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.
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.
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.