Archives in Comics: The X-Men and the Micronauts #3
Hot take: The 80's were a weird time, y'all. Especially for comics.
I know you think you understand what's going to happen in this article because you read the title, but I don't know if I can prepare you for the sheer WTF of it all. Comics in the 1980s existed in a liminal space between the sci-fi runoff of Silver Age storytelling and the free-for-all wave of ultra-violence and darker storylines that permeated the medium well into the 90s.
This was all after the Comics Code wasn't so much lifted as it was abandoned and left for dead because it was a reactionary means of sanitizing superheroes while clutching your pearls (unless you're Martha Wayne) and shouting, "Won't somebody please think of the children!?"
The 80s was also an era of storytelling that really pushed into some morally and ethically uncomfortable areas, which we'll get to, but I wanted to give you some advance warning. I know, I know, this is ostensibly an article about archives and archivists, but neither of those things can be divorced from the medium and the creators of that medium wherein we find them.
The X-Men and the Micronauts #3, written by Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo with penciler Butch Guice, inker Bob Wiacek, colorist Julianna Ferriter, letterer Joe Rosen, editor Bob Budiansky and editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, is the third in a four-issue limited series published by Marvel Comics on March 3rd, 1984. In the previous issues, the X-Men went on a rescue mission to help the Micronauts - sub-atomic heroes of the cosmos - against a foe only known as The Entity. Unfortunately, the X-Men and the Micronauts were all mind controlled by the Entity and Issue 3 picks up with the two enthralled groups committing a whole lotta murder. Sure, it's the minions of the Micronauts' archnemesis Baron Karza, but it's still a lot of violence and killing that the writers can basically skirt around under the blanket excuse of "but they were mind controlled, so it's okay because it wasn't really them!"
Amongst all of the enthralled heroes, however, it appears that Ariel, aka Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat, is really into being a murderous acolyte. Like really, really into it. Boy does Kitty Pryde love to do a murder whilst under no moral obligation to care. Actually, it turns out in the previous issues that Kitty phased through Karza and had a bad reaction with the Baron's armored suit causing their consciousnesses to pull a Freaky Friday leaving Kitty stuck in Karza's body and Karza stuck in Kitty's body...but the Entity doesn't know that.
Which begs the question: Was Karza's consciousness under the Entity's control or did he just see an opportunity to kill with reckless abandon and go with it regardless of the circumstances? Maybe that's a tangent for another day. Anyway, upon seeing "Kitty's" gusto for gore, the Entity decides to "reward" her by dressing her in a slave Leia type outfit from Return of the Jedi and "seducing" her. Because it's not enough to force heroes to do his bidding, he's also a powerful cosmic creep. Great.
And elsewhere Professor X is having some bad dreams and ends up using Dani Moonstar's body to transport his mind out into the psychic cosmos where he and the Entity battle each other - I think. Again, there's a lot of casual disregard for consent in this comic, which is already cringeworthy, but seems par for the course when it comes to hypocrisy and the actions of Charles Xavier.
This is all a lot of setup to tell you that there is a character known as The Archivist in this issue and this issue alone. As described by the comic, the Archivist -
-- once a human being until he was genetically engineered in Karza's body banks into a living recorder/transceiver -- silently observes...
So...that's a lot. Yes, there's a character designated the Archivist and his job is to stand in the corner, observe the atrocities, and transmit them to Karza's headquarters. He does this until the Entity decides to commit, as described in the comic, a holocaust on the remaining people and the outpost that was already attacked by the X-Men and the Micronauts. The Archivist is left alive and aware until he dies in the ensuing explosion.
There are a couple things I want to address here. One, despite what his title claims, the Archivist isn't an archivist. Observing and recording something doesn't make you an archivist anymore than me doing laps in a pool makes me an Olympic swimmer. Nothing is being curated or preserved, nor is anything under observation given context to those who would possibly view the data in the future. It's just a straight up live feed and that's not archiving. It would be more accurate to call the Archivist the Camera because it's a better description of the type of tool in use as Karza's outpost explodes into cosmic dust.
The second thing I want to address is the idea of the Archivist as a silent observer. I don't think Claremont and Mantlo knew the intricacies of archival literature or the ongoing identity crisis of the profession at the time. That wasn't their job, but I find myself frustrated with the inclusion of the Archivist - and pointing him out as a "character" of note - if his actual function is so passive within the story as to be superfluous. What is the point of you, Archivist? Why are you here? Why does it matter except to show the cruelty and power of the Entity, which has already been established?
It's not like Marvel comics are devoid of "neutral" observers. There's an entire species called the Watchers, of Uatu fame, whose whole deal is watching civilizations rise and fall across time and space. But the second you include a silent observer is the point where a countdown starts until they get involved. It's an inevitability of storytelling because neutrality can't be maintained, nor should it, in the face of carnage and destruction. Although, we've seen, historically, that people have done just that, which is just as depressing as it sounds.
And here's this guy, already devoid of his personhood and reduced to a villain's tool, maintaining that silent observation until the very end. He doesn't speak, barely moves of his own volition, and calmly waits to die. I understand that the Entity is just the most powerful enemy ever (until the next story), but if the Archivist had just done something, anything, that involved active participation, then I might've been mollified in my critique.
I doubt this is any sort of commentary from the writers, but there are people outside the profession - and some from within - who honestly believe that Archivists should just be agents of neutrality. The less archivists are involved, the "purer" the societal/institutional record, right? The less emotional attachment or physical engagement involved the more "accurate" and "authentic" the records and documents will be for future historians and researchers, right?
As we've discussed before, neutrality is a choice. You want to be silent? You want to maintain distance? Then you've chosen to exclude yourself from involvement, but that doesn't absolve you of responsibility for your actions, or lack thereof. External and internal forces will always carry their own biases when it comes to archives and who's included in the societal record. It should be the job of the archivist to advocate and fight for inclusion. When we don't, when we wash their hands of responsibility and claim neutrality, the more biased the records become, which typically favors one group (those in control) over another (those not in control). I think you can draw the rest of the map from there.
In the case of this comic, however, it's not a one-to-one comparison because the Archivist in The X-Men and the Micronauts #3 is robbed of his choice from the very beginning. He's engineered by Karza to be the silent observer only to be used by the Entity to showcase his power and cruelty. He has no ability to choose, no control over the trajectory of his own life; and it's indicative of all the characters in this story, in this issue, that no one is completely in control of themselves unless they're Charles Xavier or the Entity - though by the end of the issue it only applies to the Entity. Duh-duh-duuuuuuh!
So, the moral of this story is to try and avoid putting yourself between two psychics as they fight for mental supremacy amongst the micro-cosmos. Seize control and make good choices!
Also, this is a mohawk Storm stan website. No, I will not be taking questions.