Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Whole Damn Thing--NEW X-MEN: PART 2

Okey-doke, we'll just jump right in after I throw a sop to the FTC: I bought this book with my own damn money too, just like the one before it and the one after. Happy? OK.

Book 2 of Grant Morrison's New X-Men run is an interesting beast. If looked at as a trilogy, Book 1 is the kicking over of the standard X-Men checkerboard as a statement of purpose, Book 2 is the segment where Morrison puts everything back together and beings world-building the X-Men as he sees it. Book 3 is the unmaking of almost everything in Book 2, but we'll get to that soon enough, let's dig in.

After a pretty good done-in-one Xorn solo story (with art by the . . .well, unlikely, team of John Paul Leon and Bill Sienkiewicz) we get into some world-building with more on Xavier's new pet project, X-Corporation. X-Corporation expands on the notion of the X-Men as mutant search and rescue on a global scale and, handily enough, keeps the other X-characters in play by randomly assigning some of the second and third string characters to various satellite offices around the globe. One might either see it as the X-Peace Corps, or the X-Character Welfare Program, depending on how you look at it. It's all drawn by Igor Kordey, with all the good and bad that implies.

This leads off an arc wherein the X-Corporation, led by Professor X and Phoenix, try to deal with two competing issues. One, there's a freakish living weapon in the Channel Tunnel turning everything it touches into zombies (more or less) and the arrival of infamous ("infamous" meaning in this case "apparently well known though we never heard of him until now") criminal Fantomex on the scene. Fantomex is one of my favourite creations of this era, and not just because he's basically Diabolik in an X-men comic. Fantomex seems to have connections both to the mysterious creature in the Tunnel (whom he calls Weapon Twelve) and to Wolverine (who is not Weapon "X" but Weapon "Ten") but doesn't seem immediately forthcoming on either of them. Yet.

This arc raised quite a lot of hell at the time because they killed off Darkstar, and yes, of course there are comic fans who lost their shit because Darkstar, a 25-year cipher of a character who was Russian, shot stuff out of her hands and . . .yyyeah, that's all, was killed and it was proof that Morrison didn't get the X-Men or whatever. Darkstar, for God's sake. There are longtime comic fans who don't even know who the hell she was. Comics--it's own punchline since whenever.

At least he gave her a damn funeral (again, drawn by John Paul Leon and Sienkiewicz. It's a funky melange to be sure) Basically, these issues don't comprise an "arc" as such as an effort to keep certain plot points ticking over. One--Cyclops is still withdrawing into himself, both from Phoenix and the X-Men in general. His continual assessment of his life and his situation and the ultimate potential for success of the X-Men's mission comes to the fore here and in a real sense forms the spine of the run as a whole--a lot rides on Cyclops' decisions, ultimately, but more on that when the time comes.

In the meantime, though, he's fooling around with Emma Frost (Lord, speaking of things that caused people to lose their shit back in the day . . .) It starts out as "therapy" to help him with his withdrawal, but of course it mutates into something else soon enough . . .on both sides. Cyclops is obviously reaching out to Emma more than he can to anyone else, and Emma, the longtime shit-stirrer, begins to discover something in herself as well. It was (and is) unlikely-bordering-on-unthinkable, but Morrison makes it work without making it feel too soapy (and seeing as how X-men has been the exemplar of superhero as ongoing soap opera for longer than most of us reading this have been alive, it's no mean feat) and keeps it in the background for most of this volume.

There's another done-in-one story that deals with the fallout of the Sentinel massacre of Genosha and the death of Magneto which gives us a glimpse of something that'd been hovering in the background--Magneto, in death, is being made into a messianic figure in mutant culture, succeeding in promoting his view better in death than he ever did alive. This notion of what one does or is able to do as an active or passive participant will come up again, and is a central thesis of New X-Men as a whole. For now, we get a rather striking (if somewhat dodgy in terms of plausibility--Magnetic fields containing memories? Really?) issue wherein Magneto delivers a stirring posthumous message from the ruins of Genosha. It doesn't seem like much at the time, but as with many moments in New X-Men, from small splashes come big ripples.

