Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Stuart Immonen, David Marquez, David Lafuente
Issues: All-New X-Men (2012) #1-15
Avengers Vs. X-Men was a major event in the Marvel universe. It finally reversed the Scarlet Witch’s “No More Mutants” decree back in 2005’s House of M, turned Cyclops and a few of the more grey-area X-Men into hidden revolutionaries, and led some of the more pro-active X-Men into joining forces with the Avengers.
AvX also transitioned veteran Marvel scribe and architect of the modern Marvel universe Brian Michael Bendis from Avengers books into X-Men. Specifically, a new flagship series called All-New X-Men.
All-New X-Men‘s story hook had me immediately rolling my eyes. The Beast, fed up with Cyclops’ post-AvX turn as a murderer and mutant revolutionary, decides the best course of action is to travel back in time to when the original five X-Men were starry-eyed teenagers under the tutelage of Professor Xavier (Marvel plays it coy with the dates. Jean is sporting a 1960’s era bob cut but obviously our modern heroes aren’t 60 year olds…).
Beast’s plan is to bring Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast, and Angel forward in time to our world, and have them convince our Cyclops that he’s a grade-A asshole and needs to stop.
I’m rarely a fan of Marvel’s time-travel stories as they always play fast and loose with the consequences. I’m always confused if we’re going with the time is a river concept or infinite multiple realities, and Marvel just tends to use whichever works better for the story.
My second problem is that this is a batshit insane path for Beast to walk down. Hank McCoy has been the most even-keeled and moral X-Men on the roster since the beginning. He even quit the X-Men when he found out about X-Force, and only returned when Wolverine splintered off from Cyclops and founded a new school.
Despite my initial misgivings, I ended up really enjoying All-New X-Men. Credit to Bendis for focusing squarely on the new arrivals and the shock that comes from traveling several decades into the future and realizing all your hopes and dreams were dashed, pretty badly.
The artwork is also really, really good.
The first arc, “Yesterday’s X-Men” (#1-5), sets up Beast traveling back in time and grappling at least a little bit with the consequences of fucking up the space-time continuum.
The original five X-Men are shunted forward in time to the Jean Grey School, and within the space of about an issue are already battling the older Cyclops’ revolutionary team of Emma Frost, Magneto, and Magik.
Interestingly while All-New X-Men temporarily replaced Uncanny X-Men as the flagship X-book, Uncanny would start up soon within a couple months, spinning directly out of the events in “Yesterday’s X-Men.”
Bendis does a great job setting up “old” Cyclops’ conflicted path. He remains in self-denial that he had any responsibility for the Professor’s death while powered by the Phoenix Force. He sees his actions as justified, as the aftermath has new mutants popping up all over the world – though someone needs to remind Cyke (and Marvel) that the same thing happened after the events of Second Coming when Hope returned and formed her own team of new mutants.
While I loved seeing Cyclops, Magneto, etc wrestling with their messed up powers post-Phoenix, I’m glad they spun off into their own series so we could focus more on our teenage newcomers.
Of the original five, only Beast and Iceman are basically un-fucked in the modern timeline – and original Beast isn’t even blue and furry yet.
Cyke’s woes with his older self are tackled immediately, but there’s still tons of room for dram, including a chance meeting with Mystique that leads to our young team dealing with another villainous mutant group in “Here to Stay” (#6-10).
Mystique teams up with Sabretooth and Lady Mastermind (which Bendis humorously, and correctly, points out as being a super sexist name). They begin a string of armed robberies that implicate the new X-Men team. This leads to a showdown between them and the Uncanny Avengers when they show up later.
The compelling stories of the series, however, is the excellent focus on our young heroes. I thought young Cyclops would be the star of the ensemble, but it’s actually Jean Grey, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with her treatment.
She’s one of the few Marvel heroes to actually stay dead for over a decade. She has a very complicated history with Wolverine, Cyclops, and (it turns out later) Beast. None of which teen Jean is aware of.
Vaulting forward in time also jump-starts her powerful telepathic abilities, which she hadn’t yet had any time or training in (being only telekinetic before that). She suffers from not being able to control it, including hearing everyone’s thoughts all the time, from love to fear.
Jean plays a morally questionable tactic on Angel, the one new X-Men who definitely does not want to stay in our timeline.
