Monday, February 19, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 123

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men issue by issue. To read earlier posts in the series click the New X-Men link at the bottom of this post].

Is it a coincidence that one issue after Quitely leaves Beak is introduced, and in the three issues after that, drawn by Sciver and Kordey, Angel plays a main role? That when Quitely returns for two issues (121 and 122) these characters are nowhere to be found (except as part of the crowd attending Emma's lecture in 122)? That when Quitely leaves again in this issue, drawn by Sciver, the first page is a shot of Angel? This must be a coincidence -- certainly Quitely will eventually draw both Beak and Angel in prominent roles. But the fact that at this point Beak and Angel, who are against the spirit of the Morrison-Quitely manifesto, appear when Quitely leaves, disappear when he returns, and appear again when he leaves again, contributes seriously to the book's unevenness. It feels not just that the artists are isolated from each other, but that they are working against one another.

Sciver again is quite uneven. My hunch is that he is talented but rushed. He draws a great Jean Grey on page two, but very strange Wolverine claws on page 3; Cyclops looks right, but the Cookoo girl flirting looks just bizarre in the worst way.

Morrison, again following the lead of his artist (if that is even possible, since he may write these scripts before knowing who will draw then), writes very unevenly. Nova, it turns out, has infected the X-Men with nano-sentinels, giving them AIDS caused by tiny robots in their bloodstreams. That is a stroke of genius, especially when you place it in the context of all that they are dealing with at once: Charles dying from a series of motor neuron disorders, Nova returning with the Shi'ar, being "outed" and having to protect the media.

But Morrison also goes screwy on a couple of points. Everyone will tell me this is too minor to care about but when the Cookoos get annoyed with one of their own saying "she's kissing him now. That practically makes her a slut" that feels off to me; this is written at a time when the newspapers are going crazy about middle schools and oral sex --Morrison's Cookoos seems like an earlier generation of high school students, which is a problem given how progressive Morrison wants to be, looking at the future of post-humanism.

This looks especially bad in this issue where we get what should be Morrison's big statement on post-humanism: the last testament of Charles Xavier. It is a pretty thin testament.

"Charles saw that we were all just scared of being hurt and betrayed by one another."

"Everyone wants to be a persecuted minority these days, but the institute tries not to encourage that kind of defeatist world-view."

"Xavier's is a school. We're here to teach our students to take care of themselves and other people."

"[The X-men simply] monitor and resolve mutant emergency situations; we're here for everyone's protection."

"We're giving the world Mutant musicians, mutant doctors and athletes."

"Our telepaths can voyage into the depths of the human mind and free people from ancient destructive behavior patterns. Humans and mutants are branches on the same evolutionary tree. The very idea that we should fight is absurd; it's like one finger fighting another."

"All of us, humans and mutants, have to spend the rest of our lives in the future. Let's get together and make it a nice place to live."

Jean Grey calls this "an outpost of the future, here and now" but it just sounds like a lot of lame self-help books, and perfectly traditional ideas about education. Morrison is misunderstanding his strengths: he is a fantastic storyteller, with great sci-fi crazy ideas and a lot of heart. But he is not a philosopher, nor does he do ground level, day to day realism very well.


Pat Moler said...

Hey, Geoff. I posted a new short story in my (MySpace)blog called "Late Night Percrastinating". I really really respect your opinion and was wondering if you could read it and give my a quick critique over it. (link's in my name thingy)

Also I liked the character Beak. You always imagine being a Mutabt and think, "Sure socially it'd suck, but at least I'd have cool powers." Beak on the other hand has all the bad with lil' of the good. Really no extraorinary powers at all.

neilshyminsky said...

i wonder how much of this philosophizing via Xavier is meant sincerely (but then, i always question Morrison's sincerity), given that Morrison will later make it clear that going public and building X-Corp was the most progressive act that Xavier's has ever engaged in - and it wasn't even Xavier who did it. the line about being 'defeatist' struck me as incredibly apt and even a meta-moment - everything Xavier has done to this point has been defeatist and reactionary. it makes sense, then, that the xavier institute becomes a very different beast after Imperial.

