Sunday, October 15, 2006

High Anxiety

I'm really enjoying Ed Brubaker's "Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire" in Uncanny X-Men. Chapter five (UX-M #479) in the twelve-part storyarc went on sale on Wednesday, and it features a powerless, chastened, and somewhat discredited Charles Xavier leading a subset of the X-Men into the heart of the Shi'ar empire in order to confront the extremely powerful and extraordinarily pissed off Vulcan (the long-missing third Summers brother).

The team is comprised of Rachel Grey, Warpath, Havoc, Polaris, and Darwin (the new guy, from Brubaker's mini-series Deadly Genesis). Rachel Grey has got a pretty big bone to pick with the Shi'ar, since she recently survived an attack from a Shi'ar deathsquad which branded her with the mark of the Phoenix and brutally exterminated her relatives.

Given the recent contentious discussion of decapitation and symbolic castration in superhero comics, I was struck by the fact that the bad guy who emerges as the threat in the issue provides an illustrative case study in castration anxiety, and serves as an example of how it might be deployed as both a character motivator and an effective plot theme. The core of the castration complex is anxiety, a fear of sexualized punishment and loss of power, and Brubaker deploys the theme of male anxiety really well.

The Shi'ar have released the bad guy, Korvus, from a captivity of torture and mistreatment. He's the remaining descendant of Rook'shir (the last wielder the Phoenix force), and, as we've seen, the Shi'ar have never taken kindly to individuals and families overly friendly to the Phoenix.

However, Korvus's warders have set him loose, and placed his ancestor's weapon in his hands, for two reasons: (1) only someone of Rook'shir's line can actually wield the massive sword, and (2) only this particular sword can destroy Rachel Grey.

So we've got a very strong man, on a mission to annihilate a single woman, bearing (what must be) the universe's largest sword, the Blade of the Phoenix.

Warpath, the team's hyper-masculine bruiser, carries a pair of vibranium knives as his armament (and he knows how to use them). Here's his reaction upon first setting his eyes upon Korvus:

Korvus deals with Warpath and the others fairly easily, and turns his attention to Rachel. After deploying her telepathy to parry his initial attack, she informs him:

"I don't have to touch you to hurt you. I don't have to get anywhere near that big honking sword."

However, Korvus wields the weapon quite expertly, and ultimately gets the drop on Rachel. Readying himself for a final blow, he arches the blade over his head as an executioner might. But as he swings it down, Rachel grabs a hold of it, initiating a cosmic mind meld.

Warpath's reaction to seeing the weapon is the first outward expression of male anxiety in the issue. ("Wow...") Korvus has the second when, after he jars the blade out of Rachel's hands, he notes that something just isn't right, anymore.

Korvus's confused and plaintive you took some line is revelatory. This single panel effectively defines and illustrates the concept of male anxiety in the face of a powerful woman.

At the start of the issue, he believes himself to be the only man in the universe who can wield this blade; at the close, he learns that the sword exerts no power over it's sole intended (female) victim. What's more, a portion of the Phoenix power within the weapon willingly migrates into Rachel Grey, making her even stronger.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?