Saturday, August 30, 2008

New X-Men: New Worlds (128-130)

I spent a lot of time cracking on Igor Kordey’s art during his early appearances in New X-Men, but he at least partially redeems himself with his work on The New Worlds storyline. His European style dark and quirky art fits perfectly with the globally minded concerns of this storyline, which brings the X-Corporation idea to the form in an ultra cool, stylish story. People talk a lot about the ‘pop sexy’ component of Grant’s run, and through Kordey’s art is far from traditionally sexy, this storyline feels the most adult, like a 60s European art film in a superhero world. It’s one of my favorite pieces of Morrison’s entire run, totally different from what he usually does, yet still thematically consistent.

The story begins by setting up the idea of the X-Corporation. Essentially, all the ancillary X-books characters are part of these outposts in various cities, working to help mutants under the telepathic leadership of Xavier. Here, the team consists mainly of people who will go on to form the X-Factor of Peter David’s current ongoing series, plus Darkstar and Sam Guthrie. Reading Morrison’s DC stuff, or any DC stuff, I often have trouble keeping track of who’s who during scenes like this. And, even if I’m familiar with characters, I don’t really ‘know’ them, don’t have any emotional connection to them.

However, with the X-Men universe, I’m familiar with almost everyone and have probably read a bunch of stories about them. That’s part of why I find it so much easier, and in some ways more enjoyable, to read Morrison’s X-Men than his DC stuff. This crew of people might only appear for one issue, but I do know them, and I can easily get emotionally engaged with what Jamie or Siryn are going through. The Marvel Universe has always been more character oriented than DC, and it’s easier to actually comprehend their whole history. I was there for the creation of Jamie Madrox and Sam Guthrie, so it’s possible to turn their lives into a coherent character arc. With its infinite multiverses, that’s a bit tougher over at DC.

But, really it’s what you’re familiar with. I’m getting more and more familiar with the DCU, but having read Chris Claremont’s entire initial X-Men run, and a lot of the spinoff books from the 80s, I’ve got the entire spine of the X-Men universe. So, I like stopping off to visit these characters, whereas I would probably criticize the move if this was Morrison’s JLA and I had no clue who these B-list people were.

All of this is a way of saying that I really like the interaction between the X-Corporation team. It feels natural and real, these are cool people having fun doing their job. It’s a utopian future vision of superhero as proactive force saving people, a post-Authority incarnation of interventionist superheroics. As I’ve said before, Morrison’s X-Men are a post Invisibles Volume III team, it’s not a war, it’s a rescue mission. This crew is beyond traditional human boundaries, they share a dressing room and play between mutant and human names. It’s realistic without being dark. As Charles says, the world has changed, it’s listening to them.

It’s interesting to note the juxtaposition of human/mutant riots with Xavier’s confidence in the future. The book is very much about evolution, the humans are the ones seeking to destroy, while Xavier is hoping to protect. One could view this as an elitist text, saying that human is not enough anymore. That’s a potentially valid view point, but I think it ignores the fact that the real extinction isn’t the human species, it’s the single minded, restrictive ideas that humanity holds onto.

Charles says “all we had to do was take off our frightening masks and step from the shadows.” The X-Men stopped playing into the paradigm of mutant vs. human and just decided to live in a world where they don’t worry about what humans think, they do the right thing. As Jean says they’ve pretty much “put paid the old ‘feared and hated’ routine.” What they’ve done is decide to not wait for the world to change, but to change themselves and let the world catch up. It’s the same thing that Jack did in The Invisibles, it was healing Sir Miles and opting out of the war that ultimately brought the war to the end. You can’t win anything by destroying others, you have to win a war by making the enemy love you.

This is why I’m so frustrated with the utterly adolescent posturing of John McCain, who makes such a show of promising to track Osama Bin Laden to “the gates of hell,” and to bomb anyone who opposes us. You can’t hope to end terrorism, which is motivated by people hating our country’s behavior, by bombing said people. To really end this ‘war,’ you’d need to change the way that you behave, and make it so they can’t hate us anymore. To defeat terror, you need hope and love. That may sound impractical, but philosophically that needs to be the motivation. The reason that Japan or Germany didn’t hate us after World War II was that we helped them rebuild their nations, through aid, not war. Maybe that’s what we’re trying to do in Iraq now, but it’s a big difference when you attack someone first, then try to save them, versus them attacking you, then you trying to save them. Essentially, we do need to protect ourselves, but when it comes time to be proactive, that activity should be helping others, not destroying them.

That’s what the X-Men have come around to here, it’s a new paradigm, “no more human rules.” Here, Charles reclassifies his view of Cassandra Nova, she may have been a destructive force, but it was her threat that forced them to evolve and take the steps they were afraid to do. In the cosmology of The Invisibles, bad things happen as a way of forcing us to evolve. Charles calls her “an agent of nature…forcing change into stalemated systems,” not far from John a Dreams. Like him, she moved into a 4-D system to trigger change and achieve a specific result. Of course, things are never simple, as Xavier notes the sixteen million dead mutants it took to make him realize his flaws.

More Invisibles sounding rhetoric is spoken when Charles says “I wonder if we have any control over our destinies or if we are just biomass manipulated by an intelligent evolutionary process itself.” To answer that, flip to Jack’s final words in The Invisibles’ ‘Glitterdammerung,’ in which he says that free will or predestination, we’re still here, doing our thing. Either way it goes on up there, it feels like free will down here, and that’s all that matters. In Grant’s cosmology we are biomass manipulated by evolution, however that doesn’t really matter. Our individual experiences are still valid.

Next up we get the introduction of one of my favorite Grant creations for his run, Fantomex. Drawing on Fantomas, the European pulp hero of the 60s, he’s an ultracool badass assassin, killing people and spitting one liners like Volume II King Mob. Kordey actually does a great job of drawing Fantomex, particularly those time lapse panels that show him spinning and firing his run.

