Thursday, January 18, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men Annual (Part 2 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. ]

Cassandra Nova will be revised many times in the New X-Men runs; I set up my discussion of her by pretending I did not know about those changes in discussing the first three issues. Xorn, who premieres in the X-Men annual, needs to be evaluated in light of the twist that is coming. I think everyone in comicbookdom needs to calm down about spoilers, especially when a run has been collected, but Spoilers Ho.

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Many issues down the line Xorn -- a sensitive, curious, Chinese mutant and healer with a star for a brain locked in an iron mask -- turns out to have been Magneto the whole time.

Let me digress to talk about twists for a moment. Any screenwriting guide will tell you that twists, to work right, should be, as the phrase goes, "inevitable yet surprising." While there are many little clues that Xorn is Magneto something seems off to me: there MAY be a LOGIC to it (though not always) but it never FEELS right to me, the first time, or on any of my re-reads. Many fans seem satisfied by "possible yet surprising," but I am not one of them. I admit it makes a kind of sense, but what was needed was not there. In my analysis, I will pick up all the moments that work and don't work to build this twist, and then we will see where we are by the time the mask comes off.

Magneto, apparently, escaped the destruction of Genosha and set up this charade to trick the X-Men. When the jailer explains to Mr. Sublime that Xorn has been locked here for half a century, and that his own curse has been to be the jailer for many years, and when Xorn's mask is lifted and two children are (apparently) destroyed, this is all some kind of trick: since the prison and the jailer seem real, perhaps the trick is psychic, but we never learn how it is pulled off. Emma gets a psychic read off of a key and learns Xorn's history: a child who develops a sun for a brain, who should have been a healer or a Buddha, but was locked up for his whole life out of fear. Its one thing to introduce a mysterious character, it is another to give him an elaborate fake history that can be psychically verified by a key. We are told he even escaped once in 1969 and they had to bring him back -- details like that seem unnecessary if you just want to pretend to be someone else. We never learn how Magneto pulled this absurdly elaborate hoax off, a hoax which included a psychic scan by Emma revealing "nothing where his thoughts should be." We just learn, 35 odd issues later, that Xorn is Magneto the whole time. At the end of the issue we see Xorn, finally free and talked out of some kind of black hole suicide by Scott; he stands alone in a huge vista and says to no one (there is no one to hear him) "How strange ... The world seems so much smaller than I remember." One can imagine reasons for this (he took over the life of an actual person, psychics are always watching so he better be in character the whole time, this character is both suicidal and prone to speaking out loud when alone, and details are convincing) -- on some level of course it is POSSIBLE that Xorn is Magneto, but it is the kind of "possible" defense lawyers hammer away at in a courtroom drama:
Witness: "The fingerprint evidence shows he was there."
Lawyer: "Is it POSSIBLE the fingerprint evidence could be wrong."
Witness: "It's a one in a million chance the fingerprint evidence could be wrong."
Lawyer: "But it is POSSIBLE, isn't that right, doctor?!"
Witness: "(sigh), yes it is possible."
Lawyer: "no further questions, your honor."
Morrison should make himself clear about how Magneto did this if he wants the twist to work. A twist should answer questions, not raise them, unless you are planning to deal with the new questions raised. It seems Morrison intended to break everyone's hearts by revealing Xorn to be a facade in the biggest twist of the series, which is a moving idea, but unjustified within his pages -- the Magneto who is revealed at the end is not emotionally manipulative, he is genocidal. A two part plan to (1) make the X-Men feel heartbroken for loving Xorn, and (2) to blow up Manhattan and kill all humans, is hard to swallow.

33 comments:

Theo said...

The whole Xorn thing is one of the things(if not the main thing) that really pissed me off during Morrison's run. We do get a sense that Xorn is a different, potentially dangerous mutant but the revelation that he is Magneto is just clumsy (and emotionally manipulative) writing.

A digression here but I think it's relevant: this is like the bit where Audrey, the wife of one the guards gunned down by King Mob in Invisibles vol. 1 #4, shows up in Invisibles vol.3 #2 and rescues King Mob. Then Morrison in interviews said that Audrey's actually the central (invisible) character of the book. Did I miss something? How is she the central character of the Invisibles? End of digression.

