Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 149

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

Magneto rejects the comparison between the Nazi's who killed his family and his own plan to lead humanity into a crematoria. The Beak points out that Magneto's plan is nothing new, which is Morrison's point about Magneto, but that does not make for good storytelling. It just gives us a one-dimensional Magneto. Later we will learn that Sublime is behind Magneto's insanity, but Morrison gives us a detail that I find frustrating: Magneto wrote an article that humans do not feel pain like mutants do. That is an absurd racist cliche -- and, again, that is Morrison's point -- but I have a very hard time seeing this version of Magneto sitting down to write something like that. I have a harder time believing that these students, with their fart jokes, would find it and read it -- he did not give it to them, since one student had to tell the others.

This all becomes much more pathetic as Beak objects that every living thing feels pain, even dogs and carrots, at which point there is a debate over whether the carrot is a fruit or a vegetable -- Magneto ends the conversation by declaring it a vegetable and hitting Beak in the face. Then he kills Basilisk over a fart joke. Morrison does a great job here at creating at atmosphere of total horror -- people are getting killed over nothing, but it is frustrating as a reader that this is the Big Bad for this arc, and not some idiot bully lackey. Again, Beak calling him a bully -- which is Morrison's point -- does not save this aspect of the story.

In the last post I asked how the special class could stand tall with psycho-Magneto. In this issue it turns out that Esme was influencing everyone's minds with Martha's super-brain. Again, frustrating. This has replaced any need for Morrison to characterize the special class, just as the Sublime reveal will allow his Magneto to not require characterization either -- no one acts like human beings, not because Morrison is a lazy writer in these issues, but because everyone is being controlled by someone else. The Martha reveal feels tacked on, in part, because there is no explanation as to why it has stopped working just now, for the rally back. It is a bit like Harry's convenient amnesia in Spiderman 3 -- it made the lives of the screenwriters easier.

Esme asks why Magneto is taking so long to switch the poles of the earth -- is he waiting for the X-Men to stop him? In this issue he also tells the comatose Xavier that he misses their struggles. That is actually good writing I think -- I like the idea that there is something in a villain like the Freud's death drive, a desire to be captured.

Ernst calls Magneto boring and old-fashioned at the end of this issue, and she says no one likes what he is doing and it is all coming to an end. This is the third such complaint in the issue, and -- again -- Morrison's point. Thematically this should make sense: the NEW X-Men versus OLD Magneto. But attacking old-fashioned monsters like Magneto to restore the status quo makes the X-Men the oldest and most traditional kind of superhero, not an inch away from Uncanny X-Men number one from 1963. Morrison's vision of a post-human outpost from the future in the here and now -- of a team who only called themselves superheroes because it was something the world could understand -- cannot sink lower.

At least Morrison has a great ending to his run prepared.


Roger said...

yeah, I totally agree. Oh, one thing about Spiderman 3. I read some old John Romita and Gene Collins issues from the 70s and Norman Osborn has amnesia for several issues before he remembers that Peter Parker is Spiderman and that he hates Spiderman. This is right before he murders Gwen Stacey. So, in a weird way, Raimi might be referencing those comics--maybe. It still doesn't work, as you point out.

Dante Kleinberg said...

Geoff, I have to disagree.

The theme of the overall run is clear: Mainstream superhero comics can't escape a certain cyclical formula of good vs. evil.

Morrison does what every comic book writer does when they are given the keys to a long running major franchise: He revisits every popular storyline of old trying to put a slightly new shine on them.

But this coat of paint is a bit shinier than most for two major reasons:

1) It is compellingly plotted and written (in my opinion, maybe not yours)
2) The aforementioned theme

This theme upsets you for a good reason. You personally wish mainstream superhero comics COULD escape their cyclical nature. Morrison teases you with non-violent Buddhist X-Men and ultra-cool post-human outpost-from-the-future pretend-superheroes from the very beginning. But this is only a tease. It cannot possibly last. If Morrison continued along this pathway instead of reverting back to the old clichés, it would not work. Readers would leave. Editorial would be upset. This is too mainstream a book to be that radical and survive.

