Wednesday, May 03, 2006

NEW X-MEN "E IS FOR EXTINCTION" Marvel Comics, 2002

Grant Morrison's comic books freak me out.

I'm a huge fan of his work, but I only picked up a few single issues of Morrison's legendary run on New X-Men. The ghostly voice of Yoda said to me, "Wait for the trades you must, hmn? Better value, it is. Satisfying more, eh?" I've learned it's best to always listen to the spooky disembodied voice of Frank Oz, which has never steered me wrong (the possible exception being an attempted dine-and-dash in a Moses Lake, WA diner. Bad call, Yoda.)

Anyway, I picked up the trades and I loved them, particularly the issues with Frank Quitely art. I love Frank Quitely, probably more than XXXX does, and I think his art perfectly compliments Morrison's script; it just has the right vibe. And that vibe is freaky as hell.

My favorite storyline is collected in a trade paperback called e is for extinction. The first three issues of Morrison's run introduce a new X-Men villain, who freaks me the hell out: Cassandra Nova.

Cassandra Nova is Charles Xavier's miscarried twin sibling, whom he tried to kill inside his mother's womb. That's right, fetus war. They were brawling in there, throwing little fetus elbows and fetus headbutts. As I understand it, the, um, discarded biological material that would become Cassandra Nova grew in a sewer, fed by powerful mutant psi energy. Now she's a hideous bald freak with godlike telepathic powers who is insanely, dangerously evil. Cassandra is basically Professor X's evil twin, but saying it like that sort of diminishes her freakiness.

In this story, Cassandra Nova causes the death of tens of millions of mutants, makes people bleed from the nose, and puts Cyclops in the Black Bug Room, which is not cool. That's just for starters, baby - in Marvel's trade paperback Imperial she takes genocide to a galactic level. Plus, she looks scary. Look at her! Man, she freaks me the hell out.

Cassandra has found a huge Master Mold factory in the rain forest, and intends to use it. The factory produces robots, but not just any kind of robots. It makes Sentinels, and Sentinels exterminate mutants. No good can come of this.

Nova abducts/convinces Donald Trask III (a dentist who is the only living descendant of Bolivar Trask, creator of the Sentinels) to join her in the jungle, where the massive wild Master Molds will obey orders from anyone with Trask DNA. Using spooky molecular fu, Nova copies the unlucky Trask's DNA, then sticks her fingers in him and kind of wiggles them around. This kills Trask, as you would think it would.

See? That's freaky. Nobody wants creepy old bald women sticking their gaunt fingers into you and wiggling them around. I don't, anyway.

The leather-clad X-Men Cyclops and Wolverine drop in on Nova's Sentinel hive, and after much violent hikinks, they get the drop on the bald freak. Or have they?

Little do Wolverine and Cyclops know, but Cassandra Nova has ordered two enormously huge wild Sentinels to wipe out the small island country of Genosha, the new mutant homeland. The Sentinels kill millions upon millions of mutants in a bloody act of genocide. And yes, it is freaky as hell.

Here's a few poorly scanned panels of the extermination:

The X-Men bring Cassandra Nova back to the Mansion as their captive, but she breaks free and single-handedly kicks their asses with her powerful psionic kung fu and a host of assorted powers courtesy of nano-technology. She fucks with their minds and their brains. She puts Scott in the Black Bug Room, a sort of psychic penalty box:

Need I say it? The Black Bug Room freaks me out. That is some crazy William S Borroughs shit right there.

Nova gains access to Cerebra, but is stopped by the timely arrival of Emma Frost, the White Queen, who snaps her neck. Nova twitches on the ground...

...and then Professor X takes out a revolver and shoots Cassandra Nova multiple times.

Hardcore, indeed. Put a shirt on, Wolverine.

As will later be revealed, Cassandra Nova psychically possessed Xavier, swapping bodies just as her neck was being snapped. Nova, in Xavier's body, shoots Xavier, in Nova's body. Things get worse: The Beast gets beaten with a baseball bat (that should be a Ramones song), Nova gets a hold of a fleet of spaceships and an army of superhuman aliens, lots of people die.

