Monday, June 25, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men: This Issue by Issue Recap Overview and Summary Judgement

114: Morrison and Quitely have redesigned the X-Men as weird post-human pop sexy bad-asses! Awesome!
115: Cyclops is actually cool! Casandra Nova is scarring the crap out of me! This is great!
116: Humanity is dying out. Xavier shot a woman with a handgun. This book has edge. Plus a Camel-toe cover. I am finally being surprised by a mainstream superhero book.
The Annual: Did Cyclops sleep with Emma?! Wow. Did the X-Men just bomb a Chinese facility from the air? This Xorn guy is cool. This is not my father's X-Men. I am having a good time.
117: Where did Quitely go? Freaky Beak has replaced sexy X-Men. VanSciver fails to sell a key moment. Xavier was not cool when he shot Nova, he was possessed, which is disappointing.
118: VanSciver is painfully literal. The new Angel is gross. Morrison's ending beat is very off.
119: This art is horrifically ugly, messing badly with the core concept. Mr. Sublime is a lame villain. Morrison's ending beat is once again very off. And did Jean Grey really call the cops?
120: These U-Men look cool but are just a bunch of lame jerks. Mr Sublime's defeat is extra humiliating because he has a toupee and Jean Grey makes people up-chuck and poo themselves. Where did the guy who wrote issue 114 go?
121: Oh here he is. This issue is silent and Morrison and Quitely shine in a weird psychic landscape. This is AMAZING on every level.
122: Quitely is awesome, but Morrison needs to stop highlighting mutant philosophy, since he has none, and figure out what Nova is about. I cannot keep track of what she is supposed to be.
123: Oh, Morrison should NOT be writing mutant philosophy. Nova is still cool, but Van Sciver is only so-so.
124: This is the worst art I have every seen and the storytelling is a total failure, as the super-tough imperial guard turn out to be the worst fighters ever. My sister could kill them all.
125: Oh, this art is bad. And Nova is just like fucking Onslaught, which is weak. The Beast is gay? Nova's nano-sentinels have something to do with the U-Men? What? Really? This is bad.
126: Quitely is back and Morrison can write again: Xorn and Cyclops are great together, and the defeat of Nova is brilliant, interesting and new.
127: Xorn goes through the most cliched mutant story ever. Pathos becomes Bathos. Boring.
128: It turns out Kordey can draw, given time. Morrison builds strong tension with X-Force. Fantomex -- my favorite superhero ever -- is introduced. This is good stuff.
129: The stuff with Animal is lame, and there seem to be little storytelling glitches, but Fantomex is the best, and there are some great ideas and lines.
130: Fantomex, who was already great, now has a living flying saucer; now he is even better. Wow.
131: This art is hot and cold in this one issue, which is randomly plotted in a very bad way. It ends with a great moment -- the Scott-Emma affair.
132: A 9-11 tribute issue, with weird plot glitches, bathos, and an attempt to stir our hearts with people standing proudly but sadly with a girl wearing a waist length jacket and no pants. This does not work well.
133: The 9-11 pendulum swings the other way: Wolverine slaughters Afghanis, Xavier brainwashes airplane hijackers, and he is shot at with a sniper rifle. This does not work well. But Dust is introduced and there is a great line about Bollywood.
134: The Beast is being gay as performance art? Really? He is also just mean for no reason. A fashion designer is dead a teenagers does drugs and gets a haircut. OK. I guess?
135: Quentin squares off with Xavier and it is hard to know with whom to sympathize with the least. These guys are idiots.
136: The "riot" plot is so thin we spend this issue with Xorn. The U-Men suck -- they are so weak -- but Xorn, after a lot of peace-love-sheep stuff, suddenly acts like a badass. Interesting. As for Quentin he acts like a jerk and hits Xavier with a baseball bad. Lame.
