New X-Men #155 Review

Reviewer: Iain Burnside
Story Title: A Bright New Mourning: Part 1

Written by: Chuck Austen
Penciled by: Salvador Larroca
Inked by: Danny Miki
Colored by: Udon
Lettered by: Rus Wooton
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It is 1968. You have just attended a special underground screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey with complimentary LSD that the organizers have mapped out to take at specific points throughout the movie. Your mind has been blown apart, smashed into its individual building blocks and reassembled in a brand new fashion by the combination of the chemical and celluloid catalysts provided by Stanley Kubrick and the fine people of New York’s drug scene. It is a life-altering experience. This can be seen as either me spouting off complete and utter drivel or as some sort of loose metaphor for the mind-expansion tasks undertaken by Grant Morrison over the past 21 issues (and one annual) of New X-Men. It provided the majority of the Marvel audience something they have never seen before. Even those who have read Morrison’s previous works were impressed. Sadly the final arc, Here Comes Tomorrow, was something of a disappointment. Still, every high has a low to end upon. What people really wanted to know was what would happen next. It would certainly take something special to be as moving an experience as E for Extinction or Riot at Xavier’s.

Well, I can tell you that Bright New Mourning is not like watching a ‘very special’ screening of 2001. It’s like sitting on your sofa with a mug of tea and a biscuit, wearing your slippers, watching Beverly Hills 90210 re-runs. Which I’m sure is a very pleasing prospect for some people but it’s just not to my liking, I’m afraid. It’s tolerable but not involving and, as recent episodes of Tru Calling have shown me, it would just make me want to punch my TV whenever Jason Priestley showed his irritating, smug little face.

Instead of Priestley however, we have Scott Summers acting like a prick. You know, yet again. Harkening back to the good ol’ days of abandoning his wife and baby to go hang out with his mates and play with spandex, here Scott starts making out with current main squeeze Emma Frost on his wife Jean Grey’s grave. Then he deliberately sabotages that relationship by coldly dismissing her feelings in an offhand manner. Then he whines to Beast about how he has every right to make out with her on said gravesite, how Jean probably knows about it anyway, and still acts like some high school jock when referring to Emma. Quite what direction Austen is trying to take this character’s love life in certainly cannot be divulged from the convoluted mess of conversation here, but since Morrison has already shown us in the previous issue that he needs to be with Emma and that Jean put them together it does strike me as a bit odd why he would make such a big deal of this. Break them up and it contradicts the point Morrison was making. Have them reconcile and the entire audience collectively thinks “Well, duh…” This Austen’s a strange one alright.

In fact, it seems to have become a tiresome trend for people to bash Austen on the net. It’s like Triple H jokes on 411 Wrestling or Ben Affleck jokes on 411 Movies – unoriginal and over-the-top in a lot of places. I’m not saying Austen is by any means a great writer. He sure as hell cannot compete with Grant Morrison for one. However, he is not the worst thing about this issue. The worst thing is Salvador Larroca’s quite abysmal artwork here. Emma Frost is meant to be glamorous and capable of making jaws drop and knees weak whenever she walks into a room. Mainly because of plastic surgery, that is. If she spent all that money on surgery to look the way she does here then she’s obviously gone to the same place as Michael Jackson and should sue immediately. For crying out loud, she has a profile like Beast’s!! The rest of the cast fare no better and worse yet is the malfunctioning robot that attacks Beast and Scott in the ruins of the X-Mansion. At least, we are told it is a robot. It quite honestly could be anything from an errant vacuum cleaner to Oprah Winfrey as it is impossible to ascertain what the hell that thing is. The worst thing however, the absolute worst thing is that there is no escaping this sloppy work when the Reload comes. Larroca is staying with Austen on this title. A writer who will never be brilliant, is usually adequate and sometimes abysmal is one thing. Teaming him up with someone who seems to do his penciling whilst sitting on a speeding bus doing wheelies on a cobbled side street is quite another.

In fact, this issue is pretty much nothing but a time-killer until Reload happens. As compensation we are getting issue #156 this month too. Truth be told, I don’t give a crap. It just adds more credence to the soap-opera comparison. They are shown all the bloody time too, but they can never dream of being taken seriously or of achieving great heights. That’s the reason I am prepared to give books like NYX and Secret War all the time in the world. Those books can and will be great. New X-Men‘s biggest chance of shaking the industry up will be when it drops the New moniker next month. You know, just to remind everyone that Marvel enjoys taking two steps forwards and three steps backwards.

With its meandering plot only going round in circles and not actually taking us anywhere worthwhile, Austen had better step up to the plate damn quick and hit one out of the park when the real arc starts. Here all we get is Beast and Scott looking for Cassandra Nova while Emma takes a little drive and runs into anti-mutant protestors and the Cuckoos. Along the way they make the type of rookie mistakes not seen since the very first issues of Uncanny. For example, Beast and Scott start bickering like little children fighting over the remote control while the assumed robot attacks them, before Scott idiotically blows up the roof and collapses it on them all. Or there’s Emma, who conveniently forgets about her diamond form and gets knocked out by someone throwing a rock at her. Oh, and if someone could actually explain what the hell the line “Erotic overload for you all!” actually means??

It’s time to face the truth, people. The last Reload we had was Matrix Reloaded. It was overblown, flavourless and as hollow as any creative endeavour I have seen outside of Lucasfilm. The upcoming X-Men Reload is also shaping up to be quite the disappointment.