Thursday, January 11, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men 116

[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.


Dan said...

Y'know what bugs me about this first arc, Geoff? Cassandra Nova. I have been so sufficiently conditioned to believe that twins are perfectly matched in all respects (the cinematic masterpiece of 'Twins' notwithstanding), that there's a part of me that rejects the notion of her as a foe worthy of the entire X-Men, rather than just Charles.

I know from a logical standpoint that it's possible for one twin to have received mutant abilities a level beyond the other (they are, after all, not identical twins). But still...

Doesn't *ruin* the story. But it just sits at the back of my head and nags me whenever she shows up.

liam said...

i have to agree.... with you, geoff, and dan.

i loved your breakdown of "design, plot, character, and theme." the book was stunning on all fronts.

but cassandra nova's abilities seemed too far-fetched. shadowcat-ish melting through walls?

not from a long lost xavier twin; it seems like a plot device.

which, maybe it is.

Mitch said...

Re: "both quickly and slowly"

What is that wonderful Hemmingway quote about how one of his characters went bankrupt?

"Gradually, then suddenly."

Geoff Klock said...

Dan and Liam: it's funny that you both mention the "twin" problem, probably because I don't. I am trying to capture a little of my actual first time through these issues and am not looking ahead on this (as I will be looking ahead at the Magneto-Xorn thing). I said at the end of this post that after this Morrison's ideas begin to fall apart, and one of the big examples of this is making Nova from the next step in evolution (a big part of the theme of the book) to just Xavier's twin. I agree with both of you, but the rant on this subject will not come till I talk about issue 117.

Mitch: I am going to have to track that down...

Mitch said...

It's from "The Sun Also Rises".

Matt Brady said...

The "twin" thing is an interesting one. I think I remember reading some criticism at the time where somebody said Morrison was using a lot of cliches in his run, both X-Men cliches and general comic book cliches. Stuff like evil twins, a villain hiding within the team (Xorn/Magneto), the Phoenix, Imperial Guard, Days of Future Past, Xavier walking again, etc. I don't know if that is apt, but it's an interesting observation, especially since Morrison also pushed a lot of boundaries and tried to do new stuff with the X-Men. I also find the twin thing interesting because Morrison kept changing/reworking the concept and details: Nova is supposed to be another evolutionary step, there's the retcon in which we find out it was Nova who "outed" the X-men as mutants rather than Xavier, Nova is revealed as a twin (although she couldn't be an identical twin, she looks just like Xavier), Nova is revealed again as a cuckoo-like entity that was placed in Mrs. Xavier's womb, Nova becomes a sort of energy being that is attacking all mutants. I'm not sure if I'm remembering all this correctly. Anyway, I found it interesting that Morrison kept changing/adding to the concept behind her. Sorry about the rambling.

Geoff Klock said...

Matt: As you will read in future posts I find Morrison's shifting ground on what Nova is to be a bad thing, in part because every time he changes her he makes her something less interesting. It is not the only time he takes the teeth out of an idea in his run. Your memory, by the way, is perfect -- that's exactly the changes she goes through, I think in that order.

I am starting to note a problem in these comments: I am getting ahead of myself in my issue by issue run. My worry is that when I go to talk about issue 117 for example, I will have already said what I have to say here, and everyone will be bored. Someone should tell me if that happens.

Anonymous said...

Hey Geoff,

I read your essay on Gnosticism in Millar's and Morrison's respective X-Men titles. While I have been a longtime Morrison fan (esp 'e is for extinction') I agree that his X-Men rapidly fell apart. I stopped reading it soon after Frank Quitely left.

Glad I found your blog. Look fwd to reading more on New X-Men.


craig taylor, communications student, NSW, Australia.

Geoff Klock said...

Craig: please stick around and continue posting. The more people who post the better. Glad to have you on board.

Mitch said...

"Hozzam X-Men"?

What language are those scans in, Geoff?

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: since getting back to the states we have not bought that cord or adapter that will let us use the scanner. so I pulled those images off of the internet -- I just used google image and did not look at where they were from.