Today, Patrick and guest writer Ethan Andyshack are discussing All-New X-Men 5, originally released January 2nd, 2013.
Patrick: I had to do a group English project in the first quarter of my Sophomore year in high school. We were on the Junior High / High School system, so this was actually my first year at the school, and sort of my first experience really having to work with new people. There were four of us, and because it was high school, we got together the night before the project was due to essentially do the whole project. I won’t bore you with the details of the project (gigantic literary baseball cards), but there came a point in the night where all three of my other group members thought we were done… but then I noticed that we had woefully neglected the assignment requirements and we actually had another night’s work ahead of us. This was around midnight, so we tabled the project for a second and had to decide which was worse: the unpleasant task of staying up all night or failure? We chose the former and still ended up just getting Bs.
This all relates to All-New X-Men, I promise.
This issue mostly takes place inside the head of Blue Hank. Young (and still alive) Jean Grey forges a psychic bond between Hank’s young and old selves, so that Young Hank can consult his older self in order to treat Blue Hank’s now-dangerous new mutation. Jean reacts to these goings-on accordingly.
Jean’s dressed that way because they’re in Beast’s head and this was his always his favorite costume of hers, adding with a whimsical nostalgia that’s damn near tangible: “Marvel Girl…” Hank ‘n’ Hank work out a solution to revive the Beast, but Jean’s grown suspicious of this new treasure-trove of information regarding her future. Blue Hank obliges her — even guiding her through the process of accessing his memories — and Jean learns everything. When the dust has settled and Beast is up and walking again, Jean announces her new plan: instead of taking this information back to the past and trying to re-write history, they will stay here in the future and fix that. It’s that moment in the night when you’re the only one that realizes how much work there is left to do.
This turn makes the whole issue for me. Jean knows that going back to their present will result in a) their minds being wiped by Xavier and b) ALL THE BAD THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO THE X-MEN EVER. You can’t change history, even when it’s your future. What you can do is honor the suffering and experience of the past and use that to effect the present. It’s a surprisingly potent little message, especially coming a character who — up until this point — wasn’t the psychological focus of this series. Also: timely, considering this issue came out on January 2nd, and most of us are still making good on our resolutions to BE BETTER IN 2013.
Never mind emotional consequences and yadda yadda yadda, this issue establishes a fun twist on the standard time travel story – instead of going back to fix the past, we’re going forward to fix the future. Hank tries to refer to himself as the Ghost of Christmas future (like Drew did last week), but the analogy falls apart in an exciting way when Jean refuses to go back to her own time. Imagine Ebeneezer Scrooge deciding to stay in the future made grim by his mistakes for the expressed purpose of making this world a better place. It requires so much more agency of the character – he’s not just charged with “don’t make these mistakes” but “realize that mistakes were made, but try to make it right anyway.” It’s a powerful idea that feels immediately righteous and awesome.
Part of what makes it feel so fucking empowering is how artist Stuart Immonen depicts Jean Grey’s foray into Hank’s memories. I’m no X-Men Scholar — I’ve watched enough Saturday morning cartoons, played enough video games and seen enough movies to know the broad strokes of Jean’s story, but the finer points elude me. Sorta doesn’t matter what you know about her, or the Phoenix, or the Dark Phoenix, or her death(s), or her relationships with Cyclops or Wolverine – it’s all heart-breakingly rendered in this marvelous splash.
I love that this image is framed by circles narrowing in on Jean, the jagged but clean lines clearly evoking the X-Men insignia. And then there’s poor exhausted Jeannie in the corner there. I’d like to see what writer Brian Michael Bendis’ copy was for this page (“Jean remembers everything?”). For as sharp and sincere as the writing is in this issue, it’s this silent page that does the most absurd heavy lifting. A lesser writer would have jammed some dialogue (or some voice over) in there, but Bendis has faith in both his artist and his audience, and the pay-off is huge.
I didn’t get around to talking about Old Evil Scott (or OE Scott, as we’ve taken to calling him around these parts), but I will leave that to our guest writer, Ethan. Ethan, you’re a Marvel man, correct? Did seeing Jean’s memories stir something inside you? Or do you not need the reminder, and this feels like one-too-many Batman flashbacks to a broken pearl necklace? Also, how about the Wolverine reducing time travel cause-and-effect to this:
Ethan: I love/hate All-New X-Men, in a generously broad fashion, so the central concepts you raise are roughly equal sources of my joy and pain: A) Old Evil Scott, B) Jean’s (latest) reincarnation, and C) the treatment of time travel have me cheering and cringing all at once. Mostly cringing, but somehow in a way that tells me I am going to be watching the release calendar closely. Something like the so-bad-it’s-good emotion elicited by the Evil Dead films. Especially that part where when Ash/Bruce Campbell says “Gimme some sugar, baby.”
