Monday, April 02, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 135

[This post is part of a series looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue -- for more of the same click the New X-Men tab at the bottom of this post].

Quentin is dressing provocatively to reclaim offensive mutant stereotyping -- lame -- and Xavier complains about it -- also lame. It is like he has been teaching for years and this is the first rebellious teenager he has every seen. Xavier is inviting humans and mutants to come to an open day and wants to avoid confrontation, which just seems dumb, what with people trying to kill them all the time. Quentin calls Jumbo Carnation "our greatest artist", which goes to show how juvenile he is, holding up a fashion designer as the greatest artist of a species. Quentin acts like a brat, saying he does not want to live side by side with murderers, and Xavier accuses him of not being logical, which is also lame -- the very idea that Xavier thinks the Spock thing is going to be his best tool in this situation is very very lame. This is the first clash between our two Riot antagonists, and it is boring, because they are both acting stupid. We need a dark foreshadowing here, and this is just two annoying talking heads. Even Quitely is being inked by someone else, and the result is not as good as when he inks his own stuff.

When Quentin gets his uniforms for his gang, one of them says "Glam! Industrial! Clockwork Orange!". This is, I think, supposed to be lame, to show us idiot high school kids who don't know enough to know that A Clockwork Orange is not the best, coolest film ever. The bad guys here are a bunch of high school kids in a dorm room doing drugs -- this is not providing nearly enough tension. When Quentin says that the drug is like "breathing the electric air of the future" we cannot help but notice they are wearing throwback clothes (from Uncanny X-Men 14), speaking in cliches, doing drugs, getting tattoos and acting like punks -- that is to say acting like kids. Nothing futuristic about it. Then they kill a bunch of defenseless humans, like a bunch of jerks. Quentin even likens them to Star Trek: The Next Generation -- they are the NEW X-Men; we are supposed to notice that that show went off the air many years ago, when Quentin cannot have been very old. Nothing new here. Again, not exactly the sublime ideological confrontation Quentin wanted. They are just bullies and Morrison wants us to see them as lame. It may be we are supposed to see them as lame because Morrison is using them to criticize his own, supposedly "New" X-Men, but planned or not, if your bad guys are lame your story is no fun, so it does not matter what your point was.

Your story is also no fun if your good guys are lame, and that is what we get next: Xavier says "the Xavier institute does not tolerate vigalante assaults." Really? I thought that was pretty much what the X-Men were, masked vigalantes who going around assaulting people. They bombed a facility in China without warning not so many issues ago. Lame. Also lame: it is clear that the X-Men suspect Quentin killed those humans -- you think someone could find out for sure, somehow. They just sit in a room talking lame ideas of what to do with rebels -- give them the vote, let them grow out of this phase and don't act like a jerk, give them limits. LAME.

Magneto, very much in character as Xorn, I guess, takes the "special class" camping in the subplot: "Let us learn from one another as we share the beauty and mystery of this great world together." Ernst says that Martha, the telepathic floating brain, is telling her that Xorn was locked in a jail for years. I can buy, but I don't want to, that Xorn's helmet, like Magneto's, shields him from telepathy; but how on earth is he able to trick Martha into seeing the Xorn story? If he already converted her and she knows he is Magneto and is lying for him, then how did he do that? He says more peaceful cliches -- he is getting quite annoying at this point. Then we see they are being watched. OK. Fine.

On the plus side Quentin kills a guy by "carving his name right across his memory" and the "Magneto was Right" shirt he wears the next day is great. Also great is Emma's description of the drug kick: "I felt angelic and violently insane for five hours."


Ultimate Matt said...

Hmmmm... you and I have vastly different readings of this story.

Point by point, by paragraph:

Quentin dressing the way he does to "reclaim mutant stereotyping" to me, is brilliant - it's falling along the same lines as rappers claiming they use the n-word to "reclaim" it. It's hollow adolescent grandstanding, symbols in the place of substance. Xavier wants to avoid confrontation because that's what they experience all the time - he's just hoping for a different atmosphere than the tension they're used to. Nothing wrong with that. I'm not sure if you're knocking the story for Quentin holding up Jumbo as the greatest designer of the species, but I found that another great moment, reminiscent of things like calling Kurt Cobain a genious. And yes, this probably is the first rebellious teenager Xavier's ever dealt with. Bear in mind, this is the first time that "defecting" to Magneto isn't really an option for a dissatisfied student - usually, they're unhappy, they leave. This really is a new experience for Xavier, and he's totally unprepared for it. His students usually buy the company line 100%.

Bad guys being high school kids in a dorm doing drugs again, to me, was perfect for this story - these are the so-called "activists"; the loudmouths and blowhards who talk big but really are just mad at their parents and acting out. Spoiled white kids with too much time and privilege. Brilliant. They're dangerous because what they say is attractive to kids their age - it's the hollow yet subversive thought that makes adults nervous because they don't see it for what it is. I see them as lame, but to me, that is the story (I get that it didn't work for you, it just worked great for me, so I wanted to counterpoint). Morrison's always been about revolution & growing up, two of his most prominent themes in the past decade and a half. The Invisibles was all about that. This story is the Invisibles, condensed: lashing out, fighting the system, not even really seeing what you're fighting for, being viewed as irresponsible and childish because of it.

You have a point about the vigilante assaults. Fair enough. I think the X-Men sitting around talking is to reflect both their utter confusion at the situation (like I said, rebellious students really are new to the X-Men), and to poke fun at the genre. Without something to hit, they have no clue how to react.

I found the special class stuff so amusing at the time I read it that I enjoyed it. I'll try and read through that issue again and find something to respond. All the special class stuff in this story, I loved - it's mainly there as a counterpoint to the supposed "cool" revolution. Little do they know, their inspiration was under their nose all along, with no interest in their activities.

