Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pietro Maximoff and the Soulsearingly Massive Lie

Yesterday I learned that Quicksilver is going to be a teacher in Avengers Academy. This makes me feel a lot better for really complicated reasons about the proper way to structure a redemption arc, and Slott's pacing on the Pietro subplot.

The Pietro subplot, which still gives me a nasty taste, is not a horrible idea for a redemption arc. It covers Pietro's major issues since at least House of M: he's lost trust in just about everyone, he's retreating into deception, and he is absolutely terrified of living without Wanda. He didn't trust the new Avengers to defend Wanda from the members of the X-men who wanted to kill her. (This may have been rooted in the fact that they were willing to discuss it, but Steve and Tony didn't have much choice in that Wanda was actually in Magneto and Prof. X's custody, and they couldn't just say "No, we can't kill her" and expect her to be given safely back.) He didn't trust his father to prevent Wanda's execution. (Okay, that may have been a reasonable one.) Wanda wouldn't let him just run away like he likes to, so he tried to hide her in a MASSIVE Lie. And to make the MASSIVE Lie work, they tried to make it as pleasant as possible so that everyone just got pissed off when they found out it was a lie. Magneto was so upset he killed Pietro. (But does he have the Furies hounding his ass to the edge of the world and back? No, he gets to have the moral high ground next meeting with Pietro, and then go be a "good guy" for a while after he spills his son's blood all over the place). Wanda brings him back to life, but is so upset by his death that she curses her father (but he gets his powers back, and no one calls the Furies on his ass), and the rest of the family (who eventually get their powers back), and all of the innocent mutants in the world who had nothing to do with this (They don't get their powers back. She gets all the blame for this, of course, even though she was kneeling in her twin brother's blood--the twin brother who'd been trying to prevent her death--and still suffering the effects of whatever actually caused her breakdown in Disassembled, and the effects of Professor Xavier's incompetence. I mean seriously, who the fuck treats being out of touch with reality by trying to convince someone parts of her life that happened, that she remembers happening, that other people remmeber happened, never happened? The demon babies were demon babies, but they were actually BORN, you arrogant jackass! What the fuck?). She runs off, but loses her depowered and thoroughly traumatized little brother somehow. He resurfaces in New York to offer us an unobstructed view of his heartwrenching descent into madness.

To be honest, Son of M is a compelling and disturbing story. I don't really want it wiped from continuity, even though it has my favorite character doing some really heinous things, because it strikes me as a genuine mental breakdown. This story is the result of being killed by his own father after becoming the submissive robotically loyal son the old man's always wanted. He's depowered, abandoned, suicidally depressed (Spider-man accidentally talks him into jumping off the roof), and seizes at the first chance to at least get his powers back. He's always put most of his self-worth in those powers and how useful they make him to the team, and how they allow him to protect his sister. He exposes himself to a dangerous chemical, and gets even further unbalanced by the substance and the powers he gains from it. Well, maybe not the powers so much as his manipulative evil future self. (Never trust any version of yourself you can look in the face without a mirror, kids.) The rest of plot in Son of M is really uncomfortable, because this is a father turning to drugs and then giving the addictive substance to his daughter while he's high. His last sane act is to send the little girl back to her mother before he just up and becomes the full villain. From there he descends to the lowest point, burns all the social bridges he can, and makes everyone who ever loved him regret having met him.

He plays around with X-Factor for a bit (I found myself rooting for him to kill Layla, actually, because she's a fucking manipulative asshole but now it's too late for that) before we get to David's shot at a redemption arc. I'm being generous when I say arc, because it's a one-shot (X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead) where Pietro spends a night in jail, hallucinating pep talks from loved ones who won't actually talk to him (the one offrom Magneto lets us know that even in his fantasies Pietro can't get a hug from his Dad). While he's being counseled by figments of his imagination that he's a person worthy of love and forgiveness, he's distracted when he sees someone else in trouble. When he focuses on getting help for that person, he suddenly just gets his original powers back (maybe that first hallucination really was Wanda popping in to check on him) and decides he wants to be a good guy from now on. We can only conclude from this that Pietro Maximoff's imagination is the best therapist in the Marvel Universe, and that Wanda would have been better served by her brother's hallucinations than by that fucking arrogant telepath.

All joking aside, there is an incredible display of conscience and determination in this issue. David actually took all the stories where Pietro was being used as a plot device to drive the mutants and the Inhumans into the worst settings possible and used them to support his point that Quicksilver is an inherently good person underneath all the manure.

