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“It must be getting rather tedious, Scott dear.”

Alasdair Watson’s latest Camera Obscura editorial on Ninth Art has got me thinking. Watson claims the problem with the X-books right now is their slavish devotion to the old Chris Claremont soap-opera style of storytelling. I think that is only a symptom of the larger problem at Marvel, which is that the people in charge can’t seem to decide what the purpose of their comics-publishing business is. They seem to be wavering between two options:

  1. Publish worthwhile and entertaining books, attempting to attract a new customer base while continuing to support their current one.
  2. Publish innocuous, disposable crap that won’t scare away Hollywood studios or offend the few parents whose children read comics, which Marvel’s ever-dwindling customer base will keeping purchasing long enough to keep them in business until they establish their 15 movie franchises and can afford to stop publishing books.

Now, let’s see about New X-Men here. Watson notes that the narrative relies on a lot of X-Men history. With the usual caveat that I still haven’t read New X-Men: Planet X or any of New X-Men: Here Comes Tomorrow, I’m convinced that one of New X-Men’s goals is to kill the soap opera and open the way for the X-Men to have new stories. One of my favorite things about the book is the way Grant Morrison makes the soap opera meaningful, finding the elements that resonate with Morrison’s conception of the X-Men and foregrounding them. My next post in my epic New X-Men series will probably focus on the book’s use of the soap-opera relationships, but for now: as you know if you’ve read my other stuff on the X-Men, as far as I’m concerned New X-Men has little if anything to do with “oppressed minority” metaphors. This passage from an interview with Grant Morrison at Comic Book Resources gets at what engages me:

In my stories, the mutants no longer need to achieve “acceptance.” Humanity is on the verge of extinction and the mutants are preparing to inherit the Earth. I prefer not to use mutation exclusively as a metaphor for race or gender as has been the case in the past, and I’m more interested in the connection between the “hated and feared” mutants and our own “hated and feared” children - the inheritors of the future. For me, the real war, particularly at the moment, is between children and adults and the X-Men dramatizes this eternal clash of new ideas with old traditions.

The “eternal clash of new ideas with old traditions” works on multiple levels in New X-Men, and one of those levels is the backward-looking attitude that keeps Claremont writing X-books vs. Morrison’s forward-looking narrative.

But none of this metafictional criticism on Morrison’s part comes to much when you get this in the Marvel solicitations:

NEW X-MEN #155 & 156
Covers & pencils by SALVADOR LARROCA
“BRIGHT NEW MOURNING” pts. 1 & 2 (of 2)—In the aftermath of Magneto’s rampage upon NYC and the Xavier Institute, Cyclops & Emma find themselves at a crossroads. Should the school be rebuilt? Should they continue on as X-Men? And how will it affect their blossoming relationship?
32 PGS. (each)/MARVEL PSR…$2.25 (each)
Issue #155 UPC: 5960601772-15511; #156: 5960601772-15611

Chuck Austen’s name there sends a clear message from Marvel: “We’re not paying attention to our books. We don’t care.” Here’s New X-Men, same as the old X-Men. (For fun stories about just how much Marvel cares, see Rich Johnston’s interview of Ethan Van Sciver.)

I’m glad Morrison is leaving the X-Men behind and going to DC. I’m not as familiar with DC’s superhero comics as I am with Marvel’s, but at any rate, as much as I’m enjoying New X-Men, more creator-owned books from Vertigo will no doubt be more satisfying—for me, at least. The good, innovative, entertaining things about New X-Men will only be strengthened in comparison with the inevitable return to status quo.


  1. Loz says:

    Perhaps a little unfair, as Vertigo has different aims and objectives to Marvel. Morrison’s work on JLA was as bound by rules for what he was and wasn’t allowed to do to the characters (not least because they all had their own books) as Marvel. But otherwise, I agree with everything you say.

    — 4 March 2004 at 12:29 pm (Permalink)