The whole Xorneto thing is so stupid because it practically undermines every progressive theme in the book. Xorneto seems to be pushed into being a genocidal fuckhead because he has been doing too much Kick. And too much Kick gives him the extra power needed to kill the Phoenix by giving her a stroke? C'mon! Kick is then revealed to be the aerosol form of Sublime, an intelligent bacteria colony out to eradicate all mutants. At least the Here Comes Tomorrow storyline was an unlikely but welcome return to the themes established earlier in the book. Overall, I am with you in that I like NXM as the book that could have been not what it ultimately became.

Oh- and GM writes a really great Jean Grey.

neilshyminsky said...

The annual is the only part of the Xorn-Magneto question that totally fails to work for me. This is probably due, in some small part, to the fact that it also did a lot to endear the idea of a character like Xorn to me. But yeah, the prison, its history, his jailer, Emma's probes... there's a lot going on here, too much, that doesn't get explained in any way, and that's frustrating.

Mitch said...

I didn't read this Annual until it was collected in the Hardcover, at which point I knew that Xorn was Magneto. For that reason, I was mostly confused by, like you said, the needless supporting details. What Morrison was obviously going for was a just plain mean surprise. He treated Xorn like a new character all the way up until the end, just so it would completely, like you said, break our hearts.

The thing that fascinates me about Xorn is that, like it or not, you can read him two ways until the reveal: You can read him as if Morrison wrote Magneto the whole time or you can imagine that there really is a nice Xorn guy, who Morrison turned into Magneto at the end.

I will get into this more when we talk about the all Xorn issue later.

You're absolutely right about his two part plan being lame and poorly conceived, Geoff. I see that now.

Vish said...

I agree the portrayal was inconsistent. GM does try at times to shock people and outsmart them rather than keep things grounded. his dialogue is littered with wild concepts which dirupt the flow of any natural conversation, I always felp he was being arrogant at times and condecending to his readers even though he can write some great stories. I'm not the biggest X-men fan but Magneto doesn't seem like someone who would bother being that manipulative, he has so much (arrogant)faith in his beliefs that he'd shout it from the rooftops not hide it. Even the firrst movie got it slightly wrong by making him evil for the sake of being evil as opposed to a man fighting for a cause. there must be a reason why he & Charles were friends at one point.If you draw comparisons with Al-qieda(not sure of spelling) the leaders like bin ladin, have to be figureheads, in your face and public to draw people to their cause. It's the people under him that need to do the sneaky stuff like intergratinb into western society because they're expendable, he isn't.

Bryan said...

While I agree with you, Geoff, and basically everyone else that the revelation smacks of Morrison trying to prove he's smarter than the reader, I don't think Xorn is as simple as "Magneto infiltrating the X-Men." It seems to me -- or rather, it could be interpreted -- that Xorn is Magneto trying out Xavier's ideals in a new world where everything he (Magneto) has fought for is essentially realized. The mutant populance was (is?) going to overtake the human populance through genetics alone; if Magneto sat in a corner and picked his nose, his dream would come true. He perhaps created Xorn, then, as a desperate, delusional reaction to this.

hcduvall said...

This annual is one of the few X-Men comics that I own from the recent years. Smartly written, new directions from what I remembered, and pretty good art. Ultimately nto for me, but that's something else. Xorn though did seem like an interesting character a little of bit of the "his power will tilt the balance sort of thing." Potential for some sort of how can you convince Marvelman or the like sort of character to care. Having not read the majority of the rest of the run, when I found out it Magneto was Xorn, I just sort of assumed there'd be a stronger explanation to all this. I guess there isn't? And no real spot in the middle of his appearances for a switch to happen?

brad said...

The worst part is that when Magneto finally reveals himself, he's a kick addicted maniac with absolutely no depth. Just from a character stand point, there's no way THAT guy could have pretended to be Xorn. You might as well have had Scott turn into Magneto at the end.

Troy Wilson said...

All the extraneous details in the Annual could have worked if, in retrospect, they'd cried out MAGNETO. Because I could see Magneto just piling it on, chuckling to himself and almost daring his enemies to figure it out. But, alas, said details don't add up that way.

And you're right, Brad, how in god's name could the kick-addicted Zany-eto have carefully kept up his disguise? I suppose he probably got hooked on kick while at Xavier's, but did we ever see Xorn's descent into drug addiction? That might've been interesting, actually; we'd have been reacting one way to our beloved Xorn's tragic slide into addiction, only to have the rug pulled out from under us when we discovered it was actually Magneto who was addicted. Plus, it could have allowed Morrison to spell out that the addiction caused Magneto to do the reveal before he had originally intended - and to, in fact, clumsily throw his original and brilliant plan to the wind. All the same, I think Magneto-as-addict was a useless dead end. In part, I suppose it was intended to show the trouble old farts get into when they try to run with the youngsters. But I didn't buy it. All the same, I think it could've been executed in a more interesting - and fair - way.

