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 Jason Marconnet (Pint sized mod) on February 12, 2012 at 11:03am

Good wrap up, Chris.

Murder at the Mansion, it was okay. It felt like a bit filler especially after the epic, Riot at Xavier's. It also didn't feel connected to the rest of the run. Sure it picked up where Riot left off but it was a Bishop story, a character who hadn't been featured in New X-men until this story. It was entertaining but didn't have that quirkiness the rest of the Morrison run had.

 

Assult on Weapon Plus was a fun action piece. For not getting along, Wolverine and Cylcops make a good fighting team. The addition of Fantomex was fun. The Chris Bachalo art was a good addition to this story. It wasn't the best or worst of the series but a nice fun break before the next and very serious chapter to follow.

 

Planet X was good. Once I got over Xorn really being Magneto, I liked the story. The drug issue didn't really bother me. It had gorgeous art by Phil Jimenez. It was a very serious and dire story. The X-men are seperated in a time of need and the students have to fend for themselves. The run could have ended here, though it would have been a bit of a downer.

 

Here Comes Tomorrow was alright, I suppose. The highlight was Mark Silvestri's work. It was excellent. The story didn't make sense to me at first and what happens in the future was depressing esspecially after reading Planet X directly before it which wasn't uplifting either. I suppose now with the events of Planet X, Cyclops has to make a decision if he will continue with the X-men after the death of Jean. This future is what happens, I suppose, if he leaves the X-men. Too me I wouldn't have ended a run this way. Then again I'm not a talented comic book writer, so what do I know? It was a bold way to end it.

 

The hardcover collection I have collects: Assault on Weapon Plus, Planet X, and Here Comes Tomorrow. I loved the art in this collection the best, there wasn't one I didn't like. The rest of my hardcovers has a few stories with art I didn't care for.

 

I still love this run. Looking back though, it's not perfect. It's also Morrisson putting the Morrison spin on a lot of X-men concepts. This whole run he gets to tell a sentinel story, a mutant's right story, a Xavier's school story, introducing new mutants story, a weapon X story, a Shiar story, a Magneto story and a Days of Future Past story. He blends it all into one huge story, that sort of goes together. I think the stronger stories stand out over the weaker ones, making this a successful run.

 

This is also, as I stated earlier, a Cyclops story. Cyclops really stood out to me. This is his transition into his destiny. This has been the biggest thing to come out of Morrison's run. Scott decides to stay with the X-men and lead them into the future. We see this in what I consider a sequel to New X-men, Whedon's Astonishing X-men. Scott is now the leader of a faction of X-men living on their own island. The bits I've read, here and there since New X-men, especially the Cyclops elements seem very consistent with what Morrison started.

 

Thanks for doing this Chris. I'm eager to hear the others' take on this segment of New X-men.

Comment by the_original_b_dog on February 14, 2012 at 1:40am

Time for some varying mileage.

I really enjoyed "Murder at the Mansion," and, to a lesser extent, "Assault on Weapon Plus."

I found "Murder at the Mansion" to be a prototypical Morrison story: tons of plot, fast-paced, constant twists and it doesn't end where you expect it might. It was a great build-up to "Planet X." Really, the events of this story and "Weapon Plus" were meant to happening concurrently, so when "Murder" doesn't end with revealing the killer (see, not ending at all where you expected it to), remember that leads directly into the first part of "Planet X," where it should become clear. Besides, X-Men was the franchise made famous by Chris Claremont. How could anyone complain about the ID of the murderer being put off three months? It could have been three years!

I liked how the point of view shifted to Bishop and Sage. It was a classic murder mystery told from the perspective of the detective and his partner. And we got to see how the New X-Men looked to outsiders. It was rather revealing. Sage was a new character to me, so I enjoyed getting to know her, too. One thing Morrison often does is get a great bead on how characters and their powers work, and we see that with Sage. It was showing without telling. After some misses earlier (in my opinion), for once Morrison's lack of exposition worked.

I also liked how, in typical Morrison fashion, we delved into the increasing weirdness of the mutant world and the complications that it adds to a standard murder-mystery story. Who held the gun? It doesn't matter. It's who was mind-controlling the person holding the gun. And a false trail caused by memory implants. Weird, weird fun. A great last line, too.

