Monday, March 05, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 127

I have seen praise for issue 127 around here, but it was an issue that really frustrated me, and made me feel that even outside of the fill in artists something was seriously wrong with Morrison's New X-Men. I remember reading it on the subway, amazed at my boredom.

The issue is beautiful; Leon and Sienkiewicz are amazing, especially drawing and coloring Xorn (with his glowing blue eyes) and Jean Grey (with her halo of fire) -- both stand out wonderfully against the dreary surroundings. Quitely's cover of Xorn contemplating a cheeseburger is great, and goes well with Sciver's earlier one of him inhaling the essence from a bag of chips. The mutant Buddha confronting popular culture is a lot of fun. Professor X also makes a point that actually makes him sound like a very smart guy, about how humanity survived in tribes organized by shared ideals, but now we are living under the same tent and are guilty for mistaking our ideas for things. This is how Xavier should sound all the time.

But the issue itself is painfully generic. The story takes place in "mutant town", like China Town or Little Italy; I have heard that people like Morrison's idea that there would be a similar set up for mutants -- it is "realistic" I guess -- but it strikes me as a lame analogue. In the story a boy has become a freakish mutant monster people hate and fear, and is killed by cops for being dangerous even though he just needed medicine. I don't find that moving; in fact, I think that is the most generic X-Men story ever -- stupid people hate and fear a something peaceful but different that they do not understand. I think I have read that story many times over by now, and if I had not, I saw it in the sequence of Angel at home a few issues ago. It is also such a transparent bid for emotion it is embarrassing itself; I think Morrison showed significantly more real emotion when Jean told Scott "you are my favorite super hero" in the previous issue -- that was specific to that relationship; this is a fairy-tale allegory for all human-mutant relationships, and instead of characters it has the most simple kind of place-holders: an angry mob, a monster with a soul, a heartbroken mom. It especially annoys me that someone in the crowd wants to get Jean's autograph and then let her burn, and someone else, clearly unconscious of the unintended b-movie humor in the phrase, screams "it came from mutant town." Someone is going to tell me this is all perfectly realistic, and I don't necessarily disagree, but I still think it is stupid and I don't want it in my comic book.

And sweet, sensitive, Xorn: "if I could save every life, I would do it", "we only want to stop them hurting one another. Why were they so angry?" I know it is Magneto -- he even describes how he sees wavelengths and energy. But I just have such a hard time imagining any version of Magneto staying in character to this degree. I also cannot understand why Xavier, in the Cerebra helmet, says, when he looks into Xorn's mind, that "I see orchards in China, a star falling across the sky, a radiant star of pure thought." Xavier is a top notch psychic. How does Magneto do that? Later in the issue Xorn says Xavier cannot read his thoughts because he is blinded by the star under the mask -- what is going on? Is Xavier just being metaphorical? It is at least a little confusing, and it is Morrison's fault. Xorn narrates this issue in the form of a letter to Xavier -- an extraordinarily detailed cover for himself as Magneto, I guess, complete with a story about how he met a man with a connection to his ancestors. He even tells the mom that he once ate a dog. Again, Magneto? Really? It is possible, I agree, I just don't like it.

Xorn also claims that the monster-boy would have have grown, in just ten days, to something wonderful, rare and unique. Without looking ahead this just makes the story all the more pathetic -- veering into bathos. Looking ahead Magneto is just lying to be extra mean, I guess. He was, I suppose, lying about all the parts of the story that could not be verified by Xavier, making up, for example, eating with a man from China. Also he makes glowing light near the wounded in front of paramedics -- fake helping? Really helping somehow to keep his cover and kill everyone? If the Kick made Magneto crazy I want to know what is going on in his head at this point, before the kick (though is it before the kick?). It is a huge gap in Magneto's character that bothers me to no end. The whole thing is very messy and unsatisfying.


Anonymous said...

I agree, at this point the series seemed to loose direction all together this wasn’t really changed until the Riot at Xavier’s story, nice art though. I really think Morrison wasn’t planning the Xorn Magneto angle till much later than this. I’m not sure (as much as I like Morrison’s writing) that this was a coherent planned out story front to back when he started. I think it became that over time but at this point I think the story he originally went out to tell was done and he was just telling stores.


Ultimate Matt said...

The kick was also splitting his personality in two (Magneto & Xorn); or at least that's what I read into issues during Planet X when his Xorn helmet starts talking to him. Maybe we were actualy seeing the beginnings of that here?

Mitch said...

The artwork is really buys this issue a lot of grace from me, because I love Leon. He is the exact opposite of a bad fill-in artist like Kordey or VanSciver—instead of trying to squeeze his work into Quietly’s idiom, Leon does his own thing, with great success. (Unfortunately, his later issue won’t go over as well.)

