Story – Brian Michael Bendis
Art – Stuart Immonen
As someone who never read an X-Men title with any consistency, and as someone who always felt at a loss where to jump into this world, I am thrilled that Marvel Now! has given us newbies All-New X-Men. In this third installment of the new series, Brian Michael Bendis is in complete control of this story, and based on the perfect pace and terrific plotting and dialogue, my hopes for this book are now astronomical. The first two issues were predominantly set-up; filling in readers about Cyclops’s budding revolution with Magneto, the death of Professor X, the Phoenix Force, and Beast’s time-bending retrieval of the original X-Men from the distant past. This issue is where I feel we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty, the implications and consequences of the remarkable set-up of the first two issues.
This book is positively cinematic. The dialogue is snappy and believable and drives the story forward effectively. The characters are lush, fully-realized, and fascinating. The art is gorgeous and lucid, and the action scenes are stunning. It’s a bit disorienting to see Cyclops and Magneto on the same team, and even stranger when Magneto asks Cyclops, “What do we do now?” That’s not really a question I’d expect from Magneto, but it just goes to show how high Cyclops’s star has risen in the mutant revolution, whether you find it a just cause or not.
And that’s where this story really takes hold of my attention. Bendis is doing a great job of not turning Cyclops and Magneto into outright immoral villains incapable of any kind of sympathy or understanding. The story is being framed in a far more morally ambiguous fashion. It reminds me of Marvel’s Civil War event. The “right” side was never clearly given to us; both sides had compelling arguments and reasons for taking their respective side. Spider-Man exemplified this ambiguity by waffling on which side he was on, picking a side, and then eventually changing his mind! The same feeling of ambiguity is present here. Honestly, I’m not sure who I support right now. I believe in Professor X’s style and the way the X-Men rise above reactionary violence and hatred, but at the same time, I can sympathize with Cyclops’s and Magneto’s methods. Cyclops has fought for mutant rights Professor X’s way for a long, long time. And where has it gotten him? It sounds like he’s fed up. He’s reached the point that Magneto had reached in his youth.
Through all this, though, it’s obvious that Cyclops believes what he’s doing is for the greater good. He begs Emma Frost, “Emma! I can make this right. You know I can. You know I will.” Bendis is writing Cyclops in such a wonderfully complete and full way. He feels very human and real to me. Magneto as well. After Cyclops and Magneto realize the Phoenix has damaged their mutant abilities and their capacity to control their powers with the expertise they’re used to, Magneto gives Cyclops a fascinating philosophical lesson in responsibility for our actions, especially those which cause us the most guilt, which we’d prefer to blame on forces beyond our control. Cyclops is a leader, but he stops short of owning up to his own motives. Magneto, being more experienced in the ways of force, has no illusions about his motivations and desires, and how he manifests such things in the real world, and his own responsibility. This is some of the finest comic book writing I’ve seen in a very long time. Bendis clearly thinks beyond simple action and plot; he’s considering the philosophical ramifications of his characters’ actions. There is plenty of action in this book. In fact, the action is some of this books’ finest moments; it’s exciting, unexpected, and raises the stakes. But amid the explosions and superpowers, we’re being told a story about how our motives develop and change as we get older, how we can lose our way in the pursuit of something we believe in so desperately, or what we think is the “greater good,” taking responsibility for our sins, and the conflict between an idealistic past and a cynical, pragmatic present. This is all very heady stuff, but Bendis weaves it so seamlessly into the plot that it doesn’t come off forced or heavy-handed. The big ideas are there just by virtue of the plot being so solid.
The end of this issue has set the stage for more action, and likely more conflict between the past and the present. I have a sneaking feeling that after the past and future Cyclops’s end up fighting one another (you know that’s coming), maybe the Cyclops of the past will be so shell-shocked by the future that he’ll start to see how and why he developed into the current Cyclops. That may not be Bendis’s direction, but Cyclops having to consider his own feelings and examine the motives and goals of his future self, seems inevitable. Regardless, Brian Michael Bendis has a stellar plot on his hands, with vast philosophical and moral implications. And he is aided by Stuart Immonen’s beautifully rendered images. All-New X-Men is a comic book that stands above its contemporaries for its skillful writing and big ideas. This story is not just entertaining, but one of the more important books in the Marvel Universe right now. It truly is a fascinating and challenging story. I’m thrilled that Bendis will also be writing Marvel’s flagship X-Men title in February, Uncanny X-Men. That only guarantees that whatever becomes of the X-Men and Cyclops’s revolution, it will be in very able hands. I would not have envied a writer who would have to compete with what Bendis is doing with All-New. The mutant revolution is coming. And I can’t wait to see where it takes us.