Monday, January 15, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men Annual (Part 1 of 2)

[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. ]
New X-Men Annual 2001
This will be a two part post about the Annual: I have too much to say about the introduction of Xorn, so that will be relegated to the next installment of this little series.

The artwork by Lenil Yu is beautiful -- he does a great job with both sexy and monstrous, and he should have been considered as the regular artist on this book -- he would have been great. He has an especially good effect of "cutting out" his characters from the background and isolating them as pure images, which is a great device on Morrison's attempt to make the X-Men sexy.

Emma, especially, always looks great in his hands. I don't have anything to say about the book's "sideways" format, except that I like it and would like to see it more often.

Scott taking a vow of celibacy the the beginning of this issue is exactly the right direction to take this character -- play up his sex life and him being a zen jackass about it. Once again, it is just wonderful to be in new territory with this character and this book: on no previous X-Men issue could this even be a topic. The whole thing feels more adult, and it should. Morrison is forcing these characters to grow up. Even better, he plays with the idea that Scott sleeps with Emma. The X-Men is always called a soap opera, but it has never felt more like one than with Morrison, and much of it is fantastic.

Sex is brought up twice more in this book, both time to great effect:
Wolverine: So ... you need some company after this gig?
Domino: Can't hide from the man with hypersenses, huh? No strings animal passion, Logan, and you're paying for the drinks.
Wolverine: The Professor hands out platinum credit cards to his teaching staff.
Domino: First things first, honey ... Ninja business.
It takes only a split second to realize why his hypersenses are telling him she wants to have sex, and right in that moment you know the X-Men should never go back again. We don't lose the ninja stuff, but it's working on a fun, sexy, and dangerous new level.

Right on the next page is a much darker sexual moment, when Xorn's jailer reveals that "My fantasy is to have two white girls wrestle in crude oil until they suffocate like gulls on the beaches of Kuwait," a fantasy he admits to accomplishing later on in the issue. There is a lot packed into that sentence, including an instant grasp of his character, a revealing suggesting about the West and its quest for oil, and a realization that this is not so much a new fantasy as the unspeakable base structure under sexual fantasies of, for example, mud wrestling: beyond a "safe" demeaning of women lies the fantasy of killing them.

Violence is also brought up a notch, as the X-Men bomb a facility in China from a plane: "So we're allowed to do stuff like this now," says Wolverine; "Let's see who complains," says Scott. The whole thing feels fresh, both for the readers and the characters, and it is exhilarating. Freedom is a hard feeling to create on a book with continuity like this.

And finally we have the introduction of Mr. Sublime, and the U-Men. Morrison's is a genius for coming up with the name "U-Men (human)" to oppose to "X-Men (mutants)" -- it's hard to believe that no one thought of that before -- and I can't help but love their outfits, designed to shield them from the "fallen world," the gnostic catastrophe creation.

But Sublime himself is the leader of a self-esteem cult, which is the kind of theme we expect from the book before Morrison got it -- angst and self-esteem are the wrong topics for Morrison's new direction, they can only hold back his pop sexy post-humanism. Sublime is the only thing in the first four issues that felt off to me, a hold over from the old guard. I just can't buy into him as a bad guy -- the 1980s media savvy slime-ball villain concept is dumb, like the villains on Columbo (a show I love by the way). Also vaguely troubling is his "transsexual language" about being a "third species" (like the third sex) -- third species is post-humanism stuff, and should be associated with the good guys, surely. Something very small has gone wrong, but it will grow exponentially as we continue.


butter said...

I think the u-men are meant to be faux-radicals like the kids with magneto-tshirts later on in the series.
Just like they are not gnostics but parodies of the gnostic.
It does bring a conservative vibe to New X-men.
Conservatism is of course a valid artistic viewpoint but it matches badly with the future-theme.

Geoff Klock said...

Butter: that's a good point. I am going to talk more in the future about faux-radicals -- since it may be the case that Morrison himself, on this book, becomes a faux radical.

Ken said...


Reading these issue summaries/breakdowns of yours really makes me want to go and pick up the Omnibus.

I tried to read these issues before, but the art changes were just so jarring that I couldn't keep at it.

Maybe I'll give it another go.

Bryan said...

