Friday, September 26, 2008

New X-Men: "Planet X": Part II (#148-150)

One of the interesting things about the arc is the way it positions Magneto’s revolution within the political climate of a post 9/11, Bush governed world. Magneto realizes that he needs a few soundbites rather than big speeches, The fickle nature of the populace is central to the arc, they don’t want real change, they just want to hold on to their comfortable lives. In that respect, it’s easy to sympathize with Magneto. In stories, a desire to maintain the status quo generally isn’t an admirable trait. People who just want to live their lives aren’t the ones we care about in a story where the stakes are global. Particularly because they remain largely off screen, the fickle populace acts essentially as a drain on the revolution. Magneto’s ideas fail because people don’t care enough to engage with them.

Or at least that’s how he views it. What Morrison would probably argue is that the kind of revolution Magneto poses was always flawed because it’s very much an Invisibles Volume I “Us vs. Them” showdown. It’s fingers fighting for control of the hand, that kind of thinking will never lead to real growth or change. Even if Magneto’s plan succeeded, he makes it clear that he’s going to keep humans around as a servant underclass, taking the jobs that mutants don’t want.

Perhaps the toughest scene to reconcile with previous presentations of Magneto is the opening of #149, where Magneto and the gang oversee the movement of humans into a crematorium. On one level, you can reduce any narrative inconsistencies to Magneto was on kick and insane, there anything goes. However, it’s more interesting to consider what Morrison does present, to not necessarily try to justify it with previous stories and instead accept it on the terms of what he’s presented in New X-Men. What Magneto is doing is presenting the extreme other side of what Xavier does, the kind of confrontational viewpoint that Quentin Quire also advocated. He’s powerful enough to destroy all existing social order, and pave the way for a world dominated by mutants, but his revolution gets tripped up every step of the way because it’s not practical for the real world. As Xavier makes clear at the end of the arc, what he stands for makes more sense as a t-shirt than as a real world practice.

That said, on a base level, much of the arc is about the basic insanity of Magneto’s viewpoints and the spiral into a nightmare world of a man with way too much power, and little relevance in today’s world. Magneto is George Bush, he is the American military-industrial complex, frustratingly one note in a world that’s infinitely more complex. I love the absurdity of Magneto smacking Beak to win the argument about whether a carrot can feel pain, and if it’s a fruit or vegetable.

After killing Basilisk because of a fart joke, Magneto has a falling out with Esme. She says “Are you waiting for them to stop you,” which functions on a number of levels. On the one hand, it’s a meta comment about the nature of superhero comics. Villains will always push things to the brink, but never pull the final trigger, always leaving the door open for the heroes to come in and save the day. Esme felt empowered by a Magneto who offered the chance to upend the status quo and become the ruler of a new mutant empire. As part of a hive mind, she’d be particularly interested in asserting her singular identity. Under Magneto’s wing, she drops the prim and proper Emma Frost inspired clothes she wore with the other Cuckoos for an Omega Gang inspired vamp outfit. She’s playing at the being the bad girl, wielding a whip just to add to the image.

But, she’s growing frustrated with Magneto. She’s from a younger, instant gratification generation, the kind of people who don’t have time for Magneto’s Shakespearean speeches. If he’s going to flip the world, just do it already. She doesn’t understand what the hold up is. Of course, she does recognize the self destructive streak in Magneto, he has everything he wants, and still he’s obsessed with showing up Charles and proving that his way is the right way.

This all leads up to the central scene of the arc, in which Magneto is confronted by Xorn, who appears to have gained his own consciousness as an entity separate from Magneto. It’s reinforced throughout the arc, the fact that people prefer Xorn to Magneto, and now Xorn shines through as Magneto’s conscience. You could argue that this Xorn is Xavier speaking to Magneto, but I prefer to think it’s the Xorn fiction suit reclaiming agency and saving the world. People who criticize the Xorn/Magneto twist harp on the narrative implausibiltities of it all, ignoring the rich allegorical layer. Xorn is the best in Magneto, the kick addled old man we see here is the worst. He says “I am your inner star, Erik. I will never let you be.” What’s doomed Magneto’s schemes in the past is his conscience, he’s never been able to be fully evil, to wipe out humans, because he has an innate decency. On some level, he is Xorn, and as reconfigured in this story, it’s that part of him that continually makes him lose when he battles the X-Men.

