Today, Shelby and Ethan are discussing All-New X-Men 16 originally released September 4th, 2013. This issue is part of the Battle of the Atom event. Click here for our complete coverage of Battle of the Atom.
“I think that you X-Men are so used to the space and time and life and death craziness in your lives that you don’t even notice how crazy it is anymore.”
-Triage, All-New X-Men 16
“And which of our numerous, terrible mistakes are you referring to?”
-Wolverine, All-New X-Men 16
At the New Xavier School/bunker, Magneto is trying to teach the kids a lesson about how to fight Sentinals and Triage is trying to deal with the fact that he might have just brought someone back from the dead with his bare hands, offering that choice quote I included in the intro. Meanwhile, Current X-Men and Past X-Men are meeting the Future X-Men.
The bald guy in the hood is Xavier, Charles Xavier’s grandson. Beast, Deadpool, and Iceman are pretty obvious. The gal with the white is Kitty, and the big gal in the back is Molly Hayes, one of the Runaways. If the Past X-Men go home right now, they’ll avoid some terrible future, which seems like a pretty reasonable idea until Wolverine attacks, and not of his own volition. While the grown-ups have been talking, Jean had been trying to read the Future X-Men’s minds, but was blocked. Suspicious, she tried to convince Hank they should run away, but Hank refuses, curious as to how it will all play out. Jean turns to Scott, who instantly agrees, so she makes Wolverine attack to create a diversion. All three teams … uh, team up to go after them, but Wolverine wants to know why they blocked their minds. Xavier says it was to prevent everyone from knowing too much about their future (paradox and all), but then the lady Xorn removes her mask, revealing none other than Jean Grey.
Everything about this event is silly. Time travel, paradox upon paradox, and everything hinging on the whims of an emotional teen-aged girl. It’s a recipe for ridiculous disaster, and I am really enjoying it. I think the reason I’m liking it as much as I am is Brian Michael Bendis fully acknowledges how silly it all is. He knows it’s hypocritical for the Present X-Men to criticize the Future X-Men for traveling through time and messing with history; Present Bobby calls them out for it. Everyone is making snap decisions with weighty consequences, and frequently making the wrong choice as Wolverine points out in that second, choice quote. Because Bendis has laid everything on the table, and knows it doesn’t make any sense, we’re free to just roll with it. Instead of breaking my head around the paradox involved, I can just move on to the fun part: speculation!
So, somehow, in the future Jean is still alive. I’m pretty sure it has to do with Past Jean and her knowledge of her own future. As she and Scott escape, she fumes over all these strangers telling her what to do and being such liars and manipulaters; pretty standard teenager complaints, just with much much higher stakes in this particular instance. She knows that going back to her time is signing her own death warrant. She also suspects that she is strong enough now that, when the time comes, she is not going to let Charles wipe her mind. I’m guessing that’s the case, and it’s the knowledge she’s gained her that means she’s somehow alive in the future. I had to look up her costume, and Xorn is an interesting choice, both for Jean as a character and for Marvel history as a whole. Xorn was one of the causes of the many and varied deaths of Jean Grey; adopting the identity of the person who killed you is interesting on a couple of levels. Is she trying to keep her identity secret in the future as well as in the present? Why not simply create a new, masked identity? My confusion makes sense, as Xorn is a pretty confusing character overall. He was originally created by Grant Morrison and was revealed to be nothing more than a Trojan horse, Magneto in disguise. Marvel liked Xorn so much, they created a convoluted reason to retcon him back during House of M that even had Tom Brevoort admitting it didn’t make any sense. Maybe this all comes back to Bendis’ tactic of laying all his ridiculous comic event cards on the table. Characters are being hypocritical concerning time travel and paradox? Have one of them call it out. Need a confusing, speculative alternate identity for Jean? Have her adopt an identity known for its speculative confusion. It’s as if Bendis figured, “well, if I’m doing an X-Men time travel event, then I’m doing the hell out of it.” Ethan, are you having as much fun here as I am?
Ethan: Am I having fun? To borrow Patrick’s line, boy howdy, am I! Time travel is definitely the new black: you’ve got your alternate futures with Age of Ultron, your jaunts through the timestream in Indestructible Hulk, your past colliding with the present in All-New X-Men, and now the latter of those is tripling-down (we’re way past doubling-down at this point) with the appearance of the future X-Men. Too many sources of glee in this issue to give credit to, so let me at least say I enjoy this spot of time travel more than the others we’ve seen lately. The inclusion of Molly Hayes is easily my favorite, with Deadpool as a close runner-up.
I’ve been getting my Runaways fix over at Avengers Arena, but that’s definitely not the same. To see tiny Molly have turned into a towering, amazon She-Hulk is pretty wonderful, and I just hope we get enough issues in this arc to give her some more dialogue. I loved the way she gives Wolverine a hard time for forgetting her – the two of them have had some amusing run-ins in the past.
