[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.