Today I Read…Rogue Touch

Rogue TouchToday I read Rogue Touch by Christine Woodward, a nom de plume for Nina de Gramont.

Anna Marie will never forget her first kiss. It put her best friend Cody in the hospital with a coma, and sent her running to somewhere else–anywhere else–where she could pretend not to be a freak. A dangerous freak. So she covers every inch of her skin that she can and tries to live her life avoiding other people as much as possible, to protect them as well as herself.

But then she meets this guy, and he’s different. No, really, he’s different. Touch is on the run for his own reasons, and they decide to run together for a while, but there are people after both of them. Together, Touch and the newly rechristened “Rogue” try to run somewhere they can be together, but can two such different people really find a place where they both belong?

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This came out at the same time as The She-Hulk Diaries, which I really enjoyed, so I had high hopes for this one as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. The She-Hulk Diaries was very much placed in the Marvel universe and we met other superheroes and supervillains and characters from the Marvel-verse. Rogue Touch is a prequel of sorts, set after Rogue has run away from home but before she has discovered anything about mutants or much about her abilities. It’s barely connected to Marvel mythology, and other than Rogue’s power she could have easily been replaced with an original character. The running away storyline is repetitive–they keep stealing more money and supplies and losing them, and then stealing more supplies and losing them, and again. Rogue and Touch’s relationship is definitely not a good one–she falls for the first older (kinda), married man she talks to even slightly, even though neither of them tell the truth about who they are and why they’re running. There’s no sense that Touch has feelings for Rogue–it’s more that he’s using her to complete his objective. Touch is a user, and Rogue is so naïve she’ almost a little stupid. She dreams more than making solid, practical plans. She may be only a teenager, but honestly I expect more from someone who grows up to be an X-Man.

It’s not necessarily a bad book, but there’s no reason for it to be a Marvel book. This is not a good representation of a superhero book, and will not encourage girls to read more Marvel. If you’re looking for a generic teen girl runaway story, it’s okay. If you want to read a fun, female-oriented superhero story, go read The She-Hulk Diaries. There should be another addition to the girl-friendly YA Marvel books with Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl, due out in October. I still hold hopes for that one (though I still want my Black Widow movie dammit!).

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Today I Read…Days of Future Past (and again)

Days of Future Past TPBToday I read Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont, Jim Byrne, Terry Austin, John Romita Jr., Bob McLeod, Glynis Oliver, and Tom Orzechowski, the trade paperback collecting Uncanny X-Men #138-143 and X-Men Annual #4, and Days of Future Past the prose novel by Alex Irvine based on the Claremont/Byrne storyline.

2013: The fight for freedom is over, and the bad guys won. America’s mutants are dead or living in captivity, subjugated under the robotic Sentinels, who are about to expand their mandate worldwide: destroy all mutants, and anyone else who gets in their way. The nations of the world, unwilling to stand aside while their citizens are attacked, have formed a dangerous plan to nuke what remains of the United States, to stop the Sentinels. The world’s only hope lies in the hands of what remains of the X-Men and their desperate attempt to stop the madness before it ever starts.

October 31st, 1980: The day it all began. The beautiful and deadly Mystique is on a quest Days of Future Past proseto create a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and for their first act she has decided that they will assassinate Senator Robert Kelly, a vocal opponent of mutantkind. She believes that this will prove that mutants are not to be trifled with, not to be threatened or subject to government-sanctioned bigotry. Instead it leads to the death of all mutants, and the ruination of a once-great nation.

Kate Pryde, one of the last living X-Men, will brave time itself, risking her marriage, her life, and her friends’ lives, to save the life of a man who wishes her nothing but ill– in a dangerous attempt to make the world a safer place for her children who never lived. Because an X-Man never gives up.

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I was curious to read these since the movie just came out this past May, and I’d never actually read the original storyline before. I picked up both the trade paperback and the prose novel at Niagara Falls ComicCon, since I was curious how each format would treat the story. For what is considered to be one of the best X-Men storylines and to have spawned both a full-length novel and a major feature film, the original Days of Future Past story is only 2 issues long. The mind of the mature Kate Pryde is sent back in time by Rachel Summers into her 13-year-old body, to warn the X-Men about Mystique’s plans to assassinate Senator Kelly, an event which leads to a dystopia in which people are judged based on their genetics and mutants are either dead or living in internment camps. At the same time that Kate is occupying Kitty’s body, the remaining X-Men in the future attack the Sentinels’ headquarters, trying to destroy them before they can launch their attack against the mutants of Europe and force the nuclear retaliation waiting.

The prose novel stays fairly close to the comic, while making a few changes to be able to stretch the story out to a novel’s worth. Kitty wakes up in the future and spends time with them, to understand their plight and to fast-forward the action so the group isn’t carrying too many limp bodies around into action. We see much more of the lesser-known X-Men like Franklin Richards and Rachel Summers, and more about Logan’s Canadian Resistance Army.

The movie, of course, is extremely different, since it was trying to tie together the two separate movie-verses of the X-Men, and using Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as the main character who goes back in time instead of the lesser-known Kitty/Kate Pryde. They go to the 70s, instead of the 80s, so that they can use the X-Men: First Class cast, and make Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the Sentinels, the object of Mystique’s anger, instead of Senator Kelly who only feared mutants, and they eliminated the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and make Mystique a lone gunwoman, as it were. While I enjoyed the movie, it was very clearly a different universe than the comic and prose novel.

