Thursday, March 29, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 134

I think the only reason this issue is a prologue to the four part Riot at Xavier's and not part one of a FIVE part Riot at Xavier's is that Quitely could only do four and not five issues in a row, and Marvel had been promising that they were saving him for a whole arc.

Jumbo Carnation, a mutant fashion designer, is dead, found outside a club called The X-Factory, which is a great name for a mutant club -- Morrison is great at naming stuff. I don't know anything about this guy, and I don't really care that he is dead, but OK, fine. People in the issue claim this is important, and I have no choice but to believe them. Morrison is telling, not showing, which is not the best option. He should have had this character be in the news from issue one.

Quentin Quire, a elitist genius with a "see through mind", hangs out with an idiot, who makes crude jokes about whether a sexy mutant can get Sophie to drop her pants -- Quentin has a crush on one of the cookoo girls. That he hangs out with this guy makes a certain amount of sense, I guess -- he is looking for people he can control and he hates people who pretend to be what they are not. He has a newspaper clipping about the "Mutant Menace" that came out the day he was born -- apparently just about the time mutants first started appearing. He calls it a pop art masterpiece, and calls some random girl "Retarda". His immaturity is being established in these pages, and when he finds out he was adopted he will begin his teenage rebellion.

Meanwhile the Beast and Cyclops are investigating the death of Jumbo. A human cop assigned to a mutant crime division is very excited to meet Beast -- he calls him Henry, and tells a story about how the Beast saved him and his pregnant wife during a mutant terrorist attack, drove them to the hospital in a tank (this may be an incident from an actual old X-Men issue, I don't know). All the Beast has to say to the guy is the caustic "all humans look alike." The cartoon friendly art does not help here. This guy is being perfectly nice, even congratulating him on coming out of the closet, and Hank is just being petty and mean for no reason -- or as part of some idiot "performance art" prank, which might be worse. A professor at the school is just as juvenile as the students.

In a conversation with Scott it turns out the Hank being gay thing spawned out as "a cruel, calculated strike at Trish Tilby's fickle heart," but, as a reporter, she leaked it to the media, so he embraced it. I do not see how his being gay was supposed to hurt her feelings, but maybe I do not get it. The Beast makes a lame argument that he might as well be gay because he has been taunted his whole life for his individualistic looks and style of dress. Lame. The mutant-homosexual thing was always a great metaphor -- don't make it literal. Then we get a conversation about the old days at the school, references to 60s X-Men issues. It seems like this should have to do with the upcoming Riot, the old versus the new, but it does not work that well. We , however, get a nice bit of foreshadowing when Scott tells Hank he is on the road to apocalyptic mind loss -- in Morrison's final story the Beast will become a version of the X-Men villain Apocalypse.

This prologue contains the seeds of what will become, in the next four issues, the only Morrison-Quitely team-up that is less than perfect, that is actually lame: The story should be old versus new, an interesting theme in a book that launched as THE NEW, the posthuman, the edgy superhero book. Like most teenagers, Quentin wants to wipe away the hypocrisy and illusions others have -- he shows the true, ugly form of a mutant who looks sexy, a moment that would have been better if Morrison had stuck with the pop-sexy X-Men idea from the manifesto: Quentin could have torn them apart on this level. But Hank is being acting like a petty teenager, and that is just an emblem of the fact that Morrison failed to make this book as edgy and "post-human" as he intended. Quentin is a petty teenager having a stereotypical rebellion -- he starts doing drugs and gets a crazy haircut. When these two groups face off instead of being the ideological battle royale it should be, it becomes hard to tell who to sympathize with the least.


James said...

I remember not enoying this arc, and not being able to put my finger on why. "It becomes hard to tell who to sympathize with the least" helped me finally figure it out.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I don't remember the issue #, but the newspaper clipping Quentin has is directly from an early 60s X-Men comic. I remember seeing it when I was reading the X-Men comics on DVD-ROM and being startled; I had assumed the clipping was invented for this story, but it's actually a cool little throwback.

Jason Powell said...

Yeah, it's from X-Men #14.

Geoff Klock said...

James: yeah, it took me a while to figure it out as well. Morrison and quitely are such a good team you sit there not believing they could do wrong.

Dante and Jason: thanks, awesome.

