Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New X-Men: "Murder at the Mansion" (#140-141)

After the amazing prelude issue, “Murder at the Mansion” proper begins in issue #140. This storyline is kind of a mixed bag for me, there’s some great character bits along the way, but the main murder mystery is a dud. We never find out the reason the murder happened, and the murder victim is back alive in the end. The story works best if you view Emma’s death as a metaphorical representation of Jean’s range, and the story as the process of her recognizing that Emma may actually have valid feelings for Scott. But, what the hell does Bishop have to do with all that!?

I mentioned in an earlier review that I don’t mind the random cameos in this run because I’m familiar with pretty much all the X-Men characters. I know who Bishop is, but at the same time, I think it’s kind of a mistake to bring him in. Part of it was probably about crossing over with Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men, which was in a kind of war of influence with Morrison’s X-Men at the time. This was his homage/shot at Claremont, and while it probably worked during the monthly publication, Bishop’s appearance seems to come out of nowhere here. That’s one of the major problems with writing for the monthly vs. writing for the trade today. Back in the 80s during the original Claremont run, he had total control over the entire line and could make crossovers seamless, now the X-Men are so fractured, trying to connect to what’s going on in the overall world makes the collected story feel incomplete.

If I was to get the chance to run the X-line, what I’d do is turn it into a weekly series, kind of like Spider-Man now, and have it be a huge, sprawling epic with many different individual subplots. Basically, instead of having ‘spinoff’ books, you’d have one mothership, with all the characters filtering in and out from week to week. I liked reading the books during the ‘Messiah Complex’ crossover, when there was something new out every week, but with a few exceptions, I don’t like getting only 22 pages of story ever month. That’s why I’d rather pick up the X-books in trade, if I buy them at all now. Mike Carey’s stuff had its moments, but nothing now feels as important as Morrison’s run on the title did.

There’s a lot of wheel spinning as they investigate the murder, some good scenes in there, but nothing particularly important. Things don’t get great again until near the end of issue #141 when Jean embodies the Phoenix Force and looks at Emma’s consciousness. In #139, Jean used the Phoenix Force was a way to indulge her human jealousies, her personal anger. Here, she seems to have transcended humanity entirely, exactly what Emma said she was doing. Jean at this point has become something so much more than human, she recognizes that maybe she doesn’t need Scott anymore, and can’t be with him like he needs her to be. Jean has learned to harness the Phoenix force and using it, she can make things better. I love the way Jiminez draws her here, his Jean is the definitive Jean for me, at least of Morrison’s run.

The critical moment is when Jean realizes that Emma really does love Scott, and that Scott needs her. They can give each other something more than she can give him, and here, she empowers Emma to pursue Scott. This scene is echoed in “Here Comes Tomorrow,” where she once again gives Scott the go-ahead to be with Emma and move on after she’s transcended to another plane.

In practical narrative terms, Jean dies at the end of the run, but in reality, she becomes something more. Her ‘death’ is merely the end of her human existence and a passage into the white hot room, or the supercontext. Like Quentin Quire, she burns too hot for this world and has to become part of something new.

Things end with a lot of ambiguity, Esme walks away and teases a secret foe with in, setting up the forthcoming Xorn/Magneto revelation. This isn’t the high point of the run, but I’ve got such affection for the characters, and Jiminez’s art, that it works. Even throwaway moments, like the Special Class’s “Professor Sex in the toilet with the lawnmower” gag work, and keep the story fun in spite of some fundamental problems.

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