All-New X-Men 5

all new x-men 5

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 Grey can't understand with so much Beast around here

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.

Jean Grey remembers everything

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:

Wolverine treatens to kill young Cyclops to bring back Charles Xavier

Sorry, I’ll stop prompting you. Take it away, Ethan.

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?

12 comments on “All-New X-Men 5

  1. One of the things I like about the time travel here is that neither the audience nor the characters know the rules. Maybe changing the past destroys the universe and maybe it can’t be changed. I included that panel of Wolverine simplifying the situation (kill young Scott, Xavier comes back) because it’s funny, but also because that’s the nature of a time-travel narrative. No one fucking knows how it works because time travel isn’t real and the rules need to be either explicitly established or explicitly ignored every time. I believe All-New X-Men is operating on a Whatever Happened, Happened timeline – mostly because Jean seems to think that. That is ALWAYS my preference because it means there are no take-backs. Take-backs are lame.

    • Yeah, this issue totally explained the mechanism of why the old characters don’t remember this happening — the second they get back to their own time, Xavier is going to know what happened, and is going to mind-wipe them. It’s a little cheap, but it’s also entirely believable. It also makes their actions here much more meaningful, since (as Patrick pointed out) there are no take-backs. If Jean wants to fix things, they have to do it NOW.

  2. Ethan, for your worries about past-versions of characters being able to keep up with the older versions thereof, there aren’t really that many examples where I expect that to be a problem. First off, there are only 3 of them that overlap (Scott, Hank and Bobby) and you’ve already laid out pretty well how the difference between the Scotts is compelling. Also, it doesn’t matter how well you control it – killer laser blasts are always mega-powerful.

    I actually like the idea that Blue Beast couldn’t find his mistake because he’s been staring at the problem too long. He just needed a version of his own mind that hasn’t been staring at that same information for months. A fresh set of eyes is valuable, even if they’re technically the same eyes.

    And hell, you can always use a second Iceman (no explanation necessary).

    • Yep. I don’t think young Hank was better at equations, he just brought fresh eyes to a problem blue Hank had gone cross-eyed over. How much did you like that Hank’s residual self image isn’t how he looks now OR how he looks then, but a third, “classic” Beast look. If I remember correctly, he looks even more different when he shows up at the end of the issue.

      • I loved the exuberance of youth-Beast being able to make the observational and logical leap in solving a complex problem.

        My only hesitancy at the end of this issue was the shift of focus from Beast to Jean. As an old-timey X-reader, I know Jean is important… and that splash page was brilliant, as you said, Patrick… but I was really hoping we would take a bit more time staying with Beast. Maybe it’s just the time-frame in which I was a serious reader/collector where so many arcs hinged on Jean (who I’ve always loved) and Scott (who I’m only starting to not groan at with OE taking what i’m hoping to be a hardlined original take on his character).

        I’m in this one for the long run, though, and trusting Bendis to do justice to the ensemble that he is equipped with (and I’m sure we’ll get back to Beast, what with his new scruffed-beard look at the end of this issue).

        We’ll see.

        • The ensemble work is impressive, and I don’t expect the next issue will focus on Jean quite so much. It’s neat how we’ve gotten really interesting looks at Jean, Hank (kind both of them, but Blue in particular) and OE Scott. It’s not like this is the “Jean Grey issue,” but the series does sorta compartmentalize these emotional areas.

          It really is amazing how clear it is from this early point that the series is worth sticking around for. Bendis seems to have his own priorities with this book and the pacing there is surprisingly deliberate (no real action sequences to speak of in this issue, for example).

  3. I’m loving this whole experiment way more than I have any business liking it based on the outright perfect execution Bendis is serving up issue after issue. Isn’t Uncanny X-Men going to follow the group consisting of Magneto, Magik (my FAVORITE X-character!), and Old English Brand Malt Liquor Scott? I find the idea that Bendis will run a second X-Men book with that group as the focus to be extremely intriguinging and exciting.

      • Ah, yup! Confirmified:

        It will be that group as they recruit the new mutants who are appearing… so kind of an evil version of New Mutants. Magneto actually *did* lead the New Mutants for a while in Claremont’s definitive X-Men/New Mutants run. I’m almost suprised they’re not calling this book that, but I think there might be a current New Mutants title running that just wasn’t renumbered by Marvel NOW! It’s bizarre that they’re giving this group the flagship Uncanny title, but I have all the faith in that world that if Bendis can make All New X-Men work then he can figure out that as well.

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