We’re getting close to the end.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve written about Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men.  I wrote about some of the problems I had with his tenure.  But I wrote even more about the things he did right.  So here’s the third and final installment, dealing with the last three trades.  And feel free to take a look at Part I and Part II when you're done.

 

Assault on Weapon Plus

(Issues 139-145: Murder at the Mansion, Assault on Weapon Plus)

 

Grant Morrison’s greatest weakness is plotting.  Sorry, Morrison fans- it’s true.  He has a ton of ideas.  He’s good with characters and even dialogue.  But he is not the best at crafting a tight story or keeping track of a big epic.  During his JLA run, he would occasionally lose track of characters during a big story- forgetting that he sent Martian Manhunter off into space, for example.  Morrison managed to keep things together for most of his X-Men run, but his weakness is exposed in Murder at the Mansion.

Morrison tried to write a play-fair murder mystery.  Emma Frost was murdered and there are more suspects than answers.  Morrison even brings in Bishop and Sage from X-Treme X-Men as investigators.  Character-wise, it’s still a good story.  We see grief and frustration on the part of several students.  We get a greater glimpse into the growing rift between Scott and Jean.  Bishop’s interrogations enlighten us about many of the X-Men.  Morrison also rightly shifts suspicion from one character to another, one of the key hooks of any murder mystery.  

Unfortunately, Morrison never truly resolves the story.  He provides an answer and then undercuts it.  Perhaps, he was trying to create a cliffhanger.  Perhaps, he wanted to upend the reader’s expectations one more time.  But it doesn’t work.  The ambiguity isn’t intriguing; it’s annoying.  Morrison’s plot promised an answer he never delivered. 

I also had a problem with the second story, Assault on Weapon Plus.  However, this time, the problem may be more about me than it is about Grant Morrison.  I previously mentioned that Fantomex was part of an “Everything You Know Is Wrong” story- a comic book trope in which the previous understanding of a character or situation is completely overturned.  This can be done brilliantly and it can be done terribly.  For me, Morrison’s new take on Weapon Plus was unnecessary.  We already knew a lot about the Weapon X program and its ties to government agencies like Department H and K.  We had already met multiple Weapon X agents, like Deadpool and Kane.  I didn’t see what was gained by changing Weapon X to Weapon 10.  Instead, I could only see what was lost.

Looking back, I see more possibilities than I did at the time.  By changing Weapon X to Weapon Plus, Morrison was able to move Wolverine’s history out of the ghetto of Alpha Flight.  As much as I like Alpha Flight (I am a Canadian after all), they aren’t exactly major players in the Marvel Universe anymore.  Instead, Wolverine now has a stronger connection to pivotal figures like Captain America and new ties to villains such as Nuke.  Those old ties haven’t been erased either. 

 

Planet X

(Issues 146-150)

 

Back in the first installment, I mentioned a recent debate about Grant Morrison’s X-Men on the website Comic Book Resources.  This is the story that prompted that debate.  In this tale, Magneto reveals that he has been posing as Xorn this whole time.  He has been manipulating events within the mansion, working behind the scenes to turn things against Xavier.  Now, he takes charge of the outsiders- some of whom had previously fought at the side of Quentin Quire- and leads a new revolution.  He conquers New York and dares the X-Men to challenge him.  He also magnifies his magnetic powers with use of the mutant drug, Kick. 

The depiction of Magneto was the heart of that debate.  Magneto has had a lot of incarnations over the years.  He’s been a terrorist and a revolutionary.  He’s been tragic and noble.  He’s been a teacher and a dictator.  But he had never before been a drug-addled old man and apparently, a lot of fans, didn’t like it.  Personally, I found it fascinating.  Magneto has rejected so-called human morality before.  Why wouldn’t he use drugs?  He’s ambitious enough to want any power he can get and conceited enough to think he could master the drug.  Why wouldn’t he take advantage of a young woman?  Like Deathstroke and Terra, the relationship between Magneto and Esme is supposed to be creepy.  He’s a villain after all.  He’s not above manipulating a young girl to his own ends.

My objections concern a different character, although I admit they’re based on emotion as much as any objections to the depiction of Magneto.  I think it was a mistake to get rid of Xorn.  I know that there’s a long history of heroes and villains posing as other characters: Martian Manhunter was Bloodwynd; Booster Gold was Supernova; even in the X-Men, Cyclops was Erik the Red.  But Xorn was an awesome new character.  He was the best addition to the X-Men in a decade.  And I miss him.  I loved the idea of a mutant with a brain for a sun.  I loved the wide variety of things he could do, from gravity manipulation to healing.  I loved his calm and curious demeanor.  I think the X-Men are a more interesting team with him in it.  So I was disappointed to find out that it was all a sham.

