7.24.2008

Unpopular Opinions: Morrison's New X-Men

by Dan

With all of this week's X-Men talk and the recent Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust? issue teasing us with the idea that cat Beast is a skrull, I got into my "Morrison's New X-Men run is the most overrated bunch of nonsense and I love it when stuff is undone" rant for the 38th time since #154 came out four years ago. So, I decided to re-read the run over the last few days and see if my rant has any merit or if time has erased my Unpopular Opinion.

The main reactions I remember having as the issues came out were mostly negative: hated cat Beast, hated "secondary mutation," hated Cassandra Nova, hated Xorn revealed to be Magneto, hated Igor Kordey's multitude of fill-in issues, hated Fantomex, hated the whole Weapon Plus concept and hated the future arc epilogue. On the positive side of things, I remember great art from Frank Quitely, particularly the silent "‘Nuff Said" issue, and how well the "Riot at Xavier's" arc worked. So, I was expecting the re-read to be a pretty boring, unpleasant experience.

Right out of the gate we get the "E is for Extinction" arc in which Genosha is destroyed by Cassandra Nova, Emma Frost survives the massacre by having a secondary mutation to diamond form and Cassandra swaps minds with Xavier and then shoots her body with Xavier's mind trapped in it. Wow, that wasn’t boring at all! Lots of gorgeous art from Quitely, and Morrison only falters a couple of times in the opening issue trying to make the characters say things that are way out of character. Particularly, when Beast is discussing his latest feline form and blurts out “I feel like a Hindu sex god,” or Xavier’s incredibly zealous, manic, gun-toting crazy portrayal. But that’s just the new writer breaking in. Right?

Unfortunately, the second big arc, “Imperial,” doesn’t really answer the question. Morrison nails the Jean/Wolverine forbidden love idea and we get a great new character in Xorn, but he also sticks us with X-Corps, Beak and Angel *shudder* and some big plot points that happen off panel. It’s one thing for Xavier to have contacted Lilandra and the Shi’ar to go on a bit of vacation off panel, it’s a whole other thing to have Xavier and Cassandra Nova switch bodies off panel and have it revealed in clunky exposition. There are some very interesting ideas laid out with the U-Men and John Sublime, but they feel more like Cool Big Concepts than anything that is currently going anywhere.

"Imperial" also marks the first of many arcs by Artists Not Named Frank Quitely. Ethan Van Sciver kicks it off and while he has some good moments, he has more rough ones. Particularly in his portrayal of Wolverine, who has grown about a foot since Quitely drew him.

And then we get Igor Kordey.

I think it was Kordey’s work on this title that really put me off it four years ago, but these first couple issues really aren’t too bad. They don’t have the same feeling of fun that Quitely or Van Sciver brought and Kordey’s work seems to take itself too seriously, but it’s not quite so bad.

Maybe that’s because the couple Kordey issues are followed up by Morrison and Quitely’s "‘Nuff Said" issue which is mind-bogglingly gorgeous and each creator plays to the other's strengths. New X-Men #121 is easily my favorite issue of the entire run.

As “Imperial” continues on (wow this arc is long) things begin to fall apart. There is an incredible amount of tedious Morrison techno-babble from the Shi’ar and even more tedious explanations of Nova’s devise machinations and motives. Even Quitely’s usually great art suffers with these scripts. There are also numerous eye-rolling dialogue moments. At one point Logan replies “Crème de la what?” to Emma calling the recently introduced Cuckoos the “Crème de la crème” of their class (that’s right, Wolverine has been all over the world in his century-long life but is a complete idiot when confronted with a bit of well-known French). In the climatic fight between the X-Men and Shi'ar, the Shi’ar supergladiators say nifty keen stuff like “4-Space” and “I’m venting bio-helium” and “Intell-ect De-Gray-ding” and “equipped with mind armor.” It’s all just too much and by the end of the arc becomes unbearable. As does Kordey’s fill-in work. Is that a panel of just a shoulder? Did Wolverine become a crackhead mid page? Is Professor X really a Star Trek alien? Based on the art, the answer to all of those is yes.

As we finally move away from the Shi’ar and Cassandra Nova plots, we start “New Worlds.” There’s no real connection to these issues about Mutant Town, X-Corps and Famtomex other than incredibly bad Kordey art, starting with THE worst panel of Emma Frost ever created.

Story wise, there’s plenty of stuff happening, but none of it seems to matter in the moment. There’s a big “X-Corps debacle” that must have happened in another book and Fantomex leads the London X-Corpsers into a big fight in the Chunnel that ends in Darkstar’s death. Who's Darkstar you asked? So did I. So did Emma Frost. No one ever tells us though. We then jump to Genosha (hey, remember that plot!) for something to do with Unus the Untouchable and X-Treme X-Men (ugh) before heading to Afghanistan, where Logan saves Dust, a character no writer has known what to do with since. Oh, and Beast is telling everyone he’s gay. Frankly, it’s all a bunch of ideas thrown against the wall with the hopes that some of them stick. None of them do.

