WHERE TWO BECOME ONE
A retrospective of the works of Lori McDonald
Rarely does a writer, both professional or amateur, possess the unique ability to completely delve into the real issues of a person’s psyche. Rarely does a writer take the time and grueling effort to carefully build a real and lasting picture of a personality based on both sweeping epistemological attitudes and minor quirks and details. Rarely, if ever, does a writer possess the ability to strike a chord in readers across an incredible diverse and fragmented field. Rarely do we see a writer like Lori McDonald...
Certainly one of the most popular and recognizable writers in the fan fiction world, Lori has built a name for herself based on her exceptional talents and output. Easily one of the most prolific writers of the community, she has made an additional mark of distinction by maintaining an exceptionally high level of quality and interest in her work. Whether it be a deep and torturous delving into the darkness of the soul like Split Second Decision and Keeping A Distance or light hearted fun like Bathroom Symphony and The More The Merrier (co-written with Melissa Chambers), Mrs. McDonald is able to maintain the same high level of originality and characterization which has become the trademark of her work.
Mrs. McDonald’s work can be placed into three major arcs and a body of unrelated fiction, based on brief ideas and inspirations. The first and most major of these arcs is the now famous Gestalt Arc, featuring Gambit and Rogue. Beginning with Stolen Kiss, placed immediately after their kiss in the Israeli desert, sets up the arc with the theme of two minds bonded at levels impossible to fathom. As the arc progresses, a physical separation is achieved, yet the mental bond remains. The idea of the bonded emotions and bodies is one of great interest and speculation, and is handled in an adroit and delicate manner. It is interesting to note that in the field of physics, there is a phenomena observed known as ‘Congruent Particles’ where two atoms mimic each others actions simultaneously, without any explainable or measurable bond or link between them. McDonald plays on this link with a huge range of literary uses, such as the sharing of sensations, Gambit easing Rogue’s discomfort by having a hot bath when she cannot, Rogue’s ability to take drugs which save Gambit, and others. The most spectacular of the shared trait is the ability to transfer powers from one to another. The end battle in The King Of Thieves is an example of the devastating power Rogue could wield by touching each of the X-Men.
Rogue is one of the major players in this Arc, written with sensitivity and human characteristics, neither the shallow nor weak willed figure so often seen in both fan fiction and mainstream work. Lori, in typical manner, takes the problem of Rogue’s lack of history and fills in her own view, ignoring that which doesn’t fit or mesh with her conception of the personality of the character. Not so noticeable in the early stories, it is in the later segments of the arc that Rogue develops separate from the comic incarnation. It is her believable growth as a woman that is the main interest to the reader. Lori skillfully handles her as a woman with the same notions of love and happiness as a child, yet must face the adult responsibilities of romance. Middle Class Suburbia is perhaps the best of the arc for her development, showing with remarkable empathy the emotions of a happy yet troubled woman.
Remy is in his finest form. An unabashed fan, McDonald was brought into the X-books by the Cajun charmer’s cartoon counterpoint.
I got into the X-books after seeing an episode of X_Men on TV. It was the episode where Gambit was called a traitor. I liked him, end of story. :)
Gambit is the central point in most of McDonald’s fiction. She writes the rogue with a great deal of skill and empathy, using the rich history of the character to invoke scenes of breathtaking skill. Like many people, I like the idea of Gambit, if not the character himself. Yet, Lori has a way with Remy that is nothing short of spectacular. At his best in The King Of Thieves, Remy shows the core of heroism that benefits an X-Men. Some of his scenes are brilliant, tiny windows into the twists of Remy’s mind and nature. Things like striking up a pseudo-friendship with a detective trying to bust the Thieves Guild, or calling Cyclops for advice and then taking it. Little scenes which are so instrumental in shaping a character.
While the Gestalt Arc may be Lori McDonald’s best known work, it pales next to her ambitious and terrifying delve into the mind of the brutalized victim of Mr. Sinister’s. Experiment #713's Keeping A Distance is a cold and clear cut into the mind of Remy, as he might be after being a victim of the insidious genius of Essax for years. The story is like watching a razorblade drawn across an eyeball; brutal and horrific, yet impossible to tear away from. However, the story only maintains a grisly pace for a short amount of time, turning away from the brutality to the struggle of a broken man trying to piece himself back together. The structure of the story mirrors the content. Broken and short paragraphs punctuate the fragile state of Remy’s psyche, and the agonizingly slow pace of his recovery draws the reader more deeply into it’s thrall.