Morrison knew that a lot of fans would share that reaction.  As a writer, you want people to be invested in your stories and you delight in eliciting an emotional reaction that strong.  He even gave voice to those emotions by having Ernst repeatedly mention that she missed Xorn.  But the clever ploy backfired.  While I can admire the craft of the story, I would have preferred to have a great new character kept in play. 

 

Here Comes Tomorrow

(Issues 151-154)

 

I honestly don’t have much to say about Here Comes Tomorrow.  It’s an alternate future story and we’ve seen a lot of them.  Some of them have been great, including Morrison’s Rock of Ages story in JLA.  Some of them have been lousy.  This one was somewhere in the middle.  It had a lot of action.  It had some good moments, like the new Phoenix.  But altogether, it was kind of mediocre. 

I think that part of the problem is that we were given an unfamiliar character as a protagonist.  It’s hard to get invested in his story when we don’t know who he is.  Another part of the problem is that the story didn’t have a direct connection to the present.  We didn’t have one of our characters trying to get back from the future, like Rock of Ages.  We didn’t have a future character trying to change things in our own time, like the classic X-Men story, Days of Future Past, which inspired this one.  It didn’t feel as if the outcome of the story mattered either way.  It was an interesting exercise.  And it answered a few questions.  But it wasn’t a compelling story.   

 

And that’s the end. 

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Comment by Figserello on March 2, 2012 at 2:48am

A lot of your complaints might have been alleviated if he’d given himself more room to develop this brand new cast in their brand new alternative future.  Which brings me to my second defence.  Morrison as a writer is as interested in presenting thought-provoking ideas as in presenting gripping plot twists.  From that point of view, 4 issues seem to be enough for him to get across all the ideas he wanted to with this series.  Perhaps he thought that any more time spent with the characters and set-up would be melodrama for its own sake.  From what his collaborators on 52 have said, he is a walking maelstrom of new ideas, and he probably does find it hard to sit down and fully develop the endings of stories.  By that stage all the ideas he’s had to express are now out there, and the rest must seem like prosaic housekeeping to him.  His last issue of The Invisibles compressed a 12 issue arc into one issue, reformulating his freedom vs Lovecraftian social control paradigm into an anarchists vs corporations paradigm. 

 

The ideas here are good.  We find out that the central villain all along has been Richard Dawkins selfish gene!  Once again we see a false dichotomy – in this case mutants vs those who hunt them down - collapsing into a single entity with E.V.A. declaring that she is descended from Sentinels and the mutants of the Weapon Plus programme.

 

Finally, we get another instance of Morrison doing something in a fun and relatively easily understood way in a superhero comic that is difficult and obscure in his heavier work.  In this case we see that the Phoenix is actually a visitor into our realm from what commentators to Morrison comics have called the Supercontext.  The Supercontext is the higher reality beyond our own, to which the struggles on our Earth here are as important and meaningful as the doings of comicbook folk are to us (ie not very!).  Just as with us and the comicbooks, those in the realm above can see the past and the future of the characters lives as easily as we turn a page, or pick up a different trade paperback.

 

The Phoenix’s little adjustment to the order of things that brings Scott closer to Emma and prevents the dystopic future happening, is a nice sweet little acknowledgement of how much the readers and writers of the X-Men do care about the characters as if they were real.

 

The four issues are full of little clues about where the various characters Morrison has worked with might go, and hints as to their roles in the larger story.  One example is how Ernst and Casandra Nova somehow seem to be one and the same by this future date.  I’m sure there are other clues and hints in this short arc that casts light on what has gone before, and would add value to another reread of the whole series.

 

Here Comes Tomorrow works for me, in capping this novel-like run in a way a novel couldn’t do, but a comicbook with a tradition of time-travel can.

 

I may come back to comment on the run as a whole shortly, but it’s good to reach the end of it in any case.  Thought I'd never get here, as Grant probably thought as he reached the end of his 3 and half year tenure!

Comment by Chris Fluit on March 2, 2012 at 4:39pm

Merci, mon ami. If I had access to a Delorean with a flux capacitor and a WABAC machine, I might just have the time to do so!

B Dog Johnson is right!  I could have a week off in which I did nothing but read comics and post about them and still wish for more time. 

Comment by Chris Fluit on March 2, 2012 at 4:50pm

Well, I did say it was a great novel.  My point was that a superhero story isn't the medium to handle a marriage in the realist way that Tolstoy did.  The psychic infidelity thing was a great metaphor, I thought.  Morrison was using the genre, and its often preposterous conventions, to good effect, in a way that wasn't available to Tolstoy the naturalist writer.

