on twilight, liking stupid things, and being a creepo

November 27th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

The best part of each new Twilight movie is the flood of essays examining the book that pop up like unwanted weeds. It’ll teach our daughters crappy values (because our daughters are idiots, I guess), it’s anti-feminist, it’s creepy, it’s fine leave it alone you haters, no it’s not fine shut up, girls like it? ugh!!! on and on and on ad nauseam. Along with all of that is the relentless mocking about how Twilight is so dumb (how dumb is it) it’s so dumb that vampires sparkle in the daylight! Haw haw haw! Never mind that telling Twilight jokes in 2011 is basically the exact same thing as having “a really good Black Eyed Peas joke” or “hysterically funny image macro.” (Sorry, dawg, but you don’t. Wrap it up and move on.)

And I mean, personally, Twilight isn’t even on my radar. I don’t really care about vampires. I’m not a teenaged girl (or a cougar, which I think is another large part of that franchise’s fanbase? I don’t know anything but what the internet tells me). I don’t like the summaries I’ve heard (though the vampiric c-section sounds pretty crazy). But Twilight is a sales juggernaut, dominant in pop culture right now, and a post about it in one style or another guarantees a certain number of hits and controversy. So sites I like roll out their Twilight coverage and I trip over it. People I know dis it hard and others defend it as a thing of value. I don’t really have a horse in that race, but I like reading things, so sometimes I go against my better judgment and read big fights about something that I don’t care about beyond being curious about people’s reactions to other people liking/disliking it.

I had a Twilight-inspired epiphany earlier this year. It was while I was at San Diego Comic-Con, in fact. Twilight fans showed up at SDCC and camped outside to see… I don’t even know what they were there for, come to think about it. Maybe a panel with an exclusive trailer or a signing or something. Regardless, they had tents, sleeping bags, the whole shebang.

Late one night, the people I was with were like “Let’s go to the Twilight camp and take pictures!” This was like 1am, I think. Very late, but before the shuttle buses stopped running. I was pretty sober, since drinking during SDCC is expensive and I don’t particularly like being drunk anyway, but I went along because I wanted to keep hanging out.

We got there and they took pictures and I felt completely creeped out the entire time. It just felt strange and ugly. My skin was crawling. I really didn’t want to be there, but I waited it out and left when my friends were done. It bothered me, though, and it stuck in my craw the entire week.

Later on, I realized that I was the creep. There’s this aura around a lot of the criticism about Twilight, a suggestion that the fans are creeps with bad taste who like bad books. But they weren’t the ones taking photos of folks who weren’t doing nothing in the middle of the night or creating long, punishingly funny posts about how terrible Twilight is. They were just having fun.

I like a lot of things. I like books, movies, music, girls with certain haircuts, Anna Karina, girls with freckles, and even a few video games. But if you asked me to camp out for four days so that I could get a brief taste of any of those… honestly, I’d laugh at you. That’s a silly idea to me.

I think that’s because I don’t like anything as much as those people like Twilight.

Which is sorta crazy, because I straight up love a lot of things, but that’s a step too far to me. I couldn’t do it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t even wait in line to get things signed, because I could care less about autographs. Midnight opening for a video game? What, so I can go home and play it for ten minutes before falling asleep so I can go to my job on time? C’mon, son.

Grantland posted a really good Twilight photo-essay by Lane Brown the other week. I clicked because I generally like Grantland, and was curious to see their take. Would it be defensive, a desperate plea that Twilight is okay? Or would they go on the offensive and strip Twilight bare? Turns out, it was neither. They took a look at the fans and talked to them.

It’s a really nice piece. They found a bunch of friends and families who treated it like a vacation. They were out there to have fun and enjoy this thing that they like. Everybody looks normal. There’s old people, young people, and in-between people. They’re just out to make some fun memories.

The Twilight phenomenon is pretty interesting. That sort of devotion is foreign to me, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous of the fans. I like things I like to the fullest extent that I like them, and that’s fine. But I don’t “camp out overnight” like anything. There’s a difference in approach and scope that’s really interesting to me. Everybody consumes things differently, and these people found a way that works for them just like I did.