This run is a visceral widescreen thrillride that also secretly chastises itself and the reader at large for wanting people to continue being punched in the face. This is the joke from Animal Man where Buddy has to fight a sharkman (or something, I forget) while real life Morrison watches because "people expect a fight every few pages" stretched out to dozens of issues on a grand public scale.

It was so freakin' subversive that they immediately erased everything he did as soon as he left! That ought to prove its worth right there!

I've read the entire run several times and every time I get something new out of it. I think that the majority of your dislike stems from your disappointment that Morrison's early teasing WAS only a tease. But if you can put that aside, I think you'll be able to appreciate the run for what it is, not what you wished it would be.

Geoff Klock said...

Dante: you make some fair points, I will give you that. Morrison's point is that you cannot escape. But that does not mean that he makes the most out of where the X-Men must be stranded. You are right that he revisits all the major stories -- Assault on Weapon Plus is an amazing revision of Return to Weapon X or whatever. But Planet X is a very weak revision of The X-Men vs Magneto story that has to be in every major run.

You say it is compellingly plotted and written, but then back off with "in my opinion, not yours." Don't back off -- if you think it is compellingly plotted and written give me evidence -- I gave you evidence that is was not, for example Magneto and the Special Class are all being mind controlled so characterization goes right out the window. Also I talked about why the Xorn twist does not work -- it just feels random. If the X-Men cannot escape from a cycle the reveal should be inevitable.

You call this a viscerial widescreen thrillride but I have evidence to the contrary -- Magneto strikes a boy because he thinks a carrot is a fruit, and kills someone for making a fart joke. That is not exactly Ellis's Authority, which -- for all its debauchery -- was sublime.

You are right that the theme that mainstream superhero comics are cyclical is amazing, and the destruction of the book right in front of us is grand. But I have carefully demonstrated why Morrison fails on the level of storytelling many many times -- as a storyteller you have to get the story straight before you can focus on theme. Murder at the Mansion did not need to be a part of Morrison's "subversive thrillride", for example, nor did very bad art. Morrison's idea is great; the execution? sometimes great, often terrible.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I guess since I am commenting on this particular issue thread, I should have made some of my points clearer. When I called it a thrillride, I was thinking of the run as a whole, not necessarily this issue. To be honest, I have no idea what specifically happens in this issue besides your review because I haven't read the run in a year or two.

And I agree with you that "Murder at the Mansion," and some of the issues where Prof X and Jean are travelling the world, are a bit weak. But even these are filled with moments that I loved, like the silverware floating around Jean making a Phoenix and Beast trying to put Emma back together.

However, the Xorn twist, and the mind control, I feel are all part of the superhero cycle. I don't know what pre-dates what, but it seems to me every time a big name comes on a franchise to reinvent the wheel, it turns out all the bad things happening to the hero this whole time were because of so-and-so, like Mysterio in Daredevil or The Riddler in Batman or Green Goblin in Spider-Man and on and on. And it doesn't always make sense. I don't really feel like the Xorn twist has to make sense in order to work, and in fact it not making sense almost plays better into the theme than it would otherwise. Harry Osborn (from beyond the grave) giving Peter robot clone parents doesn't make sense and it's stupid, Xorn being Magneto doesn't make sense but because it plays into a grand overall theme is more forgivable.

As for mind control... well, how could you have this many issues in a superhero comic without mind control? Everyone in comics is being mind controlled all the time! I seem to remember an issue of Astro City where a murderer wins a court case because the lawyer proves to the jury that he could have easily been under mind control, or an otherdimensional doppelganger, or a shapeshifter, etc. Or a better example may be the Squadron Supreme, who as Hawkeye points out in Busiek's Avengers, are mind controlled so often into being evil it's just ridiculous.

Magneto makes a last cry for relevance but it doesn't work. He has to wait for the X-Men to stop him because if he succeeds than the comics will be over. He can't even kill Prof X, and has to keep him in a tube (or something) until they have time to save him. The Xorn helmet tries to convince him otherwise, but he's too old a character to change, and so are the X-Men it turns out. Only new characters like Beak, Esme, and Ernst/Cassandra can really see how crazy this whole cycle is but they don't have the power (or the fanbase) to do anything about it. This is the way it is. Get your own comic if you want to change it. You live in the Marvel U and you will keep fighting forever and never win.