"Weapon Plus" had some good and bad. To me, Morrison nailed the characterization of Scott Summers throughout his run. That's foremost. And I enjoyed his take on Scott's relationship with Logan. I have long been a Scott sympathizer and agreed with Logan's take here: He's the guy you want watching your back. Bryan Singer, take notes. The plot is paced similarly to "Murder:" fast-paced, tons of new ideas. I found some of this stuff a little harder to believe. Scott and Logan crash the party mere days before Weapon is to go public -- what great timing. They're the latest Sentinels -- Morrison did that already, and better, with the nano-Sentinels. And the whole Weapon Plus league was a riff of the Justice League -- been there way too many times. Plus Morrison just riffed the LEGION in "Imperial." Can we not stay away from DC in a Marvel book?

Comment by the_original_b_dog on February 14, 2012 at 1:55am

After those two arcs, I thought "Planet X" was too over the top. Magneto's casual destruction of Manhattan, and his ability to successfully isolate it from all other superheroes except the X-Men. Then we get into the whole issue of Magneto's characterization. It was a very successful updating of the Magneto from X-Men No. 1, if not for the decades of character development (for good or bad, I'm not saying) in the decades in between.

Side note: One thing I took from reading John Byrne's Hidden Years was what a baddie Magneto originally was. But Byrne got to work with an unsoftened Magneto; Morrison just chose to go back there. Based on the interim, and especially the events in Genosha early in Morrison's run, it's too hard to reconcile this version of Magneto with what I already know. Millions of his people died, so Magneto fled to a Chinese monastery, immediately assumed a new identity and spent the next several months playacting? In "Imperial," when a starship was detonating with him aboard, he never broke character? I know that you can go back and reread so many of Xorn's lines and see how it was Magneto, but it's still hard to believe.

I know that this was Morrison doing a Silver Age Marvel story set in the modern age -- something he did very successfully on JLA. In that sense, his updated Magneto, with his peculiar need to surround himself with cronies and his inability to grasp the big picture, was well-presented. So, I suppose it's a story that works if I consider only what Morrison wrote and not bring in what else I know about certain characters. I just had too hard a time with that.

Hey, Chris, thanks again for this look back! And I've enjoyed reading the comments from others, too.

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 15, 2012 at 2:25pm

Thanks for the comments, guys.  I hope to reply soon. 

In the meantime, the conversation is moving along for Part II even though it's no longer on the front page.

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 16, 2012 at 9:50am

It's fun to read such differing opinions on a single story.  Murder at the Mansion is alternately described as filler, a prototypical Morrison twist and a play-false mystery.  We're even divided as to whether we like the guest appearance by Bishop and Sage.  

B-dog, I'm with you regarding the appearance of Sage.  When she was first introduced as an X-Woman by Claremont, her powers were both far-reaching and nebulous (which is unfortunately typical for Claremont).  He did a better job of defining her powers as a living computer once X-Treme X-Men was underway.  However, I really liked the way Morrison handled her, showing us how her powers might be used in different, but carefully defined, ways.

Comment by Chris Fluit on February 16, 2012 at 10:00am

Here Comes Tomorrow was alright, I suppose. The highlight was Mark Silvestri's work. It was excellent. The story didn't make sense to me at first and what happens in the future was depressing esspecially after reading Planet X directly before it which wasn't uplifting either. I suppose now with the events of Planet X, Cyclops has to make a decision if he will continue with the X-men after the death of Jean. This future is what happens, I suppose, if he leaves the X-men. Too me I wouldn't have ended a run this way. Then again I'm not a talented comic book writer, so what do I know? It was a bold way to end it.

I understand the premise of Here Comes Tomorrow: the future will suck if Cyclops quits the X-Men.  But the actual story had very little connection to the premise or to Scott's decision.  That's a major reason why it felt like an empty exercise.  It would have been a lot more compelling if the dystopic future was shown to have a direct correlation to Scott's decision.  Maybe Emma took over the X-Men and turned them evil without Scott to guide her.  Maybe Scott's despondency led him down a much darker path and he became the new Apocalypse. 

I also understand the meta-textual premise: Morrison was paying homage to the Cyclops quits and Days of Future Past stories which followed Jean Grey's first death.  But this particular story never rose above the level of homage or pastiche. 

