Monday, December 18, 2006

Morrison’s New X-Men and Cool

As Morrison himself said in a recent interview, fans hated his New X-Men run when he was doing it, but now it has become a classic, with its own giant omnibus format. I am often surprised how often people tell me it is so good (and again, for the record, I love all the issues drawn by Quitely and Bachalo and am fond of how the thing wraps up; also, Fantomex is my favorite superhero of all time). I want to add one point to my earlier statements on why the series, as a whole, is a failure. Here is Morrison in the New X-Men manifesto, his plan for the series printed in the back of the first New X-Men trade:
We need to make the book COOL again. The movie has already done most of the work for us and there are MILLIONS of new potential readers out there for the taking: including women who slavered over Hugh Jackman and who should be able to pick up this book and get the same sexy thrills from the comic book character. We need to get X-MEN back in the news again, in the cool magazines and on TV. We need to recapture the college and hipster audience.
Five issues in the thing is being drawn by IGOR KORDEY.

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Just from the standpoint of the artwork, New X-Men is not cool, no women will be slavering over this “sexy” image of Wolverine, no hipsters are getting thrills from this. I actually don't hate Kordey; I think he created an interesting, very physical texture on Cable, which he was drawing around the same time as New X-Men -- Cable was in South America, I think, and Kordey was a good choice for muddy jungle warfare.
Cable: The Shining Path
He just doesn't do sexy, or cool. And he was doing a rush job on New X-Men, which made it worse, but he was never going to be good on that book.

You can argue that New X-Men changed direction, and should not be judged from Morrison’s statement in the manifesto. But I think Morrison’s statements are quite good; that's exactly what I want from a comic book. It's Igor Kordey drawing New X-Men that is bad. I think the book never recovered from this very early and massive betrayal of the concept it was designed to support, a central idea that occasionally flickers back, in Fantomex, for example, and in Bachalo. Ultimately, this violent tonal and thematic shift broke the book, at least for me.

28 comments:

Mitch said...

I often think that if Quietly had drawn the whole series, none of us would even be here to talk about it... our brains would have all exploded.

Also, I think a lot of the structural problems (i.e. Planet X) would have worked themselves out better in Quietly's hands.

Just out of curiosity Geoff: any chance that you'll blog on Here Comes Tomorrow? You have mentioned a couple of times that you liked it.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: I could not agree more. And, yeah, I will try to write something about Here Comes Tomorrow, since you suggested it. The short answer is I liked it because the run was a mess and the last issue managed to tie a lot of the elements together in a surprisingly satisfying way.

Jason Powell said...

I'd be curious to see a blog entry on Here Comes Tomorrow as well. Even though I'm still unconverted to the cult of Grant, I love Marc Silvestri's art. (Now there's a guy whose art has always screamed "cool" to me.")

So I've thought about picking up the trade of HCT, just for the Silvestri fix.

Before I do, I'd certainly be interested in reading what The Klock thinks of that arc.

Matt Brady said...

Oh man, I gotta disagree about Silvestri. Man, I think his art is really ugly. Liefeld-esque, you could say. I read the Here Comes Tomorrow trade, and the last issue made little sense to me. Then I read the script for the last issue in the back of the book, and I thought, "Oh, so THAT'S what was supposed to be happening!"

Geoff Klock said...

Jason, Matt: I got to say I am with Matt on this one -- better than Liefeld, but not enough better. I have the comics but not the trade of HCT, so I will need to track it down before I blog about it; that may slow me down.

Bryan said...

Tangential, but I love "Here Comes Tomorrow" as well, if only for the egotistical irony. That world is populated by an almost exclusively Morrison-created cast, almost as if Grant's saying "This is what would happen if any of my ideas stuck around: the comic world would collapse on itself because I'M JUST THAT GOOD." And to top it off, he had Jean Grey, the main killjoy of his run and the only single character I feel like he hated as a writer, completely erase it out of existence. "HCT" was the equivalent of a big middle finger to Marvel.

Geoff Klock said...

Bryan: Agreed. As everyone here knows I am a big fan of ego. On a much smaller level Morrison did the same thing in All Star Superman #2, by mentioning Solaris, the bad guy in his DC One Million, among Superman's greatest villains (also the Brainiac design was Quitely's from Morrison's JLA: Earth 2)

Jason Powell said...

Huh, no kiddin'? Are you two basing your opinions on Silvestri just on HCT? As I said, I haven't actually read that, and haven't seen his work on that. (Except for a couple covers.)

