Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reign of Error 3: Welcome to the Errordome

Concluding our rather painful look at X-Men as a title and a franchise and how it stumbled and fumbled around in the wilderness until Grant Morrison made the scene, we close with the last X-Men book before the big takeover. This is X-Men as it was and never shall be again, this is actually the end of the X-Men's 90's period. This is X-Men #113, the final installment of "Eve of Destruction."

Time has not been kind to Chris Claremont.

Ever since getting kicked off the X-Men in 1991, he'd been stumbling a bit in the field of comics, with really only two main things to his credit: The short-lived Huntsman project at Image, which could be seen as either a clever commentary on Mary Sue-esque characters or him raiding his bag of tricks for the usual cliches and Sovereign Seven which was definitely him raiding his bag of tricks for the usual cliches and was full of Mary Sue characters.

As we learned last time, of course, the X-Men weren't in such great shape either. After Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle leave the books, things solider on with Alan Davis doggedly transcribing editorial's plot dictation and providing competent, yet unspectacular work. After a few months of this, the X-office ramps up for The Twelve, a particularly egregious example of comics about other comics which spins out of one line of dialogue from a book in 1987. It's the kind of book the new editorial regime circa 2001 wished they wouldn't do and, it's implied, wouldn't do. Except when they did.

The big plan, of course, was to bring Chris Claremont back to write the books. While it was greeted with somewhat muted anticipation at the time (Claremont had been in the midst of a not-too-great Fantastic Four run at the time) in the warm light of retrospect, it's clear that he really shouldn't have bothered. By the end of his run in 1991, it was clear he had little left to say with the characters, there had been nearly ten years for the conventional wisdom that Claremont's writing was domination, slavery, mind control, and gladiators all the time, and that put pressure on him to come up with new stuff to thwart expectations.

Unfortunately, his new plan was the Neo, and the less said about that the better. By the time he'd regained his footing and tried for something different, it was too late, and he was gone not even a year after he got on.

Because history repeats itself on a one to one basis, of course, Scott Lobdell came back for a few months to wrap everything up and well . . .he needn't have bothered, either. Because people who'd been driven off the book by Claremont had already gone and everyone else was waiting for Morrison to come on, whereupon he'd fix things. So it really didn't matter what was in the books-so long as he got them out on time, he could have the X-Men pull a train on Jean Grey for four months after taking enough ecstasy to destroy their minds and turn them into drooling sex maniacs (as it stands, they waited until Claremont and Milo Manara could collaborate for that)

Our book today is the conclusion of this little 90's coda. Eve of Destruction was intended to be a "grand finale" of sorts to the 90's style X-Men books that had been the standard of the time. Generally, it's the story of Magneto, who still ruled Genosha about this time--ready to attack the rest of the world with an army mutants. It's up to the X-Men to stop him, only there aren't any to hand because most of them have gone off to the X-Treme X-Men book to bungee jump and slam Mountain Dew.

So it's up to Jean Grey to recruit a team of X-Men to fight Magneto, because apparently no one carries a cel phone, or leaves a forwarding address or any of the other sensible ways that normal people who don't have brain damage stay in touch with each other, especially in case of emergencies, like I don't know, MAGNETO ABOUT TO ATTACK THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD. You'd think they'd wanna stay on top of shit like that.

To say that the team she chooses are scrubs is an insult to actual scrubs. Compared to them, the Cerebro X-Men are like 1980s-era Chicago Bulls in terms of competence. Let's do a roll call on these chumps because I feel like smacking someone:

Phoenix--Jean Grey gets to lead her own team of X-Men and when even she's saying she's not done a great job, you have problems. Phoenix seems to have developed the ability to fart out an enormous amount of thought captions in this issue, because damn if the pages to come aren't littered with tons of them.

Omerta--Jesus Christ, this guy. Omerta is invulnerable loudmouth from Brooklyn, and is Italian (or, at least as close as Lenil Yu can get) Given that the Italian-American Anti-Defamation league once protested the Sopranos because it perpetuated the stereotype that all Italian-Americans are mobbed up the wazoo, having a character act like the worst guido stereotype ever and having named himself after the Mafia's code of silence . . .uhm, isn't that like having a black character named the Mighty Sambo? (NOTE: Someone must have realised this and he's never actually called Omerta in the book, but honestly . . .that's the least of his problems)

Wraith--Wraith sucks, and while that's generally the point of the character, he's a walking example of why you can't have your cake and eat it too when it comes to certain stories. You can't really expect to have a "wacky mutant with useless powers gets caught up the the car-azy world of the X-Men and somehow finds his way" story in the middle of what you're desperately trying to sell as Armageddon. Wraith can turn himself invisible, but only his skin--the rest of him is visible, and he can transmit it to people via touch. His mutant power is, I should add, less useful than someone else grabbing him by the legs and using his body to bludgeon people.