Michael Bendis spends a bit less time mooning over what makes Cyclops cool – the admittedly neat ability to shoot lasers out of your eyeballs – and instead makes a point of talking about what gives him depth. After being physically present when his parents died (like you said, Patrick, Batman and The Pearl Necklace are everywhere), Scott’s early life in an orphanage ended when he started uncontrollably emitting incredibly destructive energy from his face. In All-New X-Men #3, he says “My whole life, my entire childhood… the hell that was keeping my powers under control. All that damage done. And I finally – I finally learn to control them. And now, it’s like I’m back to where I was as a child.”
Scott Summers has, to date, been an exceptionally boring person who is not very fun to read. But I think that this confession drills down to the reason he’s been so blah in the past: so much of his energy is spent fighting for control – control of relationships, control of crises, and control of his destructive powers. He has to live knowing that there is always a possibility that he’ll lose his visor and immediately endanger those around him. Now that all his old methods of control are slipping away (and now that he’s killed the man who helped him find that control), he’s forced to find new ways to operate, and is shaken out of the Charlie Brown Team Leader persona. Which means that, for me, he is finally an overall engaging, sympathetic character.
Getting back to #5: While everyone is running around the Art Nouveau wonderland that is Hank McCoy’s mind, Beasts Blue & Young end up looking at a wall of mathematical equations (equations which clearly describe the, ah… physical arrangement of the molecules of… the genetic material of Blue’s mutation…? No? Okay, I give up.) Young Hank finds a flaw in Blue’s logic which allows Young to bring Blue back from the brink of death. Again, just to be clear, Young Beast is able to figure out a problem – in seconds – that Blue Beast — older, wiser, no? — couldn’t figure out, even after apparently a significant amount of time and effort. This is one thing that I think will be very interesting to follow in the issues ahead: how does a writer, make it plausible for less-experienced versions of the exact same characters hold their own in… well, anything? In a fight, in a logistical dilemma, in any major part of a storyline. Recurring baddies will have been fighting bigger, badder versions of them for years; any situation involving technology or intelligence would seem to be better served by the people from the future, not the kids still rocking the vintage outfits. And then there’s hormones. I think that the only possible saving grace is that they are still super-heroes, albeit adolescent ones – solving unsolvable problems and scenarios is their bread and butter. The example of Young solving a problem that Blue couldn’t is one example of, I think, stretching things a bit too far. But I have faith that Bendis will create some great situations in which their uniqueness will be able to shine.
As an aside, I’ve thus far been dodging one of the more cringe-worthy bits of this arc, namely that time-travel is treated like a very drunk tiger: everyone keeps telling you it’s really dangerous, but you don’t really see any evidence of that from where you’re standing. Characters keep mentioning that the universe itself is at risk merely due to the presence of the young’uns… but panel after panel slides by and, no matter what the newbies do, there’s no hint of reality being about to break. On the one hand, it seems that Marvel is at least mostly pursuing the idea that there is only one timeline, i.e. if you travel backwards or forwards in time, you are not creating a new worldline or splitting off a new reality; you’re just mucking about in another part of your own space-time neighborhood. This kind of model tends to be seen as much easier to break… almost infinitely impossible NOT to break. But so much suspension of disbelief is expected already, and so many fun things might be accomplished by juxtaposing young and old X-Men, so I’m really trying not to hold the time travel stuff against them too much. It will drive me nuts, but probably in a very quiet way. I am, overall, just having too much fun.
Finally, Jean Grey. Oh, Jean. Full disclosure: Jean’s hair terrifies me, and always has; you only have to glance at the cover of #5 (through your fingers of course, because you’re covering your face with your hands, trying to keep yourself safe from THE RED TIDAL WAVES OF HAIR) to see that Stuart Immonen is not above taking advantage of this fact. While at first the arc seems to be about Beast, then it’s about Cyclops, the issue comes to a close with Jean in sharp focus, as Patrick describes.
But here’s the thing you have to remember about Jean – she is host to the Phoenix Force. This means quite a few things: she can read your mind; she can move planets around with her brain; she can manifest an enormous bird made out of fire and burn/slash you into charred strips. If you do somehow manage to kill her, she comes back to life. Kill someone she likes? She can resurrect them, too. No joke: she holds in her hands the force that is the entire, exhaustive, comprehensive sum of life and death.
So: I love, I hate. On balance, I do think All-New X-Men is setting itself up for some really fun reboot moments, a la J.J. Abrams’ Start Trek. I mean, I’ve never been a fan of Bobby/Iceman, but he might be my favorite character this time around. I found it inordinately amusing that even future-Beast still only has an iPhone 4, even though he’s got a wrist-watch time machine. More than anything, personally, I’m glad that Warren/Angel/Archangel has a chance to re-do the techno-organic, secretive, bipolar, identity-destroying – and yes, also blue-skinned – cluster-fuck that was his life. Here we go (again?).
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?