Today,Taylor and Drew are discussing Uncanny X-Men 600, originally released November 4th, 2015.
Taylor: In my junior year of college I took a creative writing course that required each student to have at least one of their stories workshopped. This involved everyone in the class reading your story and then picking it apart in front of you during class. All the things your peers thought about your story, both good and bad, came out during this process. I remember it being a humbling and somewhat traumatic experience. It’s hard to put something you created out there in the world for everyone to scrutinize and it takes a thick skin to not let the negative comments beat you down. In Uncanny X-Men 600, the final of writer Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the series, Beast is put on trial by his peers for actions. In doing so he attempts to defend his actions and those of the author who gives him life.
Now that all of the X-Men are in one place (for once) and relatively at peace, it’s time to take stock of what has happened over the past couple of months. Looking at all of the temporal displacement, the X-Men as a whole come to the conclusion that Beast is out of control with his meddling of timelines and science. They have an intervention to try and make Beast see that he is causing more problems than solving. Needless to say, this confrontation doesn’t go well. Beast feels he is on trial and before long all the X-Men depart to listen to a special Scott Summers’ announcement.
In many ways this issue is all about cleaning house and putting a punctuation mark at the end of Bendis’s run on Uncanny. What that punctuation mark is, is probably best determined by each individual reader, but for my money it seems like solid period at the end of sentence. Uncanny has been winding down literally for months now so this final issue of Bendis’ doesn’t feel so much like an exclamation point as it does the logical conclusion of something telegraphed for weeks now.
Being an ending, Bendis takes the opportunity to defend the choices he made about this series’ story line. This defense comes in the guise of Beast, who for all intents and purposes represents Bendis’ stamp on the series. After all, without Beast’s meddling, much — if not all — of this series would not have happened. His list of offenses include violating the following:
Those three offenses basically sum up the entirety of the Uncanny story line during Bendis’ run on the title. Given that, it’s hard not to see Bendis putting his voice into Beasts mouth. Undoubtedly there have been critics to this series (myself included) and naturally there are those who dislike the fact that time travel has played such an integral role in the plot. However, Bendis’ (via Beast) reply to those who criticize his choices is delightful in its candor.
This is a hilarious response to haters who are happy to see Bendis pack his bags and move on to other projects. More than that, I find it a wonderful insight into the psyche of a man who has become synonymous with the X-Men and who probably has heard more than his fair share of criticism. It makes me enjoy Bendis all the more because it lets me see who he is as a person and not just an author. Here’s someone who is who has probably had his work torn apart by editors, critics, and fans alike but who triumphantly tells them all to fuck off. It makes me happy to see an artist so surly and combative in the face of adversity for if he can handle it, maybe we all can as well.
These moments where Beast defends his actions are by far the most entertaining of the issue. Throughout other parts of the story we see mini-flashbacks that end many of the hanging thread story lines. Of these, none stands out as being particularly entertaining or interesting. Ice Man’s confrontation with himself about his sexuality probably will raise the most eyebrows since it’s dealing with a hot-button issue but the scene itself is a little clumsy if not uncomfortable. When has it ever been OK to confront someone about their sexual orientation, even if that person happens to be you from another timeline? While the scene ends happily enough, I’m not sure I approve of two characters pouncing on another demanding questions about why he’s been in the closet for a number of years.
Scenes like this mixed with the Beast scenes mentioned above have come to typify Bendis’ work on this Uncanny. A lot of scenes are good or great with a few that fall short of expectation. Sometimes this is due to humor that falls flat and sometimes it’s due to awkward pacing. However, I’ve always appreciated how Bendis strives to make these X-Men characters real people with real emotions, problems, and relationships. That being said, as Beast storms off, leaving the X-Men calling in his wake I feel like I’ll be calling after Bendis when the next Uncanny issues are published. While the new issues may be fun, they’ll certainly be missing that certain flair and charm.
