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. 

Views: 832

Comment by Figserello on February 23, 2012 at 1:58am

Well, I read Planet X last night.  All these arcs are certainly quick, fun reads.  I'll write more on it later, but I entirely agree with you about Xorn.  I'd go beyond saying that I'm disappointed at how he was handled, and say that he was mishandled even!  But more anon.

 

Looking forward to reading Here Comes Tomorrow, and then coming back to see what you guys have written about it!

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 28, 2012 at 3:59pm

First of all, I have to say how great the art is on the two stories.  Having a single artist on each works really well.  Jimenez is a comics master, as far as I’m concerned.  Not just a true heir to Perez, but possibly his better?!

Jimenez has certainly moved past his early days when he was a Perez clone and become an outstanding artist in his own right. 

Bachalo is a wonderful stylist and his loose, exaggerated art really suited Scott and Wolverine’s drinking binge and their strange adventure in The World and beyond.

I love Bachalo. 

The drinking session in the Hellfire Club, of all places, is a very fine example of this type of ‘time-out’ comic that teambooks need now and again.  Morrison handled Wolverine and Scott really well, in the dialogue and their attitude to each other.  He plays well within the franchise here, because he doesn’t change anything about their relationship going forward.  There will be many X-comics featuring Scott and Wolverine knocking heads after Morrison leaves the book, but he just clarifies their bond in a way that gives us the warm fuzzies!

I agree.  Every once in a while, you need to get away from the big world threats and kick back a few brews.  The X-Men have a long tradition of time-out stories although, unfortunately, even that has devolved into a cliche.  I really don't need another X-Men-play-baseball/football story.  That particular trope has been done to death.  One of my favorite time-out stories occurred immediately after an otherwise awful crossover.  In Song's End, the follow-up to Executioner's Song, Jubilee teaches Professor X how to roller skate while he has temporary use of his legs.  It was a great moment, rich with humor and humanity, as the student becomes the mentor, and poignant about living life to the fullest.   

Morrison seems to understand that Wolverine is always going to be just Wolverine no matter what any writer tries to do with him.  We all love Logan, but he can only work within narrow parameters.

I agree with the first part but not the second.  Wolverine is always going to be Wolverine but we've seen him work in a wide variety of stories.  He's not the right character for every story, but neither are Batman, Spider-Man or Superman.  The key to Wolverine isn't the setting- he's starred in space stories, Japanese ninja stories and wilderness stories.  It's understanding that he's also going to be Wolverine no matter what the setting is.

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 28, 2012 at 4:12pm

I really enjoyed Murder at the Mansion, but while I would have loved to see a ‘play fair mystery’, I knew once it got underway that there can be no such thing in a story with a schoolful of mutant teleporters, mind-readers, mind controllers, and the likes of people who can walk through walls. As B-dogg says, Morrison has fun showing us how a superhero story can only play havoc with a ‘fair play mystery’.  I don't think it says anywhere that he was going to write a fair-paly mystery anyway...

I don't think we're talking about the same thing.  In the Marvel universe, the possibility that the murderer walked through a wall, mind-controlled someone else into killing you or killed you with a thought are all legitimate lines of inquiry.  Bishop and Sage have to sort through all of the clues that a normal CSI team would have to deal with plus the incredible exceptions presented by mutant powers.  That should be part of the story and part of the fun.  I had no problem with a scenario in which Emma was killed by Y except the killer was mentally controlled by Z. 

What I mean by play-fair mystery is that the killer is presented as one of many possible culprits and that evidence is shared with the audience, even if contradictory evidence and red herrings obscure the correct answer.  I do think that Morrison presented this story as a play-fair mystery, from the title of the story, the inclusion of specific forensic examiners and the actual plot in which Bishop carefully interviews suspects and witnesses.  This was pretty much a riff on television procedurals.  CSI: Mutants, if you will. 

My complaint is that after revealing the culprit, he immediately undercut the revelation so that we still don't know who did the deed.  That is not a satisfying end to a story.  Plus, it's not what was promised by the premise of the story up to that point.  I stand by my assessment- it was an interesting story that was well-executed except for the ending. 

As a first time reader, I was interested to find out that Scott and Emma’s affair was completely ‘in the mind’ up to that point.  Once again I have to admire how Morrison used the possibilities of a superhero story to make concrete aspects of infidelity that even a great novel centred on the subject like ‘Anna Karenin’ wasn’t able to.