Personally, I’m fond of the prose novels that Marvel has been publishing, such as Civil War or Iron Man: Extremis, which is waiting for me on my shelves right now. I like the extra detail that novels can provide to the story. That said, the cover of Uncanny X-Men #141, used on the cover of the trade paperback as well, is an enormously evocative image–Logan and Kate on the run, cornered and afraid, standing in front of the images of their friends, all apprehended or slain. The image is repeated when Kate describes walking across the graveyard at the internment camp in New York, and all of her friends who are buried there. They died because of what they were, because people hated them because of how they were born. The X-Men have always been a metaphor for racial tensions, ever since they were created in the 1960s. Shame we still have to tell their story, since based on the news people still aren’t getting it.

A great story for Marvel comics fans, and fans of time travel stories, and the different formats that the story has been told in each add their own perspective to the tale of what happens when fear and hate are allowed to rule.

Today I Read…Triptych

Today I read Triptych, the debut novel by J.M. Frey. http://jmfrey.net/

They came from another world. They needed our help. Some gave them help, comfort, home, love. Some didn’t.

Kalp was assigned to work with Gwen and Basil, but their relationship gradually deepened until they become an Aglunated Unit, the proper grouping of three adults together. And isn’t Integration the goal of the Institute that they work for? Unfortunately some people don’t agree, and are willing to go to any lengths necessary to prevent mixing. Any lengths…and any times.

The first time that I saw J.M. Frey after reading Triptych, I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” I think that’s still the best review I can give this book. It’s always a bit of a cop-out for time travel stories to kill someone and bring them back at the end just to pull the emotional strings. Frey doesn’t use that trick. Instead, Kalp dies at the start of the book. The reader sees the reactions of the other characters, and then meets Kalp, the newcomer to Earth, the refugee from a dead world who has lost almost everything. The reader gets to know his loneliness, his fascination with these strange, squishy, leaking beings who have taken him in, and his genuine desire to help those who have helped him. We watch him explore our world, the beauty and the terror, and especially the bits that don’t make any sense (there’s a lot of those). We hope he lives–after all, it’s time travel, right?

Wrong.

And it hurts. But it’s almost a good hurt, because it’s a hurt that changes. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost… Frey’s gift is to create someone totally different from us who is just like us.

Everything comes in threes in Triptych. Past, present and future. Gwen, Basil and Kalp. The proper number for an Aglunated Unit. Stranger, friend, family. Life, death, and life again. Love, death and hope.

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“You know,” Gwen said again, “those movies where the aliens come to Earth, and they…I dunno, they try to steal our natural resources, or create a nuclear winter so they can turn the Earth into slag, or they melt the polar ice caps and New York is under fathoms of water, or they clone us for slaves, or create terrifying bioweapons and wipe us all out and use our cities for farmland, or…all that stuff?” Evvie’s heart trembled. She could taste her pulse and her fear, thready and metallic on the back of her tongue. “Yes,” she said softly.

(Please, no.)

Gwen looked up. “It was nothing like that.”

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“First task of Integration,” Basil says cheerily, “is learning which lunch lady to flatter at the canteen, innit?” He talks slow and enunciates clearly. Gwen must have told him to speak so in order to make his words more easily understood, and Kalp is startled at the caring that the gesture shows on both their parts; Gwen for thinking of it, and Basil for following her advice.

Basil’s mouth stretches, displaying his small white teeth in pleasure. This is a joke, Kalp is sure, but what sort he was unsure of. Slapstick? Sarcasm? Is Kalp meant to be the Straight Man or to reply? Panic surges. The tension twists tighter, and Kalp feels as if his air passage is closing.

Basil goes on: “Down the hall, take the second right, say it’s for me and they’ll know. Gwen wants coffee, black — bloody Canadian — and you get whatever you fancy. Cheers.” Kalp blinks. A desperate tightness presses at the back of his throat.

These were things Kalp has never been taught! Coffee, black? Is not the steaming beverage brown? How does one fetch black coffee?

Where does one find it? Take the second right to where, and how does one pick up a “right”? Who is bloody and do they need a medic?

He understands the last command, at least.

He lifts a hand in the air and stretches his mouth wide and says “huzzah!” with what he hopes is the appropriate amount of enthusiasm, anxious to get this one little thing right, to prove that he is not stupid, that he is useful.

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There are also several human mothers or fathers nearby with their offspring. Catching sight of the first, Kalp is unable to breathe for a moment. A child. He aches, deep down, remembering how strongly he and his Aglunates had been hoping for one of their own. It hurts to see this perfect little being, so far away from his ruined planet, safe and happy and completely unaware of the horrors that had happened a galaxy away. This child must be very young. Perhaps it had not even taken its first breath when Kalp’s Aglunates had taken their last.

His eyes burn in sorrow and Kalp turns away, covering them.

“Kalp?” Gwen asks, and her voice is soft and filled with concern.

Kalp forces himself to look up, to fake a smile, but she can see that it is fake.

“The child,” he says. “I…it hurts me.”

Basil frowns. He balls up the empty wrapper of his sandwich and keeps pressing at it with his fingers nervously. “Hurts you how?”

“You would say…’my heart breaks.’”

Gwen sucks in a little gasp of breath and her eyes become wet again. “Oh my God, Kalp — we never asked. I feel like such a heel.

Did you lose anyone? Stupid, obviously you did, I just meant…I mean, we didn’t ask. 

To lose is an euphemism for die.

Kalp shakes his head. “My parents. Maru and Trus…my Aglunates. We were merely hoping for a child.” Gwen snakes out a hand and wraps it around Kalp’s. He notes with strange detachment that he no longer recoils from the feel of the secretions of her skin and the almost invisible swirl of wrinkles on the tips. He only takes pleasure in the warmth and intent of her touch.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly.

Kalp knows that this is not an Apology. Kalp has heard these words uttered in this way many times since coming to Earth. They are an expression of condolence. Basil pats his arm on the other side, and it feels good to be between them, to feel the warmth of their skin, the patter of their hearts, and know that he is protected and is precious.