Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing All-New X-Men 15, originally released August 7th, 2013.
Shelby: No one knows better than I the importance of taking a break every once in a while; heck, I took several writing breaks before I even started this post. But seriously, it’s important to take breaks to keep from getting burned out, and the same applies to comic books. Stories take little breaks with what we call “hang-out issues,” where the bulk of the plot consists of the characters hanging-out. The beauty of the hang-out issue is, when it’s done well, we get a story break AND character development. Artists take breaks too, but the obviously visual nature of art can make an artist break more jarring and disruptive. This month, Brian Michael Bendis gives us a story break as we wait for Battle of the Atom to start, and David Lafuente gives Stuart Immonen a break on pencils; the result is a story which feels very different from what we’re used to in All-New X-Men.
Young Bobby is wigging out again. He’s caught Kitty making out with his older self, and since he doesn’t really like Kitty, it’s majorly weirding him out. So, he and Young Scott decide the best course of action is to steal Wolverine’s jeep and go out for lunch. They end up at a street fair, where they impress some girls with the fact they are mutants, help stop a robbery, and get some digits. Meanwhile, Young Jean is hanging out with Old Hank when she accidentally reads his mind and discovers he was in love with her when they were young. She confronts Young Hank, and they have an appropriately angry, awkward moment that ends in a kiss. After, she goes back to her room for more contemplation of her wedding invitation.
The artist change is a big one; Lafuente’s style is much more adorably cartoonish than Immonen’s. Generally, I like it; Lafuente can keep the cute quotient high without sacrificing drama or emotion. I love the exchange between Young Hank and Young Jean.
The lines are very simple and his character design is adorable, but at the same time there’s so much anger in that image of Hank. There’s a kinetic feel to the image, and a lot of raw emotion. At the same time, Jean looks very frank, very open. She’s not going to beat around the bush, because she knows exactly where they’ll end up if they don’t say what they mean. My absolute favorite page has got to be the “confrontation” between Jean and Rachel. Rachel has just returned from somewhere (a.k.a. the pages of X-Men) and she bumps into Jean in the hallway.
That is probably exactly how a meeting between a younger past version of yourself and an alternate-timeline daughter from the future would play out. Bendis was really smart to keep this page dialogue-free and just let Lafuente’s art tell the story. It’s awkward and cute and perfectly captures the WTF nature of that situation.
Despite that glowing praise, this issue was not a complete win for me. As a “let’s take a break” issue, both Bendis and Lafuente were only partially successful in making it work. As much as I like Lafuente’s style, I was really distracted by the Bobbys. This might be too picky, but I believe this is the first time we’ve seen either Bobby not in his Iceman form. I genuinely thought that neither of them could look like a regular person anymore, so seeing these extra blonde guys running around being stupidly charming made me stop a second to re-assess.
I really like what’s going on between Jean and Young Hank; I’m super curious to find out what the implications will be for the team and their futures if Jean ends up with Beast instead of Scott. And honestly, the thought of Jean and Scott not getting together makes me feel a little like falling down, and I can’t wait to see where that leads. Next to that can of worms, though, Scott and Bobby’s Teen Dream Adventures feels like a fluffy bit of filler. I found myself skimming through the dialogue just to get through it. I was just as surprised as Scott at the girls’ romanticized ideas of mutant life. In the X-Men universe, mutants are almost constantly being persecuted; were there people after WWII who, after hearing stories of Jews hiding for their lives in people’s attics, thought, “Gee, what a swell adventure”? Maybe I’m being overly dramatic here, but I feel like it wasn’t that long ago in this story’s history that it would be painfully obvious that it would totally suck to be a mutant. What do you think, Patrick? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here? Were you, like me, a little bit creeped out by Old Hank inadvertently confessing his love to Young Jean?
Patrick: Oh, I wasn’t creeped out by Old Hank’s emotional snafu at all. I imagine that we would all be put in weird psychological headspace if we had to interact with teenage versions of people we had crushes on in high school, as adults. (Arguably, we were in weird psychological headspace when we interacted with those same people as teenagers, but I digress.) The relationship between memory and perspective is such that one is constantly informing the other – so Hank sees Young Jean, and is transported back to a time of being being Young Hank. You’ll notice we don’t get any moments like this from Wolverine. Not only would it be too sentimental for Logan, he was never a child with her.
The whole thing is very Archie. There’s a sense that Bendis and Lafuente are playing up the fun-cute-cheesy aspects of the romantic teenage comic genre. I mean, look at the title as it appears on the cover of the issue:
It’s so delightfully out of character for this series. This is also the only real time we’ve been allowed to be happy or excited for Jean Grey’s emotional discoveries in this series. So far, everything she’s learned in the present suggests that she has a bleak future-past ahead of her, including dying (a couple times) and loving a man we’ve taken to calling “Old Evil Scott.” That’s not been fun for her. And all the supporting cast has been able to do in comfort her – they can’t even tell her that “everything’s going to be okay.”
This issue, then, is Jean discovering that knowing the future doesn’t have to be all doom and/or gloom. For a moment, she kinda just gets to be a kid again and kisses the boy she likes because she know he likes her (hardly something she’d need superpowers for). I see that same sort of thing happening in the Bobby and Scott story. Shelby’s right to call it out as not nearly as compelling as what’s going on at school, but I found it to be much more than skimmable. I liked seeing Bobby in his element, flirting with girls when that might actually get him somewhere. Usually, when he starts getting cute with his classmates, they treat him like he’s a constant annoyance. Again, it’s like Bobby gets an opportunity to just be a teenage boy for a couple pages.
As far as how weird it is that the girls are romanticizing the Mutant condition, Bendis has Scott and Bobby call this out specifically.
Maybe it’s a sign of the times? Maybe it’s the tolerance of youth? And maybe the girls are just flirting back.
All of these cute moments of fun and joy and tolerance and flirting are undercut in the final pages of the issue, as Lafuente shows us a couple axes just waiting to drop. At the street fair, we see that Dazzler’s been watching Bobby and Scott’s little heroics. She’s working as a Mutant-liason for S.H.I.E.L.D., and has already been rebuffed by the Uncanny X-Men. While we’ve seen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents dropping by to check on the Jean Grey School from time to time, students and faculty are usually able to convince them that they’re not the evil Mutants. Seems like S.H.I.E.L.D. might be playing this a little more aggressively than we originally thought. The other ax is the second silent Jean Grey / Rachel Grey meeting. This time they don’t even try to read each other’s minds – they just freak out and go their separate ways. Well, I guess the fun had to end sometime.
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?