I'd agree with that.  Morrison was right to not mimic the naturalistic style of Tolstoy or another novelist.  Instead, he leveraged the conventions of his medium and genre to their fullest in order to tell a story about the same subject matter. 

I saw Scott and Emma's mental affair as a metaphor for daydreaming and fantasising, which I know a lot of married men do.  Maybe its the first step towards unfaithfulness, or maybe it's only natural.  I don't know.

Scott's actions went well beyond daydreaming or fantasizing.  That was the key difference between his earlier infatuation with Psylocke and his affair with Emma.  With Psylocke, Scott would inadvertently notice her beauty and have spontaneous thoughts about her.  That was enough to make Jean jealous, but it wasn't immoral.  However, with Emma, Scott went beyond unintentional thoughts.  He purposefully engaged in a relationship outside of his marriage.  His excuse that the sex was merely telepathic is no defense. 

You are right that the longer story shows how fantasizing can be a precursor to actual infidelity.  Scott's earlier infatuation might have indicated a lack of fulfillment in his relationship with Jean.  However, you're also right that most people can have uncontrolled daydreams without that leading to adultery. 

Comment by Chris Fluit on March 2, 2012 at 4:56pm

As you say, Chris, I guess it's frustration at getting emotionally invested in a good character, only to find you've been deliberately duped.  Characters as good as Xorn don't come along that often though.  I suppose it's a tribute to Morrison's characterisation skill that everyone hated what he did with Xorn in the end!

True.  I said as much in the main post.  It's a testament to Morrison's skill that we liked Xorn so much.  This is an odd situation in which its both a great compliment and a writer's mistake at the same time.  While the revelation was emotionally powerful, the ongoing legacy of a great new character would have been even stronger. 

Jean Grey's death happens here, and seems to have got less interest than Xorn's identity.  I was surprised to learn that she has now been gone longer than she was the first time.  I guess Morrison had a point when he said that her and Scott's story could go no further.  All those subsequent writers would seem to agree with him.

I guess I didn't connect as emotionally with the loss of Jean as I did with the loss of Xorn.  It meant a lot more to other fans- especially those who were emotionally rocked by her first death. 

I'll be very surprised if she doesnt return during Avengers Vs X-Men this year (or next year!)

It does seem likely. 

Comment by Chris Fluit on March 2, 2012 at 5:03pm

The lack of someone jumping back to our present, or a present character being in the future may be Morrison's way of trying to make this story different to the normal approaches.  The X-Men baseball/football story isn’t the only trope that’s been done to death in this series.  This is a dead horse that Marvel can’t stop flogging, after all!

I'm not saying that Morrison needed that overt a connection.  As you say, it's been done before and it might've opened Morrison up to complaints about being derivative.  But I do think he needed a greater connection than he gave us.  I reiterate my other examples: show us how Scott's decision impacts the future world by having Emma or Scott become the main villain.  Or use one of the previous villains from this run, like Cassandra Nova or Quentin Quire, to show how they couldn't be defeated without Scott's leadership.  But the story that we were given had no connection to the story so far.  I can understand the desire to end his run with an "alternate future" coda.  I have no objection in theory.  I just don't think the result was very good.

A lot of your complaints might have been alleviated if he’d given himself more room to develop this brand new cast in their brand new alternative future.  Which brings me to my second defence.  Morrison as a writer is as interested in presenting thought-provoking ideas as in presenting gripping plot twists.  From that point of view, 4 issues seem to be enough for him to get across all the ideas he wanted to with this series.  Perhaps he thought that any more time spent with the characters and set-up would be melodrama for its own sake.

I don't think that more issues would have solved the problem.  After all, earlier in his run, Morrison was able to get us emotionally invested in characters like Beak, Xorn or Dust in as little as a single issue. 

Comment by Figserello on March 2, 2012 at 5:43pm

On your last point, possibly SIlvestri's art didn't help?  Quitely's art would have played some part in making us like those rather unlikeable teenagers early in the run.  Handsome image-style scratchy faced guy was too generic for many of us perhaps.  Not the whole reason he didn't work, but a factor.

I thought Wolverine was too handsome in the final arc too.  Bachalo, Kordey and others captured that being an plain-looking 'not-tall' fella is part of his character.  Quitely's Wolverine wasn't ugly, but he had a hairy animal sexiness that wasn't about conventional good looks.

I thought there was a good balance between characters we recognised and new ones.   150 years is a long time.

But as I say, bringing in a lot of new stuff towards the end is something he does, probably because he finds it boring just tying up what's already been set up and will already be anticipated by analytical readers.  A longtime reader like our Captain Comics keeps complaining that he can see the ending coming by the second chapter, but I'm betting he would have had trouble predicting the sublime virus and the corporate commodification of the Phoenix Force by the end of the series.  In Seven Soldiers, Morrison introduced a whole Kirby-style Neanderthal culture and civilisation in the last chapter.

