Thursday, April 19, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 140

[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 label at the bottom of this post].

Emma Frost has been murdered; someone in the mansion did it, and so the place is sealed off until the murderer can be discovered by a detective brought in. "No one in, no one out; everyone in this room is a suspect." Morrison is doing a golden age Agatha Christie style murder mystery with Bishop in the Miss Marple role (the quote above is his). This is one of the worst ideas in the whole run. People get mad when I say stuff like that, but it is not a free standing quote -- I always give a lot of evidence. The basic problem is this: a genre fusion should feel organic -- space IS like the old west frontier; if superheroes are zombies then bringing in Galactus makes perfect sense. The superhero Agatha Christie story just doesn't fuse.

In Agatha Christie the lockdown is there so the murder will not be an outside job or an off the wall twist; it gives you a limited number of suspects so you have a chance to figure it out. But I cannot understand how this lockdown is practical in a superhero comic. Bishop SAYS that in a world of mindreaders, shapechangers and disembodied consciousnesses crime takes on a whole new meaning, but this is maddening: everything he DOES suggests this is an old fashioned -- like 1920s fiction old fashioned -- attempt to find a killer. He asks each person at the mansion a question or two -- not even very good questions -- and then moves on to someone else. Even psychics just get questions like Where were you at the time of the murder? Part of the problem is time -- in a 22 page comic you cannot flesh out these scenes; Bendis and Oeming's Powers can take the pages and pages it takes to establish the tension in these kinds of conversations but Morrison does not have that kind of time. Also Bendis is writing something a lot more like actual cops, which makes much more sense then resurrecting a long dead genre in bizarre a new context.

Jean just uses the Phoenix Power to simply and magically convince him that she did not do it. As readers we are asked to just believe this; it isn't that I don't -- obviously Jean did not get a gun and shoot Emma -- but is shows you how rushed Morrison is. Everyone gets about a page to be cleared.

The image of badass Bishop looking like a futuristic version of a 70s cop in a leather trench coat and body armor sitting in the professor's office drinking tea out of tiny cup and sticking his pinkie finger out as he does so sort of sums up the whole problem. It is such a silly image, and it is surely not supposed to be -- this story is the buildup to the Magneto story, and a main character has been killed.

Xorn -- Magneto -- has the kids playing Clue. OK. As a murder mystery game in a mansion this is a parody of the story arc it appears in -- Basilisk says "It was professor Sex with the lawnmower -- that's whodunnut." Morrison is making fun of himself, but it is hard to see what the point is. Whedon makes jokes like that, but emotionally deflates the story in such a way that you can care about it more (the people on screen are only human). Morrison highlights how artificial the whole thing is, which has the opposite effect.

Bishop, figuring out Kick is involved, goes to a prison to talk to one of Quentin's Gang and find out who supplied the drug to the mansion. Two things to note here. Given that the "Riot" had an epilogue, it seems clear that there was some down time between "Riot" and "Murder in the Mansion". One: Did no one try to find out how these very dangerous drugs got into the school BEFORE sending the gang to prison? As a psychic headmaster, you think this would be important and easy. Two: all this talk about post-human, rather than merely human, justice, about the dawn of a new age where new rules will be applied and this is what you get -- they sent the remaining members of the gang to a perfectly human New York State Maximum Security Penitentiary? Casandra Nova kills 16 million mutants and is rehabilitated at the mansion; a teenager sells drugs and does drug related violence in a gang of teens and he goes to normal human prison, where he is clearly being abused -- he begs Bishop to get him away because "there are people in here that really do not like mutants". I do not get it.

Then Beak says he killed Miss Frost -- we do not believe this for one second -- and someone pulls a gun on Sage, Bishop's partner, as the ending beat to this story. Really? A gun to the head? Can a woman with a computer for a brain even be killed like that? It is an ending that makes sense in another story, but means nothing here.

If I am wrong about any of this -- if these are not really problems at all -- please let me know. Cause they seem like MAJOR problems to me.


James said...

Another arc I didn't enjoy; it's silly water-treading with nothing to say.

I think I might be onto something with a comment I just made on the previous New X-Men post, but no one will read that now, so I'm gonna re-post it here:

"What mitch says [that he likes New X-Men because it was his gateway back into comics] appears to be fairly common, and might explain the widespread affection for this run. It's very rare nowadays for creators to be on a company-owned title for such a long time, especially a writer of Morrison's calibre (much as I agree he bad more often than good in this particular instance). I think people like the fact that it's a large, cohesive* body of work they can get behind; the only other long run on the X-Men like this I can think of is Claremont.