137: The "riot" is literally hot wax tossed out of broken windows, and these guys have no plan. Even with no plan, all the X-men can come up with is "everyone calm down," so someone else ends it. Even Quitely cannot save a story this lame. Morrison has an point to make (teenagers are idiots), but it causes his story to suck.
138: Quentin Quire ascents to a higher state of consciousness? Really? And Xavier is pleased with this? Really? Then he quits the school? Really? Then Jean walks in on Scott and Emma in a compromising position, even though Scott was just about to end it. Cliche!
139: One great page with Wolverine and Emma cannot save an issue with everyone acting like teenagers. Cyclops storms off like a 14 year old girl. This is worse because all the teeth is taken out of the affair. They never actually "went-all-the-way." We are all middle-schoolers now.
140: A golden age murder mystery with Bishop as Miss Marple. One of the worst ideas ever, in part because he just questions everyone, which makes no sense in a world with psychics. And did the guy from the Riot just get thrown in human prison to be abused while Nova, who killed 16 million people, gets rehabilitated? I do not get this.
141: Morrison has written a murder mystery in which the victim comes back to life and the person who killed her gets away without being identified. The low point of the series. Where did the guy who wrote issue 114 go?
142: Oh, here he is. Bachalo is great, and brings out the best in Morrison. Everything is beautiful and fun again and will be for 4 issues. Here everyone drinks, and Bachalo has a great sense of humor.
143: Fantomex is awesome, and the art here is great. Morrison is in great form: artificial evolution is great. Plus Weapon X turns out to be Weapon 10 which is a great little spin on an old favorite.
144: Weapon 15 is hilarious -- a faceless robot killer who talks like a poet and has extra thumbs because he is SUPER-EVOLVED. I love Assault on Weapon Plus (issues 142-145)!
145: Some great little clues here for the rest of the run, plus Wolverine learns the truth about everything. This is a great issue. I know everyone hates the last page, but Bachalo is funny and I love him.
146: Everyone just gets their planes blown up? That is weak. Dust was a great idea for a character completely wasted. And XORN WAS MAGNETO THE WHOLE TIME!?! That makes not sense. At all.
147: Morrison's Magneto is a drug addicted old man. Morrison has an intellectual point to make (the X-Men are in a rut) but it ruins his storytelling. Also Morrison has decided to replace characterisation with mind control in the case of both Magneto and the special class.
148: Jean and Wolverine dying as they fall into the sun is simply amazing on every level.
149: Morrison's Magneto is simply awful. Morrison wants not to repeat McKellen (the definitive Magneto), but makes his story grotesque in the process.
150: A haunting ending to a weak story with strong moments. Morrison is very uneven, but can do emotion when he tries. I miss Morrison the super-genius, with all the crazy sci-fi madness.
151: This story is genius, with all kinds of crazy sci-fi madness. He canonizes his own run, by giving us twists not on core X-Men plots, but on his own run. This is awesome.
152: What a weird but brilliant line up. This is everything I want. The old and new are just smashed up. I should hate the art but I love it. The Beast as Apocalypse should not work, but does.
153: I stopped caring about Morrison's larger theme about the old and the new a long time ago; it does not make any sense anyway and I am distracted by the BEST NEW SUPER VILLAIN IDEA EVER. This story rawks.
154: Issue 150 was a beautiful end to an uneven story arc. 154 is a similarly beautiful ending to a uneven run. Morrison goes out with a bang, and real heart. I wish he had paid that kind of attention all along.

