Monday, 20 July 2015

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #48: ...Afraid To Step Into The Light

Poor old Davis Cameron. Just millimetres away from the keystrokes needed to name the demon summoned to destroy the United Kingdom and smear its sagging porcine face in the ashes that remain. Unreasonable though it may be, it's hard to judge Slipstream fairly. 

Potentially this is a big problem, because when viewed with an unsympathetic eye, Davis doesn't come out at all well. But let's try not to pre-judge him before we've strolled though his whole story. It's not like it'll take very long; Davis' tale is even shorter than his sister's.

The first word to suggest itself when considering Slipstream is expediency (X-pediency?) The X-Treme team required some method of rapid transit they could afford on the tight budget of a renegade branch of X-Men who'd already blown their cash on guns and sunglasses. A new mutant who could create wormholes fit that need very nicely. The fact that, as a nod to Davis' surfer past, the "warp-wave" was something he can use his board to navigate is... well, let's not pull our super-punches: it's corny as all hell. A stupid idea welded to an obvious narrative short-cut. The fact that Davis doesn't even have these powers until Sage activates them for him - the very instant they're needed, no less - underlines how convenient this all is. Claremont wanted to set one story in Australia, the next in Madripoor, and figured the easiest way to get from one to the other was to have a character suddenly discover their mutant power of mass transportation.

Start peeling this onion, however, and the situation starts to look a little different. The sudden emergence of Davis' powers allows Claremont to run one of his favourite games: the rookie tagging along with the professionals in a situation geared to challenge the latter. He'd already done this once in this very title with Thunderbird, but Davis is even more of a fish out of water, having literally just learned he's a mutant, having had absolutely no experience or training, and being entirely lacking in the offensive/defensive power Thunderbird could boast from day one. Indeed, in terms of defence, Slipstream only has the one trick; he can get the hell out of dodge faster and further than anyone else going.

This is an important realisation. Davis signs up to the team explicitly to rescue his sister from her captor, but almost immediately finds himself thrust into an inter-dimensional war. The boy who chose to surf whilst his sister was saving lives suddenly finds tens of thousands of people are relying on him to save them, and that his own life is in danger to an extent even someone used to swimming in shark-frequented waters can't really imagine. When Thunderbird finds him in tears during a lull between missions, it's completely believable; the poor kid is simply overwhelmed. But the fact Davis is so afraid isn't what's crucial here. What's crucial is that he's terrified, he's been given the power to literally go anywhere he wants, and yet he stays and fights. Escape would be the easiest thing in the world for him; even if his wormholes couldn't get him through Khan's barrier and off-island, Madripoor is famous for the amount of hiding places it offers; I doubt its tourist board gets to talk about much else, other than maybe the total absence of extradition treaties.

Rather than run, though, Slipstream stands his ground. More than that, he runs combat missions. Sure, they're comparatively low-risk gigs: warp in, drop a few grenades, and warp back out. But even that has its dangers; grenades are specifically designed to require a bit of effort to activate so as to limit the chances they'll go off prematurely, and it only takes one of Khan's elite soldiers to draw a bead on him whilst he's pulling pins and Davis is tumbling through his last ever wipe-out. Indeed, this is exactly what happens when Vargas tries to take out Rogue and Slipstream interferes, intending to drop him through the warp-wave and instead taking a blade to the back.

In short, a man with every reason to run and every opportunity to run stays put, out of a desire to do good, as a way of honouring the character of his missing sister, and in the hopes that he will see that sister again. All of which makes what happens next all the more tragic.

Because when Davis is at last reunited with his sister, she is utterly changed. Gone is the beautiful blonde Baywatch analogue. Instead, a seven-foot tall golden bird-woman stands before him claiming to be Heather Cameron. Davis reacts to this with savage unpleasantness, screaming that his sister is beautiful, not a monster, and demanding the shining alien insisting she's Heather get the hell out of his sight. It's a moment of supreme ugliness, and as I've said, Slipstream does not come out of it looking at all good. But there is plenty of thematic heft to his reaction. After all, Davis has just risked life and limb (nearly losing at least one if not both) in order to become more like his sister, only to find his actual sister isn't anything like his sister any more. Probably much more to the point though, Davis' response is an all-too familiar one amongst those that call themselves allies, which is to insist that they are completely supportive of oppressed groups when that oppression is just a theoretical exercise, but who crash and burn appallingly the instant they are required to give more than token support. Slipstream apparently is the kind of person who will insist on holding progressive credentials, but who will explode with rage when either asked to directly confront the actual fact of the existence of those they claim sympathy for ("I'm not a racist but IMMIGRANTS ARE TAKING OUR JOBS") or, worse still, to take ownership of the ways in which they benefit from and even perpetuate the oppression they claim to oppose.   

Slipstream is a classic case of all that. Davis was perfectly happy with the idea of his sister being a mutant just so long as she looked like a flatscan.  Just so long as she was "passing", or "closeted", depending on how one wants to interpret the mutant metaphor on this occasion. But now her mutant nature is obvious; inescapable. And, like the heterosexual man who's convinced he's fine with his brother being gay until he actually sees him kissing another man, Davis freaks out. Because now the struggle for equality he claimed to believe in comes with a cost to himself. Something in how society has programmed him is rubbing against the ideals he claims to believe in, and Davis can't throw the latter onto the bonfire quickly enough. 

Which is horrible, and inexcusable, and everywhere. If you want to seriously go about structuring a metaphor for the struggle for equality, you need someone like Davis Cameron in there, if only so he can be knocked down. And indeed Claremont wheels Nightcrawler in specifically to do that, to verbally slap him around for equating extreme non-standard body shapes for monstrousness, and to generally remind him that not every mutant is going to look like a body-builder or a lingerie model (though since at the time of writing, Lifeguard was at most the fifth X-Person out of over forty to look even vaguely non-human, there is a certain bitter irony in being lectured in the importance of not fixating on the cosmetic).  Ultimately, what's frustrating about Slipstream isn't that he gives voice to these awful impulses, it's that he's never given the chance to reflect upon them and try to redeem himself. Whether or not such redemption is even possible is not for me to say, of course, but the act of attempting that redemption would surely be of interest.

Instead, Davis disappears rather than face his sister, and is to my knowledge never actually seen again. Just as with his sister, a promising character is shuffled off the board almost immediately, generating disappointment and whiplash in equal measure. Alas, Heather and Davis Cameron. We hardly knew ye; here and gone too fast for us to do anything but wonder what might have been.

Still, since we're on the subject of supersonic character trajectories anyway... how about next time we take a look at Northstar?

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