All New X-Men Review : Where the Past Meets Its Future
By Jerry W. Vandal
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Stuart Immonen
Inks: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Marte Gracia
In 1963 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought to the world a group of individuals with uncanny abilities unlike any of the other heroes that would become stalwarts in the Marvel Universe. What differentiated these individuals was that their powers were not freak accidents. They were born with powers and abilities that made them something other than human—mutant. Charles Xavier recruited Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Robert Drake, Warren Worthington III and Henry McCoy to be his first students at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Xavier’s goal was not only to teach these young mutants how to control their powers, but how to live in a world that would hate and fear their existence while also being examples of why those notions of hate and fear were not warranted. They became his X-Men.
Flash forward to 2012 and two of those five have proven why mutants should not only be feared on earth, but the entire universe. Jean Grey is as dead as you can be in the comic book world. Scott Summers has recently broken out of prison with the help of Magneto and Magik after accepting the destructive (though he argued rebirthing) need of the Phoenix force. He’s also responsible for killing his mentor Charles Xavier. But they aren’t the only two of Xavier’s’ students who haven’t ended up where they most would have imagined when they first the page in 1963. Warren Worthington III has been a Horseman for Apocalypse and is now an amnesiac remembering none of his past. Robert Drake, capable of being one of the most powerful mutants on the planet has yet to reach his full potential. And Henry McCoy has become a literal beast whose evolution is now pushing him towards death.
Following the events of Avengers vs. X-Men, Marvel has set up Marvel Now! In contrast to DC’s big relaunch last September of all of its titles, Marvel hasn’t started from scratch. Instead they’ve constructed a massive shifting of the collaborative teams that have governed many of Marvel’s most important books for the last several years. One of those shifts includes taking long time Avengers and New Avengers scribe Brian Michael Bendis and shipping him over to the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe.
I must admit some trepidation when Brian Michael Bendis was revealed as the guy who would be leading the X-Men forward. I should have been very excited. Brian is among my favorite comic books scribes and books with an X in the title make up a very high percentage of the books I have bagged, boarded and boxed. But I had to wonder if this combination could create a satisfying reading experience. Would my expectations be too high? My experience with Bendis has been one of introduction. I became a fan of Daredevil after first reading his work. I was so captivated by the story he was telling I had to go back and read the old DD stories so I could understand why this blind lawyer had just become my favorite character. I hadn’t read a lot of Avengers growing up. But with his Dissembled arc I figured it was a good time to start. Ultimate Spider-Man had already established itself as a marquee title for Marvel when I first picked it up. So I’ve never had to see what Bendis could do with a title I was already in love with it. Quite honestly I was pretty afraid. I wasn’t even sure I liked the premise initially. It seemed like a cheap way to get Cyclops back to being a good guy and an even cheaper way to bring Jean Grey back.
But after reading the preview a few times my heart fluttered a bit. I was excited. Cyclops, once a complete and total boy scout had made a complete one-eighty. He was no longer the Scott fighting for his mentor’s dreams. He was a commander doing whatever necessary to ensure the survival of his people. And whatever wasn’t merely a cliché. He had created an X-Force team designed to kill off the biggest threats of mutants. He had decided that mutants needed to be prepared for surviving in a warlike life instead of living to promote peace between species. He had taken on the Phoenix force—the very entity that consumed the woman he loved and had had to sacrifice herself to defeat it. And now, under Bendis’ guide, the boy scout would have to come and face the person he had become. And not just him, but all of the original five would have to see where life took them. I thought about it. It wasn’t a cheap move. It was a great idea for a story with a mountain of potential.
There’s some familiarity to be found in Bendis’ All-New X-Men. After a brief introduction from a very ill Beast we’re taken to Gold Coast Australia where we meet Eva, a young girl a little nervous about running into a boy she likes outside of a club. This is reminiscent of my first encounter with the X-Men Animated series (and comic book X-Men Adventures) and the recruitment of Jubilee. A problem is revealed (the activation of their powers) and then the X-men arrive to save the day and offer sanctuary. The problem is, I’m not sure I’m invested in Eva’s decision. When Jubilee was recruited, there was enough time devoted to her that she was more than just some mutant who didn’t know she was a mutant yet. She was a young, loud girl who wasn’t sure where she fit in and didn’t want to disappoint her foster parents. She was mischievous and brazen and a bit of a rebel. Not the case here with Eva. In part that’s because there are several other threads going on here and only so many pages to work with including another two pages introducing Christopher, a healer. So while I enjoyed the idea of Cyclops, who still sees himself as the good guy, recruiting new mutants, these first two recruitments seemed rushed and I couldn’t really invest in Eva. Christopher, while a shorter introduction does get to play the good mutant card since he’s being held captive for essentially healing people, but it still adds up to too much in such a crammed amount of space that I won’t even notice if these characters have no other role outside of this issue.
