Monday, March 12, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 129

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue -- to read most posts on the subject, hit the New X-Men links button below.]

We learn that Jean is such a powerful telepath that she can simply tell blood to clot, and think her way into machines, which is quite cool. Also cool: Morrison's idea that humans can create liquid time and then immerse subjects in it and evolve them artificially -- the point is not emphasized here, but this is Morrison's new sentinel, his twist on the idea of "futuristic" killer robots. In a brilliant moment Fantomex, speaking to Jean, compares his mask, which keeps his thoughts hidden, with Jean's Wonder-Bra -- a great moment that links sex with control (something that will be explored more in the Scott-Emma relationship). Just having characters joke about Jean wearing a Wonder-Bra is refreshing, in a superhero world where women are just imagined to naturally look like that.

The character Animal seems like a bad sitcom joke -- a guy who is so stupid the military, as their primary plan, bets he might be immune to telepathy. He is reduced by Jean Grey or Professor X to spouting self-help style "breakthroughs" about the real reason he acts like such a brute (he resented his dad, but the shell he built to be strong and take his father's place isolated him from normal relationships -- "maybe I'd be better working with handicapped kids" he says). I guess this is supposed to be very funny, but it is so broad it does not work here, in a book so subtle elsewhere.

Fantomex is a hard character to pin down. While that is the point of him -- his mutant power is misdirection -- it can be difficult to follow what is going on in the story. He casually takes Xavier and Jean to his mothers home during a lethal attack on X-Force and tries to sell Xavier information. Xavier says suddenly "If you intend to travel to the wreck we'd like to travel with you" which is odd because I cannot see what makes them think that is what Fantomex wants to do. Even stranger is when Fantomex agrees, and suddenly switches from a thief with no morals to a guy who wants to make a "statement against mutant vivisection" -- at which point he leads the attack on Weapon XII as if he was intending to do that all along. He just seems to be messing with the X-Men because he can.

(Also he pours orange juice on his head for some reason -- can anyone explain that to me? Is it a coloring mistake? That seems likely, but it still seems like a weird thing to do with his head covered in a mask.)

I wrote an online essay a few years ago for Reconstruction on the X-Men and section six focused on Fantomex and Assault on Weapon Plus. Let me reprint here what I said about Fantomex there (I have tossed in some small additions), in order to underline what a great character Fantomex is:

"Fantomex is one of Morrison's perfect creations -- and one of comic books' perfect creations -- because (like the Silver Surfer, for example) he rides a fine line between the hyper-cool and the completely ridiculous: looking like a G. I. Joe figure, Fantomex -- whose name and look are derived from the Mexican incarnation of the French pulp-novel character Phantomas -- is a Matrix-style acrobatic, wise-cracking, double-gun-toting French super-ninja genius with multiple brains for independent processing, whose mutant power is that his nervous system is located outside his body in the form of a sentient, living flying saucer that grew from something he literally coughed up one day. Morrison occasionally hints that Fantomex only appears to have the powers he displays, suggesting at several points that his only powers are illusion and misdirection -- the ability to convince others he is what he says he is."

Fantomex is pure empty charisma, and nothing more, and he functions perfectly as both a very cool character and an absurd parody of characters who think they are very cool. (The fact that his name riffs on "Phantom X" is smart, but also suggests someone thinking very hard if there are any words with the "ex" phoneme not already co-opted by an earlier X-Men writer). It is in this context that we must judge the final major talking point of this issue -- one of Morrison's most audacious revisions: Weapon X -- Wolverine -- is not Weapon X but Weapon Ten: Weapon XII just showed up and Weapon XIII will be revealed in the next issue to be Fantomex. One the one hand, wow, what a huge idea. On the other hand it is all just smoke and mirrors. Fantomex's empty but amazing flair is also Morrison's here. They are both having a lot of fun messing with the X-Men for no other reason other than that they can.


Matt Brady said...

Sorry to post off-topic, but I figured Friday's Free Form Comments thread might be defunct. I wanted to let people know that this week is Will Eisner Week on my blog, in which I'm examining his work, focusing mostly on the "Contract With God" trilogy. I would love any comments or feedback if anyone reads my posts. Thanks.

I'll add a little bit about NXM, so I'm not completely off-topic. Geoff, I love your description of Fantomex's character. He's a blast, a great Morrison invention. He can be taken straight, as a cool character with a secretive background, or as a parody of this type of character. It's pretty fun. You've mentioned before that he's one of your favorite characters, and it's great to read your reasons why; you're well-articulated, as always.

Also, a quick (possible) correction. Isn't Fantomex Weapon XI, with Weapon XII being the monster the team fights in the subways, and Weapon XIII being the guy that Fantomex, Wolverine, and Colossus fight on the satellite in the "Assault on Weapon Plus" story arc? Sorry to nitpick.

Roger said...

you know, the funny thing is that by the time Assault on Weapon Plus was published, I became so disillusioned that Frank Quitely wasn't doing the art for most of the series, that I missed it. I'm also not a big fan of Chris Bachalo--at least not during that story-arc. Who inked Bachalo's work?

Geoff Klock said...

Matt: nope Fantomex is Weapon 13 --the guy in Assault is actually 15, and the guy in the train is 12. I do not know what happened to Weapon 11 and 14; if they say in the book I forgot.

Roger: I do not remember but I am obsessed with Bachalo to the point of considering getting a tattoo of his work on me.

craig taylor said...

I love the whole weapon 12, weapon 13 thing. A great addition to the X-mythos (I winder if Morrison got the idea from Apple Computer's OS X ("10") which is sometime pronounced as "X" by non-Apple people).

I think that in New X-Men 154 it was revealed that the Stepford Cuckoos were weapon 14.

And weapons 3 and 4 are in We3.

Matt Brady said...

Re: Weapons XI-XV

Okay, Geoff, I'll take your word for it. I was going from memory. I guess XI and XIV are good concepts to toss out there and see if anybody does anything with them. Does anyone know if this has been picked up by another writer? I know there is a Weapon X series that came out post-Morrison, but I haven't heard much about it. I think it was written by Frank Tieri, who (to put it very kindly) is not exactly at Morrison's level. I think Fantomex was in that series; I don't know if anybody else has used him.

craig taylor said...

Matt: try Phoenix: Warsong by Greg Pak. Besides being a sequel to his earlier Phoenix: Endsong, the recent mini-series reputedly ties up some of Morrison's "loose ends".

Stephen said...

Geoff -- particularly liked this entry in the series.

Geoff Klock said...

Craig: good memory, you are right, and a very nice catch on WE3 -- Fantomex does say they started with animals. Fantastic.

Phoenix Endsong was almost alright -- I do like the art in spite of myself -- but it climaxed with a Care Bear Stare that I will never get over.

Thanks Stephen.

simon said...

I was never certain that the x in "Fantomex" wasn't silent, as it would be were he speaking with the French accent he affects throughout the run.

The Inkwell Bookstore said...

Two years too late, but still, I've gotta praise a line like "it climaxed with a Care Bear Stare that I will never get over."

wwk5d said...

This issue is mixed for me. Will I did like Fantomex, he did represent a point I didn't like about Morrison's X-men. I felt like he reduced to the X-men to guest stars in their own book (I felt the same about Beak, Angel, and much of the special class).

Miles said...

This is super-late, but the "pouring orange juice" scene that you mentioned was recolored to be water in the trade paperback.

Still quite odd!