I really dig Cassandra Nova because she seems genuinely frightening and dangerous. She's not scary because she may do bad things, she's scary because she does do bad things. Nova wipes out tens of millions of mutants and the X-Men can't stop her. In most superhero comics, the whole point is for the hero to stop the bad guy from killing tens of millions of people - in Morrison's X-Men, it's done just to establish how evil Cassandra Nova is. I really dug the whole Genoshan genocide thing - that sounds horrible, I know - because there shouldn't be that many mutants in the world. I always though Genosha as a mutant paradise sort of undermined the core concept of the X-Men - you know, hated and feared by the humans they defend?

Grant Morrison's work freaks me out because it shares the qualities that many of my favorite childhood books had, that alchemy of gee-whiz adventure and soul-shriveling cosmic terror that I loved so much. There is a wonder and awe in his work that is only matched by danger and menace, that sense of horrors beyond human ken. Remember the Scissor Men, from Doom Patrol? Freaky as hell.

Morrison's work is like Willy Wonka crossed with H.P. Lovecraft, or H.R. Puffenstuff crossed with Hunter S. Thompson. It's like reading a Roald Dahl book in a hash den while someone watches shrill Japanese cartoons in the other room and the smoke stings your eyes and somebody is arguing in French outside and your head is floating, floating...

It's just like that.

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Kevin Church said...

Thank you for posting about this instead of posting about Gambit. I am glad we are friends again.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, the thing I most remember about this storyline was the part (I think it was this story) when Cyclops loses his visor and puts in his "emergency ruby quartz contact lenses". I mean, shouldn't it be the other way around? I've never worn contacts but they seem to be a bitch to put in and my fiancee sometimes has trouble with hers squirming around and getting stuck behind her eyeball. Cyclops would look pretty stupid if that happened.

Health Incognito said...

Battling baby fetuses? Ooooh. Uh. Suddenly, the Venture Brothers makes much more sense.

Thanks for the edification, Dave!

Marc Burkhardt said...

Loved E is For Extinction. It was genuinely subversive and disturbing - and led me to believe the evil Quesada was truly going to lead Marvel to revolutionary ground.

Well, I was wrong there. But E For Extinction is pretty damn great

Mike Podgor said...

Coming Soon: The Marvel Fetus Wars. What happens when Thanos rips all the Marvel heroes from their mother's wombs prematurely and brings them to an alien planet to battle between themselves? Find out this October! Written by Brian Michael Bendis.

Ouranosaurus said...

The whole Morrison run was great. My girlfriend is a big Joss Whedon fan, so her first introduction to the X-Men outside the movies was Astonishing X-Men. As soon as she started reading that, I started a new mantra: "Read the Morrison run. Read the Morrison run. Read the Morrison run..."

Now she's read them all in just a couple of weeks. Now she is a real X-fan! Bwah ha ha ha!!!

Can I say how much cooler the Frank Quitely-designed costumes were than either the movie outfits or the old spandex duds? Awesome stuff.

Anonymous said...

I picked up the first few New X-Men tpbs as my reintroduction to the X-Men a short time ago (I also tried Astonishing and Uncanny X-Men: The New Age... I can't keep track of all of them!!!) Anyway, I did like the New X-Men tpbs, except for the art of Igor Kordey, which was so horrible I could not believe he was allowed to work on so many issues. The lowest point, for me, is the last page of New X-Men 128 (in Vol 3 of the tpbs). Is Emma Frost supposed to be a beefy transvestite...? Did that happen while I was gone from comics? Please X-Plain!!!

call me jack... said...

Star Trek V taught me long lost siblings makes bad writing.

I didn't really like Morrison's run. I hated Quietly's art and had trouble following Morrison's story. (for example that whole Xorn thing. but that was a beautiful reveal, even if I didn't like the mess it became because of the re-conning and wierd Sublime arc that followed)

I did like the consequences of his run. Genosha a graveyard, mutant population explosion, Xavier Insitute public. he did so many things readers had been hoping to see happen but "knew" wouldn't because they were fundamental to the story mold.

call me jack... said...

Amadeus Feldspar said...
Anyway, I did like the New X-Men tpbs, except for the art of Igor Kordey, which was so horrible I could not believe he was allowed to work on so many issues.

arrgh, that's who I meant, not Quietly. I just remembered someone had really crappy art.

Bill Reed said...

I don't think I'd read any Morrison before that X-Men arc... and it blew me the hell away.

