Examining New X-Men Pt 10
Billy Joel’s Glass Houses
by Travis Hedge Coke
It is important to me that Emma Frost’s flaw is physical. Her commercially rebuilt nose can not become the flexible diamond her organic body can.
As someone who has rebuilt parts, I appreciate that the flaw is not that she has had cosmetic surgery. The flaw is a material flaw.
Material flaws can be leapt over for ethical reasons. They can be permitted for sociological benefits. Structural integrity, making sure everything is in order, in working order, is imperative, but there are strata to the importance of an order. Some orders are more integral and imperative than others.
The physical, structural flaw is measurable. The emotional, psychological, sociological difficulty is human condition.
The politic is pareidolia. If Morrison’s Batman run, beginning a short time after their New X-Men run ends, is primarily concerned with apophenia, maybe their New X-Men is about pareidolia. Maybe we want to look into the void and see somebody.
You May Be Right
Future X-Men writer, Mike Carey, calls the line, “Die, Charles. Going to catch you,” “The single best line of dialogue ever written in any X-Men book.”
The scene in question is Jean Grey both delivering and giving birth to the mind of Charles Xavier, from the dying body and weaponized brain of his twin sister, in reality a phantom, vile double, the frightened projection of a fetus who just noticed themself.
New X-Men, filled with death, is a comic about life, youth, birth, and no one ever really dying. Many of the Dead in New X-Men die to be reborn, others die to make us, the audience, sit up and give a damn.
Following the urge to be cynical, it can be easy to forget that while the melodrama of the X-Men is punctuated by losses, it is sustained by highs, buy new romances, reaffirmed friendships, resurrections, and the pitter-patter, flitter-flutter of babies and children.
In WHODUNNIT?, the hatching of Beak and Angel’s children, themselves children still, is four pages away from Emma Frost’s rebirth. The issue opens with visiting character, Sage, being rebooted.
WHODUNNIT? is the third issue in a three issue murder mystery, but what it is about is mental health, new life, acceptance and forgiveness. Characters holding onto old grudges, no matter how fairly, appear petty beside forgiveness. Beak’s, “I have made Angel pregnant with monster babies!” is silly, if touching, especially when, only pages later, we see how happy the parents are with their offspring.
New X-Men is not a tragedy. It is a superhero comic. Unfortunately, by nature as serial superhero comics, the tragedy can never let up.
After completing their final issue, Grant Morrison said, “I’ll miss the characters, but they’re very stressy, soap-opera, high maintenance people and hard to keep up with emotionally. I’m glad I’m moving on to deal with less traumatic energies.”
Sometimes a Fantasy
One of my favorite moments is it in here comes tomorrow, when Headmistress Cassandra Nova turn to face us, the audience, and tell us post that the future we are seeing should never have happened, which is the central plot of the arc and the entire run, and that she has had dreams with us in them.
Beyond whether or not our interpretation is correct, many parts of New X-Men are built so that definitive interpretation is impossible. The reality of the weapon plus program, whether or not the ultimate fate of Sublime extends into the past, are up for interpretation, but they cannot be forever answered with what we have in New X-Men.
As the X-Men story progressed after the completion of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, things left open were closed, and with retcons and alterations, things presented as definitive, like Xorn being Magneto in disguise, not only contradicted, but now impossible to clarify into anything like a clear and comprehensive surety.
Don’t Ask Me Why
There was a time I considered not involving interviews or any material outside the comics, no youtube talks, no Ask Me Anythings. I have deliberately not requested new interviews, but if I made this book entirely about my interpretation and my unrefreshed recollections, who knows who would be maligned or misremembered.
But, in a they said, they said miasma, I am unequipped, at times, to say who I believe more or what I believe more.
I feel guilty giving more words to one pencilers over another. I do not know who to credit first when listing credits and I do not want to do it the way the publisher does every time, because they always push back contributors and they may be the strongest game on that comic.
