Monday, January 29, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 118

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; to see related posts, click the New X-Men link at the bottom of this post. ]

I said this of 116, but 118 is also one of the great X-Men covers: Cyclops could not look more cool. Just as a series of design ads I cannot remember promise to build your home around a single object, New X-Men should have been built around this issue's cover. This is a run that is best captured in the form of it's Quitely covers. Nothing lives up to their promises.

We open with a kid wearing a Magneto tee-shirt shooting a kid at a school assembly. Actually, VanSciver has him shooting US, the reader, and saying "So ... Anybody else want to sneer at my comic book collection." This is a strange point of view to locate the (by definition comic book reading) audience -- Morrison and VanSciver are on an attack that will continue in the next few pages. The kid gives a speech summarizing his life (all very convenient for the reader, who has just come upon the scene): he is a geeky, comic book nerd obsessed with "Mutant Culture" (just as the reader is likely obsessed with the X-Men comic books). Uncool is the new cool, he is proud to be a geek and he has killed his classmate to take his X-Ray eyes and join the U-Men. Then he gets shot by the police. Morrison is clearly going after the continuity obsessed X-Men audience angered at all his changes; Morrison is going after the people who are holding his New X-Men back with their conservative objections.

VanSciver gives us a two page fashion spread, but is not up to the task. Later in the issue he does give us a nice image of Jean Grey eating chips in Cerebra, and he gets points back for that. Unfortunately, he once again goes for the painfully literal as Jean looks into the fantasies of two newscasters -- she is reading their crystal clear cartoon fantasies through their OPEN BRAINS.

Once again we have lame graffiti and signs, and a lame confrontation with the poorly defined mob outside (a sense of one individual in the crowd would help). These people are like the citizens of South Park and are so stupid as to have "Mutants go Home" signs. Meeting with lame mob only lowers the cool factor Morrison had been building for his main characters.

We get a great moment when Scott implies he had sex with Emma, and then we are off to meet the new Angel.

Morrison likes his core group: when he couldn't have Hawkman for the JLA he invented Zauriel. On New X-Men he has replaced Iceman with Emma (slang for diamond is "ice", her new power); now he will replace Angel with a poor pregnant mutant whose name is Angel. It's a cool idea, but I don't care for how it plays out. We already had a discussion about Beak last time, and I don't want to go over it all again, but the scenes with Angel and her crummy life, and her mutant power to vomit acid, and her crashing into the power lines, return me to Morrison's initial Manifesto in frustration: everyone else has gotten over the change in direction, but I want to know where my cool, pop-sexy X-Men went. I was really looking forward to the book I was promised in those lovely lovely covers. Perhaps I am the audience he is angry with, the audience he is attacking for holding him back.

VanSciver ends the book on a weird note: Wolverine's claws popping out to take out the U-Men. It is oddly anti-climatic: with no opponent of value we have no sense he COULD lose. It's like an empty parody of all the times a book ended with Wolverine ready for a throw-down -- it now ends with him ready to throw-down with three nobodies. It is a kind of commentary, but the first lines of Morrison's New X-Men was Cyclops saying to Wolverine "You can probably stop doing that now [e.g. the cliched scenes you usually do]." I can't quite figure out why Morrison still has him doing those scenes. VanSciver has THREE scenes of BIG FISTS, just to make it more noticeable. Emphasizing how lame those scenes are is not helping my enjoyment at all. I came to the party for something new, not bitching about old stuff, if that is what it is.

Finally there is this little website, which taught me a new level of hatred for VanSciver. Apparently VanSciver encoded the word SEX into the incidental art work like 18 times. Ugh. Hunting for secret "codes" in art is already geeky and lame, and having the thing you are searching for be the word SEX is just appalling, and makes me embarrassed all over. I suppose it could be a continuation of attacking the audience -- the conservative fans alluded to in the opening of the issue are the ones looking for it, and entertained by it -- but now that I know it is there it just annoys me. And I am supposed to be Morrison's target audience, one of the ones eager for his Brave New World. Or maybe this is all some kind of Rorschach test, and I am revealing myself to be one of the bad guys by not playing along or getting the joke. I did, after all, ask for the pop-sexy X-Men he promised; maybe the joke is on me.


