Today, Ryan and Michael are discussing All-New X-Men 40, originally released April 22nd, 2015.
Ryan: All-New X-Men 40 set the internet abuzz. People who have never picked up a comic book are posting about it. Reputable media outlets such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, and even Buzzfeed wrote responses to the issue, inspiring a great deal of debate on message boards and comment sections, alike. Can you blame them? It is not every day that a seminal comic book character, one who is universally adored, receives a fresh start and is looked at with a contemporary — if not somewhat controversial — perspective. The creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mahmud A. Asrar accomplish exactly this as they reveal that (SPOILER ALERT!)…Random is back, and he brought Boom-Boom, Karma, Masque, Madison Jeffries, and Elixir with him!! Oh, and apparently young Bobby Drake is gay.
The issue begins with some amateur black-marketeers trying to cash in on whatever abandoned advanced technology remains on the now-derelict island of Utopia. However, they are, much to their chagrin, quickly murdered in an explosion by some shadowy figures. We then cut to the All-New X-Men, lolling around in the grass, united after the events of the Black Vortex cross-over. Magik arrives to reward the students with hamburgers and to inform the young’ins that she will be taking over as head instructor while Professor Kitty finishes her extra-planetary dalliances with her boy toy, Star Lord of the oh-so-popular Guardians of the Galaxy. A comment from Bobby incites an earnest discussion with Jean Grey about his sexuality and soon thereafter the recently transformed Angel finally declared his love for X-23 before we flash back over to Utopia, wherein a S.H.I.E.L.D. team makes the big discovery of the issue: the protoplasmic man with guns for hands is back!
This lineup is a dream come true for those of us who may still be hung up on the X-titles of the late eighties and early nineties. Random gained notoriety as a villain and ally to X-Force and was featured prominently during the Fatal Attractions arc, especially when he used his bio-matter projectiles to light the Acolyte named Senyaka up. Boomer’s storied history includes runs in the New Mutants, Cable’s X-Force, and Nextwave, all showcasing her ability to — um — blow things up. Some may recognize the gold-hued Omega-level healer and/or death-giver named Elixir from his time in New X-Men. Rounding out the group is the Morlock flesh-smith Masque, the technokinetic Madison Jeffries, and Karma, a veteran mind-possessor and child of the Vietnam War (who is also gay, by the by).
Yes, this cadre of renegade mutants is notable for their diverse and formidable powers, and also for the fact that they represent all of the best hologram cards from Fleer’s 1994 X-Men set. The impending conflict with the All-New X-Men when our heroes confront the Utopians over the lethal use of force should offer readers an exciting mix of clashing powers and personalities.
Lastly, to address the other thing about which people are talking, I do think it is pretty interesting that Bobby Drake is gay. Some people love the way the issue was handled, finding it even-handed and non-sensationalized. Some are crying foul and running back to the annals of comic history looking for ways to dispute this assertion, and at least one Religious Right leader views this as a means “to indoctrinate our young people to accept this destructive lifestyle.” In agreement with this leader would be the now obsolete Comic Code Authority, which once ruled publishers for over 60 years by threatening to pull distribution and would be very displeased about the discussion of what they see as “sex perversion.” One last opinion I see commonly expressed is that Bobby Drake does not actually come out; he is actually outed by Jean Grey, which some find to be a denial of his rights. While I totally understand this, I would ask them to consider: Jean is not only one of the universe’s most powerful telepaths, but she is also 16 and still learning a great deal about her powers. With this in mind, the dialogue here reads almost perfectly as to how kids that age would have that conversation — whether that be the best way to go about it or not. I value Bendis’ history of writing compelling characters, no matter their gender (Jessica Jones, Jinx), age (Ultimate Spider Man), and sexuality (Bobby Drake)!
Mutants have always been a persecuted minority over the years, and because of this have stood allegorically for numerous things, whether that be racial tensions, Communist anxieties, or someone’s personal struggle with disenfranchisement. All-New X-Men 40 does a great job of raising the curtain on the next arc in the series, raising some interesting questions about the role of sexuality in comics, and raising some of the most nostalgia-inducing characters in X-history back into the spotlight. Michael! What did you think of the issue, and how excited are you to see this handsome mug again?
Michael: Kudos for the bait and switch there in your intro Ryan. Sadly, the effect of the return of this particular group of mutants is pretty much lost on me…sorry to disappoint. When it comes to X-books I haven’t ventured very far out from the core group of X-Men. My main reaction to Random, the protoplasmic man with guns for hands is “wow…he most definitely was created in the ‘90s.”As much as I would love to have a ‘90s-fueled X-nostalgia fest, that’s not really up my alley. I CAN speak to the current state of X-books as crafted by Brian Michael Bendis so I’ll dive into that instead.
We live in a world where people read a headline and share it on their Facebook page, which leads to the many opinions about Iceman from people who might not give a shit otherwise. I didn’t do any deep dives into Bobby Drake’s past to see that “Aha! He WAS gay all along!” Because guys…that’s insane. I’m 99% sure anyone who makes that argument is full of shit unless they talk to any one person who wrote that character in the past and they said “Yes, it was my intention that Bobby was struggling with his sexuality.” It honestly doesn’t matter what happened before this; comic book characters’ histories and traits change all of the time. What matters is what happens with Bobby going forward. When you look at the overcompensating and chauvinistic Bobby written by Bendis, it’s not really surprising that he’s gay.
The news about Bobby Drake’s coming out of the closet landed before All-New X-Men 40 hit the stands, giving us only part of the story. Despite this, I have the same questions after reading the issue that I did when I first read the news. Most of my questions and hypotheses regarding Bendis’ X-Men books all go back to time travel, an essential element in his run. All-New X-Men 40 outs past Bobby Drake as gay, but still leaves it up in the air as to whether or not present Bobby Drake is or not. Instead, Jean Grey kind of assumes that present Bobby could be gay as well since he is bad at relationships (which isn’t the soundest of logic, but ok.) I’m curious if present Bobby is gay — if he isn’t, I suppose that could be written off as some form of comic booky time/space continuum breaking phenomenon. Regardless of the explanation, if past Bobby is gay and present Bobby is not, then that seems to make an indirect argument for the notion of “nature vs. nurture” in regards to an individual’s sexuality. Instead of saying that people are born gay (and/or born a mutant), it could imply that certain events in their lives made them that way. I mean, I get it: all of this is theory and conjecture based on the very little that we know right now. After all, I’m talking about the notion that a comic book could be indirectly setting back gay rights in the most minute and specific of ways. But still, the idea kind of fascinates me.
Another bit of time travelly quandary is Warren Worthington III, AKA Angel. Like many of the original X-Men from the past, Angel has learned about the TERRIBLE future that is in store and so desperately wants to blaze a different trail. Angel doesn’t want to become Archangel, Dark Angel and/or the brainless pretty boy he becomes afterward. I was trying to do some research on the current whereabouts of present Angel and started to wonder: “Are we going to get to a point when all of these time-traveling original X-Men get their own Wikipedia pages?” It’s a silly phrasing of the question, but valid nonetheless. We’re at the end of Bendis’ X-Men run and it doesn’t look like the All-New X-Men are returning back to their original timeline; in fact, they are planting more and more roots in the present. I will be interested to see the continuing divergences the young X-Men make in their careers.
Lastly I’ll mention something that bugged me for no reason at all. Comic book artists are on a deadline and the have to be economical; I understand this. But for some reason this duplication of panels by Mahmud Asrar annoyed me. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it while reading it on my computer if the background color didn’t change. Oh well, just a little thing that came to my attention!
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?