Having engaged professionally and socially with many of the principle talent on New X-Men, I do not want my personal feelings about them as people to come into the discussion of the comics, inasmuch as it may nail the rose-tinted glasses on or tear them brutally off, bone screws and all.
I can say comfortably that the two very rushed issues are two of my favorite X-Men related comics and some of my favorite X-art. I did not know how rushed they were, or how much Marvel would put it on the artist being pushed into the bind, until long after I read the comics. I have more empathy now, I would give more leeway, but I do not have to. They were awesome the first read.
Other issues hit me wrong now, even if on technical levels I can appreciate form and technique. Some people acted up. Some people let their vileness really swing out in public like a sad cudgel.
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
Marc Silvestri closing out New X-Men, an icon of an earlier era returned the show the future, a future that should not and will not be, is a non-smoking message of hope add cynicism.
Silvestri brings the full potency of early 1990s Romanticism, brought to flower with a nostalgic and futuristic color palette. One cover brazenly presents Wolverine posed like Bruce Springsteen on the Annie Leibovitz cover of the Born in the USA album.
Born in the USA was twenty years old at the time of the New X-Men cover, the first commercially available CD made for America, a great advance in Springsteen’s career, but hardly touchstone of youth and innovation in 2004.
Except, the comics can be so regressive, and so homophobic and straight male gazey, that it was shocking and confrontational while also being familiar and looking back.
It is several magnitudes of excellent, that in 2004, Wolverine’s blue jean clad butt and ripped lats could disturb and affect a jaded superhero comics audience.
There remains a horrible stain on New X-Men, in an artist who will now be famous for joking about murdering Asian people and harassment. I would love to see Marvel commit to having those issues redrawn, either for individual rerelease or in new collections. Marvel, do it! I do hope that this association does not completely sour audiences on the entire comic or the contributions from other authors, the other pencilers, the inkers, colorists, the writer, the editors.
Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo, John Paul Leon, Frank Quitely. New X-Men features an adventuresome variety of beautiful art, the styles fresh and varied, some new, some classic, some classicist, some kewl.
In forty issues and one annual, New X-Men covers the range a visual styles from X-Men comics past and takes the visualization into the future.
According to their contract, writer Grant Morrison were to select and improve their own artists, however in practice, artists were signs the title Morrison’s awareness, well some Morrison would have preferred, were are unavailable.
Frank Quitely was meant to draw the entire New X-Men run alongside fellow Glaswegian, Morrison, as they had previously collaborated on smaller projects, I will go on to do twelve issues, completing All-Star Superman with colorist Jamie Grant, after New X-Men.
Quitely walked into New X-Men like a belt in the chops with a baseball bat, possibly the strongest entrance on X-Men since John Byrne. A consistent bestseller, Quitely’s style has been called divisive on the basis of some detractors, but in this case, divisive clearly means affecting.
Leinil Francis Yu was the artist on the annual, drawn sideways as all the annuals were that year, taking the concept of widescreen comics in an innovative but very literal direction.
With the amazing, and much missed, Gerry Alanguilan on inks over Yu’s pencils, characters who make their only appearances in New X-Men, have an extraordinary amount of personality. Expressionist cartooning reduces the immediate cruelty of the physical violence, allowing us to absorb the action movie rush first, and then pair the consequences of the violence to the ethical, behavioral, confessional brutality.
Keron Grant’s single issue, as well, inked by Norm Rapmund, uses a cartoon sensibility to ease us into empathy with soon to be full villain, and already a dick, Quentin Quire.
The most cartooned art, the most exaggerated, is the four issues of Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend, that come between three issue and six issue arcs drawn by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning.
An arc specifically about trying to loosen up, trying to be that action guy, Bachalo and Townsend bring a bombastic, swaggering energy both to their drunk X-Men and their hungover X-Men, presenting the real world and the artificial The World with the same hyper, parodic energy.
