Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review # 188: "New X-Men by Grant Morrison Ultimate Collection Vol. 1"

After the X-Men died a slow death through "The Twelve" and "Ages of Apocalypse," it wandered like an undead zombie shambling through stories involving the High Evolutionary and the intergalactic community. Alan Davis was trying, bless him, but the series was in such dire need of rehab it seemed like there was nothing Marvel could do to fix things.

They brought Chris Claremont back. It didn't work. "Uncanny X-Men" was too far gone from his original designs.

Then they brought Scott Lobdell back. That didn't work either. While he did some brief life back into the franchise by - ironically - killing a major character in a fantastic issue, it did not last long.

Then new Marvel chief Joe Quesada made arguably the best decision of his career, pulling off quite possibly the greatest coup in the history of Marvel. He took a risk by hiring the very much freethinking and unpredictable Grant Morrison to assume creative control of the banner X-Men series. Rebranding "X-Men," as "New X-Men," his changes were so drastic that if you go back and check out a few issues from "Dream's End," it's difficult to believe that they were separated by only a few months.

Morrison operated under the modus operandi that nothing that happened to the X-Men since the events of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" 20 years prior was really all that important. In retrospect, it's kinda like the antithesis to his Batman run where EVERYTHING that happened to Batman EVER was a part of continuity. It creates some character issues, particularly when it comes to Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force, but that's more than balanced out by the number of fantastic decisions he made. Some of which continue to affect the X-Men 15 years after they happened. Now that's impact!

Let's go over a few of the great things Morrison did right at the onset with his landmark "E is For Extinction" which begins eight months in comic book time after the previous issue of "X-Men."

A new look

With the X-Men film hitting the big screen, character designs are redone to be more in tune with how the movie appeared. Frank Quitely's designs here are very well done, as they push towards the leather look of Hugh Jackman et al, but pull back enough to have an element of colour. This creates a great comic book look that shows off how different things were going to be moving forward.

The X-Men are re-purposed as teachers and protectors of mutant society

As the mutant population spikes, the X-Mansion is suddenly buzzing with activity. The school is filled with young mutants, from the very normal-looking to the very unusual. It's wonderfully weird, both from a visual and characterization standpoint supported by the likes of the five-in-one Stepford Cuckoos, Beak, Angel Salvadore and a myriad of backgrounders. Knowing Morrison, he probably had put together lengthy backstories for every single character that appears in the school. True or not, this is something that would be taken advantage of later down the line as some students move to the foreground in a major way.

The destruction of Genosha

To show that Morrison isn't messing around, he puts over his new villain Cassandra Nova by having her blow up the island nation using a Sentinel and kill nearly all 16 million people living there, including (seemingly) Emma Frost and Magneto. And remember what I mentioned about Morrison often having lengthy backstories for seemingly every character? You look at Teenage Negasonic Warhead in Emma's class - who is killed only a couple of pages into her existence - and know... KNOW... that Morrison had put a lot into her.

Emma Frost

The former White Queen undergoes a character regenesis here that took her from the tertiary pages of "Generation X" and moved her into the Top 10 X-Men of all time. Maybe Top 5. Emma is redesigned by Morrison and Quitely as a manipulative minx, who begins to meddle in the struggling relationship between Cyclops and Jean Grey. You may read that and wonder why the hell she's an X-Man. But when you pick up the volume, you're quick to realize how complementary she is to the team and school's function. It's like she can't not be there.

The evolution or devolution of Beast

I love Cat Beast and dislike that Marvel pushed him back into ape mode. Undergoing a secondary mutation which transforms Hank McCoy into a more feline creature only enhances the difference between his outward appearance and inward soul. When Trish Tilby dumps him via phone message for having paws, you can feel the hurt in him. Hank talking about no longer being able to play the guitar and picking up the drums instead makes him more admirable than ever before. But he's still struggling to accept what has happened to him, which a storyline twist uses to full effect.

On top of all this, Morrison's opening arc is a home run. The villain Cassandra Nova is frightening, and her origin is like something out of a Stephen King novel. It incorporates the X-Men's past (both pre-Dark Phoenix, it should be noted) in brilliant ways, employing a member of the Trask family, Sentinels and the Shi'ar Empire. Nova's plan is beautiful in how evil it is, and it brings out the best of her opposition. Cyclops leads like a badass, Emma manipulates like a master, Beast sells the horror of a scientific revelation like a champ, Jean Grey KILLS IT as Marvel's undisputed Alpha Woman of the time, and Wolverine is, well... he's Wolverine. Nuff said.


Oh, lord. I hate to break this momentum, but volume one of this series has some serious art issues.

Let me say that Frank Quitely is a great artist. His work on "All-Star Superman," "We3" and the first volume of "Batman and Robin" ranks as some of my favourite comic art ever. But he somehow manages to blow it with EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER DESIGN of the main team. While their costumes look sharp, Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma and Jean are distorted to the point that they're practically off-model. Scott is a wiry monstrosity, Logan looks like a grease monkey, Emma has the maturity of a 17-year-old and Jean resembles Heidi with gigantism. Some issues drawn by Leinil Yu and Ethan Van Sciver get their looks back on track, but these problems under Quitely would persist.

And then there's the Igor Kordey issues which are grotesque in general. I'm not going to harp on Igor too much here, because he was dealing with very tight deadlines and it shows. But there's one shot of Cyclops escaping captivity with the newcomer Xorn that looks so bad that under normal circumstances I wouldn't believe it had reached print. Again, though, Kordey had a WEEK to draw some of these so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So it is with a heavy heart that I take a sure-fire 10 out of 10 rating and deduct a harsh.... zero points. Seriously, despite the slight continuity problems and sometimes garish art, Morrison's early days with the X-Men are so good that nothing can really bring it down. This gets a perfect score and likes it, as - after a decade removed from its greatest creative mind - Grant Morrison comes in and finally does the "X-Men" franchise the justice it deserves.

Rating: 10/10

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