By TheGreatFedora 2 Comments
This oversized hardcover collects New X-Men issues 114-126 and New X-Men Annual 2001.
I've always wanted to read Grant Morrison's New X-Men run. While I initially didn't like Morrison's work that much (I still feel his Arkham Asylum is overrated), after reading such marvelous comics such as his Animal Man run, All-Star Superman, and WE3, I found myself becoming part of his crazed fanbase, to the point where I would eventually like to read his entire collection of works.
Anyways, Morrison's New X-Men was notable for shaking up the usual status quo of X-Men books at the time. Gone were the flashy superhero costumes, replaced by leather jackets and combat boots. The X-Men themselves took on more of a "mentor/teacher" status, recruiting younger mutants and teaching them how to use their powers effectively. The team itself was also much smaller, consisting of just Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Wolverine, Emma Frost, and new character Xorn. This is fantastic because it allows new readers to jump onto the storyline without much previous knowledge of the characters - if you've seen any of the X-Men movies, you'll be totally comfortable reading this, as even when Morrison calls back to older events, he makes an effort to explain what they are. It's a breath of fresh air for an often complicated and bloated series.
This hardcover chronicles the debut storyline of a new X-Men villain named Cassandra Nova, who destroys Genosha (Magneto's secret homeland for mutants), invariably killing 16 million mutants. Cassandra Nova is a great villain as she poses a real threat to the X-Men and especially Charles Xavier. This is important; the X-Men haven't had a lot of great villains in recent years, often relying on the series staples, i.e. Magneto/Mr. Sinster. It's extremely refreshing to see a new face on the villain roster. The series is filled with the same high concepts and excellent characterization that Grant Morrison is known for. Most impressive for me is the way he writes Cyclops; Morrison's Cyclops (who canonically has just returned from the dead) is the strong, smart leader he is supposed to be, but unlike other interpretations of him, is not a complete douche.
The best part of New X-Men though, is the way that Morrison actually moves the plot FORWARD. Too often, X-Men series are happy being stagnant - mutants are prejudiced against, but fight for mankind's acceptance. The characters in New X-Men realize that they are truly the future of the human race, with Emma even remarking that in five generations, homosapiens will cease to exist. Thus, while they still protect regular humankind, the X-Men's goal is largely to maintain their own survival until the time where they are the dominant species. It's amazing to me that very few X-Men writers have also taken this concept - hell, the mutant species is named homo SUPERIOR.
The art here is also worth a mention. I thought that the artwork was all handled by the unparalleled Frank Quitely, who's a favourite comic book artist of mine. However, the book actually rotates between Quitely, Ethan Van Sciver, and Igor Kordey (Leinel Francis Yu doing the Annual one-shot). Quitely brings his usual fluid line work and detailed style to the work, though it does take him an issue or two to really get into the groove of the book. His work is especially fantastic in issue 121, where Jean Grey and Emma Frost take an excursion into Charles Xavier's mind. The issue is a standout in the collection, with incredible artwork and an interesting approach by Morrison (aside from the last line, the entire issue is silent).
Jean Grey first enters Xavier's mind. Striking, no?
Of course, as I said, Quitely doesn't handle all the artistic duties. Ethan Van Sciver does the artwork on about a third of the issues. While he isn't nearly as unique or stylish as Quitely, he is an extremely detailed and, most importantly, CLEAR artist. His artwork is never confusing; you can always see exactly what is happening on any given page with utmost clarity. This seems like it would be an obvious ability for such a visual medium, but surprisingly, a lot of comic book artists struggle with this very skill.
I couldn't find any pictures of Ethan Van Sciver's work on New X-Men, but here's his badass cover for Flash: Rebirth #1
Unfortunately, the second fill-in artist on the book (Quitely is technically the regular artist, even though the artwork duties are split pretty evenly between him and the two fill-ins), Igor Kordey, doesn't fare nearly as well as Van Sciver. His work is extremely sloppy, lacking consistency and especially struggling with the characters' faces; everyone looks like weird aliens with really big eyes and unlikely facial expressions. In contrast with Van Sciver, it's almost always unclear as to what is happening on the page, which is especially problematic with a series like this, where action scenes are often huge, team-based affairs. Now, I understand that around this time, Kordey was drawing FOUR different ongoing series at the same time (Black Widow, Cable, New X-Men, and Soldier X). However, this is no excuse for sloppy artwork - if you can't deal with the workload, don't take it on. It's rather unfortunate, because given enough time, Kordey can be quite a strong artist.
The best picture I could find. What the hell is up with Wolverine's face? He looks like a cross between an Asian, a Martian, and a kid with Down's Syndrome.
Anyways, while I do wish that the artwork was primarily done by Quitely, New X-Men is a strong book, with some great ideas and fantastic artwork (2/3s of the time). It may not be Morrison's absolute BEST work, but it's still pretty great. I definitely look forward to reading more of his run.
Read this if:
-You generally like Grant Morrison's high-concept writing
-You want a good starting point for getting into the X-Men (though Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men may be a better series to jump-in with)
-You want a book with some interesting artwork (and can deal with some not-so-great stuff as well)
-You want a well-done, mature interpretation of the X-Men
Don't read this if:
-Some iffy art is an absolute deal-breaker for you
-You hate superheroes? I don't know; to be honest, I can see New X-Men even appealing to people who aren't such big fans of superheroes