I’ll be the first to admit that, quite frequently, superhero books can get far too “comicky”. You know, those unconsciously-agreed-upon tropes that fit under the umbrella of being far too out there, far too camp or just far too far towards the furthest faryness. To say a work is “over the top” is one thing, but to say it’s too comicky is like “over the top and up to 11”.
I like a good overpowered narrative as much as the next slacker, and I’ll admit I take no small amount of lazy joy from occasionally just reading overblown, “we must save the world or reality is doooooooomed!” stories. Guilty pleasures like Green Lantern: New Guardians and Avengers: X-Sanction, with stories devoid of cerebral content and more in line with something like Mortal Kombat rather than BioShock Infinite, are aplenty on my shelf alongside the thought-provoking opuses of Grant Morrison and Rick Remender. Comicky stories start becoming stupid, however, when the teaspoon shallow plot and over-the-top fantastical elements are combined with an honest attempt at grounded, cerebral storytelling, which gives us an end result of a book trying way too hard to fit in with the big boys at the dinner table while still wearing a bib and half their mashed carrot on their face.
Simply put, some stupid stories work as stupid stories, but when a stupid story tries to be smart it ends up failing. Unfortunately, Brian Bendis’ All-New X-Men is one such story.
As one of the few current plotlines stupid enough to remember that Avengers vs. X-Men was a thing, All-New X-Men is an attempt to create a story somewhere between Heroes and Doctor Who with the merest hint of Looper. After Charles Xavier’s untimely death at the hands of Scott Summers – now wearing the “villain” t-shirt so prominently he could almost use it as his national flag – erstwhile X-Man Beast goes back in time to retrieve the original five X-Men from the 1960s. His goal is to bring them to the present to see the horrors inflicted by their future selves in an attempt to right their wayward paths later down the track. Returning to present-day-ville with young versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Iceman and Beast, the stakes are then raised when the current Cyclops decides it’s a great time to start his own mutant school in direct competition with the good guys’ and attempts to woo his underaged former comrades to his side.
Let me just state that I don’t dislike this story simply because Bendis wrote it. As a popular target of internet rage artists across the world, hating a story because it was written by the guy is like assuming everything Michael Bay directs will suck simply because he directs it. Yes, Bendis has given us this and Bay has given us Transformers, but don’t forget we also got Dark Avengers and Armageddon from them, respectively.
That said, the story is ridiculous. Plain and simple. It’s an interesting concept that gets completely mishandled by the time we reach Here to Stay, the second volume in the series, by having a bunch of concurrent plotlines that just seem to pile on the stupidity in bigger layers until we end up with the following all happening at once:
1. Beast is wrestling first with a terminal illness (that gets seemingly cured in an incredibly anticlimactic way) and then with his guilt over bringing these poor kids from the future, all the while believing Cyclops is responsible for killing Xavier despite the fact he was possessed at the time because he “didn’t fight hard enough”.
2. Kitty Pryde teaches the old X-Men how to use their new abilities, and forms a BFF relationship with young Jean Grey.
3. Mystique, Sabretooth and some scantily-clad prostitute are attempting to rob a bank and do something that involves pinching 1960s Cyclops from the grasp of the good guys.
4. The Avengers are pissed that the X-Men came back from the past.
5. Past-Angel is having trouble dealing with the present day and his contemporary self, and undergoes something of a panic attack.
6. The X-Men must save the world from present-Cyclops or reality is dooooooooooomed!
And those are just the ones I can remember in this plain yet overhyped trainwreck. There’s far too much going on and there’s so little time devoted to any one plotline that is all becomes a huge jumble of insubstantiality. The character-building moments are incredibly schmaltzy, especially whenever Jean and Kitty have another chat about boys and mind control, the action scenes look like they’re ripped straight out of a bad Looney Tunes episode, and almost every previously well-established character seems to have become more watered down than the wreck of the Titanic. Wolverine is undoubtedly the worst offender; far from being the gradually-level-headed schoolmaster he was during Wolverine and the X-Men, he’s presented here as a two-dimensional berserker who’s only a SNIKT and a “bub” away from becoming the star of a Frank Miller miniseries.
Dialogue is pathetic, even by Bendis standards. Actually, hang on, Bendis is usually fantastic with dialogue. Previous works like Daredevil and Dark Avengers made great use of realistic dialogue juxtaposed with the fantasy of being a superhero comic – meaning we get super-technobabble alongside banter regarding baseball teams – which worked really well as both a method of relatability to the characters – since their problems aren’t always so far removed from our own – and as a means of giving them depth. Here, all we get are overblown pulp lines probably snatched wholesale from a Flash Gordon comic, which almost always literally boils down to things along the lines of “We must save the world or reality is dooooooooomed!” Add to that Beast’s little diatribe to past-Angel about why he thinks Cyclops in particular is responsible for Xavier’s death (which comes as an incredibly poor justification for Beast’s person-pinching actions), and you’ve got an experience that sounds like it was scripted by a five-year-old smashing their X-Men figurines together while making sound effects and forcing plastic Wolverine and Cyclops to make out.
Artwork’s the only place that scores points here, since Stuart Immonen can usually do no wrong. There is a big problem with most of the female characters being portrayed as either strippers or having full-body curves that’d make Christina Hendricks jealous, and the men’s facial expressions can come across as either vacant or just bloodlusty, but on the whole it’s pretty serviceable. If I must be forced to wade through this written muck at least it’s a bit pretty.
It’s disappointing that I give All-New X-Men: Here to Stay such a low score because the concept sounded fascinating on paper, and as much as people rip on Bendis so often you’d think it should be an Olympic sport I tried to come in with an open mind that had his previous good work sitting in the middle of it. Maybe I feel so let down because expectations were so high, so perhaps a bit of bar-lowering is required. Excuse me for a second.
OMG u guyz All Nu Xmen is teh sh*t! Soooooo good ai? Wulvarine is cool SNIKT BUB luv his claws.
That’s how uncultured fans speak, right?
BEST QUOTE: “Gut him, teach.” – Quentin Quire