 

Which is not to say he couldn't have made the new characters and situations more engaging.  I think he was getting ready to move on, and was probably more focused on Seven Soldiers and Seaguy and All-Star Superman.

Comment by Figserello on March 3, 2012 at 7:34am

I'd really need to read Here Comes Tomorrow another time or two.  It's somewhat hyper-compressed, and it might be saying stuff about the previous issues that could make it a little more worthwhile.  Tucked away in a half a phrase here, or a veiled statement there.

 

To backtrack a bit...

 

I am referring to Rock of Ages, however, my complaint isn't quite what you think it is.  I didn't have a problem with Morrison sending J'Onn off into space in order to take part in Genesis.  As you say, he was being a good company man and many other writers made allowances for his One Million crossover to interrupt or otherwise affect their books.  Rather, I was pointing out that Morrison forgot that he had sent J'Onn off into space and had him appear during a battle on earth at the same time (and if I recall correctly, in the same issue).  J'Onn leaving and coming back isn't a problem as that sort of thing can happen quite naturally in stories.  J'Onn being in two places at once is a problem and a piece of evidence that even Morrison has trouble keeping track of his plots sometimes.  

 

I've just rerereread JLA #10 and there is nothing askew about J'onn's appearances at all.  For most of the issue he is in the Moonbase keeping the team in touch with each other telepathically while they fight their hardlight duplicates.  Just as the threat is negated and the 'ground crew' are starting to mop things up, Aztek detects the Genesis Wave.  J'onn heads out to the edge of the Solar System to see for himself and freaks out.  End of issue 10. 

 

Issue 11 begins a considerable time later.  Not only does Superman remind them that they've just dealt with the Genesis Wave, but Luthor mentions the memorial service about to be held for those killed during the attack of the hardlight duplicates in issue 10.  A memorial service would have to be days if not weeks later.

 

J'onn is there, sitting at the JLA meeting table, having had plenty of time to get his head together again, and possibly change his trousers, judging by Porter's highly charged final pages of issue 10.

 

So no plots lost track of there.

 

Comment by Figserello on March 3, 2012 at 7:39am

I'll just bring this to a close with a few comments on the entire run of New X-Men.  It seems to me to be of a different quality to most other runs of X-Men, in how it is brimming with ideas and has much to say about the generations relation to each other, and the themes of belonging and alienation.  Morrison has described the run as being like a novel in how it circles its themes and examines them from different angles.  Possibly your analysis of each arc as a standalone superhero tale might not have done justice to that aspect of the run.

 

Morrison would say that his comics can be read as rock 'em, sock 'em superhero action stories, and as metaphorical vehicles for philosophical speculation, depending on how much you want to read into them.  I'd say that it's harder to serve many masters than he is allowing, and sometimes the straightforward superhero action story suffers due to Morrison focusing on the ideas and speculation, or sometimes an individual story suffers because Morrison is more concerned to have it be consistent with the rest of his 'novel-like' run than to fill it with what would normally satisfy fans of superhero comics.

 

If Morrison insists, as he probably would, that these comics work as in-continuity superhero actioneers, then you are right to review them as such, but perhaps that approach ignores too much of what the run is actually 'about'?

 

I'm not criticising your blog posts here.  As I've said to you elsewhere, I like how you've managed to boil 40-odd comics into only 3 blog posts by discussing some of the most interesting points from each arc.  It's just that that approach has of necessity, somewhat 'ignored the forest for the trees'.  The run is still being reprinted today in both cheap pocketbook format to entice the most casual of buyers, and in expensive high-end Absolute-style editions, as well as in the standard TPBs.   This is as much for its involving and satisfying completeness as a whole story, as for how well each arc is executed as a short superhero adventure.

 

To take just one example,  'Rover and I' don't quite come out of nowhere in the final arc.  In a run all about generations superceding each other, the final battle is almost lost because a first generation sentinel becomes jealous of a later generation sentinel (E.V.A.).  His return to save the world and sacrifice himself for a pair of lovers who have betrayed him echoes Jean's pivotal return and tampering with reality for Scott and Emma.  So 'Here Comes Tomorrow' is trying to do something a bit more than 'Days of Future Past' in terms of referring backwards and forwards to other elements in the run thematically.  Maybe Here Comes Tomorrow is still less than stellar as far as you (and perhaps I) are concerned.  Still, what Morrison is doing in it is part of what makes him one of the most successful comics writers of his era, and deserves a closer look. 

 

As I say, it's not a criticism, given that you chose one way to approach the run and stuck with it, but I thought I'd mention the whole bank of positives which that approach might be leaving out. 

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