Grant Morrison was, at best, a crazy fit for the X-Men. He came onboard at a time when X-Men continuity was extremely tight and tried to make some interesting changes that long term didn’t stick too well. To be fair, at least one of his changes didn’t really make a lot of sense. Having Magneto working undercover in the Xavier School as the mutant Xorn, claiming to be a Chinese mutant healer with a star for a brain, wasn’t a bad idea, and even the helmet blocking the psychic scans of Professor Xavier, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost works, but it never explained how he fooled Wolverine’s advanced senses. Likewise, Morrison’s take on Magneto as some sort of flaky cult leader who had trouble taking out a single NYPD officer with a handgun was rather embarrassing for the longtime friend and foe of the X-Men. No wonder Chris Claremont reversed that whole thing the minute he got back and declared Magneto was never Xorn. Other ideas of Morrison’s, like secondary mutations, the U-Men, and Cassandra Nova had lasting effects to one degree or another, but the final image of his run was Cyclops and Emma Frost making out on top of Jean Grey’s grave…with her approval from some point in the distant future. Yeah, it was a screwy run in many ways, and Morrison’s style of storytelling may not fit too well with Marvel Comics, while DC’s emphasis on spectacle and wonder over personality seems to work out for him fine.
That said, Morrison gave the world Beak during his time on the X-Men, and that alone was a stroke of masterful storytelling.
The X-Men have always been as much a symbolic team as they have a superhero team. Standing in for society’s outcasts at any given time, they’re most obviously used as a metaphor for racism, or other isms when you get right down to it. But as a secondary concept, they also stood for growing up and making a way for oneself in the world. Mutant powers kick in at puberty most of the time, and puberty means physical changes.
Some physical changes are more drastic than others, and truth be told, mutant powers in the X-Men world often either don’t work quite right (Cyclops, Rogue), take years of discipline to master (Storm, any telepath), have nasty side effects (Wolverine’s animalistic rages), or just make a mutant ugly (Beast, Nightcrawler, any Morlock). It’s the rare mutant that gets a superpower that works the first time and doesn’t have any problems associated with it.
Then there was Barnell “Beak” Bohusk. He was just ugly.
First appearing in New X-Men #117 in October of 2001, Beak had a large, birdlike head and feathered arms. His hands looked more like talons. And that was that. He couldn’t fly. He tried many times, flapping his arms like crazy, but was never able to do better than glide a little bit to break a fall. He came from Rotterdam and loved baseball. By that I mean he had a special baseball bat.
Beak in his first appearance got mindzapped by the aforementioned Cassandra Nova and forced to beat his beloved instructor Hank McCoy within an inch of the Beast’s life. Really, Beak seemed to be more of a guy to pity than anything else. His biggest accomplishment early on was accepting “Beak” as a codename since it was the name the kids back home taunted him with.
Then something happened and made Beak awesome, even if he never flew: he fell in love. Beak met fellow Xavier School student Angel Salvadore. Angel was a “bad girl”, a trailer-trash type that would not have looked out of place on a daytime talk show. She had fly wings and spit acids. She was rude, crude, and somewhat awful. Then she started flirting with Beak in Xorn’s special class, and the two got close. Very close, actually, as Angel’s fly genetics soon had her laying a bunch of eggs that quickly matured and spawned four bird-bug-baby hybrids. Beak was now a father.
Beak was the one guy with a conscience in the special class, a group chosen by Xorn made up of the bottom of a huge class of mutants at Xavier’s. These were the guys who weren’t too bright, or had crappy powers, or just caused trouble. So, of course, it was all a plot of Magneto (or Xorn) to gain a new Brotherhood while there was still time.
Therein lay a lot of the problem with Xorn (or Magneto)’s plan: these were not the world-conquering mutants on his side. The few that were ended up getting killed before the X-Men really got to do much. And why would Beak of all people sign up for this? Because he had Angel. Everything Beak did was to protect Angel and the babies. He initially signed up to protect Angel and the babies. When things went south, he grabbed his bat to stand up to Magneto to protect Angel and the babies. Let me rephrase that: he grabbed his titanium bat to stand up to the Master of Magnetism to protect Angel and the babies. Not the best of plans, but Morrison’s Magneto kinda sucked so he couldn’t do much more than toss Beak out a window.
Here’s what made Beak so awesome: Beak essentially was the perfect example of the teenage guy who thinks he’s ugly finding love for the first time and becoming an adult. Beak in his first appearance had self-esteem issues and by the time Morrison’s run was done, Beak was standing up to the X-Men’s archfoe armed only with a metal bat and some mutant powers that didn’t quite work.
Morrison’s last arc was set in the far future. He had Beak’s grandson on the team with the same codename. His powers worked just fine, but he felt that he’d never live up to his grandfather’s legacy. Wolverine told him his grandpa would be proud of him, and Beak-the-grandson had some pretty big shoes to fill to be like his grandpa.
So, Beak became a prominent member of the X-Men after that, right? Uh, nope.
First he joined the Exiles, dimensional-hopping heroes, where he seemed to revert to his “kinda worthless” persona.
Then he got back to the 616 universe in time to lose his powers on M-Day.
Then he briefly joined a New Warriors team made up entirely of depowered mutants, but which never really explained who was who and what their new abilities, all taken from acquired supervillain tech, were. Angel was there too, and they were still raising their kids.
After that, he seems to have disappeared.
Well, its not like Marvel hadn’t done the same to a bunch of Morrison’s other ideas already.
2 thoughts on “Slightly Misplaced Comics Heroes Case File #9: Beak”
Wow – what’s crazy is that I had no idea about this original Xorn character, but I have heard of Xorn in the new Bendis run of All New X-Men. In that series, Xorn is Jean Grey in a much distant and disastrous future. Check her out here: http://24.media.tumblr.com/94710cc6e72fdf58ef67053dc3b824bc/tumblr_mtcki1MTXA1rcsnl1o1_1280.jpg
But fantastic overview of Beak!
Xorn’s a mess.
When you first see the guy, he’s supposedly a Chinese mutant with a star for a brain and healing powers. He wears a helmet that contains the intense gravity of his brain or something. Later he unmasks and he’s Magneto. The only “cure” he gave to Xavier was a fake out. But Morrison’s Magneto was kinda flaky and that got retconned to Xorn was real and an impostor. When he was killed fighting the X-Men, Xavier took the body back to Genosa only to see the real Magneto there.
Then there was the idea Xorn was more of an energy being who could possess people, as mentioned in my write-up on the death of Puck. That was Bendis’ work there, so he seems to have a different idea for who Xorn was than Morrison did. Morrison really did intend for Xorn to be Magneto, but Chris Claremont abolished that as soon as Morrison was gone.
Oh, and then there was Xorn’s identical twin brother.
This is why I stopped with the X-Men.