On either side of that art team, the Jimenez/Lanning work is stunningly frangible and mortal. Along with the colorists, they communicate heat sweats and panic sweats, hunger, confusion, contusions, anxiety, concussions, and the disappointing slowness of human reaction time in careful, detailed worlds that do not shut off when you close the comic.
Jimenez has spoken of favoring Storm or Jean Grey over Cyclops, but for my money, his stiff, strained Cyclops is *the guy.* Frank Quitely’s is more ripped, Bachalo’s more swole, but Jimenez and Lanning draw a man trying his hardest to be a superhero and looking like someone you want to sit down and feed a meal to. Calm down, bro, have a granola bar.
Igor Kordey’s art is a personal favorite, from the eight small panels comprising one page, each with a tiny Cyclops in a folding chair, to the full page illustration Emma Frost, immediately following those eight panels, her body language a near opposite to Cyclops’.
No other artists on New X-Men could have made me feel Emma Frost’s broken nose or the suffocating doom in the Chunnel attack with the immediacy, the physicality that Kordey brings.
That said, I am gladdened when one off stories are handled as idiosyncratic and true to heart as the John Paul Leon and Bill Sienkiewicz collaboration on Some Angels Falling. I am heartened by the constant shifts in the artwork, and would not enjoy the run as much under any single penciler or art team sticking as much as they could to a monthly grind.
All for Leyna
Darkstar is the only pre-existing character who experiences her first death in New X-Men, but has since been resurrected, and it only rarely appeared in the decade before her death.
Darkstar’s death hurt more people then cared about her when she was alive. Her death is cruel and unnecessary, bloody but not gory, and is immediately commented on by our moral voice in the scene, is a horrendous and bad thing.
In New X-Men, it is almost all we know of Darkstar, that she dies. She is the most prominent funeral in the comic. Her death and her burial fuel conversations amongst the X-Men, including, discussing her actual value to them as individuals.
Her death is treated by the shooter, Fantomex, mercy killing as a mercy killing after she is possessed or overridden by the sporing mind of Huntsman, a mutant-killing experiment intended for debut as a superhero. M, a mutant who served alongside Darkstar in the French X-Corp office, is aghast at her shooting, responding to it as murder.
Earlier in the series, we see Cyclops, the most superhero any of the X-Men, commit to a mercy killing, when a young man has been tortured and burned alive. We accept his mercy without question.
We do not accept Fantomex’s, perhaps at all.
Fantomex tells them that she was already gone, already only another body for Huntsman, but we have no confirmation, we have no one else’s word on this. And, I have no way to gauge the danger, unpleasantness, nature of this extension of Huntsman’s mind into other bodies.
Huntsman took over or entered into the body and mind of former Communist, Russian superhero, Darkstar, but we do not know what that was like or how it felt to her, in particular.
In many ways, Darkstar, is the average working-class mutant. She did not go to a fancy school for mutants. She does not have the luxury of working where she grew up. Jerked around by her government. Seen by many as at most a catchy name and a costume.
She dies in the Channel Tunnel, saving lives while suffering a hangover, shot in the belly.
Although she served as an X-Man, she will never really be remembered as one, and it is only fitting that as she is buried, in France, Charles Xavier delivers a telepathic eulogy which gets her name wrong.
Don’t Want to Be Alone
At the heart of New X-Men is the terror of feeling alone.
Loneliness requires no objective physical qualifiers, no specific social scenario. A person is lonely, they are lonely. Loneliness, any conviction or suspicion that you are in any form distanced from, or unable to achieve intimacy or commination with others, an intimation that others may not want you, understand you, or feel your value is not dependent on any form of evidence.
Jean Grey and her husband both feel alone and disconnected, even when they are going to sleep together or working alongside one another.
Bipolar characters like Beast and Magneto feel alone, one assumes, in part because they are unable to point to convincing external evidence. “Why do I feel alone,” is sublimated with personal constructs like, “Why don’t the crowds love my speeches they can’t hear,” and, “Everyone thinks I am guilty, don’t they?”