The onslaught of Twilight press is draining. Every time I see somebody that probably reads X-Men comics or plays the same crappy video games as everyone else talking about how terrible Twilight is in that exaggerated “Pay attention to me, love me please!” sort of way that abounds online, I sorta wince.

I’m the last person to suggest that you shouldn’t call things bad (everything I have seen about Twilight suggests that it is at least as bad as them Anne Rice novels my mom used to read, and probably equally as bad as that comic where Ms Marvel was impregnated by and then gave birth to her own son from another dimension), but critiquing the fans instead of the work is… it’s pointless, isn’t it? Because really, who cares? They’re not going to stop liking what they like, the people who like you will parrot your jokes, and then life goes on. And on top of that, you’re critiquing a legion of people who like the books for a legion of reasons. That’s like trying to hold water in a funnel. It isn’t going to work. You’re going to lose.

There’s no deeper truth beyond “Yeah, this lady likes Twilight because she likes the way the lead actor looks” or “Yeah, this dude likes Twilight because his girlfriend got him into it.” It’s popular now, and its popularity will fade, just like everything else. Maybe the stars will have to do something drastic to avoid being typecast, like the major characters in Harry Potter did. It seems like it’s way more interesting and… maybe not fulfilling, that’s a realer word than I want to use, but let’s use it anyway: more fulfilling to talk about the book and what it’s saying than some schmuck who’s willing to sit outside because he likes something more than you do.

I don’t really have a point, I guess, beyond the fact that I hate feeling like a creep.

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X-Men First Class: “Blue is beautiful.”

June 8th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

X-Men First Class!

It was pretty much the only comics movie I was really looking forward to this year (unless I forgot about something, but I doubt it), so I caught X-Men First Class while I was on vacation last weekend. Overall? I dug it. It’s not the best-written or best-directed Marvel flick, but it has a strong visual style all its own, and it being set in the non-swingin’ sixties apparently counts for a lot for me. I’d rank it as being better–for whatever better means, I guess “more enjoyable” at this specific point in time–than the other X-Men and Spider-Man flicks. Better than Iron Man, even. It’s less cute, and there’s no Robert Downey charmingly stumbling his way into your heart.

Anyway, I have Opinions:

-Michael Fassbender as Magneto as Simon Wiesenthal was a good look. Magneto in the comics is… I don’t want to say soft, but he’s very comic book. He’s simplified, boiled down into that superhero/supervillain dichotomy. In X-Men First Class, he’s much more human, and even more relatable.

-I hadn’t realized how much I liked the character, the idea, of Magneto before this, but yeah: I like him a lot. There are two key lines that were blown in the trailer that I think are significant. I’m copy/pasting from Wikipedia, since I saw this days ago and already forgot, but:

Professor Charles Xavier: We have it in us to be the better man.
Erik Lehnsherr: We ALREADY are.


Professor Charles Xavier: Listen to me very carefully, my friend: Killing will not bring you peace.
Erik Lehnsherr: Peace was never an option.

-My Magneto is probably similar to Morrison’s–he’s a mad old terrorist, but he’s not entirely wrong, either. He’s extremely powerful as a symbol, which I already knew and enjoyed, but X-Men First Class added a human component that I enjoy. The conflict in the comics comes from the fact that Magneto becomes what he despises (a Nazi) out of a desire to protect his race. Goofy comic book plotting.

-What I like about Magneto, what those lines unlocked, is that 1) he’s lost and he knows it and 2) some people deserve to die. It’s part of why crime fiction, and more specifically, Frank Miller’s The Big Fat Kill, are so appealing/interesting to me. Morality through immorality/amorality. Who puts the bullet in the head of him that deserves it?

-Magneto is convinced of his race’s superiority (and he’s technically correct), but he’s also come to accept that he is broken. He’s a martyr in his own mind, and the one person willing to do what must be done in order to protect his kin. His life doesn’t matter, so long as he spends it for his people.

-Peace isn’t an option because his peace was stolen decades ago.

-Fassbender, man. SO manly. I’d watch a sequel that was him terrorizing his way through the ’60s and ’70s. Magneto the Jackal.

-I liked James McAvoy as Xavier, too. He wasn’t as revelatory as Fassbender, but his callous, arrogant Xavier worked. The little touches, like the way he used groovy while hitting on coeds or how he didn’t really get the mutant struggle, were great, too.

