“Grant Morrison Ate My Brain” Week continues with a great extended run on a very popular title. According to me, it’s the only time said franchise has ever been any good. Read on! (And visit the archive for past entries.)
193. New X-Men
Grant Morrison’s epic 42 issue run on X-Men, which he retitled New X-Men, was a strange beast. All the old X-Fans hated it because Grant was “ruining” their beloved concepts and characters, and all the X-Men haters loved it even though Grant was using quite a few of the old tropes.
For me, well, it was the first time I was ever interested in the X-Men, and the first time I really experienced a “Grant Morrison Comic.” I’d read some of his stuff before– the first JLA trade and an issue of Skrull Kill Krew or something– but I hadn’t taken notice of the mad Scotsman. But I heard this X-Men run would be really interesting and I was intrigued and picked it up. By the second issue, I was hooked. My interest would ebb and flow over the course of the run, but I’m glad I stuck with it. New X-Men is an excellent, rewarding comic. It’s a great gateway drug to the world of Grant Morrison comics. We3 is too, and it’s shorter and cheaper, so I’d probably go with that first, but NXM also works.
(Click to enlarge any of the images, as always.)
The real world was growing ever more terrifying as New X-Men was being published– the utter destruction of Genosha pre-dated the September 11 attacks by a month or two. Morrison always notes bizarre parallels between his fiction and his reality, and that’s the most unfortunate one. The series reflected reality in that it portrayed a world accosted by change– a world where mutants were supplanting humans and humans were trying to turn themselves into mutants.
I’ve written about the X-Men before. There’s at least one solid fact in that piece, and that’s that the X-Men are about evolution and civil rights. Morrison understood this perfectly and made evolution the central conceit around which his entire run was based. From Cassandra Nova to the wild Sentinels to the U-Men to Weapon Plus to Quentin Quire to the students to the Phoenix to Sublime to Here Comes Tomorrow, it was all about growing and changing. Xavier’s Academy became an actual school, preparing new generations for the future. Cyclops underwent a personal evolution of character, growing from a bore to a confused, conflicted man, to a hero. Jean evolved into the Phoenix entity again. Beast became a cat. Okay, they weren’t all big sweeping things. I could go on and on about the relationships explored in the run, from Scott/Jean to Scott/Emma to Jean/Logan, but that could fill a few pages of a term paper, so let’s just say it turned out well in the end, as all G-Mozz stories do.
New X-Men was also about breaking cycles. I was never a fan of Claremont’s X-run, but Grant Morrison clearly was, bringing back so many X-Tropes like the Shi’Ar and the Phoenix and Magneto and whatever else, and then letting them end. The conclusion of New X-Men is about ending the cycle, letting the old things that don’t work finally die and cool, exciting, new things take their place. Unfortunately, editorial didn’t listen, but I don’t want to get into that too much.
I really loved the new ideas Morrison injected into the X-Mythos as well. He expanded on the Weapon X establishment, he gave us wild Sentinels and nano Sentinels, and he gave us Xorn, the sensational character find of 2001, the man with a star for a brain, the character everybody loved. In hindsight, the twist should’ve been obvious, but quite a few never caught on, and it gave us some great thrills.
The new students were also fantastic. The pages were filled with great new mutant kids, some of whom were just recurring background characters. Others became tremendous characters in their own right. Especially Beak. Man, I loved Beak– the poor, tragic non-hero who never got it right but who had such a magnificent spirit that he encapsulated the soul of the X-Men. His arc was great, as he passes the test and becomes a responsible man. A lot of readers detested him, but I can’t understand why. He’s back now, in the new New Warriors book, but he’s depowered and human and good-looking and I don’t care anymore. It’s not my Beak.
The book was filled with superb storylines. E for Extinction blew me away, as I recall. It lagged a bit afterwards, with high points mixed in, but it was non-stop greatness from Riot at Xavier’s on. Some people didn’t like Assault on Weapon Plus, but I loved it. A lot of people didn’t enjoy Planet X, but I did. Quite a few people hated Here Comes Tomorrow, and many didn’t seem to get it– including the editors of the X-books– but I thought it made perfect sense and provided a terrific conclusion to Morrison’s story. How about you? Which arc was your favorite?
I haven’t talked about the art yet– and if you go by the panels I’ve provided in this post, you might think the entire run was drawn by Frank Quitely with maybe a few fill-ins from Phil Jiminez, but that’s not true. Quitely drew less than a quarter of the run, though he knocked it out of the park, especially in the brilliant “silent” issue. Ethan Van Sciver and Phil Jimenez have styles that don’t really work for me, but they did some good stuff. Igor Kordey did the best he could with the time he was allotted, penciling and inking entire issues in the space of a week or so. His European influences were good for Fantomex. I wish he was given more time so his art could really shine. And I quite liked the art from Chris Bachalo, who was perfect for the chaotic mayhem of Weapon Plus. There were a few more artists mixed in there– Tom Derenick, John Paul Leon, Keron Grant, and Marc Silvestri– and they all did fine work. Not all the styles really mesh, but the book looked fine.
Since I’m talking about visuals here, I might as well mention the outfits. I adore Quitely’s redesigns, and hate the costumes we’re stuck with these days. Ugh. Give me those gorgeous jackets any day.
I could probably go on and on and gush for several more pages, but I think it’s conclusion time. New X-Men was a really damn good comic that convinced me of Grant Morrison’s excellence, introduced me to the awesomeness that is Frank Quitely, and told a brilliant story that finally did the X-Men concept justice. The story is rich and involving, and its themes are excellent. Also, there are explosions and lasers and psychic affairs and thought monsters and aliens and creepy mutant/human surgical hybrids in gas masks and stuff. It’s got all sorts of cool ideas dripping from it. Read it if you haven’t. It’s a good time. It’s really the last X-Men story you ever need to read.
Unfortunately, the point of the run was largely ignored, and the X-Men were returned to costumes and outer space and all sorts of stuff that we didn’t need anymore. The mutant population is now almost non-existent, defeating the evolutionary impact that Morrison was trying to achieve. The Xorn and Magneto stuff was retconned to death. No one has really stepped in and ran with a lot of the stuff Morrison’s set up, or sought to add more new ideas into the franchise. It’s back to being awful again, aside from maybe X-Factor. That’s no fun.
I will now sum up the entire situation. Here is what reading New X-Men is like:
Here is what I think of the editorial mishandling of this run:
There you have it.
See you in the future.