Friday, January 11, 2013

Marvel NOW Impressions: All-New X-Men

Marvel Comics response to DC's New 52, dubbed "Marvel NOW", has only been going for a few months - but so far has been a successes. With the promise of long-term and dedicated creative teams, Marvel is producing some of their best work in years.

I already speculated on where the time-jumping "All New X-Men" might be taking the Original X-Men, - but what I wasn't prepared for was the start of a stellar new era in X-Men comics. Brian Michael Bendis has taken over the book, with Uncanny X-Men (also written by him) coming soon. With double shipping, 5 issues have already come out -- and already I can see how impressive this New X-Men era is going to be. Bendis has always been heavy on dialogue and character development - which seems well suited to the X-Men, and their soap-opera style storytelling. It really feels like a revival of what made the X-Men great - not only by looking back into the past, and what made the X-Men great, but by using that past to drive forward the narrative of the X-Men.

In the early days on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's X-Men, there was a rush to find and recruit any new mutants that where discovered. Magneto espoused a philosophy of making the humans fear mutants - seeing himself and his Brotherhood as the superior species. Xavier espoused coexistence between man and mutant - and teaching young mutants in the use of their abilities. That frame-work is once again in play - but with very different players on either side.

Wolverine and Cyclops had a fundamental split, forcing Wolverine to open a new school - the Jean Grey Academy, in opposition to Cyclops mounting and dangerous mutant militant philosophy. After being possessed by the Phoenix force, and nearly destroying the world, Cyclops is now the most wanted man in the world - and has brought a new level of hatred against mutants to the forefront. What Cyclops did succeed in, though, was reviving the mutant race -- with the once extinct X-Gene being revived around the world.

Cyclops is intent on continuing his mission, of recruiting and helping new mutants -- but, to everyone else, he's the new face of mutant terrorism.

The analogy of the X-Men as terrorists is a really inspired one, and takes one half of the group in very interesting (if immoral) directions. Completely disgusted by the path Cyclops has taken, Henry McCoy (aka the Beast) has taken the dramatic step to bring Cyclops to his senses: by bringing back the original X-Men into the future, to show Cyclops how far he's actually fallen. Why would Beast risk the fabric of space-time to do this? From the start of Bendis' story, Beast is dying -- a new phase of his mutation is occurring, and it will likely kill him. Before he dies, Beast hopes his time-traveling jaunt will snap Cyclops out of his pattern of self-destruction.

The original X-Men are, quite naturally, shocked by what they see has become of their lives in the future. Cyclops sees himself as a mutant terrorist, Beast sees his future self dying, and Jean Grey finds that she is no longer alive in this era. Bendis seems to have a bit of fun in the case of Iceman meeting himself; and Angel finds it disturbing no one is talking about what happened to him.

With the help of his younger self, Beast is able to avert his imminent death - allowing for a successful evolution in his mutation. I really loved the cat-like Beast, introduced during Grant Morrison's run on X-Men - but he has once again changed, now in the larger more ape-like state. It's not necessarily a bad change, but I think quite a few people where disappointed to see the cat-Beast look go away.

The young time-displaced X-Men decide to stay, with Kitty Pryde volunteering to supervise the group while in this era. Jean Grey and her group are ok with being mind-wiped, and sent back to the past - but not before they try and right things in the future here-and-now. Already the older Cyclops has been confronted with his younger self - and the meeting did not go well. Its going to be quite exciting to see where the story goes - especially as new areas of X-Men history are examined from a fresh perspective.

Uncanny X-Men, from what we've been shown so far, is shaping up to be an equally impressive title as well. Cyclops, joined by Emma Front, Magneto, and Magick, are building a rival school to Wolverine's -- the new Xavier School for the Gifted, built in the former labs of Weapon X. (The last place, its figured, anyone would look for mutants on the run) There is an added challenge to Cyclops' new team; his team are experiencing dangerous side-effects from their exposure to the Phoenix Force. Cyclops suddenly cannot control the power of his eye blasts - and Magneto is loosing fine control of his magnetic powers. (Why Magneto was added to this list - I simply don't know. He was never possessed by the Phoenix Force... Though I suppose he did hang around with them a lot, during that exposure.)

Its very early, but thats how excited I've felt about this new era of X-Men comics. The relevancy, soap-opera style drama, and action presented in this title has thus far been astounding. It should also be noted, artist Stuart Immonen is doing THE BEST art of his entire carrier. I only hope he comes back for another story arch with Bendis. Uncanny X-Men will relaunch with a new #1, as drawn by Chris Bachalo. Its rare, and very enjoyable, to once again have X-Men titles, where you can't wait for the next issue to come out.

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