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229: Grant Morrison Retrospective

Introduction to Grant Morrison

Grant Morrison was the first X-Men scribe to take the status quo and turn it on it's head. Claremont will forever be known as the heart and soul of the X-Men. He took the solid foundation handed to him from Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, and Neal Adams and elevated the material and premise to powerhouse status. That foundation was incredibly strong, but it needed to be shaken up after 40 years. Morrison accepted this challenge and created one of the most celebrated and influential X-Men runs in 60 years (so far) of X-Men storytelling.

In an interview with Tom DeFalco in Comic Creators on X-Men, Morrison had the following to say about his love for the X-Men:

"It was such a big deal for me. I wanted to go and write Scott and Jean, and all these guys that have just been good friends to me. I generally only do things that speak to me or touch my soul or where I have something to say

His deep love for these characters shines through in his writing. He continued in this interview, explaining how he prepared for this assignment:

"I was reading a lot of very fresh, cutting edge science on genetics and mutation. I wanted to be up on the current theories of what the human mind would be like at the next evolutionary jump. The next layer of human consciousness will probably be thinking more in terms of metaphor. The way we look at the world will be much more holistic and poetic.

This certainly explains a lot about the lofty and scientific approach that Morrison took throughout this run. The best way to understand why these stories have had such a big impact on X-Men fans is to more closely examine the biggest themes associated with his run.

Major Themes

X-Men Movie Influences

It is very clear from the outset that Morrison was influenced by the X-Men movie(s). He had the following to say in Comic Creators on X-Men:

"The X-Men movies were what actually made me want to do the X-Men comic. I was so impressed with them. They made me understand the X-Men in the way that I hadn’t over the years. It was a concise way to show me what to do with X-Men to me X-Men became a science-fiction story. The two X-Men movies are among my favorite superhero movies."

There are so many examples of this. The most obvious has to do with the costuming. Grant Morrison put the team in simple leather as opposed to the fancy outfits superheroes typically wear.

You'll also notice that Cerebro (now called Cerebra) looks an awful lot like Cerebro from the moves as well:

Another big influence from the movies is the size of the student population.

What's funny is that up to this point I was still thinking of the Institute as having hundreds of students, but really the only time students were there was during New Mutants and that was only a handful.

Increasing Mutant Population

I said it best in my E is for Extinction coverage:

"The first major tonal shift is this new dynamic that there has been a massive increase in the mutant population, causing the end of the human population.
This is a huge development because humans have always been afraid of mutants, but now humans are literally going extinct and have a reason to be scared. Also, the massive increase in the mutant population clears the tracks for Morrison to introduce a lot of new characters, which he does in the form of a bustling student population. "

Public X-Men

I also covered this well in my E is for Extinction coverage:

"Another major tonal shift comes when Xavier tells the world he is a mutant. Professor Xavier and the X-Men have always, always lived in the shadows. Now they are out in front of the media and even have picketers and protestors outside the campus. Crazy new dynamic!"

Integration vs. Segregation

Up until this point, professor Xavier's dream had always been to help mutantkind live alongside humans (Integration.) However, Morrison was the first to introduce heroes beginning to question whether mutants were better on their own (Segregation). Here is a great exchange between Scott (still an integrationist) and Jean (a budding segregationist.)

Throughout the run, Jean (and others) began to push for a "separate and equal" perspective. Where Scott and Charles though mutants should be careful about scaring humans, Jean thinks it's time to embrace who they are not worry about demonstrating how powerful they are. To be clear, this is closer on the spectrum to Magneto, but not quite there. Magneto actually wants mutants to dominate humans, but that's not what jean and the segregationists are pushing for.

Secondary Mutations

"There's also the new idea of secondary mutations. We see this in Beast going even more feral and Emma gaining the ability to turn into a diamond form. This is a very creative way to change the dynamic for characters we've known for decades. I still need to see what else Morrison has in mind for this particular dynamic, but so far he's earned my trust that this is going somewhere good."

Rated R

The 2001 re-launch also brought with it the end of the comics code. We have violence (blood can be red), sex (not just implied), language (swear words written with symbols), and plenty of other adult themes.

