Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Phil Jimenez (p), Andy Lanning (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
After last issue’s sensational cliffhanger, Jean Grey and Scott Summers’s marriage hits the rocks and Emma Frost is in for a serious talking-to. When the remaining Stepford Cuckoos, Emma’s protégés, let Jean in to the secret of her husband’s mind-affair with their mentor, the Phoenix breaks up the tryst on both the physical and psychological planes. Locking Cyclops out of the way, Jean and the Phoenix force drag Emma Frost through the tragic memories of Emma’s family and her days with the Hellfire Club. By the end of the issue, one of the lovers is dead, and the remaining X-Men are left to deal with shattered hearts that could destroy the team.
Wow. Just, wow. Just as with his run on JLA, Morrison’s big story arcs vary wildly in quality from “piss poor” to “jaw dropping.” The opening chapter of “Murder at the Mansion” falls into, or rather leaps beyond, the second category, fitting intense emotional drama and sweaty-palm action into a compact twenty-two pages. The characterization, the dialogue, are dead-on, the conflict between Jean and Emma sharp as hell.
For the past few months, Morrison has been treating readers to a fascinating new use for telepathy: extramarital relations. Good way to mess around and not get caught, yes? Well, good old Cyclops didn’t take into account that his wife is also a telepath. Seems a rather large oversight, but the moral ambiguity appealed to the straight-and-narrow Scott Summers. In issue 139, the fallout involves another use of telepathy which, while not unique in the history of comics, is a pretty unusual device to be used by the good guys. In a violent psychic assault, the Phoenix shows Ms. Frost all the things from her past she doesn’t want to see; no, not quite all. Telling all would be simple exposition, and Morrison deftly avoids this snoozer. Rather, the reader sees enough, and can infer plenty more. Also, although several pages of story elapse between the time Cyke readies his eye beams and the time said light rays knock down the door separating the catfighting X-Women from the rest of the team, there is no stilted dialogue comparing the relative timeframes (“How long… was I out?” etc.).
Is Phil Jimenez the new regular penciler on X-Men these days? Marvel could certainly do worse. Jimenez’s dramatic though conventional style is a welcome transition from the pursed lips and squinty eyes of former artist Frank Quitely’s drawings. Some of the characters’ poses are awkward, but the facial expressions convey all the right emotions with exactly the right intensity, which contribute much more to the story than the most elaborate backgrounds.
“Murder at the Mansion” requires quite a lot of background information to appreciate fully, but luckily Marvel has been collecting Morrison’s New X-Men run with commendable regularity. A large of camp of readers will no doubt be furious at the latest turn in the Phoenix-Cyclops relationship, and this is good. Kill one, kill the other, it gets old. Break a taboo, with one of the most respected and longstanding couples in comics, that’s bold. It makes for good reading. And, ironically, this latest twist will likely have longer-lasting ramifications than the death of either paramour.
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