Thursday, January 25, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 117

[This post is part of an issue by issue look at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run. To read the other posts, hit the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

I think I made a mistake to talk about the New X-Men Annual last time in the context of Magneto, because it obscured something fundamental -- the Annual is a wonderful issue and my small complaint about Sublime feeling like the wrong kind of villain was the only thing keeping Morrison's first four New X-Men issues from perfection. That needs to be kept in mind.

It is in New X-Men 117 that the tiny crack of Sublime in the annual grows into a bigger problem. 117 does not sink the ship -- that comes in the next issue, with the Korday art -- but it is with 117 that we begin to sense something has gone fundamentally wrong.



The hauntingly beautiful cover by Quitely gives way to a first page that in any other X-Men book would be fine: a chicken-man mutant is running through the snow.



I imagine people will jump all over me for being insensitive here, but I think it needs to be said -- while the X-Men have always been about freaks and outsiders like Beak, I was surprised and disappointed to see him become a focus in Morrison's New X-Men, which is supposed to be about pop sexy post-human cool. There are certainly cool ways to do freaks -- Coney Island comes to mind -- but this does not seem like one of them. Like Mr. Sublime, Beak seems like a holdover from an earlier, pre-Morrison era. Morrison will redeem him in the end with an ultra-cool descendant, but for many issues Beak will be there, making me feel something is off on every page on which he appears. What happened to Quitely's fashion model spreads?

We are then treated to a two page spread of the freak students and human protesters, and again, the whole thing feels ancient. Morrison injected a lot of life into the X-Men with his first four issues but a good bit drained out with protesters with signs like "It's not murder if its a mutant." That's lame, and sadly realistic, but lame and sadly realistic are not the tone for this book. That is the tone for much of Watchmen, or Jimmy Corrigan. These are small complaints so far, just hints that something has gone wrong, and I don't want to make too big a deal of them. Much bigger problems appear in the next pages.

VanSciver's Beast -- like VanSciver's art genreally -- does not look nearly as cool as Quitely's, probably because he does not have Quitely's weird design sense, or Quitely's magical ability to make anything work. VanSciver also does not work with the script: Xavier says to Hank that he looks happy, and Hank agrees, but he looks positively depressed. Then his girlfriend breaks up with him over the answering machine while he is admiring himself in a mirror -- Morrison wants pathos, I think, but the sitcom staging descends into bathos (though I am not 100% sure Quitely would have saved Morrison here as the moment seems unredeemable, but Quitely does work miracles). VanSciver also draws a wooden bat, when a character refers to it as aluminum, and again slides into bathos when a tormented Beak is on his knees, clutching ripped feathers and holding them up to god as he screams at the sky like King Lear. King Lear the chicken man. Thanks.

And then we get Casandra Nova hiding in Xavier's brain. Like fifteen minutes ago she was -- horrifically and shockingly -- to mutants what mutants are to humans. Now, suddenly without warning, she is Xavier's evil twin. And not a metaphorical twin (at least not yet, but give it a few issues) -- she is his evil genetic twin. Morrison has abandoned a great idea for a cliche. He might have saved the cliche -- he is very good at that actually -- but changing to one midstream is just mind boggling, in the worst way. He will fumble this ball a few more times before the finish line.

VanSciver is again a big weak point, not exactly selling the "Nova Revealed" moment (a key moment in the run). Nova uses psychic powers to attack Hank's self-esteem (there is that lame old-fashioned theme again). VanSciver decides to dramatize this by drawing Hank surrounded by upsetting words: Pain, Ugly, Stupid, Bad, Child, Nightmare, Hurt.



This fails on a number of levels, the most obvious being (1) it reminds me of a Nicktoon commercial telling kids how words can't hurt them, and (2) it is painfully literal. This second problem is best illustrated by the Beavis and Butthead episode when they watch the video for Tag Team's "Whoop There It is" and Butthead says sagely that it would be a great video to teach kids to read because they say "Whoop" and then the word "Whoop" appears on the screen.

The final page spread is a marvel of terror and wonder as we see Nova, in Xavier's body, looking at the Shi'ar battleship -- and the aliens that have come to get him -- like a cat with a canary. Sadly, the previous 21 pages suck a lot of the promise out of a powerful moment.

