Today, Ethan and Taylor are discussing X-Men 5 originally released September 11th, 2013. This issue is part of the Battle of the Atom event. Click here for our complete coverage of Battle of the Atom.
Ethan: If you’ve ever run away from home, or snuck out in the middle of the night to dodge your curfew, or even just stormed off in the middle of a fight, you know the feeling. The conviction that you’d rather be ANYWHERE but where you just left; an undirected need to get away; but the nagging little awareness that your escape is only temporary. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to turn around and confront whatever it is that pushed you away — finish the conversation with your parents, make amends with a friend or significant other — in short, come home. In X-Men #5, we find Jean and Scott on the outbound leg of this sort of journey, and contrary to their fears, they might not have to go home quite as soon as they think.
The X-Men Present and the X-Men of Christmas Yet to Come have a quick pow-wow about Jean and Scott. The Beast Triplets reveal that they’ve built a new jet — the Dove — and the team heads out. As they track the fugitive kids down the coast, Rachel Grey and Kitty Pryde stay at the school, but quickly decide that they don’t quite trust the others to handle the situation. The adults inevitably catch up to Jean and Scott and try to bring them in through a combination of force and reason (though a bit heavy on the force). Rachel and Kitty show up just in time to run interference, taking the side of the kids. In the confusion, Jean and Scott make their escape. Their flight takes them to the asteroid-turned-island of Utopia, where Jean reveals that she’s called on some unlikely allies to bail them out — present-day Scott and his new team.
Whether or not you ever actually did any of the things I mentioned earlier, I’d argue that the desire to “just get away” is part of being human. Whether it’s a conflict that comes to a head or just being stuck in a rut, the desire to push the Pause button on life and step outside of it all is a powerful thing. But if we’re an impulsive race, we’ve also developed an annoying capacity of higher thought that tells us that there is no Pause button: the pipers must be paid, the apologies must be said, the cubicles must be returned to. Even as Jean and Scott soar away in a stolen jet and fly around the curves of a mountain pass on a motorcycle, they’re aware of this.
More to the point, Scott is aware of this. Scott is caught in the middle of his two most defining characteristics: his inflexible pragmatism and his unhesitating support of and love for Jean. Hugging the curves of the road, clinging to each other and to the bike, the underlying yin and yang that Scott and Jean have been playing out for so many years is brought to the fore. Scott stresses about the transience of their escape and the consequences of their flight; Jean remains a boundless optimist and will sooner reach out to their ostensible enemies than give up. Neither of them is quite whole on their own. That’s probably just a truism of what it means to be young — you’re not quite entirely yourself yet, but you find your way with a little help from your friends.
Youth and Age — or Impulse and Experience — and the tension between them is a recurring theme in this issue. I liked the exchange between Kitty and Rachel back at the ranch while the rest of the team was out hunting. In my previous post, I was thinking about the similarities between Rachel Grey and Young Jean, and apparently I wasn’t alone.
Anyone can write a story about time-travel. Mix one part motive with ten parts flashy, twisting lights, and Bob’s your uncle. What impresses me about Brian Wood and his colleagues is how they are so firmly entrenched in a world with a REALLY wacky status quo when it comes to jumping from one time to another. Rachel’s the perfect example of this: she was born in the present, sent forward into the future to grow up in a gnarly post-apocalypse with a white-haired cyborg marine as her surrogate parent, and then popped back into the present, like a teenager home from summer camp. [EDIT: Hope Summers was the one raised by Cable in the future; Rachel also grew up in a dystopian future, but she was born in the future and later came to the present.] Rachel’s acquired more than a tan and a couple dozen Facebook friends, though — she’s been through hell, seen the joys and terrors wrought by humanity’s advancement and downfall, and now she’s back in the world where you can kick back and enjoy some takeout without a robot-zombie-bandit trying to steal it and eat you. So it makes sense that she comes down on the side of the kids. She didn’t get to have a “proper” childhood, she understands the absolute weirdness that comes from growing up in a time not your own, and she wants to make sure that the X-Men of the past have the chance to make their own choices.
Let’s make it personal, Taylor: are you a youngster trapped in the body of an adult, an elder sage trapped in the body of a bright young thing, or a western lowland gorilla trapped in the body of a human? Who’s your favorite of the Future X-Men, and do you think they have everyone’s best interest in mind, or just their own?
