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?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.
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.
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.