SUMMARY JUDGEMENT: the highs are super high, some of the best, most ingenious, imaginative work Morrison has done. The lows are super-low, with basic storytelling failures anyone with a screenwriting guide could correct in one pass, and are some of the worst comics I have read by anyone. And there are about as many bad comics here as good. Something this uneven should not be called a classic, or even great. Casanova, Dark Knight Returns, Dark Knight Strikes Again, WE3, and All Star Superman, are not like this, and it messes up everything to put this in the same category with those, even though the highs are just as high as anything in those books. Morrison's New X-Men should be recommended to others but not without a warning that there is a lot of shit to sift through to find the gold.


Marc Caputo said...

How about calling it a noble failure? I've begun to re-read the run, keeping your perspectives in mind - but your summary judgement brings to my mind a point: all the other works you mention are alternatives to regular monthly books, in one way or another: DKR and DKSA were "prestige" formatted and out of continuity. WE3 was Vertigo, Casanova IS an alternative, and All-Star Superman is OOC. This begs the question: how does this work compare with other mainstream, IN-continuity books, with their heavy (seen or unseen) editorial hands in the mix, scheduling demands and the fallout they have on the art end of the product? I wouldn't want to say "Morrison's New X-Men is good - for a monthly mainstream book"; that damns it with faint praise. Rather, I look at the run and say, "It was a noble failure given all that he wanted to say/do up against all those other obstacles."

It's hard even to compare it with, let's say, his runs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol; there, he seemed to have more carte blanche, if not total control. The only thing you could compare it with is his JLA run - which I love, but was more uneven. AND he didn't have an "agenda"/manifesto to pursue.

Just some thoughts.

Oh, and we saw Ocean's 13 this weekend - I've got to say, first blush reponse - my favorite movie trilogy (even with Back to the Future).

Dante Kleinberg said...

I applaud Geoff's great effort to go through every issue like this. I think it's a great achievement for a blog and I was interested throughout.

Though in the end, I still think New X-Men is tops. Marc has a good point that New X-Men did something much differently than the other things Geoff mentioned in that it was part of a greater 40+ year mainstream tapestry instead of a mini-series.

The run as a whole is still in my Top 5 favorite superhero comic runs ever, and might be #1 depending on how I feel that day. (Starman is a good one too, natch)

Stephen said...

This has been a fascinating blog series -- a treat to read.

I haven't had time to reread Morrison's run since you began this series, let alone ended it. (At some point in the future I hope to reread your series and his together.) And that makes my own aesthetic judgment suspect in my own mind -- I'd hate to debate a series I've read once, some time ago, with someone who has read it that closely. Still, for what the subjective impression is worth, my memory of the series is that I didn't find any of it as good nor as bad as you did.

Will your critiques change my mind? In part. I think some of the aesthetic criteria you use -- the sexy/pop thing that we hashed out in the comments early on -- are simply non-issues for me: I can't even see caring about them. I suspect I react differently to the art than you do in general: while I admire Quitely's skill, I don't recall (with the possible exception of the silent issue) anything he does here being in the league of his best work. Otherwise, though, I think I reacted to *all* the art as being, well, standard, gets-the-job-done superhero art: not as mind-blowingly awesome as (say) J. H. Williams on Promethea (where I actually enjoy the art as such), but not so bad as to bother me at all. So in some cases we may simply have different tastes, or aesthetic criteria, or something. (The meta-discussion -- why people agree or disagree about aesthetics -- is something I've long been interested in.)

Plot holes, of which you identified many, are a different matter: in some cases I think your devastatingly on the money (I'm thinking of Xorn as Magneto particularly), and in other cases I can see why they'd bother you even if they don't bother me.

So I think that some of your critiques will hit home for me, but not all; and I don't think your praise convinces me as much as, say, the Planetary chapter of your first book.

But, again: read Morrison once, read your series once, haven't read 'em together. I reserve the right to have a totally different reaction once I read them together.

And, fundamentally, agreement is not a criteria for me in whether your series was worth doing: your series was a fascinating read, so I'm glad you did it.

On to the next one!?

Stephen said...

Quick hits:

* I'd really like to see you do a link page, with in-order links to the whole series -- yeah, the tags are there, but they aren't as useful. Also, such a page is good for others to link to and such.

* I'd really like to see you debate Paul O'Brien on this, as I recall was suggested somewhere in the middle of this...

Stephen said...