Don't pick on Anna Karenina.  It's not as widely known on this board but comics is not my only passion.  I'm also a big fan of Russian literature.  A couple of years ago, I was even invited to speak to a college class about... Anna Karenina.  Tolstoy's book is a masterpiece.  He gets into the minds of his characters unlike any other author.  In addition, while infidelity may comprise the main plot of the book, the novel also delves into major themes of religion and aesthetics.  

Whether Scott was cheating on Jean or not, is hardly a simple question, but well worth mulling over.

Actually, it is.  He was. 

You were looking for a longer answer?  Although sex is a significant part of a marriage relationship, it is a mistake to reduce marriage to a sexual relationship.  You promise your spouse more than your body.  You promise them your heart and your life.  Although the terms are often treated synonymously, it is possible to adulterate your marriage without having sex with someone else.  As soon as Scott went to Emma for more than advice and counseling, he was being unfaithful to Jean. 

Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on February 28, 2012 at 4:23pm

It's an especially relevant question now that social networking is destoying the trust in some marriages and physical touch isn't even involved.

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 28, 2012 at 4:27pm

Regarding the soap opera elements, I was intrigued to find out what became of Angel’s pregnancy, and I can’t wait to see where they go with it.

Angel and Beak mostly fall by the wayside once Morrison is done with the X-Men.  I don't remember much being done with the children after this. 

This might be an unfair example.  Are you talking about Rock of Ages - issue 10 or so?  Rather than have MM go into space and then forget that he'd sent him there, the only reason we had that scene was to drum up interest in John Byrne's Genesis crossover.  Morrison was just being a good company man/corporate shill in directing the many readers of his popular JLA series towards DC's crossover of the day.  (JLA was 10th in the sales chart at that time, but DC's highest selling book all the same.)

 

That J'onn's mindblowing but unresolved space-trip is jarring in the trade collection now, shows how monthly comicbooks fall down when they try to serve two masters, but I wouldn't go hard on Morrison for it.  At least New X-Men is sealed-off from the rest of the MU as far as reading the trades goes.

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.   

His references to the wider continuity, however are very accesible, even to readers who wouldn’t follow Marvel minutae.  Cap is an icon beyond the world of comics, and Nuke is from Born Again, a self-contained, written for the trade, Daredevil collection by Frank Miller that’s been available to the Barnes and Noble crowd  for years, so even people with a casual interest in superhero comics might be familiar with him.

Interesting example.  I may be a well-versed comic book fan but I don't know everything.  For example, I've never read Born Again and I had no idea who Nuke was when I first read Assault on Weapon Plus.  It's not actually a problem.  Nuke isn't critical to the story- his face is on a computer screen as one of several Weapon Plus projects- and you don't need to know who he is in order to understand what's happening.  Morrison actually handles it just right.  It's a clue and a reference for those familiar with the character but it's not off-putting to those who don't.  Plus, it created future possibilities as Nuke has since shown up in Wolverine comics.  But you overestimate the knowledge of a casual fan if you think one would be able to recognize the character.

The ‘genocide machine’ saying “I could have been a painter, as well...” would seem to be a reference to Hitler, come to think of it.

I thought the same thing. 

Comment by Doc Beechler (mod-MD) on February 28, 2012 at 4:32pm

Angel was last seen in the film, X-Men:First Class...but, you're right, she hasn't been used a lot in the comics.

Comment by the_original_b_dog on February 28, 2012 at 4:35pm

Scott and Emma had, at minimum, what I have heard described as an "emotional affair." I would consider such a thing inappropriate for a married man.

I don’t have much more to add to what B-Dog has stated very well above.  (Except perhaps that I wish B-Dog would post more on the board.  His comments are always well thought-through and expressed.  Even when he’s critical of the Mighty Mozz!)

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!

Comment by Figserello on February 29, 2012 at 1:25am

Don't pick on Anna Karenina.

 

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 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.

 

That the Scott-Emma psychic affair can also be applied to internet hook-ups just makes it a multi-tasking metaphor.  The best kind.

 

Angel and Beak mostly fall by the wayside once Morrison is done with the X-Men.  I don't remember much being done with the children after this.

 

That's a pity.  They've really come to life here.  I'd love to see them in further stories. 

 

In his Supergods, Morrison says that we are coming to the end of a phase of pop culture where militarism and authoritarianism have been to the fore.  The mainstream comics storylines of the last 7-8 years have certainly reflected this.  All those comics with 'war' in the title, or debating who gets to run the show.  All the comics where military values and battle to the death are raised as being what its all about. Fury's child soldiers and the child soldiers of the Initiative are only two examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about.