Pat Moler said...

I don't see why anyone would dislike the NEW X-MEN. When it came out I was skeptical, but it was everything I loved about X-MEN without the stuff I simply tolerated.

James said...

The other thing about Angel is that presumably she is supposed to be an update of the unruly teenage girl that Wolverine mentors (Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Marrow, Rogue in the movie), yet there is little to differentiate her from her forebears, except maybe for her crumminess. I'm very probably missing the point, but I don't see how making her even snottier and more unlikeable is a persuasive reimagining of the archetype. Actually, she reminds me of Damian in Morrison's Batman. Yuck.

Mitch said...

I'm sure this is implicit in Geoff's discussion, but I think it is interesting that the new Angel--who is African American, poor and displays disgusting powers--is the exact opposite of the old Angel--who is white, rich and glamorous.

Also, the open brains things lack of creativity has ALWAYS bothered me. OF COURSE the male newscaster is thinking of some messed up sex fantasy. After all, all guys imagine crazy sex acts, even if we are in the middle of doing our mentally engaging jobs.

If nothing else, I think we've all learned a lot about VanSciver's sexual identity in this issue. :)

Jason Powell said...

"I don't see why anyone would dislike the NEW X-MEN."

Yes, if only Geoff would explain in detail exactly what he doesn't like about it ...

Andy said...

Well Geoff obviously is unsatified with the removal of Quitely for Van Scriver. This wasn't too much of an issue for me because I feel Van Scriver has a good sense of anatomy and storytelling. However we're on the brink of the Kordy rushed artwork and that's where my heart sank. Interesting point about how the new characters, Beak and Angel are against the Morrison manifesto. I never cared for them like I did Zauriel, and this might explain why. I really zoned out near the end of this arc but I'm really not a fan of 'the X-men in space' stories. I think Riot at Xaivier's with the return of Quitely is where I started to pay attention again.

Matt Brady said...

The book did seem to take a downturn in these couple issues. I haven't read them in a while, but I do remember disliking the change in art. Especially the much-reviled Kordey. Although, I also remember liking the story during the U-Men arc. So it went from being awesome to being pretty good. Then when the art gets better again, it goes back to being awesome. Or at least really good. Good commentary, Geoff. Keep it up!

Ping33 said...

I'm gonna work this through in sections then talk about some more general stuff.

1) How can you look at the first few pages and NOT talk about Columbine? It's also not that geeky is the new cool. The "Trench-coat Mafia" were geeks what this is doing is showing how the X-men would/could effect the world that we know. In death Magneto is a radicalising figure, and a much more tangible one than those long past like Ché or Malcolm X or Kurt Cobain or whatever else such disaffected kids might be wearing in our world.

2) I kinda think it's unfair to go after EVS for sketchiness considering the time constraints he was under. Look at his work on Green Lantern and see how great he can be. Both he and Kordy get blasted a lot for what was essentially a editorial and commercial decision to publish the book SOMEWHAT on time. Personally I blame the companies for not getting enough in the can before announcing and releasing stuff.
But if you're going to go page-by-page when it's bad you should mention the "angel" sequence which has MUCH more detail than most of the earlier stuff, because, frankly, it's more important. All the pages she's on really stand out as being the best art in the book.

3) I don't think you can blame the ending cliff-hanger on EVS... It MUST have been in the script. I think you're a little obsessed here... Seriously, how could this, the last panel, in the biggest book, by the biggest writer, be the sole choice of the (fill in) artist?

General Comment: In Baseball there is a scout's saying: "Look at what a player CAN do, not what they CAN'T do" I understand that the fill-in art is disappointing, but I really think you need to look past that. For me this is the issue which REALLY integrates the U-men into the storyline. And as they come in and the story gets more outlandish and celebrity obsessed it also becomes more real in terms of the way society thinks about such things and the effects that they leave. Unlike the shitty annual (with it's shitty Yu art,) This issue ISN'T over the top, it's more grounded, which makes sense because the X-men ARE more close to real society than the rest of the Marvel Superhero universe.