This issue also bought some quick grins with the side-by-side moments of characters with their older/younger selves. We’ve seen this before – most notably with Bobby (Iceman) – and this issue makes the most of the new opportunities.
By far the most powerful of these moments, though, is not a juxtaposition of two versions of one character; it’s the incredibly unexpected reunion of a mother with her daughter (sort of).
We’ve briefly touched on the Grey/Pryor-Summers family tree before here, and Wikipedia will serve you much better than a quick recap will. That said, the twist of Jean Grey popping in from the future and giving Rachel Grey a kiss on the cheek is really pretty wonderful. Rachel’s expression says it all. Rachel’s been trying to live up to her mother’s memory her whole life, never mind the fact that Rachel’s mother was actually a clone of Jean Grey.
All-New X-Men hasn’t really dealt with the issue of Young Jean being in the same time as Rachel. Smashing the built-up layers of weirdness that that fact already carries, plus a more mother-aged version of Jean showing up would, on their own, be so much for Rachel to process. One of the fun things this new Jean brings to the table is that she’s from an alternate future, just like Rachel. The emotional ties Rachel felt for Jean were already strong enough, and now I can’t help but think that the shared experience of being a stranger from a different reality would make this Jean someone whom Rachel could relate with even more. In a lot of ways, this meeting reminds me of when Young Cyclops meets Adult Havok in Uncanny X-Men. Scott, as a young man, met his “younger” brother and the two of them were each able to bond like crazy in a way that they were never able to do with the contemporary version of their sibling. It’s funny – I’ve never really felt much connection to the Summers’ or the Greys’ before, but all this time-bending love-fest has made them downright endearing.
Stepping back from the moment-to-moment meta glory of this issue, Young Jean’s escape with Young Scott highlights something about the Young X-Men that had never quite coalesced for me before. Not only are they all really just kids – impulsive, untrained, superpowered kids – but they’re kids with an authority vacuum. Sure, Ororo and Kitty have tried to fill the gap a bit, but at the end of the day, Charles Xavier is the only one who they look up to, and his voice is the only one they’ll take as gospel, in combat or in instruction. If Jean is right, and if Xavier the Younger isn’t really who he claims to be, or if the future X-Men’s journey really does have some kind of ulterior motive, then Jean and Scott will be proven wise in their caution. But if Xavier really is the real, virtuous genetic echo of his grandfather, what then? The questions I have from this issue aren’t really about what if Jean and Scott are right; I’m more interested to see how a descendent of Charles Xavier interacts with his grandfather’s first students if he’s the real deal.
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Hey, I know we usually like to ding Bendis for slow and/or repetitive story telling, but I really liked seeing the action rewind so we could get the same scene a second time from Jean’s perspective. The first time through it was such a taking-a-tour kind of thing, and it effectively answered my questions about who all those X-Men were and why they’re different, etc. It would have been too much to also try to cope with Jean’s emotional distress in the moment.
Plus, it’s not just Jean’s thoughts that we’re privy to when we go back, but Young Hank and Young Scott’s as well. It’s just neat that they’re basically two different scenes that just so happen to take place in the same place, at the same time, with the same group of characters.
Obviously, the best moment is when Jean interrupts her thought-conversation to help Bobby come up with “hypocritical.” It’s a totally normal exchange the first time, but it somehow seems way cooler when we learn that her interjection is interrupting the flow of two conversations. It works to give the scene a palpable sense of rhythm that carries over to both iterations in spite of being chopped up differently.
I liked it as well; the inclusion of dialogue we’ve already seen was just enough to place the conversation in time but not enough to distract from what was really happening between Jean, Scott, and Hank.
I honestly wish Bendis would stop doing team books. I dig All New X-Men for now, but I see it ending up the same way as his Avengers run did when it ended: pointless. It will probably eventually descend to them talking around a table. I’d like to see Bendis on a Heroes for Hire street-level book.
You mentioned Bendis on “street-level” stuff in the Battle of the Atom 1 conversation too – I don’t totally get the criticism. One of the things that I think Bendis generally does well (and that he’s doing exceptionally well here) is keeping insane action grounded with tons of emotionally honest characters.
I can sorta understand the “pointless” criticism, because Bendis takes his time and really circles around mood and character for a while before delving into plot. But, frankly, I dig the pace and the commitment to honesty. A lot of All-New X-Men should feel contrived, but every action seems sincerely motivated and I don’t know how else you achieve that but to really dig in and take some time. This might also be because I’m new to reading X-Men comics, but simply spending time with these characters feels fucking great to me.
You’re a lot more optimistic than I am. I mention street-level because his Daredevil, Alias, and Powers are all classic ( except for Powers v3, that’s a trainwreck, but its back on track with bureau)
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Rachel’s mother was not a clone of Jean Grey. Has nobody on this site done their research?