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.

Top 20 TV Shows 2008

A year ago, I updated my list of the Top 20 TV Shows of All Time, and a year later, I feel like it’s time for another update. Last year, peoples’ comments got me to finally start watching The Wire, hopefully this year will get me into another equally great show. Here’s the list:

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
2. Six Feet Under
3. The Sopranos
4. Twin Peaks
5. The Wire (New)
6. Cowboy Bebop
7. John From Cincinnati
8. Neon Genesis Evangelion (New)
9. The Office (UK)
10. Angel
11. Freaks and Geeks
12. Arrested Development
13. Doctor Who (New)
14. The X-Files
15. Gilmore Girls
16. Battlestar Galactica
17. Mad Men (New)
18. Babylon 5
19. Friday Night Lights
20. Seinfeld

Why have things changed? Read on…

The Wire

This show definitely lived up to the hype. I’m glad that I was able to catch up and see the final season live, it was one of those that was so good, it felt like the entire week became structured around the new episode. It may have been annoying to go back to work Monday, but I knew that Sunday night I’d also get a new Wire episode, so things weren’t that bad. I can only think of two or three other shows like that.


If you’ve been reading the blog lately, you’ve surely seen my epic posts about this series. This is a show that raises questions about how best to assess what the ‘best’ TV shows are. The first half is a solid, entertaining series, the second half is one of the best sustained runs of any series ever. So, do I judge it primarily on that second half, or do I consider more of the whole? For example, I like the second half of the series better than Cowboy Bebop, but Bebop is more consistently good, and hence gets the higher ranking. Still, I really can’t stress how brilliant the series is, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone.

Doctor Who

Another fantastic sci-fi show, this one also has some issues with consistency. The reason Doctor Who is so high isn’t because it’s always great from episode to episode, it’s because at its best, it hits me in a way that no other show does. It’s the combination of action spectacle and emotional impact that makes the series so successful. It’s like Grant Morrison’s JLA meets Buffy. It may have more flaws than other shows, but emotionally, it gets to me like no other show I’ve ever seen.

Mad Men

The early 2000s saw a rash of Sopranos knockoffs, about morally ambiguous heroes who were always dealing out violence. But, no show has captured what really made The Sopranos great like this has. It’s the incredibly subtle storytelling that manages to speak volumes without ever telling you anything. The show feels so sophisticated, so cool, and it’s interesting to watch real emotion occasionally break through the socially sanctioned way of behavior. It’s hugely ambitious and really entertaining, I’m thinking this one will rise a few more places before its run is finished.

Last year, I felt I had pretty much seen the best of what TV had to offer, so I was surprised to see a whole bunch of great shows on DVD this year. What else do I need to see? What are the other missing classics from my viewing history?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Superman: Beyond 3-D #1

I read Superman Beyond late last night, barely awake, probably not the best way to read a really complex metafictional spin through the many Earths of the DCU. It’s not one of Morrison’s best works, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff here, and in some ways, it’s a more satisfying read than Final Crisis proper. There’s none of the frantic jumping between story points, while still maintaining the overwhelming feeling of desperation that hangs over all of FC to date.

This issue is another metafiction take on the history of superhero comics and the DCU, and as such, it touches on a lot of themes and concepts we’ve seen previously in Animal Man and Seven Soldiers. I felt like Seven Soldiers was Morrison’s definitive statement on the DCU, and the best followup to the exploration of superhero comics in Flex Mentallo. All Star Superman has been brilliant, but other than that, his recent superhero work hasn’t hit me in the way that his best stuff has. With this book, and Final Crisis in general, I really like the concepts and isolated moments, but it’s not hitting me on an emotional level. It’s a very clinical read, so hypercompressed that there’s no time for things to really sink in.

It’s a heady rush of concepts, a style he previously used in Seven Soldiers #1. The major difference is Seven Soldiers #1 was the culmination of a 30 issue story, and we had the emotional base for understanding these characters. I suppose you could argue that Final Crisis is the Seven Soldiers #1 of Grant’s entire lifetime of DC work. As such, we don’t really need to delve into character specifics, we know these guys from his previous stories, and FC is all about doing one final power metal riff on the classic melody he’s been working on since Animal Man.

The problem with that kind of greatest hits approach is that it doesn’t really do anything we haven’t seen before. Think of Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights, it’s a great movie, that’s better than the vast majority of movies out there, but nonetheless feels a bit underwhelming. So many of the concepts and characters feel like lesser imitations of his own previous work. It’s got to be hard to for an artist to keep innovating like Grant has over the course of his career. This book is an evolution of themes from the past, but it doesn’t feel quite fresh enough to stand with the best of his work.