-Rose Byrne as Moira, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique were all pretty okay. Good enough that I would watch them in sequels, but not standouts.

-January Jones was terrible.

-The major cameo was as great as everyone else has said, and the Cerebro sequence was pretty cool, too.

-Kevin Bacon was great. It’s like he saw Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost, one of my most favorite roles ever, and was like, “Yo, I can top that. Sebastian Shaw? Son, I got this. Watch.” Fassbender > Bacon > McAvoy > everybody else > January Jones.

-I like Zoe Kravitz. I thought she did a fine enough job with a poisoned chalice. And I mean, her mom is Lisa Bonet and her dad is Lenny Kravitz, and she looks it. Instantly made my top ten dead or alive list.

-The list changes constantly, but right now we’re looking at Rosario Dawson, Anna Karina, Scarlett Johansson, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones, Salma Hayek, Josephine Baker, Aki Hoshino, Lucille Ball, Sade, and Erykah Badu. That’s eleven. Vivica Fox or Lisa Bonet might rotate onto the list soon, too.

-But yeah, let’s talk about what I didn’t like.

-It sucked to be black in the sixties, and that goes double if you’re a mutant, apparently. Edi Gathegi as Darwin died in one of the dumbest scenes in any movie anywhere and Kravitz turned evil because dot dot dot.

-Darwin basically served two purposes in the movie. He was there so that when someone said “slavery” when talking about mutant rights, the camera could focus on his face. He was there to die to give Shaw some cheap heat.

-Here’s a scene, paraphrased fairly faithfully:

Shaw: What’s your power?
Darwin: Evolving to survive anything.
Shaw: Survive this. *puts a fireball in Darwin’s mouth*
*Darwin dies slowly over the next minute while making a sad face*
*white people are sad*
*every black person in the audience leans over to the nearest black person like “niggas always gotta die first”*


-Get outta here. Really? It wasn’t even a shin hadouken. That was a medium punch joint at best. It looked like a gadouken.

-Darwin was wasted, but that’s symptomatic of the larger problems with X-Men First Class.

-He was an extra character. The movie is too full, and pretty much just Beast, Magneto, Mystique, and Xavier get a chance to shine. Banshee gets something like seven whole lines, doesn’t he?

-So, because the cast is so full, everyone’s motivations are… thin. Angel is okay with being ogled as a stripper, but hates how the humans look at her wings. That makes a kind of sense–she’s in control in one area and not in the other. But apparently she hates the latter so much that she signs up with a genocidal mutant after less than a month of even knowing that other mutants existed, deserting her mutant friends with not a second thought.

-Oh, and right before she does that, an off-screen human is like “Take the mutants, they’re hiding in here! Just don’t kill me!” just in case you don’t get that no one likes them. Racism! (Eyerolls!)

-Nobody beyond the main characters have much of a reason to do anything until Darwin bites it.

-“Hey, do this.” “Sure, okay.”

-“Boy, being a mutant sure is cool.” “Yep, sure is. :)”

-“Man, humans sure do hate us.” “Yeah, they do :(”

-But really, the worst part is that both black mutants die or turn evil in the same scene. What part of the game is that? You make a movie out of a series that borrowed heavily from the civil rights struggle and then cut out all the negroes?

-I’m not saying I want balance, one good and one evil. I think that’s dumb, to be perfectly honest. But at least let me believe that black mutants have actual reasons to do things or have powers that aren’t lame. “I can survive anything. Oh wait, no, I’m dying!” is crap!

-It’s doubly crap because of the pro-mutant slogan that pops up a few times in the movie. Say it loud: “Mutant… and proud.”

-The pregnant pause is part of the slogan.

-It’s like the moral of the movie is “Black, er, blue is beautiful!”

-I can totally buy evil black mutants. It makes sense, it’s feasible, blah blah blah. But I didn’t buy it here because the writing team barely even tried to sell it. They just threw it out there.

-Boring. They got to do better next time.

-The Nazis got what they deserve, though, so that’s okay.

