to appeal to our - ahem - baser instincts. Kwannon, though, may be a comparatively rate example of a character designed to appeal to that very part of us that makes us want to collect comics. Which I guess demonstrates that, at last, there is at least one interesting thing that one can say about her.

So ends the fable of the ninja and the fanboy.

Next time around, it's back into well-established characters as we look at the first X-Man to join the roster after I myself had arrived in the Marvel universe: Cannonball.

[1] At least for the first season. It's hard to appreciate twenty years later just how good it was, but that's because almost everything in the world took what it did and reverse engineered it. It's like trying to get your head around the idea that at some point a South African was watching a football match and decided next time around he was going to bring a plastic horn to the game.

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