Ping33 said...

Also why is the encoding of "Sex" an indictment of EVS alone:

"Actually it seems to be a combined effort of the entire creative team, the writer being responsible for the sexual undertone of the story and some of the hidden Sex messages clearly being by the artist (the smoke on page 2, or the lamps of the Cerebra machine on page 8), several others by the inkers (between the bars on page 9, or over Beast’s chest on page 7) and even the coloring team being involved, as the slightly lighter toned letters S and E in Jean’s hair on page 10 demonstrate."

As soon as I heard of it I attributed it to Morrison as it seems like part of his whole symbol/sigil reality through visualization ethos.

As a side note. In November I watched that speech he gave to the Disinformation society on Google vids ( I did his post-modern-new-age "sigil magic" to get a new job and I have to say... I have a new job. Of course, chicken/egg, and the idea of a mere vocalization/realization as to the nature of desire... it's not like I put forth no effort OTHER than to make the sigil. Still, it didn't hurt.

Ping33 said...

As to James' Comments:

I think Beak is Yin and Angel is Yang. Both are the "new" characters (the "NeW-X-MeN" as it were) and both of them are there to provide hooks for the readers. But whereas Beak is the HOPE, Angel is the REALITY. It takes the full run of the series for them to come together in a real, ideological way.
She needs to be snottier than the past "troubled" girls because Beak needs more help than Gambit or Colossus or the other young males saved by the troubled girl, because his problem isn't a hardened heart stemming from prejudice and abuse. Rather his problem is that his head is so far in the clouds (and up his ass,) caught up in the IDEA of being a (super-cool Super-model) X-Man that he can't see what's right in front of his face.

Ping33 said...

Also an irony to make the one with his head in the clouds grounded and the grounded one able to fly.

Geoff Klock said...


1) I did not mention Columbine because I do not have anything to say beyond "Morrison alludes to Columbine here," and I figured everyone knew that. What do you think the relationship between the two is?

I am not going after VanSciver in general: I am talking about him on this book; same thing for Kordey -- I mention in my post on him how he is good elsewhere. The time constraint is another matter, especially since he has time to encode SEX 18 times into the art. But you are right that I should not attribute so much to him -- I should spread the blame to Marvel, who made many mistakes, as did Morrison (who I have blamed, but maybe not enough).

3) you are also right I should blame Morrison for the ending. That something I meant to say, but did not say, and that is entirely my own fault. Morrison is also responsible for the odd ending beat.

"Look at what a player can do, not what he can't do" is a version of my mother's "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all." I want to judge whether something is GOOD or BAD, and I need to talk about the evidence on either side to do that. If I follow your advice this site would be nothing but praise -- which it was for many, many months. Check the posts: from February (the first post) to August I did not have a bad word, and when I did it was about Morrison's Magneto because someone on CGS accused me of being a bad judge because all I do is praise him (he said, I think, Morrison could crap in a bag and I would say it was post-modern genius). If you, Ping, or anyone else, would like to return to that model, let me know. In all seriousness I will think about it. It will end my discussion of New X-Men, or at least make many posts very very short.

I also know you want me to look past the bad art. You are not the only person who has told me to do that. In my superhero book I was accused -- rightly -- of not sufficiently taking into account the visual. I have been working here to correct that, and perhaps the pendulum swung too far. But ultimately, in a medium that tells stories with words and pictures I don't WANT to look past the art. I don't think I should have to. If Morrison does not want me to care about the art he should write a novel. It's not like he couldn't get it published and it would probably be pretty good. Until then, for better or worse, art matters in the discussion of a comic book.

Again, you are dead right: I have no idea why I did not blame Morrison for the SEX code. I should have. It does seem like his Sigil magic thing, but I don't really have much to say about that, other than he seems to believe in it.

Your comments on Beak and Angel are very interesting. I do not deny you are right, I just don't love the characters as much as many do.

