Sequart’s Julian Darius revisits an issue of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, November 2002’s issue 132, “Ambient Magnetic Fields.” In a well-illustrated essay, Darius makes the compelling case that this one-issue story, set on a former mutant island of Genosha after it had been devastated by a Sentinel attack, is one of the most thoughtful responses in comics to the September 11th terrorist attacks.
In the wake of 9/11, Morrison raised the fact that he’d already dramatized the limits of violence. But as a writer of stories that prominently featured violent action, violence inevitably continued to appear in his work. Of course, this speaks more to the limitations of the genre than to any inconsistency on Morrison’s part. You certainly can’t devote a full issue to everyone who’s killed, and repeating this device would obviously lessen its impact. Morrison is indisputably aware of the dangers of depicting violence as entertainment, and he’s been quite articulate on the subject. But just as indisputably, widescreen mass violence is part of the appeal of the Genosha destruction sequence.
You can read “Best Man Fall” as an apology for so casually killing people, in order to add drama or make the hero look tough. And given the obvious parallels between the Genosha attack and 9/11, you can read “Ambient Magnetic Fields” as an apology for turning genocide into an entertaining cliffhanger.
A sense of unfathomable sadness permeates “Ambient Magnetic Fields.” The story opens with a full-page shot of the ruins of Genosha, as a character says, “I remember when all this was fields and spires and monorails.” Later, Storms speaks of “charred bones and ashes of children.” The story manages to convey the sort of reverence and hushed silence you might feel inside you at a concentration camp, or on the Normandy beaches, or on a Civil War battlefield. The sense that something terrible happened here — a tragedy too large for a single human brain to comprehend, in its fullness.
That the story is somehow able to convey this owes a great deal to the artwork of Jimenez and Lanning. One of the faults of Morrison’s New X-Men is its frequent artistic changes, and many complained that some didn’t measure up to the others. No one could say this about Jimenez and Lanning. Everything looks beautiful, yet this somehow only enhances the plaintive feel of the devastation. The pages’ black backgrounds reinforce the sense of mourning. The juxtaposition of utopian X-Men technology and debris is particularly effective, as when characters stare out of futuristic windows on what might as well be a ruined planet.