I wrote that I was ambivalent about Here Comes Tomorrow, but I more I think about it (and write about it), the more I realize that it was, as Jason says, a weak way to end the run.  That's too bad as Morrison has demonstrated that he can write some great alternate future stories (Rock of Ages, One Million) and it would have been fun to see another one here. 

Comment by Figserello on February 22, 2012 at 1:25am

Well, it looks like I'm going to get at least one post up on your third X-Men blog before it falls off the front page!

 

I’ve only read up to the end of Assault on Weapon Plus, so I’ll just comment as far as that.  I’ve only read the comments above that relate to them.

 

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?!

 

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.  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!

 

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 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...

 

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.

 

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

 

I don’t know if we are seeing the limits of Morrison’s skills as a writer, or the confirmation of those skills, but it is strange how Scott talks about and refers to how he has grown apart from Jean, but we don’t really get the specifics of it.  Instead we are shown how miserable he is about it.  Considering this is an X-Men comic, it’s probably just as well that the focus is kept on the strange spectacles and outlandish threats rather than domestic scenes from the Summers-Grey marriage.  Scott moping in the Hellfire Club (again – of all places!) is a good example of the ‘superherofication’ of the narrative in this way.

Comment by Figserello on February 22, 2012 at 1:59am

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.

 

There were strong moments in this story about the fear of biology and reproduction - the flipside to the joys of parenthood.  Another aspect of the run that ties into the whole intergenerational thing.

 

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!)

 

I think B-Dog hits it on the head citing the Claremont-esque ending of Murder at the Mansion, especially in how the next issue takes us somewhere entirely unexpected.  Setting up an ending that only paves the way for more mystery, rather than give closure, is what superhero comics are all about, whether we like it or not.

 

I’m very conscious that Planet X is the last storyline of Morrison’s set in this present continuity, so Morrison really doesn’t have much room to tell a huge story.  I think that partially explains some of the shortcuts and narrative jumps he throws into his storytelling that frustrates some readers.

 

The ideas may indeed supercede mere plot details in Morrison's mind, but some fans are here for the ideas rather than the plots anyway.  There's a very telling scene in Grant's Animal Man where the Mad Hatter complains that basically the comics medium means that they don't have enough room to really discuss or develop anything important or worthwhile without fighting and pictures of spaceships getting in the way. 

 

Something's got to give...

Comment by Figserello on February 23, 2012 at 12:41am

 

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.

 

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.

Comment by Figserello on February 23, 2012 at 1:48am

I’ve only a few things to add to the fine commentary above on Assault on Weapon Plus.  I haven’t read enough comics to know whether Morrison was contradicting previous statements about the Weapon X programme, or merely adding to them.  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.

 

I’m surprised that you didn’t write about the theological ideas Morrison plays with in this storyline, Chris.  We have a character who refuses to believe that the physical world around him is all there is, who believes that he might have a higher purpose, takes a leap of faith, breaks out of his limited reality to see that there is a grander reality beyond, ascends into the heavens guided by ‘a light inside’ and meets his maker.

 

I’ve written elsewhere that JLA can be seen as a sort of simple version of The Invisibles.  They were both written around the same time.  Likewise, New X-Men and The Filth, also written concurrently, share many story elements and philosophical questions.  Here too, a comparison of the idealistic superhero property comics with the darker creator-owned work lights up difficult areas of both series.  A similar gnostic fable is a starting point for much of the action of The Filth.

 

It’s a common Morrison trick to have an alternative narrative embedded into what the reader thinks they are reading about.  In this case Ultimaton’s journey towards truth is the story that we only get glimpses of here.  Sadly for him, his reality is one where superheroes always find a way to win, so his existential quest becomes a punchline, and Wolverine later dispatches him off-scene.

 

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 guess the Super-sentinels in their satellite base is a riff on the JLA, but it’s very understated, given we don’t see much of them.  Yes, these are a return to the Sentinel concept which Morrison has already visited.  Perhaps it gives the whole run a cohesiveness now that it exists as this relatively self-contained work?  The same themes and motifs reworked in a number of different ways – much like how Magneto’s revolution at the end replays many elements of Quire’s rebellion in the middle.

 

Morrison would have written these comics just as the US were invading their second Muslim country in as many years.  Perhaps the public-image friendly Super-sentinels are being used to dramatise how you can kill whole swathes of populations so long as the optics look good to the man in the street?

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