Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Michael D. are discussing All-New X-Men 9, originally released March 20th, 2013.
Patrick: ”What are we doing here?” It’s a practical question, but it’s also often a petulant one. The question is so charged, packed with implications about the many other ways the asker would rather be spending their time. In my experience, the next thought after “what are we doing here?” is usually “I’m leaving.” When you’re young and unattached, it’s a dangerous question because it can lead you to take almost any course of action. So when a time-displaced mutant that feels alienated from his only friends asks “What are we doing here?” it’s cause for alarm.
The issue begins in the Danger Room, where Kitty Pride runs the quintet of young X-Men through a Sentinels-in-Times-Square training program. Things go to shit pretty quickly — as they are wont to do when our characters enter the Danger Room — so Kitty calls off the simulation to debrief. Everyone’s pretty receptive to a little constructive criticism. Everyone but Angel — he doesn’t see the point in all of this training nonsense, so he confronts Beast about the reason for him being in the present. Beast assures Warren that if they do their job right, they will have prevented an all-out war between humans and mutants. And maybe it’s a good thing Beast is preparing for this contingent: an even-more-misanthropic-than-usual Mystique has freed Lady Mastermind with the explicitly stated goal of acting selfishly and not giving a shit about anything. Also, the Eventual Confrontation with Evil Scott Summers becomes the Immanent Confrontation with Evil Scott Summers as Cyclops and the rest of the Uncanny X-men show up at the school, dovetailing nicely with the end of Uncanny X-Men 3.
The best X-Men comics end up having a bunch of excellent character work, due — in part — to the mutant world being populated by a bunch of excellent characters. The “otherness” of mutants allows writers to make broad statements about social injustices, or going through puberty, or being gay, or gun control. Or whatever. This world is so rich with characters and themes that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they’re not very tightly plotted. More often than not, we’re content to just hang out at the mutant school for a while, watch our good friends train in the Danger Room, and then listen to them talk about how hard it is being scary. This is great stuff, and it’s the backbone of the whole X-Men brand. But Warren brings up a good point when he asks:
We’re 9 issues into this series (with three more assisting over at Uncanny X-Men) and I still can’t tell you what the narrative thrust of this series is. Even the Big Inciting Incident (bringing the original X-Men to the future) has not actually served any plot development so much as it has given Brian Michael Bendis the ability to anthropomorphize nostalgia, regret and despair. It’s amazing how conflicted I am at hearing Angel’s pissy little question. I want to yell at him “you’re there because you’re learning — because it’s good for you!” But there absolutely comes a point when you have to stop learning and start doing — especially in a superhero comic.
True to form, the answer to Warren’s question totally deflates the taking action vs. training debate. Beast is basically a pacifist, and urges Angel to take the same approach. Diplomacy never looks like any fun, but it certainly beats the alternative. Beast is so willful here, clearly laying out that he would pursue peace right up to the last possible second. It’s an admirably strong quality and stands in stark contrast to the wishy-washy goals of the younger X-men — particular of Warren who is basically stamping his feet and asking to go home.
Hey, do you know who I don’t know anything about? Lady Mastermind (or Dude Mastermind for that matter). I loved this sequence where Mystique, disguised as Maria Hill, lands at Riker’s with Sabertooth in tow. I’m a sucker for shapeshifters that know how to use their powers to really fuck with people. Bonus points for pulling the ol’ Wookie Prisoner Gag. But I love that Bendis is able to communicate — over the space of two pages — that Lady Mastermind is a legacy mutant with a grudge against humanity (but not a revolutionary streak) and the ability to project hyper realistic illusions. Stuart Immonen seems just as happy to tap into these powers as she does — check out how gleefully these grotesque Avengers are rendered:
That’s some pretty intense shit that she’s capable of. I don’t if I should take comfort in the fact that she and Mystique are taking an explicitly apolitical stance in this conflict. They’re still probably going to murder a bunch of people in order to, like, buy an island or something… Okay, never mind: I’m not comforted.
