Cassandra Nova vs. The Black Glove

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August 29, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

So, an evil twin and a demented psychologist are sitting in therapy and the evil twin says “I’m a discorporate emotional entity that was stillborn because my brother murdered me in utero”.  The demented psychologist replies “Oh yeah, I’m 350 years old with a grudge to bear against my great-great-great-great-great-great grandson because an evil alien told me to”.

If the last paragraph made sense to you, then you are either completely insane or familiar with the work of Grant Morrison.  For those who don’t know who Grant Morrison is, he’s basically the comic book equivalent of Rick Rubin.  If an artist wants to resuscitate their career, they go to Rick Rubin to produce their album.  If a publisher wants to increase sales on a particular title, they hire Grant Morrison to write that title.  Morrison has been in the business for about thirty years now, and while he has quite the bibliography, his two most prolific works have been on New X-Men and Batman.

Primarily known for his work on his own creative works likes The Invisibles, Morrison has done major work for the Big Two of Marvel and DC, where he has become an incredibly polarizing creator.  His greatest achievement during his brief tenure at Marvel was New X-Men, and his most sprawling and epic opus was his self proclaimed “Batman Novel”.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise then that his two most prolific and illustrious works share many similarities.

Before getting into the similarities between both runs, it’s important to understand a few things about Grant Morrison.  The first and most important thing to know is that Grant Morrison, unlike most sane people, thinks in themes and concepts instead of in words and actions.  That’s why his plots are highly conceptual, dense and cerebral, but his dialogue and scripting has often been his biggest criticism.  Sometimes, however his concepts and ideas just fly completely over our heads because it isn’t properly executed or written in a way for everyone but Morrison to understand.[1]  Whenever he works on a major property like the X-Men or Batman, what he usually does is stuff his hand inside the bag of the entire continuity of the franchise and then pulls it inside out of itself.[2]  He also plays up the one defining concept of the character and just runs with it.  For example, in New X-Men he refashioned the X-Men into being teachers and ambassadors of a people.  In Batman he brought to life the concept that Batman is the pinnacle of human perfection, and in All-Star Superman, he turned Superman into a version of Hercules, a literal god amongst men.

With that in mind, here we go:

The Villains

In both New X-Men and his “Batman Novel”, Morrison introduces us initially to one villain, but then reveals another, much more devious and sinister villain who’s been in the background all along.  Cassandra Nova and Dr. Simon Hurt were the first villains introduced to us.  They were someone we thought couldn’t be stopped at all, someone who almost defeated our heroes singlehandedly.  But behind the genocide in Genosha and the Dance Macabre, there was someone else waiting in the wings to attack our heroes.  And in both cases we were introduced to the villains before their schemes came together.  The main villain of ­New X-Men wasn’t Cassandra Nova or Magneto; it was Sublime, whom we met shortly after E is for Extinction.  In Batman, the mortal antagonist wasn’t his nemesis the Joker, or his lunatic ancestor Dr. Hurt, it was Talia Al Ghul who after the opening arc of Batman and Son remained hidden in the shadows until Batman Inc.  At first we think that Nova and Hurt are the worst that the heroes face because they are the overt threat, but given time, Morrison eventually revealed Sublime and Talia to be the far more diabolical and ominous villain.

The Past is but Prologue

As I mentioned before, Morrison turns the history of the franchise in on itself to create his stories.  The inciting action of his entire run came in Batman 156, a throwaway story in which Batman believes Robin is dead.  Under Morrison’s tenure it’s revealed that the story actually occurred as a hallucination during time Batman spent in an isolation tank for a military project led by Dr. Simon Hurt.  While the same holds true for New X-Men, the storylines that are most referenced are through implicit suggestions or off hand comments.  The Dark Phoenix Saga and The Search for Cyclops are the emotional jumping on points for Morrison’s run as they serve as a reminder of the best and worst that the X-Men franchise has to offer.  Unlike in Batman where the events of Batman 156 are flashbacked to or explicitly referred to, the two aforementioned storylines hang over the characters like a rainy cloud over them.  Cyclops remembers being possessed by Apocalypse, who is only referred to as En Sabah Nur, and it makes him feel weird and different.  Everyone remembers what happened when the phoenix entered their lives the first time, and that fear and anxiety and wonderment began to affect how everyone acted around Jean Grey.  What Morrison does best, better than anyone else expect Geoff Johns is take a fragment of the continuity and create his own universe around that tiny speck.  It was never more powerful than in New X-Men, and it was never more entertaining that in Batman.