When Magneto speaks to Charles, he makes it sound like this entire assault on Manhattan is an attempt to prove that his way can work. As Xorn, he saw Xavier changing the world, making it a better place for mutants, and transcending the human/mutant conflict in a way that Magneto never could. Magneto wants to prove that he does have relevance, but in reality, Xavier took the best of Magneto’s ideas and applied it to X-Corps. Ernst sums it up when she says “Nobody likes what you’re doing, Magneto. It’s boring and old-fashioned. It’s all coming to an end and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.”

It all builds to issue #150. Claremont’s #150 was a major turning point in the redemption of Magneto, when he almost killed Kitty Pryde, he hit bottom and started down the path that would eventually lead to his rehabilitation around #200. Morrison’s #150 is a strange climax, an emotionally charged spiral towards insanity for all involved. Let me first note that Jiminez’s cover for this issue is one of my favorite comics covers ever, a singularly epic image, that’s nicely echoed by the beautiful image of the Phoenix that opens the issue.

Jiminez kills it again with the outré image of Wolverine reforming himself as he and Jean cross space to confront Magneto. Jean says “I had to die to come back, Logan. But I don’t know how long they’ll let me stay,” reinforcing the idea that it’s not really Magneto’s energy charge that kills her at the end of the issue, she’s always dead, this is just her fading ember doing one last cleansing duty in the universe.

The issue is structured as a series of assaults on Magneto, each destroying a little piece of him. Beak shows up and doesn’t even fight him, he just shouts “Xavier school is the best school,” a cutting refutation of the revolution Magneto is trying to create. It’s all about showing up Charles ideologically, and he can’t do that here. A more showy assault is Fantomex’s dive from E.V.A into the building, guns blazing, bullets screaming. I love Fantomex, and I’m glad that Grant brought him back here to spin through the air and spout catchy one liners like “You and whose knees?” I think Fantomex would have been a great fit in Seven Soldiers, he’s the kind of guy who, if written right, could headline a mindblowing ongoing series.

Again, it’s not so much the bullets that bother Magneto as it is Fantomex asking “Is everything you say a cliché?” Magneto in this storyline has old ideas, and with each passing moment, the X-Men prove him more and more irrelevant. Scott does this too when he tells Magneto how much he loved Xorn. Magneto constructed Xorn out of a piece of himself, a piece that he now claims to hate, but deep down knows may be better. But, he’s stuck in the old paradigm, he’s got to be the bad guy. He won’t evolve.

Next up, Esme turns on her mentor and assaults his mind. She talks about being inspired by Magneto as an idea, then getting gradually disappointed as she comes to know the real man, another pointed comment on how Magneto is more powerful as a symbol than as a person. He sends her earrings through her brain, killing her. The scene where Emma holds her dying body is particularly interesting. Emma talks about how proud she is, even as Esme rails against her. Esme is in a period of rebellion, she has to reject her parental figures to claim her own self identity, even as she follows much the same path that Emma did, latching on to a powerful man and trying to use her sexuality to make her way. When she speaks to Magneto, she even notes that he doesn’t look at the way she dresses, she wanted to be everything for him, but he was just an old man. Emma knows that rebellion, it’s the same rebellion she had. In the end, Emma has more in common with Esme than with the Cuckoos who blindly follow her.

This all leads to the frantic climax as Magneto struggles to prove that he is in fact Magneto. Wearing Xorn’s helmet to protect his scarred face, he finds that the people no longer believe he is who he says he is, and the X-Men are reacting against Xorn’s betrayal, not to Magneto’s attack. In the end, Magneto is beaten down, the populace he inspired from beyond the grave now rejects him and won’t even acknowledge him. I love the panel of him tearing off the Xorn mask, and screams “See you morons! I AM MAGNETO!” The Phoenix mocks him, asking “Is this the Magneto anyone knows? Is this what he looks like?” Identity is fluid, a construct. Magneto stands for certain things, he appears a certain way, beaten down, Magneto can no longer match up to the symbol who inspired people. The revolution has come to pass, and it’s failed miserably. He says that the Xorn mask is suffocating him, the identity that represents the best hope of what he can be has prevented him from achieving his goals. It is his conscience, tearing him down.