-On the flipside… there’s a bit where a Nazi quarter (did they call them quarters? it’s worth 25 Nazi Cents I assume and has a swastika on it) turns into the X-Men First Class logo. That’s probably not the best message to be sending at the beginning of your big fat civil rights metaphor. I don’t know whether that’s because Nazis barely count as people or because it sets up a really terrible unintentional comparison.

-“Mutants?! More like Nazis, am I right, fellas?”

-Next time: tighter script, better colored mutants (I’d settle for a real gully version of Bishop or uh… actually Frenzy would be kinda dope, as long as they go real raw with her), and more Fassbender. Fewer sad white people, fewer characters with no motivation, fewer scenes with January Jones stinking up the spot.

-“Magneto was right.”

-Oh yeah, better music in the new one, too. This one was forgettable. X-Men’s got to be a sexy franchise, and the ’60s were a great time for music. Throw some period joints on that fire.

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The Point One Collaboration Experiment

May 24th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Last Wednesday saw the release of Alpha Flight #0.1, the first in what appears to be a second wave of comics in Marvel’s Point One Initiative. Revealed first in late October and making its debut on the shelves in February, Marvel decided to start focusing on certain issues of their various series as jumping on points. It’s similar, at least to me, to DC’s One Year Later comics that existed after the events of Infinite Crisis half a decade ago, only without the shakeup factor of it all. They simply give us a bunch of $2.99 comic issues that claim to be a great place for a new reader to start with and move forward.

I’ve seen people review the Point One books in batches, comparing what worked and what didn’t. I even thought of doing that myself, but then I took a second to notice that it would be pretty unnecessary. What reason could I possibly have to review those? For instance, I read Jeff Parker’s Hulk as is and enjoy the hell out of it. So of course I would love Hulk #30.1. I’m already on board for the series. To me, it’s just another great issue. I’m not the intended audience for such a review.

But you know who would be good for this kind of thing? People who would read Hulk #30.1 despite never reading the 29 prior issues. Same for Avengers #12.1 and Wolverine #5.1 and so on. If this is Marvel’s attempt to bring in new readers, I need to get me a hold of some new readers! Namely, I need a crew from the DC side of the tracks. It was a long and tortuous search (fifteen seconds, give or take), but I figured on a perfect trio for this experiment.

First up is Esther Inglis-Arkell, the Clobberella of the 4thletter! New Justice Team. Since she and I have had shockingly minimal interaction over the years on this site and she stands firm on DC ground, Esther was ideal for this. Joining Esther is Was Taters, a friend to this site for all the work she regularly does for This Week in Panels. Lastly, I introduce my real life good buddy Andrew, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for the past five and a half years.

Before we get started, let’s hear from our guinea pigs.

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This Week in Panels: Week 79

March 27th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Good evening or morning or whenever you’re reading this. This week I’m helped out by David Brothers and Space Jawa.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #5
Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert

Batman Incorporated #4
Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham

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This Week in Panels: Week 53

September 26th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Welcome to another week of This Week. Not as many comics from my end as usual, but I have David tossing me a couple, as well as contributors Was Taters and Space Jawa. As I start these off in alphabetical order, I find myself asking: what tracks does Emma Frost have in her earrings?

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3
Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews

Avengers #5
Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.

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7 Artists: Chris Bachalo

July 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Nobody in comics draws quite like Chris Bachalo.

I’ve seen people complain that his work is too confusing, hard to follow, or too jumbled. There may be a point there, but not one that I ever really agreed with. Bachalo’s art is dense. He draws in a way that fills panels with details. He doesn’t do the Bryan Hitch thing, where every jet has several realistic parts. He’s not Moebius or Katsuhiro Otomo, so he’s not throwing in every detail there is to throw in. No, Bachalo has more in common with Geof Darrow than any of those guys.

Darrow and Bachalo have a style that can be described as “obsessive.” In Shaolin Cowboy, Darrow drew every rock and lizard and butt crack he could get away with. His figures look like real people, but as you look at his work, you see more extraneous information than you would with the average comics artist. There are too many details, too many little touches, for them to be realistic.

Bachalo’s work is similar, though for different reasons. Bachalo doesn’t even try to replicate reality in his work. He’s more concerned with replicating the experience of life, rather than the appearance. In essence, where Hitch or Otomo try to make their drawings as close to real life as possible, Bachalo wants to replicate the feel of real life via caricature. Bachalo’s approach is fascinating, and makes for exciting, and beautiful, comics. The closest person to his drawing style in American comics is Humberto Ramos, but that is more due to the fact that they have complementary styles, rather than styles that resemble each other (i.e., Alan Davis & Bryan Hitch).