...all the other works you mention are alternatives to regular monthly books, in one way or another: DKR and DKSA were "prestige" formatted and out of continuity. WE3 was Vertigo, Casanova IS an alternative, and All-Star Superman is OOC. This begs the question: how does this work compare with other mainstream, IN-continuity books, with their heavy (seen or unseen) editorial hands in the mix, scheduling demands and the fallout they have on the art end of the product? I wouldn't want to say "Morrison's New X-Men is good - for a monthly mainstream book"; that damns it with faint praise. Rather, I look at the run and say, "It was a noble failure given all that he wanted to say/do up against all those other obstacles."

This strikes me as a good and key point.

Most of the best mainstream comics (AFAIK: I admittedly read a very limited subset of them) are simply not set in the mainstream DC or Marvel universes: either they're their own thing, from another company, or at the very least are OOC works like DKR and All-Star Superman. And most of the *exceptions* to this rule are works that deal with peripheral, minor characters, such that no one really cares what the writer does with them -- back to classics like Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Morrison's Animal Man & Doom Patrol, and up to recent works (not all in a class with those three, but all fun), such as Morrison's Seven Soldiers, Vaughan's Runaways, Slott's GLA, or the Gotham Central series.

So while I might sign on to the "Morrison's New X-Men is good - for a monthly mainstream book" -- I think it's a fair summation, from what I remember -- it brings me to this question: are there *any* comics that are A) in the DCU/MU continuity, and B) deal with non-peripheral characters that can stand with the caliber of books that you mentioned (and many moore (pun intended) that you didn't)? Or are the best things simply not done there?

(Aside from Morrison's X-Men, the only book that fits both of these criteria that I've read and enjoyed is Whedon's sequel to Morrison's work... there must be others but I can't think of them off-hand. The books I like are either OOC, independent works, or works about peripheral characters.)

So: *any* big-name, in-continuity works that can stand with the best of mainstream comics?

Or are even worth your time & money?

(Footnote: for the purposes of this question, the status of Marvel's Ultimate universe is tricky, so let's set it aside for now...)

Jason Powell said...

"are there *any* comics that are A) in the DCU/MU continuity, and B) deal with non-peripheral characters that can stand with the caliber of books that you mentioned"

Not sure if you were opening this up to everybody, Stephen, but ... does Daredevil count as a "non-peripheral" character? People seem to rank Miller's run on that title very highly, and Bendis' as well.

I haven't read either run myself, but I'm just throwing it out there. Playing devil's advocate, as it were ...

(I love the trick of adding "as it were" to a silly pun, as if that makes it cleverer. I do it at every opportunity.)

Stephen said...

Definitely opening it up for everyone. And Daredevil is a good counter-example -- I haven't read Bendis, but Miller's Born Again is probably in the DKR range.

I'd love to hear from other people on this...

troy wilson said...

Born Again is great.

Hmmm, peripheral or non-peripheral. Well, Daredevil certainly isn't a big franchise like X-Men, Batman, or Superman, but few comics are. Then again, the reason Miller got to go nuts during his first Daredevil run was because it was a dead-end book that no one cared about. Did his stellar work transform it from a peripheral book into a non-peripheral one? Hard to say. I'd lean toward "no," but I could be persuaded. All depends where and how we draw our line in the sand.

And it's been mentioned many times, of course, that X-Men itself was a peripheral book during all of the classic Claremont/Byrne run (or most of it, anyway).

Peter David had a really solid run on Hulk (yeah, I know, "really solid" isn't "great," but still...) - if, that is, you ignore everything from the Heroes Reborn stuff onward. He'd been on the book for good long while before that particular shit hit the Marvel-U fan.

Geoff Klock said...

Everybody -- yes of course you are all right. This run should be seen in the context of mainstream runs on major titles, in which case it is not so bad as I say.

Marc -- but you cannot have it both ways. I can see your point that it should be judged in the context of a mainstream book, but then it REALLY IS "pretty good for a mainstream book." And you know, I am not sure right now how faint that praise is. I think I like that actually; it seems fair. I will not call it a noble failure because many of these issues should not be anywhere near the word noble.

