Examining New X-Men Pt 4-1
by Travis Hedge Coke
From 2001 to 2004 Grant Morrison (The Invisibles, Batman and Robin) and team of pencilers, inkers, letterers, editors and colorists, including Phil Jimenez, Mike Marts, and Frank Quitely made a comic called New X-Men.
Revitalizing the X-Men as a politically savvy, fashion forward superhero soap opera, New X-Men was published by Marvel Comics as the flagship of a line wide revival.
“The future will belonged to mass-produced biological conformity.”
– Beast, 150 years in the future.
Bodies, Sexualities, and Souls (Pt 1)
New X-Men is an extremely body-conscious comic. Compared to many other X-Men runs, preceding and following, New X-Men showed a consistency and purposefulness to everyone’s physical presence, physical presentation, and physical being. In art and writing, every character was represented with particular body language, specific sartorial and cosmetic choices.
Two of my favorite issues (of any X-related comic) are the infamously rushed issues penciled and inked by Igor Kordey. The writing is emotive and crisp, the art is rough and heavy and organic! In having no time for refinement or drafts, the lines become like scores in wood or oil on pavement. There is living, mobile texture in every page, a sense fo risk and immediacy.
Traditionally dominated by a group aesthetic, adherence to house style, or surrender to a commercial Romanticism whereby story and character logic took a backseat true sexing up the image, X-Men has rarely felt as tactile, as biological.
Far more refined than those issues, the Frank Quitely pages were plagued by delays, but deliver a weighty, balanced aesthetic that never makes you doubt the physicality of the characters and evokes a real, tangible place with every scene.
New X-Men is also remarkably anti-Gnostic, in its embrace of material being as part and parcel with psychical and spiritual. Neither New X-Men nor the analysis in this chapter, should be considered clinically psychiatric or as directly applicable to your daily or nightly life.
Sex and sexuality cannot be limited to biology, but it would be absurd to underplay the physical element. An undercurrent to all of New X-Men, a comic – as much as any X-Men comic – about sex, is the impossibility a functionally extricating the physical/biological from the mental/spiritual.
One chapter of New X-Men, the first issue of Germ Free Generation, visuals, dialogue, context, and thoughts are suffused which sexuality, and the artist coordinated with the inker and others to render the word, sex, into the artwork of every page.
The characters of New X-Men see their bodies undergo changes, feel the weight of age, handle disabilities, form new romances, end old romantic entanglements. They enjoy drugs, anticipate meals, indulge in pleasant scents, monitor their weight, age, die, get reborn.
The alien Superguardians are an array of biological and psychological conceits, from a sensitivity to weather and a failure to comprehend chronological time, to be sexual mimicry two individuals merged together.
In New X-Men, a cosmic entity and state, the Phoenix, or Phoenix Force, is an empathy for the intractable connection of the physical and spiritual. A sensitivity on a sub-molecular level, a level outside the anxieties of individuals, outside of causal time. Grant Morrison has described the Phoenix as “touching the face of what we call God,” a telepathic sensitivity so total and delicate a person becomes a fount for the power of God.
Kick, a recreational and performance-enhancing drug used by many characters in New X-Men, is a mental and physical stimulant, which makes users feel “violently angelic,” and strengthens mutants’ superpowers to otherwise unachievable levels.
An aerosol put into the body, kick is, in actuality, a part of another, larger body, the nonhuman life-form called Sublime. Sublime is simultaneously resemblant of mitochondria and algae, playing off the mystery of mitochondrial presence in other life forms and the theories of algal extinction events.
When we, the reader, see our characters putting kick inside their bodies, they are putting a living thing within themselves.
In Supergods, Morrison’s nonfiction book, they ask, “Could mitochondria be science’s secret word for ‘soul’? Could the presence of an asexual immortal organism in the depths of our physical being be responsible in any way for the sensation we have of some indwelling, undying, and infinitely wise and fulfilled essence?”
Biology is not an intransigent state, but modal and continual exchange and mutation.