Xavier sums it all up when he says that “the worst thing you ever did was to come back, Erik.” Xavier has learned from his experiences, he wants to “put away the old dreams and manifestos,” and just listen to the new generation. That’s probably why he’s stepping down as head of the school, he got obsessed with his own new vision, and it backfired when he alienated people like Quentin Quire. There will always be forces in opposition with each other, that’s the way that change happens. What Xavier is saying is that his and Magneto’s ideological opposition did not breed positive change, it only reinforced their previous biases and locked them into ideological corners. Xavier saw the need to change and did so, Magneto can’t make that same adjustment, he has been rendered irrelevant in the face of a new group of X-Men. I particularly like that Xavier says all this while surrounded with a cast of new characters from Morrison’s run. Sure, Beast and Cyclops are there, but it’s the new faces who stand out, the universe has expanded, and the old villains don’t have the place they once had.

So, Magneto kills the Phoenix, and asks for death. It’s a strange set of beats, but the scene works for me. The entire arc has been pitched at this insane level and having Wolverine chop off his head in a single panel is as good a way to end it as any. We’ve already seen Wolverine acknowledge that is place in this world is to be a killer, in this case, it’s a mercy killing. In that sense, Wolverine is much like the Phoenix itself, he destroys things that don’t work, paving the way for people like Charles who can build things that do. A lot of the run has dealt with the fact that it takes a crisis to produce a change. Cassandra Nova provided the impetus for Xavier’s new vision of the world, and now Magneto’s insane assault on Manhattan gives Logan the excuse to kill him, and by extension prove that his ideology is a destructive dead end that doesn’t work anymore.

The story ends with Jean literally slipping away into white light as chaos continues to spin all around. After such an insane arc, it’s appropriate to go out with any sort easy denouement. The Cuckoos claim that “something’s gone wrong with the whole universe,” Scott screams for Xorn, Jean slips away and we jump 150 years into the future.

So, that’s Planet X. It’s an arc that has some issues, but it’s also thematically fascinating, hugely ambitious and beautifully drawn by Phil Jiminez. Is this the Magneto I knew and loved from Claremont’s run? Perhaps, you can make the leap, but I don’t necessarily view Morrison’s run as a direct continuation of what Claremont did. He has his own spins on the characters, drawing from their essence as defined by Claremont, but molding them into something that makes sense for his storytelling purposes. I can forgive the disparity between 80s Magneto and this Magneto because I think the story he tells gets to the core of the character in an interesting way.

I particularly love the way the arc begins by telling us that Xorn is a construct, a total fiction who’s just been playing us the whole time, and the arc ends with Xorn saving the day. Xorn makes Magneto doubt himself, he brings Magneto’s conscience back, and in the end, Xorn obscures Magneto. He makes it so that the populace doesn’t know who’s real anymore. The X-Men believe he’s Xorn, the people don’t know who he is, and by the end, it’s Magneto who’s not real. He’s just a face on a t-shirt, an abstract idea that’s tied to a man who can’t match up. And, in the end, Wolverine returns him to a pure idea state.

Next up is “Here Comes Tomorrow,” an arc I’ve only read once, and struggled with the first time. I’m eager to delve into it again and figure out exactly what is up with the most avant garde section of Morrison’s tenure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New X-Men: "Planet X:" Part I (#146-148)

In “Planet X,” the series we’ve been reading for the past thirty issues is hijacked by an insane Magneto, and taken down to hell for the big action climax to top off the run. It’s a story that got a wildly mixed response when it was first coming out, and you can feel the controversy as you read. With some Morrison works, you get the sense that he’s moved on by the time he reaches the end of a long run on a book. This story had probably been in his head so long that he stopped worrying about specifics when it came time to put it on the page. It’s hypercompressed in the same way the Final Crisis is, skipping over some of the major beats, and frequently relying on the reader to fill in the gaps.

As such, it reads best not so much as a literal story, but as a psychogenic fugue, the chronicle of a drug addled insane man’s schizophrenic break with reality. The core of the storyline, the scene that makes it work for me, is when Xorn speaks to Magneto, the persona he created, the light he could have been, tearing down the realty of what he is. There’s a lot in here that doesn’t make sense, but so much of it is brilliant, I still love the storyline. It’s a lot like “Riot at Xavier’s” in that sense, on a narrative plausibility level, it doesn’t make much sense, but emotionally and conceptually, it’s brilliant.