EDIT: Two mistakes. I wrote "Scrivner" but the artist's name is VanSciver. That has been changed. Also we have one more issue with VanSciver before Kordey shows up, and so I deleted the last sentence of the post which was "The next issue will take that promise, and beat it to death in an alley with a chain."

23 comments:

Pat Moler said...

I was wanting to ask a quick Civil War question, but didn't know you posted a new entry tell just now. So, I'll ask anyway.

In what way, can you see the SP registration act being a bad thing? I mean, sure it takes away freedom, but we don't have the freedom to rape and murder and those are considered good laws. In a world that has Superhuman beings fighting crime shouldn't there be some form of regulation.
As for secret Identities, last time I checked, cops don't have secret identities, and if SP were to registere they'd have Shield and other Law Enforcement to protect their loved ones.

So, how exactly can Captain America and the Secret Avengers actions be justified?

Ping33 said...

not done reading the post yet but:
"Beak seems like a holdover from an earlier, pre-Morrison era. Morrison will redeem him in the end with an ultra-cool descendant, but for many issues Beak will be there, making me feel something is off on every page on which he appears. What happened to Quitely's fashion model spreads?"

-The X-men get those Fashion Model Spreads... Beak embodies the OTHER essential quality of the X-men... Adolescence. For me the single best thing Morrison did was bring the concept of SCHOOL back to the X-Men. Beak is the awkward everyman. He is the heart of Morrison's arc and the character the audience is supposed to attach itself to. The introduction of him is GREAT as we are totally on his side from the art alone and are somewhat taken aback that he is so put upon by the much more powerful Beast.

Ping33 said...

um, you didn't know that Cassandra was his twin from:
1) the way she looks
and
2) the fact that she says in issue#1: "The First. The Oldest. The Last Enemy. The Terror and the Hate you thought would never return. Charlie's big ugly secret. The Nightmare on the dark side of your dream."

Geoff Klock said...

Pat: let me get back to you on that.

Ping: I get that she seemed like his twin, I just assumed there had to be more to it than that, especially considering that she is to mutants what mutants are to humans -- not something you expect from a twin of a mutant. I will have more to say in a moment.

Ping33 said...

you keep saying that she:Mutants as Mutants:Humans

where are you getting this? and from it, what are you inferring?

brad said...

She says it in the first issue.

Ping33 said...

Totally OT- sorry I'm on itunes Shuffle... Geoff: have you heard Zaireeka by the Flaming Lips?

If you know what it is ignore the rest of this post which is a wiki Cut and Paste:

Zaireeka (a combination of the words Zaire and Eureka) is the eighth album by The Flaming Lips, consisting entirely of experimental music and released in 1997. It is composed of four CDs designed to be played simultaneously on four different audio systems. The discs may be played in combinations of two or three, thus excluding the music on whichever discs are omitted.

The speakers being used may be physically positioned in any number of ways—high and low, in entirely different rooms, and so on; some may even choose to disable the left or right speaker of one or more systems. The discs may be played (intentionally or not) slightly out-of-sync, resulting in effects such as an echo dying away before the original sound is produced from a different disc. Further, the type of equipment the discs are played on affects the results; thus, a cheap boombox may be playing one disc while another is playing in a DVD player through a television and a third is in a high fidelity system—which discs are in which systems will determine the relationships between them.

The album is a continuation of the concepts behind the band's Parking Lot Experiments, in which a number of automobiles with loud tape decks parked in a covered parking garage would simultaneously play different tapes. These tapes were recorded to augment, clash with, and build upon each other.

Flaming Lips member Wayne Coyne confirmed in the 5.1 surround sound release of The Soft Bulletin that Zaireeka will be released as an Advanced Resolution Surround Sound 5.1 DVD, like The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Ping33 said...

Brad: It's a metaphor for destruction not to be taken literally... it's not the new evolution, rather, the new threat.

Geoff Klock said...

Ok, now I have more time. Let me respond to everybody.

Pat: This question is not really for me. I have not, for example, been defending the ideology of Cap and co and am not going to start now. But the long and the short of it is it does not matter -- Marvel just thought it would make money to have good guys fight good guys with allusions to a Post 9/11 politics and that is what they came up with. It is not the best thought out ideological struggle for the same reason the plot of a porn or an opera has very little to do with why people enjoy those entertainments.

Ping: I do not deny that Beak is a point of contact for readers who are endeared to him at his first appearance. I just think we have seen that kind of thing before, and Morrison went to so much trouble to show us a NEW X-Men that it surprised me.

