Friday, July 5, 2024

New X-Men by Grant Morrison: Doom Patrol, redux?

I've been on a mutant nostalgia trip lately, fueled by the X-Men 97 animated show that debuted this year. That show rocked; it picked some great stuff from the comics, put their own spin on them, and made a terrific show. The soap opera elements also worked, with a romantic triangle between Magneto, Gambit and Rogue. I've found the Krakoa era comics to have peaks and valleys - it started off well enough but seemed to get bogged down. Watching X-Men 97 was like a visit to an earlier time. So I decided to re-read Grant Morrison's 2001 New X-Men run, which inspired the sequence in X-Men 97 where the nation of Genosha was attacked.

I found the entire New X-Men run to be hit or miss. When Morrison's stories are illustrated by his frequent collaborator, Frank Quitely, the combination of the two is really spectacular. The first three issues are a massive change from the status quo of the X-Men for the previous decade. The X-Men are taken out of their Jim Lee era costumes and placed into leather uniforms designed by Quitely, which both new and old, as the X motif across the chest is styled after the X-Men's 1960s uniforms. The attack on Genosha (which is not really depicted in the detail it was on the animated episode) reduces the mutant population to 200 or so mutants. Morrison felt there were too many mutants in the Marvel Universe and wanted to bring it back to that 1960s era when they were truly a minority. Magneto is dead, seemingly. 

Emma Frost joins the team, becoming yet another villain turned hero and joining the ranks of Rogue, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Her arrival threatens the sanctity of the Scott Summers / Jean Grey marriage, with a flirtation that continues throughout the run.

Morrison and Quitely create a new super-villain, Cassandra Nova, who is later revealed to be the twin sister of Professor X. Cassandra will be appearing in the Deadpool vs Wolverine movie.

There are clever new little inventions, like the faculty conferences held in mind-space, linked up by the telepaths on the team. They can be dispersed across the world and still have a meeting. Even with a meeting, Quitely can illustrate this with skill, showing the body language and attitude of each character.

Quitely is so good it is hard to read the issues without his work. And that happens very quickly, as he is not a very fast artist. Igor Kordey subs in for Quitely on a number of issues in the first couple of years and to my taste, it's horrible. My understanding is that because of deadline pressures, Kordey drew these issues quickly, and that his European artwork is much better. Ethan Van Sciver, Chris Bachalo and Phil Jiminez also drew a number of issues and their work is much better, but nothing like Quitely.

Not all of Morrison's inventions work for me. Fantomex, a character inspired by the Italian thief Diabolik, left me cold. I didn't think he was cool and I kind of dreaded seeing him pop up in any story. Making him part of the Weapon X program and doling out hints to Wolverine about his origin - whatever. 

One of the things I liked about this run was Morrrison creating new mutants that really seemed weird. This is a repetition of what Morrison did in Doom Patrol at DC Comics. Xorn, when he initially appeared, was a character I loved. A mutant with a tiny star in his head (how that works, don't ask me), he can produce gravitational affects and also seems to be good at healing people. An innocent from living in a prison for quite a while, he had no idea how to deal with everyday people. There's one issue with Xorn, drawn by John Paul Leon, where he wants to save any mutant he can from persecution. Later on, it's revealed that there is NO XORN - that was actually Magneto under the mask, fooling and working alongside the X-Men for the entire time! This was a surprise when I read this stuff 20 plus years ago, but now, it makes no sense whatsoever. I almost think that Morrison created Xorn as a new character and then decided half way through to make him Magneto. It is a repeat of the plot that Morrison used in Doom Patrol, where towards the end, it is revealed that The Chief is a villain behind the tragedies that happened to the DP team members. When Magneto returns, he's more evil than ever, murdering people left and right, far away from the character today who is more of a hero. It is such a terrible plot device that Marvel retconned it - Xorn was someone who believed himself to be Magneto. Again, it makes no sense, but if it undoes Morrison's mistake, I can live with it.

I think there are three high points for the entire Morrison New X-Men run. The first one being the initial three issue arc that introduces the new status quo. The second one is a single issue, New X-Men 121, where Jean Grey and Emma Frost take a psychic journey into Professor Xavier's mind, which was hacked by Cassandra Nova. (This later inspired an issue of Giant Size X-Men by Jonathan Hickman and Russell Dauterman.) The third one is "Riot at Xavier's" where the adversary for the team is the students at the school. Quentin Quagmire brings a skinpunk attitude against the pacifistic teachings of Xavier. Some of the kids are taking a drug called Kick which amps up their mutant abilities temporarily. Xavier badly ignores this threat until a full blown riot erupts - precisely on the Open House day when normal people and press are invited onto the campus.

Was this the origin of the "Magneto Was Right" slogan and t-shirt? Perhaps so. Quentin Quagmire is really a cool character that has stuck around. 

One problem with trying to read X-Men is with so many series throughout the years, it is hard to read something in sequence that explains what happened. Quentin apparently dies at the end of Riot. He gets resurrected later, dies again, and lives again. I am trying to follow the trail of continuity but it is difficult. There could be an "All the Marvels" book just on the X-Men alone. Quentin will be in the new July 2024 X-Men team, where Cyclops tells him, "Please Quentin, you've died more times than any other mutant. You should be used to this."

The Stepford Cuckoos were a delightful addition, a set of telepaths at the Xavier school. Five of them who are linked together, their numbers get cut down by two. Morrison's sense of humor throughout this series is pretty good, although at times there are so many humorous moments that it almost feels like a parody comic.

Riot at Xavier ends with a subplot that everyone wanted to see move along - Scott's infatuation with Emma. Which isn't entirely physical - Scott has been traumatized after being possessed (before New X-Men) and seems to be more repressed than ever around Jean. Emma comes on to Scott in the most seductive way possible, by donning a Dark Phoenix costume.

When Jean Grey discovers all of this is going on, the result is explosive, in a trashy, soap opera way. The equivalent of Krystle vs Alexis on Dynasty - an outdated reference to a nighttime show from the 1980s. But it does lead the way to a new status quo after Morrison leaves: for Scott and Emma to really be a couple in love. I've no idea when they fall out of love - Scott is now exclusive to Jean again in 2024 post Krakoa.

The last two arcs of Morrison's run seem tame compared to what has come before. The arc where Xorn is revealed to Magneto, who terrorizes New York and starts to organize human executions. Jean becomes a full Phoenix again, dies again, while Wolverine kills Magneto. It has none of the wonderment or charm of the high points that I mentioned. The "coda" arc, four issues illustrated by Marc Silvestri, which look gorgeous, is a future history where mutants have taken over the world, opposed by Wolverine, Cassandra Nova, and others. The Beast is a villain - ironic, considering Beast was a villain in the Krakoa era as well. It's okay but the main point seems to be for a revived Phoenix to give Scott a blessing to turn to Emma for comfort and in doing so, stay with the X-Men - undoing the horrible future that is to come.

What could be done with the X-Men after Grant Morrison leaves? They made an uneven run but it was revolutionary. Fortunately, Marvel honcho Joe Quesada, on the day he learned of Morrison's departure, ran into an obscure TV hack who might be able to follow up: Joss Whedon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ratings and Recommendations by outbrain