As I said before, the storytelling style of the Final Crisis books has been a bit difficult for me. I like that he’s trying to fit as much as possible into the series, it’s a nice return to the style of the Silver Age. After reading this issue, or an issue of FC proper, you feel like you got your money’s worth. There’s a wealth of concepts and ideas to ponder, and a lot has happened. But, the best Grant work manages to fuse that Silver Age abundance of ideas and narrative with the occasional slow down to focus on emotional beats. I’m hoping that the latter half of Final Crisis will give us some more personal moments mixed in with the spectacle. Here, we get to spend more time with a single story, but things happen so fast that it takes about half the issue to really ground myself in what this story is about.

Part of my issue comes from my not quite total familiarity with the Monitors. I understand all the big things, but I don’t the grounding that makes it easy to read stuff with them. It’s all in the text, but I’m spending a lot of time trying to keep track of what’s going on. What Morrison seems to be doing here is mixing the pacing of Silver Age comics, with the conceptual density of his own work, resulting in a work that simultaneously flashes by in an instant and takes a long time to delve into. That’s a mix that works on a lot of levels. Intellectually, this is a full, rich comic, one that definitely benefits from a reread.

The art is by Doug Mahnke, who did amazing work on Morrison’s Frankenstein book. There, his pencils had a subliminally dirty quality, and were the perfect match for the gritty pulp stories Morrison was telling in that book. Here, his pencils have been cleaned up a bit, and the element of his art that really stands out is the 3-D stuff. Unlike some online commentators, I really liked the 3-D pages, particularly in the book of infinite pages section, things really seem to pop off the page. Plus, just wearing the 3-D glasses for an extended period of time makes everything feel trippier. The world itself is discolored, only the comic looks right. That metafictional element makes reading the comic a trip in and of itself.

Superman goes on this quest to heal Lois with the ‘Bleed’ substance. This was a Warren Ellis concept from The Authority, the material that universes grow in. It would be logical that the placenta like material in which universes grow would heal people within the universe. It’s even referred to as Ultramenstruum in the comic, reinforcing the uterine connection.

The part of the comic that really interests me is the conceptual material near the end of the book, where Superman hears a story about the birth of the universe. Ironically, this is also the material that fits most with the complaints I had earlier, about this book retreading the thematic ground of previous Morrison works. The trip to Limbo hits the same story beats as Animal Man, but twenty years later, the concept isn’t so out there and audacious. Or perhaps, it simply feels less otherworldly in a book where we’ve got Supermen from five universes together. What made Limbo work so well in Animal Man was the real world grounding that Buddy’s life provided.

You don’t get the sense that Superman would be terribly shaken to find out his entire life was a fictional creation. He’d be able to deal with that, just like he deals with anything. Superman is so powerful in our world that limbo doesn’t pose much threat for him. He’s never going to forgotten, in a lot of ways he has become more powerful than the human beings who created him. If he was to meet his ‘writer,’ who would he meet?

The major evolution of Morrison’s DC cosmology in this book is the notion of stories as the basis for the universe itself. Perhaps this is the final piece of the master plan started with Animal Man. There, Buddy Baker found out he was just a character in a piece of fiction, here Superman finds out that the entire basis for the universe is stories. Literally, the DC Universe is made up of thousands of stories, each comic they publish develops and changes the universe a little bit, some more than other.

This whole thing gets back to the notion of hypertime. The idea there was basically that continuity is determined by which stories ‘stick.’ The more powerful stories, like the death of Batman’s parents, form the backbone of the universe, the essential basis for the character. Other stories may exist as rivers off the main timestream, less essential pieces of continuity that may no longer fit into the overall narrative of the character. So, if you’re trying to figure out why Superman’s heat vision does one thing in a single 50s story, but doesn’t do that today, you could just say that the 50s story in question was part of an abandoned branch of hypertime. Continuity is built out of elements that recur for the character. The more an element is used, the more essential it becomes to continuity, the closer to the center of hypertime. But, every story still exists, and they’re all true in some way. 60s TV Batman is just a different branch on the hypertime river than Dark Knight Returns Batman. And, it’s possible to try to knit it all together, by making everything true, as Morrison is currently doing in Batman.

Anyway, Morrison gives us the origin of the universe when he says “A flaw found at the heart of monitor perfection! Monitor makes a concept to contain the flaw!” That is the beginning of thought, the beginning of stories. Out of a white void of perfect singularity comes an anomaly. To deal with that anomaly, one must conceptualize it as other, and come up with a mental reason for its existence. If you see a splotch of red paint on a white wall, you would think, someone must have put that paint there. You make a story in your head.

This one narrative multiplies into others, and reveals “unforeseen complexities and contradictions.” This panel, depicting the bleed, also functions as an origin for the multiverse. The first story creates others, they each branch off in distinct directions, and eventually you’ve got the convoluted continuity of the DCU.

