Thursday, July 31, 2008

New X-Men: 'E For Extinction' (114-116)

Of all Grant Morrison’s major works, the only one I haven’t really covered here is New X-Men. It’s ironic because NXM is one of my favorite things he’s done, a wonderful fusion of the best of Claremont’s style and Grant’s thematic concerns. As a big X-Men fan, and a big Morrison fan, there could be little better. I’ll be going through, arc by arc, digging beneath the surface and pondering how this work fits in with the rest of what Grant has done.

The most striking thing about ‘E For Extinction’ isn’t so much the arc’s quality in and of itself, it’s the way it makes you reconsider the quality of virtually every other X-Men comic or movie that’s not part of the original Claremont run. In three issues, Morrison and Quitely tell a story that’s both epic and personal, that’s both totally new and perfectly integrated with the existing mythology. The arc makes you wonder why other people can’t write the book this well, can’t create something that feels so fresh and alive. It’s the same as they did with All Star Superman, you read that book and it feels effortless. They make it look like they’re not great, it’s the rest of the world that’s slacking.

One of my favorite things about E For Extinction, and Grant’s run as a whole, is the way it presents the growth of mutant culture as an inevitability. They are the next evolution, and will eventually overtake mainstream humanity. That was a huge change in paradigm for the series, and one that was unfortunately erased by the lame deus ex machinas of House of M. I think having mutants on the ascent only makes the ‘hated and feared’ elements of the series even stronger. If humanity’s headed towards extinction, aren’t they going to fight harder than ever to preserve themselves?

The way Grant presents the X-Men, they’re essentially The Invisibles, people who have evolved and are fighting to ensure that humanity moves forward successfully. That’s part of the change in paradigm, from superheroes to rescue workers. They are post-human cool in every way, from Beast feeling like a ‘Hindu sex god’ to Jean’s casual use of her TK abilities in everyday life. They are those humans we see in Cassandra’s vision, only they’re not chasing the Neanderthals out with violence, it’s a nonviolent approach, they are better than the humans, and that’s why they’ll triumph.

X-Men comics, post Claremont’s original run, had a tendency to feel very insular. They battled a series of superhero villains, and any attempt at portraying these characters in everyday situations came off as contrived, or wasn’t attempted at all. The genius of Claremont’s work was the way he made the X-Men pretty much a soap opera. I think Buffy gets closer to the core of what made Claremont’s work great than either of the X-Men movies. Reading his stories, you always felt like these were real people, who were changed and affected by what they experienced. As the characters became corporate properties, that became harder to do, mid 90s X-Men comics didn’t feel like the ‘real’ versions of the characters, they were just stories that had no impact. Grant makes the characters feel real again, he gives you a different status quo and an increased focus on the characters’ personal lives. As the series goes on, it’s not the big action stories that hook me, it’s Scott and Emma Frost’s relationship, or the integration of Xorn into the team. It’s the personal stories.

In a lot of ways, the X-Men concept is wasted in the Marvel Universe. It’s an uneasy fit, having people hate the X-Men for being mutants, while loving the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. I think someone could do a great story with the X-Men set in our universe, showing how the rise of mutant culture changes everything. And, Grant has probably come the closest here, there’s still a lot of superhero tropes, but he takes the time to examine parts of the universe we haven’t seen before. Ugly John is a great example, not every mutant’s going to have cool powers, some will just be messed up. A guy like Ugly John makes it hard to feel so bad for the great looking, ultra powerful X-Men.

While I love Quitely as much as anyone, I’m not sure he’s the best artist for the stories Grant’s telling in this book. He’s brilliant as always, but I think the sexier, more real incarnation of the X-Men was best served by Phil Jiminez, later in the run. Quitely’s design work on the uniforms was amazing, and I love his Wolverine and Emma Frost, but his slightly more idiosyncratic artwork doesn’t fit here as well as it does in The Authority or All Star Superman. Obviously, I love what he did, and going from his work to Igor Kordey’s later in the run is like switching from Christopher Doyle as DP to your five year old cousin as DP halfway through a movie. But, I don’t think the book is as groundbreaking or essentially Quitely as We3 or All Star Superman. Basically, when Quitely is such a limited resource, I don’t think he’s as needed for this story as he was for most of the others he drew.