While the characterizations of all of the X-Men are done extraordinarily well, the story is really Remy’s all the way. He is a shattered soul, pulling himself up from madness inch by bloody inch, fighting demons and ghosts of past pain. Even as he takes the new identity of Ash, there is still a sense of feral fear and survival which drives him on. It is a true contrast to read this piece after The King Of Thieves, matching the confident and able Gambit with the abused Ash. Remarkably, they hold a consistent personality, through changed by the circumstance in which they lived and evolved. It is no shock that this is Lori’s favorite piece of work, since it shows her skills and creative ability so well in focus.
Combined with these arcs are the often brilliant single pieces by Lori McDonald, and the Music in the Key of X series of short stories. Lori stretches her literary wings in these pieces, moving away from Gambit and Rogue to focus on other members of the X-Universe. Some surprising things come of the characters and situations she uses. Her own preferences for characters comes apparent in these works, as she claims her interest lies in.
I dunno. Just the romantic in me. And they're both gray characters. I usually loathe the goodie_goodies who see the world in black and white because I very much don't see it that way. I find it harder to understand them. Rogue and Gambit are fun though.
With the sheer volumes of shorter works, it becomes the reviewer bias to choose what to focus on, though all of them are highly recommended.
Bathroom Symphony is one of my favorite pieces on the net. Why? Simply due to the charm and utter ordinariness of the piece. Beast, totally out of his mind from the intense hours of work on the Legacy virus, decides to take a break and discovers a jaunty tone on his mind as he reaches the washroom. The story is filled with humourous and touching references to past events which, while never depicted in comics, certainly must have taken place in an environment such as the X-mansion. Beast is well done, just the right touch of genius and jester to fill the story. The story is not about the great feats of daring of the X-Men, or the nobility of the dream or the greatness of their sacrifices. It simply is about the X-Men as people, which is perhaps the most important quality of all.
Split Second Decision is headed with a warning to Cyclops fans that they might not enjoy the story. As a Cyclops fan, I find this one of the best written depictions of Cyclops on the net. In the story, Cyclops decides to go after Jean in the tunnels as opposed to helping Remy who is under attack by the Marauders. While Jean is not in immediate danger, Scott cannot bear the thought of her being killed, and Remy pays for that with his life. That Scott would make such a decision is unlikely, but hardly implausible. However, it is the aftermath which carries the true weight of the story. Scott is increasingly driven down under the burden of guilt he wears, hidden from everyone. He attempts to rationalize his actions, tries to atone for his actions subconsciously. Yet, when Logan forces him to face the cold truth, Scott snaps, his mind unable to bear the tremendous betrayal which he has committed. A true rendering of the man who leads the X-Men.
The Ambush is a puckish tale of Wolverine and Cable, the resident violent overkill specialists in the X-world. Faced with an enemy who has thwarted every attempt to be defeated, they throw themselves into one final effort to prevail. This story is simple a fun romp with the more fan-boyish characters of the X-Men, self-mocking and light through out. An excellent chuckle on a nice afternoon, and never trying to claim it is anything more. Something not seen enough these days...
Breezes takes a look at Logan himself, with his meditations and advanced senses battling for peace in the turmoil of the world of the X-Men. The story is played with snatches on the wind, fragments of conversations, first charming, then ugly, all in need of help. Logan works like a mantra in the story, a stark contrast the pain and hurt which surrounds them. It is this contrast which draws out the differences between the members of the team, and the efforts which must be made to overcome them. Logan has long been the spiritual leader of the X-Men, serving to act as a balance to the raging sea of personalities, even if he is often the source of trouble. This is the story about that obligation, and what he must do.
This is just a taste of the work of Mrs. McDonald, and in my estimation, a prelude of what is to come. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to pick up a copy of her latest work, with ‘Hugo Winner’ emblazoned in garish raised gold letter across the top. For now though, I’ll be more then happy that we have her all to our selves.
Afterword: I know this column is about two weeks late. I had underestimated the amount of material I had to go through. Bloody prolific, that girl is. Anyhow, this column should get into it’s bi-monthly schedule from this point on. If you have an idea or review that you’d like shown on this column, please contact me. As well, if you wish to make comments and the ilk, my e-mail is always open. And, most unlikely of all, if you wish to review my work, please contact me. I think I can spare some space. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink...
Not you guys....