The first issue was famous for breaking the internet in half with the Xorn/Magneto revelation. Even before that happens, we’re approaching the end, scenes spiraling faster and faster. Jean goes into space in one page, Xorn’s pitch the special class happens off panel, and by the end of the issue, the X-Men are all separated and out of commission.

This all sets up the revelation that Magneto was Xorn all along. I love this moment, though it can be tough to square this version of Magneto with the character from Claremont’s run. Before unmasking, he says that Charles had his chance and hasn’t been able to do much with it. This ties back to what happened during the riot, Magneto saw Quentin as a kindred spirit, and he was shut down by Xavier’s establishment. Back then, the Cuckoos said it was about in vs. out, and Magneto’s always been out. He has a martyr complex, and needs oppression to survive. When he talks about flipping the map, what he’s really talking about is the need to change the paradigm of the world so that the oppressed are now the ones with power, and the establishment is broken. Esme, the quintessential insider, is waiting for this to happen, waiting to be the queen of a new world, but Magneto never does it.

Morrison’s Magneto has a lot in common with his depiction of Lex Luthor. As a comment on the cyclical nature of superhero comics, he has them perpetually failing to ever upend the status quo. Perhaps they know deep down that their way isn’t the best way, and doom themselves to failure. That’s the idea posed later on, as the Special Class waits for Magneto to actually do something. In the context of this scene, Magneto is looking at Xavier’s failure to assert mutant dominance. Xavier has moved beyond Magneto’s us vs. them paradigm, and Magneto sees that as abandoning the war.

In issue #127, we saw Magneto through Xorn describe the tragedy of a mutant destroyed by human action. There, it was a sad story, Xorn lamenting that if he could save everyone, he would. That’s the core of Magneto’s motivation in this arc, through his Kick addled insanity, he thinks that he’s going to make the world safe for mutants. In his world, on “Planet X,” that mutant child would survive because he wouldn’t be subject to the human idea of normality. What Magneto fails to acknowledge is that the best way to move beyond the human idea of normal is to live like the world is the way it should be. Xavier’s idea in the mid section of the run is to create a school that’s so great, humans have no choice but to acknowledge his way works.

Magneto is a violent revolutionary, and this arc, like “Riot,” is largely about the way that violent revolutions are almost inevitably doomed to failure. Both Magneto and Quentin were motivated by rage, hopped up on kick, they used their powers to disrupt the status quo, without offering a plausible alternative for a new world. In issue #147, Magneto destroys Manhattan and plunges the entire world into chaos. The revolution happens and it’s successful, but he soon finds that even mutants aren’t ready to have their lives so disrupted in search of Magneto’s dream.

We first see the city at sunset, beautiful with the strange metal coils lacing through it. This is the last time it won’t look like a nightmare. Magneto has big plans for the city, he wants to build a mutant utopia, with the aid of his new Brotherhood, the Special Class. The question arises, why would he use the Special Class as his army? And, what was his pitch to them as Xorn that brought them all on board? I’m guessing he told them basically what he says here, that he’s going to flip the entire world, so that they can be the rulers and it’ll be a new mutant utopia. Spoken by Xorn, the zen master, that’s an appealing thought. So far, they haven’t gotten a real idea of what Magneto’s limitations are, and that’s why I can see Beak going along with things. He’s naïve about it, happy that someone would consider him worthwhile.

As I mentioned before, a critical component of the arc is the fact that nearly everyone he encounters actually preferred Xorn to Magneto. Ernst keeps asking what happened to Xorn, and it’s got to hurt Magneto to find out that people preferred this fake him to the real person. He claims that he was biding his time, setting things in motion while he was hiding as Xorn, but the question arises, why did he have to do that in the first place? Couldn’t he have just killed the X-Men with the nano-sentinels in their blood? Would it really have been so hard to find mutants to back his cause? Why go to these elaborate lengths to infiltrate Xavier’s Academy?

That question gets to the core of the arc, the schizophrenic nature of Magneto’s personality. He’s always been written in a way that fluctuates from hero to villain. Claremont’s run takes him from the over the top villain of the Lee/Kirby era to a nuanced character who Xavier trusts enough to leave in charge of the school. By the end of the run, Magneto has been forced back into the role of villain by editorial, though Claremont actually writes him as a guy who just wants to be left alone, but keeps getting dragged back into action. In X-Men #1-3, he’s a guy who’s struggling with a legacy of violence, who’s seen more as a symbol of revolution than as the actual person he is. That portrayal squares nicely with what we see here. So much of this arc is a meta comment on the way that comics franchises inevitably spiral back towards the status quo. Magneto has to be evil because that’s the platonic idea of X-Men that’s sold to the media. Because of that edict, Magneto is on this perpetual slide between reform and villainy, depending on how the writers and editorial see him at any moment.