You are very right about this being “Generic X-Men Plot #7: Have an X-Man go searching for a strange new mutant, who is perceived as a monster.” I can overlook this stale plot a) because of the art and b) because Xorn is such an interesting, new character. The fact that Morrison’s only genuine “NEW” X-Man is participating in the oldest X-Men cliché is interesting, at least, even if it isn’t executed that inventively.

In the scene you reference about Xavier and Xorn, Leon makes an interesting reference—We see Xavier in profile wearing the Cerebra helmet, with lots of wires. This looks a lot like an image typically associated with French filmmaker Jean Pierre Jeunet’s film The City of Lost Children. ( This is fun reference, because “lost children” is just what this story is about. Also, the character in the image from the film is a dark version of Xavier—he gathers children not to share his dream with them, but instead to literally steal theirs because he doesn’t have any.

Morrison might not craft a story here that is as good and inventive as E is For Extinction, but his prose in Xorn’s letter is very good. Things like "I have tried to capture my feelings for you, in the form of symbols here on this book of paper leaves. But these lines and curves are not much like thoughts or feelings, at all..." are terribly sappy, new-agey pseudo philosophy, but I still quite like them, especially in counter point with Leon’s art.

Finally, there is the one more element this issue has and that is Xorn. At this point, Xorn must be read like Schroder’s cat—he is, on a quantum level both Magneto and not Magneto. If you choose, you can read this as “The Gospel of Xorn the Star-headed Mutant Buddha.” Or you can read it as “Magneto is a bad, bad man and a liar. None of this really happened.” This dichotomy gets tiring eventually, but I don’t mind it here. Also, another fun reference—At the beginning of the issue, Xavier and “Magneto” are building Cerebra together, like in the movies (and some comics, I think).

Anyway—Some good, some blah. Nevertheless, I love the tone of this issue and the colors and the art.

The End : )

brad said...

I think it's safe to say out loud, finally, that Xorn was not meant to be Magneto. Why near the end Morrison decided that he would take that leap is anyone's guess. The ONLY thing I can come up with is that Morrison intentionally approached the Magneto storyline as a careless new writer might approach an ongoing series. It is possible that he is referencing a history of X-Men writers coming aboard and writing whatever they want, disregarding the characters' recent histories. If this is true, though, then it completely goes against Morrison's original idea of breaking out of the X-Men's repetative rut.
So why then? Why was Xorn changed into Magneto? Laziness? Can't be.

Mitch said...


I agree-- I think Xorn can be re-read as Magneto only by dumb luck, not skill on Morrison's part. He definitely made him into Magneto later on.

Jason Powell said...

"Xorn must be read like Schroder’s cat"

That would be Schrödinger's cat, mitch.

Sorry, but when Geoff Klock makes you his official copy editor, that's not a responsibility you shirk. :)

Troy Wilson said...

Brad and Mitch: I agree that Morrison probably decided to make Xorn into Magneto later on, rather than at the outset. He has insisted in interviews that Xorneto was his plan all along, but I have a hard time buying that. I just don't believe Morrison would be quite this sloppy if Xorneto was in the cards right from the get-go. Besides, Morrison stated in other interviews that, the further he got into his X-run, the more he was writing by the seat of his pants - or words to that effect.

Patrick said...

If you read the 'Morrison Manifesto' in the back of the trades, there's a blacked out area that I believe says Magneto has been hiding as Xorn, which would indicate that it was planned from the beginning.

Xorn works for me as another version of the fiction suit from The Invisibles. Magneto so immerses himself in this character that he takes on a life of his own, and eventually succeeds in doing pretty much everything Magneto himself wanted to do.

Admittedly there's some bumps along the way, but it works for me.

Geoff Klock said...

Ultimate Matt: I don't know what you mean by seeing the beginnings of a split here.

Mitch: nice catch on that City of Lost Children thing; and I have to admit I like the line you quote as well.

Everyone: I think it is a little of both -- it seems like Morrison set up the Xorn as Magneto thing early, left some clues so he had the option to make it Magneto, but never consistantly followed it: maybe he ended up liking Xorn as much as the rest of us, then decided he had to make it Magneto. I guess we will never really know -- it just feels wrong.

Ultimate Matt said...

I meant that rather than being in character at all time, maybe what we're seeing in some of these early issues is his mind starting to split into two personalities. Hence his insane devotion to character.

Voice Of The Eagle said...

Oh dear, there seems to be two of me now.

So from this point on call me Voice of the Eagle.

And a shinny new penny for whomever knows where I stole that from.

Mitch said...

RE: Schrödinger's cat

Thanks Jason!

Kaelin said...

Well, according to Morrison, Xorn was always planned to be Magneto in disguise. From a 2006 interview here:

"He was Magneto from the very beginning – it was always Magneto."