All of the characters in New X-Men are traumatized in some fashion, and layers of post-traumatic stress, learned reflex reactions to bigotry, embarrassment, fair or unfair guilt combine to form a manner of distancing armor around them.
Wolverine is able to have experienced horrendous abuse without turning to a demagogue, while Magneto construes that as the inevitable or reasonable path.
Cyclops can look at Wolverine’s comfort with casual sex and willingness to express his socially unacceptable thoughts with awe, while feeling in raged about them. At the same time, Wolverine can envy Cyclops for what he perceives is calm, and for the kind of brilliant, committed women that Cyclops’ seems to attract.
Cassandra Nova, believing only she and her brother-self are real, suffers an extreme loneliness. Characters addicted to attentions and physical ownership of others, like Apollyon and the U-Men, the far future Beast, experience a loneliness that leads to eugenics, conquest, and pyramid scheme business cults. The original life on Earth, Sublime, cannot reconcile life that is not itself as something worth sharing space or value with, leading to an incalculable degree of human antagonism, war, murder, capitalism and theft, which then becomes culturally anticipated and learned as a norm.
Loneliness or an envy of what is perceived as others’ ability bro make connections one cannot, is only construal, only internal to the person, where and by which is it involuble.
Sleeping with the Television On
New X-Men is intentionally immersive. Designed for rereads, broadly collaborative, existing concurrent to other narratives universe. It was a direct consideration of its era, then-contemporary international anglophone culture, state of both comics, comics fandom, and X-Men as a property.
Alternating visual styles, genre markers from police procedural to horror in the woods, New X-Men help to make the X-Men’s world bigger, and to show audiences the bigness of their own world. An ensemble cast came to represent more than a combat team, showing us communities, neighborhoods and cliques, nations and families.
In the years following New X-Men, Morrison would develop a technique they referred to as Channel zapping, cutting to and from scenes as they become interesting, trimming the narrative fat. New X-Men more resembles the curated selections on a streaming channel’s menu. Everything is X-Men, but variety of X-Men. Variety in X-Men.
Morrison intentionally structured many of the stories to stand as, if not definitive, encompassing examples of different genres.
Riot at Xavier’s is the ultimate school story, hitting the primal notes of the school rebellion story, the school unity story, the school days past bildungsroman.
Here Comes Tomorrow is a concentration of every tale of the bad future, from X-Men’s Days of Future Past to the unused ending of Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness.
Here Comes Tomorrow may, in its way, be a kind of bad dream that Jean Grey is having as she dies is waiting to be born again, a nightmare as well as a nightmare scenario, but on other levels it is a demonstration of what happens if in one hundred and fifty years, everything is still about Wolverine.
C’était Toi (You Were the One)
It is important that Emma Frost has ethical flaws, that she is a former super villain, she is a good and a terrible teacher. Frost can act on her needs, and she can act on boredom.
Charles Xavier, Cyclops, Jean Grey sublimate their needs. For all their heroism, they are not forthright; they are repressed.
Frost represses herself by acting out faster than she can modify. Xavier, Cyclops, Grey represent different forms of a drive towards center. By the Twenty-First Century, Wolverine’s lashing out, his bravado had become comfortable, old, ratty pyjama bottoms. Beast lives in anxiety.
Charles Xavier is so driven to center that when an ugly part of his mind, manifested as an identical twin sister, commit genocide on Earth and in a galactic empire, torturing his friends, having raped his wife, Xavier praises her, saying, “In trying to do evil… she freed us from a self-imposed exile.”
“I see her,” Charles continues, “as an agent of nature, testing its own boundaries, forcing change into stalemated systems.”
Emma Frost, who may repress her feelings, who guards herself against risk because she has been abused, by family, by colleagues, by a bigoted world, at least has the clarity of mind not to respond to someone who just raped her partner and burned down millions of people, as having freed her from stalemate.
Am I not doing something half as bad when I ignore Frost’s crimes and abuses to praise the positive outcomes of her sometimes nebulous behavior?