The arrival of Cyclops’ X-Men is also rather sloppy. Following Eva’s brother’s tyrannical interruption of her flirtation with the boy at the club, she goes into a panic and her powers activate. When Scott arrives and she asks why they’re not frozen in space Emma replies we know a few tricks. That jumped out at me as a moment where they didn’t really have an answer. And then they disappear just to show right back up and rescue EVA.
Christopher’s scene is done fairly well, but it loses some credibility following Cyclops’ elite mutant rant before he looks into the security camera and crosses his arms so they make an X. It just felt too over the top. Hand gestures work great in the WWE, but inside a comic book with a still image, it stands out to much and seems kind of silly.
The other thread of this book is Beast, Iceman, Storm and Kitty trying to figure out what to do about Scott. It’s an interesting conundrum as they don’t want to incite another war, but at the same time, Cyclops’ actions are stirring the anti-mutant sentiment pot up that they had been working for so long to cool down. This is one of Bendis’ strengths—he’s able to argue both sides convincingly.
The third thread of this book is really the main thread. I really enjoyed the depiction of Beast here, even if I am a little lost as to what this new mutation is. His prayer early on was an interesting touch. After several instances of Beast and Bobby talking about how no one would have seen this coming if they knew the Scott they knew, Henry (though it’s not explained how) jumps back into a moment of their past when he himself was done protecting humanity. And that may be the biggest weakness of this issue. How great would this have been to pick up All New X-Men and see the original five X-Men not only on the cover, but confronted by Beast. The cover is very ominous when you look at it. This wouldn’t be just another glance back at old times. The X-Men on the cover are clearly displeased with what they’re looking at. I think the preview pages being used for All New X-Men actually hurt this issue since it is the last 4 pages. I already knew the ending; I expected this to be upfront in the book because of that. Maybe even the middle, but as an ending it just left me waiting the same way the preview had—wanting to know what comes next—which is the point I suppose. But I think if you were going to present this to the public beforehand in order to get people interested, you had to do something in this first issue that had something extra to satisfy interest. Sadly, the Cyclops stuff, which works, doesn’t do that and may have even served as a better preview. So I’m left thinking about how cool this would have been to read in 1994 when I would have read, “I need you to stop yourself from committing genocide,” for the first time and seeing these five youngsters disturbed and confused. Instead, I’ve already had about a month before reading this issue to let that line, and the faces of those five original X-Men sink in.
I wasn’t very fond of Stuart Immonen’s pencils on Ultimate Spider-Man. Mark Bagley left big shoes to fill though. But, I will say I think his artwork in Fear Itself was one of the few good things to come out of that series. I really feel he hit that repeatedly out of the park with each issue and I am tempted to beat whoever has the original page with Captain American holding up Mjolnir the same way Joker did Jason Todd all those years ago. And he continues that work here. There’s a great splash page of Cyclops, Magneto and Emma in the book as they rescue Eva, while not as pivotal is still a very good full page. He’s not my top choice as an artist. I don’t flock to his work the way I would Steve McNiven or Luke Ross (Samurai Heaven and Earth), but he is still very viable. Marvel clearly thinks highly of him and he’s capable of handling the action scenes and even all of the talking Bendis will catch flack for.
There’s plenty of good stuff to take away from All New- X-Men. And I do recommend this despite my criticism. The first issue did come up a little bit short, but that comes from the trump card being played way to soon, even if it was in order to drive up sales and get the idea out to fans. It was certainly a good tool to drive up interest. But, and I recall reading this in a review of Uncanny Avengers—how cool would it have been if you got to the end of Avengers vs. X-Men and found out that Captain America was forming a team of both Avengers and X-Men? How cool would it have been if as readers we weren’t already inundated with promo artwork and previews of where that story was going? How cool would it have been to see the All-New X-Men cover of the 5 original X-Men following everything that just happened in Avengers vs. X-men looking mighty pissed off? The issue itself is a good read, with a few missteps. But had I been able to refrain from reading the preview, those last few page would have left me salivating like Pavlov’s dog at the sound of a bell for the next issue. The entire concept of having a young group of idealistic kids coming into a world to see what they’ve become is not only interesting and endearing, but thought provoking. I can only imagine what it might have been like to read this as a teenager myself and start to think about where I could be a decade from then. That concept will keep me around long enough to see where the story is going. And if the X-Men’s past has taught me anything, it’s that while the future is uncertain, it tends to prove to be worth sticking around for.
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