Clichéd Beginnings…

The very scene, hell, the very first panels of Batman 655 of New X-Men 114 start off in the most clichéd and trite way possible.  Morrison kicks off his Batman run by playing up the most obvious and typical understanding of Batman.  The Joker has poisoned the Commissioner, kidnapped a bunch of children, and in swoops Batman to save the day.  There’s nothing groundbreaking or original here whatsoever.  In Batman, Morrison wanted to set up the cliché, the stereotype so that he could break it down over the course of the next few years.  In New X-Men, the opening panel works as a criticism of everything that the X-Men franchise has become and how far they’ve drifted from being a school to help assimilation between two peoples.  Wolverine and Cyclops, two of the most easily identifiable X-Men, in Australia, fighting a sentinel with Cyclops saying to Wolverine “You can probably stop doing that now” is the quintessential image of deconstructing the X-Men franchise.  If someone told me to summarize New X-Men, I would show them the very first panel of New X-Men 114.  The Sentinels are the most obvious sign of mutant/human hostilities, and the fact that it is in Australia speaks to the X-Men years in Australia when they were at their furthest away from being a school.  The line that Cyclops says is the clincher though, as if Morrison himself is telling Wolverine to stop being all that he’s ever been: a violent maniac who dives headfirst into a fray.  Wolverine is what people want to see and with Cyclops telling him to “stop doing that now” Morrison is telling us, the reader, that this will be a vastly different interpretation of everything we’ve grown accustomed to.

…Apocalyptic Endings

Here Comes Tomorrow and Batman 666.  One is loathed by fans, and the other is adored.  Personally speaking, Batman 666 is my favorite part of Morrison’s work with Batman, and Here Comes Tomorrow is incredibly underrated.  People hate Here Come Tomorrow because they don’t understand it, it’s not the epilogue of his run nor is it filler, Here Comes Tomorrow is the climax of New X-Men.  It’s where we learn the truth about Sublime, how he is the real villain, and that not only would the X-Men fail without Scott Summers, but that the entire world would end as well.  Both stories are set in a dystopian and mid-apocalyptic future where our heroes have evidently failed.  The X-Men failed to build harmonious bridges between man and mutant and Damian Wayne failed to save his father.  Both futures are also heavily stooped in the Christian apocalyptic scripture of The Book of Revelations, the last book in the Bible.  The villains of both stories are in some way fashioned to be the antichrist of Revelations.  Sublime takes over Henry McCoy, who is also known as the Beast (a clear nod to the antichrist being known as the Beast), and delivers his mark onto his servants (again a clear reference to the mark of the beast in the Bible).  The issue of Batman that introduces this alternate and hellish future is number 666, which happens to be the mark of the beast, and in that story the villain (the third ghost of Batman) claims to be the antichrist himself.  By having a vantage point in the future, it raises the stakes of the present, because we as readers know what horrible fate is waiting should our heroes fail in the present.

Too Little/Too Late

While not a theme or linking concept between the two works, I’ve noticed an eerie coincidence between the X-Men and Batman franchises that occur when he was on both books.  Simply put, the world leaves him behind.  Back in 2001, when he first started writing for X-Men, the amount of hype was enormous; by 2004 when he wrote his last issue of New X-Men, Marvel was ready to move on and move away from everything he had accomplished in those three years.  In 2006, when he first wrote Batman, the amount of hype was enormous, more so than in 2001, because now he had added New X-Men to his resume.  By 2013, his run ended on a comparatively quieter note.  On both franchises he had been the lead creator, of whom all the other creators wrote their stories around.  He had the flagship title, but because he became so entrenched in his own massive and sprawling stories, other writers came in and began to push the franchise in different ways.  At Marvel, Joe Quesada thought Morrison had gone off the deep end and wanted a fresh perspective on the flagship title where the status quo would be reversed to what it was pre-Morrison days.  At DC, Scott Snyder came in, seemingly out of nowhere, and began telling his own Batman tale that began to impede and then supersede Morrison’s tale for the Dark Knight.  Although his stories are engrossing, intellectual, and highly entertaining, there isn’t much room for mobility or flexibility.  And because mainstream comics are a continuously moving medium, Morrison often gets tripped up in his own plot to the point where it slows him down and allows for control to be shifted from him.[3]  This explains why his last few issues on both New X-Men and Batman were so pessimistic, because Morrison knew that where once he was the conductor, this time around he missed the train.

There are a many, many more similarities between the two, and I could go on and on, and you would get increasingly aggravated at the ramblings of a no-name, so to spare us all, I’ll leave it at five.  The similarities are there, and for someone as into symbols and implicit themes as Grant Morrison, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done purposefully, as some highly meta magnum opus.

[1] After all what the hell is a mummudrai or a hyper adapter?

[2] This will be further explained.

[3] What I mean by “continuously moving medium” is that even though we are slaves to the status quo, things have to move at a quick pace to remain relevant.  As fans, we want a new take on a character, or a fresh perspective because of the weight of the status quo, and the trending of comics where even though things happen, nothing ever really stays the same.  This was the central idea behind New X-Men.


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