I always felt there was potential in the X-Books to play with a different kind of identification for readers. The merely human readers have more in common with the human population in the book -- destined to be dead soon and replaced. I had hoped to see Morrison play with that a bit more -- his first few issues gave us a look at OUR replacements, people who were AHEAD of us even on matters as "trivial" as style. As I said in my essay on the posthuman (see the links page of Geoffklock.com) What if we should not be able to identify with the post-human because they are by definition beyond us? Morrison was doing that with his first issues but then reverted to the tried and true method with Beak. I don't hate the character. I just thought, from the first three or four issues, that Morrison would be up to something else, and was disappointed.

The line about Nova being to mutants what mutants are to Humans is from the third issue and it is an accurate paraphrase of how the Beast describes her. (Brad has slightly misremembered). It is crazy comic book science about how every few hundred thousand years evolution takes a leap (a line quoted in X2) and I do not see any evidence that it is a metaphor -- he is explaining her in "scientific" terms (as far as comic book science goes). He has no reason to use such an outlandish metaphor if it has no relation to fact. (Onslaught and House of M were threats but were not described as the successors to mutants).

As for what I am implying: I am SAYING that that established an interesting and progressive theme (evolution, successors, and the ethics of being the successors), that was abandoned one issue later for something much more tame, and that sucks.

Your OT comment is interesting.

Geoff Klock said...

Ping: forgive that all caps "SAYING". Re-reading that post it looks sarcastic and I don't want to look sarcastic.

Ping33 said...

's ok you weren't IMPLYING anyway... Morrison was, you were Inferring and THEN saying ;)

Beak lets you down because it's not the vision of post humanity you wanted to see?

To me he and the other lame-ass Morrison-Mutants are the best thing about the story. Evolution ISN'T perfect being a mutant is as much about being a seemingly useless freak as it is about being a supermodel who shoots lasers out his eyes. And in the long-run sometimes a step backward is a step forward when viewed on cosmic/evolutionary timescales rather than a more human perspective.

I think Morrison's Beast is clearly full of hyperbole and I don't take most of the things he says literally.

Ping33 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ping33 said...

That was me... sorry

2 quick things:

1) I'm REALLY sorry about the lack of commas in my main paragraph. It makes it tough to read...

To me, Beak and all the other lame-ass Morrison-Mutants are the best thing about the story. Evolution ISN'T perfect, being a mutant is as much about being a seemingly useless freak as it is about being a supermodel who shoots lasers out his eyes.

in the long-run sometimes a step backward is a step forward when viewed on cosmic/evolutionary timescales rather than a more human perspective.

2) I still think it's about the theme of evolution. Evolution is not and has never been a straight line.

Marc Caputo said...

Ping: you mention something that leapt at me immediately about Morrison's run and has never left - it always seemed that every mutant that jumped onto the scene had powers that were hero/villain/battle-worthy. I guess that's what makes them unique but scary to the humans in the books. When Morrison posited that a mutant was as likely to be born with 3 faces and no other "powers" as a guy who can read minds, that makes it scary to US.

I also like the dichotomy between the "supermodel mutants" and the guys who just have, let's say, a puff of blue smoke out of their nose every 13th exhalation - it gives the "useless" ones something to look up to, role models for lack of a better term. I've been reading comics for nearly 30 years; I don't have to believe all that I see is true - but I DO need to believe that THEY believe.

Ping33 said...

just a thought: IS it impossible to see Xavier's dream realized because it is inevitable that Mutants will overtake humans?

Jason Powell said...

"When Morrison posited that a mutant was as likely to be born with 3 faces and no other "powers" as a guy who can read minds, that makes it scary to US.

I also like the dichotomy between the "supermodel mutants" and the guys who just have, let's say, a puff of blue smoke out of their nose every 13th exhalation..."

I've not read the books, but that all sounds like a straight crib from the Wild Cards novels. In those books, there were three types of "wild cards" (mutated peoples): Jokers, who were deformed; aces, who had formidable super-powers; and deuces, who had silly and/or borderline useless super-powers.

Great books, by the way.

Mitch said...

This ship might have sailed, but--

Ping33 Said: "For me the single best thing Morrison did was bring the concept of SCHOOL back to the X-Men. "

I don't think we can give Morrison too much credit for that. The school's ambience in New X-Men is pretty much straight out of Singer's movies. In the "Morrison Manifesto" he says something like- "The movies have already done most of the work for us."

