Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Tedd Riccio is a comic book aficionado chock full of useful comic history knowledge. So why not tap into that knowledge for the betterment of you, the reader? Debuting today (and hopefully appearing weekly) will be a new column by newly appointed Assistant Editor Tedd (just Tedd will be fine). This column will be called “Hank McCoy (Before the Fur),” so be sure to keep your eyes open for his unique insights into comics.

A critique of Grant Morrison’s New X-men (Or, Grant Morrison makes me feel dirty and I need a shower)

A few years back, Grant Morrison headlined an aptly named (for the time) new X-men title named New X-men. Many of the choices Morrison made have had a big impact on the current X-men continuity (exposure that Xavier is a mutant to the known world, extension of Xavier’s financial resources into the X-corporation, the destruction of Genosha, etc.). A big chunk of what you read about in X-men comics these days has to do with the events of this series, and the longer Morrison wrote it? The more critical acclaim it got.

After twenty or so odd years of reading X-men comics, all I can say is: who are these people giving this comic series acclaim, why are they choosing to do so, and do they need therapeutic counseling and/ or psychiatric care? Because frankly, New X-men’s disturbing sleigh ride through a world of fragile, violent human relationships and freakish abnormal physical deformities leaves me wondering about the mental stability of the fan of any such series.

Your average X-men story tends to be big on the all-out mutant warfare but one other ingredient- sensitivity. Yeah, it’s cool to watch the X-men fight it out with the Marauders, waste the Brood, and tangle with inter-dimensional demons, but it’s those big questions about ethics, relationships, and prejudice, that still keep you coming back for more after forty years.

So who are these incredibly brutal, insensitive people in Grant Morrison’s comic book? Why the hell is Magneto, survivor of the Holocaust, leading human beings to the slaughter on Genosha? Why is Scott Summers having an affair? Why is Trish Tilby rejecting Hank McCoy because of the way he looks? Oh, and my favorite- Xavier carries a GUN and Jean JUST NOTICES THIS, NOW, for the FIRST TIME?

Beyond such bizarre characterizations and plot points, there are some strong (albeit, alternative) elements to this series. I admit, the way Morrison gets up in your face with the whole ‘mutations are often unsettling, grotesque, unpleasant, fleshy things’ angle is an interesting approach. Morrison isn’t pulling any punches while you watch Wolverine pick bullets out of his skin or Cassandra Nova (who I’ll get too) thrust her hand through the face of a distant relation of Bolivar Trask. The thing is? I have a tough time being sympathetic with the X-men in this book, because hell, I’M freaked out by the X-men in this book. Of course, maybe that was the writer’s point- and for that I commend him. Evolution is a scary, brutal, freaky process, and the mutants in this series are a testament to that. In particular, I find the subtle suggestion on Morrison’s part that the conflict between humanity and it’s mutated offshoot is irreconcilable because of simple, primal, evolutionary urges to survive is intriguing.

The thing is, if it’s so damn hopeless, why keep going? In any other series, that question would spark motivation in the characters. But in Morrison’s series, it almost seems foolish, unintelligent, to even try to create a world where humans and mutants live in peace. The idealism you valued in other X-men series seems na├»ve and/or hollow.

I would praise and criticize the writer’s use of the cast and cameos in equal fashion. While some characters, such as the visually stimulating but painfully arrogant Emma Frost, get tons of time in the spot light. Fantomex is the kind of character that thirteen year olds dream up for a role-playing game- take the most ridiculously powerful, informed, anti-hero loner type you can think of and you’re coming close. Why do I get the feeling that Morrison wants to be this guy? Worthwhile characters from X-force and Generation X like Domino, M, Multiple Man, Rictor, Siryn, and the now late (thanks Grant) Russian mutant Darkstar get a couple of lines here and there, but nothing substantial. Why these characters suddenly got second rate treatment after carrying their own titles for years, I’ll never really now.

As far as adding to the X-men canon? I have to admit the man did some cool stuff- some of it more in the vein of returning to and cleaning up old storylines that I’ve always loved. I’ve been waiting eagerly for Marvel to capitalize on the whole Civil War could turn into Days of Future Past thing, and seeing a big-ass Sentinel Master Mold in the middle of Ecuador makes me shiver at the possibilities. For those of you who didn’t grow up in the eighties, the Superhuman Registration Act is the first step forward down what could be a long, dark, world-ending cycle that the X-men have been fighting to stop for a long time. Days of Future Past didn’t feature humans enslaving mutants or vice versa- instead, but rather an army of sentinels that hunted down and killed mutants and super-powered humans alike, taking their mandate to protect humans to its ultimate extreme (a la Terminator).

Also, I’d be recalcitrant if I didn’t mention that Cassandra Nova is a frightening, disturbing villain that’s worth keeping around. A sort of ‘Anti-Professor X,’ Cassandra is a bald headed, incredibly powerful psychic entity that’s devoted to wiping mutants off the planet instead of helping them survive. The fact that she’s Xavier’s twin goes with Morrison’s whole ‘mutations have to do with genetics not super-powers’ theme. Once you get past the freaky babies in the womb strangling each other origin, you can appreciate her for what she is: an incredibly powerful being whose sole motivation is not simply to kill Charles Xavier but to destroy everything he has every built. Such a brutal villain warrants attention- I mean, Christ, even Apocalypse has a PHILOSOPHY about LIFE.

The art in this book is among the least appealing I’ve seen Marvel put out in a while and doesn’t hold much depth. In fact, it even seems a little unclear to me. Overall, I think this series showcases more about Grant Morrison’s style than it does the X-men comic’s, although there’s no questioning that the man has talent as a story-teller. I just wish he didn’t break so completely from the previous portrayal of all the characters that have been in print for roughly forty five years. Tampering with the classics has some merit for pushing things forward, but I think he goes a little too far. I wouldn’t be able to call myself a fan though, because frankly, I just don’t think I’m hardcore enough to live in the man’s world.