The Xorn/Magneto dichotomy is a way to magnify his changing motivations and nature. Xorn is Magneto at the best he could be, using his powers in ways that aren’t destructive at all, but instead heal people. It’s notable that Magneto chooses to create a character who is utterly non-violent, much more so than even Xavier himself. He likely chose that persona because it’s the best way to remain under the radar. If he was more aggressive, people would suspect Xorn, but even when he kills Quentin Quire, they assume that Xorn is on a higher level and doing what needs to be done. As Xorn, Magneto is well liked, he’s accepted and treated well. It’s partially a performance, but on some level, I think Magneto gets so lost in the role, he believes it. Xorn is the person he could be if he gave up the old grudges and decided to live a better life.

But, in the end, the old Magneto shows through and he gives up the Xorn ruse, and tells the world, “Brother mutants. The great day has come.” He has “liberated” them, but it turns out they’re not so eager to be liberated. I think this story was written before the War in Iraq, but it feels very much like a comment on the hubris and inevitable failure that comes from deciding you need to “free” a people without any plan for what to do afterwards. Magneto defeats humanity and upends the governmental system in one day, but what then? The jokes about how distorted his voice is coming out of the speakers are great because they bring this grand scene down to a practical reality. No one has any clue what’s going on, and Magneto just monologues to salve his ego.

Throughout the story, Toad functions as a Shakespearean fool, constantly tearing down the illusions Magneto builds up about himself. I particularly like what he says “you’ve been declared dead so often…I just don’t think they know it’s really you.” That’s a critical concept in the final issue, where it turns out that the real Magneto is less ‘real,’ has less power than the fake Xorn. Most of the comedy in this issue comes from the fact that Magneto can’t live up to the legend built up around him in a world with “short attention spans and high expectations.” Revolution has become another commodity, and just like the real Che wouldn’t do it for people who wear his shirt, the real Magneto is a disappointment to people who saw him as an all purpose symbol of what mutankind can be.

This speech is also a comment on the fickle comics audience, who “want you the way you used to be. Or preferably better.” It’s the classic “the same, but different” demand for franchise stories. Either way, I really like this stuff because it ties into the theme of identity as a construct that’s been present throughout the entire run. The idea of Magneto is more powerful than the real person. Magneto is a symbol of mutantkind standing up for itself, fighting for a better world, but the actual Magneto is just a violent terrorist, ranting to a world that can’t hear him.

On the streets, the special class gets the first real idea of what Magneto’s plans are. Esme boasts that she’s “pushing the humans along my mind—the whip’s just for show.” She buys into Magneto’s dream, she wants to be like Emma, the White Queen ruling the world. Beak and the rest of the gang have their illusion about what they’re doing broken, this isn’t about creating a mutant utopia, it’s about punishing humanity for what they did to Magneto. It’s still about those old grudges, about us vs. them. Magneto’s revolution was one born out of rage, and after that initial rage is gone, all that’s left is violence, chaos and the promise that once they get through the ‘birth pangs,’ everything’s going to be so much better. It’s the way that most violent revolutions inevitably fail, if all you have is a hatred for the group in power, what happens when the group in power falls?

Magneto celebrates using Xavier’s “pacifist insititue” to train his soldiers, unaware that the Special Class does not buy into his doctrine. Magneto clings to these old ideas, he’s become a self absorbed old man, totally out of touch with the present day world.

Issue #148 features one of my favorite sequences in the entire run, Wolverine and Jean on the satellite, plunging into the sun together. I haven’t talked about Jiminez’s art on this arc yet, but I think he does a fantastic job. He has a huge amount of stuff to render, and I don’t think anyone else could make it the convincing big budget ending that he pulls off. And, as I’ve said before, Jiminez draws the best looking people in comics. In the “Morrison Manifesto,” Grant talks about wanting to make the X-Men sexy, to have a comic that the women who loved Hugh Jackman in the movie could pick up and get into. The sequence with Wolverine and Jean Grey getting progressively sweatier does that, two great looking people just sitting around, waiting to die. It’s some of the best Jiminez art on the run.