Villainy in the superhero genre is normally the result of a spiral of misery that causes the villain to lash out at others. Many villains have misfortunes--often their own fault--that they blame on the hero or society. They might desire revenge. They try to get revenge and are thwarted, which they blame on the hero rather than their own actions, which leads to more revenge attempts, more failure, and more blaming external forces for problems that are really their own fault. Or they might feel they're shortchanged in life, and try to rectify this injustice. When that fails, they feel even more cheated and try to rectify the injustice again, making things worse, making themselves feel more cheated and so on and so on. A villain like that is trapped being a villain because he never takes responsibility for his own actions.

In House of M, Pietro blames his father for his sister's breakdown. He convinces her to fix herself and her own actions, and while she's at it to fix this and that and ooh, that other thing even though it's suspected that any use of her powers just worsens her mental state. He knows mind control is wrong. He knows lying is wrong. He knows his sister is not supposed to use her powers. But he rationalizes that this can save her life, and if they actually replace the old world with a better one it's not as wrong. In Son of M, Pietro still doesn't realize that the action wasn't justified, and has the further misery of not having his powers anymore. He thinks they could have done it better, but now he's lost his sister from the "imperfections". When he does get a brief glimpse of just how wrong his actions were, he attempts to kill himself. When Spider-man stops that, he goes back to blaming external forces for his problems. He sinks further into the cycle of villainy, destroys what little is left of his family (which I think was a blessing in disguise because he and Crystal were a colossally horrible marriage, Crystal is about as interesting as wet cardboard, and Luna has powers now so there's less chance of her being Lianed), and ends up deciding on Layla as the cause of his troubles.

But after he gets well and truly defeated by the good guys, this bad guy does something most villains don't. He drags himself out of the twisted wreckage of his life, looks around and sees that he's the one who destroyed everything, and rather than decide to continue blaming his father or Layla for his problems, he accepts that it was really his own idiocy and arrogance that caused it, and then concludes that he can move past that and be the sort of person who helps people again. That is a heroic feat. The lower he's sunk, the more enemies he's made, the more trapped in the villain mindset he seemed to be before this, the closer he is to the Point of Absolutely No Return Ever, the more difficult it is to make that sort of breakthrough. The more horrible the actions, the more dangerous it is for your own sanity to face the responsibility. And heroism is directly proportional to difficulty and danger. Really, I find this sort of turnaround so incredibly admirable that I'm glad they didn't wipe all of this experience away to make him turn out to be a Skrull.

I finished the X-Factor one-shot incredibly happy, and this lasted until I picked up Mighty Avengers and found out he'd been lying about being a Skrull. While it would be stupid to have Pietro completely fixed after one night of hallucinating, it still jarred me to see him lying. Pietro is a character with an honor debt in his origin. I was very worried that he was back in the cycle of villainy until they did the Unspoken storyline. Pietro's not externalizing the blame anymore. His thoughts during the battle with the Unspoken were that the entire mess was his fault because he caused that war, and he wanted to make it right. He doesn't blame Crystal for remarrying, and doesn't waste any thoughts on the new husband. He's not mad at Luna because she rejected him for lying. The primary thing on his mind is this Big Fucking Lie and how he can't get out of it. (And he contrasts Hank Pym here so neatly I get the impression one of Hank's tasks is to save Pietro.)

So he's stopped blaming Daddy for his problems. He still got three big issues, though. Trust, Truth and Wanda. He doesn't trust his friends to accept him after what he's done, he's still turning to deceit as a way to make his life easier, and he's still fixated on Wanda to the exclusion of everyone else's rights. (The Wanda fixation is just one of the reasons a proper Pietro redemption arc has to end before Wanda gets back, the others being that she's his reward and he's her reward. He needs to be redeemed before he deserves to be reunited with her. And when her redemption arc is finished? She's supposed to be rewarded by seeing the bundle of anxiety issues she loves and not the bundle of self-loathing we've had running around since she left.)

I was expecting that with Loki revealed in Mighty Avengers #34, Pietro would drop the deception but no, he kept with it and just rejected everyone else. It seemed like he was slipping back to blaming others so I got antsy for a while, especially as there were only two issues left to resolve the Lie. I was actually angry until I saw the last issue. All he gets is a half-page, but I believe it touches all of the issues I've noted. He even manages to blame others a bit (though after what Hank pulled I can't really call that bit of dialogue backsliding) as he wonders why the hell he acts the way he does.



We're down to one issue to resolve his plot, but he's the sort of character who will impulsively blurt out a confession in a public place. And the news that he'll be in Avengers Academy with Hank Pym of all people tells me he's not still upset at Hank, and they will at least make some progress on his trust issues and his fixation on Wanda.

I really want them to fix the Lie next issue, though. I want them to fix it three issues ago. Until they do, he can't properly bond with a team, he can't be reunited with his sister, and he can't claim the moral high ground with his father.