Monday, January 08, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men 115

[This post is part of series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; click on the "New X-Men" label at the bottom of this post to read all the entries.]

The Wolverine cover is great.

Like the first, and the next few covers, Morrison and Quitely are after a magazine look, and if Wolverine were on the cover of GQ this is what it would look like. We get one more glamor shot of everyone's outfits with the first two page spread, as Quitely gives us the whole team lineup in a single static image with labels -- this book really is all about the clothes, which I love.

Morrison, in an effort to rehabilitate the character, even gives Cyclops the eternal boyscout some cool (as well as nodding to continuity): as the plane is going down he says "Relax, I've survived more jet aircraft crashes than any other mutant. Insurance takes care of everything." Wolverine says to him "You know what I admire most about you Summers? Your icy calm lunacy under pressure." "Call me Cyclops" he replies. Quitely's images of the character support this aim: even when his visor shatters, it is a thing of beauty in suspension.

Cassandra Nova's bony hand pushing though Trask's face as if it were a mask is a terrifying image, especially because her other hand and her body language suggest seduction. "Do you want to know the real message of evolution?" she says "All life ends up as manure" -- which is true and a great point to make in a book where evolution is the central concept. No more of Apocalypse with his giant "A" belt crying about making everyone strong or dead.

I know Cyclops's ruby quarts contact lenses bothered people but why the hell not have them -- it's not like they were a major part of the plot and that image of his visor shattering makes it worth it. As for his mercy killing of Ugly John being out of character -- it is a fair point from longtime fans but the payoff is an X-Men book that is genuinely surprising, which is a good trade, I think.

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In the comments to my discussion of the previous issue Ping makes the important point that Morrison and Quitely have made sentinels genuinely scary; they are disturbing and weird even though they seem to derive from the Jamie Lee Curtis movie Virus. Morrison brings the classic design back in his final arc (and calls it a classic) but for now giant bugs are fantastic. The destruction of sixteen million mutants in this issue is breathtaking, though I suspect that this is an editorial decision -- Joe Q said for years he wanted to decrease the mutant population to properly return to the "minority" theme of the book, the X-Men as a metaphor for persecuted outsiders; this just wasn't dramatic enough to stick, so House of M came along years later. If this was what Marvel wanted Morrison turned out to be a very bad choice on a number of levels, since he tried to get the X-Men away from "identity politics" -- rather than reestablish old themes he wants to inject new ones, like what it really means to know you are here to inherit the earth from a dying species. On every level this book is being re-imagined: design (cool clothes, the Beast, the sentinels), characters (Cyclops kills), concept (they are not superheroes), theme (Post-humanism rather than identity politics). Powerful stuff, and flawlessly done two issues in.


mitch said...

You know what I admire most about you Klock? Your icy calm lunacy in describing the first three issues, before you go giant sentinel on Issue #4.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: HA!

I was going to respond to this in more detail, but I will let this discussion unfold issue by issue. I am re-reading the series to write this and am trying to approach it as freshly as I can, as if I don't know what is coming. Also, I am trying to be open to the idea that it may be better than I remember. It should be an interesting experiment.

Geoff Klock said...

Oh, I lied: I will be looking at details surrounding Xorn in terms of who he really is, to evaluate that twist as we go.

neilshyminsky said...

what's funny is that even as X-Men moved away from being less explicitly about 'identity politics', the book actually developed mutant identity in a more 'realistic' fashion than had ever been done before - the creation of mutant town, mutant wannabees, mutant pop culture, mutant designer drugs.

Bryan said...

re: Cyclops.

I think the ruby quartz contacts and the mercy killing were a radical departure from the established character (not so much that he's unrecognizable, mind you), and that's the point. Morrison twisted a character who was usually relegated to the one-dimensional uptight leader role and essentially made you care about him all over again. As "the original X-Man," Cyclops becomes an allegory for the longtime X-Men fan (a point highlighted by the fact that you mentioned them both in the same paragraph): trying to keep hold of a sense of continuity and what the X-Men have always been about while embracing the central themes of the Morrison run like evolution, freshness, "The New." It's a difficult task, and one which Cyclops ultimately fails at when he gives in to Emma Frost, the avatar of Morrison's ego.

I think the fact that we're still sitting here discussing these issues six years later proves that we've "failed" in that same way as well.

MItch said...

Not to be a booger by mentioning upcoming issues again and not to pick a fight, but I would like to point out that my three absolute favorite issues of New X-Men are:

#127 "Of Living and Dying" (The Xorn-centric issue with art by the awesome Jean Paul Leon)

#132 "Ambient Magnetic Fields" (The return to Genosha issue that effective on several levels, including the 9/11 level. Some of Jiminez's best art and a great Magneto story.)

#148 "Survivor Type" (Some of Jiminez's worst art and a stupid Magneto story, but the Wolverine/Jean Grey stuff is solid gold, especially the end.)

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: I will be talking about that when it arises. I think it is at least important that none of those things is in the first three issues -- they occur after the thematic shift, which I will talk about.

Bryan: you mean failed to hold onto the new or failed to bridge the gap between old and new?

Mitch: We will be in for a great debate when I get to those issues, all of which I disliked a lot. This is going to be fun.

LurkerWithout said...

I love that "return mutants to minority status" line. 16 million out of SIX BILLION is pretty clearly a freaking minority...

Patrick said...


