Thursday, September 04, 2008

New X-Men #132-133

Morrison responded to 9/11 with two of the weakest issues in his New X-Men run. The major positive about these two issues is the way they broaden the world of the series, and once again find interesting roles for b-list X-characters. But, the stories themselves don’t work particularly well.

“Ambient Magnetic” reunites Morrison with Phil Jiminez for the first time since The Invisibles. Unfortunately, the inking or coloring makes his pencils look a bit off. Both on this story and later with Quitely in “Riot at Xavier’s,” something in the production process makes these artists look worse than they’ve ever looked before. I think it’s largely the coloring, with gives everything a weird air brushed feel. Some panels look ok, but generally, it’s not up to the crisper look of Jiminez’s work on The Invisibles. I don’t know enough about comic art to say for sure whether it’s the coloring or the inking, but there’s a world of difference between the way this issue looks and the way “Bloody Hell in America” looks. I can understand why Quitely would decide to cut out inkers entirely after seeing what this process did to his art.

Anyway, bad Phil Jiminez is still better than most artists, he’s a great storyteller, and draws the best looking people in comics. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t really work. It’s interesting primarily as a way of illustrating Pietro’s idea that “My father’s greatest trick is to be more dangerous dead than alive.” As Charles says, “I know. I’ve seen the t-shirts.” Magneto’s ideology is sound in theory, the idea that mutants should take a more aggressive tact and ensure that they have their own place in the world, to no longer live by human rules. However, Magneto the person always managed to mess things up by using excessive violence, and in the process destroying rather than creating.

He and Charles were checks on each other, with Magneto still around, Xavier could never become revolutionary, and Magneto could never fully embrace peace. I haven’t read that much of the 90s X-Men, but you could square the jilted, philosophically exhausted Magneto of the Claremont/Lee X-Men #1 with the Magneto of this issue. He tried Xavier’s way and it didn’t work out so well. He’s not evil, but he did take a more aggressive stand. When Xavier left, to go to space, he was able to lead the Xavier institute, and take a more equal view of things. However, Xavier’s return forced him back to his old role.

Notably, the Magneto that people embrace with their t-shirts doesn’t have that much in common with the character that Claremont developed over the course of his run. One could read that as Morrison embracing the old characterization of Magneto, or you could read it as a comment on the process of superhero comics as a whole. Magneto will always be forced back to his old characterization, the Malcolm X to Xavier’s MLK, because that’s what people know, that’s what’s in the movies. Marvel doesn’t want to publish a book where Magneto’s leading the X-Men and Xavier’s nowhere to be found anymore, just like the people who wear a “Magneto was Right” shirt may not want to acknowledge that he was rather ambivalent about violent mutant action in his latter days.

But, I also don’t think Morrison is that familiar with, or interested in, the reformed Magneto of latter Claremont. The whole “Planet X” arc is about the fact that Magneto never can reform, he’ll always be drawn back to this old role of mutant terrorist, attacking human institutions. It’s a fantastic story, but I can’t help but wonder what a more post-Manichaean Magneto would be like under Claremont.

I suppose Morrison splits the character in two, he takes the abused victim Magneto and turns him into Xorn. Rather than become a mutant terrorist, Xorn became a zen master, who embraces all living things. Xorn is the ultimate attempt by Magneto to reform, and like all such attempts, the dictates of superhero comics will eventually lead him to a villain role.

More on that down the line. As I mentioned before, the story itself is pretty perfunctory, and doesn’t make that much sense in light of the Magneto as Xorn revelation. Magneto’s words, “I will be a voice in the darkness, echoing forever” make sense in the context of the narrative at present, that he is becoming “memory, immortal,” but in light of the overall plan, it doesn’t have too much significance. I suppose the best way to view it is to see that Magneto is more important and powerful as Charles’ ideological opposite, the challenge to the status quo, that no matter how far Xavier goes, someone will always want him to further. We see that conflict made manifest in the Quentin Quire storyline, and by that point, it becomes clear that Magneto the man himself has become irrelevant.

The great tragedy of Magneto/Xorn is that this totally false persona he created becomes more popular than his real personality, and that ‘Magneto’ is even more powerful dead than alive. Without Magneto to fight, Xavier can move beyond the two sided argument that has dominated the series and was able to build a new world from scratch. Xavier does become edgier, he takes on characteristics of Magneto and is able to fuse them into a new form. With Magneto as the peace loving Xorn, he and Xavier essentially flip roles, now Xavier is the one pushing mutants forward, out of the shadows and into the light.

Either way, the issue itself plays as a strange 9/11 tribute that doesn’t quite work. We jump forward from the somber ruins of fake 9/11 to a war on terror in “Afghanistan.” The opening sequence of this issue feels totally out of character with what we’ve seen before. Has the zen sage Wolverine we’ve seen so far in the run really just killed a heap of slavers? I suppose it’s possible, but I feel like the Wolverine we’ve seen to date would have found another way. Anyhow, it does give us a nice scene with Fantomex, who proves that he wasn’t just a one time character, and once again taunts us with the secrets of Weapon Plus. And, strange as it is to say, looking at this version of Fantomex, I miss Igor Kordey.

There’s a bunch of rather unexciting terrorist/Shiar stuff in this issue. Let me focus on what does work. Easily the high point of the issue for me is Jean’s Phoenix t-shirt. I love that she would the iconography of previous stories as a fashion statement, and it’s a perfect way to incorporate a superhero uniform into the more ‘reality based’ world of the series to date. Another great moment in fashion is the revelation that India’s team is wearing the early 90s costumes because the people love the Bollywood spectacle of spandex and spangles.

The other cool thing in this issue is the idea that Wolverine needs to sleep a lot when his healing factor is working. That’s a lot better than having him regrow his entire body from a drop of blood in five minutes like it’s no problem. Always place limits on your heroers, it will make for a better story.

So, this was a pretty un-noteworthy issue. But, coming up soon is the series’ next major arc, the fantastic “Riot at Xavier’s.”

2 comments: said...

Here, I do not actually think this is likely to have success.

Anonymous said...

“Ambient Magnetic Fields” also replays Morrison’s interest in the Latvian paranormal book “Breakthrough” which posited that the brainwaves of dead people persist indefinitely within the electromagnetic ether, This was a major element of the Flex Mentallo arc in Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol. Here it’s dramatized by Polaris going bonkers by exposure to the EM signal of 16 million mutants who died all at once, and their removal from her is explicitly called an “exorcism.”