Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tempest in a Teapot

Today is the first day I really felt I was working exclusively on the new chapter, plugging the hole in the ms. Rather than outline it -- which was my first inclination -- I decided to hit UCR's Eaton collection looking for some of the comics I knew I would have to read.

Much to my disappointment, it looks like the Eaton does not have Peter David's 2005 run on Incredible Hulk, which began with a 5-part story called "Tempest Fugit." The index of Shakespearean comics cites only two issues of this run -- the two issues in which Shakespeare is actually quoted -- but in fact the whole story seems to be a pretty solid Tempest riff. This is one of the weaknesses of academia on not just this subject but in related ones, such as Arthurian comics. We tend to stop our search at obvious adaptations of the original, instead of more loose stories which play with them; the exception to this is, I think, Michael Torregrossa's great article on the X-Men and Excalibur as Arthurian re-enactment. But endless lists of plays in which someone happens to quote a line from Shakespeare is not, to my eye, particularly useful.

Anyhow, in Tempest Fugit, Hulk, General Ross, and a couple of other people get stranded on an island where they are beset by strange monsters, and it looks like Nightmare is behind it all. So in this setup, Nightmare is Prospero. Can't wait to read them, and it looks like it was collected as a trade, so I am almost certainly going to have to order it.

So instead, I looked up some old Uncanny X-Men. I mean, you've got a book with a character named Caliban in it, and Kitty Pryde went by the name Ariel for at least a little while, so Claremont is obviously running at least a little Tempest riff here, but I needed to look back at the books to see what was going on. And my first estimate is that there's definitely something going on here of the "toybox" variety. I mean, the issue in which Caliban appears, the main story is his attempt to find more of his own kind, and he reveals that his father called him a Monster (which I believe Prospero does, but I have to check), and he sort of accidentally assaults Kitty, who becomes the Miranda-surrogate of Caliban's life (rather than Ariel, but "Miranda" is even less superheroic sounding than "Ariel"). But the B-Plot in this story, starting with page 1, is Cyclops and his girlfriend-of-the-moment getting washed up on a mysterious island after a storm! And who should turn out to be master of that island, but Magneto! Didn't I just say that Prospero was sort of a template for every sympathetic supervillain mastermind in comics? Didn't I? (I did. Scroll down.)

I don't know what came first; did Claremont remember Tempest when he decided to crash Cyclops into the island, then steal Caliban's name for his one-shot monster of the month story, or did he create Caliban first, and when researching potential names come up with the idea for the island plot? Don't know and impossible to tell, I think. But there's certainly Tempest stuff going on here and the gist of it is a sympathetic re-casting of Caliban as tragically misunderstood misanthrope. Caliban's not a bad guy, he just lost all his self-esteem under his father's cruel ministrations, and now he just wants company in the form of a young, naive, virginal female heroine. There's a follow up story in which Caliban rescues Kitty from a fight with the Morlocks and she agrees to stay with him as a ploy to escape, and later agrees to live up to that promise and marry Caliban only for him to release her, but I don't think that's got nearly as much to do with Tempest as it does with classic "I married a monster!" stories.

Flipping back to Kitty's earliest appearances, I found out the Ariel name was originally suggested by Xavier but she chose "Sprite" instead. Unfortunately for my theory, though Sprite does appear in a few of Shakespeare's plays, including Midsummer, Tempest isn't one of them. But this suggestion of "Ariel" as Kitty's name is a lot earlier than I had first thought. Unfortunately (again!) I can't find the issue where she finally did change from "Sprite" to "Ariel." The interwebs tells me it is #171, but I checked out that story and there's nothing of the sort in it. I may have to re-read most of Paul Smith's run to find it, which is kind of personal torture for me since it was during Paul Smith's run that Storm turned punk, which was the final straw that made me stop reading X-Men in the first place.

Anyway, long story short: Hulk looks promising but can't read it yet. X-Men panned out on the Caliban front, but I need to read more of that Magneto-as-Prospero story and more of Paul Smith's books to find out when Kitty actually started calling herself Ariel. Just for the record.

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