Breaking down the Arcs

E is for Extinction (114 - 116)

E is for Extinction is the story arc that kicks off the Morrison run. Not only does it include some of the most memorable and game changing events in X-men lore, but I fully expect it to make at least one appearance in my next "Favorites as of X year series," which I will be publishing after I wrap up New X-Men, X-Treme X-Men, and Chuck Austen's run.

You can go to 204: Morrison's New X-Men Kickoff (E is for Extinction) for a full story breakdown, but as an overview, this is the story arc that...

  • Kicks off the major tonal shifts (many students at the school, increasing mutant population, public X-Men, Rated R storytelling, showing not telling, etc.

  • Introduces secondary mutations

  • Introduces Cassandra Nova, Xavier's evil twin. In Comic Creators on X-Men, Morrison had the following to say:

“ I was reading about twins in mythology and legend, and I wanted to have a female baddie, so I got this idea for Professor exes evil twin. I was taking a lot of classic soap opera ideas and using them an X-Men. The concept of the evil twin is something you always see on soap operas. It was just a classic storyline of twins. One is good and one is bad, with a completely opposite agenda.”
  • Kills 16 million mutants at Genosha

  • Incorporates Emma Frost into the X-Men

  • Sets the scene for trouble in the Summers-Grey marriage

Enter Xorn (New X-Men Annual 2001)

This is the story where we first met Xorn.

OMG, I just read the quote from above and it's now so obvious that this was Magneto talking about Genosha:

"I could have built Heaven on Earth, if only they'd let me. I could have laid the foundation stones of paradise here on earth."

I just assumed this was a true Xorn talking about the great things he could have done before the Chinese imprisoned him.

Germ Free Generation (NXM # 117 - 121)

Germ Free Generation is one of the most important story arcs of the Morrison run because it introduces (John) Sublime. You can find full coverage of this story arc in 208: New X-Men 117 - 121 (Germ Free Generation) and a recap of how Sublime impacted every subsequent arc in my Here Comes Tomorrow blog. Morrison had the following to say in Comic Creators on X-Men:

“I usually come in with a big plan for the three or four years, or however, long I’m going to be in a book. I come in with an endpoint in mind. I have an overall storyline that I’m working toward; a road map, so that I know where I’m going. I tend to have a big over arching conspiracy, or a big plot line in the background. Yes, I knew Sublime was going to be the big villain at the end, but I wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to end up. I usually figure out what I have to say. I’ll sit down and basically work out the entire run from day one.”

John Sublime comes across as an evangelist who is trying to promote a third race of humans genetically modified with mutant limbs/powers, becoming a race of "U-Men."

In addition to the Sublime story, we get some great Jean Grey sequences where she takes over the Institute for the first (but not last) time, begins to assert her segregationist philosophy, and continues tapping into her burgeoning Phoenix powers to protect her students.

While Marvel instituted a line of "wordless comics" across their portfolio, New X-Men gave us an unforgettable masterpiece in NXM # 121 when Jean and Emma venture inside Xavier/Nova's mind.

While in their psyche, Jean discovers that Charles killed Cassandra in the womb when discovering she was evil.

Shi'ar Invasion (122 - 126)

The Shi'Ar Invasion storyline showed us what happens Cassandra Nova impersonates Charles and takes over the Shi'ar empire.

Transitions (127)

The transitions story takes place across both New X-Men and X-Treme X-Men. Wolverine and Beast leave the lineup while this team directly corresponds with the other X-Men teams for the first time.

X-Corp (128)

The X-Corp story takes the concept introduced in Uncanny X-Men # 399 and creates a new status quo with Xavier overseeing a vast global empire with embassies in most countries. Each embassy is staffed by various mutant superheroes and a mutant only needs to think "help" and a team of X affiliates will show up within minutes.

Fantomex (129 - 131)

Fantomex is introduced to the X-Men universe and he will never be forgotten.

