Today, Ethan and Shelby are discussing All-New X-Men 8, originally released March 6th, 2013.
Ethan: Time-travel narratives always have the potential to bring up questions of self and identity. Though he wrote in less sci-fi context, Famous Dead White Guy David Hume talked about self not in terms of one, coherent, persistent soul but as a collision of different, constantly changing ideas and perceptions, like a train barreling forward with an ever changing set of passengers. While I may feel like I’m one, same person from one day to the next, I’m occasionally startled when my brain abruptly serves up a memory from the past. I remember the experience, the decisions, the stimuli as if it was me, but the choices and statements made by that past person often seem alien. That person was, in many real ways, NOT the me I am now. Reading All-New X-Men 8, I was happy to see that writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez took some time to play around with these ideas.
The issue begins by picking back up where we last saw the younger and older versions of Angel flying off for a bit (I’ll call them “Angel” and “Young Angel”/”Young Warren” for simplicity, and since the older one isn’t really “old” per se). While Young Angel tries to get more details about what has happened to him over the years, the two see an explosion centered on Avengers Tower and go to investigate. Hydra has decided to take the brilliant approach of a frontal assault on the tower, which the two Angels quickly disrupt. Angel fares much better, and Young Angel manages to keep up for a while. Finally the Avengers show up to complete the rout of Hydra, and are immediately curious about why there are two copies of Warren defending their turf. The Avengers fly over to pay the X-Men a visit, and Captain America confronts Blue Hank McCoy about the time-travel situation. Young Scott startles the gosh-darn heck out of Cap by strolling up and telling him that he’s here to help. The Avengers depart, and Blue Hank’s lab alarm goes off: Young Warren has broken into the lab and is trying to send himself back to his own time. The past and future sets of X-Men try unsuccessfully to calm him down, before Jean Grey snaps him out of his rant by using her new-found telepathic powers to unceremoniously short-circuit her hysteric teammate’s brain into thinking about lunch instead of escape.
While this issue included a bit of action in the form of the pathetic Hydra attack, it spent most of its time continuing to explore the repurcussions of the younger versions of the X-Men moving about in their own future. I was thrilled to see the first few panels of the issue – I was really hoping the Warren & Warren conversation wouldn’t get pushed off-stage, and Bendis delivered.
I have to pause here to give a bit of a spoiler alert: if you haven’t read the Dark Angel Saga (especially the denouement in Uncanny X-Force 18-19) and if you have the means to do so I strongly recommend you do. It’s a great arc in its own right, and Bendis is weaving that story-line into his own as a really neat subtext. Ok, so warning has been issued – if you want to read about how Angel got to be the way he is now for yourself, do that and come right back. Otherwise, keep reading and I’ll hit the high points.
In his future, Young Warren has been a very bad boy. He was conscripted by an ancient, evil, Egyptian mutant named Apocalypse and re-christened as Death, Horseman of the Apocalypse. Part of that deal was that Warren gets implanted with a Celestial artifact called a Death Seed, which brainwashes him. It also gives him blue skin and crazy techno-organic knife-wings. Warren eventually is (mostly) freed from Apocalypse’s brain-washing, but gets to keep the cool wings. However, he also keeps his evil, blue, alternate Death persona (which he renames “Archangel,” and has to keep it suppressed to avoid misbehaving by killing people in polite company. Eventually, Apocalypse dies, triggering the Death Seed inside of Warren and releasing his Archangel persona completely, compelling him to fill the role as the heir to Apocalypse.
X-Force – a superpowered assassin squad led by Wolverine – hunt Archangel down and kill him by stabbing him with a Life Seed. Yes, yes, very nice symmetry, we get it.The thing is, the Life Seed is a lot like the Genesis Device in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – it destroys its target and rebuilds something new from the constituent parts. So, Archangel – and Warren – definitely die, but Angel is reborn from Archangel’s body & mind.
So with all of that in mind, this conversation between Angel and Young Warren is pretty loaded. No one is exactly sure who or what the reborn Angel is – all we know is that he lost a lot of his short- to mid-term memory, the Archangel person is gone, he’s still got the sweet wings, and he’s starting over. He clearly knows that he used to be Warren Worthington III, and he shows a lot of kinship with Young Warren, but he’s been fundamentally re-written enough and has been through enough horrific stuff that he’s even distancing himself from the name “Warren” by asserting the fact that he is primarily Angel now. His mutant name has become a refuge and new point of origin, and he’s trying to break that gently that to his younger sort-of-self. It’s a good question though: how do you tell your younger self that he’ll basically be kidnapped and mentally hijacked by a Big Bad, and then wind up trying to destroy/rebuild the world? In a calm, believable way that won’t anger the listener?
I’m fascinated by Young Warren’s actions at the end of this issue. Even though the conversation is interrupted before Angel can fill him in, Young Warren seems to have intuited some of it. He knows that Angel is intensely unfamiliar, perhaps even more so than you’d expect from the simple process of maturation. Angel’s personality is certainly very different from Warren’s – having started out as a tightly wound rich kid with powers and then gone through hell, he’s come out the other side as a much more carefree (even a little goofy at times) person. The odd thing to me is that Young Warren knows that something BAD has happened. Perhaps Young Warren knows himself well enough to see that such a marked shift in personality could only occur as a result of something so drastic as what did in fact happen. Apocalypse stole Warren’s self in so many ways – altering his mind and his powers – and the Life Seed reconstructed him so thoroughly that, somehow, Young Warren can apprehend the depth and violence of that experience. Enough to know that he wants out, NOW.
I’ve gone on long enough about this; Shelby – what jumped out at you about this one? What did you think about the Avengers swooping in to grill the X-Men about the situation? Are you sad that Young Scott seems to have mislaid his giant, boxy, red glasses?
Shelby: I was very interested in the interaction between the Warrens, but what really caught my eye was Jean. Her role in this issue was brief, but powerful. And concerning, did I mention concerning? We all know Jean has a dark side, a dark side she has trouble controlling once her powers really start to manifest; to just reach into Young Warren’s head and flip a switch is a big step in the wrong direction. Her actions prove perfectly that Young Warren is absolutely correct. Because of this little jaunt forward in time, Jean’s powers have manifested sooner than they are (were? Tense is confusing in this book) supposed to, before she’s had an opportunity to learn to control them. And while she’s wrong to, as Henry puts it, “…go digging in other people’s minds and just change them…” he is just as wrong to scold her for it. Beast didn’t bring the kids to the future to save himself, he did it to stop Old Scott, but that didn’t stop Henry from using his own power to save his future self. Jean is doing the same thing; she’s using her powers to try to save herself. She’s just being a lot more aggressive about it, and is not letting anyone stand in her way.
Despite the extra serious events happening in this issue, Bendis’ light-hearted style carries through the book. He’s developed such an easy-going, realistic voice for these characters. I love the exchange between Kitty and Old Bobby, as they fill in the dialogue for Cap and Beast’s conversation. Who among us has not played that game before? The time travel/young meeting old/change the future plot makes this title complex and compelling, but for me the backbone of the story is the way these characters interact with each other and with the world around them. They are grounded in reality, despite being mutants with fantastic powers. I can relate to them, I understand why they feel the way they do about what’s happening to them. And the more sympathetic and understandable these X-Men are, the more opportunities I have to reminisce about my childhood desire to be an X-Man (my character had wings like Warren, but they were black, and she had electrical powers); in my opinion, any book that makes me both remember my girlish daydreams and wrestle with the complexities of real-time effects of time travel is doing something very right.
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