[This post is part of a series looking at every issue of Grant Morrison's New X-Men; for more click the New X-Men label.]
In the comments to last issue NeilShyminsky wrote: "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." That is exactly the problem. Morrison is a storyteller first and a cultural critic second (or third or fourth): Morrison can make his point, but if it is not wrapped in a good story, he has failed. If he wants to be a cultural critic first he is welcome to write an essay of cultural criticism.
The U-Men are back in this issue and Quentin and the Gang run them down in what looks like the Mystery Mobile painted purple. Weirdly lame. When the U-Men complains, as he is being killed, that he spent the last of his savings on this suit, that is really sad -- just as in last issue it becomes hard to know who to sympathize with the least. When everyone in a story sucks, it makes me want to put the story down.
One of the things that makes Riot at Xavier's so bad is that there is so little to it, in order to package it as a prologue and a four issue arc, this second issue has only two scenes related to the title plot. The third issue is the Riot itself and the fourth is really an epilogue -- Riot at Xaviers is essentially a one issue story. The rest of this issue is Xorn and the Special Class on a camping trip.
This is the issue where I start to like the Special Class more. With pop-sexy X-Men nowhere to be seen these guys start to get out from under that shadow. I still don't like any of them, and I am not that entertained listening to them being idiots and making fart jokes, but you feel, in this context, that these characters have so much potential to grow and change -- something Scott has been struggling with in the run -- you start to like them more. The same problem arises, however: the U-Men suck -- they have to check a website for their orders, for example -- so there is not enough conflict or tension. Instead you get a lot of bickering teenagers. It is a nice counterpoint Quentin -- these guys are actually fighting for their lives while Quentin is being a jackass -- but the story is only so-so.
Then we see that Xorn has devastated the U-Men, a very strong and very surprising moment that should have come a long time ago, or been built up more from the beginning. Xorn has left the kids to fend for themselves and when Angel tracks him down, he tells her he was teaching them a lesson and that what he himself has done should remain a secret. The lesson is crap: many of the individual character traits he claims to be helping the kids with were not established as character traits before he said it: for example, that Ernst has no one to be responsible for comes out of nowhere. This speech would be better if Morrison had established this and it had been true, but it is acceptable if Morrison just wanted to put an obvious lie in his mouth -- more evidence that Xorn is not who he seems. But the destruction of the U-Men is a GREAT moment -- now you really begin to suspect that there is something more to this character; now we get a sense that the mystery surrounding this guy may be less than sweet.
But notice the problem: all of this has nothing to do with the Riot. I care more about this moment than anything else in the arc, and that is bad storytelling. Same problem in Superman Returns: James Marsden was so strong, I cared more about him than Superman, distracting me from what the movie was supposed to be about. Next to Marsden, the normal guy hero who loves Lois and raised somone else's child, Superman looks like a dick, special only because of the powers he has, rather than the person he is. Next to Xorn blowing up the U-Men, the Riot just seems even more lame.
In the end of the "subplot" Xorn comes to accept the reality of No-Girl, a member of the Special class that may be a mutant undetectable by Xorn, or may be a class Imaginary Friend. It is another very strong, and sweet, moment, but again, one that again draws attention and sympathy from the main story.
Back to the Riot, Quentin and his gang hit Xavier over the head with a baseball bat -- fucking LAME -- then call for a Riot out the window with a megaphone. This should be an exciting moment -- it is the beat that will lead into the next issue -- but I wish I was back with Xorn and the Special Class, and that is not good storytelling, especially since the next issue will be all about Quentin.