Ed takes a look at Marvel NOW!’s relaunch of our favourite mutants.
Who made it?: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Artist), Marvel Comics.
Who’s in it?: Beast, Iceman, Angel, Cyclops, Marvel Girl et al.
Origin run: All New X-Men #1-15.
Released: November 2012.
At the time this series was first announced, there was also a teaser image going around of a female “Dark Phoenix.” This had almost everyone announcing that Jean Grey was returning to the Marvel Universe after an eight-year absence. Well, as it turns out, everyone was right, but also very, very wrong. The Dark Phoenix in the image alluded to Hope Summers, the saviour of mutant-kind, with Grey’s actual return unrelated entirely. It turns out that Beast decided to do a bit of meddling for completely selfish reasons, so he goes back in time with the intention of bringing the original X-Men (who also consist of Iceman, Angel, Cyclops and Marvel Girl) back with him to show their teenage selves exactly what it is that has happened to the mutant dream in an unspecified amount of years (hinted to be twenty).
As you might expect, however, things don’t go exactly as planned, with the young muties learning far more than is necessarily beneficial for them. Throughout the series, not only do the original X-Men meet their modern-day selves (apart from Grey for obvious reasons), but also come across many enemies that they either hadn’t met before their time-travel shenanigans, or have changed almost beyond their own understanding. Despite all this retrofitting that surrounds them, it’s their own counterparts that they have the most difficulty getting used to, especially as they learn more about themselves and their own futures. The main questions throughout all of this are whether this trip is going to change time, and if so, how?
Writer Brian Michael Bendis appears to be going for the “time-travel is linear” point-of-view that would allow for anything that happens to the core X-Men to affect the time stream and create a time paradox; where this future might exist yet could still be changed, or an entirely new universe created to contain a new destiny. It may sound complicated but the plot is deceptively simple as we follow both the original crew and their latter-day counterparts and explore their reactions to this strange anomaly. The beauty of this set-up is that all of the characters and their situations are remarkably familiar to most contemporary comic fans, with the original five being recognisable the world over whatever your age or previous interest in comics.
In some ways, it’s the modern team of X-Men that will cause the most confusion due to the schisms, decimations, growth, and changes that have happened in the mutant community since the classic line-up originated in the sixties. Especially since the AvX storyline that has caused the creation of multiple new titles and teams, as not only do we have the All-New X-Men, we have the Uncanny X-Men, a team that is led by the now fugitive Scott Summers, who are running in competition with them rather than as antagonists such as the Brotherhood. The Uncanny Avengers bunch are led by Havok, a team that represents the best of humans and mutants working together, X-Men focuses purely upon the female members of the team, and Wolverine and the X-Men follows Logan as headmaster of the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning. X-Men: Legacy centres upon Legion, the son of Professor X, and if that wasn’t enough, there are also two X-Force books (Uncanny and Cable &) that, while not using the X-Men name, are closely related. In the Marvel Universe, it means that there’s an array of teams to defend the earth against threats, both mutant or otherwise. In our universe, it means that there’s an absolute glut of related titles that confuse those unsure of which to purchase and leads to calls to Marvel to stop milking the cash-cow and deliver quality rather than quantity. There are benefits to this as it means there’s an increased likelihood of your favourite character being used, or some previously ignored hero/villain having their time in the spotlight.
It also means, as in the case of Uncanny, All-New, and X-Men & Avengers, that the series have an increased chance of storylines crossing over multiple titles so you know what’s going on between various teams and not just those in the single comic. Yet this can also be a negative as it does mean you’ll have to read at least two titles to fully understand every nuance of what’s going on in each title, and while this can be a very enjoyable excuse to buy more comics, it can also get rather expensive, leading you to potentially fall behind on one or more series. Which is bad enough If you’re just reading mutant-based comics, but what if you’re reading Spider-Man, Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy at the same time? I really like the crossovers but it’s still a dastardly ploy by Marvel to take your money, the lovable bastards.
When it comes to the All-New X-Men, there’s also another aspect of the Marvel Universe that you need to think about and that’s time. Not time-travel but chronological time, as while the original X-Men comics were created fifty years ago in the sixties, the characters obviously aren’t sixty-plus years old now, so how long ago did the events originally take place? This is hinted at multiple times with references to the modern-day Cyclops looking about forty, but there’s no specific time or date given to prevent fanboys and any others obsessed with continuity from latching on to a single comment and going, “AHAH! If that happened then, how come this and that happened then?” Which, while I understand it, is nit-picky in the extreme. Keeping the exact date of when superheroes and teams appeared a secret is definitely in the best interest of Marvel to avoid the sort of backlash that DC receives, but obviously this in and of itself has its own problems. Take Magneto who discovered his powers during the Second World War. His age has been explained as his body has been regenerated at multiple points but you can’t repeat storylines indefinitely, so at some point or other, I hope that Marvel fully address this. I certainly hope that they never take a leaf out of DC’s book and reboot it all, as while there are obvious positives, it always seems like such a waste of previous continuity and amazing stories.
Bendis is a workaholic, writing All-New X-Men at the same time as its sister comic, Uncanny X-Men, intertwining the two’s plots whilst keeping both separate enough to keep them independent to the other. If you do decide to read both, start with All-New, as otherwise certain plot points and situations in Uncanny may be confusing. There are multiple storylines running through the main plot (at least five of them), and he handles all of them well. Although, for obvious reasons, certain characters will be given greater importance over others, but at no point do you feel that anyone is being ignored. Bendis also has a habit for injecting humour into his work and this is no different, with several of Iceman’s lines and actions causing me to laugh-out-loud.
If there is a problem with All-New X-Men in the first few issues, it is the pacing as it is a tad tedious with several scenes taking much longer than necessary, although this is corrected as the series progresses. The art of Stuart Immonen retains both an eye-catchingly detailed yet cartoony impression akin to Oliver Coipel without the square jaws. The character designs are all unique, with none of the duplication of body or facial shapes that seems to be a cop-out by many popular artists, though I’m certain people will bring up Beast the most as he’s quite unique. His style suits the overall tone of the series, as it’s neither too cutesy nor too dark, straddling the line in-between.
One last thing to remember about All-New X-Men is that, as a series, it’s basically a serial. When certain plot points wrap at the end of an “arc,” they don’t end with a naff “and they all went and had tea and cake” mini-finale that shows where a specific run of the comic should end. Life doesn’t work that way, and it’s good to see Bendis keeping the series from reaching a lull. While there’s always a danger of over-complicating certain situations seeing as it’s a storyline involving time-travel and super-powered mutants, it was never going to be simple. Instead, it’s a riveting storyline that deserves your attention and money. After almost ten years and an Avengers run, it’s good to see Bendis’ quality and potential return with the renewed creativity of a fresh title. Welcome back good sir, long may you stay…
- Bendis stated that the idea of having the five original members of the X-Men (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Jean Grey) see what has become of the X-Men came to him during a company retreat for Avengers vs. X-Men. “Avengers Vs. X-Men led to it. It was an idea that had been floating around the X-Office for a while and I’m still unclear where exactly it percolated. I’m a big fan of these kinds of stories, Pleasantville or Peggy Sue Got Married, where a character faces the truth about themselves and what their life can mean versus what it does mean.”
- Following the events of the Battle of the Atom story arc, the time-displaced X-Men join Cyclops’ team along with Kitty Pryde.