Now, whether or not you want to believe Morrison is another matter entirely, but personally I like to take writers at their word.

Honestly, I think that the entire point of this issue is really to catch some of the sappier fans who read X-Men unaware. Look at any X-Men forum--not everyone who reads the X-Books is as critical and/or cynical about the issues as some others are. Some really liked Austen's run on Uncanny. I have no idea why, but there you are.

I think, really, Morrison here is writing Xorn/Magneto as someone who is aware of the triteness of this story, and who wants to use this sort of sentimental tale on those who would follow it hook, line, and sinker--never suspecting Xorn is Magneto. It's lyrically done even if it is almost a stereotypical X-Men tale, and I think that's the point.

As for the "technical" points of Xorn's identity, I'm not really that bothered--Magneto's helmet has always protected him from Xavier's telepathy, why wouldn't this newer helmet be able to do some other nifty things as well?

Geoff Klock said...

Kaelin: See, I don't think it is "lyrically done" -- the "technical" points as you put it need to be in place to achieve something that you are going to compare to the best poetry. I know about Magneto's Helmet but faking out super-psychics is something else altogether -- it is not that he is unreadable, it is that they see he has a star for a brain and Chinese origins.

RAB said...

If you're going to attempt an impersonation or false identity in a setting where you'll be surrounded by the most powerful telepaths on Earth, the only conceivable way to go about it is to actually believe you are that other person and think as that other person -- to not even know you're a false self until the moment some outside trigger you've devised brings it all back. Anything less would be immediate failure.

I see this as a challenge worthy of a great character, and the plot mechanics of "did he use self-hypnosis, or was it drugs, or can electromagnetic fields alter a brain?" seem like trivial details easily addressed through the appropriate technobabble. That would hardly be the most interesting part of the story.

Also, I loved the idea of Mutant Town, and it had a lot of untapped potential that in retrospect Marvel would never appreciate. I reckon the correct analogy is not to a Chinatown or Little Italy but maybe Christopher Street and the surrounding gay community in Greenwich Village: a place that mutants would come to as outcasts, having been rejected by their families, banding together for mutual support. I agree that this particular story was generic and uninvolving...but the concept and the possibiliy of its use as an analogy had promise.

Troy Wilson said...

"I see this as a challenge worthy of a great character, and the plot mechanics of "did he use self-hypnosis, or was it drugs, or can electromagnetic fields alter a brain?" seem like trivial details easily addressed through the appropriate technobabble."

Easily addressed or not, Morrison's the one who should've done the addressing. If I have to write New X-Men, then I want to get paid for it.

Geoff Klock said...

RAB, Troy: that is a great point, but I am with Troy -- say that in ten words if that is what you want to do. It is Morrison's fault for not being clear.

No one here is doing this but comic book fans like to attack people for "needing everything spelled out for them". I agree that over-explanation is bad -- I am not stupid and can see that AI is a Pinocchio story without being hit over the head with it -- but under-explanation also causes needless confusion.

David said...

It's always bothered me, can anyone make any sense as to why the CHINESE think Xorn has been locked up for what, 30 years? In the X MEN annual he debuts in? And how does magneto fake that? Are they robots?

wwk5d said...

Whether or not Xorn was supposed to Magneto from the beginning, in the end, it was just a sloppy job with some contradictions that just don't work.

Anonymous said...

"But I just have such a hard time imagining any version of Magneto staying in character to this degree."

Well, even Jean remarks on Magneto's impressive acting ability in New X-Men #150, so you're not alone on that one ;)

"I see orchards in China, a star falling across the sky, a radiant star of pure thought." Xavier is a top notch psychic. How does Magneto do that? Later in the issue Xorn says Xavier cannot read his thoughts because he is blinded by the star under the mask -- what is going on? Is Xavier just being metaphorical?"

He does mention the bright light earlier, so I think he's basically saying that he can see certain images in Xorn's brain, but not much else.

I'm not actually too surprised that Magneto can fool Xavier to this degree. After all, Magneto has been using anti-telepathy technology for years, so I definitely think he could develop it to the point where he can not only mask his thoughts, but fool telepaths with false images.

"Also he makes glowing light near the wounded in front of paramedics -- fake helping? Really helping somehow to keep his cover and kill everyone?"

Could've been a mercy killing, even. I'm okay with the ambiguity with this one. And I don't think Magneto was trying to be mean at all with his "ten days" line. I think he was expressing his genuine grief over the mutant boy's death (assuming it happened). I suspect that when he says the boy would've become "something new and wonderful," he probably meant that in the metaphorical sense (again, assuming it happened).

Has anyone tried reading this story without the captions? You lose a lot of info, obviously, but I have this theory that everything we SEE in the issue actually happened, but the way Xorn explains it in his journal is suspect.