I agree that Morrison's JLA is the point of comparison here. I have not read his JLA in a while, but I would venture to say it is vastly better than his NXM run. You want to cut him slack because he did not have a manifesto to persue on that title, but no one forced him two start start out with a manifesto. He shackled himself there, and if he drowns trying to escape his own Houdini-like trick, then he drowns.

Stephen -- yeah, I DO put Quitely in the same box with JH Williams -- I will get a book of theirs just for the art. So I can see why we would disagree there.

I will try to do a links thing. I have a little more time to work on the blog this summer.

As for O'Brien -- I wrote him about a debate but he said he was too busy. Or he was YELLA!!!

Stephen -- you have made me realize that I simply do not read many mainstream runs. It seems, as a superhero comic book fan, I am some kind of prestige junkie -- All Star Superman and so on. It kind of makes sense.

Jason Powell said...

"And it's been mentioned many times, of course, that X-Men itself was a peripheral book during all of the classic Claremont/Byrne run (or most of it, anyway)."

Perhaps worth pointing out, though, that by the time you get to the '80s, X-Men was the consistent number-one superhero comic. And it was in the '80s that Claremont did stuff like, for example, add the Holocaust background to Magneto -- and just in general give the character the sense of nobility and tragedy that paved the way for the Ian MacKellan film portrayal.

troy wilson said...

Good call, Jason. People can say what they will about Claremont, but he managed to maintain a high level of quality on a #1 mainstream book for a respectable amount of time. That's why he was one of my heroes until Watchmen, Dark Knight, Love & Rockets, etc showed up.

For me, things started sliding around Uncanny 187, and I was gone by the low 200's. Though I'm definitely no fan of his bloated writing style, I nonetheless agree that he consistently delivered the goods for awhile there and, unlike all the vehement Claremont haters around the net, I'll always respect him for that.

Dante Kleinberg said...

I haven't read his entire JLA run, but I've read bits and pieces of it, and I think New X-Men is a lot better.

Of course, that may be my bias because I grew up reading X-Men and have hardly read any JLA in comparison.

I like the term "prestige junkie." It lies somewhere between mainstream fanboy and obscurantist, I guess.

neilshyminsky said...

Re: prodigious runs on mainstream, ongoing titles

I don't think it's all that nostalgic of me to suggest that Claremont's stuff from the X-Men's kidnapping by Mesmero, or perhaps slightly later when they battle Proteus, on to Days of Future Past is as strong a run as you'll find on any ongoing mainstream superhero title. Certain conventions of serial storytelling aside (like the need for characters to reintroduce themselves and the situations), it's still quite affecting. And it genuinely feels like these X-Men are real people grappling morally and ethically with the consequences of unimaginable power. (And Byrne is arguably as good as he will ever be on these issues - like Lennon and McCartney, each is made better through the trials of their collaboration.)

Mitch said...

Geoff-- Hooray! I feel like we've all graduated. What a long, crazy trip it's been...

Yeah, you are a prestige junkie, and you've turned me into one too, you jerk.

Troy Wilson said...

Yay, prestige stuff! (Just watch out for the radioactive semen.)

Jason Powell said...

Well said, Troy. Funny that you say 187 begins the slide ... I'm re-reading the entire Claremont run now, and last night I left off on 188. Oh no! :)

(Personally I like this era. It’s where Claremont really started messing with sh*t. Bad-ass Depowered Storm, Ninja Kitty, Disillusioned Nightcrawler, Walking Xavier, Honorable Magneto ... some of those changes worked better than others (and I know plenty of people don’t like any of these changes at all), but I think it’s great that Claremont was willing to just completely turn characters upside down, and that the editor (Ann Nocenti) let him do it.

