Welcome back.  Last week, I began an overview of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men.  I tried to bridge the debate divide by discussing the series’ strengths and weaknesses.  And now I’m back for more, looking at the third and fourth collections, New Worlds and Riot at Xavier’s. 

 

New Worlds

(Issues 127-133: Of Living and Dying, New Worlds, Fantomex, Weapon Twelve, Some Angels Falling, Ambient Magnetic Fields, Dust)

 

New Worlds is very much a continuation of the ideas that we saw in the first year of Grant Morrison’s run.  The X-Men continue to grow as international public figures and Morrison continues to introduce new characters.  However, there are some changes and developments. 

First, as evidenced by the number of names listed above, Morrison shifts his story-telling focus to shorter features.  Instead of one long arc, Morrison writes several shorter stories, including multiple one-shots.  They still work together as part of the larger tapestry, yet the change in focus is appreciated.  It’s an opportunity to simultaneously retrench and expand on the ideas already introduced.  It allows Morrison to shine the spotlight on individual characters, such as Xorn, Phoenix, Emma Frost or Dust.  It gives characters the opportunity to react to earlier events, such as the issue in which the survivors of Genosha erect a statue to Magneto.  It’s a refreshing change of pace for the reader, as well.   

Second, in the middle of this stretch, Grant Morrison alters a major relationship.  He already established that Scott and Jean’s marriage had grown distant and stale, especially since Scott had spent time as the host of Apocalypse.  Now, Scott begins to turn to Emma Frost for relationship advice and a little bit of telepathic counseling.  It’s obvious that this is a bad idea.  Yet something that is a bad idea for a character can be a very interesting idea for the readers.  Scott, Jean and Emma make for an intriguing love triangle and a compelling change from the previous perfect couple posture.  It’s notable that this is one of the Morrison changes that stuck when so many others have been reversed.  While many fans reacted the way they would if one of their real-life friends had an affair, writers saw the potential in this relationship for the kinds of conflict that are the lifeblood of any story.  

Finally, Morrison introduced a significant new character- Fantomex.  Although I’ve praised Morrison for the ingenuity he displayed in creating new characters (a mutant with a sun for a brain- that’s brilliant!), I think he mishandled the introduction of Fantomex.  Part of the problem is that Morrison approached Fantomex as a fan.  Fantomex was based on earlier incarnations from France (Fantomas) and Italy (Diabolik) but Morrison forgot to give new readers a reason to like him.  We were told he was cool before we had the chance to decide for ourselves.  He was arrogant and acted superior to the X-Men, and it’s not a good idea to upstage the heroes in their own book.  Plus, Fantomex was introduced as part of an EYKIW (“Everything You Know Is Wrong”) that upended much of the established history of the Weapon X program.  Then again, I could be wrong.  Fantomex is another addition that has lasted.  A lot of fans love him.  He’s currently appearing in Uncanny X-Force and I admit that I’ve grown to like him in spite of myself. 

These last two changes reveal one of the contradictions of Grant Morrison.  Although he’s known as an idea man, he’s also a great borrower.  That trait has become more evident in recent work, like Batman, but it was already present during New X-Men.  However, the fans weren’t yet as aware of that trait and so Morrison was erroneously given credit for ideas introduced by others.  Scott Lobdell had previously suggested a love triangle for Scott and another shameless telepath, Psylocke.  Scott Lobdell was also the writer who added Emma Frost to the X-Men, first as an uncomfortable ally and then as the teacher of Generation X.  Plus, as noted, Fantomex had existed in several previous incarnations.  Morrison saw the potential in these ideas and took them further.  He definitely deserves credit for delving those ideas with greater depth but he didn't originate them. 

 

Riot at Xavier’s

(Issues 134-138)

 

Riot at Xavier’s is the mid-point of Morrison’s tenure on New X-Men, and arguably the high point as well.  It is simply a great story about generational struggle.  Quentin Quire rejects the competing dreams of Professor Xavier- peaceful coexistence- and Magneto- mutant superiority.  He’s like the Black Panthers, throwing off the leadership of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.  He’s like the Sex Pistols, kicking over the influence of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  However, while Quire knows that he doesn’t want a part in other people’s plans, he doesn’t actually have a plan of his own to put into place and his revolution quickly devolves into anarchy.    

