REVIEW: All-New X-Men #6

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Or – “Still Not Sure How I Feel About This Idea…”

I have recently realized something very odd that part of me already knew: Marvel Comics is always playing a short-term game.  It should really have been obvious during the era of Avengers Assembled, or when Spider-Man’s identity was public knowledge for a year or two, but the editorial stance at the House of Ideas has openly become one of “Do some wacky stuff and we’ll pick up the pieces later.”  To that end, we’ve gotten some great stories (parts of Fear Itself, the first thirty-odd issues of New Avengers, and a portion of Amazing Spider-Man, Hickman’s Fantastic Four stuff) and some stories that we’d all like to forget.  (Civil War is the most obvious example for me.)  Will the high concept of “time-traveling teenage X-Men in the 21st Century” stand with the likes of Invincible Iron Man, or are we in New Warriors territory?  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

X-MenCoverALL-NEW X-MEN #6
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Marquez
Cover Artist(s): Stuart Immonen/WadeVon Grawbadger/Marte Gracia
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Editor: Nick Lowe
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in All-New X-Men:  Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Henry McCoy stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished… He woke to find himself in the past, facing mirror images that were once his own and driven against his own better instincts to change history for the better…  And so Dr. Beckett finds himself foolishly bringing his friends, the founding members of the X-Men, to the present, trying to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next mutation won’t look like Tony The Tiger.

I’M AFRAID OF TOO MANY BENDIS-ISMS…

Brian Bendis is a writer with whose work I have a particularly tumultuous love/hate relationship.  This issue opens quite well, with Jean Grey suddenly confronted by Magneto and the crazy grown-up version of her boyfriend Cyclops, both of whom warn her that “they” are coming to get her.  It’s a great, kinetic opening sequence, and even when it starts to devolve into dream logic, it makes perfect sense.  She awakens to find that her telekinesis has wrecked her entire room, and that headmistress Kitty Pryde has arrived to try to counsel her.  On the one hand, I really love this interaction, hearkening back to the X-Men tales of my youth, but I find myself confused by how much “Marvel Time” has actually passed.  Kitty is roughly twenty-ish, according to the last time I paid attention, but Jean seems to be a girl of roughly fourteen.  As my brain tries to do the math on that, Cyclops flips out and steals Wolverine’s motorcycle (a clear riff on Wolverine doing the same in the first X-Men movie, right down to the Hugh Jackman leather jacket that he also horks), abandoning the constant side-glances and awkward moments that the student body of Xavier’s gives him.  Artistically, David Marquez does a very good job here, following in Immonen’s footsteps effortlessly, giving us recognizable characters with great facial expressions, and delivering a dead-on traffic-stopping version of Storm, who arrives just in time to tell little Jeanie that the other team members are following her lead, making her the de facto leader of the team.  (How that works with the half-dozen other X-teams out there, or even the fact that Storm has a mohawk in X-Force is left unexamined…)

SOME MORE BLATANT X-MEN MOVIE REFERENCES…

Wolverine follows Babyclops into Salem Center, and their interaction is weird on nearly every level.  Wolverine goes back and forth from supportive big brother to berzerker-threatening-murder far too quickly for my tastes, and Scott’s problems adapting to the reality of the 21st Century are a bit too meta.  If we presume for a moment that these X-Men actually came from 1963, then the references and jokes are pretty solid, but making that presumption leads to all sorts of other problems with the book (notably a grown-up Cyclops being eligible for Medicare.)  There’s no real attempt here to explain it, which leaves part of my brain doing math throughout the whole issue.  While I like the idea of young Cyclops playing against type, it just underlines the problems with adult Cyclops becoming such a ridiculously Flanderized stick-in-the-mud in the first place.  The meeting of young Angel and grown Archangel is wonderfully realized (although I didn’t realize that Archangel had gone quite so ‘Flowers For Algernon’ in his characterization after the traumas of Uncanny X-Force) and the issue ends on an ominous note that, sadly, overdoes the trademark Bendis dialogue.  (It sounds pretty awkward coming out of the mouth of Mystique, for certain.)

THE BOTTOM LINE: INTERESTING, BUT STILL TROUBLING.

The biggest problem with this story for me is the coyness about the timelines, with meta-jokes being played out about how long ago 1963 was when the characters can’t really have been much further back than the Clinton administration, given their ages.  (That’s presuming that Cyclops was 15 or 16 at the founding of the X-Men and is over 30 now.  If he’s supposed to be in his late twenties, we’re looking at more turn-of-the-century origins for the All-Old X-Men.)  The problem certainly isn’t insurmountable, and there’s a lot of charm here to cover up any gaps in the timeline, as well as some very smooth art.  Kitty and Wolverine playing mentor to the characters who were their senior back in the Claremont/Byrne days works quite well, and all in all, I stayed engaged throughout the book. All-New X-Men #6 is a head-scratcher in some ways, but it’s an interesting take on the characters (even if I wonder when they’ll press the reset button) earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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