Genosha (132 -133)

The X-Men team return to Genosha for the first time since 16 million mutants were killed by Cassandra Nova's sentinels. We meet back up with Polaris and discover that a shrine is being built to Magneto where he is revered by the remaining population. We also meet Dust!

Riot at Xavier's (134 - 141)

Riot at Xavier's is another famous story that will almost certainly crack my next edition of "Favorite Comics..."

Quentin Quire and a group of fellow mutants (including Glob Herman!) start taking the drug "Kick" (which we later find out was actually Sublime) and become radicalized, attacking humans and directly challenging Xavier.

On a day when Xavier was hoping to welcome humans (Welcome Day), Quentin Quire and his group incapacitate Xavier and start a school riot.

Quentin is ultimately stopped by his fellow students, the Cucko's, however one of them dies in the process.

This arc also ends with Jean discovering that Scott had been cheating on her with Emma. Grant Morrison had the following to say about it:

“The way I saw it was that Jean and Scott had become remote. For me, the great emotional moment for Scott and Jean was when they ran out to die together on the moon during the Phoenix Saga. After Jean died, Scott ended up with a lot of other woman. Scott was very attractive to woman even though he didn’t know it and I wanted to play around with that. since he was becoming emotionally remote from Jean, because she was becoming more and more Godlike, it just seems like you naturally fall into the arms of someone more emotionally connected, which Emma actually was. Yes, it was kind of adultery, but at the same time Jean wasn’t being his wife anymore. I just felt that the spark between them had died out, and it was time to give Scott someone else.”

This makes it sounds like "Jean had it coming," but I really didn't see it that way. Scott was the one who had changed and was becoming more distant. Yes, Jean's philosophy was evolving, but her Phoenix powers didn't seem to be changing her too much.

Assault on Weapon Plus (142 - 145)

Assault on Weapon Plus is a short story where Wolverine, Cyclops, and Fantomex take on Weapon 15 and end up on Asteroid M, which leads us into Planet X.

Planet X (146 - 150)

I have very strong opinions about Planet X, which you can read in full here: 226: New X-Men #142 - 150 (Planet X). We discover that Xorn has been Magneto all along. Magneto then quickly subdues the X-men, destroys the mansion, takes over New York, is embarrassed by his followers, kills Jean, and is then decapitated by Wolverine. We later find that Magneto was being influenced by Sublime, but that's not enough to make me feel less angry.

I'm going to re-share my initial thoughts on Magneto because I have since found a quote from Morrison where I get to hear his take.

I said:

"Let's get straight to the Magneto of it all. I get what Morrison was trying to do. He's trying to demonstrate that both Charles and Magneto are relics of the past and their philosophies work best when in the hands of the next generation. I get that. But I just can't get past the fact that this was not my Magneto. I put Magneto as my #1 favorite character because of the nuance that comes with him. He's not a straight up psychopathic killer, he has layers. He can be sympathetic. I might not agree with him, but I understand him. This version of Magneto is taking over Manhattan and killing hundreds. This version of Magneto is ready to wipe out every human being (and possibly many mutants) by reversing the poles. And worst of all, this version of Magneto is not respected. I just can't get into it."

Morrison justifies it by saying the following:

“Magneto’s an old terrorist bastard. I got into trouble—the X-Men fans hated me because I made him into a stupid old drug-addicted idiot. He had started out as this sneering, grim terrorist character, so I thought, Well, that’s who he really is. [Writer] Chris Claremont had done a lot of good work over the years to redeem the character: He made him a survivor of the death camps and this noble antihero. And I went in and shat on all of it. It was right after 9/11, and I said there’s nothing f*****g noble about this at all.”

Ok, so I understand where Morrison was coming from, but I don't agree. Morrison is simply thinking of the worst things Magneto has done, with emphasis on the straight up evil things he did under Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. His perspective is that if someone did terrible things, they shouldn't get a break. I don't think it's that simple. Claremont went through great lengths during the Trial of Magneto to clarify that he was a new man after his "re-birth" and not responsible for what he had done in the Silver Age. I cited Magneto as my favorite character and UXM# 274 - 277 (Magneto in the Savage Land) as my favorite issue(s) of all time (in Favorites as of 2001) because these issues do such a good job to demonstrate how misunderstood he has been all this time. I think Morrison's run is phenomenal, but this I just can't support.

