Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Wolverine and the X-Men 36 originally released September 25th, 2013. This issue is part of the Battle of the Atom event. Click here for our complete coverage of Battle of the Atom.
Isn’t it worth a few bruised children to save the entire future?
Drew: Sacrifice is a funny thing. If helping others requires harming yourself, people will hail you as a hero, but if it requires someone else being hurt — even with the same net result — people hem and haw about ends justifying means. Obviously, the sticking point is free will; it’s perfectly okay to willingly do something yourself, but each of us must be free to make that choice. Of course, that can become a bit of a sticking point in time travel narratives, where there’s a sense that certain things have to happen — Sarah Connor has to survive to give birth John, Marty McFly’s parents have to kiss at the enchantment under the sea dance — in order for the story to even be possible. We tend to focus on the potential paradoxes there, often forgetting that the affected characters have effectively had their free will’s sacrificed by whatever time-travelers happen to be meddling with their pasts. The morality of that act is under scrutiny in Wolverine and the X-Men 36, as Jason Aaron adds new players to both sides of the debate.
As the Jean Greys, Stepford Sisters, and Emma Frost are locked in telepathic battle, the rest of the X-Men square off for a fight on the physical plane. Both battles get increasingly violent, but are concluded with two quiet detentes: future Jean Grey shows past Jean Grey exactly what they’re fighting for, and future Deadpool makes a touchingly desperate plea for the future X-Men’s cause. Both seem to lead everyone to the same conclusion: the original X-Men must return to the past. But:
It seems like Jean was right all along to suspect that the X-Men of the future are hiding something. This is further corroborated when Magik takes past Hank and Bobby to a future very different from the one Deadpool describes.
I’ll freely admit that I don’t know enough about X-Men lore to know if I’m supposed to recognize a lady with glowing Wolverine claws, but I think we can all agree that Bobby as an ice-wizard and Iron Man as an X-Man are total surprises. Also: Colossus with a ‘stache. The strangest part about this timeline is that Illyana isn’t entirely sure it’s the one she just returned from — perhaps each visit to the past irrevocably changes the future, creating alternate timelines that theoretically cease to exist when replaced, thus creating one of those paradoxes I mentioned earlier.
Or, maybe the X-Men of the future are impostors. I’m not exactly sure what could be gained by going back and futzing with time (aside from betting against the X-Men in the annual A vs. X softball game, and not wanting your odds mussed up with a second Hank McCoy), so I’m not sure who else they could be, but it doesn’t seem out of the question. Hiding facts only to reveal false ones is a classic double-blind con, and I can’t think of another reason why Deadpool would lie about what the future is like.
All that is to say, I have absolutely no clue what’s going on here, but I love the heady concepts Aaron tosses off throughout this issue. If it’s okay to sacrifice our free will with the benefit of future-hindsight, shouldn’t we all just stop having free will? Shouldn’t the future X-Men be going back in time to keep Hitler from power, or to keep 1920’s investors from buying risky futures, or bringing smallpox vaccinations to 17th-century American Indians? Those would all save millions of lives, but would also have profound unforeseen consequences, just like whatever they claim to be doing now. Right, right: they probably aren’t actually trying to do what they claim to be trying to do.
Holy Cuckoos, is this event difficult to talk about. If Brian Michael Bendis truly killed time travel in the Marvel Universe with Age of Ultron, Battle of the Atom seems all about beating its corpse with a stick. I don’t think I’ve thought about the implications of time travel this much since the first time I saw Back to the Future II. I think I’m enjoying it, but I don’t think I’ve seen enough to really know where this is going. Are you as perplexed as I am, Taylor?
Taylor: Perplexed is certainly a word you could use to describe my reaction to this issue and this event, but you could also just as easily say I am frustrated by it. Just how much this can be attributed to my having just endured Age of Ultron is an interesting thought experiment. How much time can Taylor spend pondering time travel before be develops time-sickness and loses his ability to rationalize his mutual love and hatred of the idea of time travel? Speculation on time travel, and its ramifications, is always an interesting subject but the question remains after so much debate whether there is really anything interesting or profound to explore about the subject. This subject transcends the mundane plane to that of frustrating when the rules relegating time travel seem to be as fluid as those the ability to navigate time itself. In this issue we are given some ideas of what the rules of time travel might be in the Marvel universe, but as seems to always be the case, nothing is set in stone.
The bulk of this issue revolves around the fight between Mysterious-Future Jean and Past “Kid” Jean. The two enter into a silly mind battle where the the only blows dealt are those in the realm of the psyche. Throughout the fight the two trade barbs and frequent reference is made to their being the same person.
Future Jean is so bent on not letting her past self experience the horrible life she has led that she is willing to kill her past self to do it. It’s an extreme stance to take and it’s hard to rationalize the decision in any way. Killing Past Jean won’t suddenly make Future Jean’s pain go away unless her end goal is to eradicate herself as well. As we saw in the first issue of this event, kill a Past X-Man and his or her future counterpart dies (more like vanishes) as well. Drew, you mentioned how most people would probably like to confront their past selves and here that idea is taken to the extreme. It’s basically suicide and murder wrapped all into one bizarre time-twisted dish.
That being said, I’m not sure Future Jean’s decision to kill herself makes all that much sense. We that if she does she’ll end herself, but aside from that, it’s unclear what consequences her actions might produce. It seems like we might be dealing with a time-travel theory that produces multiple timelines as was seen when Beast and company travel into the future. Yet with this Jean episode it seems like we are only dealing with one. I’m not sure which to believe and I get the sneaking suspicion that the rules for time travel are just being made up as the plot progresses, which is sad because this event is entertaining in a lot of ways. However, with any science fiction story the rules for a fictional universe must be set soundly in stone to make the world believable. Without that being the case here, this X-Men story seems as shallow as the reasons for Jean trying to kill herself.
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