ZC said...

It's interesting that Morrison's philosophizing is so dreary/boring in New X-Men, when The Invisibles (his major project immediately before) is so chock full of philosophy.

Granted, The Invisibles has... well, no day-to-day realism. Or it does, for a page or two, and then fifth-dimensional alien time gods crash through the time bubble/chronosphere and we're back to normal. So maybe that's the real problem here, not the philosophizing, but generating the philosophy in a fairly down-to-earth scene (Jean Gray talking to reporters).

Meanwhile, the philosophy that crops up later (all the "Mummudrai" stuff) appears in the alien uber-empire context, and that seems to bother me less.

Theo said...

I think that the main problem with Morrison's philosophy in NXM is the fact that Morrison tries to simultaneously critique the recurring nature of comicbook stories while at the same time attempting to flesh out a post-human philosophy to go with it. It's a valiant attempt but ultimately a failed one; the "Here comes tomorrow" arc manages to somewhat salvage this stab at a post-human philosophy but it's a little too late.

I also wonder how much the X-editors reigned in Morrison's wilder ideas...

Matt Brady said...

Wow, I don't remember a lot of the stuff you mention here. I originally planned to read the series along with you, but never did due to all the other stuff on my plate. Maybe I'll have to reconsider that option.

It's true, a lot of this stuff sounds pretty prosaic; not especially revolutionary, like we generally think of Morrison. It looks like you've nailed the problem: Morrison is great with crazy ideas, but not especially good with philosophy. I think the best part is "we're giving the world mutant musicians, doctors, and athletes". That's where Morrison did interesting stuff, expanding the mutant society outside of the Xavier school and making it an actual culture. But most of that probably comes later; this is just a self-help speech.

Geoff Klock said...

Sorry I have not been more active in the comments this week -- I have been very very ill.

troy wilson said...

Get well soon, Geoff.

Tony said...

I am usually of the thinking that, absent extreme cases, it is pretty useless to argue about most art's 'realism.' Sometimes we as readers don't have a handle on what really DOESN'T go on in reality ourselves. How do you articulate about what constitutes reality or not? Most stuff happens. Also, sometimes realism isn't even the point. As far as vindicating Morrison's portrayl of the Cuckoos, I would argue you could double dip. For one, the Cuckoo's are not necessarily supposed to be realistic. They represent the idea of feminine adolescent conformity in the post-industrial age. Like a mini mutant version of 'Heathers' they are realistic in their hyperbolic symbolism. In these terms, I think Morrison does a great job. I bought it. As for the line about being 'practically a slut' --- that was, by my estimation, one of the most brilliantly funny and realistic moments of the run. Whatever attitudes we as a culture have about sex, my experience with teenage girls (I have a lot of it, I am still tutoring them) is that they are some of the most reactionary, schizo-mysoginistic, disciplinarian moralists you can find. Girls call other girls 'sluts' at the drop of a hat; if they wear the wrong thing, if they like the wrong boy, too many boys, if too many boys like them or the wrong boy likes them. This isn't about sexual mores, it's about power and conformity. And this is exactly the dynamic that Morrison translated, I think really well, to the mutant school context. Just wanted to stir that pot. Love that scene.

Geoff Klock said...

Tony: I live in reality and I get to judge what is realistic or not. I majored in poetry so I am qualified to judge poetry, and I live in reality so I get to judge realism. I agree that we may not know reality completely, but knowing something completely -- with the eyes of God -- cannot be a prerequsite for making a statement, or we would never be allowed to say anything at all.

That said, I take your point about the girls. They could be like out of Heathers, that's fair. And I think you are right to correct me with "This isn't about sexual mores, it's about power and conformity." I buy that. Thanks.