A threat throughout the run of New X-Men, the U-Men are a religious self-help organization predicated on predating on mutants out of a desire to repurpose their biological matter into enhancements for the human members of this religion.
Founded by John Sublime, a human controlled and/or occupied by the above-mentioned Sublime entity, the U-Men murder mutants for their body parts, dissect their own dead for reusable parts, I did many ways echo the language and ethos of pick-up artists, incels, restrictive cults, capitalist recruitment agendas. A combination of spirituality and physicality, as always, in the frisson, generating sexuality.
The Sentinel program, also known as Weapon Plus, Weapon X, and by other names, is positioned in New X-Men, expressly as a matter of combining biology and technology, human tool-using that includes radioactive and chemical enhancements (Captain America), diffusion of inorganic materials and programming of brains (Wolverine), the generation of machine consciousness from organic components (Fantomex and EVA), anthropomorphic machines with the opportunity for consciousness (Sentinels), and a variety of other bastardization and exchange projects.
The longest arc in New X-Men is Jean Grey letting her marriage dissolve. Married to childhood sweetheart, Cyclops, his recent infection by a malevolent disembodied entity, had left their relationship cold.
Grey wishes her husband would hold her, she absent-mindedly toys with a condom from their bedroom nightstand, makes a pass at Wolverine with whom she has had a long-term sexual tension.
In a moment where Charles Xavier, her teacher and mentor, praises her the strongest, he believes he is speaking to a dog he once owned.
While her mutant powers are giving her the most intense physical awareness on Earth, she has no physical intimacy with any specific person.
She can reach for her husband. She can casually touch EVA as she looks into her mind. Take her former teacher’s mind into her body. But she has no sexual release.
Wearing lifts, a bust enhancing bra, self-conscious about her thin wrists and ankles, Jean Grey exudes a confidence and knowingness that masks genuine, individuated, uncertainty. When Grey says that she makes up for physical deficiencies with, “and incredibly buff mind,” she is savvy enough do that not admitting that would have a certain set of effects, and admitting it invites interpretations, and sympathies.
The cover of New X-Men #139, Shattered, is a non-story representation of Grey and Emma Frost in their supervillain costumes, as Dark Phoenix and the White Queen, sitting as if for a portrait, gray with her hands on her thighs, legs spread, sitting atop the studded black costume she was convinced to wear bring a protracted sexual assault and role-play in which Frost played a willing a manipulator a role.
Shattered contextualizes Emma Frost more succinctly than anything previous, and birthed the, Is Emma Frost trans? question, for featuring, among details of her plastic surgery, what may be an unfleshed penis.
Frost’s secondary mutation – a term Morrison introduces for radical additional mutations experienced by mutants, almost all of which seemed trauma-based – is to turn her physical body into a diamond-like substance without losing flexibility or mobility, which also appears to save her from physical or emotional sensations, including pain.
Her clothing choices, from those necessitating pastie glue to feathered wraps and padded crotches, are a deliberate projection. She is, in parlance, put together.
Frost’s body language, particularly under Frank Quitely and Igor Kordey’s pen, consists of deliberate and affecting poses. The lean down of the disapproving teacher. The open legs of the taking up space. Emma Frost man spreads and sits askew in her chair.
Being put together, Frost’s rhinoplasty means that part of her nose does not transfigure into this diamond as solidly as it otherwise would. A keen play on every diamond having its flaw, it is even keener that this observation is short-sighted.
Emma Frost’s psychiatric and physiological being are inseparable on metaphoric and functional levels, her mental essence swinging near her physical remains after apparent death by gunshot and dismemberment.
Frost is realigned by Dr Jean Grey, and made healthy by Dr Grey, a resurrection that is both physical and mental.
Earlier in New X-Men, Emma Frost dismisses some of the criminal in her past, as the fault of being high. There is also an undercurrent of her own abuse at the hands of Sebastian Shaw, concurrent with her most supervillain years. And, within Shattered, we witness another drug, kick, being purified from her system.
