[this post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; to read the other entries, click the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post. Sorry for the low quality pictures. I assume most people reading this have read the run.]
Oh, this is certainly my favorite comic book cover of all time.
The infamous "camel toe" cover. Right off the bat you have to be impressed that Marvel let them publish such an edgy cover -- this is not Lady Death style T and A, this is strange fashion-model ostensibly-sexy-and-hip but also weird, disorienting, cold and asexual. Open the book and you get the Beast, doing the Hamlet pose, but also showing off his outfit in the best fashion add way -- both these images are about the clothes. Style is everything here, which makes a lot of sense in a genre of storytelling where people have such wild outfits with the underwear on the outside (Scott Bukatman has argued, in this respect, how the 60's Batman is such a dandy, with that closet full of different Bat-suits).
Just as the Beast remarks about his own design change in 114, Jean remarks here on Quitely as well, calling attention to her "unnaturally thin wrists and ankles." Morrison is using the age old device of having characters speak the audience's complaints to win them over. He is doing everything he can to make his changes stick. Don't like "secondary mutation" as an explanation of Emma's new diamond skin power? Neither does she: "your pseudo-scientific explanations are far from satisfactory" she says to the Beast, when he tries to sell her on the idea. (As I have remarked earlier the purpose of Emma's new power is that the slang word for diamond is "ice" -- Morrison is trying to create the core team and he needs an "ice"man, just as his JLA needed a Hawkman, Zauriel; a new "Angel" will be soon on his agenda).
In the meat of the story Morrison's new theme -- his new direction for the concept of the X-Men -- is brought home in a frightening and powerful way: rather than identity politics he wants to address post-humanism, what it means to inherit the earth and make your own rules. Now he reveals that humanity is dying out as a species -- so the X-Men will be forced to confront their new role. And to make matters more stark Casandra Nova, it turns out, is to them what they are to the humans, what the early humans were to the Neanderthals (as we saw in issue 114): she is the next level above them.
And she sends Cyclops to a psychic place called the Black Bug Room, a small red cell with three giant, grotesque bugs whose heads brush the celling, and whose hats and formal capes are hanging on hooks next to them. They say "Welcome to the black bug room. Everyone has their own black bug room. This is yours, Scott." HORRIFIC. In a single panel, with no details, I am TERRIFIED. (I actually recall the idea popping up in a speech of Tara's on a fourth season Buffy episode -- the one where Tara's family shows up -- so I am pretty sure it is from some kind of mythology, even one as recent as William S Burroughs).
Emma goes to have herself valued, but has "an Epiphany, like St. Paul on the Road to Damascus." She comes back and kills Nova just as Nova gets into Cerebra. Nova gets up anyway and Charles shoots her. "Hardcore, Chuck" says Wolverine. "May posterity forgive me" says Charles. "May our dry cleaners forgive you, Charles dear." Emma says: "May God award you a medal for your uninhibited marksmanship." With a shard of glass in his head and a line of blood on his face Professor X says the famous line from the very first X-Men comic book: "to me, my X-Men."
Then he tells the world he is a mutant, changing everything for the characters as Morrison has been changing everything for the readers.
Morrison's first arc is one of his best works: daring, surprising, persuasive, and exciting on every level -- design, plot, character, and theme.
In the annual, which I will look at next time, he introduces a fascinating new character.
And then his genius ideas begin to fall apart, both quickly and slowly, depending on where you look.