I like the way in which Quire and his compatriots co-opt negative stereotypes for their image.  It’s very consistent with the ways in which some minorities have taken the signs of oppression and turned them inside out.  It’s like Native Americans wearing Washington Redskins jackets, black rappers using the n-word or homosexuals adopting the pink triangle as a symbol of pride after it was used as a mark of identification in concentration camps. 

I like the way in which Quire manipulates his classmates.  He takes their unfocused anger, which is common in a lot of youth, and gives them a target for their rage.  Quire and his crew don’t need a philosophy beyond “we’re angry at the world and we’re going to lash out.” 

I also appreciate the way in which Morrison shows the downside of the riot.  Quire may see himself as a hero, but he isn’t.   He’s selfish and cruel to the people who are supposed to be his friends.  Furthermore, the crew may think that they’re in control of their drug use, but they’re not.  It unleashes their potential but it also impairs their judgment.  It’s a major part of their downfall. 

Riot at Xavier’s is a nuanced morality play, depicting both the allure of anarchy and the awful consequences. 

 

That’s the end of Part II.  Don't forget to check out Part I for the start of this discussion.  Then, stop in again for Part III and the final three trades in Grant Morrison’s seminal stint on New X-Men. 

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Comment by Chris Fluit on February 15, 2012 at 1:38pm

To pick up on your first main point, Scott's infidelity is working well for me this time around!  There were a number of factors that led me to drop the book around this period of the run, and truth to tell, straying hubbie Scott might have been one of them!  As mentioned earlier, I was a huge X-fan when Phoenix died the first time, and Scott's betrayal here seemed like sacrilige.  

 

Jean's death was actually the first death I had to deal with on an emotional level. I knew she was a fictional character, but I could also see that she was gone for good (or so it seemed then), and I experienced vicariously how difficult it was for her friends to move on after her passing.

Thanks for sharing, Figs.  I think it speaks to the power of stories that fictional characters can mean as much to us the real people in our lives.  They become our friends.  We fall in love with them.  And yes, we mourn them in very real ways.  Obviously, this can cross the line from passion into obsession- as illustrated by the fan in Misery who kidnaps and tortures an author for having killed off her favorite character.  But for most of us, the passion and imagination in fiction is a positive and powerful part of our lives. 

Obviously, our emotional reactions are going to be different.  I don't have the same emotional attachment to Jean's death as you do as she died years before I started reading superheroes.  I do find it interesting that her death has lasted longer this time around (although her return is rumored to be a part of the upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men). 

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 15, 2012 at 1:42pm

This is a different approach to that of the fan-archivists, who'd want Scott and Jean categorised as inseparable lovers, and who'd give the reasons from past comics that show how they'd never drift apart.

 

In a scary, ever-changing world, the fan-archivists want some things in their comics to stay immutable.

Clearly, I'm not a fan-archivist.  I prefer to see characters grow and change.  That includes some of those romances of destiny.  I've wanted Rogue and Gambit to date other people, because we've seen their circular romance happen so often already.  And although I wouldn't say that I wanted to see Scott and Jean break-up, the way in which it was written was very real and compelling- even though Morrison used the unreal possibilities of superpowers and telepathy as part of the story. 

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 15, 2012 at 1:48pm

There is a high-handed arrogance to these shortcuts we see the X-telepaths making again and again.  As a reader, I was somewhat shocked to see the mutants declare to the journalists that they would deal with Cassandra Nova themselves – that human laws didn’t apply to them any more.

I agree. That was one of the moments that offended me and caused me to drop the series when it first came out.  In that one line, the X-Men declared- to me, at least- that they had abandoned Xavier's dream of equality and embraced Magneto's view of superiority.  How could they say they're not bound by human laws?  Mutants are humans too.  That's the whole point!  The argument in the past was whether mutants were a sub-set of humanity (Homo sapiens superior) and therefore still human or an entirely new species (Homo superior).  Xavier and his followers clearly came down on the side of the former.  Mutants are not a separate species.  They are a part of humanity and neither side can successfully exist without the other. 

