Monday, August 3, 2009

Glory Days of the X-Men Part 3

New X-Men

I have gone over Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne Era, and the Jim Lee era - two of the highest points in the X-Men's long history. To try and repair the X-Men, ever since Claremont left the series, Marvel eventually brought him back, writing both books. It was not very successful, and Marvel was criticized for not taking more advantage of the recent live action X-Men movie. So Marvel looked outside the box, and brought in comic genius Grant Morrison to take over and revamp the X-Men.

To me, Grant Morrison is like the Jack Kirby of comics today. He might not be on the artist side of things, but he's seemingly overflowing with ideas and concepts - both revolutionary and awe inspiring. For anyone who read and enjoyed All Star Superman, - it wasn't just a fun wacky adventure - there was tons of symbolism, dripping with psychedelic concepts and ideas. It both brought back the original fun of Superman, while also expanding on his for the modern age and the future. Morrison's run on X-Men was just as revolutionary.

Morrison changed a lot of the conventions of X-Men in general. With such a wide mutant population, the X-Men stopped being Superheroes, and worked more as rescue relief for Mutant problems. The first story line "E is for Extinction" changed everything - as it was revealed that, if the mutant population kept growing at it's current pace, homo-sapiens would become the dominant species on the planet. This first three issue story arch also introduced the X-Men to one of their most powerful new foes - Cassandra Nova.

In a subversive on-going plot point, Cassandra Nova, who seemingly was defeated by the third issue, had in fact taken over Professor Xavier's mind. It was further explored that Nova was in fact a biological twin of Xavier. Supposedly killed in the womb, only Xavier was born - but Cassandra Nova was eventually brought into the world as a kind of physical psychic doppelganger. With Nova in control of Xavier's mind, she announced to the media that Xavier was indeed a mutant, making the X-Men more public than ever. She then got in touch with the Shi'ar Empire, to visit Empress Lilandra - and then control Lilandra, tearing the Shi'ar Empire appart. Nova came back to the X-Men in a big way, with enough fire power to destroy the X-Men for good.

The core cast of the X-Men was streamlined.

Cyclops lead the X-Men, and seemed to be completely respected by the writer. He was no longer the straight boring leader next to Wolverine, he was one of the most driven and powerful members of the team. Things also took a bad turn for Scott, as he fell into an affair with Emma Frost.

While Scott's infidelity was a blow to Jean Grey, she was quite busy with her expanding powers - which where growing at a tremendous rate. The series ended with Jean Grey dying, and finally passing onto the other side, where she let go of Scott and became a higher being.

Emma Frost, formerly the White Queen, was the biggest curveball Morrison gave fans. Reformed and wanting to teach, the seductive and manipulative Emma became a great catalyst for drama in the team. She was also given a new secondary mutation, being able to turn into a diamond form. Emma might not have been expected by many fans, but she turned out to be an incredibly inspired choice, and is still a core leader of the X-Men.

Wolverine went over quite the makeover under Frank Quietly's art. Taking cues from the movies, Wolverine's hair was slicked back, and he sported a leather uniform. He was also shirtless - which didn't completely work. A white undershirt was eventually added - which finally made the whole uniform work great.

The Beast was one of my most favorite characters, which is why I was very nervous when I heard Morrison and Quitely where changing Hank McCoy's look. A secondary mutation underwent Dr. McCoy, making him more feline looking. This was an abrupt change - but ultimately a welcome one. The degnified and cultured nature of Beast shined through quite well.

With the slimmed down main cast in place, Morrison was able to expand focus on some new younger mutants. Emma Frost became mentor to a 5 young Frosts-in-training, a hive-mind psychic collective called the Stepford Cuckoos.

Morrison also focused in one two utter misfits. Beak was a dorky kid to begin with, made worse by being an over grown chicken who couldn't even fly. Angel Salvadore became the newest teen tag-along to Wolverine, and also became a teen mother, giving birth to a group of Beak's children.

These troubled students at Xavier's where put in charge of Xorn, a new mutant who had a star for a head. The zen-like Xorn seemed like a great edition to the cast, as his powers and attitude where fascinating. He even seemingly cured Xavier of paralysis, giving him the ability to walk. Xorn teaching these kids was not an ideal situation, though, as in a shocking turn of events - the seemingly pronounced dead Magneto was in fact Xorn all along. Nanites and magnitisim where what gave Xavier's his legs back - and in a crushing blow Magnus took over all of New York.

The take-over by Magneto was the big finale of Morrison's run. Much of it, sadly, was retconned later on, making Xorn a person imitating Magneto. This took some air out of the big ending, but it still stands as a great reveal.

There where other great adventures and new ideas during Morrison's run. Kid Omega, a student at Xavier's, took the school hostage, seemingly beliving in Magneto's views more than Xavier's. Wolverine also found out that the "X" in Weapon X might not be what it seems, as a larger portion of Weapon X was revealed, called the Weapon Plus Program. Wolverine was only the 10th itteration of his program, and a new mutant, Fantomex, was introduced. Fantomex was very different, as had a central nervous system outside his body in the form of a flying saucer.

While Morrison revolutionized the X-Men in his own book, there where other good stories to be found as well. Chris Claremont was given his own book, entitled "X-Treme X-Men" where we followed the adventures of Storm, Rogue, Bishop, Gambit, and the new enigmatic Sage on their search for Diaries that told of the future. The series didn't continue that well after the departure of artist Salvador Lorroca, but it was a nice change of pace into traditional Super Heroics.

When Morrison left the series, the X-Men felt rudderless once again. Many of Morrison's ideas where haphazardly retconed. It seemed like this age of tremendous X-Men tales was coming to an end - until Buffy and Angel creator Joss Whedon surprisingly took the baton and continued the story of the X-Men where Grant had left off.

Whedon put the X-Men back in costumes, determined to make them Super Heroes again.

While this was somewhat of a departure from Morrison's style, the X-Men where simply written so deftly and so creatively, that it seemed like all the magic of the X-Men had never left.

Many new story lines where begun. Cyclops, in particular became the badass of the team, using his powers in spectacular fashion, and leading the X-Men in truly difficult times. All the while "coping" with the loss of Jean Grey by becoming very intimate with new girl friend Emma Frost. Wolverine didn't take that very well.

Fan favorite X-Man Kitty Pryde returned to the X-Men. Sharing many of the same heroic qualities as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kitty became a stunning character under Whedon's pen. She was portrayed so well, and so sweetly, that it struck many as to why she was ever gone in the first place.

One of the biggest surprises of the first 6 issues was the return of Colossus. He had died a while ago in a very controversial way, seemingly sacrificing himself to cure the Legacy Virus. Turns out his body was revived by alien technology, and the X-Men found him where he had been locked away. It was truly touching to see Kitty and Colossus finally reconnect, and all the more tragic when Kitty was lost at the end of Whedon's run.

Whedon also brought in some solid new concepts, like the Danger Room becoming sentient and alive, and introducing a great new tag-along for Wolverine, named Armor.

After Whedon left the X-Men, the tremendous high of this era of the X-Men finally came to an end. It was a fantastic and wild ride - and I hope the X-Men manage to reach such prominence and quality again. But, for right now, the X-Men are totally getting their butts handed to them by the Avengers.

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