Oh, sweet relief! “Riot at Xavier’s” features Quitely again, but sadly for the last time. It also features the ridiculous editorial decision to include Ultimate Soulpatch Wolverine (with Dirty Hippy Hair) in the regular Marvel U. Thankfully, that lasted all of two issues, but it scarred me for life. Morrison knocks this story out of the park. Incredible characters, like Quenten Quire and the Stepford Cuckoos, are finally fully developed. The Clockwork Orange-influenced Omega Gang is a great addition to the X-Men mythos and had some great commentary along with them and the climatic fight at the end totally rocked my socks. Great stuff and, like all their issues together, makes me wish Quitely could have been Morrison’s only artist. He clearly understood and could interpret the scripts better than any of the other artists on the run.

The great "Riot at Xavier's" was followed by the incredibly bland “Murder at the Mansion” arc in which we get stuck with uber-cop Bishop and *ugh* Sage from X-Treme X-Men. Jimenez’s art is incredibly bland throughout the arc and the three issues only result in Angel/Beak kids. Oh goody, they are some worthwhile characters. Yeah, sure, it's set-up for the reveal that Sophie is manipulating folks on behalf of someone, but it's just too little plot for three issues.

And then we're on to “Assault on Weapon Plus.” There are some incredible pages of art by Chris Bachalo throughout this four-issue arc. Hell, he even makes Fantomex look cool. (Key word there is "look" because he's still not actually cool.) This is probably some of Bachalo's clearest, most focused work in years (before or since). Sadly, the ideas laid out in this are just terrible and forced. Wolverine is Weapon Ten, not X. Fantomex is Weapon XIII. And Weapon Plus has been creating killers for decades and even had a hand in Operation: Rebirth aka Captain America aka Weapon I. Perhaps it’s the fact that it's Fantomex telling us all this that makes it unlikable as there is nothing likable about Fantomex.

The story moves from the confusing and frustrating "Attack on Weapon Plus" to the plain outlandish, ridiculous and most decried arc, "Planet X." Turns out Sophie of the Cuckoos was working for Magneto, who has been posing as Xorn since his introduction. Wait. What? Xorn was Magneto? Why? How? To this day, it doesn't make any real sense. Xorn was a great character and Morrison did a great job of quickly making him likable and interesting and unique to the X-Men mythos. That is all undone by a really forced, "shocking" plot turn. Things just go downhill from there as Magneto becomes a Kick-head and a mass murderer while Jean dies, comes back and dies again. Magneto is defeated by the crowd not recognizing him and some reverse psychology from the X-Men.

Really?

I hated this arc. More than I hated any of the rest. Morrison tries to swing for the fences but ends up striking out. He's not helped by Jimenez once again on art chores, making the big scenes just plain boring. It's just really unfortunate that Morrison chose to undo some great characters and moments with such a train wreck ending.

Not the final ending though, as we get the four-issue "Here Comes Tomorrow" epilogue to the entire run. Unfortunately, Morrison decides to go over-the-top Cool Big Concept again and most of the four issues come across as random ideas thrown on a page. In short, Cyclops gives up on the X-Men after Jean's death and 150 years later John Sublime, in the body of Beast thanks to Kick (don't think about that too hard), has turned the world into a hellhole and is resurrecting the Phoenix to finally destroy mutantkind. To fill out the extra three issues and give Marc Silvestri pretty and kewl things to draw, we get random shots of a humpback whale X-Man, a guy and his Sentinel buddy, some version of the Stepford Cuckoos (who are revealed to be Weapon XIV), Beak's grandkid Tito (That's right, Tito. I couldn't help but laugh too.) and plenty of desolate earth shots. And finally, Jean somehow joins a phalanx of Phoenix, including Quenten Quire, and reminds Scott to live his life. So we end with Cyclops sticking with the school and kissing Emma instead of giving up, therefore erasing any chance of the "Here Comes Tomorrow" world from happening. Holy hell, Morrison. That was a long way to go to put Emma and Scott together.

Overall, Morrison's run has more peaks and valleys than I remember. I whole-heartedly believe this is an incredibly overrated run, albeit one with a couple fantastic ideas. Kordey and Jimenez were huge mismatches for Morrison's style, making the last year or so all valleys. I might not hate it as much as I used to, but I'm glad most of the changes were retconned, ignored or used sparingly. Now if we can just get Jean Grey to come back. And maybe we are in the very entertaining pages of Cable, but that's a whole other Unpopular Opinion.

10 comments:

Brandon said...

You have no soul. I saw Morrison's run as a thesis on the idea of the X-Men. I think he saw X-Men about evolution, but the X-Men really didn't evolve much. For hundreds of issues, they had been trapped in this arrested development of basically, "What's that rascal Magneto going to do next?" Morrison seemed to naturally evolve the X-Men beyond the whole mutant vs. human story (which, in my opinion, is pretty stale) and put that monster to rest. He left the X-Men in a great position to really explore new themes and new ideas. Sadly, it was not meant to be as Marvel started to retcon the second Grant said goodbye.