Here Comes Tomorrow (151 - 156)

Here Comes Tomorrow is a possible dystopian future where Beast becomes infected with Sublime/Kick, goes evil, and creates an army of chimaera's to wipe out humans and rebelling mutants.


Morrison had the following to say about the characters he wrote:

“ I think they’re all facets of my own personality. Scott’s the version of me when I was 17 years old and I walked around town looking at my shoes. Emma Frost is me at a party when I’m witty and crude and funny. Jean was a very levelheaded, but a slightly kooky, Off center person. Hank is like the big guy who comes to comic book conventions, who is very smart, but feels trapped in his own body, the characters are either someone I know or someone I’ve met..”


I loved Jean's characterization in this run because it was the first time since Dark Phoenix where Jean was truly featured. She is this powerhouse Omega mutant who always stood on the sidelines.

Headmistress - This run established Jean as the headmistress of the Institute while Charles was away. There was an inevitability to this position and it certainly won't be the last.

Segregationist - As discussed earlier, Jean was the loudest voice for a new mutant philosophy that fell somewhere between Xavier and Magneto.

Phoenix power - I'm a little annoyed that every new author feels tempted to flirt with a return of the Phoenix Force, but at least Morrison did it with style.

Death - This run ended with Jean's death.


Morrison had a very different take on Cyclops. This version of Cyclops was messed up from his Apocalypse possession and was edgier and slightly less uptight. Here's how Morrison described him:

“ Cyclops was definitely my favorite character. He was like me, a young guy who was kind of tall with dark hair and felt a bit shy. Girls liked me, but I didn’t know how to deal with them. So I felt the Cyclops character really understood the kind of neurotic boy that lives inside me. I saw a lot of depth in him. I was always surprised when people said that cyclops had no character, that he was just a Boy Scout, the team leader. I always thought that he was a much more complex character. He was one of those people who had a lot going on the surface, but didn’t talk about it too much. That was very interesting to me. You never got to see what Cyclops was thinking even though Claremont did a lot of thought balloons.
It was obvious that Cyclops was repressed, that he held everything back, like the visor that was holding back his energy. I was going to see what would happen if Cyclops let everything loose.“

This version of Scott Summers is more distant, less idealistic. He's a changed man since coming back from the Apocalypse possession, as detailed here by Jean:

His values have changed.

The change in personality has impacted his marriage too.

Over time, Jean suspects it.

Scott eventually gives into his lust for Emma.

And Jean finds out...

Professor Xavier

This might be my favorite version of Professor Xavier. First of all, I actually appreciate that he's drawn as an old man. I never connected with him working out in the gym and being buff.

The X-Men going public affected Charles more than it did everyone else. He embraced it by taking over X-Corp and bringing his X-Men "brand" global.

Emma Frost

Here's what Morrison had to say about her:

“Someone suggested her to me, and I started to look back at the old comics. I thought this character would be great. She’d been a villain, and now she was trying to be a hero. She was a strong woman, but underneath there was this emotional core that no one ever went near. She had a lot more range and depth to her than a lot of the other characters. I like the fact that she could fight against her own urges. That’s what I saw in her, and just the opportunity to write this kind of witty snide English humor coming from a Bostonian.”

More than anything, Emma is just fabulous.

And very genuine..


Beast is more beastly, but sadly I don't think there were any major improvements or changes to him.


The most shocking thing to me about this run was how under-used Wolverine was. He's the most popular character in Marvel comics, yet there seemed to be little interest in using him. Frankly, it probably would have been better for him to just be used by Claremont in X-Treme X-Men.

Xorn/ Magneto

I've said plenty about Magneto, but what's funny is that Xorn had become one of my favorite characters. I still like Xorn, but not this version of Magneto.

New Students

Angel, Beak, The Cuckos, Quentin Quire, Glob Herman...there were some amazing and impactful characters introduced in this run.


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