The Ashes of the Past, the Phoenix of Idealism: “All New X-Men #13”

All New X-men as a concept sounds like it shouldn’t work as a series. Having the Original Five X-men come from the past to see what they’ve become sounds more like a gimmick that would blow some minds, get some humorous reactions, and generally ignore every lesson the Back to the Future movies have taught us. Yet somehow Brian Michael Bendis has taken that concept and turned it into one of the best X-men titles in Marvel’s catalog. It’s a book where readers can reconnect with a group of X-men that represent the purest incarnation of Charles Xavier’s dream.

It’s easy to be jaded about the real world in this day and age. It has definitely shown in comics. For over a decade, the X-men comics have been less about Charles Xavier’s dream and more about fitting the X-men into the greater Marvel universe. That has had some share of benefits, but it has also created a whole generation of comicbook fans that don’t know what the X-men are supposed to represent. And the return of the Original Five X-men has provided a solid reminder of what X-men is all about. It may sound more corny than Superman telling kids to eat their vegetables, but All New X-Men nicely captures what the X-men are at their core while exposing the X-men to a world where idealism is uncool and hope is exceedingly fragile.

After so many revelations have undermined those ideals, it’s easy to forget that the Original Five still have to be X-men. That means going after mutants like Mystique, who decide to use their powers to go on a crime spree. All New X-men #13 marks the first real mission the Original Five have gone on with the X-men of the present. And if working with Wolverine isn’t difficult enough, they also have to keep processing a long list of distressing revelations that have been bombarding them at every turn. It’s like getting a flood of emails with no spam filter.

But part of what makes All New X-men such a quality book is how Brian Michael Bendis deals with these reactions. He doesn’t gloss over them so he can get right to the part where the X-men fight giant robots. He takes the time to provide clear transitional details that link one issue to the next. In the previous issue, Cyclops encountered a brother he never thought he would see again while dealing with Angel leaving the team. In this issue both he and his team react to that revelation and they carry it as a burden into this mission. And Bendis writes in a way that you can’t help but feel for these burgeoning X-men because the teenage brain isn’t meant to process so much in such a short period. Most teenagers struggle to process algebra what the Original Five are dealing with isn’t graded on a curve.

This is once again demonstrated through Jean Grey, who has had to process a lot more than the others throughout this series and not just because she found out she died on multiple occasions. In order to carry out their mission, she has to learn basic telepathic tricks like preventing the authorities from picking up on their location while they track Mystique’s location. Those sorts of skills are so common with other telepaths that it’s easy to forget that such skills have to be learned. And once again, Jean’s inexperience shows when she slips up and puts the team in danger yet again. It’s downright clumsy and a recurring theme in this series. And while there is an element of humor, the recurring nature of such scenes is not done just for laughs. Even though Jean Grey has been dead in the X-men comics for nearly a decade, Brian Michael Bendis has done enough with this series to make readers care about her again. And this issue gives readers yet another reason.

The drama between the characters are so paramount in this issue that the mission to find Mystique is almost secondary. Bendis doesn’t just explore the events that have taken place in this series. He also addresses issues that have arisen in other Marvel titles, namely Uncanny Avengers #5. This issue apparently takes place shortly after Havok gave his now-infamous speech about the so-called “M-Word”. It leads to a very poignant moment in the book where Kitty Pryde relates using such labels to being Jewish. It comes off as very personal and perhaps that’s because Bendis himself is Jewish. In addition, it marks a clear difference between how this group of X-men are trying to deal with these issues and how the Uncanny Avengers are trying to deal with it. This divide, which has also manifested in more recent issues of Uncanny Avengers as well, vastly complicates the ideals that the Original Five X-men embody. Now Charles Xavier’s dream has become a debate on semantics and no Danger Room training could ever prepare them for that.

So many complicated issues end up making the battle against Mystique and her team an afterthought. At least in this issue it is revealed that she had bigger plans than just stealing lots of money and those plans involved making a deal with Hydra. It’s still a shallow plan, but one that puts Jean Grey and Lady Mastermind in the same room. That sets the stage for a somewhat predictable confrontation that fans of the Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga should remember well. Those same fans are probably giddy about the next issue already, but some fans may groan at the prospect of more stories involving the Phoenix Force.

The lack of action and suspense may dissuade some, but that is not the kind of story All New X-men has set up. This series offers a unique perspective on the entire concept of mutants. Through the eyes of the Original Five, the idealism embodied in Charles Xavier’s dream clashes head on with harsh real-world circumstances. And that clash is what makes All New X-men #13 and the entire concept of the series one of the most compelling comics in recent memory.

RATING 9 / 10