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.
(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 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.