Captain Marvel and Merryman discuss the idea of a universe with universes within it, or a story with all the other stories in it. This ties into the idea in The Invisibles of the UFO, the piece of universe trapped within itself. That void that Superman refers to is the initial world of the monitors, the more the monitors reach out, the more they encounter other stories. The story “without limits or definition” that spins out of control could refer to the multiverse going out of control before Crisis.

This is where my lack of knowledge about the Monitors becomes problematic. Morrison seems to posit the idea that the Monitors exist beyond DC continuity, they were there at the beginning and are the ones who oversaw the start of existence. He then goes on to say how the ‘flaw,’ the first contact with stories, was sealed over with the first ‘monitor,’ who looks a lot like Superman. I like the idea of the entire DCU flowing from Superman himself, the first superhero who led to the creation of everything that followed. But, is this stuff actually referring to the fusion of everything into a single universe after Crisis? I’m not sure where Morrison’s commentary on our world in relation to the DCU lies and where his comment on the internal nature of the DCU is.

Let’s say that the Monitors are like the 4-D beings in The Invisibles, they exist outside time, they were there at the beginning of the universe and are helping to guide things to make sure they proceed the way that they’re supposed to. In this case, rather than guiding one universe forward, they’re guiding a series of multiverses towards some kind of ideal. But, there’s also definitely an Eden thing going on here too. The Monitors aren’t fully aware of their mission, as John a Dreams was. Rather, they exist in a pure state outside of time, and it is an encounter with time, with stories, that infects them and brings their world from a sheltered nothingness to a chaotic something. It would make sense that all the flaws, everything they’ve experienced is leading them towards a role in the Final Crisis. Every world in the multiverse is spinning toward destruction, and they will have a role to play in the oncoming battle.

Notably, the monument that they call the “relic of first contact” is a giant statue of Superman. That would tie in with the idea that Superman, as the first superhero, is also in a lot of ways the creator of the DCU. It was the meeting of the Superman idea with the guardians of universes, the monitors that led to the creation of the DC multiverse. Now, the Monitors insert themselves into time to gather an army of champions, all echoes of that first conflict, to do battle and save their universe.

In that sense, the Final Crisis is an echo of the conflict that led to the creation of the universe. Much of Final Crisis has a religious tinge, there’s the Bible of Crime that Libra preaches, the New Gods and Darkseid. Morrison’s made it clear in his JLA that the superheroes would be the ones to take over for the New Gods, and start the new age of things. They are the template for human evolution, so it would be logical for the creators of the universe, and the heroes within it to come together to overthrow the old gods and pave the way for a new universe.

In that sense, is it that the Monitors, with their placenta like bleed are the female element, and Superman is the male element. When they come together, they create a universe. But, what are the Monitors, beyond a sci-fi concept within the DC Universe? Are they God? Morrison’s never been one to shy from metafiction, most likely they’re another iteration of the Time Tailors, the writers of the stories themselves. After all, what is the process of creation but the intrusion of something into nothing. A story hits your mind like a flaw, sitting there until it needs to be addressed, growing and layering on itself. Now, the writers of the stories are drawn into the world to save it from its darkest hour yet.

So, perhaps the issue wasn’t as thematically redundant as I’d thought previously. There’s a ton of material here, but I feel like there’s a disconnect between this really fascinating conceptual thematic material, and the fairly standard story itself. Those few pages, I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around, but I feel like the story itself needed a bit more to really grab me emotionally. Still, it makes a lot more sense after really examining it. All these Supermen are here as the ‘founding father’ of their respective world. He is the first superhero, the spark that made something out of nothing, and now he will have to save the world in its darkest hour. A world’s Superman is the best representative of its nature, with a Superman like the DCU’s, there’s no way that evil will win in the end.

Monday, August 25, 2008

New X-Men 127: "Of Living and Dying"

A lot of people claim that Morrison’s X-Men went downhill after its first year, or even just after its first storyline. ‘E For Extinction’ is certainly the most thematically on point arc in a run that jumps all over the place both narratively and in terms of visual presentation. It’s hard to believe that this John Paul Leon issue is part of the same run as the Quitely issue that preceded it. But, part of what I love so much about the book is its many focuses. It’s a tour of the new world that Xavier and his team are building, and that part of the mission statement really becomes clear in the second year. I find the book gets more and more interesting as it goes on, in the same way that a good TV show does. Saying ‘E For Extinction’ is the best arc is like saying “College” is the best episode of The Sopranos. It might be the best thing to show to someone new to work, it might be a great story on its own, but it lacks the complexity of what follows. The characters and world keep growing as the run progresses, and that’s why the later issues are generally more interesting to read than the early stuff.