As for the arc itself, the first two issues serve mainly as setup, bringing us into this new world that Morrison’s created for the X-Men. There’s a lot of iconic, fun moments, but it works best on the initial read, when you get the shock of actually reading a competent X-Men comic, a great X-Men comic for the first time in a long time. Things really pick up at the end of the second issue, when we get the introduction of Emma Frost, and the destruction of Genosha.

Emma Frost is easily my favorite character in Morrison’s X-Men run, a bundle of attitude and edge, she captures the cold, futuristic feel of the book as a whole. You can tell he’s having a whole lot of fun writing her quippy, snarky dialogue. Basically every moment with her in these first few issues is an instant classic, be it spying on the thoughts on her favorite screen idols or marveling at her diamond appearance moments after her entire civilization has been wiped out. And, nobody in the run drew her better than Quitely. He could never quite get a handle on Jean, but he always makes Emma look good, in her long coat and ridiculously tall platform boots.

I also really like the way Morrison reinterprets Wolverine. Toning down the bezerker rage, Wolverine is now the elder statesman of the team. This makes sense if we’re to believe that he’s two hundred years old, he’s a kind of edgy, zen master. It’s particularly interesting that here he’s the calm one, and Scott has all the rage issues. Logan takes joy in poking fun at Scott’s repression, and Scott boils underneath the surface the whole time.

And, he looks much cooler in his leather jacket outfit than in the usual hat the shape of his hair outfit. Even in Claremont’s run, I feel like he spent most of the time in his civilian clothes. I have no clue why Marvel moved away from the Morrison outfits at the end of his run, they’re so much slicker than the ugly look Cassaday gave the characters. I normally love Cassaday’s art, but Beast’s adult diaper and Scott’s body condom didn’t work out so well. The Quitely outfits look better and more functional than anything else we’ve see in comics or the movies.

You may wonder why I’ve spent this whole review talking about culture and fashion, with nary a word on the story. I think that was Grant’s intention with the run. Yes, there’s some tension with Cassandra Nova, but the real goal of the arc was to remake the X-Men as sexy heroes for the twenty-first century, in a world that’s one step ahead of tomorrow. I think it works wonderfully, he nails these characters from the outset, and for the first time since Claremont, it feels like things can change, that these stories matter. Unlike some people, I don’t think this is the best arc in his run, but it’s a great overture for what’s to come. With well written X-Men, the longer the story goes on, the more the characters grow and change, the better it gets.


cease ill said...

I'm not sure why these posts are covered in comments, because there's so much to which one might respond. I think perhaps it's more difficult to encompass one's thoughts on an arc as opposed to individual issues, ala Jason's X-Men analysis, where I discovered your thoughts. He certainly valued your input; it could be these simply came sooner in the evolution of the comics blogging. As a fairly latecomer to almost daily exploring the "series of tubes" we call the Internet, I reflect on how these might affect my own writing, though I don't work with the x-men. Fashion and culture remain facets that can boost a comic beyond weak iterations of previously mined themes; were that my collection here were handy, yet these summaries are quite evocative.

Your thoughts on Wolverine reflect considerations of how longevity is meant to give perspective, unless one has lived quite apart from humanity without much super-ego. I think a lot of us young writers bow to that Invisibles run, and I look forward to finding your Morrison book.

Patrick said...

Thanks for checking it out. With Morrison's X-Men stuff, there's definitely enough in each issue to do an issue by issue analysis, but I approached it in arcs just to try and match the speed at which I was reading. I know that Geoff Klock did an issue by issue NXM analysis over on his blog, which has some great moments, but I don't agree with all his points.

And stand by for the Morrison book it should be out in early to mid January, everything's getting locked down on the final edit now.

Daniel N. Gullotta said...

Hey Cease Ill, I am working on an issue by issue examination of Morrison's New X-Men in Gifted Youngsters: Experiencing Grant Morrison's New X-Men. Check it out on Facebook. and Patrick's writings are so helpful! Thanks mate!

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