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The Grant Illusion?
New X-Men: E is for Extinction
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
The very idea of turning Grant Morrison -- the lysergic
mastermind known and acclaimed for his redefining work on such DC titles as
Doom Patrol and JLA -- loose on Marvel Comics' premier franchise
carries with it the sweet aroma of poetry. Not for nothing has Morrison risen in
the last decade to a prominence that arguably eclipses even that of Alan Moore:
More than any other creator working in the comics mainstream today, Morrison has
made his reputation by loudly subverting the staid conventions of the superhero
Whereas Moore, and the many clones that followed in his wake, broke
conventional comics archetypes down to their basic components and explored the
reality within, Morrison has taken the opposite approach. Taking his cue from
Moore's groundbreaking Swamp Thing work, he's consistently re-examined
the premises behind some of comics' most recognizable properties, and taken them
to their most surreal and yet strangely logical extremes.
So the notion of Morrison tackling the X-Men makes a certain kind of sense.
Who better to throw out all that's made this bloated constellation of titles
such a migraine-inducing mishmash of badly drawn melodrama and convoluted, Esher-esque continuity? In a way, it's the ultimate confrontation
ultra-conservative corporate culture of Marvel (embodied by the gargantuan mess
its conservative ways seem to have made of the X-Men franchise) vs. the medium's
most inventive and countercultural mainstream creator. Who will win?
So far, the result seems a draw. Judging by E Is For Extinction, which
collects Morrison's first four issues (New X-Men #s 114-117), the two
titans (creator vs. conservative continuity) have so far battled each other to a
standstill. There are flashes of Morrison's trademark brilliance poking through
the pages, but the sheer weight of his daunting task is showing.
To be sure, there's much to admire in these four issues. For those unfamiliar
with the series' main themes, Morrison succinctly sketches out the battle lines:
mankind vs. mutantkind in a short and sharply written vignette wherein the
villain of the piece, a gnarled bald woman with a seemingly limitless array of
powers, shows a fearful dentist named Trask a holographic reenactment of Homo
Sapiens slaughtering Neanderthal Man to take its place in the world order.
Elsewhere, he lets drop the intriguing premise of an extinction gene in
mankind's makeup, which promises to render the human race moot within four
generations, just as a new strain of mutantkind is emerging.
Readers also get to witness Morrison's take on the real-world applications of
the mutants' fantastic powers, as Wolverine's vaunted regenerative powers set to
work healing burning, bullet-pocked flesh. Shortly afterward, psychic
manifestations of the X-Men lounge on mental couches as they engage in a sort of
virtual-reality telepathic conference with their mentor, Charles Xavier.
There are numerous other little touches sprinkled throughout, from a move
toward less garish costumes to glimpses of the school being run like an actual
school, filled with real mutant students (both certainly the influence of the
successful X-Men film). And Morrison alludes to the long-simmering
tension between Logan (Wolverine) and Jean Grey in a wonderfully understated
scene: Jean, fretting over the icy distance in her marriage with Cyclops, turns
to Logan for comfort, only for him to tell her they both know the two of them
would never work together -- a welcome change from the pining, lovestruck Logan of
But these bits of off-the-cuff razzle-dazzle seems to have been invested with
more thought and care than the actual plot, which involves our nameless
villain -- the female twin of Xavier, separated at birth? -- taking control of a
hidden enclave of super-adaptable mutant-hunting Sentinel robots (thanks in part
to the hapless Trask, a descendant of the Sentinels' creator). The sight of
skittery, spidery Sentinels cobbled together out of spare parts is visually
creepy, but underdeveloped. Soon she's set the Sentinels loose on the mutant
island -- nation of Genosha, unleashing wanton murder and destruction that's all
the more chilling in the wake of September 11.
Soon, Cyclops and Wolverine have captured the woman -- nicknamed "Charlie X" in
Morrison's notes at the end of the book -- and brought her to their headquarters
at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Once there, she attempts to take
control of Xavier himself, who forces her out of his mind at gunpoint (another
nice touch). But she's not so easily swayed, and soon she's made the switch
without anyone the wiser -- save the Beast (looking very cool in a new,
unexplained feline form), who's beaten into a coma for his troubles. The
four-issue arc ends on an ominous note, as Charlie X, inside Xavier's body,
boards a Shi'ar starship for some alleged R&R, gloating at the prospect of such
a powerful craft at her disposal.
All of which is certainly engaging, but too much is introduced in this small
arc, and as a consequence some plot points don't get the exploration they
deserve. Xavier/X drops a bombshell by "outing" Xavier and the school to the
public, which results in angry protestors gathering outside the mansion. Surely
there'd be more dramatic repercussions than these? Also, Xavier guns down X in
cold blood, and none of the X-Men question this drastic reversal of Xavier's
pacifist approach. (Granted, it's actually X in Xavier's body, gunning down
Xavier in X's, but nevertheless.)
Still, Rome wasn't built in a day, and if Morrison so far relies more on
flash than on story, it's no different from his preliminary work on DC's JLA.
One suspects his master plan will unfold slowly, a point his "Morrison
Manifesto" -- a copy of his initial, intriguing notes for the arc -- backs up.
Still, it's a bit disappointing that this much-anticipated first glimpse at
Morrison's X-Men is less substantive -- and even, yes, slightly less
flashy -- than his previous works would suggest. But there's still sufficient
evidence in these pages to hint that his combination of the cerebral and showy
spectacle will still yield some much-needed and enjoyable changes in Marvel's
once-proud, flagship superteam.
New X-Men: Imperial
Uncanny X-Men: Poptopia
Morrison made his name with his lysergic re-imagining of
DC's vaunted Doom Patrol, and Crawling From The Wreckage
wisely collects his first issues with the series. But it's his
against-all-odds revamping of the venerated Justice League that has made
Morrison a household name. His entire run is collected in paperback form:
American Dreams, Rock Of Ages and World War III are
arguably the best.
Even More Morrison
Marvel Boy, featuring an original character devised
for the Marvel Knights line, is worth seeking. Likewise, fans of the
X-Files, S&M and general absurdity would be rewarded with
Morrison's The Invisibles. Although it's not a great read,
Morrison's Batman: Arkham Asylum is gorgeously painted by the
always-superlative Dave McKean.
Lest you think I've forgotten the talented Mr. Quitely, The Authority is the book that put him on the map, and
Authority: Under New Management is a joy to read. JLA completists will
also appreciate JLA: Earth Two, also featuring Morrison.
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