I didn’t really get into the fall-out of Jean’s little personality-changing trick from the previous issue, or the pros and cons of her digging around in people’s minds. So I’ll let our guest writer tackle some of the issues that raises. Our guest goes by Michael D. — y’know, because we’re up to our eyeballs in Michaels around here — but I can’t bring myself to not call him Mike D. So, Mike D., what’d you think of Kitty Pryde’s stay-out-of-my-brain-but-tell-me-what-Scott’s-thinking hypocrisy? Also, what’s the functional difference between what Jean did to Angel and what Beast is doing? Follow-up question: who programmed Spider-Man into the Danger Room simulation, but also programmed him not to help when the Sentinels showed up?
Michael D.: Mike D: Thanks for the solid lead-in Patrick. I can be pretty critical of comic books, but even I have been wooed by All-New X-Men’s “anthropomorphic nostalgia” (nice term, by the way). Just as mutants have been the perennial mouth piece for the minority, Bendis has found a way to also embody the dichotomy between our childhood hopes and our adult regrets, which is why it’s so enjoyably distracting. But you are right Patrick, where does this all seem to be going? Before I dive into that, let me touch on some of the points you brought up.
The concept of the “student becoming the teacher” is not a new one, but I still love seeing Kitty Pryde as the head honcho. You can tell that she kind of gets a kick out of bossing around younger versions of her own mentors. Kitty has been around a while, so when she sees young Jean Grey erasing memories and reading minds without permission it’s a red flag. (And I wonder what it feels like to know someone is peaking around your brain? Like a crowded elevator?) I can see what you’re saying about Kitty’s hypocrisy, Patrick, but I don’t think that was Bendis’ intention. I read it as Jean blurted out what she saw in Scott’s mind and Kitty asked Scott (not Jean) what the story with Mystique was. Also, it’s just a sadly common fact in the X-Men universe that no matter what, Jean Grey will always be a ticking time bomb for catastrophe.
Pertaining to Beast, there is a big difference between his coercion of Angel and Jean doing a mind wipe. Not using your powers for personal gain is Superhero 101, and our newly-powered Jean is most definitely breaking that rule. Beast is an educated man/mutant who understands the art of persuasion, which is leaps and bounds away from telepathic surgery. Though, one thing to be said in Jean’s defense is that she didn’t give Angel a complete lobotomy. He still is rebelling against the reasoning for him and his team being in the present. So is Beast’s plan 100% moral? Not really. The whole impetus behind bringing the first X-Men to the present to throw them in Cyclops’ face is more of an emotional response than a tactical one. Beast is simply the latest in a long line of X-Men characters who tries to gather support behind his belief, this one being the path of least resistance.
I must admit that — like a rookie — I fell for some classic misdirects at first: the Danger Room intro and the Mystique reveal at the Raft. I was questioning why Kitty had brought the young X-Men to Times Square (in their uniforms no less). But like Patrick said, we are nine issues in and the plot hasn’t advanced drastically: so much so that we are at the point where we don’t expect it to. “Why are they in Times Square?” Maybe we should be asking, “why not?” By now, we should see the plot moving along at a steadier pace. I hope Mystique’s “get rich quick” scheme evolves into something a little more complex, because right now Bendis’ X-Men world is just a debate of methodology between Cyclops in Uncanny X-Men and Beast in All-New X-Men. There needs to be a clear opponent or obstacle for the mutants to overcome. (Side note, I was slightly disappointed when Magneto was revealed to be a triple agent instead of a double agent in Uncanny X-Men #3.) It seems that Bendis is trying to slow the wheels of All-New X-Men so that his Uncanny X-Men series can catch up to it. Once things get rolling in Uncanny X-Men, I think the two books will be working in better sync, as evidenced by the matching ends of Uncanny X-men #3 and All-New X-Men #9.