It would have been one thing for the X-Men to say "we'll take care of her since we're not sure you can handle her."  But it was, as I said, offensive for them to say "we'll take care of her since you have no authority over her as humans." 

That being said, I'm not so sure I'm ready to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt on Fantomex being an intentional exposure of the pitfalls of mutant superiority.  I think you're reading a lot more into that story than is reasonable. 

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 15, 2012 at 1:51pm

Having said all that, of course I was curious about their superhero identities.  Who were X-Corps at this time?  Were all the young people in the tunnel incident currently in their own book, or were they lying fallow at that time?  It must have been a treat knowing who these characters were when they appeared here.  I have no doubt Morrison knew the answers to these questions, but as I say, they are questions for fan-archivists, not for his story to answer.

I don't have the book beside me at the moment but my best recollection is that they were younger mutants who were no longer appearing in their own book.  Mostly, they came from New Mutants or Generation X.  

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 15, 2012 at 1:55pm

(A story with many superfolk in it is best served by ensuring that we know what each separate group is doing in the story, not necessarily by having us know everything about each member of each subgroup.  I first realised this when I sat down to analyse why Final Night seemed to work really well as an epic scale superhero story with a huge cast of superheroes.)

  

The following response from Morrison to fan gripes at Final Crisis might apply here: 

“I choose to leave out boring, as I saw it, connective tissue we didn’t really need for this story to work. I choose to leave out long-winded caption-heavy explanations that bring readers ‘up to speed’, even as they send them to sleep.”

I'm going to disagree with Morrison.  While I don't want the heavy-handed exposition that was demanded once-upon-a-time by Jim Shooter, a little bit of connective tissue is not a bad thing.  I think Morrison went too far the other way and some of his more recent work has been unnecessarily inscrutable because of it.  I felt that way during Final Crisis as well as Batman & Robin.  Don't put me sleep.  But don't leave out so much information that I think a couple of pages fell out of my book. 

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 15, 2012 at 1:59pm

On the topic of the international X-Corps, I liked how the team in India were presented as a dim bunch.  Great for explaining why they jump at each other’s throat during some moment of Claremontian melodrama, but as one of them declares – “We couldn’t even get a DVD player to work.”

For many of us, Morrison’s run seems to be one of the few bright spots among long eras of tedium in the X-franchise, and it is fun to see Morrison poking fun at some of the business-as-usual X-Men tropes.  The Indian X-Corps team mention that they are stationed in the only country where their spangly, skintight, dayglo uniforms actually have a cultural relevance, being very ‘Bollywood’.

 

Placing Thunderbird in India seemed like a kind of cultural pun on Morrison’s part too.

No credit to Morrison for that one.  This new (third) Thunderbird was created by Chris Claremont as an Indian from India.  He's the one who made the cultural pun, which others (including our own Captain Comics) have found insulting for conflating two very different cultures. 

This also gets to another problem I had with Morrison's run.  It often seemed disrespectful of other creators or characters.  I didn't appreciate having other characters presented as "dim-bulbs."  It wasn't clever.  It was condescending. 

Comment by Figserello on February 16, 2012 at 2:17am

Like a lot of comics fans, I love the X-Men concept and many of the characters. Sadly the majority of X-Men output is strange and off-putting to many of us would-be X-fans. Morrison subtly puts his finger on why this is so: lack of connections and relevance to the real world we live in, shrill and hotheaded characters, rather than cool heads that have already survived so much, the alienation of new readers with excessive convoluted fanservice etc. I don't blame the writers as much as Marvel, who only know how to flog horses until they are absolutely dead. (And then dig them up again.)  Over-exposure and dimishing returns seems to be their chief marketing strategy. You can't begrudge a few chuckles to those of us who are locked out by how the X-Men are normally treated. In the long run, given how little of the X-franchise's huge output is accessible to me and many others, the joke is on us!

Wow!  I was shocked to hear that about Thunderbird III! I don't know what to think about that, but I suspect I'd be of the Captain's opinion if I gave it some thought. No credit at all to anyone for that concept.