And now, of course, I'm one of Morrison's Whorrisons.

Bill Reed said...

And yeah, I believe the story goes that Kordey had drawn all of #120 and then got a call telling him he had to 119, too. So he probably banged some of those issues out in a week. I didn't dislike his art that much, but it could've been better if he'd had more time.

Kevin Church said...

Kordey indeed rushed those pages out at an incredible rate thanks to Quitely's slow pace. To see his work in a better light, check out Smoke from IDW. Awesome future-shock political thriller with writing by Alex De Campi, a fine human being.

Anonymous said...

I too became a regular Morrison reader after this series. I'd come across his work several times, but his style "clicked" with me on New X-Men. The creepy factor struck me as well, particularly the "human mind as utterly disturbing surreal minefield" thing.

Another nice touch was the way the series depicted how brutal these powers really would be to frail human bodies--Cyclops, with a single optic blast, snapping an aggressor's leg during an uprising was a real eye-opener in a way that a half-dozen "blown back through the wall like it's styrofoam" doesn't really. Or Wolvie sizzling back from third-degree burns as he digs bullets out of his skin. Yow.

Chris Sims said...

After Boob War, Fetus War was the next logical step.

John said...

I loved this run so much. So much that I blindly ran right into the book's change to the New "Teen" Mutants. Then, several months later, I realized...WTF is this???

Anonymous said...

I'm influenced all too easily. I haven't picked up an X-Men comic in years, and I just ordered the trade paperback online. I am fully looking forward to being creeped out.

Leave it to X-Men Week at Daves Long Box to start me back on the habit.

Peter said...

I always felt that Morrison did some of his weakest work on X-Men, at the time. Now that it's in the past, it actually feels and reads better than it did in haphazard installments (second issue was 6 weeks late to start with, I believe).

For me the Xorn thing can still not be properly explained. I haven't seen anyone do so at any rate. It just doesn't work with the annual unless Morrison forgot to tell parts of his story later on.

It was a fresh start and all, but in the end it was just a blip, where Whedon is trying to run with it (rather inefficiently so) but he's the only one (in equally haphazard installments).

I did think the Nova/Xavier switch was well done, as it was clearly spelled out for all to see but many were fooled nonetheless back then, as I remember :)

I'd also like to mention that probably the current state of affairs has nothing to do with Jemas being gone or not. After all, Morrison is Morrison, with or without Big Bad Bill. I'm sure he exalted the virtues of Bendis as well, so we probably would still have ended up with icky New Avengers and the like. And Quesada is as obnoxious without Jemas as he was when they were Quemas, the Twin Terror.

I do think it's neat that I loathed Quitely's art at the time but have become quite the fan of it now. I still think he draws the ugliest Jean ever though (and nobody's drawn Emma attractively since his run either, look at the horror Cassaday comes up with each issue!)

Anyone got nice explanations for both Xorn and Cassandra? (who's back in AXM, somehow) I'd be interested to hear them.

I'll continue my rereads of the issues once my girlfriend gets here, I want to see her reactions. The biggest downside was the incredibly inconsistent art and Marvel's inability to provide a decent alternative to months of nothing and then sudden rushed fill-ins. For the biggest company in comics, you'd think they'd know something about professionalism by now, but nooooo...

Anonymous said...

I'm going to take a shot at explaining Xorn, so wish me luck. As Morrison intended it, there never was a real Xorn. It was Magneto the whole time. The prison in China was a set-up that would allow Magneto to infiltrate the X-men, even though that stretches my suspension of disbelief, even for Morrison. The issue that's told from Xorn's perspective is a diary entry written for Prof.Xavier, so it's deliberate misdirection from Magneto posing as Xorn. The "Xorn" that Magneto talks to during Planet X is essentially a split personality composed of all the postive, constructive aspects of Magneto's personality that he was expressing as Xorn. Morrison has said in interviews that he never intended for there to be a real Xorn.

However, Xorn was a popular character and Marvel didn't want to lose him. Therefore, they had Chuck Austen do a story to bring him back. I've never read it, but I've heard it's very stupid and confusing. The bottom line is that originally there was never supposed to be a "real" Xorn, but Marvel wanted there to be one, leading to a very convoluted attempt at retconning Morrison's story.