Streebo said...

Hey, Geoff! I finally had the chance to finish your amazing book last week - so I am excited to try to contribute something to your discussion here. I'll just throw some thoughts on the page - so please be gentle!

Jumbo Carnation does pop up out of nowhere. Morrison could have laid the groundwork for this storyline earlier in his run by mentioning Jumbo Carnation. I am willing to forgive this approach as stories are incredibly hard to compress into the comic book medium. Morrison simply might not have room to work Carnation into an earlier book – or maybe he just didn't think of Carnation until the last minute.

I wonder if Morrison intends for Jumbo Carnation to be read as a metaphor for the New X-Men as written by Grant Morrison? On the most obvious surface level – Carnation is a mutant with four arms. The four arms extended out take on the shape of an “X”. We only know that he is a fashion designer when we are told so by the other characters. Since Jumbo Carnation is a fashion designer, he is concerned with surface level aesthetics and making things appealing. The character of Jumbo Carnation is not the most beautiful of mutants by anyone's standards. He is paunchy, bald, and his sense of style is particularly garish. Since their inception in the early days of the Marvel Universe – mutants have always been cast as unappealing outcasts. With the exception of Jean Grey – the original X-Men were all considered rather grotesque and unappealing. If you think about the ramifications of dealing with a person shedding large feathers everywhere – even the Angel becomes ugly. Morrison's core group of the New X-Men are beautiful and glamorous. They have moved into the realm of walking pop art – but it was a transformation that happened over time – not overnight. Perhaps Carnation's murder at the hands of humans – reminds us that no matter how beautiful the X-Men seem to become – they will always be considered outcasts by the xenophobic portions of society.

I wonder if Jumbo's murder by humans is symbolic off the X-Men's handling by creators of the recent past and the potential future? No matter how much Morrison wants to have the X-Men represent the next step in pop culture human evolution – there will be creators that cannot look beneath the surface level of the X-Men and will constrain these characters to simple outcasts battling for survival instead of leading the way to the Utopian future.

I wonder if Quentin's encounter with Slick is representative of Morrison's theme for the New X-Men? Quentin tells Slick that, “it's all fake and illusion. That's what cool is. That's what charisma is. That's what everything is.”

It seems to me that Quentin is directly commenting on everything Morrison is doing with the New X-Men. Morrison seems to use this character to punch holes in his own work. Morrison gives us super cool and ultra-sexy X-Men – and Quentin reminds us that it is all illusion. It only lasts as long as Morrison holds the reigns to the New X-Men and can be torn down in an instant when the next creator comes along like Quentin and tears away the illusion.

I agree with your sentiment that the mutant/homosexual parallel should remain a metaphor and not become literal – however the crossing of sexual boundaries has always played as a key to enlightenment in Morrison's works. Regis in Doom Patrol was an asexual amalgam of a male and female. In the Invisibles, Lord Fanny unlocked part of his shamanic powers through changing his surface reality via transvestitism and homosexuality. Again, in The Invisibles, King Mob's stories about Gideon Stargrave tell us that he has sex with his sister as part of his quest for magickal rebellion. The Beast started as a grotesque ape-like mutant with large hands and feet. Over time – he was mutated further into the blue furred creature we see now. So in order to show that the Beast had mutated into a higher stage of enlightenment/evolution what should he become? Morrison could have given him four arms. He could have changed his fur to white. What change could Morrison impose upon a mutant that has changed time and again and again that would make people look at him as truly transformed? Morrison invites us to contemplate the Beast's mental status as he rejects accepted social norms by becoming gay. Does the destruction of sexual boundaries with intent to unlock human/mutant potential make it happen?

I don't think Morrison always sets out to make us believe he is laying out some grand scheme for Utopian evolution. I like to think that he invites us to come along as he asks questions of himself and his own beliefs to see what he can uncover.

Like Jack Kirby always said, “I don't have all the answers, but it's been a lot of fun asking the questions.”

Please do more podcasts, sometime. I've listened to all of your Comic Geek Speaks appearances and find myself wanting more!


Geoff Klock said...

dude, I want to do videoblog, but I cannot work the camera. Thanks for you comments -- many of morrison's ideas are fun, but it does not matter because it is bad storytelling, lame good and bad guys and a fight without tension.