Taylor: I suppose the issue of trust is really what is at the heart of this event so far. Which time frame do you put most of your belief in: the past, the present, or the future? It’s a bit of a heady question which could be debated ad infinitum, so we’re lucky that we can pair the question down to which set of X-Men we like the best. Even reducing the question to such reduced terms doesn’t make it a simple one. We have just as good reasons to side with the X-Men from the past as we do the X-Men from the future. That being said, I can’t help myself siding with the youngsters, at least for now.
The reason for this is perhaps a bit complicated. I don’t have any logical reason to believe Past-Scott and Past-Jean are making the right decision. After all, their flight from the X-Men of the Future is spawned on Jean’s intuition and Scott’s love of the former alone. But if there isn’t a sound, logical reason to side with the youth, why am I on their side? Sure, there’s a bunch of cultural baggage tugging at my brain telling me that anyone under the age of 27 is inherently better than those older than them, but there’s something more to it.
Comics are a visual medium just as much as they are a textual one, and that’s important, especially when you talk about characterization. When you don’t know a lot about a character from what they’ve said, by default you begin to examine how they look. Do they have a sinister face? Are their eyes a bit too secretive? Is their hair parted on the absolute wrong side of their head? The point is, how a character looks matters, and any artist worth his weight in Double Stuffed Oreos creates their comic with this in mind. Thinking of this, it’s hard not to look at the below panel and not believe that Future-Jean is evil, or at the very least, more than what she appears.
There’s just something not right about that face, as portrayed by David Lopez. And by not right I mean not on the up and up, as in, that’s a face only a mother could trust. Sure, it’s only one frame but this isn’t how our heroes are normally portrayed. When you further take into consideration the way the rest of the Future X-Men look it’s hard to feel good about their intentions. Ice Man is a craggy beast who looks more like an arctic gollum who eats cute snow foxes and lost children. Xavier appears to be kind of a pompous ass. Beast is looking like something spawned from the pit of hell. And both Deadpool and Jean where masks that look an awful lot like skulls. Again, not your typical hero, or X-Men, garb. Just who are these guys?
While Jean and her appearance are certainly an interesting, and perhaps insidious, crinkle in the the plot of Atom, they’re not the only reason I distrust the elderly. Even though their flight from a gaggle of multi-temporal X-Men is commendable, eventually Jean and Scott are overtaken by their pursuers. A little tussle ensues and some shots are exchanged, but nothing too dangerous happens. However, when Scott drives his cycle off road in a last ditch effort to escape, future Kitty lets this little nugget slip from her mouth:
An innocuous enough statement in most situations, but when time travel is involved it is imbued with more gravitas. If you come from the future, you know what happened in the past, which is to say, you know how things are supposed to happen. Future-Kitty (so she’s a cat now, right?), in theory knows what happens in this exact situation. It seems like she expects to catch Scott and Jean, and it seems like she is getting angry that what is supposed to be happening, according to her history, is not. And if she knows all this, we have to wonder at the motivation for her being here. Why would the future X-Men travel back in time unless it was to change a history that directly fucks with their lives. With this in mind we have to wonder how altruistic their claims really are.
Of course I haven’t really mentioned the present X-Men. This is perhaps for good reason, for despite this being their time-space, they seem to be showing little initiative in deciding how things play out. Future Xavier and his crew blast out from the future and basically take over the show and no one seems to mind. None of the present X-Men seem to second guess what their future counterparts are all about. It could be easy to view this as apathy, but I think it rests more in the realm of befuddlement and patience. They don’t know for sure what’s going on so they decide to ride things out for a bit before jumping to any sort of conclusion.
It’s perhaps the best stance to take at this point in time and I feel like we are in their same shoes as readers. We don’t know what to think of the situation but we’ll let it play out and make up our minds as events unfold. So perhaps like poor Wolverine above, it would be best if we all continue to read this series with the level-headedness and patience of a boring middle aged adult. Or a boring, ageless adult with an adamantium skeleton. Ultimately I guess that means I don’t trust the youth or the elderly; my allegiance lies with the timeless.
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?