On the plus side, I liked the whole "star for a brain" thing. Don't know how explicitly it was stated (either in the actual text or by someone after the fact), but I always took the star to be the Star of David, harkening back to his Jewish heritage. Might've been a nice visual reveal, having Xavier realize that the star was actually the Star of David. (For all I know, this is exactly what happened and I'm forgetting that I read it - or read about it. It's what I get for skimming bits and pieces of the run here and there.)

Geoff Klock said...

Theo and Brad: You are quite right to remind me about the Kick drug use -- at the very least if you want to have a drug addicted Magneto emerge, you better show Xorn doing drugs at some point. It is impossible to reconcile Xorn and Magneto.

Neil: there are other things about Xorn that don't work either and we will get to that.

Mitch: I have a hunch the twist was conceived AFTER Xorn was introduced, which is one of the reasons it does not work. Maybe Morrison thought of it soon after, but the original design of a Xorn who is not Magneto keeps coming through.

Vish: I have never understood people who don't want their writers to be arrogant, or who attack them for showing off -- Morrison's confidence in one of the things that makes him a great writer, and he has a huge imagination and should show it off. That said you are right -- Magneto should have more depth, as I argued in a previous post (just hit the New X-Men label).

Bryan: it's the "could be interpreted" that gets on my nerves. I COULD interpret anything any way I want to; it is Morrison's job to guide my interpretations in the direction he would like, but with Xorn he just leaves this big empty space and walks away. If he meant what you say he should have made that more clear.

HCduvall: there are little clues, but nothing like what you need to justify the plot twist.

It's funny -- I thought lots of people would defend the Xorn Magneto thing. In the past I have heard so many people tell me how well set up the twist is, and how there are so many clues if I would just take the time to look (and for the record I do not deny there are clues). I am kind of glad we are all on the same page, but I expected a knock out drag out.

Geoff Klock said...

Troy: (you posted while I was writing): that's funny we wrote the same thing at the same time, about how we should have seen Xorn doing drugs or something. That's a good idea about how Morrison should have shown us some idea of what Magneto's original Xorn plan was, and how it went wrong because of drugs. But you are right: it still would not have worked because crazy Magneto on drugs is not fun.

Marc Caputo said...

I haven't gone back to the run yet, but how I saw it (which runs counter to how Morrison says it was written) was that there WAS a Xorn and Magneto switched with him (killed him/secluded him, whatever) somewhere during the run. I'd always thought that the solo issue was the last time we saw the real Xorn. The Xorn that appeared later on to teach the class was Magneto.

Also, I'm remembering that the two times Xorn got the cover was him contemplating a cheeseburger. The second time was him inhaling (!!!) the visualized aroma from a bag of chips (fries?) That's an interesting thing.

See, this is why I re-read this arc from time to time - what else lends itself to this level of discourse?

Marc Caputo said...

One additional thing: will the discussion of Xorn be limited to Morrison's run or will you be seeing how other writers (Claremont and Austen) totally screwed Morrison and how one man (Bendis) did his level best to reconcile Morrison's intents with Marvel's editorial ret-con?

Troy Wilson said...

I for one would be very interested in hearing all about the post-Morrison retcon(s). Then I won't have to read Claremont or Austen's stuff.

I will say, though, that Claremont and Austen might have been less likely to retcon Magneto/Xorn if a) Morrison's depiction of Magneto had been more compelling and b)the whole infiltration thing had been more airtight. And yes, yes, I know that ANYTHING can be reversed in comics, but they might have been A BIT less likely to touch a more elegant construction.

mitch said...

Geoff- Regarding my not defending Xorn/Magneto-- I have to say that when I first read the reveal issue, I was pumped for a Magneto story and I didn't care how sloppy the explaination was. After Planet X started to sag, I began to question it.

Troy Said: "I will say, though, that Claremont and Austen might have been less likely to retcon Magneto/Xorn if a) Morrison's depiction of Magneto had been more compelling... "

I absolutely agree, Troy.

Jason Powell said...

Just siezing on one thread of Geoff's, since I had criticized Morrison's arrogance/ego in an earlier rant in a different thread ....

I think the "arrogant writer" is only palatable if it's justified. I find it hard to ever a fault a writer being smug when you can see right on the same page exactly what he did that gives him the right to feel smug.