The first time I read this run, I didn't see any of this. I just loved it for being a whizzbang superhero comic that didn't always make sense but always had more cool moments than anything else around at that time. The second and third time I read it was when it all started to sink in. It has dual purpose. On the one hand, for old comic vets it is a meta-commentary on the nature of the mainstream industry, on the other hand, for new readers who don't recognize the cliches and callbacks, it is just a great superhero story where things blow up and people die and get resurrected and punch each other and say cool one-liners.

Charles tried to murder his twin sister while they were still in the womb. We need to talk.

'Nuff said.

(I won't defend the art. Sometimes it sucked. But I'm a writing guy more than an art guy so it didn't bother me.)

Dante Kleinberg said...

I feel like I JUST NOW had a minor breakthrough into this whole storyline since my last post.

So Morrison has this new thing he wants to do with the X-Men. He creates Cassandra Nova and Xorn. He's got futuristic pop sexy cool stuff going on. Now let's say he sincerely wanted to do it this way but it became clear early on that he wouldn't be allowed by editorial to muck up the X-Men that much, so the new theme of "Mainstream superhero comics can't escape a certain cyclical formula of good vs. evil" emerges.

What happens then to Cassandra Nova and Xorn? The forerunners of the new?

Nova gets put in a body of a slow child, Ernst. And Xorn is Magneto, the big bad.

Ernst is your perspective character, Geoff. She is speaking on your behalf. What is happening? This is boring and old-fashioned. I miss Mr. Xorn, what happened to him? In her mind, it makes no sense that Xorn and Magneto are the same person. What happened to the New X-Men she was learning about? She is symbolic of the whole darn thing.

And it's only fitting that she regains her true identity in the ultra-cool Here Comes Tomorrow finisher.

Now I have to re-read the whole run again with this in mind...

mitch said...

You're right Geoff. Magneto should not slap someone over a vegetable/fruit argument. Yuck.

Also, while reading Dante's thing I thought of something: why on earth does the Xorn helmet talk anyway? I know exposition and internal conflict are hard to convey sometimes... but come on.

Geoff Klock said...

Dante: I hope I am not simplifying your point to much, but it seems to me that we agree. It is just that think the often bad storytelling and art outweighs the interest of the theme, and you do not. This debate is not about whether New X-Men is good or bad, it is about what should be valued more. I have made my arguments on this blog many times -- I think for a comic book story and art have to come before ideas; if ideas come first you are welcome to write philosophy. But I see your point, and don't think you are, you know, insane or anything. The theme, especially as you describe it, is quite cool and interesting and innovative.

Mitch: yeah I should have said that. Good point.

Dante Kleinberg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dante Kleinberg said...

Geoff, it sounds like we do in fact agree on most points except one: I enjoyed the storytelling on a surface level (as well as a deeper level) and you found the surface flawed. Other than that, nigh perfect congruity.

And I'm glad you don't think I'm insane! That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said about me! :-)

wwk5d said...

I know I'm coming in late with my comments, but oh well...

The Morrison run is a decent run for me. Not great, not a classic, but not the worst we have seen (Lobdell's 2nd 1/2 and Austin's X-men deserve those honors).

The problem with GM's meta comments is that he really, at the end, offers nothing new. He goes on and on about how outdated Prof X and Magneto and their world views are, and that we need something new...but what new thing does Morrison offer? Evolution is fine as a concept, but what does it mean? We saw issue after issue of the X-men talking and holding press conferences and talking and talking and talking about a new world order, and how fabulous they were and going to change the world, and how things were changing, and what not...but they offered anything new. And the Special Class' message about the cyclical nature and how things constantly repeat and go in circles? That's Morrison's message? No shit, Grant. That's the nature of series like this. We all knew that before you came along.

Don't get me wrong, this series has lots of good stuff going for it. But it also has lots of crap also. His treatment and use of Magneto is a prime example. Instead of doing something really creative, like Claremont did with Magneto in Uncanny 150 - 200 and try something new with Magneto, he takes the easy, lazy way out. So disappointing.