It wasn’t until Bob Harras took over the editing that the reins were tightened and Claremont was forced to revert a lot of things in the comic to more traditional status. That was why Claremont left, and it was the start of the no-creativity-period that lasts to this day, and that Morrisson was seemingly bemoaning.

troy wilson said...

I see it as a gradual slide in quality, Jason, not a precipitous drop by any means. I enjoyed Bad-ass Depowered Storm, for instance, and Honorable Magneto too, but it felt like the hit-miss ratio was starting to shift. Then again, it's been a long time since I've revisited this stuff; maybe I'd feel differently today. In any case, I imagine it's perfection compared to the Bob Harras era (thankfully, I was long gone by that point).

Matt Brady said...

Sorry I haven't chimed in to mention this earlier, Geoff, but I want to reiterate that I've loved your New X-Men series; it's been some great reading, and has provoked some great discussion. I've mentioned before that I think you've changed my opinion of the run from "excellent" to "pretty good with some low points". I would disagree that any of the issues are "some of the worst comics I have read by anyone", since I think even the worst stuff is better than, say, most of Rob Liefeld's work, or some of the terrible comics that came out in the 90's, or, I dunno, Witchblade. One of these days I'll end up collecting the rest of the trades/back issues, and I can reread the whole thing and see how much I agree with you.

You've also inspired me to possibly write something like your series in the future. I'll be sure to let you know in a free-form comments whenever I get around to it, but keep an eye out for it.

Stephen said...

You've also inspired me to possibly write something like your series in the future. I'll be sure to let you know in a free-form comments whenever I get around to it, but keep an eye out for it.

Awesome. Looking forward to it.

Brendan Hogg said...

This series of blog posts has been a really interesting read and I'll be interested to see your thoughts on the Whedon, though I suspect there's much less thematic depth there for you to get your teeth into.

For me personally, my eyes are more open to the run's flaws now but it's still how I first got into the X-Men in comics form (and from there the crazy ol' Marvel U in general -- to be honest I'm now more fond of the ridiculously powerful elements floating around the edges than the core superheroes and teams: Doc Strange and Nick Fury in particular) and so it remains the "definitive" version of the X-Men ur-myth for me. And in general, I love things that tear things apart to build them back up again, which is what it strikes me Morrison is doing throughout (though with varied success).

Reading your issue-by-issue rundown, it strikes me that Morrison is convinced throughout that everything connects but keeps changing his mind about exactly how. It only really all comes together at the end, where the distance of 150 years makes the inconsistencies with the (utterly great, as you say) explanation we're given there seem small.

andrew said...

wow, this is awful. Looking at your credentials you would think that this would be a real academic critique, rather than some trite and completely subjective ither (that's right, I just made up a word because clearly this is a blog, people say anything they want, as long as it waists time and adds up to nothingness)

Empath said...

I am glad that I found this page that analysed every issue of New X-men. When I first bought these individual issues back in the early 2000s I was unimpressed. The x-men were too similar to their counterparts in th movie (which I DID NOT like). The villains were lame....THE ART WAS DISGUSTING. Frank Quitely and Igor Kordey are the WORST artists ever and should never be allowed on an X book ever again!....This is why I stopped following New Xmen!

Fast forward some years later and I picked up the Here comes tomorrow about effing Brilliant! This is great stuff and drawn by Marc Silvestri too! FRICKING AWESOME!

SO....I decided to reread Morrison's entire run. I will say he was definately better than some other writers but his work on New Xmen is still iffy at best. He did revamp the series and made it interesting again by shaking up he Scott and Jean romance...which was getting boring anyway. The annual was good...but the Xorn is Magneto was just poorly handled. I still refuse to believe that Magneto would do something like that (even if influenced by Kick).

Ultimately, Grant Morrison's run would be labelled a C...but I would definately recommend here comes tomorrow and I WISH WISH WISH that arc would be made a comic ongoing series or a cartoon written by him....thats how much I loved it....especially that new version of phoenix and the beast as a villain! SQUEEL!