Bachalo draws these smooth, Play-Doh-type people. They have smooth skin, prominent noses, gelled-up hair, and wide mouths. Bachalo doesn’t go in for the muscles-upon-muscles style of superheroic art. Instead, he shows how powerful someone is by simply drawing them bigger and broader than everyone else. His Spider-Man is tiny and fairly muscleless, but he’s also lithe and practically a contortionist.

One of my favorite visual gags that Bachalo has drawn came early in Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day. J Jonah Jameson, after suffering a heart attack, is in the hospital, crankier than ever before and ready to go. He sneaks outside into the snow, barely making any headway against the wind. Panel five has the money shot–James with his leg thrown out far, bound and determined to take another step while a nurse drags him back inside.

That one panel is a perfect look at how Chris Bachalo uses caricature to create believable body language. It’s not realistic by any means. The snow is a big ball of blurred white, Jameson’s gown is just a little wrinkly, and his neck is way too long. This is practically a Three Stooges or Buster Keaton shot in comic book form. Jameson’s exaggerated motion, along with his stick-thin legs, enormous chin, and long neck, all work in concert here to tell you everything you need to know, clear as day.

Bachalo is a master of acting. In this page from Amazing Spider-Man: Shed, Carlie and Peter are having an impromptu lunch. Bachalo uses close-ups to frame the page and three wide panels to show the actual action. Peter has a Ralph Dibny nose when he goes “Cheers” with his cup, Carlie’s carefully dabbing at her mouth after a messy bite, and her relaxed lean in panel four is killer. The quiet laugh in panel five is pretty great, too. Peter and Carlie come across as comfortable and friendly, and you don’t need dialogue to figure that out. It’s a little goofy, a little funny, but it’s great work.

What’s interesting about this page is the way that both people are drawn. Peter and Carlie both have Ralph Dibny or Mr. Magoo noses, strangely round jaws, and there’s a bit of Colin Mochrie in Peter’s face. Carlie’s mouth is unnaturally huge in panels five and six, especially in six. It’s kind of weird that she’s clearly taking little bitty baby bites out of that sandwich with her big ol’ mouth, but that doesn’t matter any more than the big noses and Peter’s weird hair does. Bachalo warped them in tiny ways, but uses that to his advantage.

Bachalo uses unrealistic proportions well, but what he’s best at is playing with space. His mostly-white two-page spread from X-Men: Supernovas is beautiful, with the left-hand side being stacked with the aftermath of an attack, including some adorable flopping fish, while the right side is left largely empty. The composition is impeccable, perfectly displaying the chaos of half a second previous and the quiet moment just after.

I’m really fond of the cover to X-Men 190, too. Again, it’s very busy, overflowing with information in the form of clumps of ice, puddles of water, and the mountains in the background. The best part of the cover is the embrace between Mystique and Iceman. She has long arms and fairly thin shins, but she’s all round angles and smooth. Iceman is the opposite, with hard-edged ice, broken limbs, and a pointy face. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about this cover stuck with me. Maybe it’s the way the blue and greys blend together (which I think is due to Antonio Fabela, Bachalo’s usual colorist) or the splash of color that is Mystique’s hair. It’s a striking image, and positively claustrophobic.

In this page, where Spider-Man has a guy strung up and is trying to scare him straight, the panel is tilted to the left and comparatively filled with information. The chimney stacks, water towers, and brickwork all work to show you exactly where this is taking place, but the real meat and potatoes are Spider-Man and his webs. Bachalo draws the best webs since Todd McFarlane left the Spider-books, and he’s just showing off here. Bachalo’s Spider-Man is crunched down into a tiny ball, ready to spring, and has huge and expressive eyes. There’s a lot to look at here.

