Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review # 100: "All-New X-Men Vol. 1 - Yesterday's X-Men"

It was the best of Bendis, it was the worst of Bendis. By chance I read the current commercial king of Marvel's run on Daredevil at about the same time as his expanded run on the Avengers. While I found his time with Earth's Mightiest Heroes in the Heroic Age to be tired, his earlier work with The Man Without Fear blew me away. BMB made the Avengers profitable again with his prior launch of "New Avengers" but by the end he ran out of creative steam.

I was uneasy yet optimistic when it was announced that Bendis would be assuming what essentially was chief creative direction for my favourite franchise, the X-Men. The strengths of Marvel's mutant universe are much more like Daredevil's than they are the Avengers'. More humanity, more complicated relationships, greater moral dilemma. If Bendis could tap into what he excelled at with Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Kingpin and company, the sky would be the limit for his time with Wolverine, Cyclops, Emma Frost and the like.

And early on, that seems to be the case.

"All-New X-Men" was launched as the new flagship X-Men title during Marvel now, reuniting Bendis with his "New Avengers" artist Stuart Immonen. While it continues the fallout of "Schism" and "Avengers vs. X-Men," it introduces a unique central element: the original team, recklessly plucked from the past by Beast in an attempt to convince Cyclops that his recent actions have betrayed his original ambition. As Scott attempts to build his own school to compete with Logan's Jean Grey Institute, he is confronted during a recruitment mission by his teenage self along with past versions of Beast, Angel, Iceman... and Jean Grey.

Jean is the absolute star of this series, as her telepathic powers - which hadn't developed yet as a teen - get kick-started by time travel. She is fierce and focused... and flabbergasted by what she's been dragged into. It isn't long until she telepathically learns what has happened to her, and based on that the original team sticks around to try to correct perceived transgressions. In a way, Jean is completely reinvented. She's become much stronger and much more confident at an early age, and it's arguably the greatest interpretation of the character to date.

The other original characters, who managed not to die on their way to adulthood, run into their own horrors. Young dreamer Cyclops is completely rebuffed by old jaded Cyclops; Young human-like Beast is confronted with old cat-like Beast whose mutation is killing him; Iceman is shocked to see that he's grown into a normal person. As for Angel... Wolverine and his faculty deliberately keep him away from his older, mindwiped self. You know THAT'S not going to over well.

Bendis finds the right voice for many of the X-Men right off the bat. There is an excellent scene between (old) Cyclops and Magneto where Erik compares Scott's actions to his own. It was fairly obvious at this point that Cyclops was being positioned as the Magneto of the new age, but this adds a strong new thought. Erik outlines a past not unlike MacBeth, saying he killed many people and despite excuses involving influence and insanity, ultimately he was responsible for his own actions. He tells Scott that he can't excuse the murder of Charles Xavier, as despite Dark Phoenix's influence in "Avengers vs. X-Men," part of Scott wanted him dead. For me, this is as good a scene as Matt Murdock's best conversations with Foggy Nelson in Bendis' "Daredevil" and a sure sign that he's on the right path here.

You aren't going to find very much in the way of plot in "Yesterday's X-Men," but for me that is A-OK. Given the moral issues hanging over the split segment of mutants, a deliberately slow pace has supreme advantages. As long as those dilemmas remain compelling, I don't see this series losing steam. And Bendis has shown with "Daredevil" that he can do just that for a long, long time.

Rating: 9/10

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