In Morrison's case, where I personally have seen his smugness is in interviews -- and from what little of Morrison's comic-book output that I've read (and I admit it is a little), I don't see it justified.

So, Geoff, you're probably right in that arrogance is just part and parcel of the writer's psychological makeup -- but nobody likes to see it in a writer who they feel doesn't back it up. "If you talk the talk, you better be able to walk the walk," and all that. (I love philosophies that can be encapsulated in rhyme.)

Geoff Klock said...

Marc: Magneto cannot have switched places with Xorn so late since the way Xorn was able to "heal" Xavier's paralysis was my using his (Magneto's) powers to control Nova's nano-sentinels -- this is one of the things that Magneto says when he unmasks. That "healing" was before the Xorn solo issue. You could imagine that Magneto switched with Xorn between the Annual and his appearance in the title proper -- but Magneto says it was him the whole time and we are give no reason to disagree.

I am afraid I cannot talk about the retcon, since I only know about it from wikipedia reports and newsarama posts.

Troy, mitch: I second what Mitch said -- the retcon was needed because Morrison left a mess.

Jason: I think he does back it up: WE3, Seaguy, JLA Classified, Flex Mentallo, Doom Patrol, All Star Superman, JLA Earth 2, and Seven Soldiers (despite it's flaws) are are masterful and diverse.

neilshyminsky said...

Geoff: Just to point out something that, as I recall, is inferred rather than made explicit about Xorneto and the Kick connection - the X-Men do realize early on that someone is getting Kick into the school, but they never learn where it's coming from. I don't know whether any character eventually makes the connection, but I had assumed that the source was Xorn, which would tie that part up, at least.

I'm interested to see where else you feel the inconsistencies are, though. I haven't looked back on the whole run since the reveal itself, but I seem to recall that it held together really well outside the annual. Care to share one or two other major stumbling blocks?

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: You may be right about Xorn being the Kick connection -- I suppose it ties op that detail, but with the mess surrounding it, I don't care. The other inconstancies -- not so many more than I have already mentioned, I think -- I will hit during my issue by issue look, but "held together outside the annual" -- i.e. the Xorn-Magneto connection holds together well outside the introduction of the whole thing -- is hardly much of a compliment. How many more stumbling blocks do we need to declare this plot twist unconvincing?

Ping33 said...

I think that Xorn is Magnito from the 2nd time you see him when he's with the monks.

But there are loads of hints from that point on. I guess you can say that the Magnito in the comics isn't as compelling as the one in the movies... but, we've seen that Magnito over 30 years. Morrison sees that if you're going to tell an X-men story you need to have a beginning, middle and end. The End of the X-Men is a story well told by every major era of the book, the difference is that none of them other than Morrison had the guts to end it with Magneto winning which makes the most sense if you're going to look at a despotic future X-men world. I understand that Ian McKellen is more elegant and convincing than the Bat-shit-crazy one at New X-Men's Götterdämmerung, but Morrison lays the groundwork for his decent into madness with the destruction of Genosha in the first arc. That is finally the thing which breaks him. And having Magneto, even if not at his best, end the X-men is ONE HELL of a lot more satisfying than a super-robot from the future or a 3rd rate Egyptian Darkseid. As for the not doing drugs as Xorn thing... have you seen Goodfellas? The deeper you get the less you can hold it together.

Geoff Klock said...

Ping: again, I don't deny that Xorn could be Magneto from the second time, but Morrison does not bother to make that clear, and I think he should. It IS a good idea to take Magneto so seriously, but our point here is Morrison does not lay the groundwork for the sudden Xorn-Magneto switch -- you hardly expect a drug addicted and clearly insane genocidal maniac to play a convincing role for so long.

Ping33 said...

Geoff, you miss MY point that his plan started lucidly and he gradually slipped into insanity and Drug addiction in the complacency that his plan was working. The point at which you are complaining about him is also the point at which he (finally) goes completely off the rails. After forcing control over himself for so long and with his goals finally accomplished he descends into wild abandon.

Ping33 said...

In summation: Being Xorn isn't at odds with Morrison's Magneto, it's a prerequisite. Acting the part drove him further into rage and madness. Like a John La Carre character, the submergence into his role kills his humanity and drives him to an antisocial radicalism which is well past reason.

sara d. reiss said...

Ping: If what you describe -- a very good story, by the way -- is the story Morrison wanted to tell, he should have been more clear. There is nothing to prevent you from imagining that is what happened with Xorn, but there is not nearly enough to make it the inevitable story -- the twist should be inevitable and surprising.

