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. 

Views: 571

Comment by the_original_b_dog on February 3, 2012 at 12:45am

Nice work, Chris.

I agree on Fantomex. His origin story makes no sense to me. He escapes from a train and, even though his entire existence has been in The World, he immediately sets up an elaborate false back story and fools two of the most powerful telepaths in the actual world. Huh? And the EVA thing still makes no sense to me. I did think Fantomex was put to better use in Assault on Weapon Plus. But I feel like we were supposed to like him without getting to know him first.

As someone who read this run only in the trades, the introduction of all these mutants from other series (or wherever they came from) was a bit jarring. They knew each other -- quite well, apparently -- but as readers, we were thrust into the middle without much of an introduction. Sometimes that can work, when you "introduce" things a bit later, but it never happened here. The characters just as quickly vanished.

I agree on Quire. Morrison really drove home this character. Misplaced adolescence in a powerful mutant. It worked. And the story delivered on some of the background characters who had been introduced earlier. Plus the Stepford Cuckoos, too. Good, good stuff.

Looking forward to the conclusion.

Comment by Jason Marconnet (Pint sized mod) on February 3, 2012 at 7:24am

Another good article, Chris. I'll have more thoughts later after I look through my hardcover which also includes the arc Murder at the Mansion.


I remember the New Worlds arc to be a mixed bag. I remember being turned off by the art work, mostly. I enjoyed the Xorn story. Fantomex was ok as a character to me. At the time I preferred Xorn to him. I did like his flitartion with Jean though. She needed some attention at the time since Scott was hanging with Emma so much.


Riot at Xaviers was the high point of the run to me. Sure there were more stories to come but this was all around solid. I'll have to look at it again but I think, for now, agree with Chris on his assessment. One thing that worked for me on this was Quietly's art. I already had gotten use to it but the time I got to this arc. However, I don't think he had been better than he was in Riot at Xavier's. All the characters looked good. His odd style fit the story and especially Quentin Quire. Also i like the panel layout. The panels seemed a bit more compact and the pages were black instead of whie. The art stood out more as a result and gave the story a cinematic feel to me.

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 4, 2012 at 11:22am

In the patting myself on the back department: I forgot to mention it last week but that was my 250th column for the Captain Comics Message Board. 

Comment by Figserello on February 12, 2012 at 7:36pm

Gah! Looks like I've completely fallen behind. I knew I'd have trouble with the blog approach.


I thought I'd get something up on the stories collected in 'New Worlds'before it fell off the front page, but alas no.


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.


Morrison hits the nail on the head when he has Scott compare his life now with the tragic, doomed perfect love that they shared in the run up to Jean's death.  I can still remember the dialogue in their final scene together.


Scott: "I have so much I want to say to you but don't know how..."

Jean: "Hush. You don't need to speak. I can read your thoughts. And yours, like you, are beautiful!"


The stuff of high romantic poetry.  How can anything live up to that?  I'm not surprised that Scott found his subsequent life with Jean something of a letdown.


Actually, because of how much I loved those Claremont-Byrne issues that handled their story, I can identify with Scott to some extent.  I think the original Phoenix Saga had an effect on me that lasted many years.  When I eventually got around to dating myself, I think I measured each relationship against the intensity and purity of what was between the young lovers in Uncanny X-Men#137, and found them wanting.  I see now that each relationship was its own thing, and I should have committed myself more, even if they weren't going to be permanent.


Maybe that's somewhat personal, but sometimes these comics do affect us and intersect with our lives in real ways!



Comment by Figserello on February 12, 2012 at 7:39pm



So I was shocked to see Cyclops doing the dirty on Jean a decade ago.  Their love was a part of my own childhood, and contributed in a small way to how I developed emotionally.  Now, however, I see that Morrison is using all that backstory to give meaning and depth to a very human situation.  There's some similarity here to what he did with Batman.  If these people did live through all that, how has it changed them?  How does it affect where they are now?


With both Scott and Batman, Morrison is using continuity to do things with long-running superhero stories that would be hard to do with movies or novels.  The old comics are part of the text he is working on here, and they supply the springboard to natural change and growth.  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.


And then Morrison doesn’t just give us the normal adulterous husband story, but instead taps into the strange powers and abilities of these mutant superheroes to give us something that has more poetic resonance. 


Because of Emma’s telepathic powers, Scott is able to engage in purely mental adultery for a while.  Superheroes work wonderfully as metaphors, and here we are getting the betrayal within the imagination that so many spouses must find themselves daydreaming through every so often.  Is it a harmless mental pastime?  A victimless crime?  A real betrayal?  Maybe the prelude to the real thing, as it seems to be with Scott and Emma?  These are worthwhile questions and Morrison is able to tap into the characters’ mutant superpowers to concretise the situation, in a way that a non-fantasy story wouldn’t be able to do.


I think it’s important that writers find ways to bring super-powers and strangeness into their superhero soap-operas.  It’s a wasted opportunity otherwise, and risks bringing the story down to the level of mere soap-opera – period.  Marvel Comics from the beginning have been about the weird and the strange on every page.  As Kirby, Ditko and Lee knew so well, far-out fantasy can be the secret road to truth sometimes...

Comment by Figserello on February 13, 2012 at 1:25am

And now on to Phantomex...


He is quite problematic, isn’t he?  Keep in mind in that I have only read up to the end of Riot at Xavier’s, so perhaps Morrison deals with some of the points I raise below by the end of the run, and perhaps he doesn’t.


Phantomex’s origin story makes no sense to me. He escapes from a train and, even though his entire existence has been in The World, he immediately sets up an elaborate false back story and fools two of the most powerful telepaths in the actual world. Huh?


I more or less agree with B_dog, and with your own assessment that Phantomex seems to be presented as if he’s self-evidently cool and charismatic, rather than by giving the readers genuine reasons to be impressed by him.