On a thematic level, Fantomex works as a test of Xavier’s post human philosophy. He promised to shelter all mutants, now he finds himself looking after a killer, one of the most wanted men in Europe. But, is he wanted by human authorities for human crimes, do human crimes still matter in a mutant society? It makes the more ambiguous morality of the X-Men in Morrison’s run clear that Xavier chooses to help out Fantomex rather than fighting him. I think there is still some inconsistency, both in this story and the run as a whole, over how far the X-Men are willing to go, but on a moment to moment basis, it works well.

I love the scene where Jean and Charles test her telepathic powers through the experiment with the silverware. It is simultaneously very everyday and quite strange. Here, Xavier presents a new view of the Phoenix. Rather than being some external entity that possesses people, it is simply a way to describe extreme telepathic powers. If that’s the case though, I’m not sure how it fits with the retcon that Jean was not the Phoenix at all. If it’s simply extreme telepathic powers, how does that square with the idea that the Phoenix cloned itself into Jean’s form and impersonated her for a while. It makes more sense with the original story, the idea that the Phoenix really was Jean, in this case cutting out the cosmic motivation and reducing the story to its core, power gone out of control that corrupted Jean.

“Jean is only the house where I live” is a classic Morrison line. On a thematic level, it ties in with the fiction suit concept, John a Dreams housing himself in the Blind Chessman or Quimper, but remaining a 4-D extradimensional force. In ‘Here Comes Tomorrow,’ Morrison poses the idea of the Phoenix as a 4-D being, and the incident here ties in with that. More on that later, for now, it’s simply a beautiful, strange moment like only Morrison can write.

The Coproral Animal bit in the second issue of the storyline doesn’t work so well. He seems more like a Garth Ennis character, a caricature in a world that’s been at least somewhat realistic until now. I suppose you could read the character as a satire of the way the X-Men view humans, or as a poke on the single minded military industrial complex that requires a lack of intelligence to go along with orders. But, in practice it plays as a rather simple, tonally mismatched gag. Thematically, it fits that Xavier and Jean would use their specific mutant talents to defeat him, making him question his own morality by exposing him to greater ideas, rather than using violence as humans intended to.

Things get weird when they go to Fantomex’s house on the cliff. Later in the storyline, Jean and Charles question whether any of what they saw was real. I’m not really sure if it was either, it doesn’t make much objective sense, who is the old woman, what is really going on? I think a lot of it is his mutant power of misdirection, his power is less about his physical abilities than about his ability to make others believe that he’s these ultracool assassin. He could have been anyone, but he chose to pattern himself after Fantomas. He flaunts his wealth here, using Euros for toilet paper, but it’s all about selling this image to Xavier, and in particular, Jean.

Why is he doing this at all? Initially he went to X-Corps because he was injured and figured they could protect him. In doing so, he loses his control over the situation, he’s in debt to them. So, he takes them to this elaborate fantasy world he’s constructed as a way of making them off balance and regaining the upper hand. He was going to help them either way, but he wanted to make sure that they knew he was in control, and also wanted to make sure that they’d let him go, by charming them.

One of the best moments in the issue is definitely the flirting between Jean and Fantomex, culminating in the legendary exchange when she asks why he wont’ take off his mask, and he asks her why she leaves her Wonderbra on all the time. I really like the dynamic between the two of them, his ultracool European mystery is the exact opposite of Scott’s just sort of there reliability. The essence of the conflict between Jean and Scott in the book as a whole is that Jean keeps gaining more powers and new levels of perception, which Scott can never match. As such, Scott is always going to be insecure, worried that Jean is going to get bored with him. And, as written here, I think she is at least partially bored with Scott.

That’s why she loves to flirt with Logan and Fantomex, the two of them offer her something more dangerous and exotic. When speaking with Emma, Scott notes that he and Jean are teenage sweethearts, and they’ve both changed so much since when they first fell in love. So, are they just clinging to their memories of the past, hanging onto each other because they’re too scared to try something else? It’s interesting that Scott is the one who actually cheats, I’d argue it’s because his fear that Jean will be bored with him is more potent than Jean’s actual boredom with him. In the Dark Phoenix Saga, we saw Scott as the anchor, holding Phoenix down to Earth, it’s precisely that everyday reliability that made them work back then, but here in his midlife crisis phase, Scott isn’t so sure it’s still going to do it.

As things progress, Fantomex casually drops the bomb that Weapon X wasn’t actually “Ex,” it was weapon ten. It’s a brilliant retcon, not doing any damage to past stories while opening whole new avenues of exploration. In this case, future weapons are more conceptual, based around the very Morrison idea of ‘The World,’ a place where time is accelerated, so human evolution can proceed at a more rapid pace than it would in the regular world.

The arc ends with a big fight scene/psychic attack in the tunnel. It’s nice to see Fantomex in action again, drawing as the “lunatic ninja Matrix freak” tears things up. In the end, we find out that Fantomex was actually Weapon XIII. Jean wants to see into his mind, but seeing the truth of who he is would undermine his power. As she says “there is no European super thief,” he can shed personas and ideas at a whim, all in the interest of keeping his mystique.

This arc is one of my favorite in Morrison’s entire run. It’s a portrait of the X-Men as globe trotting, super cool social revolutionaries. More than any other arc in the run to date, it takes the X-Men out of a superhero context and puts them in a more socially conscious position. It’s not a war, it’s a rescue mission, and their New World Order is gradually making old ideas irrelevant. I’d never really considered how similar Morrison’s X-Men are to The Invisibles, but in this arc, they could easily be a cell of Jack’s new era team.

1 comment: said...

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