I loved this story. My favorite in the entire run. My favorite moment is (i think) the second to last issue, when Emma pretty much calls out the entire storyline - "Oh, please. Take the school and then what?"

James said...

I don't have this issue to check, but couldn't Martha be talking about Magneto's time in Auschwitz? As long as she's not too specific, this could be fairly conventional pre-twist stuff; Martha's statement appears to add credence to the Xorn story, while silmutaneously being part of a tapestry of clues to his real identity. Unfortunately no such tapestry exists, and I am just playing devil's advocate here.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I must agree with Matt's points, I also really loved this whole story arc. I feel that Geoff's reading of the run is a bit colored by the high expectations he had after E for Extinction. Most of his points are in regards to how this or that character, beat, or story arc do not reflect the manifesto of the FIRST story arc, and while that may be true, for me it doesn't take away from what is otherwise a really top notch superhero comic. This is an observation, not a recrimination, please keep doing what you do and I'll keep reading.

Thought about the Martha thing. Couldn't she just be repeating rumors? What she "heard" about Xorn from other students? Kids gossip about teachers all the time...

Mitch said...

Now, Geoff- don't hold back here... tell us what you really thought. haha.

Actually Geoff, as a big fan of yours and someone who agrees with you about most of this specific entry, I have to admit that you're being a little mean. :)

David Golding said...

I didn't read this arc in floppies, as I'd dropped the title by then. I recently read it in trade, expecting to like it, as it is Quitely/Morrison. I haven't always agreed with Geoff on this series and I never read the manifesto, however I must agree here: this arc is lousy. The writing is mostly boring and insubstantial, but worst of all, this is Quitely's worst art - like the editors suddenly asked Townsend to normalise him with regular superhero art or something (Townsend's work on 'E is for Extinction' was fine).

Geoff - I miss you including art samples and directly commenting on them. Has the series gotten too ugly for that, or are you bored of it, or are you having technical issues?

neilshyminsky said...

Perhaps Riot at Xavier's is receiving such disagreeing reviews here because it's clearly an instance of politics over style. There's nothing particularly new about a story skewering teens for thinking that they're being revolutionary and different. But Morrison is quite clearly aiming it at the white, teenaged readership - something that he did a bit more subtly with the U-Men and just as explicitly with the Beast.

Sexy X-Men can be easily appropriated by uncritical readers who think that being a privileged, white geek is equivalent to being black and poor - they're all misunderstood and victimized, after all. Quire's Omega Gang is meant to show us how ridiculous and juvenile this actually is, though - with Quire himself serving as the point-of-reader-identification-gone-wrong. It's not particularly well-wrought, but his point is wholly about how problematic it is to read the X-Men as an allegory or metaphor for people who experience any and all sorts of oppression.

David Golding said...

Actually, on second thoughts, the best description of the arc isn't "lame" or "boring": it's mundane. This in a story featuring characters who fire energy out of their eyes or turn into diamond. It's telling that one of its major influences, the Lindsay Anderson film If..., simply set in an English "public school", isn't mundane at all.

I have to disagree with Neil. The "appropriation of minority rhetoric" theme was obvious at the start of #118, but I think it quickly becomes attenuated and confused, and I couldn't see it at all in this arc.

Streebo said...

Wasn't Magneto doubly protected from telepaths by the physical shield of his helmet as well as the false identity of Xorn? Morrison used double agents with false identities to great effect in The Invisibles.

neilshyminsky said...

david wrote:
"The "appropriation of minority rhetoric" theme was obvious at the start of #118, but I think it quickly becomes attenuated and confused, and I couldn't see it at all in this arc."

david, I think that it does get muddled in RaX, but the intention is pretty clear. These are just angry white kids at a private school who are pushed to rebellion by the revelation that one of them was adopted. Like Geoff says, it's lame; and like you said, it's mundane. I think that's supposed to be the point. The problem is, while that makes for a decent critique of privileged kids who long for some identification with oppression, it makes for storytelling that's seriously lacking in tension or surprise.

Geoff Klock said...

UMatt: you are right about the Kobain thing -- good analogy.

James: it does not make sense that Martha would be so vague -- there is no evidence she does not communicate clearly.

Dante: good point about Marta, but I have to disagree that I am still hung up on the first arc: the problem here, as Neil will say clearly below, is that the story lacks tension because the good guys and the bad guys are lame.

Mitch: I will admit to being too mean if you admit that when I am mean I give evidence for what I am complaining about. LOTS of people give no evidence for what they say.

David: it is a tech thing. Sorry.

Neil: that is a good point about the rich white kids can feel like poor black kids cause they are all opressed -- thats a great point about Morrison's use of Quire.

David: i need to see that movie. Thanks.

Streebo: Yeah, fine, it is just very hard to see how this all comes together -- were are these double agents when Magneto appears -- it cannot have been Esme, or the kids -- someone would have known.

Neil: thanks for putting that it a nutshell. That is EXACTLY my point.

James said...

Geoff: By "vague" I did not mean that she's deliberately omitting detail, or that she knows it's really Magneto, but that if all Martha says to Ernst is "Xorn spent time in prison", because that's all she "sees", then the line works. Part of Xorn's invented history is that he was imprisoned, but Magneto really did spend time in a prison; so Martha's statement seems to reinforce the Xorn thing to the reader, even though she's seeing Magneto's real memory. Hope that makes sense.

Geoff Klock said...

James: it makes sense, in the sense that it is possible. It is just that there is very little evidence to support it. It is possible, but I want more than possible. I think it should be more clear.

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Anonymous said...

Quentin kills a guy by "carving his name right across his memory"

God, what a stupid line. He's dead, you twit*, how can you carve anything across his memory?

*by twit, I meant Morrison/Quire, not Geoff.