I used to have a tremendous love of Brian Michael Bendis’s work. Back in the day, Fortune and Glory was one of my all-time favorite books along with Jinx. Torso and Goldfish were also terrific and I hoped he’d keep up this amazing level of crime comic excellence and humorous auto-bio stories for years to come. The transition from independent books like Powers to mainstream superhero fare like Ultimate Spider-Man brought Bendis into the world of mainstream attention and ultimately to his total “ownership” of the Avengers for almost 10 years.
Reminiscing about the great many steps forward he took the title while also contributing to a great many of its pitfalls is an article for another day. With the release of the second issue of All New X-Men, and the announcement of a new Uncanny X-Men in February, Bendis has closed the door on one Marvel franchise and being allowed to pilot the ship of another one. The first two issues of this series are a good sign that all that was missing from his last few years of work was a change of scenery.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the X-Men franchise since it just always seemed melodramatic and impenetrable. That’s not an all-encompassing opinion, though. There have been areas of the its various publications that I’ve enjoyed. The early Dave Cockrum/John Byrne works with Chris Claremont, Jim Lee’s Uncanny X-Men issues, Ed Brubaker’s Shi’ar storyline, and Grant Morrison’s New X-Men work were all some of my favorite comics at the time of their publication. Also, X-Factor by Peter David has been one of my most consistent pull list mainstays since it was a Madrox miniseries.
This should go to show that I’m not against the characters, just areas of the overall franchise that, ever since the cartoon in the 90’s, made it very hard for a reader of superhero comics to feel like this wasn’t just Days of Our Lives with superpowers. The best stories to come out of the franchise were either ones that delivered great art, great character moments, or didn’t take themselves too seriously. Fortunately, the Marvel NOW! reboot is gifting us with some great new takes on classic franchises with Jason Aaron’s already-being-published Wolverine & the X-Men along with what Bendis is going to be drumming up over the next year.
On that note, it’s probably important to point out that All-New X-Men is still in its infancy as a book with not a lot devoted to set-up. The action so far has taken place at the Jean Grey School where Beast is discovering that something is going terribly wrong with his body and he feels at the end of his rope regarding the current state of affairs with human/mutant relations thanks to Cyclops’s actions during and post “Avengers vs. X-Men”. Cyclops, by the way, is now roaming free with Emma Frost and Magneto collecting new mutants to start a revolution for mutant rights and try to do… something. Again, it’s not clear yet.
Neither is it clear who the main cast will be. Judging from the covers, it looks like our protagonist team of heroic mutants will be Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Beast, Storm, and Iceman. As we walk the halls of the Jean Grey School, it’s these mutant heroes that discuss the current conflicts that are forcing both Cyclops’s and, near the end of the first issue, Beast’s hands regarding their drastic actions to avert disaster.
Beast’s seems a little out of character no matter the motivation and desperation. The idea that going back in time to kidnap the original five X-Men because only they can convince Cyclops that his new revolution will only lead to destruction… seems slightly mind-bending. Marvel has built its many time-travel stories on the idea that you can’t change the past; just create an alternate reality where something different happens. Exiles was actually an X-book based on this very idea. So right off the bat, I had a raised eyebrow to the pitch of this very concept to the reader.
Issue #2 didn’t do all that much to alter those preconceptions. In this issue, we pick up where Beast has transported the past X-Men to the present where, just like every time-travel story ever, they escape upon seeing what the future has held. I can’t complain about the execution of story-beats here because there really isn’t all that many places a writer can take this classic concept. The areas of this comic that have so far worked have been the writing and the art. Bendis brings a different side of his knack for banter and emotional dialogue than we’ve become used to on his Avengers work over the years.
It’s as if the pitfalls of voice not measuring up to the standards of the characters speaking the words (“Really? Hawkeye would never say THAT!”) doesn’t cause an issue with X-characters. Maybe it’s because they’ve always had a level of self-deprecation and pain that sarcasm and melodrama to justify any monologue or back-and-forth without making you question the speakers. So far, I haven’t had any issues with Bendis-speak like I did on certain arcs of New Avengers and Avengers. The other half of this solid team has been Stuart Immonen, one of my all-time favorite artists. Not only is Immonen a brilliant draftsman for page layout and facial expressions, but also his style is ever evolving to the books that he’s assigned to work on. No two artistic products are ever the same result. I can safely say that as long as those two features manage to keep measuring up for the remainder of the storyline, I’ll be reading.
Like many Bendis books, it’s a long-con of chapters vs. issues of the story. It’s a tough evaluation to make because he hasn’t shown enough of his hand to see what he’s holding and until more happens and more is revealed, you have to judge this book on the merits of the team involved which, thankfully, is a very talented duo. Yet another solid result of the Marvel NOW! rebranding with hopefully more to come in the new year.