Monday, March 24, 2014

All New X-Men: Yesterdays X-Men (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Collects: All New X-Men #1-5

This is not a book I was prepared to like.

While we do have the upside of Avengers vs X-Men having ended the "Extinction Era" of the X line - in my opinion, one of the worst in franchise history - we knew ahead of time that Bendis was leaving the Avengers line to take the reigns of the X books. For me, that's cause for trepidation; I've liked a fair bit of his work, but loved little of it, while I hated others still.

Not helping the situation is that the run was slated to involve the original five X-Men. Marvel rarely goes back to that well for good reason. The original five were mostly bland, with the worst offenders - Archangel and Beast - requiring complete overhauls to be remotely interesting.

Color me surprised, then, that All New X-Men is really good.

Bendis is on his game - possibly because he has new toys to work with rather than the same property he'd worked on for close to a decade - and the central conflict has more weight than I expected. Beasts mutation is killing him and he wants to make some kind of impact before he dies, so he goes back in time to recruit the original X-Men. His hope is that either the original group will force Cyclops to face what he's become or that seeing their futures will in some way steer the Cyclops from the past away from it. Kind of a dick move on Beasts part that could cause more problems that it would solve - I'm hoping someone calls him on it at some point and it's not just waved off - but few things can motivate someone to drastic measures quite like death, so I can buy it.

This is not a story that could have happened without the Extinction Era, which for me taints it in some way. But the reason this has weight is because the franchise has gone in some dark directions, whether Marvel wanted to admit it or not. If you brought those five back from that more idealistic time at any other point, it probably wouldn't have worked simply because it would be hard to believe their revulsion. But we live in a time where the X-Men have shacked up with Magneto, renounced humanity once or twice, fought to allow a world devouring entity to make it to Earth and now see their old leader calling for revolution. If you're going to do it, now's the time.

It works. Mostly. There's a lot for young Cyclops, Jean Grey and Beast to chew on because things have changed the most for them. The younger Iceman and Angel, however, struggle not to fade into the background. After all, Iceman has probably changed the least of the five, so it kind of feels as though his younger self is just along for the ride because the rest went. Angel, meanwhile, is as boring as he's always been. We'll see if Bendis can find something for them to do - Angel has yet to find out about the Archangel business, so there is something to be done with him - but for now they're just standing around while the more interesting character conflicts happen.

Some of the dialogue is spotty - and Modern Cyke has some thoughts upon seeing the younger Jean that we'll file under "questionable" if we want to be charitable - but Bendis does a great job of making things interesting. This might be my favorite thing that he's written since Siege; maybe even as far back as the last time I read Ultimate Spider-Man on a regular basis. A lot of his work was just not for me, but this seems to hit the sweet spot.

Despite relying heavily on how things have changed in the last decade of X-Men comics, it felt surprisingly accessible. This is always a tricky call to make when you're already invested in some way; if you've read as many X comics as I have, it's hard to objectively remove that knowledge and judge the material as if you're just trying to get into the franchise. But Bendis has an advantage here; his story focuses around a younger set of characters who have experienced none of this, so if he slips in some exposition about what has happened, it doesn't feel like an intrusion. You'll probably get more out of it if you already have a working knowledge of where the franchise has gone, but it seems to me like you could jump right in and get everything you need to enjoy the story right here.

The title also benefits from some top notch artwork by Stuart Immonen. This guy can easily sell a scene without words. There's a two page splash midway through the fifth issue that succiently summarizes Jean Grey's future in picture. Jean is in the center, surrounded by a patchwork of memories, making a bit of a bullseye. It's very effective and a great scene. Immonen feels like the perfect partner for this storyline, so I hope we can go without a ton of fill-ins as we go along.

Overall, we're left with a well crafted comic that is well worth reading. Time will tell if it continues as strongly as it started, but for now I definitely recommend the first volume. I'm sold.

My Opinion: Read It 

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: Dudes a straight up creeper. The second he spots young Jean Grey, he's immediately like "she's so gorgeous, everything I ever wanted in life". Dude, chill out; that's, what, a sixteen year old version of your ex-wife. This is also kind of ignoring the fact that this "perfection" was exactly why they didn't work out in the first place.

Dude's also calling for straight up revolt on television. While picking up mutants for his own school. Which he's calling the New Xavier School. Yup, named after the father figure he himself killed. At least he shows some remorse in this one as opposed to the time he said he'd do it all over again.


  1. I'm really getting amped to read this book -- I've yet to hear anything about it that isn't mostly positive. It's also nice to see Bendis and Immonen together again. The last time I read them together was in Ultimate Spider-Man (although they may have teamed up since then, for all I know).

  2. It's probably the best I've read from Bendis in a long while. Actually, I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed All New X-Men more than any X book in the past ten years that wasn't named "Wolverine and the X-Men". Part of me is just glad the Extinction Era is over.

    Immonen might have done some fill in work on another Bendis series, if I recall correctly - Avengers, maybe - but I think you might be right that this is the first time they've done an ongoing together in a while. Immonen's talented, so I'm glad he's the guy they went with.

  3. What are we defining as the Extinction Era? House of M through AvX? Or does it start with the wiping out of Genosha in Morrison ("E is for Extinction")?

  4. House of M through AvX is what I'm thinking of. Really, the years where the X franchise was focused primarily on the idea of extinction and fighting back. There were just so many runs, ideas and books that should have worked and they fell flat. The franchise went in a lot of directions I've hated.

  5. Yeah, you made it a lot further into that era than I did. After Decimation, I don't think it took too long for me to lose any emotional investment I might have had, and by the time they relocated to San Francisco, I had bailed out completely. I've enjoyed reading your take on all the stuff that's come out since then, which has made me kind of want to check it out on occasion, but I'm skeptical about how much Cyclops douchebaggery I can actually withstand.

  6. Oh, it's been tough wading through it. The worst is probably Fractions run. Back then, Marvel was trying desperately to get Cyclops over as a great leader. I even remember one interview where Fraction essentially admitted his Cyclops was meant to be the coolest hero around. Prior to Schism, it felt like all of three people questioned his actions, but that was the run where it was the most noticeable.

    It really sucks, too, because I usually like his work, but the X-Men gig never seemed to click, in my opinion.

    I've read a lot more from that era than I probably should have; given that, my honest opinion is to just stick with Schism and Wolverine and the X-Men. It's the only material worth owning. All New X-Men has potential, but the jury's still out; this is only the first post AvX volume of the X-Men. There's still time to blow it.

    Oh, and I'm glad you enjoy the reviews.