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“Don’t you want to inherit the earth?”

So we finally got to read New X-Men:Here Comes Tomorrow, written by Grant Morrison and penciled passably by Marc Silvestri. I don’t have the book to do a close reading now, so I’ll do an impressionistic reading of my own responses to it, I guess.

At the core of the story is the same event in two alternate futures, since the real “present” of the story is the moment of Jean Grey’s death. In the same page repeated twice, Emma Frost, resplendent in one of the worst excesses of Silvestri’s quirky art, tries to bring the grieving Scott Summers away from his wife’s grave and back to the X-Men. “Don’t you want to inherit the earth,” she asks? And so we reach a defining question. Is milquetoast Cyclops meek enough to do just that?

If he says, “Yes, that is what I want,” that’s just standard superhero bravado, and superheroes aren’t supposed to admit they’re saving the earth for themselves. It’s all about the little guy, or in this case the little guys and mutants (and mutants are guys too!) living in harmony. And so if Scott wants to inherit the earth alongside Emma, he can’t do it through meekness. He has to take on a new role leading the school (acting as a surrogate father to atone for the phantom future children Jean’s death means they never had together?) to ensure the survival or success of the X-Men. This move means decisiveness, strength, courage, fortitude are his future, but he’ll be too tired to enjoy any inheritance.

Instead initially he chooses the meek route, denying that he wants any part of a future with his almost-lover or the mutant ties they share. The earth he then inherits is the Tomorrow of the title, and neither Cyclops nor Scott Summers is anywhere to be seen within it. The X-Men of 150 years in the future, who have a remarkable amount of overlap with the New X-Men of today, are fighting for control of a dying world. And Judgment Day is coming in the form of Scott’s former wife, who finally remembers herself only to see her friends destroyed and destroying each other. This is not a future she wants, in which the X-Men are being systematically wiped out, where humans are almost nowhere to be seen, where sentient bacteria with extinction agendas can destroy one of the finest minds of the previous century. What’s more, Scott wouldn’t have wanted it. If he rejected the X-Men, it was because he was tired of death and fighting, unwilling to continue grappling with longing and love and hopeless expectations, frightened of failure and continued loss. He has his time for grief, but being a superhero means instead doing what his wife did, making The Ultimate Sacrifice for the team. Jean’s initial sacrifice is meaningless if Scott’s rejection of the earth and his duty as a steward of it allows everything to be destroyed anyway. And what both of them, all of them really want is not to be meek but meaningful.

Scott can’t see this, can’t see anything beyond himself and his pain and fear as he stands in the cemetery. The sturdy diamond White Queen doesn’t understand the weight of her question, asking it as if it’s rhetorical, but she wears her worry on the outside in the form of her ridiculous breasts (unless she keeps her spine in permanent diamond form to avoid the pain they must cause, in which case I suppose they’re acceptable) and the dead bear of a coat that covers her less important bits. This is the moment of truth for a man who had avoided decisiveness, put off making a real, clear commitment to either of the women in his life, someone who doesn’t realize that the fate of the world is in his hands, as it is all the time. Can he inherit the earth if that means not being meek but being strong enough to hold onto it? Can he bear a suffering greater than his own? Can he take the weight of everything onto his own shoulders even if he doesn’t realize that’s the choice he’s making? And will he choose to carry it alone or share the burden with others, including his snow-white questioner? Scott pauses in both versions of this present, hesitates briefly before giving a steady answer that will change his life and change the world.

But this time around there’s Jean, who’s seen Tomorrow and in a touching, tender flashback to the present, urging Scott on. This raises the question of whether she’s actually kinkier than the White Queen, encouraging her husband to make out with Emma on her own grave and whether this is then an act of selfless love or spite. I’m sure the answer is both and hope to talk later about which is harder to give up, life or love. “Live, Scott, live,” she begs with her last breath, and Scott meekly obeys as best he can.


  1. Steven says:

    I remember seeing complaints when New X-Men ended (I don’t remember where…) that Morrison’s whole epic run ended up coming down to “Scott gets less uptight,” which I believe was considered to have insufficient import for anybody to get too worked up about it. (I remember seeing these complaints, but I suppose since I have no idea where I could just be making them up so I can argue against them.) This, of course, is crazy talk, and I really like your reading. Even the biggest most epic stories, when they’re good, somehow end up being about the problems of three little people in a crazy world. And somehow those problems always seem to end up amounting to more than a hill of beans after all.

    — 25 May 2004 at 2:51 pm (Permalink)

  2. Rose says:

    I’ve always thought part of the problem is just that a hill of beans isn’t the right unit of measure for troubles in a relationship. And maybe “epic scale” isn’t the right unit of measure either. I don’t know what people want from an ongoing superhero comic. New X-Men had plenty of technological and ideological options for future X-stories to pursue, but at its heart is the growth and change of its characters.

    I don’t think this is in any way abnormal. To continue other current conversations, The Iliad isn’t about catalogues of ships and shields and men just because it contains those things. The points that are remembered are the acts and desires and wishes of the characters (including the gods, in this case) and the text is there to give them context and then focalize on the core bits. A superhero story I like should work the same way, so that the point of the huge events isn’t that huge events are cool, but that meaningful change occurs on varying scales within the larger event.

    — 26 May 2004 at 1:45 am (Permalink)