Look at the image of Hammerhead, from Amazing Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher. This is how Bachalo shows power. Hammerhead is huge. Hulk huge. The scale would have you think that the kid in the foreground is barely a toddler, but no. He’s in his pre-teens. Hammerhead is just that big, and he’s half-crouched. One of his fists is as big as the kid’s head. The page is weighted toward the background, making the kid look even smaller. This is an effective choice, in part because it instantly gets across how dangerous Hammerhead is, even without the piles of beaten and brutalized bodies behind him.

Space and scale again. The Lizard dominates this page from Shed. He’s enormous and right in Spider-Man’s face. All of the details on the page go to the Lizard, leaving Spider-Man featureless, save for his wide eyes. A later page features Spider-Man swarmed with civilians, buried under a mass of them and drowning in the chaos.

Bachalo alternates between flooding a page with information and leaving them wide open. This is the way storytelling in comics should work. Every element of his work is done in service of the story, whether the characters are warped and compressed under the pressure of all the debris on the page or given room to breathe. He’s killer, and extraordinarily suitable to drawing Spider-Man comics. His take on the character gives you a short, fairly skinny version of Spidey, a take that works really well and makes everything a little more interesting.

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This Week in Panels: Week 24

March 7th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Time for another look at– holy shit, we’ve got new headers now! Look at the top of the site! Then refresh a bunch of times! Plus the site is all different and rounder now! Neat!

Amazing Spider-Man #623
Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and Paul Azaceta

Deadpool Team-Up #895
Christopher Long and Dalibor Talajic

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This Week in Panels: Week 20

February 7th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Well, it’s Sunday night and we’re ready to strike!
Our special forces are in for a fight!
With heroes in the air and zombies on the ground!
This Week in Panels is takin’ over the town!
We gotta get ready! We gotta get right!
There’s gonna be some comic art at 4th Letter tonight!

So get ready…
I MEAN, get ready…

This week I’m going against my rule of never using a final, or even last-page, panel for this. Why? Because that Deadpool Team-Up panel completely sums up the entirety of that issue and why Stuart Moore wrote it in the first place.

Batman Confidential #41
Sam Kieth

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #3
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott

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This Week in Panels: Week 16

January 10th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

More meat than last week. Also features Deadpool’s new black glove fingernails. hermanos pointed them out to me and I can’t not notice them throughout that issue. Why does Deadpool now have black glove fingernails? Why?

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2
Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott and Eduardo Pansica

Deadpool Team-Up #897
Adam Glass and Chris Staggs

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Grant Morrison Ruined the X-Men

November 6th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Grant Morrison ruined the X-Men when he wrote New X-Men.

No, really, it’s true. Look at Marvel’s moves after he left the book. The very first thing they did was launch X-Men: Reload, a branding and soft-relaunch initiative that saw Chris Claremont put on Uncanny X-Men, Chuck Austen placed on the last two issues of New X-Men (where he cleaned up plots that were already perfectly clean), and Joss Whedon hired to write what turned out to be one long love letter to the glory days of Claremont/Byrne Uncanny X-Men.

Later, they reduced the total number of mutants to the low three figures, a huge change from Morrison’s population of millions.

Morrison pulled the X-Men into the modern day, not even the future, and Marvel’s move after he left was to immediately dial things back to 1982. It’s a baffling decision, and one that’s hamstrung the X-Men ever since. Whedon’s run went from mildly entertaining to stone cold stupid with a quickness (Space bullet, Professor Xavier in a truck, too-cute dialogue, pretty much everything after issue 12, though granted John Cassaday was awesome throughout), no one remembers Claremont’s run despite the Alan Davis art, Peter Milligan’s run was a non-starter, Brubaker was a tremendous mistake, and Matt Fraction’s run is a little too cute and sandbagged by Greg Land. The best X-Men run since Morrison left was the first year or so of the Mike Carey/Chris Bachalo/Humberto Ramos X-Men, which managed to match the writing with the art and tell a solid story. It was good, however, not great.

New X-Men was great.

“No question, bein a black man is demandin'”

The X-Men have often been seen as a metaphor for oppressed peoples, with black and gay people being the most common ones cited. Morrison looked at this metaphor, looked at real life, and updated the X-Men to reflect that. Being a mutant became cool in the same way that being black is cool. You can buy clothes and music made by mutants and be down. You can even hang out in Mutant Town after dark to show how open-minded and cool you are.

