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All New X-Men #1 Review

By: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Artist), Wade Von Grawbadger (Inker), Marte Gracia (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer)

The Review: Even amongst a crowded week of high profile releases, All New X-Men easily stands out as the most controversial of the lot. Its grand concept alone raised a few eyebrows as soon as the title was announced – a time travel story seeking to bring the original first class of X-Men face-to-face with their modern day counterparts (a living, breathing, pre-Phoenix Jean Grey included). Then, as time wore on, it became clear that Cyclops’ role in proceedings would be far removed from the heroic leader and moral compass that fans and fellow X-Men alike had rallied around for decades.

And then there was Bendis. While I’m mindful not to try and speak for a whole cross-section of fandom, the feeling I got was that though the divisive writer hadn’t really set foot in this corner of the Marvel universe before, the X-community were quite happy for things to stay that way. I guess I can see why. Yes, All New X-Men features far more talking than punching, and yes, a major character’s death is teased from pretty much the opening page; these and other Bendis trademarks are in full effect. But on the other hand I think Bendis is at his best when, as with Ultimate Spider-Man and sometimes The Avengers, a book presents him with a strong family dynamic with which he can craft powerful hooks to pull at your heart-strings; and family dynamics don’t come much stronger than those within the X-Men.

This issue certainly proves that with its focus on Beast, a perfect choice of character to underpin this particular story. Having been a fellow X-Man and close friend of Scott Summers from the beginning, his motivations for going to any and all lengths to lead Scott back onto the right path are obvious and heartfelt. And wow, how Scott has wandered. We see him here basically fronting a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, openly on the attack against the humans making moves to persecute or imprison the first batch of newly-manifesting mutants since the events of AvX.

Determined not to allow his fellow X-Men to meet Scott’s violent actions with yet more violence, Beast decides that Iceman (of all people) has the best idea about how to solve the problem: “The Scott we grew up with—he would hate this. He would slap the holy crap out of the Scott we have now and he wouldn’t stop slapping him.” With that in mind Hank McCoy travels to the past to try and enlist the help of the proto-X-Men in resolving the problem. I’m gonna go out on a furry blue limb here and predict that after a follow-up issue’s worth of deliberating they’ll probably sign right up.

So, that’s pretty much the sum total of events in #1, and as you can tell it’s heavy on the exposition. In this case I think that’s a good thing; as far as twists on established franchises go this is a big one, and certainly the most dramatic yet from the Marvel Now! relaunch. With the book being released bi-monthly (which may irk some considering the $3.99 price tag) I think it’s reasonable to give it a little time to carefully lay its foundations. It’s also scripted with a lot of heart and a strong sense of Bendis having a firm grip on the characters – Beast’s situation (his mutation is once again evolving) is framed in a potent climate of heartbreak, and Scott’s new role is a believable mix of broken pariah and over-zealous fanatic. Worry not X-fans, it doesn’t look like Bendis is looking to Phantom Menace your franchise into the ground any time soon.

Marvel has also given this title the best of chances with a terrific choice of art team. Immonen and Von Grawbadger are the textbook definition of ‘well-oiled machine’ at this point, but even then they seem to be revitalised anew by the challenges this issue presents. Beast’s redesign is fantastic, but so is everything else – the blasts of mutant power, the hectic Brotherhood attacks, the jump back to the 60/70/80s(?)-era X-men… there are, as far as I can see, no bad points, and Marte Gracia’s colors diligently apply the polish to this undoubtedly premium veneer. It’s fittingly exceptional work for such a prominent title and assuredly gets the series off to a convincing start.

Conclusion: For some readers it’ll be hard to remember a time before Brian Michael Bendis seemed omnipresent at Marvel, tirelessly scripting away at the forefront of the publisher’s most high-profile properties. Even so, the X-books never really seemed to interest him. Was this perceived distance to the franchise reason enough to inspire the scepticism engendered by his appointment to All New X-Men? Or was it that his involvement surely meant only one thing: no more living in isolation – it’s time for the mutants to tow the company line, to be subject to the same vagaries of synergy and commercial prominence as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Whatever baggage you may be tempted to bring with you into All New X-Men #1, it’s important to accept this comic (hell, every comic) at face value, and with that said I think this is a pretty terrific read. The storytelling on offer, from script to art to lettering, is operating at a highly refined level, with Bendis moving various pieces into position that could easily see this story spiral out in any one of several different directions. Whichever path is taken, I get the feeling that this could just turn out to be something special – there seems to be heartbreak and hurt (built on good old-fashioned character work) on the horizon, and if Bendis can accomplish that in spite of all the time travel and controversy he’ll have achieved a real coup. From the characters’ perspective the future might not be looking too bright, but for All New X-Men it’s looking reassuringly positive.

Grade: B+

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4 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Matt Sargeson's Blog.

  2. Got to pick this one up.

  3. Great Review. And I think Immonen’s work is most of the reason I enjoyed it. Beast is my favorite comic hero, so I’m a sucker for a) a story revolving around him, and b) a beast drawn well. And holy hell, does Immonen draw a fantastic Hank McCoy.

    • I also thought that Marte Gracia’s colors were quite strong. And I think he’s a new addition to Marvel. I swear, Marvel keeps finding the best colorists in comics (well, other than Dave Stewart and Brian Buccellato): Matt Hollingsworth, Justin Ponsor, Dean White, Bettie Breitweiser, Sunny Gho, Jordie Bellaire (who’s newer, but awesome), Rain Beredo, Paul Mounts….Marvel’s stable of colorists is ridiculous and when they find new talent out of nowhere like Gracia and Bellaire (or Cris Peter), it’s no wonder.

      I actually think that DC might actually have the slightly stronger roster of artists, but Marvel totally merc them when it comes to colorists.

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