[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue. For more posts like it click the New X-Men tab at the bottom of this post.]
The opening three pages are some of my favorites ever -- Xorn and Cyclops running for the teleporter with Cyclops showing that "ice cold lunacy under pressure" mentioned in issue 115 -- he has total confidence he will live and the good guys will win even though everything is against them. The first page is a single large panel that appears to be falling off the page -- this is how Quitely shows the ship lunging as it explodes, which is wonderful, simple and effective. The colors are perfect -- the fiery explosions and the cool blue of the Shi'ar transporter -- as is Cyclops's wry smile. Later in the issue Morrison will write one of my favorite lines: Jean says to Cyclops "You are my favorite super hero," which is lovely, and believable after these pages. Cyclops's optimism is terribly endearing; I love the way he smiles when Jean says, when everything is darkest, "Can I just remind everyone that Emma is still on the loose."
Xorn is in awe both of the ship and of Cyclops. Xorn is beautiful, but in terms of our Magneto watch it is all just an act (I guess). Magneto is apparently a great actor, never out of character for even a second. I have trouble imagining this, but OK. Xorn is a healer and heals the X-Men -- the X-Men are sick from the nano-sentinels and Magneto can short them out. I guess it is a coincidence that he claimed to be a healer and then the first time he is asked to do something, it involves little metal robots. That is one very lucky Magneto: anything else and he would have been useless, and his cover would have been blown. But here is my real question -- Nova kicks everyone's asses and Xorn just jumps on her in the middle of the fight and holds her still -- something the imperial guard was unable to do. Nothing metal to help him out here (Nova is naked) except his own outfit -- I guess he could make himself really heavy or something, but that does not seem like much. What annoys me is that even though he is one of the few characters to make a solid attack on her (even Wolverine could not do that) she ignores him. Read the part of my last NXM post on Nova and Xorn to see why that bothers me.
Another great Quitely detail, one I cannot believe Marvel did not censor -- Nova has a Shi'ar warrior with phasing powers raping the Imperial Guard who crashed to earth in the cow field: look at the clenched fists of the victim, and the way the rapist's hand rests on his victim's head -- not all of him is phasing. A stunning moment. Guardian will piss himself on the next page. Again, stunning.
Jean objects to the option of killing Nova, which is odd -- the X-Men bombed a facility in China from a jet, Cyclops euthanized Ugly John, and they chose to let Nova's body die when they had the option of saving it. But Ok, maybe Jean objected to those things.
Another Quitely detail: look at students in the hallway -- Quitely knows how to get the most out of body language, which is how he is the first man to make us believe Clark Kent is a good disguise for Superman -- Clark's body language makes it impossible to think he could be Superman.
I have already written about Nova's convoluted character design, which radically changes from issue to issue; in this issue her motivation is split, which causes problems. As the next step in evolution she still wants to kill all mutants. As Xavier's evil doppelganger, she only thinks she and Charles are real and only wants to hurt him (as we learned in 122). I suppose we can say she wants to kill all mutants to hurt Charles, but it seems like two different characters to me. We do keep going back and forth on her being unique or an example of a kind of monster -- here both options are mentioned in one issue.
The origin of this confusion is, I am now going to claim, Onslaught, an X-Men villain from more than a decade ago. Onslaught is mentioned in this issue and the reference is pointed because Nova and Onslaught are essentially the same character, the psychically powered dark side of Xavier, the return of his repressed. Nova started out as something new, but over time became a version of Onslaught. Morrison has been writing about the clash between the new and the old -- thinking about his new stories trying to break away from the X-Men rut of the last 20 years -- but something goes wrong: He fails to sell Nova as something new in the first three issues, and so she becomes Onslaught, a mere repetition. One of the reasons Morrison's New X-Men fails is that Morrison, at some point it seems, decides to dramatize failure rather than succeed. There is imaginative power in accepting loss and failure, but it is less than the Victory he has achieved elsewhere (All Star Superman, for example).
I have chastised Morrison for having no post-human philosophies to offer, but he does give us something here. Jean says mutant justice, not human justice, is needed -- and that is exactly what she finds: the mutant answer is the reeducation of Nova rather than her death or incarceration. It is a very strong ending to a weird plot and an odd but compelling character. The year has been a mess of highs and lows, but it ends on a powerful and persuasive note.
[EDIT: The title of this post, when it was first put up was wrong: I have now changed the "125" to "126."]