Anonymous said...

I really dug Xorn, and was shocked by the big reveal. Still, I wish he had been around for much longer, and that Morrison had been able to stay on X-Men longer. I read that disagreements with management (over not publishing Marvel Boy 2, I think)cut his run short.

Anonymous said...

While I have mixed feelings about Morrison's X-Men run, what he did very well was shake up the status quo. I like it when things are allowed to change and grow, and the X-Men had been basically the same for years.

Making the school a real school, with a substantial student body, was a good move. So was the concept of Mutant-Town, and the emerging 'mutant culture'.

Unfortunately, Marvel botched the continuation of many of these innovations.

1) They never made any effort to jibe the other X-books with 'New X-Men'.

2) The already expounded-upon Xorn/Magneto mess.

3) No effort to jibe the rest of the Marvel line with the events going on in 'New X-Men'. No mention of the destruction of Genosha, or the devastation Magneto wrought on New York City. Where were the Avengers, the FF, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man again? Marvel committed a similar mistake by not having Thor bringing Asgard to Earth also touched upon in other Marvel titles. It was like all Marvel comics during that period each existed in their own little universe. Geez, was it really so bad in the days when Avengers mansion could be smashed to the ground and it would be talked about in other Marvel comics?

4) Undoing the 'school' concept of Xavier's with 'Decimation'. Geez, did the depowered kids REALLY need to be all blown up?

5) Having a perfectly good rationale for ditching the colorful costumes, yet bringing them back as soon as Morrison left. "We're in the public eye more, so we need to wear more normal-looking clothes so the general public will trust us more." Makes sense. But then later, they change back: "We need to look like superheroes so the general public will trust us more." Um, sorry, huh?

6) Undoing the concept of Mutant Town and torpedoeing the comic that spotlighted it, 'District X'.

7) Not showing 'Mutant Town' in other comics. Couldn't have Daredevil or Spider-Man at least referenced the place?

8) Undoing the concept of the X-Corps. It was like a Peace Corps only staffed with mutants, Xavier's way of actively spreading his message and work throughout the world. Great idea. Now totally dismanted. Too bad, it gave a lot of mutant characters who didn't have homes elsewhere something to do. Now those characters are depowered, dead, or in limbo again.

Bully said...

I always liken X-Men runs to food:

Claremont and Cockrum's X-Men were like the first box of Lucky Charms you ever had after a steady diet of Rice Krispies. You can have candied marshmallows for breakfast? Why wasn't this innovation invented, like Tang, by our nation's mighty astronauts?

Claremont and Byrne's X-Men were like a good roadside burger and crunchy fries: mainstream cuisine, but off the beaten path and individual enough to be worth recommending to all your friends to show them how hip you were, in the hopes that they didn't tell all their friends and the joint would be overcrowded and become too popular.

Claremont and Lee/Silvestri's X-Men were like McDonald's: suddenly they were serving ten billion a year, and once in a while they'd surprise you with the McRib or some new unusual menu item that wasn't really that innovative but boy howdy, you gets yourself some cravings for that stuff now and again, don'tcha?

Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira's X-Men were like dropping by 7-11 for a neon green apple Slurpee and a giant bag of sour gummy worms. Good God, that wasn't nutrition, but it satisfied a craving you didn't know you had and yet made you feel vaguely queasy afterward.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's X-Men were like liquid polypropylene and ethylene glycol injected directly into the base of your brain by tiny nanites who reproduced all the way down your brain stem.

Chuck Austen's X-Men were like White Castle burgers. Some people love 'em, some people hate 'em. But you can't stop eatin' 'em, even if you hate yourself the next morning.

Now I'm hungry.

Anonymous said...

There's only one possible way to explain Xorn.

Anonymous said...

I remember finding an issue of Morrison's New X-Men in a magazine shop on Mykonos. I saw that it was a GM book, so I flipped through it.

I believe it was the one where the X-Men + Xorn go out and find a mutant that is blowing stuff up because it's in some larval state.

This was the first, and thus far only, time I have hurriedly put a Morrison book back on the shelf. Sorry, it stank.

But then, I thought "Fall of the Mutants" sucked ass too, which I have been told is now considered some kind of classic. Why? The Morlocks were interesting, and the Marauders weren't. Dull characters kill off interesting characters == bad comics.