At the same time, that only goes so far– no one wants to be black, or a mutant, when the things go down or the cops show up. So when Xorn visits Mutant Town and ends up witnessing the death of a young mutant? The humans react the way they always have: with fear and bigotry.

Morrison turned mutants into a subculture, a logical extension of what happens when new elements are introduced into society. They were still oppressed, but they actually had some kind of culture to go along with their oppression. He gave them their own Chinatown, their own Little Italy, and made it a point to show that mutants, while not entirely accepted just yet, were more than just mutant paramilitary teams. There were ugly mutants, ones with useless powers, ones with hideous powers, and ones who just didn’t really care about the X-Men.

These Are The Days of Our Lives

The soap opera was a huge part of the draw of Claremont’s, and everyone else’s, X-Men, Morrison included. However, where the previous soap operas tended toward being the status quo (Rogue and Gambit’s will they/won’t they, Scott and Jean’s alternating marital strife and bliss, Storm being aloof and faux-queenish, Iceman being an idiot), Morrison took them and forced actual change.

Jean Grey embraced her amazing powers, rather than being afraid of them and found true peace and confidence. Wolverine goes from a beast of a man to a man who has figured out how to keep the beast under control through discipline and poise. Emma Frost found love. Magneto found out what it really takes to change the world. And so on.

My favorite change, though, is Cyclops. He went through something horrible and traumatic, and after, he didn’t feel the same. He felt like he didn’t measure up to the storybook romance that he found himself in, and was worried about not being perfect enough for his (in his eyes) perfect wife. And it hurts their relationship, they grow apart, and he eventually finds someone else.

It’s a bad thing, but at the same time, believable. His friends warn him off, tell him he’s being stupid, and he still does it. And when the missus finds out, what’s he do? He leaves to get drunk. He reacts poorly to a situation he simply doesn’t know how to handle, and ends up adventuring with Wolverine.

And you know what? It works. It pulls Cyclops away from being the stick in the mud, generic leader type he’d been for years. He even sticks to the Marvel blueprint: he struggles with a personal problem, makes a poor decision, and somehow ends up sticking the landing.

Grown Man Business

Grant Morrison made the X-Men grown-up. He eschewed stereotypical supervillain stories until the tail end of his run, and even those stories were layered with a depth of character and nuance that kept them above generic megalomania. When Magneto nearly destroys New York as the culmination of his big plan, he’s forced to confront the fact that the personality he created to further his plan, the healer Xorn, is better liked and more effective than he could ever be. No one wants Magneto any more. Magneto is old and busted, Xorn is the new hotness.

That’s what Morrison’s New X-Men run was about: the new. Mutants as subculture, the changes Beast has gone through, Wolverine fighting against his true nature, Jean loving herself and her powers, and Magneto joining the X-Men and doing more good than he ever did before. All of that is pushing the X-Men toward the new.

The X-Men, moreso than any other franchise, needs to be on the cutting edge of culture. The oppression metaphor practically requires it. Morrison put them right out there, threw a bunch of new ideas and philosophies into the mix, and created something amazing.

And ever since, Marvel has run screaming from it. Major developments were dialed back, retcons applied, and hands waved. The X-Men line, post-NXM, has been, to be kind, a complete mess. It’s finally found focus recently, but New X-Men? That was years ago.

They would have been better off embracing it wholeheartedly, rather than depowering all the mutants, reinforcing 15 year old status quos, and generally putting out bad comics. Morrison laid the ground work for a whole new generation of X-Men comics. We could’ve seen the tales of a new class of New Mutants who had no interest in being soldiers, explored mutant subculture in-depth, examined how humans react to having a brand new and vibrant subculture evolve right under their noses, or even just shown an X-Men team that didn’t solve all its problems by hitting things really hard.

The seeds for all of this are right there in New X-Men. But, we’ll never see it. Marvel got to the end of NXM, recoiled, and ran in the opposite direction. Now we’re just left, once again, with re-runs of our grief. The potential for the X-Men to be more than they were, and are, is gone. It’s sad, but it’s true. After New X-Men, the franchise took a hard turn into a brick wall.

Marvel hasn’t totally run from it, though. You can still buy the series in three handsome softcover volumes. I absolutely recommend it. It’s definitely my favorite X-Men story.

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