I remember you writing somewhere that you didn't think Morrison has a persuasive view of evil. I have to disagree: Cassandra Nova here (as well as Morrison's version of Darkseid) reaches a level of evil and infernal eloquence that recalls Moore’s Anton Arcane.

As great as "Torn" is, it doesn't seem to me that Whedon had anything more to add to Nova; he's riding Morrison's wave all the way.

Geoff Klock said...

Patrick: I agree with you about Nova -- she is a fantastic vision of evil in the first three issues. Unfortunately, in the coming issues, she will become something else, and we will talk about that.

I also agree with you on Whedon -- he is not doing anything new with that character: if anything she is more simple in his hands. Whedon is not interested in Nova, at least thus far, as anything other than a window into the White Queen.

Marc Caputo said...

Geoff, are you going to refer to/comment on Morrison's Manifesto for the X-Men? It used to be in the first trade but was swapped out for the Annual. It's now at the back of the first HC.

Geoff Klock said...

I already said a bit about the manifesto; I will have to re read it and see if I have more to say. Perhaps after the first arc.

Bryan said...

"Bryan: you mean failed to hold onto the new or failed to bridge the gap between old and new?"

As far as Cyclops goes, I mean he failed to hold onto the old (Jean) by embracing the new (Emma). That seems to be quandary Morrison faces us with: the world is, in some ways, strictly black and white and you can't have it both ways. Cyclops attempted it and Jean went apeshit. Magneto became an X-Man and ended up dead. The U-Men are another example of an attempt to create a grey area (somewhere between human and mutant) with unsuccessful returns. If you want to extrapolate it even further, the overarching idea of Sublime is that as well. I'm interested to see what you have to say about the Cassandra Nova/Sublime relationship as the story progresses, and whether or not ASTONISHING X-MEN goes against what's established in NEW.

Geoff Klock said...

Bryan: these are very good points. Thank you.

If the series of NXM posts are successful, I may have to start up on Whedon's run immediately, since it is a kind of epilogue.

Tony said...

Geoff lauds Morrison for injecting X-Men with "something new." I agree with him. New X-Men is fresh and provocative. But the "New" part of "New X-Men" is ironic. "New X-Men" looks “new” but Morrison’s brilliance is in taking the concepts that have always been there and amplifying them to their fullest, almost apocalyptic, extent. The mutant manifest destiny of global domination has been there since day one. In X-Men number one, Magneto would have gotten his hands on a nuke and dominated the planet if not for the humanitarian intervention of the original X-Men. The human race has been on borrowed time since 1963. Morrison is just the only x-scribe as ready to admit it as Magneto is. It's the less politically correct side of minority politics. If the minority comes up, the majority has to come down. Racial equality means the loss of white privilege. Homosexual rights incur against presumptive heterosexuality.

Are the Savage Land Sentinels new? Or do they recall the X-Men's decades-long feud with the Aliens-inspired Brood? It looks new. It feels fresh. But the novelty is in form, not content. The new is really old (Sentinel) superimposed upon less old (Brood). It’s a kind of syncretism that amounts to meta-narrative. New X-Men sells itself as new by taking everything that has gone before and reorganizing it in a new, surreally provocative way. Like a good, oracular dream.

It IS possible the X-Men have never REALLY been super-heroes. The X-Men’s activities qua super-heroics, unlike the Avengers or Fantastic Four, all occur as ancillary to a social or personal agenda. The original X-Men fought mutant terrorists so that all mutants, including themselves, wouldn’t look bad. The all-new, all-different X-Men all the way through the Dark Phoenix saga past Mutant Genesis are a group of outsiders who spend most, if not all, of their time dealing with their own amplified personal problems. Wolverine’s shady past, Jean Grey’s transformation into the Phoenix, the intra-mutant feud between the Hellfire Club and the Xavier’s School, and the X-Men’s fight for mere survival against the likes of Mr. Sinister, Apocalypse and Belasco dominate the canonical X-Men stories. Morrison is pulling a trace or a thread, something merely possible and implicit from the past, and making it overt in New X-Men. It feels different and exciting but almost unnervingly appropriate; “Why hasn’t anyone just come out and said this before?”

And I don’t think Morrison is hiding the ball with any of this. New X-Men begins with the some of the original roster dealing with ‘secondary mutations;’ a concept wherein that which is supposed to define us with unwavering, idealistic stability, DNA, turns out subject to unsettling, unfathomable change. While on the other hand, that which is always supposed to change, like getting older, isn’t as certain as the characters would like. The passage of “time” always seems to return the X-Men from whence they came. Jean and Scott are once again at a school. Jean is seemingly struck by lightning twice to become the Phoenix again. And their newest member, Xorn, turns out to be their oldest enemy, Magneto, who though still ingenious in a certain sense, can only come after the X-Men with his oldest, most tired tricks. When you think about it this way, Scott is appropriately depressed. His malaise is the ‘tragic face’ of the Morrison critique of which Emma (or maybe Hank?) might be the insouciant comedy. Yes? No?

Geoff Klock said...

Tony: First off I agree with you that rather than give us new content Morrison makes the old feel new, but I am not sure the "new" in the title is ironic, since that's what "new" often is. When Ezra Pound said "make it new" he meant "make something old new, turn in into something new", which is just what Morrison does. Form is also very important for creating "new" in a genre where the rules are quite stringent. You are quite right to point this out.

You also point toward what will go wrong in Morrison's X-Men: he will, during the run, stop trying to make it feel fresh, and start making it about how it is impossible to get the necessary escape velocity to get away from the continuity and repetition and purist fans.