The X-Men of My Discontent – Part 1


In 2001, when Marvel Comics announced that Grant Morrison would be taking over the writing reins on the newly named New X-Men, I have to admit, I was both excited and scared. Being the resident X-Men geek at iFanboy, any changes — good or bad — would have the most effect on me, as I’ve been committed to these characters for longer than I can remember. Aside from a touch of commentary and a review here and there, I’ve remained a tad silent over the roughly three years of Morrison’s tenure, wanting to hold back my judgment until the run was over. Well, Morrison is now exclusive at DC Comics and his last issue of New X-Men came out a few weeks ago. My self-imposed silence must come to an end. Therefore, I went into my collection and pulled every issue Morrison wrote, including the key 2001 Annual, and re-read them cover to cover, because even I don’t remember every exacting detail of 3+ years of comics and I wanted to give the run a fair shake.

Part of my excitement for Morrison taking over as the writer of New X-Men stemmed from his run on JLA, which was not only my first exposure to Morrison’s work but it also got me interested in JLA as well as the entire DC Universe. I felt that Morrison had an obvious respect for those characters and, while taking a modern approach to his stories and situations, he remained true to the characters and the team’s history. So knowing his approach there, I thought his time on X-Men could yield similar results. But what scared me about Morrison was that “Rock Star” edge he has to himself. The other books he has written have shown some level of rebellion in them, such as The Invisibles, Kill Your Boyfriend and other offbeat Vertigo titles. Combine that with the tongue-in-cheek response the X-Men often get due to their reputation of convoluted plots and excess, and I was worried that there would be a part of Morrison that would approach the book with the aim of wanting to take these tired characters and shaking them up, most likely pissing off the core group of X-Men fans. Upon reading the announcement of his hiring, I felt like it could in either direction. What it ended up being was a slight combination of the two. Morrison is obviously a smart writer and realized what a goldmine of possibilities he had in these characters. Add in a heightened level of popularity due to the X-Men films, and Morrison seemed to have lowered the respect-for-the-past level and increased the modern-edge aspect. He seemed to choose to really shake things up, much more than he did in JLA, taking the risk of possibly pissing off legions of readers. While he made his mark on JLA by taking timeless characters and modernizing them, I feel he has equally made his mark on New X-Men by taking established characters and tearing them apart, attempting to leave his mark on the book for years to come.

It’s important to note that in this article, I won’t be touching on the artwork aspect of Grant Morrison’s run. To say anything less than it being a complete and utter failure/disappointment would be sugarcoating the topic. Marvel sold us the team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. For whatever reasons, Quitely couldn’t keep up. So we had a rotation which included Igor Kordey, Ethan Van Sciver, Phil Jimenez, Chris Bachalo and Marc Silvestri, among others. Now I’m not detracting from any of those artists, in fact I’m a huge fan of Jimenez and loved every issue he drew, my expectations for a “run” include consistency in art. The Uncanny X-Men of old was at its best during Chris Claremont and John Byrne, or Claremont and Silvestri, and finally Claremont and Jim Lee. Hell, even Morrison’s JLA was set in the foundation of Howard Porter’s art. Without consistency of an artist, it’s very hard for a comic book run to be memorable.

That said, let’s begin looking at Morrison’s words.

In his first issue dated July 2001, #114, the shakeup began and I have to admit my gut reaction was to not like it. In this first issue, we’re introduced to the following changes:

• Perennial villain Emma Frost as a member of the X-Men.
• New uniforms which were suggestive of the movies.
• A renewed focus by Professor Xavier on the school for mutants.
• The introduction of a new mutant-tracking device, Cerebra, that further magnifies the Professor (or any telepath’s) power.
• Introduction of “second mutations” – the idea that mutants can mutate again later in life, such as the Beast evolving into more of a feral-like animal and Emma Frost being able to turn her body into an organic diamond

From the get-go, I had a bad feeling about it. After re-reading the run now, I realize that I was just being a bit of a stereotypical fanboy who feared change. Looking back at it, the changes he made initially weren’t that bad, with the exception of the “second mutations” which has just been a poor plot device meant to shake up possibly tired characters. The whole idea just seems to me like a lazy solution for inciting change in a character.

In the first series of story arcs, issues #114 through #126, we’re treated to the return of a new breed of Sentinel, a new villain in a pith helmet: Cassandra Nova, the destruction of Genosha and the murder of 16 million mutants (including Magneto), and the “outing” of Professor Xavier and the X-Men in a very public manner when Professor Xavier announces to the world that he is a mutant, as are all the students at his school. Within just a few issues Morrison had shaken the core of the X-Men by making them no longer hiding in the shadows. By weaving various plot twists and character behaviors, Morrison was able to, over the course of 13 issues, accomplish quite a bit in a very well thought out manner. He laid the groundwork for very subtle character interactions and plot twists, that once executed, made perfect sense and continued the suspense of the stories. He introduced new characters within the school as well as laid the groundwork for future story arcs. Now while every story had the Morrison/”big ideas” flare, at the end of the day he really did not do anything “new”. Sentinels? Professor Xavier being possessed by an evil entity? Pitting the X-Men against the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard? At the end of the conflict Professor Xavier can walk again? These are all story ideas that have been done several times over in the X-Men’s 40 + years. What he did do though was to inject those concepts with a more 21st Century feel. The new mutants at the school have taken a more physical manifestation of their mutations, which is a logical evolution of the concept. In the 1960’s every mutant was fairly normal looking but with some level of “difference” be it wings, over-sized hands/feet or the ability to shoot energy from his eyes. But now, in 2001, we have students at the school who look like mutants. Whether it’s the character of Beak who looks like a human/chicken crossbreed or a character whose body consists of see-through wax.