Anonymous said...

I agree with pretty much everything said here. Morrison did an excellent job of shaking things up and making me care about the X-Men again. With the revelation that mankind would be extinct in three generations, he was able to explore some interesting themes. However, I wasn't a big fan of "secondary mutations," both in concept and execution. Morrison wanted Beast to look like a cat, but nothing else really came out of that. The storytelling wasn't really enhanced by any of the secondary mutations that I can think of. Has anyone else beside the initial people (White Queen, Beast, Angel) experienced a secondary mutation? Is it even mentioned anymore?

As others have said, the run was marred by hideous and inconsistant fill-in art.Igor Kordey's art is amongst the worst I've ever seen in a mainstream comic (although I didn't know he was so rushed, so I'll give him a pass for that). It was rare for three concurrent issues to have the same art team. Overall, I thought that this hurt the effectiveness of the storytelling.

Bill Reed said...

I believe it was the one where the X-Men + Xorn go out and find a mutant that is blowing stuff up because it's in some larval state.

127, maybe? I liked that one. But then, that's the only one I can gather that sounds anything like the one you're talking about. Sure it was a Morrison issue?

Anyway, I really enjoyed Morrison's NXM run, especially the last third that no one else likes (Assault on Weapon Plus was great, dangit. Everything from 'Riot' to the end was superb). The whole run is one big story. And personally, I'm glad the title was in its own little universe... but then, I hate continuity.

Bill Reed said...

Also, for the record, I have never liked the X-Men before or since the Grant Morrison run (and X-Force/Statix by Milligan and Allred). Not even Whedon's, which had a horrible second arc.


Anonymous said...

"Has anyone else beside the initial people (White Queen, Beast, Angel) experienced a secondary mutation? Is it even mentioned anymore?"

Well, technically, Polaris was the first secondary mutation, from the latter years of Claremont's first run (this was when she turned into a She-Hulk clone). But yeah, it's a pretty stupid idea and probably not a good one to have brought back.

Chris Arndt said...

Well, it was never explained how and why Psylocke and Marvel Girl switched powers before Claremont's second run began.

We just let it go. It happened; I don't care why.

call me jack... said...

"Has anyone else beside the initial people (White Queen, Beast, Angel) experienced a secondary mutation? Is it even mentioned anymore?"

mmm wiki... where would I find all my useless information if it wasn't for you?

even if it is sometimes... er... flat out wrong.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that marvel also didn't get that
ernst = cassandra
(and Morrison always has some unfortunate art on his series, not just in new x-men, but also, for instance, JLA, seven soldiers seems to be an attempt at turning that around, but now he's back on second tier artists for his batman)

Anonymous said...

All this discussion of retconning and different authors completely wiping out previous continuity makes me think that if I am enjoying the current tpbs I have, maybe I should stop before the whole House of M begins. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

"Chuck Austen's X-Men were like White Castle burgers."

That's a terrible lie, Bully. White Castle sliders are beloved by many the world over; nobody likes Chuck Austen.

Anonymous said...

What I truly loved about his run was the idea that mutants had outgrown the whole "superhero" thing--they were just a new culture, plain and simple. Magneto and his "Evil Mutants" were throwbacks. Morrison was setting the stage for mutants to interact with the world in an entirely new way than they had before. It was fascinating.

And two months after he left, they all regressed back to superheroes.


Anonymous said...

For the people who were confused by Xorn, just go here. It explains a lot of Morrison's run.

Anonymous said...

It's been a couple weeks so who knows if anyone will read this post, but it's interesting that you make the Grant Morrison/Willy Wonka comparison. You may already know this, but quite a bit of his creations in Doom Patrol, including the Scissor Men (and also the Inky Boys), were based on an old German children's book called Struwwelpeter, which it just so happens Roald Dahl based some of the ideas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory off of. You learn fun things in children's literature classes.

Obliterati said...

Might you know of a place to get scans of the sentinels slamming into urban Genosha? In "airplane form"? It was in the September 2001 issue and this, like you've mentioned about Morrison's work in general, freaks me the hell out.

I don't own a copy of the comic anymore and would perform great feats of manual labor to get a scan or two of the airliner sentinels hitting those skyscrapers from September 2001.

Hi, I'm Dave.


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