Drew, how do you feel about Bendis’ swan song? I found the issue itself to be a little underwhelming and the ending itself to be a somewhat confusing. What’s your take? Also, there is a whole mess of artists who helped make this issue possible. Are there any who you particularly enjoyed seeing again?
Drew: All of the artists turned in fantastic work here, but there’s a special place in my heart for Stuart Immonen. I tend to associate him more with All-New X-Men than Uncanny, but any way you slice it, he was an integral player in the last several years of X-Men. As much as I loved seeing all of these artists return, some of the transitions were a little jarring, particularly when Chris Bachalo — every bit as key a player as Immonen — changes Kitty’s costume in his segment. It’s a minor bobble, but costuming becomes an important identifier when artists are changing within an issue. It’s not about catching continuity errors, it’s about making sure the audience knows who’s talking, and that costume switch was enough to trip me up.
Taylor, I can definitely see what you mean about Beast acting as Bendis’ surrogate — particularly when he’s having criticism heaped on him — but it’s hard for me to believe that Bendis agrees with his actions here. Beast is given every opportunity to explain how what he did isn’t as bad as everyone is saying, but his only defense boils down to “you’re too stupid to understand.” That’s not an argument anyone should hang their hat on, but certainly not as a kind of statement of purpose. More importantly, the criticism isn’t coming from anonymous trolls, but from Beast’s closest friends. They’re not trying to silence him or to imprison him, they just want to make their feelings known and ask for an explanation. Beast refusing to do that makes it hard to imagine anyone really seeing themselves in his shoes.
Actually, as much as Bendis loves monkeying with time travel, it’s also easy to see the criticisms the X-Men lobby at Beast as being about Marvel at large. This issue lands in the wake of Secret Wars, where the laws of physics, the space-time continuum, and genetics have all been perverted to change the universe in ways that many long-time fans may not like or understand. I maintain that Beast acts as a terrible surrogate — a productive dialogue or even metered explanation is better than the defensive antagonism he adopts here — but maybe this is more of a fantasy than a statement of purpose.
I guess the biggest reason I don’t see this as a defense of Beast is the final page, where Eva Bell confronts him privately. She tells him about a trial she’s heard about in the future, and wonders if this was it, or if something bigger is awaiting Hank. Its enough to put Hank on the run, but it’s not totally clear what he’s running from: is it the fear of an actual trial, or the fear that he might do something worse to warrant such a thing? It’s a poignant moment of ambiguity, but it hinges on Hanks fear that what he did might not have been the right thing.
Taylor, I also enjoyed the scene with the two Bobbies much more than you did. I absolutely agree that it would never be okay to confront someone about their sexuality in this way, but I think the fact that they are the same person does make this different. To me, this is less about someone accusing their friend of being gay than it is about someone wrestling with their own sexuality in a kind of internal dialogue. Moreover, I think young Bobby owed it to old Bobby to have this conversation before he came out publicly, since that wold obviously raise questions about old Bobby’s sexuality. It’s an interesting portrait of how attitudes regarding homosexuality have changed — a kid today might feel comfortable coming out, but that same kid twenty years ago might have decided it was easier to just pretend to be straight. Bobby’s “I was too busy to allow myself to be happy” explanation doesn’t explain why he would go through the trouble of having heterosexual relationships, but I found enough of his story believable to accept a kind of soft retcon.
This issue was littered with other great little scenes that resolve long-simmering tensions, from the budding romance between young Hank and Jean to the reunion of the siblings Rasputin. My favorite detail, though, has to be the inclusion of Doop in the midst of the super-serious intervention.
Doop’s just worried about his friend, you guys.
Taylor, I think it’s interesting that we had very different reads on this issue, but still both enjoyed it. I think that speaks to the power of the X-Men — you may not like or agree with every character, but there’s bound to be a few that appeal to you. This issue manages to make time for quite a few of those characters, giving them meaty scenes where their personalities shine through. That makes this issue an ideal capstone of sorts for Bendis’ run — it’s a hell of a note to end on.
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?