Close to the Borderline
Is there anything irreparable in New X-Men? The deaths? Betrayals? Changes in super powers? An agenda or rhetoric?
Who dies, who had not died in a comic before been thought definitely dead? New characters, only created for, probably only used in New X-Men by the time Grant Morrison quit. 16 million mostly nameless Genoshans. Unnamed aliens in a distant space empire. Darkstar.
Quentin Quire (seen as part of a pre-resurrection corps of Phoenix avatars in Here Comes Tomorrow; resurrected in a 2005 comic, Phoenix Endsong).
Dummy, a non-speaking, immobile mutant, saved by Beak and murdered moments later.
Two of the five Stepford Cuckoos.
Villains who exist only four panels or one brief arc, apiece.
Magneto dies, for the nth time, including his inconclusive fate at the end of the story immediately preceding New X-Men. What is death to the master of magnetism, a man we have seen as a psychic projection more than once, uniquely tethered to one of the fundamental forces of the universe.
Jean Grey, whose primary aesthetic, that of the mythical phoenix, is rooted in death and rebirth.
What is irrevocably changed? The Xavier school will have a new headmaster. The public know that Charles Xavier is a mutant. Two marriages that had been on the rocks for years, dissolved, and one when left her boyfriend. Magneto was no longer in charge of an island nation of mutants.
Small potatoes in the scale of things.
Cyclops is still a shy, tall guy, who leads the X-Men. Emma is still rich and snarky. Beast is large and furry and blue. The Xavier Institute is operational in Upstate New York. Various governments are still conspiring to kill and/or persecute mutants.
Fans, speculators, even Chris Claremont can insist the grant Morrison left the X-Men in disarray, that the classic stories could no longer be told and the classic characters were no longer available, but no one has much in the way of evidence.
Through the Long Night
So, why do so many feel that New X-Men left the franchise in some unrecoverable state of disarray, despite Claremont, Whedon, Cassady and others immediately after New X-Men, creating new comics that reaffirmed the 1980s will never leave? Why do they feel as if nothing could go back to the way it was even though many things immediately went back to the way they were? As if, the old tropes and habits were in possible to recapture, to recapitulate, to indulge in?
Is it knowing that what you dream of is toxic and old-fashioned, while still missing its renewal on a monthly basis? Were those old days actually super fantastic and only the world has grown incompatible with those stories? Is it possible there were no restraints or denying of these kinds of stories or these kinds of approaches, as evidenced by people using these kind of approaches to make those kinds of stories?
Maybe, X-Men fans who are still worried that New X-Men changed too much, that things can never continue, even as they buy and read month after month of the last twenty years of X-Men comics, maybe they’re Wolverine reading the files on Weapon Plus and realizing for some people he is only a mutant-killing machine, a programmable arm, and panicking because he sees himself as he fears all see him. Or, maybe they are just reactionary.
The problem with a glass house is not necessarily that it is fragile, that it is subject to Billy Joel throwing a stone through a pane or Emma Frost being punched in her reconstructed nose. You can see inside the glass house. All the time. All the places. Frost’s post-traumatic emotional repression. Cyclops’ need to be appreciated. Grey seeking to be understood. Xavier, to be accepted.
The most carefully built houses are still subject to outside objectives.
In New X-Men, Emma Frost’s body and brilliant mind rebuild themselves and are then, with help, rebuilt again, each time improving her strength, her resilience, making life and living easier upon her. Shields are brought up and taken down, shells allow growth, growth shucks or holds to shells. Overwhelming hurt is stalled by a pause for breath and steadying. Love is let in. This is the best way to live, to read comics, to build houses.
Structural integrity, making sure everything is in order, in working order, is imperative, but there are strata to the importance of an order. Some orders are more integral and imperative than others. Some houses are also homes.
Examining New X-Men Pt. 10: Billy Joel’s Glass Houses
User Review( votes)