It's good to have you here Ping; you keep me in line.

Mitch said...

You can't imagine the relief I felt after going home, checking this issue again and finding that the male news anchor IS INDEED thinking of a silly girl on cow sex fantasy.

Around 5:30 today I was petrified that I had conjured the whole image up and accidentally given everyone a glimpse into my own twisted fantasy. Whew. My facade of normalcy is preserved for one day more.

RE: Ping and the art-- EVS is much better than some of the artists on Invisibles.

Geoff Klock said...

"EVS is much better than some of the artists on Invisibles." Well that is pretty hard to disagree with.

Ping33 said...

1) I think the Columbine thing is key because, as I see it, Morrison’s main goal is to recreate the relevancy of the X-Men as a property. He needs to connect them to our world. If you’re going to tell a story about disaffected youth in the late 90’s early 00’s you HAVE to include the School-shooting thing. The existence of the X-men makes such ideas and people MORE radical and the whole issue becomes, rather than one of petty bullying, one about social equality on a larger scale. Lots of people have said that the X-Men are allegory to civil rights, but at this point in time, that movement is largely over. In the mid 90’s they tried and failed to move the discussion to be one about Gay rights… this works better.
2) (nothing to say about your 2nd point)
3) The Look What a Player can do thing ISN’T saying to only look at the positive… rather it’s about viewing things as they are rather than as you wish them to be… just because things differ from ones expectations doesn’t mean that they’re bad. You CAN say bad things, but I think it’s unfair to criticize something for moving in a different direction than you may have hoped. I think it would be better to step back and take a new look, devoid of your hopes for where it would go.
4) I didn’t say the thing about your Super Hero book… I actually tend to overlook art unless I find it distracting. Like I said, look at the art on the Angel pages, it’s in a different world than the rest of the book. Why is that? I think it’s meaningful… like they said “make sure you get THIS right”

Geoff Klock said...

I agree that it is unfair to criticize a book for moving in a different direction than I had hoped -- you are right that you have to judge it for what it is rather than what you want it to be. But that is not what is going on here. I am not the one who came up with the idea of a pop-sexy X-Men book on post-human themes to make the X-Men cooler than cool. If the book wants to change direction I can work with that but that is not what it is doing -- it is pulling in two different directions at once and making a mess in the process. The cover and the costume designs fight with the interior art and the new characters breaking any kind of aesthetic unity. I will have more to say about this in coming posts.

By the way -- I forgot to address something in you initial post: when I wrote in the post that "geeky is the new cool" I did not mean to suggest I thought that was true (and it's my fault that that came out unclear): that is a quote from the book, something the kid says before he gets shot.

Lastly, I am not accusing you of complaining that I don't talk about the visual in my book; I just want you to know why I am taking the visual so seriously. I used to read, as you say, looking past the art unless I found it distracting. I don't do that anymore, and I don't want to go back.

Geoff Klock said...

Ping: I know I should just let this go but I can't: I do not understand how "don't talk about what he can't do" can mean anything other than "don't complain about people." I don't see how this doesn't create a situation where Marvel hires a guy who cannot draw worth a damn and I should not say so because, hey, he is doing his best. Is it that in this situation I should focus my complaint on Marvel for hiring him and leave him alone? Since Marvel CAN hire someone better I can get mad at them because they WONT?

Again, let me say, before this gets out of hand, that VanSciver is not always a bad artist. The last page spread of 117, as I said, is fantastic, and you are right that the Angel pages are better than many other spots. That's not enough for me, but I take you point. I will try not to come off so unfair on the guy in the future.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: Oh, and I forgot to say, that is hilarious. I have had moments like that.

Ping33 said...

Geoff: I was talking more in terms of your idea about what is involved by "the idea of a pop-sexy X-Men book on post-human themes to make the X-Men cooler than cool" than in terms of the Art. At this point I think it's totally fair to say that Marvel fucked up royally. They reversed this a bit with their Civil War delays... of course, if they would just hold the damn solicits in the first place this would NEVER be an issue!