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New X-Men narratives

…well, let’s just say some of us were born to kill and raised to kill and that’s the only damn thing we’re any good for. Everything else is just lies we tell ourselves.

(There are some New X-Men spoilers lurking in here.)

This is the beginnings of what I think will become an actual essay, with footnotes and everything. I am intrigued by Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, but I’ve not seen a lot of discussion on the Internet about the things that intrigue me (maybe I’m looking in the wrong places). What intrigues me is analyzing New X-Men in terms of Rose’s theories about narrative art, specifically creation of self through narrative. We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, and I noted that many (all?) the example narratives we came up with to talk about have as a central conflict the problem of who controls the narrative. I haven’t seen Capturing the Friedmans (which Rose talks about in that post I just linked to), but I gather that control (and ownership) of the narratives of people’s lives is at stake in that story. Paycheck (which Rose also discusses) is hardly about anything coherent, but it’s based on a Philip K. Dick story (Dick’s stories are incoherent in a much more interesting way than Paycheck the movie), and Dick was always writing about characters losing control of their narratives.

Right, I think New X-Men is about characters attempting to create themselves by creating narratives, and it’s about characters losing control of those narratives. Charles Xavier loses control of his political dream to his evil twin. Henry McCoy tells his ex-girlfriend a little lie and tries somewhat unsuccessfully to turn it to his advantage when it spirals out of control. Emma Frost convinces herself she’s a good teacher, a good lover, a nurturer, a strong independent person, only to see her life shatter around her. Quentin Quire, after his life is turned topsy-turvy by the revelation that he’s adopted, constructs a new life for himself out of every possible troubled-teen warning sign and teen-movie cliche (using drugs, bullying, getting in fights, rebelling against authority, turning to radical politics, trying to impress a girl, and much much more) but can’t control his own inventions. Scott Summers is deeply unhappy with his own (non-)personality but can’t manage to do anything but stand still as his life goes to hell. Weapon XV bursts through the dome of the World, transcending what was the whole of its existence, only to bindly acquiesce to the controlling forces he finds beyond. (If there are forces beyond comprehension (a military science team running the World, an omniscient god, anthropological determinism, the writer) that know the narrative better than we, can we have any control?) Wolverine gives up control of his own narrative—decides he’s the killing machine Weapon Plus says he is and can’t be more or other than that. So there are all these stories about loss of control and it’s not just control of power, but control of choice, of selfhood, of the right to be the narrative subject. Loss of control over the narrative of their lives.

There are several things I’ll be thinking and writing about, in addition to setting out arguments to support my thesis:

  • X-books may be read as very political. What are the politics of New X-Men, what do they have to do with creation of self through narrative (or failure to create self through loss of control of the narrative)?
  • New X-Men seems optimistic and hopeful (particularly in terms of the X-Men making progress in their political goals), and a lot of people seem to respond strongly and primarily to this in their readings. What’s the relationship between the surface political optimism and the darker themes of loss of control?
  • The aesthetics, particularly of the art. What does the sequential-art form do for the text in terms of the narrative themes?


  1. Peiratikos » New X-Men, hurrah says:

    […] Xavier’s was neat revisionist take on classic X-Men political themes adapted to the pet themes of New X-Men. I was impressed with Morrison pulling the soap-opera […]

    — 23 January 2004 at 2:25 am (Permalink)