Geoff, when you talk about Sublime's role in the story -- how it should be on the side of good because it matches a central theme -- are you talking just about John Sublime/U-Men, or the Sublime in terms of the entire run?

brad said...

I agree totally that the theme of post-humanism should have been taken to new heights and sustained as part of the goodguys' story. After it was taken to some unexpected extreme, it would have been appropriate to associate it with the badguys.

Geoff Klock said...

Ken: The art changes are jarring, but the main problem is BAD ART. If you pick it up and read it, keep in mind it is an interesting failure with remarkable moments and issues. If you are looking for more you will be disappointed.

Bryan: right now I am just talking about Mr. Sublime in this story and the next one. I will tackle the Sublime entity later on.

Brad: Well said: though what I would like to have seen is it taken to unexpected extremes that made the X-Men themselves look like bad guys -- these guys are supposed to be, on some level, free of merely "human" ethics (something Xavier will say in an upcoming issue, but not act on).

neilshyminsky said...

on the matter of faux radicals: i think that the U-Men, the Omega Gang, and the kid holding the x-ray eyeballs in the first Kordey issue are indeed parodies - parodies of X-Men readers. look at that kid with the eyes in the gymnasium, who appears in 118. to my mind, it's a clear indictment of the white, upper-middle class kids whose parents can afford to shell out the money to buy these things and whose biggest problem is being too smart - yet identify with a metaphor for racial and queer descrimination. the U-Men represent every privileged kid who wanted to imagine that he was REALLY oppressed.

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: that is an excellent point. Thanks.

MItch said...

I was going to say the same thing as Neil.

I can't take credit for this myself and nor can I find the original post on the Shades of Grey message boards that got into this, but the take on the U-Men I liked was that they were "You-Men"... emphasis on "You", the reader. They want to be the X-Men and they go to such lengths to achieve that goal that they actually become X-Men villains. That's pretty clever.

But otherwise yeah, shouldn't Xavier have been the New Age, Self help guru?

Ping33 said...

I'm going to start with the art.
I am NOT a Leinil Francis Yu fan. I don't think he's done anything which I have liked and this is no exception. Added to the fact that I hate the whole Widescreen thing. Which was TOTALLY a reaction to Warren Ellis' statements regarding the Authority, Marvel (as always) stole the idea and (as always) literalized it totally losing the nuance. When this book came out I HATED it. When I later reread it I liked it more, being prepared for Yu's angular sketchiness helped (though I still think the Inking AND colour are hideous) as did being able to more clearly see Morrison play with the concept of Widescreen Comic Books(tm.)
It's funny Geoff should point to the lines about the guards fantasy because to me that's more about mocking Hollywood action blockbusters (and Americans perceptions of their foreign enemies) than a hip updating of the X-men's relevance.
I guess what I'm saying is that the whole book is only really enjoyable for me when I read it as a giant Morrison Piss-take on Joey Q's PR move and as the book which introduced Xorn, one of my favourite elements of the series.

Geoff Klock said...

Ping: I need some more elaboration to see how the fantasy of the guard mocks Hollywood blockbusters -- it is just because evil villains from Hollywood movies often say stuff like that to establish themselves to the audience as bad guys?

Ping33 said...

yeah, that's it exactly.
Just generally it embodies the whole "they secretly want what we have (and are generally repressed sexually)" view which is so predominant in America. It's this cartoon view which makes our enemies more loathsome while propping up western lifestyle as the ultimate experience in the world.

Geoff Klock said...

Ping: but what tells you that it is a parody, rather than just using the device?

Ping33 said...

I think the device is lame and think the execution is irredeemable and half-witted if done without tongue in cheek. I guess it's possible. Batman 656 left me with the feeling of being run over by Captain Obvious' 16-wheeler... but I like(d) to think more of Morrison than that. It's just hulking and hokey. I can't imagine that anyone would think that the hairy-chested dumb-ass action and obvious clumsy transitions are what makes American blockbusters good. It all has the feel of being about 3 hours into a Andy Sidaris film fest at a venue which serves beer.

Geoff Klock said...

Normally I would buy the Morrison is so smart you have to assume his use of a lame device is a parody, but he makes other mistakes in this run, which I will discuss in future posts, that make me less confident.

Jack said...

So basically Morrison was making fun of the readers with the U-men? What a douche.