He’s figured out from meeting his adult self and from nobody telling him anything that things do not go well for him in the future, and he’s correct. From being turned into Archangel as Apocalypse’s horseman to basically being a version of Apocalypse himself, Warren’s been put through the ringer in the last few years. His adult self is basically a mind-wiped hippie child.
Young Angel tries to go home and Jean Grey steps up and dominates his mind, forcing him to be happy and stay. That’s pretty fucked up and makes Jean Grey an exceptionally complex character.
It also leads to Angel quitting the team and joining up with old Cyclops’ team when they visit the Jean Grey school looking for more recruits in “Out of Their Depth” (#11-15).
In Uncanny X-Men Cyke and company have been recruiting new mutants, setting up shop in an old Weapons X facility and turning it into an underground dormitory and training room. Cyclops has the audacity to call it his own school, named after Xavier.
He shows up at the Jean Grey School and recruits the Cuckoo sisters and young Angel. Jean attempts to assert control once again, and this time it goes very badly when the other side now has multiple telepaths (though Emma’s doesn’t really work anymore).
Another tense fight breaks out but cooler heads prevail, and the teams disperse. Once again Bendis spends a large portion of time on Jean Grey, and the blossoming student-teacher friendship between her and Kitty Pryde.
In “Out of their Depth” the Mystique crime spree gets our team into a scrape with the newly formed Uncanny Avengers.
The Uncanny Avengers provide two unique complicated relationships. Havok is the leader, and Cyclops’ brother. Teen Cyclops didn’t even know his brother Alex was a mutant. It’s a touching scene and a brief moment of levity and love that helpfully balances out the mountain of shit our poor time-travelers have had to deal with.
The other relationship doesn’t just scale the shit mountain but tumbles right down the other side. Scarlet Witch is also on the team, and it’s already caused numerous problems with fellow Uncanny Avenger team-mate Rogue.
It causes even more problems for I-can’t-help-but-read-your-mind Jean Grey, who sees the No More Mutants scene and flips the fuck out in the best way possible.
As someone who has been an X-Men fan longer than any other Marvel property, I was cheering to see Jean Grey lash out in pure emotional anger at Scarlet Witch, who had been absolved of all crimes through the terrible retcon story in The Children’s Crusade.
Like their meeting with the old Cyke team, cooler heads prevail and the fight is broken up.
The series recognized that we’ve been teased with several big fights that stop before they really get started. At the end of “Out of their Depth” we finally get a showdown between our group and Mystique’s right when she’s meeting with Hydra agents and the Silver Samurai. Battle time!
This time Jean gets to prove she’s a fucking rockstar. Lady Mastermind tries to unlock the Phoenix from her mind and Jean goes with it, projecting her Phoenix-empowered self to freak everyone out – including Wolverine!
It’s a fun battle filled with powers flying everywhere. And at the end Kitty Pryde gets to punch Mastermind in the mouth. Delicious.
If you can’t tell by the larger-than-usual number of pics in this post, I adored the artwork. Stuart Immonen had done a few issues and arcs here and there (most notably Fear Itself) but All-New X-Men represents a series he really puts his stamp on, and it’s incredible.
The action scenes are amazingly fun without being too complex, the colors rich and vibrant, and the large rotating cast of characters recognizable, distinct, and heroic. It’s the exact kind of superhero comic art I love.
The art kept me devouring each issue, but Bendis’ writing has also never been better, and I’ve read most of his work by this point. He’s equally adept at writing goofy humorous scenes (most of which involve young Iceman) as well as very heavy dramatic moments, most of which involve Kitty Pryde and/or Jean Grey.
There’s a particular scene I want to highlight where Kitty responds to Havok’s speech in Uncanny Avengers #5, when he talks about identity and doesn’t even want to use the M-Word.
Kitty uses her Jewish heritage as an analogy to being proud of being a mutant. It’s an organic and well-written moment and you almost forget it’s still basically a series about super-powered people punching each other.
As a Bendis book All-New X-Men is heavily steeped in Marvel continuity. It’s rewarding for long-time readers but a tricky series to jump into (at the very least, Avengers Vs. X-Men needs to read first).
I’ve never been so satisfied at being wrong about my initial thoughts on the book, given its timey-whimey hook. In 2012 Bendis and Immonen teamed up to create one of the best post-AvX/Marvel Now adventures I’ve read yet, and I’ll definitely be reading all 41 issues.