Rather than an anti-drug message, this is both a be careful what drugs you put into your body, and a be careful who you do business with or put into your body message.
Grey experienced sexual violation at the hands of Emma Frost and her associates, in their not-too-distant past, during which time, Frost and her friends/coworkers forced Grey’s best friend into a sexual role-play mimicking institutional slavery from America’s past. Frost, later, took over that friend’s body, and while wearing the body of Storm, an X-Man, had sex with Sebastian Shaw, which is also rape.
Prior to her affair with Grey’s husband, Cyclops, Frost’s sexual engagements that we can confirm are almost entirely limited to the manipulation and co-opting of other women’s bodies.
Why can Cyclops not understand marital infidelity?
A tall, gawky teen, shy, abused, Cyclops as an adult, may have gained some muscle, a new haircut, but remains shy, awkward, traumatized. A sufferer of migraines and brain damage, Cyclops is even better at compartmentalizing his emotions and social relations than Emma Frost secondary mutation.
Like Frost, Wolverine, many of the other characters in New X-Men, including his wife, the psychic, Dr Jean Grey, Cyclops does not like to see himself. He expresses concern over being photographed. How photographs reveal him.
Cyclops insists on a ground level reality, even in a psychic projection, yes he is unwilling to embrace that by sharing hyper-realistic psychic roleplay of a sexual nature, by sharing fully-formed sexual thoughts and experiences, he might be cheating on his wife.
Long before Cyclops and Grey were married, he was betrothed to Maddie Pryor. During the time of the marriage ceremony, Jean Grey was dead. As soon as she was returned to life, Cyclops left his wife behind to hang out with Grey and their high school friends, and asked those friends to pretend single, ostensibly to make things easier on her.
In New X-Men, Cyclops has just experienced a physical and spiritual possession by malevolence entity, and fears he has been permanently infected or altered. In a later story, by other authors, we will find that this entity was actually infected and altered by Cyclops leaving something behind. But, his concern is not unreasonable, and something his wife has been through, and could probably help with if they were talking in a way each understood the other.
Engaging, first in therapy, and then in a sexual affair with Frost, Cyclops is able to find what he was looking for in his wife, that super villain dress-up as seen on the cover of Shattered.
By removing physical act and physicality, he is able to rationalize, to justify exploring a projected villainy, a projected inability to control one’s passions and powers, and frost is able to guide these roleplays, as a professional domme and professional therapist.
Cyclops can only sexually engage, even with the idea of his wife, when it is a superhero scenario; hero, villain, prevention of crime, prevention of harm. He refuses to acknowledge that the risk and desire he wishes he saw and his wife, are inside him.
When Cyclops realizes the childlike Weapon XV is play wrestling with him in an attempt to understand him, what Cyclops is intuiting is his engagement to life and to his sex life.
Chris Claremont, rather than Grant Morrison, makes it explicit that Cassandra Nova, like the Entity, like Onslaught, is a separate being from Charles Xavier, but a projection of Charles Xavier. The mummudrai called Cassandra, and called Ernst, is an excision, a rejection or exorcism from within the body/mind/spirit Charles Xavier. The mummudrai is an out-bodying of anxieties, fears, and rages generated within and existing within Charles Xavier.
A normative human being might simply sublimate urges, or and body them in other fashions, especially prenatally, however, Charles Xavier, even at a fetal stage, is the preeminent mutant mind. Charles Xavier’s mind is so potent, a statue of his likeness will cry blood in the far future.
In the same way that, when Frost and Grey have their confrontation, physical reality seems non-causally warped, and mutant psychics develop ectoplasmic halos, Charles Xavier can manifest a physically tangible and definable psychic residue, and apparently generate physically identifiable and quantifiable physical bodies capable of relative individuated life and dynamics.
We see Xavier’s psychic condensation commented on almost as soon as we are introduced to Cassandra Nova.
In the beginning of New X-Men, Xavier, himself, is occupying at least his second physical body, a body cloned by extraterrestrial science, giving him back youth, stamina, and full use of his legs, which he better and promptly lost.