Liana said...

I dont' think there's been much that was actually changed from Morrison's run. The Xorn as Magneto business, but that was a stupid reveal to begin with. As far as Morrison moving the X-Men away from the human/mutant thing, what did he actually do to change the public's perception of mutants? Nothing to warrant the X-Men being able to move on from it in any way. I loved New X-men, but it wasn't the be all and end all that so many seem to think it was. No writer has ever had the luxury of every word they've written remain gospel, and Grant Morrison is not God.

The General said...

Dan, when I saw the headline, I was ready toread your article and then go in guns blazing. But, honestly, I think your assessment was pretty fair overall. I think I tend to be more forgiving of the run in general, and liked more of the ideas involved (I actually liked the Weapon Plus conceptually, for example). But, I do agree that there were definite Highs and Lows, and that what I saw as highs and lows matched what you pointed out pretty closely.

I honestly thought that the title was drop dead amazing when Quitely was on it. And, also pretty darned good under Bachelo too. But, that things dropped off pretty steeply from there. I actually still feel pretty sorry for Igor, because I think that he can be a good artist with the right material and timeline (see Soldier X), but that he was horribly rushed. But, Jimenez was boring, and Van Scriver wasn't much better. The later two artists more "traditional" look just didn't match what Morrison was trying to go for ... much like the Casey/Churchill pairing over on Uncanny.

Interesting article though.

Rory said...

I like the concept of the "Unpopular Opinions" columns - maybe one day I'll get around to showing you how truly awful Batman Begins was.

As far as Morrison moving the X-Men away from the human/mutant thing, what did he actually do to change the public's perception of mutants?

Mind you, I haven't reread the run, but from what I recall he wrote about humans wanting to be more like mutants. I think Devin's about to touch on this in his column - see the whole "Queer Eye" comparison at the end of this concept.

I loved New X-men, but it wasn't the be all and end all that so many seem to think it was. No writer has ever had the luxury of every word they've written remain gospel, and Grant Morrison is not God.

Fair enough. But, if you are going to "undo" comic stories, you should a) do it in a better way than a deal with the devil/he was a skrull/a wizard did it type solution and b) you should have a story worth telling that necessitates the change. That's just common sense, right? However, I'm not so sure that there's been a X-Men story these last 4 years that satisfied both of those conditions.

Liana said...

The U-Men were a cult who murdered and maimed mutants and they can hardly be seen as the human world at large suddenly accepting mutants as non-threats.

Dan said...

General - I was surprised that there were aspects of the run that I liked better than I thought. I think my overall feeling that the series isn't as good as people want it to be comes down to two things - it falls apart terribly after the Riot arc and (other than John Paul Leon's two issues) any non-Quitely issues just didn't have the magic of spectacular creative team.

Brandon & Rory - I didn't get that the mutant vs human thing was put to rest at all. As a matter of fact, it's all left very open after both the Riot and Planet X arcs. And the idea that "humans want[ed] to be more like mutants" was actually human maiming or killing mutants because they didn't deserve these gifts. Humans did. Humans with enhanced, stolen anatomy to create the Sublime's "3rd Species" Human Perfectus.

Dan said...

Yeesh, that was terrible. I wish we could edit comments. :)

The General said...

In terms of the human/mutant thing, I don't think that Morrison really put it to rest, but I do think that he added a level of sophistication to the concept that generally hasn't been seen in the X-titles.

Instead of just having humans fear and hate mutants. He acknowledge that -like any minority group- there would be a number of defferent reaactions and "scenes" that would group up around them. You'd have humans also trying to be mutants, humans trying to emulate the style of mutants, music scenes geared to and surrounded by mutants, etc, etc. This was a definite step forward from the "kill the mutie" type sequences we usually saw before his run. And, for the most part, we haven't seen the topic handled quite that intelligently since. For the most part it has reverted to "kill the mutie" or else the mutant/human debate has been largely ignored.

Yas said...

I think Morrison's run peaked with Riot at Xavier's. Even then it wasn't groundbreaking. It was fun, I'll give it that, but as much as I loved that Morrison got how cool Cyke was/is he didn't have to fart all over his relationship with Jean to validate him.

ll_theartist said...

Morrison's run on X-Men was at least an attempt to give us something different. We had the humans hate mutants stuff, but also the subculture of people that wanted to be mutants. And for once Xavier's was a school and not just a hangout for a 10-20 outlaws. My biggest complaint about subsequent X-Men runs is that they pretty much eliminated any of the truly freaky mutants (thanks, House of M!) in favor of bland, derivative characters like "Armor" or sexed up versions of the Stepford Cuckoos.
I actually felt something when I read each of Morrison's New X-Men issues. In comparison, I've been underwhelmed as Fraction, Whedon, et al write pale immitations of Morrison's creations