But his work on the X-Men in the '80s? (Issues 218 through 261, roughly, albeit with a LOT of fill-ins). Man, I'll defend that stuff as super-cool till my dyin' day!

Geoff Klock said...

I am basing my opinion of Silvestri on HCT. His characters are, as I remember, quite stiff. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. I did think it was a pretty good look for HCT because it has a very 1992 comic book look to it that is good for a comic book distopia.

I know Brad LOVES Silvestri so he may show up here and put his two cents in.

Jay Nagy said...

Am I the only person on Earth who's turned off when I find out Frank Quitely's drawing something?

Not to say that everyone else is wrong, it's just...really weird. I've never met anyone else anywhere who doesn't like him. I love Grant Morrison though. Sucks to be me! I was in heaven on "The Invisibles" til Phil Jimenez was wrenched away from me.

Stephen said...

Hey, just for convenience, how about linking to your other New X-Men writings? I remember the essay about gnosticism & ultimate x-men, but was there other stuff?

Also looking forward to hearing you on HCT.

Marc said...

hooray for some Fantomex love. Its about time.

Anyways I was a major fan of New X-Men and was sad to see Morrisson go. I agree with the Kordey art though...that stuff wasn't bad but in comparison to Quietly...ugh. just ugh.

Jimenz did a great job at the end as well. Bachalo was good stuff too. But to boil it down, the lack of a consistent artist IMO always hurt a book's run, whether its six issues or 60.

Geoff Klock said...

Jay: I have to say you seem to be. Though I must say, as much as I love Frank Quitely, his work does have a Rugrats quality (all lumpy) I never know what to say about when people bring it up.

Stephen: I will. I want to add new tags anyway. There is, as you mention the X-Men Gnosticism essay and the review of X3, both of which you can get to from the links page of Geoffklock.com.

Marc: I wrote about why Fantomex is so great in that X-Men Gnosticism essay (in part 6). If you like Fantomex, you might want to check it out.

Geoff Klock said...

Stephen: it turns out, upon closer inspection, I have not written that much on the X-Men -- there is what I mentioned and the little bit on E for Extinction at the end of my book. I am going to have to do something about that.

Geoff Klock said...

Stephen: the comments I made earlier on the X-Men to which this was adding were on comments to posts and interview and conversations and so on, rather than polished stuff.

Marc Caputo said...

I'm going to have to look at my tpbs of this series, but when you look at it as seven books comprising his run, it's not too bad with artistic consistency. "E is for Extinction" is all Quitely with a follow-up by another. The Annual was done by Leinil Yu. 2 and 3 WERE a bit dodgy on the consistency; Kordey wasn't great but he wasn't Lifeld either.
4 ("Riot at Xavier's") was all Quitely with an aftermath by VanSciver, 5 was all Bachalo, 6 was all Jimenez and 7 was all Silvestri (putting up a career best, BTW). All in all, not terrible.

Jason Powell said...

jay ... based on what I've seen, I don't like Frank Quitely either. At least, I certainly don't see anything "sexy" about his X-Men covers. Is his Wolverine any more attractive than Igor Kordey's, really ...?

And his Emma Frost design, I find fairly absurd.

Stephen said...

Geoff: so given that you've dealt with Morrison's X-Men mostly in asides, rather than head-on at greater length, can I put in a request for an essay/longer blog post not just on Here Comes Tomorrow, but on the entire run? You've said various things about it, but I've never gotten a good sense of your overall take on the run. (Even your comments in the Gnosticism piece were focused on one arc, with the others being just side-comments and promissory notes for other essays.)

For myself, I'll say I'm conflicted on the Morrison X-Men run. I think that by objective aesthetic standards it's clearly not as good as, say, Animal Man or Doom Patrol or the Invisibles or the Filth or We3. But for reasons of childhood nostalgia -- I was a major x-fan in junior high-school -- I tend to enjoy x-men products above their natural quality level (if you see what I mean), and thus actually liked Morrison's X-Men run a lot. Doom Patrol is probably better, but for me X-Men was in many ways more fun. So I am not sure I can come to a balanced evaluation of it myself.

Also, a large part of your criticism of it seems to be of the art (although IIRC this is something that you seem to give different signals on at various times, one reason I'd like to see a lengthier take), and I think that my judgment of comics tends to be a lot more writing-heavy than art-heavy -- not to say that I won't dislike some art, or find some art detracting from the quality, but that if the art is up to a certain minimal standard -- one I can probably best define by saying that Morrison's whole X-men run was up to it -- I tend to focus on the writing. So I'm interested in that angle too.