The self-sanctification of Xavier is driven by a cosmogonic awareness that be spiritual, mental, and physical are aspects of one structure. It is a responsibility indicative of his awareness that thoughts matter.
During the Onslaught crossover in the mid-1990s, the psychic projection there, the titular Onslaught, reveals to Jean Grey, as a root evil, a younger Xavier, Grey’s high school teacher, having a moment’s attraction to her and rejecting it because of their age difference (also, he’s her teacher and she’s a literal child, it is the age difference that cues him).
The passing, likely even subconscious fantasizing of a normative mind, is, to Xavier, as genuine as acted upon. As actions. The desire to rape, to consume, to dominate, which we see in his projected identities, are on some level basic, normative, often pre-adolescent thoughts, which have cartooned, exploded like an exploded diagram, like a psychiatrist’s homunculus map, interview violence, manipulative anthropomorphic anger-frustration fugues, such as Cassandra Nova.
This anger-frustration, also traditionally seen and his personal, psychic avatars resembling a Spanish conquistador, and his self-sanctifying, may be at the root, causally or cosmogenic, of Xavier’s continual re-loss of the use of his legs, a symptomatic condition which Cassandra was able to terrorize Xavier with into submissive non-action, correlating it with castration and a fear that he both desires sexually and hurt his mother.
This fear and drive towards castration or disability needs not to be causal, fair, or reasonable. Guilt is not corralled by reason.
In New X-Men, Dr Hank McCoy is adjusting to a radical bodily mutation that has given him a more feline appearance, reduced the dexterity in his hands, and threw his hormone levels and bodily chemistry way off.
McCoy exhibited bipolar symptoms since his earliest appearances in 1960s X-Men, but New X-Men is the first explicit confirmation by McCoy, a medical researcher who holds terminal degrees genetics and biophysics. McCoy is canonically bipolar and a depressive.
Suffering body dysmorphia his entire life, and embodying dysmorphic anxieties Morrison witnessed in themselves and in many of their audience, McCoy, the Beast, is in a serious low with these recent changes, when his long-term girlfriend, an internationally known tele-journalist, dumps him citing accusations by others that their relationship is tantamount to bestiality.
Over the course of New X-Men, with the help of friends, Beast accepts his inability to continue to play guitar, by taking up drums, embraces the use of prosthesis to type, and remains cheerful and buoyant enough to try to take students to the opera and cheer up other faculty after personal crisis.
During his ex again, Beast tells her he may not be interested at that point in dating any human, he thinks he may be gay, which she turns into a news story about him being gay.
Beast leaps on this to proclaim that he is gay, or, “gay as the next mutant,” which one of his oldest friends calls a road to apocalyptic mind loss.
New X-Men features a surprising lack of explicit queerness, unless you consider that up until that point, and excluding the Mike Allred/Peter Milligan X-Force/X-Statix run, all x-related comics feature an unfortunate lack of explicit queerness.
Morrison, who came out publicly as nonbinary in 2020, very carefully and articulately ensures that no one confirms that Beast is not gay or bisexual. Cyclops dismiss is it
Because of his own personal issues. Emma Frost says she knows that Beast has not had a physical, sexual relationship with a man. But, neither of these is a refutation, only a contextualisation and and advisement rooted in fear of societal reaction.
Taken in context of both his changing hormone levels and his personal history of interactions with women and men, Beast may be bisexual, or may have been swinging more to the gay side of things.
Many of his gestures as a friend would in other people be romantic or sexual overtures. Beast has kissed male friends full on the lips. When Emma Frost has a particularly difficult night, Beast stop by her room with a book, flowers, wine, and singing love songs. He is huggy, swish, freely emotive, and in comics veers much closer to Nathan Lane than Kelsey Grammer.
He could be is gay is the next mutant, because the only next mutant allowed at the time do anything about it, either had conveniently dead partner or just declared it sometimes.
To be continued next week…