Jean says that the Phoenix isn’t like a god, it’s a force that “burns away what doesn’t work.” The Phoenix is evolution itself, the same engine that motivated Cassandra Nova, the challenge to the status quo that produces change. As the pages pass, we can see Wolverine and Jean getting progressively more run down, and as they move closer to death, more open with each other. I particularly love the moment where Wolverine tells her that they chose to make him a killer because of who he was, that Jean would hate the real him. But, it’s not the past that matter, it’s the present. She’s seen the good in him, she loves the man he’s become. “How could I ever hate you?”

This leads to the absolutely epic finale of the issue, where Logan stabs Jean to liberate the Phoenix force and save the universe. The way I see it, Jean essentially dies here, when she returns in issue #150, she’s a construct of the Phoenix, there for one last mission before being flung into the White Hot Room and the craziness of “Here Comes Tomorrow.” Jean is dying, and Logan senses that the only way to unleash the Phoenix Force, to unleash her full potential, is to kill her here. It pains him to do so because it confirms that all he’s good for is killing. But, by this point he seems to have come to terms with that part of himself. If he’s a killer, he can at least kill for the right reasons, and here, his killing gives life.

This leads to the startling series of panels where Wolverine and Jean walk into a sun. I know I’ve complained about X-Men in space stuff before, but this is brilliant, an undeniable high point of the run. It works because it’s so epic, the emotion of the scene is transposed into this astonishing rush of sunlight that tears them all to pieces. The pages themselves seem to be crackling with heat energy, the two figures gradually turning to fire, then nothingness. It feels like watching a sci-fi movie as a kid, when things are so much more epic. But, it’s grounded in adult emotion, it’s one of my favorite Morrison moments.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New X-Men: 'Assault on Weapon Plus' (#142-145)

“Assault on Weapon Plus” feels very different than the rest of Grant’s run on New X-Men, it's a European feeling over the top pop art experience. Drawn by someone else, this arc would probably feel like the previous Fantomex arc, drawn by Chris Bachalo, it’s a totally different experience.

The first time I read this, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Bachalo art. I didn’t get his aesthetic, and felt like it was too stylized, a major departure from the relatively realistic style we’ve seen in the series to date. However, after reading the arc a couple of times, and enjoying Bachalo’s art on Death: The High Cost of Living and Mike Carey’s X-Men, I came around. Reading a Bachalo comic is as much an aesthetic experience as a narrative one. Particularly in the last three issues, most of the pleasure of the arc comes from experiencing this intricately detailed, alien looking pages. The panel layouts are great, and create a really unique reading experience. He’s not the most clear storyteller, but for this arc, his style really works.

The best issue of the arc is the first, which chronicles Scott’s nightlong struggle to get drunk at the Hellfire Club. The entire issue is punctuated by shots of a stripper who’s using her psychic powers to look like Scott's fantasy version of Jean. She’s wearing Jean’s Black Queen outfit, but Scott punctures the mood, choosing to focus on the reality of the situation rather than the illusion. He knows that she’s acting, playing a part for him, and he is unable to go along with that. Part of that is probably that after Emma’s all convincing illusions, this doesn’t do it for him anymore.

The greatest strength of the issue is the subtle comedy stuff, the way that the bar plays on the X-Men’s history. In this post-Genosha world, they don't fight their enemies, they drink and bicker with them. Unlike the classic Claremont issue with Wolverine and Colossus go out drinking and fight Juggernaut, there’s no fights here, just a gradual spiral into wastedness. It’s a very adult, sophisticated feeling issue. I’m kind of surprised that Marvel allowed them to do an issue where the ostensible heroes of the book drink so much.

‘Decompression’ bothers me in comics, spending whole pages on pretty much nothing is tough when you’re paying so much per page. But, I love the use of the whip cracking panels as transitions here, they build the mood and give a visual rhythm to the pages that really works. It feels very cinematic, like a dissolve between scenes. And, I love the way Bachalo draws her as all legs.

