Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing All-New X-Men 34, originally released December 17th, 2014.
Taylor: It’s a thing that happens in most time and dimensional travel stories. The inevitable meeting (or in some cases near meeting) between a character and a different versions of themselves. It’s interesting to think about why this trope even exists. One possible explanation could be that since we enjoy reading about our heroes, it would be even better to have a double dose. However, seeing our beloved characters act in different ways or in different situations also is entertaining. And then there is the thought that we all wish we could meet different versions of ourselves, to see what we would be like if x happened instead of y. Whatever the reason, All-New X-Men 34 once again finds our heroes meeting different versions of themselves, but is there anything new left to say about this situation?
The X-Men have all been teleported to the Ultimate Universe Earth by a powerful mutant. Aside from the dimensional shift, the X-Men have also been separated around the globe. Ice-Man is in Atlanta fighting mole-monsters, the cops, and the heat. Laura and Warren find themselves at the birthplace of Weapon X. Beast is in Latveria enjoying dinner with Doctor Doom. Then Jean Grey is at the Xavier school meeting herself from a different dimension.
In more ways than one, this issue feels like a retread. The first and most noticeable retread of course is the meeting of Jean Grey with Jean Grey. When trying to figure out where they are, Jean and Spider-Man go to the Xavier school only to be confronted by the Ultimate X-Men. Because nothing is ever simple for Jean, she of course must confront herself. Equally curious about each other’s identity, they both zap each other’s mind out who or what exactly the other is. The result is stunning.
In a great visual format, Mahmud Asmar shows us the differences between the two Jeans. As we can see, nothing in their lives has been similar except for their red hair and constantly being fucked with by fate. This presents an interesting theory, that despite whatever time, place, or dimension she lives in Jean Grey is fated to live a life of hardship and turmoil. And while I really like this idea, it’s nothing that hasn’t been explored already in this and other X-Men titles. Not only has this Jean met other versions of herself, but she’s realized they are just as troubled as she is. Despite what this may say about the character of Jean Grey, I’m unsure of what narrative reason Brian Michael-Bendis has for revisiting this type of story.
In similar fashion, the story finds itself rehashing Hank’s story line in a way that feels a bit unnatural. As he’s dining with Doctor Doom, a truth-serum induced Beast finds himself waxing about his love for Jean.
The subplot of Beast’s love and subsequent rejection by Jean Grey has been ongoing in this title. It’s something that hasn’t been resolved yet, but it seems oddly placed within the context of this situation. Finding himself in an alternate dimension and the guest/captive of Doctor Doom, why would Beast suddenly start bemoaning his lack of love-life? It’s a motion that is not only awkward, but repetitive. Several times throughout this series we’ve visited Beast’s feelings on this subject but nothing ever moves. Either this is the slowest build-up to something ever, or it’s interjected to try and create drama. I’m not sure which it is but as it stands now it’s about as annoying and repetitive as a person complaining about their own love life but not doing anything about it.
Lest you think I’m totally dissatisfied with this issue, take heart! I included that full page with Beast up there not only to illustrate his view on Jean, but to also illustrate the wonderful color work on display by Marte Gracia. The above double-page spread has a wonderful amount of variance in its dominating color. No single color takes over the entire page. Instead, Gracia creates a vivid and dynamic backdrop but making some panels red, some green, and the center panel of Beast blue. Add to this the wonderful lighting effects on Doctor Doom and his guest and this page is simply a visual delight.
This seems to be what I noticed most about this issue. Nothing new or all that intriguing is going on in the plot, but in a number of places the art picks up the slack. Drew, do you agree or do you find the storyline more captivating? What do you think Dr. Doom has up his sleeve for Beast? Do you think any additional X-Men will meet their trans-dimensional self?
Drew: Oh, I more than agree. Beyond the redundancies you mentioned, this issue also largely rehashes the situations our heroes were left in at the end of issue 33 — Warren and Lauren are still lost, Hank is still a captive of Dr. Doom, Bobby is still on the run, and Jean is still reeling from meeting the Ultimate X-men. I appreciate that some of the pacing is a consequence of splitting the issue into four threads, and that, while the plot doesn’t advance all that much, Bendis is giving us a lot of information about the state of mutant affairs in the Ultimate Universe, but this still feels like the most Bendis-y issue I’ve ever read. Honestly, I suspect that you could skip this issue entirely, and be no worse off when picking up issue 35.
But, maybe the world-building (or in this case, world-familiarizing) is necessary. For those of us not well-versed in the Ultimate Universe, understanding that the government is anti-mutant is a key piece of information to convey. Still, the other big piece of Ultimate X-Men mythology — that mutants were invented — was pretty effectively communicated last time, making Warren and Laura’s scene here decidedly pointless.
I suppose my real issue is just that the pacing is so uneven. The typical storytelling elements are totally compartmentalized, with Bobby getting all of the world-building, Jean getting all of the plot, and Hank getting all of the emotional beats.
For what it’s worth, I actually totally believed Hank’s non sequitur launching into lamenting his romantic struggles with Jean. He’s a teenager on truth-serum, after all — it’s only a matter of time before he starts talking about his love life. I totally agree that the Hank/Jean relationship has been neglected since Bendis introduced it, but my hope is that we’re getting this reminder because it’s about to become relevant again. Of course, in a Bendis book, “about to” can still be a pretty long way off.
I love decompressed storytelling as much as the next guy, but Bendis has really seemed to throw any sense of efficiency right out the window. Rather than trusting us to read between the lines, or to integrate exposition into the actual narrative, we end up having every point repeated for us three or four times before we ever move on. I appreciate how this will help newcomers or folks who may have forgotten the details of the previous issue, but it feels like that “two-thirds summary, one actual event” gag Spider-Verse 1 made about the Spider-Man comic strip. I generally like issues to have a purpose beyond rehashing previous events.
I enjoyed my time with this issue, it just feels totally insubstantial, which I guess is the calling card of a wheel-spin-y Bendis story. It’s not bad, it’s just a little boring. The characters are still here being themselves, which is nice, but that doesn’t quite constitute a story. There might be new ideas to mine out of this inter-dimensional situation, but this issue is just not interested in new ideas.
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Oh, and on the X-Men meeting their counterparts — the Beast and Angel of the Ultimate Universe are both dead, and as far as we know, there isn’t an Ultimate Universe X-23. That leaves only Bobby to potentially run into himself, which I think we can all agree is probably the funniest scenario, anyway.
Oof, that’s a lot of specific information to not have if you’re not willing to put in the extra effort to learn about the Ultimate X-Men. I’d mostly count myself in that not-willing camp, because, you know, who cares? They’ll be back in 616 soon enough. Plus, this series is mostly focused on Jean becoming the most powerful version of herself by knowing all possible versions of Jean Grey.