Even though things may not be progressing as quickly story-wise, All-New X-Men doesn’t disappoint with the visuals (especially for a bi-monthly series). Each issue drawn by Stuart Immonen is guaranteed to have a few double-page-spreads, like the Sentinel-filled spread here, as if they were just hiding behind those skyscrapers.
I’ve never read Marvel Zombies, but I did appreciate the visual reference in the nightmare vision produced by Lady Mastermind . Though this is more of an editorial complaint than one against Immonen, I’m not digging the new look for Beast. I actually liked the feline version and don’t mind if they go back to the more primate Beast, but without his pointy “Wolverine hair” he looks kind of bald, don’t you think?
As for Spider-Man swinging around in the Danger Room simulation without helping, I’d say that Wolverine was behind it. Or Ice Man. Or Ultimate Kitty Pryde because she’s still mad that Peter broke up with her.
Michael D. is a Film School dropout with a penchant for TV, Comic Books and Ties. Batman was his gateway drug into the comic-verse and he now has Brainiac levels of knowledge about superheroes, multiverses and Bat-Mites. Follow Michael on Twitter @CormacMichael and his blog Mike’s Masterpieces in the Making.
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Hey, so we haven’t talked much about the social commentary inherent in the X-Men, but Patrick kind of cracked that can of worms in his lead. It’s unfortunate that the alienation and persecution of minorities is still relatable themes, but I guess they always have been. I’m too sympathetic to those themes to ignore them, but does anyone think it’s even possible to? Like, were segregationists reading this series in the 60s? Are homophobes reading it now?
I’m sure that some segregationists used to read X – comic books and some homophobes are reading it nowadays, because a lot of readers don’t fix their attention on the positive message they X – Men mean to convey: most of them just sit on their bed, pass a quarter hour of relax reading those comics without much attention and then just forget about them.
I recently finished a novel I won’t forget that easily, “Night Passage” by Norman A. Fox. I do suggest you to read it too: it’s one the most cleverly written novels I’ve ever bumped into.
“they X – Men” I meant to write “the X – Men”.
Ooo! This is good – and indirectly leads to something I wanted to respond to in Michael’s portion: whether the reader or the author intends to find or put thematic material in a piece of art, it’s there. If a homophobic racist is reading X-Men just for the fun powers and action sequences, he will be exposed to these ideas, and forced to empathize with outsiders. But, there are all kinds of outsiders and lots of different dots to connect. I mention gun control in my write-up, and while I personally would like to see more regulation where that’s concerned, that DOESN’T jive with my perception of Mutant Rights within the X-Men world. But if someone was a big Second Amendmenter, they could see that as a theme to relate to. Or just the idea of a nanny-state government using superheroes and giant robots to stomp out opposition. X-Men comics appeal to the radical in all of us – liberal or conservative.
Thank you for your compliments and for your reply! : )
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Danger Room is a weird narrative device, right? I mean, it always allows for some bombastic action at the start of an issue, but it’s a weird kind of bait and switch. Like the characters never tip their hands that the action isn’t really happening. Anyone know of any really cool or effective narrative uses of the Danger Room? (other than, of course, demonstrating that the team needs to train harder)
I’ve never looked at the Danger Room the same since Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing” run. Having the Danger Room turn out to be a sentient being is a mind-blowing idea. And makes Prof. X look like a real dick. If you wanted to spin that particular story as a political statement I guess it could be construed as Pro-Life? Not saying anything definitive either way. Plus Joss Whedon is most certainly Pro-Choice.
Oh, man, Comixology was pimping Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men a couple weeks ago – I assume they were on sale, and I assume that’s over. I’ma look in to it and report back.
Man, that Spidey cameo was really exciting — I thought for sure Jean was going to “accidentally” read his mind. Otto’s got to be careful to avoid this crew at least until Jean puts a leash on her telepathy.
I hadn’t considered that! I was mostly just excited to see Spidey around the universe. The character is always compelling, certainly, but he’s also this CRAZY X-FACTOR at this point. (though, I have to imagine that the Danger Room just renders him as Peter Parker – y’know, like it’s Age of Ultron).
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