As with most works with a twist ending, the first reading and the second reading of New X-Men are very different experiences. Reading this issue for the first time, I thought it was a wonderful story about a zen hero in a world that couldn’t appreciate him. Reading it again, you’re left wondering what is ‘real’ and what’s not. If Magneto was Xorn the whole time, is the whole story he told a construct. What really happened here?

Essential to my understanding of the Magneto/Xorn storyline is the notion of Xorn as a very real persona. Magneto was playing this role, but in order to succeed, he had to become totally immersed, to repress most elements of his actual personality. In that sense, Xorn was real. He became Xorn and experienced the world through his eyes. Essentially, he put on the Xorn fiction suit, and like Mister Six became Brian Malcolm, he was totally immersed in this alternate personality.

One major component of Morrison’s run is a meta commentary on the nature of comics and the X-Men franchise. Magneto is the archetypal X-Men foe, and no matter how much he reforms, he will eventually become that villain again, just as the book will eventually return to the same tired stories it was telling before Morrison came along. So, Magneto’s transformation into Xorn parallels what Chris Claremont did with the character in his original run, rehabilitating him, putting him in charge of the school, only to eventually be forced to return him to his evil roots at the end of the run. Marvel wants the character to be that way for its licensing deals, for its movies, and as such things will tend back towards that mythic X-Men status quo we saw in the film. In that sense, the Xorn storyline parallels the book itself, for now it will transform into a peace loving zen version of what came before, but eventually that new reality will be torn down and returned to what it was before.

This is all a long way of saying that I don’t think the knowledge that the Xorn personality is a construct in any way invalidates the beauty of this storyline. Magneto is trying out a different approach, rather than using violence, he’s confronting humans with their own lack of social evolution. He is being better than them rather than bragging about how he’s better than them.

It’s interesting to think of the scene with Xorn and Xavier as another take on the endless philosophical debates between Magneto and Charles. A large part of the Xorn character is Magneto trying out Charles’s way of thinking for once, that’s why he listens to his ideas and doesn’t try to oppose them. Notably, Xavier says that “Sometimes the idea of the monster is more real than the monster itself,” in the same way that Xorn, a conceptual person, becomes more loved than Magneto himself. Xavier also says “I often think of what you suffered at the hands of those frightened cruel men. I’m very glad you didn’t give into despair.” That’s the opposite of the path that Magneto took, Xorn is someone who sees the love in everyone, and doesn’t seek revenge. So, Xorn isn’t just a scheme to infiltrate Xavier’s, it’s also about trying out Charles’s path.

I absolutely adore Leon’s art in this story. The coloring makes the colors pop right off the page, particularly the glowing blue ‘star’ within Xorn’s helmet. The shot of Charles in Cerebra, silhouetted, is another visual highlight. When I read it this time, I would sometimes lose track of the story and instead spend time just getting lost in the color and texture of the panels.

One of the great things about this story is how Morrison once again explores the downsides of mutation in a realistic way. Not everyone’s going to have an action friendly power, some would just have weird, inexplicable mutations, like this kid. How does humanity deal with a branch of itself that’s so alien? That’s a question in Beast and Beak’s storylines, and it’s the big thing here. Humanity isn’t equipped to conceive of this kid as ‘human,’ and that’s why he’s killed. It’s hard to blame them, only Xorn knows what he could become.

A lingering question about Magneto as Xorn is whether he totally believes what he’s doing, or is instead presenting more of a parody of what he sees as Charles’s perspective. The line “there’s no word for monster in any mutant dictionary” is pushing it, so New Agey, could he really believe that? We’ve certainly seen some monsters in the mutant world in this book? It’s probably the kind of thing he imagines Xavier saying. So, Xorn is Magneto playing Charles, while Charles himself is taking on a more pro-active Magneto like postion. It’s the flip of moral polarity, which is then reversed again in Planet X, when we see Magneto present an upside down map of the world.

The issue wraps up with some pretty prose about Xorn using ink on leaves to write down his thoughts, and him sitting down to have some food with an old ancestor. Is that scene entirely invented? Not necessarily, Magneto constructed this elaborate backstory, perhaps he’s having some fun working with it.

Either way, this issue is a wonderful short story, a great and innovative use of the X-Men concept. It’s also one of our most thorough glimpses at Xorn, and full of interesting clues and questions about his masquerade. A lot of people criticized Morrison for not giving a full background on how Magneto played Xorn, on the distinctions between the two of them. I’d like to know how he thought it went down, but as it is now, it becomes a shifting Rorshach picture. You can never be sure where one ends and the other begins, or if Xorn ever really ‘was.’ It’s up to you to piece things together, and I enjoy doing the work to figure it out.