I'll give you that Morrison added a lot of weirdness to Singer's original idea.

As far as the Cassandra Nova stuff-- She's pretty confusing. I think Morrison just threw a bunch of ideas at her to see which ones stuck: next step in evolution, evil twin, Mummundra creature...

Matt Brady said...

I'll throw in my two cents here, but first I want to give a link to a good look at New X-Men, by a guy called Harvey Jerkwater on his (now-defunct) blog, Filing Cabinet of the Damned:

http://filingcabinetofthedamned.blogspot.com/2005/12/behind-times-and-proud-of-it-grooving.html

It's a good look at a lot of the themes we've been discussing (although the first half of the essay is a look at the history of the X-Men and why the comic generally sucks). One thing he mentions, which was touched on by Marc and Ping, is that Morrison emphasized that "some mutations are just plain nasty." Sure, this had been done before, with the Morlocks, but in my opinion there were some uncomfortable associations there (they're not called Morlocks for nothing), with the ugly, undesirable mutants being relegated to the sewers where nobody has to look at them. Morrison brought these misfits out of the sewers and had them join the rest of the cast. I also like how he established "Mutant Town" and made mutants kind of an ethnic minority, with their own subculture and status in the outside world. That's cool.

Anyway, Geoff, it sounds kind of like Morrison started going in a direction you really liked in the first arc, but then backed off a little and went in other directions as well. While I do like that direction, I like the other stuff he does as well. As someone who had been a longtime X-Men fan and was tired with the constant "protecting a world that hates and fears them" retreads, it was a breath of amazingly fresh air to see somebody do something different. Suddenly, mutants were presented as "cool" to the rest of the world, and regular humans envied them (to a degree) rather than hating them. It was great. (It helped that, at the same time, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred took over X-Force and turned it into a team of celebrity mutants. Fun stuff.)

It's true that the art suffered when Quitely wasn't doing it, but I for one was so enamored with Morrison's fresh take on the X-Men concept that I was able to look past it.

Ah well. That's my two cents, anyway. I'm looking forward to more of this stuff, Geoff, so we can keep discussing it.

Roger said...

Hey,

I have a problem with the dichotomy being discussed here--namely, the cool "chic" supermodel X-Men vis a vis the deformed freaks.

First of all, that would seem to imply a wierd class issue that Morrison never addresses that is, the ones who are looked up to are the ones who are "sexy," and if deformed (i.e. Beast) at least they still look cool. The whole identification of the posthuman with the supermodel is, at best, problematic as it cements together fashion (and by extension capitalism) and biology. It's a similar problem Morrison explores much more adequately with The Invisibles--the fact that the revolutionaries were always sexy, fashionable, young. The final issue of that series showed how difficult it would be to maintain their revolution, without it being copyrighted and sold. But, still, I always found it difficult to stomach that we never saw a revolutionary--besides that old man who led Jack Frost around London in the first arc of the series--who wasn't part of youth culture.

Secondly, I'd like to echo that this has been done before. It has--with the Morlocks. If Morrison had used them in the series, I believe the contrast could have really addressed this problem in a way that could have reinforced the posthuman theme, or at the very least provided a useful contrast to the supermodel format Geoff describes.

Bryan said...

Ping: just a thought: IS it impossible to see Xavier's dream realized because it is inevitable that Mutants will overtake humans?

That's what I attribute Xorn to most of the time since both Magneto's and Xavier's "dreams" are basically useless. While I think Morrison launches headlong into that with Xorneto ("Planet X" doesn't count because that's an entirely different idea), he never really touches on it as heavily as I'd like with Xavier.

James said...

Quick thought on Beak: I never liked him, he's ugly and not cool, but I feel guilty for not liking him. As much as the X-Men was always supposed to be about freaks and outsiders, it never really has been - at least not aesthetically. We've seen it time and again, characters who are supposed to be hideously disfigured by their mutation, but who in actuality look great (Beast, Nightcrawler, Chamber etc). Sure, there've been a few oddballs in the background, but central characters? When Marrow was a villain, she was a tufty-haired witch-lady with assymetrical protrusions. The second she joined the X-Men, she was suddenly a cute teenager with bone-spikes more like piercings. Beak might be at odds with much of Morrison's (initial) vision, but I think he deserves a little credit for the first proper realisation of mutant-as-freak.

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