Welcome to 52 in 52, one man’s look at the vast world of Marvel Unlimited. I will be reading and sharing my thoughts each week regarding a different single arc or event from somewhere within the world of Marvel Unlimited, trying to find things I haven’t read that are relevant to the current comic or cinematic landscape, or completely irrelevant and just fun to read.
One year. 52 tales. One per week. Marvel Unlimited.
Let’s do this.
NEW X-MEN #114-116
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Frank Quitely
Publication Date: July 2001 – September 2001
To give my observations a little more context, Comicosity’s own John Ernenputsch is going to be writing intros to paint a picture for the timeframe in which this books were released, as timing does factor heavily into how the story was being told at the time.
“At the dawn of the 21st century things were changing all over the place at Marvel Comics. The company was still reeling from the effects of bankruptcy, the X-Men movie hit theaters, the Ultimate Universe was launched, and Joe Quesada was appointed Editor In Chief. The two constants however were seeing X-Men and Uncanny X-Men sitting atop the monthly sales charts. The X-Men were continued to be extremely popular despite the the quality of the titles lagging for some time. Chris Claremont’s much publicized return to the X-Men wasn’t the triumphant return readers were expecting creatively. With the popularity of the movie, and their importance to the company, the X-Men became the next target of Joe Quesada’s continuous reinvigoration of the Marvel Universe. The EiC tapped Joe Casey and Ian Churchill to work on Uncanny X-Men, while Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took the reins of X-Men. Four big name creators handling the biggest franchise in comics. Scott Lobdell was tapped to return to the X-titles to bridge the gap between Claremont and the new creative teams, ending in a line wide crossover called Eve of Destruction. Claremont would then be given his own title in X-Treme X-Men. When May 2001 rolled around the top four books of the month were New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Xtreme X-Men, and Ultimate X-Men. Not only were the X-titles the top four comics on the charts, they were also the only books of the month to top 100,000 in sales. For the first time in years Uncanny X-Men was no longer the flagship title, as Morrison’s newly rechristened New X-Men led the way.
Grant Morrison’s take on the X-Men can be pegged as the beginning of the franchise’s modern era. The jump in quality from issue 113 to 114 remains one of the single greatest jumps over the course of a single month that I’ve ever experienced. Frank Quitely’s art was a thing of beauty when he was able to get the work done. There were quite a few art related delays during the course of the run, but other than a few issues where Igor Kordey is said to have completed an entire issues worth of pencils in less than two weeks, the run is a beauty to look at. That is to be expected when the artistic lineup included names like Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, Chris Bachalo, and Mark Silvestri. In many ways Grant Morrison would change the X-Men forever, as a lot of his ideas and characters have stood the test of time. Quentin Quire, Fantomex, Emma Frost as members of the team, Emma Frost as Scott’s lover, Stepford Cuckoos, John Sublime, Cassandra Nova, Genosha’s destruction, secondary mutations, and Weapon Plus have all played roles in the x-titles in recent years, and they all came from Morrison’s mind.
It all started with E Is For Extinction in New X-Men #114-116 with Frank Quitely on art duties. It is a quick three issue story that is considered by many to be one of the greatest X-Men stories ever. Morrison wasted no time in setting the tone for the entire run. He quickly raises the narrative stakes, and introduces readers to one of the greatest threats the X-Men ever faced. All of this while Frank Quitely turned in three of the best issues of his career.”
– John Ernenputsch
Alrighty…let’s get into it. After two 12 issue arcs I decided to scale it back a bit this week and focus on a three issue story, the kick off to one of the most renowned X-Men runs of all time. The mighty Morrison is in the house, with some guy named Frank Quitely and it is evident from the first page that this pair plans on ripping it up. This is no lightweight X-crew dealing with minor stuff. Morrison and Quitely kill off 16 million to kick off their run, with Cassandra Nova unleashing a Sentinel wave unlike what has ever been seen before. You don’t kill off 16 million mutants in the first three issues of your run if you’re going to do a quiet, introspective character piece. The concepts they are talking, species extinction and unmasking mutants is some high concept stuff, but what else would you expect from Grant Morrison? Now, I mentioned this isn’t just a quiet character analysis, he’s got what is probably the most powerful roster ever assembled, but with Morrison there are always layers…and each of the primary characters in these issues definitely has a unique voice:
Charles Xavier: Chuck has some serious grit and some decent attitude in this one, and he certainly isn’t passive. This Xavier is looking for results, looking to make change happen, and is willing to get his hands dirty to do it. This is an Xavier I like to read – a man not waiting for the world to happen to him. If he’s to usher in a new era for mutantkind, one where there is harmony with mutantkind, being passive is not the way to do it. Do you go full on Magneto? Of course not, that is not the core of Charles Xavier, but he is certainly proactive here and I dig it.