Ping33 said...

He makes mention of how much he hates being Xorn when he finally reveals himself. I've found that a LOT of times Morrison seems to only hint at themes and ideas which are critical to his story and should be stated much more explicitly.

Geoff Klock said...

Ping: That Sara D Reiss Quote above was me, sorry. Morrison does hint at themes and ideas, I just don't think he should hint so much at the PLOT, which is after all, the story he is telling.

Patrick said...

But for Morrison, I don't think plot is the major reason he's telling the story. He's more about those crazy pop ideas and ecstatic character moments.

As for the unnecessarily developed backstory, the whole point of the Xorn arc is that Magneto created this false persona to trick the X-Men into taking in, and in spite of himself, Xorn winds up becoming a beloved symbol for mutants in a way that Magneto never was. He was playing a character when he was Xorn, but that character became so powerful as to become an almost seperate entity. In Planet X, the kids in the class ask when Xorn is coming back and they say they preferred Xorn to Magneto. I think that's a large part of what drives him mad, the fact that this false persona he creates winds up acquiring the love and admiration he always wanted for himself.

The ending certainly has its issues, but I think the emotions you're expressing about the Xorn twist are precisely what the characters were feeling, disbelief and anger. Now, maybe some of the details are implausible, but Magneto knows they've got telepaths coming in, so he's not just going to all of a sudden appear. By creating this elaborate backstory, he not only puts himself above suspicious, he also creates a situation where his opinion will be respected. It's also interesting to note the parallels between Xorn's imprisonment and Magneto's as a Holocaust survivor. Claremont used Magneto's history as a way to gain sympathy for the character, and now Magneto himself does the same thing with Xorn.

Geoff Klock said...

Ping and Patrick: I see you points. I am not sold, but I am going to keep an open mind when I look at future issues. It's not necessarily that I disagree, I just think it should be a hell of a lot more clear if that is what he wanted. A great debate about Morrison's themes and ideas is one thing, but I don't think there should be so much debate about the actual plot.

Mitch said...

Wouldn't it be funny if Ping33 turned out to be a disguise for Morrison all along?

Ping33 said...

at the CGS board a few people thought I was Geoff for a while.

MItch said...

Don't think I've ruled out that possibility either, Xorn33.

Jason Powell said...

"Jason: I think he does back it up: WE3, Seaguy, JLA Classified, Flex Mentallo, Doom Patrol, All Star Superman, JLA Earth 2, and Seven Soldiers (despite it's flaws) are are masterful and diverse."

Yes, which is why Morrison's "ego" isn't bothersome. It's something that becomes an extra complaint when one doesn't like a writer, or something a writer did. i.e., "That story sucked. And what made it worse is how the writer was so smug about it."

At least, I know I personally fall into this trap. More power to those who don't...

Matt Brady said...

I may be misremembering this, but I believe I read an interview with Joe Quesada, Marvel's editor-in-chief (or maybe it was Bill Jemas, Marvel's president at the time), in which he said Morrison came to him at the San Diego Comicon (2003?) and told him he was leaving Marvel; it was a surprise to Quesada, and Morrison kind of left suddenly. I remembered that while I was reading this discussion because it made me think that perhaps Morrison ended up wrapping up his New X-Men run fairly quickly and maybe even kind of sloppily. This is pure speculation on my part, but maybe Morrison had intended to flesh out his big twist a bit more fully, but because he was leaving the company, he just turned in his last couple stories and left. Does anyone know anything about this to set me straight? Is it complete BS? I only just came up with the theory in the last few minutes, and it's based on a possibly faulty memory, so if I'm wrong (or right), let me know!

anonymouse said...

I realize this discussion ended...oh, a year ago but I thought I'd drop my two cents in any way.

This idea every one has about Xorneto being a concious part of GM's overall story arc for Xorn is wrong. Xorneto is what happened when GM ran out of ideas for Xorn, nothing more. He didn't plan this "twist reveal" years in advance. Everything that supports this theory is purely coincidence.

Grant Morrison, like Matt Brady said, abruptly decided to leave Marvel and he didn't know how to end his run with a bang. He remembered that he hadn't touched Magneto in almost four years and so he started rummaging through his rubbish-idea drawer for ways to shoe-horn this mutant nuisance back into his New X-Men's lives.
The result, unfortunately, was Xorneto, a Claremont-Magneto crudely devolved into a horrible caricature of a Kirby/Lee-Magneto.