By: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Artist), Wade Von Grawbadger (Inker), Marte Gracia (Colorist), Cory Petit (Letterer)
The Review: Believe it or not, I actually tend to judge most aspects of my life with 10 year old Matt Sargeson in mind. “Would my younger self be happy with the possessions I have accrued all these years later,” I ask myself. I take a glance at the comics, the action figures, the video games and my beautiful, beloved Hot Toys and decide that yes, his chubby little face would no doubt fill with joy at the sight of all these cool and geeky belongings. Would he mind that I spend my evenings writing about comics rather than writing them? I reckon so, just about. Would he be disgusted that I still don’t own a Goddamn Hoverboard yet!? Abso-frickin’-lutely. As such, when young Scott Summers hears that his older-self will go on to perpetrate mutant hate crimes and kill Professor X, I can totally understand why he’s ready to flip the %#!% out. Ah Scott, I feel for ya buddy.
This issue picks up directly from the events of last month, and sees Bendis sink his teeth into the real meat of the time travel element of the story; not so much the how’s (a Reed Richards/Von Doom contraption does the heavy lifting) as the why’s, and a whole bunch of follow-up questions that the First Class of X-Men are left with after arriving several years in the future at the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning. A lot of the important ‘first meetings’ occur here, featuring a pleasing variety in tone between them. Iceman meeting Iceman is a particularly funny scene, while Wolverine’s revulsion at a Scott Summers of any age being on school grounds takes the form of a burst of feral aggression. His reaction to Jean being back, while left until the end of the issue, also reminds that Bendis has some truly poignant moments to mine in those characters’ future interactions.
To my mind the young X-Men’s candour in response to the situation is pitched perfectly, just the right balance of awe and scepticism. It helps that the First Class team feel like much more of a tighter, cohesive unit than the wider cast of oft-quibbling X-Men do of late. Though stranded in the future it’s great to see that their training and reliance on finely-tuned team work has set them in good stead for this adventure, and their simple yet heartfelt belief in Xavier’s dream is refreshing after years of seeing the concept take a kicking. “I want peace between the humans and mutants,” remarks Scott, “I want it with every fibre of my being.” For the first time in a long time it’s impossible not to believe him.
The show really belongs to Jean Grey and Beast though. Jean because… well, she’s Jean; strong-willed, awesomely powerful (or getting there at least), compassionate, level-headed. If Bendis was going to bring her back he needed to write the character with the depth and integrity sufficient enough to bear the weight of all that fan anticipation and uncertainty – on this evidence, he seems to have pulled it off faultlessly. Meanwhile Beast shines as, perhaps, an enthralling contradiction that proves the more things change, the more they stay the same. In some ways Hank has changed more than any other mutant in the history of the X-books, yet still his belief in Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence remains, even if it kills him. It’s an emotional hook that brings his fellow X-Men of both eras together, and has me – a fairly indifferent spectator of the character up to this point – fully invested in seeing how or even if he manages to survive to see the end of the story.
And, of course, backing all of this up so brilliantly is the art team of Immonen, Von Grawbadger and Gracia. I’m still amazed at how their rendering of Beast makes a giant talking Cat manage to seem so fresh, cool and believable, but I’m newly amazed at how they manage to serve such a hectic script so dutifully. The First Class outfits seem retro but plausible and don’t look silly when juxtaposed with their modern counterparts; the panel composition does a brilliant job of breaking down this dialogue-heavy issue into well-paced, dynamic blasts; the little telling glances and subtle but important facial expressions are masterfully handled (on this front, between Immonen, David Marquez and Sara Pichelli, Bendis must be in heaven). Just first rate stuff all round, a truly premium treatment for a truly flagship book.
Conclusion: It’s an interesting time to be reading the works of Bendis. He’s at a point where at one end of the comic shelf he can be seen running his victory lap on the Avengers, while at the other end his tenure as the chief architect of the X-books is only just beginning. If he can be said to have run out of steam on the former (and who can blame him after nearly a decade of constant Avenging?), it’s invigorating to see him write with such energy and enthusiasm on his latest project.
If nothing else, All New X-Men is proving to be a timely reminder that when Bendis’ interest peaks – when he’s fully enthused and stimulated by the challenges put before him – he’s hard to beat. Luckily for us, it is something else: a high concept story with all manner of open-ended possibilities as to what will happen next, stocked with a diverse cast of well-rounded and beautifully illustrated characters placed into some fascinating situations. Above all, it’s great comics, and surely one of the brightest stars in the Marvel NOW! firmament.