Cyclops: Ok, I’ll toss this out here: I’m not a Scott Summers fan. I’m not minding him as an anti-hero post AvX, primarily because every once and a while I get to see someone smack him around, but all in all I’m not a huge fan. He bores me. Morrison gives him the right amount of arrogance in these issues to give him some intrigue. I can see why fans of this run tend to not be bored by Slim the way I am if this characterization continues. Seeing him interact with both Jean and Emma is intriguing, and I think at some point in this adventure I’ll be continuing with New X-Men. Thumbs up to this Cyke.
Jean Grey: I like the Marvel U when Jean is alive. Seeing her interactions with Charles and Henry was great. Her characterization is one of the primary reasons I will take up another arc of this sometime. Morrison writes her well and I can only assume that doesn’t trail off. Her presence solidifies this X-crew as pure heavy hitters, and there’s always excitement when Jean could cut loose.
Beast: Oh, cat-Hank. Henry McCoy is my favourite mutant, hands down, and one of my favourite characters of all time. He’s got the feline deal going on in this run, which I was used to from reading some X-stuff that came down the line, but more than anything Morrison nails his voice. He’s wildly intelligent but he’s got that dry humour that I expect from Hank McCoy. More thumbs up to Morrison.
Wolverine: The best there is at what he does, Wolverine graces these pages as more of a hardened warrior and less of a headmaster. This is pre-Schism, so he and Cyke are working together and I’ll admit their banter got me nostalgic for better X-days. A unified X-world is something I wouldn’t mind reading in current comics, as their little civil war has gone on long enough…but it would appear our days of Logan vs. Cyke could be gone….for now, anyway. Quitely gives Logan a unique snarl that works really well for the character, and I think he pencils him the best of anyone in this comic.
Emma Frost: This is the story that introduces Emma’s diamond form, and she has never been harder than in these issues. Morrison’s voice for her is fantastic, her pedigree shining through at all times with an arrogance that bleeds from every speech bubble. It is obvious she’s going to become a Universe headliner here.
While Morrison is who I’ve primarily spoken of with reference to the boldness of these first few issues, it goes without saying that Frank Quitely is no slouch. He’s not the fastest draw in town, but he’s a heavyweight nonetheless and he pencils many aspects of these issues well. In my writeup for Inhumans I spoke of being in the minority group of people who aren’t floored by Jae Lee’s work….I will admit here to being in the even smaller group of people who aren’t the biggest fans of Lee or Quitely. While I do not immediately dislike his style, his pencils don’t often astound me, either (my favourite page from the three issues is above). I can think of a dozen pencilers working in the industry that I think could have handled these three issues just as well as Quitely did, so that probably says a lot about my thoughts on the artwork. It isn’t ever bad, but I was never blown away either, and I can’t close this out without discussing the cover to #116. Seriously – what the f*** is that? I liked the design of 114’s cover, 115 is fine, but 116 is just awful. I get that sexuality is part of Emma Frost’s character and to this day her costumes are ridiculous, but that cover is a whole new level of awful.
Cover of 116 aside, I enjoyed the issues of E Is For Extinction quite a lot. At some point in 52 in 52 I think I will probably continue with this run, as it is evident from the beginning that events will occur in these issues that have an impact on the X-Men to this day. Quitely’s work isn’t bad but Morrison astounds, and hell, sometimes it’s just nice to slide back to a time when there weren’t two factions of warring X-Men.
Next Week: SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH #1-5 (2005)
Special thanks to John Ernenputsch for helping to curate this adventure.