*I do not mean "cohesive" in terms of story-telling, but rather that the run seems less subject to editorial whims and crossovers than most. Scott Lobdell in the 90s, for example, probably had a much longer run than Morrison, but the cast and storylines were entirely replaced at least a couple of times a year, which makes it hard to see any of that stuff as a single body of work."

Mitch said...

This, in my opinion, is the absolute lowest point of the run. Even worse than naked Polaris, even worse than Kordey.

And hey, I LIKE Bishop, for some reason. I've always hoped that some smart writer would come along and find a good use for him post-Onslaught. Needless to say, this wasn't it. I think the whole concept would have worked better if it was a normal, human police investigator. You know, outside eyes.

Overall, I think it's important in a "Murder Mystery" that the reader believe that the deceased is really dead, you know? Did anyone honestly think Emma was REALLY dead? For even a minute?

Why even bother with an investigation?

And on the point of the Omega Gang being in prison- why wasn't there any investigation for that? That seemed like a bigger deal, warranting an "investigation"... a student died! Another went missing... presumed EVAPORATED! (ha)

Marc Caputo said...

Mitch: you know, I've come to have a line of thinking that helps when I'm dealing with fantastical fiction - and even some traditional fiction. I don't concern myself with whether or not I believe in certain developments - as long as a believe the characters believe in them. For example, I don't believe that there was a real Mummy, but Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz seemed to think he was. I knew Emma wasn't dead, but they seemed to think so and that moved the plot for me.

Geoff Klock said...

James: thanks for reposting. I can see the virtues of that.

Mitch: I agree. This is the lowest point in the run.

Marc: that is a good idea -- it is a variation of Hitchcock's Maguffin -- but the problem here is that the characters do not really sell it. No one bishop talks to seem to really care. Jean especially clearly does not give a damn.

Matt Brady said...

Geoff, I remember thinking this was not very good when I first read it, and you really point out exactly why. Forcing genre conventions on another genre (with its own conflicting conventions) doesn't really work, at least not here. Maybe it could have worked, perhaps if a more humorous tone (or artist) had been used. Who was the artist on this arc anyway? Jimenez? I think there might have been some interesting stuff in one of the later issues in the arc (how long is it? Three issues?), like Beast putting Emma back together or Beak and Angel's freaky babies. But then it ends without a real resolution. I know I'm jumping ahead here, but did they even say who actually did it? I think Esme (one of the cuckoos) is implicated and flees at the end, but isn't there a hint that she was being mind-controlled or something? Maybe Morrison intended to wrap it up somewhere down the line and never got around to it. Whatever the case, it's not a good arc.

Brendan Hogg said...

(FWIW, you have inspired me to dig out my trades from storage.)

The image of badass Bishop looking like a futuristic version of a 70s cop in a leather trench coat and body armor sitting in the professor's office drinking tea out of tiny cup and sticking his pinkie finger out as he does so sort of sums up the whole problem.

That's probably my favourite panel of the issue, the "collision of two worlds" thing. I think it's meant to be there to emphasise the message of that scene about how Xavier's idealistic approach is out of touch with the real world that Bishop inhabits, but mainly it just makes me laugh.

Overall, I'd agree that the storyline's a mess, though. Emma's clearly coming back from the very beginning, because if super-intelligent Beast is that determined we know he'll find a way (even absent the deus ex machina that finally sorts it out). And you make a good point identifying the tonal imbalances. It reads to me as though Morrison is aiming for a fairly light-hearted storyline in which he can lay Xorn=Magneto clues in the background (like the "monsters can fake a sense of humour" line in the tea scene), but the seriousness of the situations involved (esp. the prison bit as you point out) militates against it.

On the art side, Jimenez is my second-favourite artist on the run, so I find myself forgiving a lot of the mess for being pretty. (I'm probably only noticing it because it's in the same trade as Bachalo's Weapon Plus stuff. I really like Bachalo's style for individual images, but somehow it doesn't work for me as sequential art.)

Brendan Hogg said...

Matt said: Forcing genre conventions on another genre (with its own conflicting conventions) doesn't really work, at least not here. Maybe it could have worked, perhaps if a more humorous tone (or artist) had been used.

Hmm, I wonder if Morrison finds that sort of "im in ur genre, subvertin ur archetypes" thing intrinsically amusing? It does read to me as though he's having a lot of fun writing it, but that sense of fun isn't really being communicated. (Leading to the tonal imbalances.)

Geoff Klock said...

Matt: yeah, i am going to talk about that next time.

Brendan: I will truck with no bad words about the Bachalo. But yes, Jimenez is solid, a craftsman. Morrison is often great at Genre combos (Vimanarama, WE3) this one just never jells.

Matt Brady said...

I realize after re-reading my comment that I made it sound like I think genres should never be mashed together, but I definitely don't think that's the case. I just think it didn't work here, and Geoff states some very good reasons why not.