When It Really Could Be Worse: “All-New X-men #34”

The people who try to comfort others by saying, “Hey, it could be worse,” are the real-life equivalent of internet spammers, offering false and often fraudulent answers to a major problem. The sentiment itself isn’t wrong. Wherever there’s a convergence of horrible luck, there’s always a way to make a bad situation infinitely worse. A man might be broke, homeless, and suffering from a debilitating disease, but telling him he’s lucky that he doesn’t have to stand in line at the post office on Christmas Eve is just disingenuous. There are very few situations where this sentiment provides anything other than a valid excuse to punch someone in the jaw.

But every now and then, a situation comes along that does help provide a renewed sense of perspective as to just how bad things could be. It’s rare, but it’s more sobering than a shot of morphine and a thousand cold showers. It’s a perspective that the Original Five X-men need at this point. There’s only so much they can learn by facing future apocalyptic versions of themselves.

Since getting stuck in the future within the pages of All-New X-men, they’ve seen plenty of examples of how much their future sucks. One of them is dead. One of them is a fugitive. And one of them has completely lost their mind and memories. Sure, one of them got a school named after them, but that’s hardly comforting, given all the evil clones, cosmic forces, and killer robots that came in between.

Now the Original Five X-men find themselves in a world where evil clones and cosmic forces are the least of their worries. If Dante Alighieri created a special ring in Hell for mutants and the X-men, the increasingly irrelevant Ultimate Universe would be it. This is a world where mutants are a failed experiment, Reed Richards is evil, and incest is not quite as taboo. And in All-New X-men #34, Jean Grey has the details of this Hell shoved in her face and through her mind, courtesy of her Ultimate counterpart. It makes for a few jarring revelations to say the least. This might end up being the only instance besides a date with Jennifer Lawrence where fainting would be appropriate. It helps set an emotional tone for a conflict that has been unfolding somewhat slowly.

The revelation about just how bad the Ultimate Universe is for the X-men hits Jean Grey hard, but the rest of her teammates have it somewhat easier, relatively speaking. Some might not consider being trapped by Dr. Doom or fighting one of Mole Man’s monsters to be easier. However, the non-telepaths of the team have the luxury of not knowing the extent to which this world has fallen. That information is slowly being revealed, but at least they’ll have a chance to brace themselves.

This information doesn’t come all at once. Each member of the team learns they’re not in the world they know in different ways. Beast learns it from Dr. Doom. X-23 and Angel learn it from their visit to a Weapon X base. Iceman learns it from a couple of police officers armed with a cell phone and not-so-subtle racist sentiments. It doesn’t evoke the same emotions as it does with Jean Grey, but that actually helps keep the plot concise. They’re no longer just stumbling around the Ultimate Universe like a bad spin-off of the Hangover movies. They know where they are and they know this is not a universe they want to get stuck in.

Beyond the reactions to this information, there are other conflicts unfolding. This descent into the Marvel comic book equivalent to purgatory began with a young mutant wielding volatile, dimension-warping powers. That mutant hasn’t been forgotten, but Dr. Doom is starting to overshadow her, as he often tends to do. He has Beast in his possession, whose future self already has an impressive track record of ruining the timeline and destroying universes. His assistance, willing or not, kick-starts a conflict that promises to be much more volatile than tracking down a dimension-hopping mutant girl. It’s not that hard to make a situation involving a confused young girl worse, but Dr. Doom has always been an overachiever in that respect.

While there are plenty conflicts unfolding and evolving, the greatest strength of the story comes from the emotional impact. Jean Grey, who has been the emotional driving force since All-New X-men began, continues to guide this story from a compelling, almost innocent perspective. She elicits genuine emotional reactions from all those around her, regardless of which universe they’re from. She also has a knack for making every boy she meets fall in love with her, as Beast and Miles Morales revealed. But that only makes her more lovable.

This is not to say that other characters don’t contribute to the emotions. Some, such as Beast and Iceman, are starting to catch up. But they have a long ways to go, which ends up being the weakest part of this issue. It feels too short and ends too abruptly. There are a lot of conflicts and emotions manifesting throughout the plot. They just lack depth. That’s not to say those details are ignored or forgotten. They’re just deferred to a point where those with limited patience might get frustrated. And it might take more than just another hug from Jean Grey to endure.

Even without the hugs, there are many plots and conflicts worth exploring in All-New X-men #34. With every new conflict, the Original Five X-men gain a new perspective on their future. The Ultimate Universe is less known for perspective and more known for its destruction, pro-incest, anti-France sentiment. Aside from Miles Morales, there really isn’t much that can be learned from a world that hasn’t been relevant since Tiger Woods’ last major championship. But the O5 X-men are finding a way to learn from its horrors and that might be the best they can hope for at this point.

RATING 8 / 10