Scott makes clear the essence of his character arc when he says “Every time I look at Jean I see this teenage girl I met…and I feel like a teenage boy.” He’s placed into a role he doesn’t want to play, and it’s so liberating to be with Emma and have the chance to ‘be himself.’ The notion of put on identities/fiction suits is key to a lot of Morrison work, here he spins it through the lens of the X-Men soap opera. Similar thematic ideas are present in the Magneto/Xorn mess that culminates in ‘Planet X,’ or in the arc with Cassandra and Xavier.

The core of the run is the idea that sometimes it takes an agent of evolution, like Cassandra or Emma, to help someone become what they’re really meant to be. Xavier is much better as a global representative of mutants, out in the open and unashamed, but it took the awful experience with Cassandra Nova to make him realize that. Similarly, it took Emma’s meddling to realize just how bad things had gotten with Jean, agents of chaos disrupt order, and in the end, make things better.

Scott claims that he’s totally lucid, moments before he collapses onto the floor. I love the way Bachalo draws floating green bubbles around his and Wolverine’s heads to convey the effects of alcohol. It’s a choice that has no grounds in reality, but makes perfect sense in a comic book world. I’d love to read more X-Men comics like this, that scale back on the action and just spend time exploring the world that mutants live in.

But, it’s time to move on, and the next three issues take us inside ‘The World,’ an artificial space in which time can be manipulated to accelerate evolution at will. It’s a classic Morrison concept, recalling the fantastic moments in JLA: Rock of Ages, where our heroes see a whole civilization arise and destroy itself in a matter of hours. That said, it also feels a bit like Morrison on autopilot, the core concepts of the arc could easily fit into a mid level JLA storyline. I love a lot of the panel layouts, but most of the important character and narrative stuff is confined to the first and last issue of the arc.

I do enjoy the Super Sentinel’s philosophical journey, he has spent his whole life inside this concrete dome, and doesn’t know if there’s anything beyond those walls. When he bursts out of the dome, it’s the equivalent of us leaping through the sky and breaking into a larger, totally different universe. Weapon XV crafts this mythology around himself, and imagines himself the ruler of a new universe that he has just discovered. As much as I appreciate the action stuff earlier in the issue, it’s that moment that makes the whole thing worthwhile. He asks “What is the purpose of life,” and literally wants an answer. He was programmed to obey orders, but doesn’t have any orders. What should he do?

This is a major contrast to Fantomex, who has chosen to betray against his bosses and spread chaos instead of playing the role he was supposed to. The human government behind this program wanted Fantomex to play the role of an action hero in a superhero team created to destroy mutants. This concept, like most X-Men stuff, plays better if it exists in a world without the other Marvel Universe heroes. If mutants arose in our world, it would make sense that the government would create their own superhero team to destroy them, through genetic engineering. But, in a world with the Avengers, why would they need to go to all this trouble?

Either way, I love when his supervisor says “We’d have scripted you be the kind of character people love…and you choose to go Faux French!” It’s all constructed personas, they wanted him to be one thing, he chooses to defy that and go another way.

This theme ties in with what’s going on with Wolverine. He wants to find out who he “really is,” but it turns out there’s only layers and layers of false personalities designed to control him. I hate the idea of the Wolverine: Origins miniseries they did a few years back because a large part of the character is his mystique, a mysterious past is always going to more interesting than any concrete answers about who he was. This issue seems to deliberately debunk that ‘James’ persona, pointing to it as just another way to control him. In that sense, the constructed personality is much like the personality that Scott keeps himself in, if you believe that you are a killer, you’re going to kill, if you believe that you’re a good person, you’ll do good. But, trying to live up to a self image can lead to trouble when you don’t want to be your self image any more.

Wolverine talks to Weapon XV about the purpose of life, a conversation he could be having with himself. Weapon XV is destined to be a killer, but “I could have been a painter as well” he says. Wolverine has seen his past, he realizes that he, like Weapon XV, was built to kill, so why not save the world and kill Weapon XV. The station blows up and the arc ends in that fire. It’s an abrupt ending, but I really like it. Everything’s spiraling into craziness, and then all of a sudden it’s over. Things will pick up right here with ‘Planet X,’ but this a great final moment for Bachalo to go out on.

This isn’t my favorite New X-Men arc, but it’s got a lot of great moments. I’d love to see Morrison and Bachalo work together again since they created something really unique and cool with this story. It’s one last burst of fun before the heavy darkness that’ll fall on the series in the next arc, the controversial nightmare fever dream ‘Planet X.’