Northstar--God, we're just ticking off boxes now, aren't we? Northstar is gay, and as a homosexual mutant from Montreal who holds hands and kisses other men, joins the X-men because he is not a heterosexual and acts like an asshole because being John Barrowman level camp would be too obvious and can play against Omerta's homophobia because Northstar is gay. Northstar's gayness is the only reason anyone uses the character--it's a cheap way of scoring points and playing up the connection between mutant phobia and homophobia. Have I mentioned that Northstar is gay? Because he is.

Dazzler--Speaking of ticking off, here comes Dazzler to add nothing to the X-Men (again) Dazzler is actually here because he subplot got canned--originally, Eve was going to have the X-Men deal with an X-Baby version of Apocalypse taking over the Mojoverse. I am very glad all this got cut out because there are few things I give less of a shit about than the X-Babies and the Mojoverse. Unfortunately, Dazzler stuck around, to everyone's detriment. Dazzler will also survive this crossover, which is another way it fails. I hate Dazzler, is what I'm trying to say.

Frenzy--When you pick random stereotypes off the street and give the mutant powers is one thing. When you recruit a lifelong back-bencher when 90% of X-Men characters have her same power set is just goddamned lazy. I would like to think the point of forcibly brainwashing Frenzy was so they'd have a person familiar with Magneto's operation on the team, but as we learned later, in another dropped subplot, they already had someone on the inside, so . . .why is she here?

Sunyre--Hey kids! Do you like Sunfire? No? Well, here he is with tits!

As a human depending on the X-Men, this is where I say "we are so screwed."

Anyways, we join the story with everyone yelling at each other and Magneto occasionally doing someone as the X-Men, the world's premiere mutant team with at least one member with decades of experience operating in a team dynamic . . .fight him one at a time. I would complain about this, but instead I'd like to point out that the artist of this book is drawing it like he could barely give a damn, if the ludicrous amounts of crosshatching, distored figures and histrionic expression are any indication. I feel you, man.

So while the X-Men are embarrassing themselves, Wolverine and Cyclops show up. A lot of blatherskite is thrown around about how, now that Cyclops, who used to be dead but then remembered that he wasn't, has come back "changed" and I'm glad the writer reminded me of this because otherwise he'd come across as the same old boring douche he'd always been.

Anyways, Magneto ends up being outmaneuvered by these ad hoc X-Men, who were counting on the fact that with pages to go, he'd spend all of them acting like a fucking idiot. Wolverine stabs him because like me, he's heartily sick of this shit. Xavier makes a speech and everyone leaves Genosha without another word because while the entire country was willing to go to war with the entire planet, no one is willing to do anything now that Magneto's got capped, even though there were like, seven X-Men and at least twice that when the artists remembered to draw a crowd scene. We cut to an allegedly clever epilogue where none of the new X-Men joined up, which plays up their space-filling nature even more and means they were that much more the loser squad.

Obviously, this is not a good book. But what makes it amusing is that, two years later, Grant Morrison uses bits of it (entire scenes in this book are referenced) in the "Planet X" story arc. That's not to say he ripped it off, it's more accurate to say that "Planet X" is a parody of Magneto stories just like this, where he does one bold thing early on, and does nothing in the middle of the story and is undone by own plot-mandated stupidity. If "Planet X" is a comment on the ultimately retrograde nature of the X-Men franchise, it's books like this that set the pattern.

Fortunately, no one will remember this book in a month's time, as Grant Morrison comes along and we start telling interesting stories and playing with the concept for the first time in decades. It lasts for three wonderful years and pretty much everything since then has been Chuck Austen, fixing Chuck Austen's mistakes, and then a whole lot of what amounts to X-Men fanfiction, be it Chris Claremont fanfiction, Grant Morrison fanfiction, or whatever the hell Warren Ellis can dig out of the bin and hastily do a "find and replace" to add in the X-Men.

How far we've come, indeed.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And just think, if I'd come back to comics two months earlier, this very well could've been the first book I'd have read. I'm rather certain my stay would've been considerably shorter. :)

Will you be writing about the Morrison era next?

Kazekage said...

Aren't you lucky you missed this? It's really awful and even if Morrison had been a bust on the book, it would have been the closest to a workable direction it had had since the turn of the century and a few years before that, really.

Already done last year! Here's Part 1 Part 2 and Part 3!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Well, I'm starting to understand why my professed love of the X-Men has been met with so many raised eyebrows: I'm remembering a near-seamless transition from AoA to Morrison, they're rembering the Neo and the Twelve. :)

So you did! I'd forgotten in all the excitement. :) Who's next, then?

Kazekage said...

Yeah, it's really a surprise when you look at the transition between the two eras, and really, it was a good thing--the shock of such a different take on things really cleaned the palate and forced you into a new headspace almost by default. :)

Well, I'm doing an ass-backward look at the Kurt Busiek Avengers run, and I'll be reviewing volume 6 of Empowered soon, but beyond that I haven't really made any plans to do another run. I don't really, at least not two at a time or anything.