On the face of it, B-Dogg’s objections are very valid.  How did Phantomex fool two of the world’s greatest telepaths?  (Ceramic plates over his head?)  How did he set up the blind old woman, and the hidden mountainside villa, if he’d only just escaped from the train?


I can’t say how much of is origin was an EYKIW, as I don’t know much about the Weapon X program.  For some reason I’ve never read Windsor-Smith’s mini-series even though it’s sitting on my bookshelf at home.  However, everything we find out about Phantomex in the first part of the story seems to be an EYKIW by the end. 


There is a possibility that Morrison intends for the reader to be as discombobulated by the discrepencies in Phantomex’s story as the two senior mutants are.  Up to now we have seen Emma, Jean and Professor X messing with people’s memories and perceptions at will.  We have seen it justified from the inside of their group in each case, as they try to protect their community from possibily harmful outsiders, from attacking cultists to journalists.  In each of those cases, messing with people’s minds is shown as something harmless and fun, that has no further consequences as far as the X-people are concerned.


When you stop to consider it though, it is a major transgression of the dignity of someone’s very personhood. What are we if we can’t trust that our emotions and memories aren’t our own?


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.  That’s a hugely significant declaration, and it looks like a recipe for disaster.  I can’t help but to map it onto the times that produced this comic, and wonder if we aren’t getting some kind of commentary on W Bush’s unique brand of Human Rights busting American exceptionalism here.  I’ll probably bring it up again, as I doubt Morrison put it in there as something we shouldn’t question.


The relevance of all this to what Phantomex seems to pull is that Morrison has turned the tables on his cast of benign mental manipulators and now they aren’t sure themselves what they experienced or what was just implanted in their minds.  Not only them, but the readers too, who up until now, have been chuckling at the various tricks Charles and co have been pulling on dumb old Homo Sapiens Sapiens. 


A wisdom that appears repeatedly in Morrison’s comic is that the best, perhaps only, way to really learn something, is to experience it rather than to be told about it second hand.  Perhaps here, by leaving the readers as in the dark as his protagonists, Morrison is asking us to consider what it would feel like to have our perceptions meddled with in this way.  We’ve just been left as bamboozled as any of the victims of Jean, Charles or Emma’s tamperings. Like their victims, we have no solid ground to refer to.  “What really just happened?”

Comment by Figserello on February 13, 2012 at 1:27am



So perhaps Morrison is questioning in a way, some of the ‘morality’ of what we see the X-Men do month after month and take for granted.  It’s scary and unsettling being messed around in this way, (B-Dogg wouldn’t have been the only reader who didn’t like it) and he is showing us how the ‘normal’ population might be justified in feeling the way they do about mutants in their midst.


I can see why Morrison would want to do this, and he seems to be building up a case against the X-Men, especially now that they’ve found out that they are in the ascendant, in evolutionary terms.  I can’t say at this point, if Morrison is sharing in the triumphalism of the up-and-coming generations and their licence to sweep away the old order, or if he is warning that there might be arrogance in that approach and even the risk of repeating the sins and horrors of the past.  The memorable scenes of Neanderthals being slaughtered by early Homo Sapiens were deliberately put into the narrative at the very outset to warn us of what might happen.  That narrative isn’t one of the established group wiping out the newcomers – the scenario we are often given by mutant sympathisers in the series - but the opposite.


Morrison might be being quite subversive here, in presenting us with X-Men stories where the readers themselves get to feel what it is like to be on the receiving end of mutant meddling. 

Comment by Figserello on February 13, 2012 at 2:18am

Phantomex inspires other avenues of thought too.  Why does he keep his face covered?  How can he bamboozle Charles and Jean?  How can he pop up out of nowhere and be so effective in achieving his goals?  Why is Jean apparently sexually attracted to him?  And on and on.


Perhaps a playful answer is that Phantomex is Morrison?  It wouldn’t be the first time he’s inserted himself into a narrative.  His being the writer would explain the backstory popping up out of nowhere, complete with the blind old woman.  Producing backstories like that are what writers do!  And then Phantomex is a sort of gun-toting parody of King Mob in The Invisibles, who was another Morrison surrogate. 


A telling comment was when one of the X-Corp ladies expressed dismay at how he’d just shot her team-mate dead.  Phantomex responds that she hardly knew her, and she had no emotional connection to her now-deceased team-mate anyway.  The X-Corp member might be speaking on behalf of the reader here, in criticising Phantomex's gun-happy attitude, and this is a very writerly response.  Comics are full of minor characters just being set up to be put in danger and killed.


Incidently, that is the X-Corp team’s function in the Phantomex story.  A group of young people that we identify with a little bit before they are put in danger and possibly killed.  Getting a rundown of all their names, histories and powers, while pleasing to the fan-archivists amongst us, doesn’t have anything to do with the story at hand.  Verbiage is at a premium in a comic.  I think Morrison has said that a typical panel can’t hold more than 35 words, generally. 


I was glad Morrison used the limited wordage to show us these kids as normal young people, who flirt with and take the piss out of each other, and for whom hangovers and drunken dancefloor escapades are the main currency of conversation.  This made them very relatable, and a refreshing change from the artificial Shooterist convention of shoehorning their code-names and powers into the conversation.


Morrison is of course self-conscious about tearing up the Claremont-Shooter rulebook, and teases the reader with how these kids don’t comply with the usual unwritten rules.  They even joke with each other about using the nicknames they had at school instead of their superhero names.

Comment by Figserello on February 13, 2012 at 2:25am



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.


(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.”

 (From here.) 


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.

Comment by Figserello on February 13, 2012 at 2:26am

On Morrison the Borrower - Guilty as charged!  :-)


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