Having the original X-Men -- Scott, Jean, Hank, Warren and Bobby -- travel through time to see what has become of their future selves is nothing if not clever. Even if mainstream superhero comics thrive on “the illusion of change” there’s still no denying that some of these characters have drifted quite far from their original characterizations. That Cyclops is now running an outlaw group of X-Men feels like a natural extension of his character arc over the past few years sums it all up and proves to be the main catalyst for the story here. This is all the idea of Brian Michael Bendis as he’s now steering the “X-Men” in the same way that he did for the “Avengers” over the past several years. With this first volume we get some solid writing, a few good ideas, and fantastic art from the always-excellent Stuart Immonen. It’s just about enough to cover for the fact that this is really the first part in a much larger story as opposed to being a complete one in itself.
After escaping from prison in the aftermath of “Avengers Vs. X-Men” Cyclops has established his own team, seen here as consisting of Emma Frost, Magneto and Magik. With this group he has set about recruiting new mutants whose powers have manifested in ways that have seen them detained by local law enforcement and government agencies. The X-Men at the Jean Grey School see this and wring their hands in frustration at what their former leader is doing to the state of human/mutant relations and their inability to do anything about it lest they set off a mutant civil war. Except for Beast, that is. After a stray remark from Iceman about how shocked the Scott Summers who first joined the X-Men would be to see his future self, Beast gets the idea to travel back in time and have the original team come forward to try and stop this madness. Yes, it’s an idea that has horrible repercussions for the space-time continuum, but when you’re like Beast and facing death due to further complications from your secondary mutation, these things seem awfully appealing.
There are several moments that really sell what Bendis is trying to do here. The conversation between Beast, Storm, Iceman and Kitty Pryde about what to do in this impossible situation really sets up the problem with Cyclops’ actions and their own situation quite nicely. Beast’s concession to Iceman about “being right” is also clever too. Magneto calling Cylops on his denial about being responsible for killing Professor Xavier, amongst other things, is particularly effective in the way that he cites his own experience with madness here. Cyclops’ decompressed internal monologue upon seeing his younger self and time-travelling teammates really captures the trauma of the moment as he tries to figure out whether or not he has finally lost his mind. Then there’s the fantastic two-page spread when young Jean looks into Beast’s mind to find out what has happened to her in the intervening years and we get a comprehensive look at the character’s defining moments in visual form.
In addition to these, there are also plenty of clever asides thrown in throughout the volume. Iceman and his younger self screaming whenever they see each other. Wolverine giving a lecture about what to do when faced with a ninja master and subsequently falling prey to Jean’s skills. Beast replying, “Which time?” to Jean’s question about when she dies. What I’m getting at here is that there’s a lot of good stuff here, except that it exists in moments. The main narrative thread that’s supposed to carry this title -- having the younger X-Men confront Cyclops -- only gets one scene here. It’s clear from the way things are structured that this is going to be an ongoing concern with this title so the issues here are really just setting up things rather than telling a clearly defined story. However, it’s those “good moments” that get me to give Bendis the benefit of the doubt here in his approach and enjoy what’s here for what it is.
That’s not to say that it’s all good here. One of the plot threads introduced with this volume involves Cyclops, Emma and Magneto’s powers malfunctioning (for lack of a better word) due to their exposure to the Phoenix force. Bendis clearly sees this as a way to add tension to their struggle, but these people are already global outlaws, hated by members of their own kind, and their leader is faced with the idea of his younger self calling him out on everything he’s done in recent memory. I honestly think that’s enough tension as it is and having their powers break down on top of things just seems unnecessary to me.
Also an issue, though a minor one, is his handling of Emma Frost’s dialogue. Though Bendis does a decent enough job with the rest of the cast, he doesn’t even try to approximate her proper English tone. Either he just didn’t want to do it or was just being lazy about it. As such, though the character’s innate bitchiness is still on display it’s not anywhere near as entertaining.
I’d say more about Immonen’s art here, but I’d just be reiterating the fact that I think he’s one of the best superhero artists out there. The man’s work adds an essential vibrancy to the proceedings and I’m certain that I wouldn’t have enjoyed things as much without it.
Overall, this first volume of “All-New X-Men” is a good start to the series and Bendis’ tenure with the characters. I like the idea of Cyclops leading his own outlaw team, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the time-travelling X-Men adapt to living in the future and what has become of them in the intervening years. Though this story could be extended indefinitely, it can really only end one way: the younger team gets mindwiped and sent back to the past. Based on that, I certainly hope that Bendis has a plan for the story he wants to tell here and doesn’t stretch things out too long. That said, if you’re a fan of the writer and the characters then you’ll find more good than bad to appreciate here.