 

The recent X-Men storylines where they have to kill their enemies and defend their turf and send out death squads are yet more examples.  (I haven't read them, but read the solicits and the hype for upcoming stories.)

 

So I'm not surprised that peacenik Beak, refusnik Angel and the children that they are trying bring up as decent human (sort of) beings haven't got much of a look in.  Bringing up children involves the social responsibilities of nurturing, teaching, and passing on civilised values.  The opposite of militarism, in fact.  So the readership and the creators wouldn't have been too interested in their story.

Comment by Figserello on February 29, 2012 at 2:29am

Regarding Xorn, I definitely had the feeling that there had been a last minute change of plans on Morrison's part.  I thought I'd read somewhere about his frustration with certain corners of the internet figuring out his plots just from the smallest clues.

 

But it seems that Xorn was always going to be Magneto, as Brian Cronin attests here.  (I found that looking for your readers poll thing, Chris.)

 

The clues, red herrings and yes, mistakes on Morrison's part, are all discussed in that article, or in the pieces linked in the comments section, so there's not much point going over them again.

 

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!

 

Good catch on Magneto here being more or less the same guy as in X-Men #1.  The outworking of this latest world-domination scheme was a good development of the theme of generations in conflict.  His ideologies were exhausted and spent, and the younger generation begin to see him for what he truly was.  His ways were the ways of the 20th century.  Hate speech and extermination camps. 

 

It's only conjecture, but I detected annoyance and despair at where the world was in 2003 in this storyline. 

 

We were supposed to be getting the new generation inheriting the Earth and doing things in a new way, but at that time the US was invading yet another Muslim country and bringing on the ultra-violence.  Magneto seems static and bogged down here.  He essentially just stands around for 5 issues waiting for his old foes to turn up and put an end to this scheme.  Normally a Morrison comic would have an awful lot of events happening in 5 issues (including an extra-sized one), with half the readers struggling to keep up, but not so here.  Its 'bogged down' by Morrison standards, and almost looks like Fraction writing Iron Man for the trade!  Magneto has nothing to offer and all his self-justification rings very hollow.  I can't help but see it as reflecting Morrison's own despair at the old ways being resorted to again in the real world, in what was supposed to be a brave new century. 

 

The earlier issue where the recordings start being sent out of the Genosha victims last moments was a touching understated sideways treatment of the 9/11 tragedy in the superhero comic book idiom.  Magneto seemed powerful there, and he was powerful as a figurehead of the mutant counter-culture after he'd 'died'.  Morrison is saying something about how we should use past revolutionaries, but in our own way, and especially not revive their violent methods.

 

I've read that Grant was going through a sad time in his personal life while writing this section, which might also explain Magneto's lack of spark, and the static nature of the action.  But Magneto's exhaustion as a force ties well into the overall theme of the series.

 

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

 

So now I'm finally off to read Here Comes Tomorrow, today!

Comment by Figserello on March 2, 2012 at 2:41am

Here come my comments on the final storyline - issues 151-154...

 

I'll agree that perhaps this isn't a classic superhero rock 'em sock 'em future tale that stands up entirely on its own. 

 

Still, I could see what Morrison was doing, and to some extent what he was bucking against with this story.  First of all, the future tale is a way of giving a sort of closure to his run that the ongoing nature - essentially a never-ending 'now' - of the franchise denies any writer.  None of them ever get the chance to write a true ending.  What we get here is more of a true ending than something like Days of Future Past, which used the jump to the future as a springboard to another episode in the ongoing present day adventure. 

 

The future psychics saying that their reality is askew is the story acknowledging that everyone knows that this won't be the true future for the X-Men, but just one possible future.

 

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!

 

Writers really don’t have an infinity of story options within a franchise like this.  A lot of the really good ideas have already been done, and as you complain here, to do something different is to pick weaker story options. 

 

I found this dynamic really affected the last several seasons of Star Trek Voyager.  By this stage we’d had hundreds of stories about crews out in space encountering new races and threats.  All the twists that they might have put into the stories had already been used, so we got a lot of stories that just went from A to B without any detours or twists in the middle.  That alien race that seemed to be threatening to the heroes at the beginning were indeed a bad lot as the story developed, and likewise benevolent characters who appeared turned out to be rather good eggs once things worked out.  It was interesting from an academic point of view to see the creators working with their hands tied like this, and also interesting to see stories without artificial twists stuck into them, and the results weren’t bad for the most part.  However it was all a function of that storytelling seam being pretty much exhausted.

 

Morrison is trying to do something new in similar circumstances here, so sometimes the most exciting storytelling avenues are barred to him.

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