Still, placing an Indian hero in India isn't quite as bad as actually creating a hero that compounds one of colonialisms many insults to the human race.

Maybe even using Thunderbird III was stupid on Morrison's part, or perhaps he was making a point by putting such a dumb concept in his self-confessed dim-bulb team?

 

Wasn't one of the werewolves on that team Scottish too? I'm quite sanguine, personally about Claremont's dodgily presented international heroes. It's better than not acknowledging that the rest of the world exists at all. However, maybe Morrison, as a Scot, didn't like how Rahnne(?) had been presented, so was making a point by putting her in this team that he seems to be poking fun at.

As to my Phantomex-playing-mind-games-with-the-reader theory, there is some evidence within the story to back it up.  However, let's just say you've read a lot of X-men comics and I've read a lot of Morrison comics. He does this kind of thing, to different ends, in other comics of his. I was just trying to say, by relating the readers discombobulation to other story elements, why he might be using this tenchnique within this particular series.

(cont)

Comment by Figserello on February 16, 2012 at 2:21am

 

Regarding my related theory that Phantomex-is-Morrison, I meant to add before, that the other thing that makes me think Phantomex is Morrison (in a playful way) is Phantomex's love of oodles and oodles of money, and how he places that above any principles that the X-Men try to appeal to.

Here is a fun little interview with Grant from before New X-Men came out, where he rants against that corner of fandom who were accusing him of selling out for writing X-Men comics.  There might be some self-parody in Phantomex's financial motivations in that regard.  There is much in Grant's writing that shows he's comfortable with major corporations and how they work.  He's earned disapproval recently for seeming to take DCs side in their tussle with the Siegel and Schuster estates. He has boasted often about how his earnings have allowed him to live an exciting jetsetting life.  So the idea of just being in it for the cash might have been going around in his head while writing X-Men.

 

(Phantomex's strange origin, coming into existance in a machine that speeds up time, is a little similar to how in The Invisibles, a character called Ragged Robin goes from being a writer to entering her story as a character, via a strange immersive machine.)

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 16, 2012 at 9:44am

Wow!  I was shocked to hear that about Thunderbird III! I don't know what to think about that, but I suspect I'd be of the Captain's opinion if I gave it some thought. No credit at all to anyone for that concept.

Agreed.  Neal Sharra (aka Thunderbird III) is one of the weaker characters in X-Men lore for several reasons.  I wasn't disappointed when he was eventually dropped from the line-up.  Also, it was appropriate for Morrison to place him in X-Corps India as that's his native country.  However, I would have much preferred to see Morrison attempt to rehabilitate or revamp the character.  As we've previously discussed, Morrison is very good at getting to the heart of a character and finding out what makes him work.  That would have been a more interesting and more rewarding approach.   

Comment by Figserello on February 20, 2012 at 2:35am

I'm still playing catch-up on these.  I don’t want to start reading the second half of the run until I say something about Riot at Xavier’s.  I am excited about finally getting around to reading them, but I know I won’t ever bother posting on Riot if I just plough on to the end with my reading.

 

 

Riot at Xavier’s

 

It’s great to see such positivity about this tale.  It would seem to be the central story that Morrison wanted to tell with his X-Men, and he pulled it off with aplomb.  Just a few bullet points to allow me to continue reading...

 

The first part is called Teaching Children about Fractals, even though we never see anyone teaching the kids any such thing!  Teaching, children and fractals are all important to this run, but they are important themes in other parts of Morrison’s output too, where he makes it more explicit how they are connected to each other and to the outworking of Riot at Xavier’s.

 

With this title, Morrison is inviting us to relate what is going on in this series with his other work.  I won’t bore anyone here with the thematic connections and how they throw light on this run, but I might link back to this post later when I get to some of Morrison’s other work.

 

Actually, I thought I was going out on a limb in one or two previous posts on Morrison’s comics, explicitly linking education, the relationship of the generations to each other, and fractals, but Morrison confirms here with the title of this chapter that I wasn’t barking up the wrong tree.

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