I tracked down all seven trade paperback collections of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men with some embarrassment. For one thing, their covers are awful. But as I pressed on, I realized there might be a reason why none of my comic-reading friends had ever mentioned this series before. I was ashamed just to be reading it alone.
I don’t know whether it’s because it’s an earlier work, due to editorial constraints, or the ridiculous nature of the X-Men themselves, but Morrison’s take on Marvel’s mutants is tame in both scope and content. Whereas his recent work on Batman had me digging up background information on all the weird inspirations for his storylines, with New X-Men I needed to check the Internet just to see what mattered. Didn’t the public already know that Professor X was a mutant? Hadn’t Cyclops and Emma Frost already flirted with a psychic affair before? Who cares what Wolverine’s lost memories reveal this time?
Some of these events may have been a big deal at the time of their publication. (The series ended in 2004, before the movies fully eclipsed the comics in casual fanboy relevance.) But as someone uninvested in that universe, it’s about as gripping as reading episode recaps of Heroes. Over the course of 40 issues, bad guys destroy the mutant refuge of Genosha; the Xavier institute reacts to the appearance of the U-Men– humans who dissect mutants in order to graft on their parts– and “kick”, a drug that increases superpowers; and Earth’s population finds itself under threat of extinction by multiple acts of deus ex machina.
With the exception of the author’s sad and twisted new characters, there’s nothing to ground the events in anything resembling reality. The plot is more concerned with outrageous cosmic repercussions (and characters being mind-controlled or hiding behind false identities) than establishing any believable emotional connections or motivations. From beginning to end, this is a thousand pages of unchecked Grant Morrison metaphysical masturbation, bequeathing nothing of consequence to the continuity except for poor Beak and his fellow mutants in Xavier’s “special” class.