Marc Caputo said...

I think when Morrison is on a maiinstream book, his is the dominant (or only) influence up to that point, which he turns into an advantage. On Animal Man, no one had ever done a series on that character ever and on Doom Patrol, no one had ever been able to make that book successful, probably due to the fact that no one on it could commit to the book's main theme - they were weird, even for costumed adventurers. Morrison took the book from people who tried (failingly) to make them superheroes and showed us what weird really was. No attempt since then has succeeded on that level. With JLA, it was a revamp, from no. 1; there was nothing to build on (that and the previous incarnation petered out pitifully.)

But with X-Men, he was dealing with 25 years of a top-selling franchise - he was 2 feet in the grave before 114 hit the stands with that manifesto. And by the end of the first arc, I think a lot of people were just buying and bagging until he left (like I and many of us do with a long-loved title.)

And then, it was nearly 4 years later. This was something that people had to deal with. I came in, literally, in the last act - my first new issue was 151. I caught up the 3 weeks between 150 and 151. I had never seen a mainstream book take chances like that and still haven't - and I've been reading comics since 1975! That's a good challenge to the posters here - what other mainstream book took those chances off of an ESTABLISHED series?

It has its failings, true. But that doesn't detract from its rightful place as the X-Men run to beat for true depth of imagination.

Geoff Klock said...

Stephen: I forgot, of course, the blog I did on why Morrison's Magneto sucks. There is now a Morrison tag, anyone who wants to read it can get to it like that.

Marc: Quitely was phoning it in on Riot at Xavier's, I thought. You are right to mention that after the Kordey debacle Marvel tried to isolate artists on a particular story so each story would have its own integrity, but I never felt like any of the artists were perfect for the job Morrison set out to do, except Quitely and Bachalo (and I may be being biased on Bachalo, since I am a bit obsessed with him).

Jason Powell: I understand why you see Quitely Wolverine as no more sexy that Kordey but Quitely has a tremendous design and fashion sense -- the outfits are top notch, and his characters, like the White Queen and her ridiculous outfit, are sexy in the way fashion magazines are sexy. There is of course a whole other discussion on fashion magazines being filled with ridiculous outfits and ostensibly strange looking women, but that is not Quitely's problem -- that is what is needed for Morrison's X-men and that is what he delivers.

Stephen: like you, I GREW UP on the X-Men (If I every get a tattoo it will be of the logo). The fact that I was so inclined to like them was why my hopes were dashed so far after Morrison's third issue.

I used to agree with you about favoring writing and accepting a minimal visual sense. That got me a lot of hits when my book came out, because it is very writer centric. So in the last few years I have been trying to focus more on appreciating visuals; where I used to buy only my favorite writers and hope for the best on the art (e.g. the penultimate invisibles issues), I now by my favorite artists and hope for the best on the writing (I now own a copy of Batman: The Scottish Connection and The Witching Hour). This blog is, in part, an attempt to address this imbalance. On the whole, it worked well, and I care much more about the visual than I used to.

I like your idea of treating the run more fully here, and I am going to give it a shot in the coming months. It would help to know where I was inconsistent about the art in my statements -- can you let me know where that was?

Marc: I agree that Morrison took a lot of chances with a big franchise and I think he deserves a lot of praise for that -- you are right to remind us that that is a big deal. I just can't help but feel that it might have been a tremendous aesthetic success rather than a gutsy experiment that had high moments but was ultimately unpersuasive.

Jason Powell said...

I agree, Geoff; from a design standpoint there's something very cool and sleek about the Quitely designs for the uniforms.

What I find silly (again, admittedly, based only on the covers):
1. Wolverine's goatee (just seems like too effete a touch for the character)

2. Emma's outfit (her original fetishistic outfit strikes me as sexier as well as just a better design, but perhaps that's down to personal taste)

3. That Emma looks like she's twelve. (I admit I didn't notice this until it was pointed out in an essay, but since then it's made me a little uncomfortable whenever I see those Emma covers reproduced online.)

Geoff Klock said...

Jason: Wolverine's goatee is too effete a touch for the character; but Morrison and Quitely want the first few covers to look like fashion magazine covers and men on fashion magazine covers are always a bit on the effete side. I agree Emma's original outfit is sexier (and I was glad to see it back in Astonishing) but with the fashion magazine idea in mind the new one is better -- it looks just like those weird fashion images where you go "Who would ever wear that?" And of course she looks 12 -- fashion models often look like that, in part because, for whatever reason, that emaciated little girl thing is what the designers want.

