Today, Drew and guest writer Ethan Andyshack are discussing All-New X-Men 6, originally released January 16th, 2013.
Drew: Like the characters in All-New X-Men, comics have a complicated relationship with their own histories. Some fans love the richness imparted by a long, cohesive history, while others are put off by the notion of needing to know every little detail for a story to make any sense. Obviously, the situation with All-New X-Men is made even more complicated by the notion of time travel (what narrative isn’t?), but that complexity might just allow it to comment directly on comics history. That wasn’t a revelation I was expecting out of this series, but it’s one that comes through with piercing clarity in All-New X-Men 6.
The issue begins with a dream, where Jean Grey imagines herself dying and has a vision of the Phoenix Force. Kitty Pryde is there to comfort her when she wakes, helping her tame her telepathic abilities. Meanwhile, Young Scott is feeling like a pariah, so decides to strike out on his own. Wolverine catches up with him, insisting that Scott and the rest of the original X-Men need to go back to their time, but Scott seems to have other plans: he blasts him with a quick wink and escapes. Elsewhere, these events are brought to the attention of Mystique.
This series continues to impress me with the sophisticated way it approaches X-Men history. It’s one thing to pay homage to what has come before — comics do it all the time — but it’s quite another to make the relationship to that history the very crux of the story, forcing each character to confront their past in fascinating ways. I’m no expert on X-Men continuity, but the way Brian Michael Bendis has approached it here has made me feel incredibly welcome.
Take Jean’s story here. She’s still struggling to keep her telepathy in check, so Kitty offers some helpful advice.
David Marquez stages this scene brilliantly, as we slowly and steadily zoom in on the two of them. The panels get progressively smaller and more isolated, enhancing the sense of isolation we’re given in that final panel of Jean alone, without anyone’s thoughts in her head. When Jean asks Kitty where she learned that technique, Kitty replies, “You did.” This (and the glimmer of the Phoenix in Jean’s dream) all shows us that Jean is becoming the character we all know her to be.
Scott, on the other hand, is not empowered by the specter of his future. He resents being judged for something he hasn’t done, missing desperately the time when he was judged based on his own accomplishments. I can’t help but read this as a lamentation over the stifling continuity of 50 years of X-Men comics. Obviously, Bendis can’t have too many gripes about the state Old, Evil Scott finds himself in, but it’s interesting to see that Scott’s future (that is, our comics past) isn’t depicted as a wondrous thing to behold. Even Mystique’s interest is piqued at the prospect of Young Scott’s adventures, which she hilariously learns about through her tablet (just like our very own all-digital comic fan, Patrick).
William finds himself somewhere in between, as his future self doesn’t exactly remember the past. The different states of these characters each seems to represent a different take on the value of comics history: One of value that we can learn from, one that actually damages the characters by holding them to it, and one that is seemingly neutral on the value of the past, but suggests that we might be okay if we forget about it. Bendis doesn’t come to any conclusions (yet), but each take seems poised to yield some fascinating results.
Needless to say, I enjoyed this issue. My only gripe is Marquez’s over-enthusiasm for double-page spreads. It’s not even that he overuses them, really, just that it’s not always clear that they are, in fact, meant to be read as a single spread.
I’m willing to accept that maybe I’m just dense, but to me, the cues that this is a single spread are very subtle. So subtle, in fact, that I missed them altogether initially, which made for some confusion and forced me to go back and re-read it properly. It pulled me out of the scene right as the tension should be mounting. Ultimately, I think my problem is that we don’t actually get anything out of this being a double-pager (other than, you know, that little sliver of Wolverine’s shoulder), which makes me wonder why this choice was made in the first place.
At any rate, this was a beautiful issue, and tackled some big ideas I really wasn’t expecting. Ethan, you have much more experience with X-Men history than I do, so I’m sure you can speak more elegantly about the details here. Are you enjoying putting the very relationship we have to comics history under the microscope?
Ethan: I definitely agree with you, Drew, on the argument that All-New X-Men offers a neat opportunity to look at the idea of comic book history and continuity. While I might be a bit more familiar with X-Men than some, my obsessive X-Men card-collecting days ended quite a while ago. That said, I do have enough of a background that, while I’m reading these issues, it feels a lot like the experience of going back to my hometown and seeing a friend with whom I’ve fallen out of touch. The constant references to the reams of backstory that each of these characters has accrued over the decades honestly makes me feel like it’s not a very accessible story in some ways unless you really have been paying attention to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters for quite a long time.
Granted, some pieces of X-Men trivia are pretty well-known, e.g. “Magneto’s done a lot of bad things — I’m pretty sure he’s a VILLAIN, in fact…” so most readers probably understand that the fact that Old Evil Scott is buddies with Magneto is kind of shocking. On the other hand, some interactions lean almost entirely on less famous storylines, so those moments seem incredibly opaque to the average reader. For example, look at the comments by and interactions with Warren / Angel / Archangel / Death, Horseman of the Apocalypse. His list of aliases alone gives you an idea of the fact that he’s been through a lot. This means that for me, Warren’s cryptic remarks in #1-5 and his run-in with his future self in #6 are incredibly fun to think about.
In #6, Young Angel is perched on a roof (something I guess you do a lot when you have wings) and Adult Been-To-Hell-And-Back Angel flies up to him, and, after establishing the fact that they are the same person from two different timeframes, Adult Angel fixes him with a contemplative look. Understandably a little intimidated by the scrutiny, Young Angel asks the first question that pops into his head:
Again, I love this meeting exactly because of the way All-New X-Men highlights the comic book history that Drew is calling attention to. When I saw these panels, I thought about a thousand things. First – what is going through Adult Angel’s head while he looks at his younger self? Possible ponderings might include:
“Why is he here? Wow, he’s just a baby!” “Whoa, he still has our original organic wings. Oh, and he’s never met Apocalypse. And he’s never had his skin turned blue, and then back, and then blue again, and- yeah, this is really weird.” “I can’t believe I used to have hair that short.” “I wonder if him being here means he won’t have to go through all of that… or if he’ll ever hook up with Psylocke. Guess it wasn’t ALL bad.”
Meanwhile, Young Angel is tripping out on the whole metal-wings thing. His wings define so much of who he is — how he identifies himself — that seeing such a radical change to seems to be drowning out everything else.
In the end, Adult Angel brushes all of the questions and takes Young Angel off “go flying.” This actually makes sense to me — it seems like the equivalent of “let’s go for a walk” for flight-empowered mutants. I’m looking forward to seeing where the Angels’ conversations lead.
The other pairing-off from this issue that did catch my eye was Young Cyclops and Wolverine. Rather than mutually freaking each other out (like the Young and Old Icemans) or finding a mutual sense of curiosity/wonder (like the Young and Old Angel), Cyclops and Wolverine end up fighting. That’s pretty in keeping with Wolverine’s relationship with Old Evil Scott. I could see, many issues in the future, Young Cyclops and Wolverine finding some kind of slightly antagonistic mentor/student vibe… maybe. Their default and current trajectory definitely seems to be one of simple loathing. As much as that makes sense given their completely different leadership styles and their love triangle issues with Jean Grey, I really do hope Bendis tries a new spin on them. I wonder what a friendship would look like, so I hope he explores the possibility.
Overall, this issue was definitely all about the one-on-one interactions among the past and present X-Men. While it served to settle the youngsters into the future – both in terms of culture shock and engaging with their older teammates – I’m looking forward to some more action. I hope we see some mixed-team missions soon; I imagine that there are some fun scenes ahead of seeing the young and adult groups cooperate with each other, learn from each other, and trip over each other in hilarious ways.
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?