The X-Corporation tour stops in Mumbai in the next issue, wherein a new student is added to the school in the person of Dust (who's a Muslim girl who can turn to sand) who's actually become an enduring member of the lower-tier X-Books, as I understand it. In addition, Professor X gets dumped by Lilandra as the Shi'ar bugger off because the X-Men are nothing but trouble (good riddance, really) and the world tour thing finally wraps up . . .

. . .Just in time for "Riot at Xavier's," which may be one of my favourite arcs in this entire run. It might be tempting to say this is the beginning of the "unmaking" of Morrison's structure as I mentioned before, but it's more of an attempt to bring various simmering issues to a head in anticipation for the detonation to come. There's also a foreshadowing of future events in the plot for this arc and what happens in microcosm (the Omega Gang stages a riot/failed revolution at the school) will happen in macrocosm in a little bit.

But let's get right to the heart of this thing. Quentin Quire, uber-nerd honor roll student at Xavier's, has a bit of breakdown and, fueled by the drug "Kick" (which, at the time, seemed like a mere mechanism to raise the stakes) forms the Omega Gang out of a group of similarly disaffected Xavier students and begins beating the crap out of humans and generally stirring things up, which in the short term leads to yet another "open to the public day" at Xavier's ending in disaster. Naturally, as with all embarrassing and poorly thought out acts of adolescent rebellion, this is done less with an eye towards challenging the established order and more to do with impressing chicks, but what else is new?

Despite this, however, Quire does an excellent job of puncturing the idea of Xavier's as some liberal happy fun time fantasyland where everyone gets along and actually does challenge some long-held notions about how the X-Men work. In his proposal, Morrison equates mutants with youth, and a force for change, whereas humanity is equated to parents, to the Old Order that wants to retard progress. Well, here it is, only now it's applied against the people who, for 30+ years we assumed were "in the right" just because they happened to be the heroes of the book. Quire claims that all Xavier's done is "find new ways to do nothing," while Xavier and the staff struggle to balance their high-minded ideals with the need for discipline, which, as they wring their hands, crumbles. By the end of the arc, no one's really come out a winner (the Omega Gang crumbles, Quire "dies," more or less) Xavier's had a serious knock-back and several students are dead.

Oh yes, and Frank Quitely gets to draw a pretty awesome car/foot chase. Also, Xorn has, while this is going on, wiped out a group of U-Men and seems awfully focused on keeping it a secret. Wonder what that's about?

Meanwhile, things get worse. Cyclops and Emma's affair is discovered by Phoenix, who's high-handedness about the whole thing causes him to leave in a huff (although it happens so fast one wonders if he hadn't been actively looking for an excuse) just in time for Emma to confess her love of Cyclops and then to be shot by a diamond bullet, shattered into a million pieces, and a murder mystery to suddenly break out.

This sets up "Murder at the Mansion," a two-parter wherein Bishop and Sage of the sister book X-Treme X-Men (hey kids, remember when people told you that the 00's were so much better than the 90's because people didn't use "Extreme" in comics anymore? It's a load of crapola) show up to solve the mystery and, incidentally, pick up on some ancillary plots going on in the wake of the Riot--Angel and Beak become parents (and get caught up in a pretty torturous red herring) we learn exactly what a "mutant crime procedural" looks like (I rather like Bishop's explanation to Xavier of how much of a potential headache mutant crime can be) and while we learn the identity of the murderer, there is the indelible feeling that this is one small piece of a larger puzzle. Who supplied the murder weapon? Who's supplying the drug "Kick" to the school, and most importantly, how in the hell is anyone expecting to keep the X-Men together when they seem to be flying apart at lightspeed?

Well, we'll address this next time when we look at the third and final chunk of New X-Men--questions get answered, things get revealed, everything goes to hell and then goes to hell some more, then gets better, and it eve has one of the coolest Cyclops bits ever, and I'm just as amazed I can type that without irony as you are. Join us then!

No comments: