All-New X-Men 11

all new x-men 11

Today, Drew and guest writer Charles Cress are discussing All-New X-Men 11, originally released May 1st, 2013.

Drew: Superhero comics have a strange line to walk when it comes to serialization. We want a sense of forward movement — we want the characters to grow and change — but we also want to read stories with them forever. In essence, we want the excitement of serialization (your LOSTs or your Breaking Bads) with the comfort of a more episodic structure (your Seinfelds or your Law and Orders). The problem with that is when something we expect to move forward doesn’t, we notice it. “Wheel spinning.” This is strictly a problem with expectations — nobody would ever accuse an episodic series of spinning its wheels — but Brian Michael Bendis has done such a stellar job at telling a propulsive story in All-New X-Men, it’s a little jarring when issue 11 retraces its steps.

The issue begins with the conclusion of the recruitment pitch Old Evil Scott gives to the Jean Grey School — the third issue featuring that conversation, and the third to reveal that it’s Warren who decides to leave (Uncanny X-Men 4 AND 5 scooped that detail). Jean protests, mind-controlling Warren to have her way (as she did in issue 8), but the Stepford sisters are there to be creepy and powerful (as they were in UXM 4), effectively shutting her down. We then jump to a Mystique/Matermind/Sabertooth robbery (much like we saw in issue 10), and then back to the Jean Grey School for Kitty to talk Jean through her problems (much like we saw in issue 6). Hell, even the issue’s cliffhanger — the X-Men meet the Avengers — already sort of happened in issue 8.

Okay, I think I’ve made my point — there’s not a lot of new stuff going on in this issue. That’s really not the biggest crime in comics — I’ll honestly never get tired of Batman punching someone without looking at them — but this series isn’t about one-off adventures of the 1960s X-Men in our time: it’s about the through-line of their time here. It’s not that I don’t think scenes like the one between Jean and Kitty are important to the story, it’s just that we’ve kind of seen it before, and this series really isn’t about luxuriating in their friendship.

Also, can we talk about how slash-y that scene is?

Why are Kitty's gloves so big? Was she just doing dishes or yardwork or something?

I know that this is ultimately friendly, and I sure as hell know that Marvel would never go down a route that put these two characters together, but I don’t think I’m off-base in seeing this intimacy as romantic. I really hope someone can corroborate this reading, so I can feel less like a total perv.

The only real reason I can see for the way this issue rehashes scenes from earlier in the series is in regards to the Mystique/Mastermind fake-outs. I may not have suspected that Mystique was one of the security guards in issue 10, but Bendis goes out of his way to make the setup painfully obvious here. Right, Pepper Potts just needs access to Tony Starks accounts and some privacy — there’s nothing suspicious about it. Lulling us into a sense of security as far as picking out these fake-outs could pay dividends down the line, but it mostly just felt predictable here. I guess it did successfully sic the Avengers on the X-Men, but like, S.H.I.E.L.D. already knew Mystique et al. were up to this shit. In fact, the X-Men were on their way to address it at the behest of Maria Hill, so I’m a little confused as to why the Avengers are here (Hill didn’t want to deploy them to solve the Mystique issue, but she will deploy them to interfere with the people she did ask to solve it).

For all of my problems with this issue, I continue to love Stuart Immonen’s pencils. His sense of staging is impeccable — even when there are dozens of characters in a scene to keep track of. Take a look at the way he stages the very opening of this issue:

All-New X-Men opening

The slow dolly out of the camera is impressive enough, but Immonen takes care to keep each of the time-displaced X-Men in the shot once they’ve been ruled out. Moreover, Immonen makes the blocking of this scene clear enough to follow even as we’re also keeping track of the camera “move” — notice how Jean walks over to Hank in order to join the rest of the X-Men frame left. The shot itself is from Warren’s perspective, and the whole page is composed to make the reveal — a splash after the page turn — much more effective [note: digital copies have those as facing pages, which undercuts this effect]. I only wish Uncanny X-Men 4 hadn’t spoiled that reveal so nonchalantly (though to be fair, I did call it last month).

It’s funny, I’m still so new to Marvel that I mostly know Bendis through his often-less-than-flattering reputation, but I’ve loved almost everything of his that I’ve read. Unfortunately, this issue really seemed to give credence to those criticisms, as it felt unapologetically wheel-spinny. Here to defend Bendis is long-time Marvel fan Charles Cress. Charles, is this issue better than I think it is? Also, you don’t have to defend Bendis — unless you want to.

Charles: Well Drew, I am a fan of the infamous Brian Michael Bendis, but defending him usually goes one of two ways: bad or ok. I’ll try the latter, but the former might creep its way in. But that’s later. I think it’s important to begin this pseudo treatise with some context.

Comic books are an endlessly fascinating and more so, endlessly complex, medium. On the surface its splash pages, hilarious onomatopoeia and punching. But the true skill lies in why. Everything in a comic book has a place and purpose – call it conservation of detail. Nothing is given in the 25 or so odd pages if it doesn’t matter, if only because the mediums limitations are its strengths. Where a television show or film can pan, scan, zoom, and crane an entire world in stereoscope, painting the red herrings and clues into a menagerie of meaningless but world building set dressing, a comic must distill an entire world into nine panel grids laced with giant word balloons as if a closed caption Thanksgiving Day parade. You can only afford to show what matters because you can’t afford not too. And these maxims are on display very clearly in this issue.

All-New X-Men #11 shows us some great examples of the comic book being used to its apex (which is something like a stop motion movie cobbled together with meaningful photographs, overlaid with literary prose, flowery exposition and the occasional naked blue guy), but it also shows the weaknesses of the medium in the hands of someone with maybe a little too much on his plate, or as you coyly suggest, someone who’s “writing for the trade.” ANXM #11 (because long titles suck, and boomerangs) is pretty much the longest, best drawn recap page in comics history. I think you did a great job, Drew, of drawing light on the fact that everything we read in this issue was printed somewhere in some form (and good god, if I see Kitty and Jean talking about feelings and periods again, I’ll…well, I’ll probably still read the series, but I’ll sloppily return it to it’s Mylar crypt). You almost start to wonder if Brian Michael Bendis isn’t trying to catch the reader up as much as he is himself, what with his over-running cup of comics work. He manages to deliver a good-not-great issue that has more to say about the medium than the characters.

The strengths of this issue (like the devil), lie in the details and unfortunately, they have nothing to do with Bendis’ ability and everything to do with the art of penciler Stuart Immonen. What particularly works for me are the panel layouts. You were on the money when you called out his continued excellence. His use of traditional boxed panels is a welcome sight in modern comics and he knows when to turn it off when a layered page look (the Big Two’s go-to layout) is necessary. Restraint is key. Taking a look at something like page eight, where we see the Stepford Sisters molesting Jean’s mind like Kitty Pryde did her body later on (I got your back!), it’s the layout that sells the action.

Page 8

More panels slow a work down and conversely, fewer panels speeds it up. The caveat to that equation is size. Here we have six panels that range from big to little and back laid over a dark background, boxed traditionally with overlaying only used for panel 3. Immonen uses the overlaid panel not for form but function, signaling to us the split second difference between events, an incredibly subtle but effective tool in his Tim Taylor like Binford Belt of comic drills, wrenches, and do-hickeys (I’m…terrible at fixing stuff). The top and bottom panels stretch the course of the page, bookending the speedy, quick cuts in the middle. It’s like a Nirvana song, blending quiet verse with a loud chorus for dramatic effect. I could’ve used more panels in middle, really. Emma and Wolverine’s dialogue felt stuffed in a bit and would’ve came off more impactful if given panels to breath, especially with all the extra room on the page, but it doesn’t harm what is a well laid out, well thought out page that many readers might skim over.

Again, details are at work here, but they aren’t all welcome. The book does a nice job with keying us in on things we need to know, but doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Conservation of detail dictates that everything be important, which means presumed non-sequitrs like a excursion into Tony Stark’s office by Pepper Potts to see some secret something or another is painfully given away as a rouse by Mystique and her team, something you and I both seem to be sour on. Simply put, no matter what, we’d immediately assume this time that Mystique is behind the shenanigans, so why the subterfuge? It might’ve worked better had we seen Mystique beforehand, changing into Potts just as she walks in. Watching her trying to gain access and rooting for the Dilbert castoff just trying to earn his (probably large) paycheck would’ve leant the sequence a modicum of suspense. Instead it becomes a hilarious domino mask calling attention away from the proceedings.

Of course, that becomes much more defensible in relation to the dialogue. Am I here to defend the infamous Mr. Bendis? Well, my shield isn’t Vibranium but I’m usually in his corner. This time around though, I’m finding little to appreciate. Bendis is quite fond of  and — despite what his detractors say — quite good at dispensing snappy dialogue designed to induce whiplash on hapless panel jockeys. The problem is, which so much exposition clogged into the struggling to breathe bubbles, the only thing left are two and three word reactions. Here’s a fun game: every time a character says “Oh no!” “What’s going on?!” or some variation, drink. Anything. Grape juice, perhaps. Either way, by the time you finish, you will hate that drink and have a brightly colored tongue.

I don’t blame Bendis though. Six issue arcs nestled tightly in expensive hardcover collections is the nature of the beast. Every six needs to have a complete story so it may stand alone for new, entry-level readers and curious comicphiles (coined it!) alike. Reaching the end of this important second arc and simultaneously trying to justify this brief nostalgia ride as a long-term ongoing, juggling the shifting plates he’s already spun in motion and giving us a complete, serialized experience is about as complicated as the job gets. He’s admirable at it, and his want to make each arc stand alone as best it can on a Barnes and Nobles shelf is sweet, but what it gives us are truncated, awkward issues that only serve to set the table before the climax. I think your Lost and Breaking Bad examples definitely betray a weakness in the comic book genre. Single issue stories and serialization just don’t play well in funny books. Maybe it’s a dynastic relic in a storytelling art that has just recently evolved from its roots as three panel daily newspaper installments and forlorn, unconscionable crimes like the fill-in issue (an issue featuring a random, non-context story finished months ahead by freelancers that would be pushed into the lineup when the current team didn’t finish on time). Delayed gratification is much sweeter when it’s, well, not delayed as much. I have no doubt this series will be a page turner once bound together but month to month issues like this will kill a series.

I bring this up because Brian Michael Bendis is probably as good as anyone will ever be at producing workmanlike, on time, neatly wrapped six issue arcs. I mean, the man even teaches a graphic novel writing class at Portland State University. But it’s his productivity that might be hurting him. You can’t help but wonder that given a lighter loud and a more pointed focus, he could have pushed the Prize Wheel just a little closer to one dollar, or even eighty cents instead of giving it the ol’ granny pull and watching Drew Carey help her do it again. I eagerly await next months’ Showcase Showdown to see if our intrepid writer bids too high or just right. Remember, it’s the closest without going over.

Charles Cress is a essayist and comic book writer from Ypsilanti, Michigan. His debut comic book, Endless, will be self-published (for now) and due to be out next month. You can follow him and the latest updates on how and when you can purcahse his comic book on Twitter at @CharlesCress and @Endless_Comic respectively. He loves parenthesis.

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?

3 comments on “All-New X-Men 11

  1. I’m actually going to come right out and say that the Jean / Kitty scene was the best part of this issue.It’s easy to snicker at the slashy connotations, but there is an interesting relationship forming between these two women, and it’s based in so much honesty that it feels intimate. For any negative thing we can say about Bendis writing for trade or decompressing stories unnecessarily, you have to admit that he gave that scene the appropriate space to breathe. Also, it’s going to be heartbreaking when they do eventually send Jean back to the past.

    • You know, their relationship is actually really fascinating — they’ve effectively reversed the maternal relationship they had before (though it’s weird that they look almost the same age here). We’ve talked a lot about how the time travel conceit allows Bendis to write these old characters, but it could also serve as a way to work through caring for an aging parent — the heroes the current generation of X-Men always looked up to are now the ones in need of help. It’s a powerful subject, and Bendis has come at it totally sideways.

  2. Pingback: 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 6 | Retcon Punch

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