Scott said...

I like Here Comes Tomorrow as a capper for Morrison's run. It really puts the emphasis on what Morrison's story was-- a love story involving the greatest soap opera cast ever.

I'm not generally a fan of Silverstri's artwork but I think it worked well for this line. For what Morrison was doing there, I can't imagine any other artist really doing it. He's by no means my favorite artist or one that I generally like but he pulled off that storyline.

Stephen said...

It would help to know where I was inconsistent about the art in my statements -- can you let me know where that was?

I may have made too big a meal of this, in which case I apologize. But here's what I see as the inconsistency. In your earlier writings -- explicitly in footnote 7 of the gnosticism essay, and implicitly (but quite overtly so, if that makes any sense) in the blog post on Magneto (which I'd forgotten about, btw, and which was a great reread), you tag the faults in New X-Men to Morrison: "the strength of Morrison's writing on New X-Men has been very sporadic." But in this blog post -- and even more so in the comments (see your reply to Mitch, the second comment above) -- you seem to imply that the fault was entirely in the art, i.e. if Quitely had done the whole thing everything would have been fine.

Perhaps this isn't even an inconsistency -- i.e. the art itself affects the strength of the writing (since Morrison might at times have been writing to the specific artist (I don't know)) -- but it is what I meant.

A thought experiment: if I hit megabucks tomorrow (unlikely since I never play it (although that really doesn't change the odds much does it?)), and paid Quitely to re-draw all of the Morrison New-X-men issues that he didn't draw, would the result be much better? Somewhat better? Prefect? (This sort of thing is rarely if ever done, making comics scripts more like a film script than a play -- if you remake a film, you remake the entire thing, including the script (one or two exceptions, to be sure, but generally); a play is reproduced word for word (again, generally); comics go the film route (generally). But I for one would be interested to see what would result -- particularly in classic cases where people agree (or a big subset do) that the art was the issue on an otherwise good run. -- Actually, the closest thing I can think of to this is a limited version of it: re-coloring, as has happened in the Absolute Watchmen and Sandman editions.)

Stephen said...

On other topics, that's interesting about the blog trying to right the writing/art imbalance -- it didn't bother me in your book, but then, I have the same bias as you did then, so why would it? (I think I have that bias less when the artist also does the art, see e.g. my recent post on Howard Cruse. But that's my problem, not theirs, obviously.) I'd be interested in more exploration of this, too.

While I'm listing things for you to write about, I might as well say that, rereading your Magneto post, one thing that occurred to me is that you would write an awesome book about cross-medium influences/art/characters. I'm sort of imagining you taking the sentence "Actors are comic book creators too." and running with it. Anyway, think about it -- put it in the consideration set.

Stephen said...

(PS: Oh, and I meant to include your take on Morrison's Batman vis-a-vis the animated series in that last paragraph too.)

Geoff Klock said...

scott: yeah he did a pretty good job. looking at my earlier post, when I said he was stiff I was thinking of Scrivner. Silvestri's only major defect is that he looks like 1992 to me.

Stephen: It's that the art effects the writing. When Quitely goes away things do not work as well, and when he came back for Riot it was too off course to completely fix (which is why Riot is the only Morrison Quitely team up that is not perfect). Remember that Quitely is not just a guy who draws Morrison's scripts: they both live (or lived) in Glasgow, are both Glaswegian, and design together closely. I think if Quitely went back and redrew everything it would be great, but no where near as good as it would be if they had worked together the whole time and held on to Morrison's original call for cool.

You make a great point about comics being like films rather than like plays -- though I think what they are really like is translations of important poems, that have to be translated freshly for each generation. (So everyone needs to do a "Phoenix plot" or whatever)

And that is a great idea for a book, but if I get into it I am going to get into it here -- this blog is the new place for my writing. It's free, it's accessible, and I get to interact with my audience. So unless someone hands me one of those little BFI things (and don't think I haven't tried) this is where I will be.

Matt Brady said...

On the subject of comics "remakes" the only example I know of in which somebody has done their own version of a script was in Paul Pope's issue of Solo, where he did his own version of Kirby's Omac #1. It was awesome. I would love to see people do more of this, if only as an art experiment. It's weird; I generally dislike movie remakes, but this concept intrigues me. Maybe it's because it hasn't been done very much, while movie remakes are nearly ubiquitous.