Random Thoughts on ALL NEW X-MEN #1-5

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scottx

The X-Men. Art by James Jean.

I am nearly X illiterate.

I have no problem admitting that. My level of knowledge about the dense continuity of the X-Men mythos can really only be attributed to everything that was shown as an episode of the Fox animated series and random event titles that I half paid attention to. It wasn’t until the great Schism grabbing my attention and subsequent Regenesis launches of Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and The X-Men making me a fully fledged X-Men fan again did I  start  an odyssey into the vast backlog of X books. Then All New X-Men came along…

I have to say, gentle reader that I did not meet this news well. I was aghast that the X offices were going to be completely turned inside out and by Brian Michael BENDIS of all people. The hook was solid, but still I fought it. “They will be gone in a month!”, I cried to my comic shop as I quietly placed #1 and #2 in my pull list box “This just more for Bendis’ attention hungry FLIMFLAM, MARK MY WORDS!:”. People on Tumblr started to post hilarious screencaps like this one and THIS one, all while raving about the abundance of Scott feels that poured forth from the tags like fountains of black tears. I told my shop to pull #3 for me and an idea started to formulate in my head. After hearing from several people who had read the book and who said that it would work better when read as a trade than as month to month issues, I resolved to myself to start reading them in two to three issue chunks. So, I marched into my comic shop in a long trench coat and top notch false nose, and purchased #1 and #2. Stealing out of there before the fanboy hordes could bare the gamy teeth and hiss my purchases.

I read them that night and found myself…not offended. I wasn’t blown away, but I wasn’t holding a spectacular flop in my hands. Today, I purchased and read #3-5 and confirmed several theories and purveying thoughts that I had about the book. Basically these Random Thoughts are just that, random thoughts, BUT these are thoughts that I feel reflect everything that I like and don’t like about the book and I consider them valid enough to share and discuss with you lovely people.

Besides, this is why they (don’t) pay me, right?

1.       The Second Coming of Claremont.

This isn’t news to ANYONE, but Bendis is a huge fan of Chris Claremont. Never is that more prevalent than in the scripts to All New X-Men. From the GET go, Bendis lets you know that you are going to be scouring through an ocean of prose, but what’s even more interesting than the VOLUME of dialogue and captions within the book is the sheer archaic nature of the dialogue and captions. It’s almost laughably stiff in parts. The astonishing thing is that IT WORKS. We all knew that this was going to be one of Bendis’ Friday Nights At 8 comics, but for odd reason, I can’t get enough of it.

Some of my favorite X-Men comics were Chris Claremont’s high drama soap operas of the late 90’s and Bendis seems to be bringing back that high handed emotion back to the X-Men. He’s gone back to the Big Ideas, Big Lessons well of the 60’s and 90’s. Every page is drenched in verbal displays, dispensing lessons with almost Very Special Episode intensity. Gillen’s run briefly flirted with this, but that was more the assault team zingers of Morrison’s New X-Men and Whedon’s Astonishing, THIS returns us the monthly superhero soap opera of Claremont, Alan Davis, and Roy Thomas. Everyone speaks in near Ibsenesque bursts of speech and every word is TERRIBLY important! Dialogue is shot forth like bullets from lesson guns. This is Bendis at his most Sorkin, in more ways than one.

2.       A Cast Number only Sorkin Could Love.

Seriously.

I mean, honestly, just THINK about the roster page if they had decided to do one. Not only do you have the Original Five, you have Beast, Kitty Pryde, Wolverine (of bloody course), Storm, Bobby Drake, The Revolution Squad, PLUS all the random mutants that they are going to scoop out in typical dramatic Summers fashion. That is EASILY 57 people right there. This is one of the main things that worry me about this book. Yes, in these five issues, lots of characters were given lot of great moments; the campfire confrontation opening of #4 instantly pops into my head. But pay heed, gentle readers, this was also the same man who JUST PUT Storm on The Avengers and did not ONE thing with her. Bendis has the uncanny ability to forget about characters that he was just SO excited to be putting on a team not even two months prior. If honestly started in on this, this article would be 5,000 words and 3,274 of them would be foul curse words that would sour the ears of seasoned sailors.

You can also tell that he already has favorites and that’s where another worry of mine going forward lies. When Bendis loves a character, he will give you a reason to love them too. He’s done it with Marc Spector, he’s done it with Jessica Jones, and he’s done it with Matt Murdock, BUT when he isn’t just head over heels, completely knocked out gaga for them, they drag the comic down around them when they are in panel. That is Lllyana Rasputin in this comic. You can tell that he really hasn’t decided what he wants to do with her, OR what her real purpose to the team is other than the required teleportionist.

Now, I am not suggesting that Bendis doesn’t love every character that he writes because I am sure that he does, or feels some kind of attachment to them or whatever. I mean, if he DIDN’T, he wouldn’t be writing comics, and the sure as shootin’ wouldn’t have written the great comics that he has written throughout his career, BUT there are just some characters that you can tell that he just either can’t tell where they fit within his plans to a point or after a certain event so he just short shrifts them with hokey dialogue (Magik saying “Yummy Treats”, anyone?) or just forgets about them completely (a MULTITUDE in Avengers).

As long as he keeps writing the Original Five the way he is, that is FINE but me, which brings me to…

3.       The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle

This book has one MONSTER of a hook and Marvel marketed it in typical Mighty Marvel style, but with it being Bendis, you just KNEW that there was going to be more. Instead of blowing up their houses or just murdering half the cast in an issue, Bendis takes the high road and offers us a few more symbolic, but still status quo changing twists to the mythos. Firstly, Scott and his merry band have decided to take up residence in the ruined home of the Weapon X Project AND, Scotty has the stones to call it the new Xavier School for The Gifted. Um. Wow, Scott. Let no one say that you didn’t set the bar INCREDIBLY FRACKING HIGH for yourself.

Now, THAT honestly does more to my psyche than blowing up Avenger’s Mansion. Bendis is giving us, yes, the natural progression of the character, and it’s a progression that has turned him in the self-aggrandizing Magneto-like jag that we all knew Scott was going to become. I mean, that is SUCH an Erik move! The man murdered him, dropped his body into the dust, and then named a school after him. Bravo, Scott, you human disaster.

Not only are we getting sanctimonious decrees from one of our lead characters, Bendis then throws us another interesting kink into the world of X. Powers are fluctuating between both our teams of focus. Present Scott’s killer eyes are no longer in his control, while the great Magneto is having trouble manipulating metal. On the Original Team, our babies of the atom are experiencing leaps in their power sets, with Jean Grey going from groovy telekinesis to the mindshattering experience of reading a multitude of minds at the same time. Even Hank McCoy got a pointless redesign of a new mutation in the latest installment of All New, resolving the first major plot of the series in typical Bendis Bow Tying fashion.

The fluctuations of powers adds an interesting dynamic to the book and gives it one of it’s powerful visual moments to date with #4’s confrontation of Scotts. The wild beam of the Present meeting the clear and precise beam of the Past; stirring stuff, to be sure and it harkens back to The Old Vs. The Young themes of Morrison’s New X-Men.  It’s one of Bendis’ BIG IDEAS that allows him to explore interesting themes and motivations of the characters, plus as a book that is fundamentally about change and how we as a people evolve, it’s a very comic booky way to get that idea across. I only hope that it isn’t dealt with as swiftly as Beast’s transformation which did prove to be the first let down for me from the series. Now that sense of urgency is gone we are just left with a goofier looking Beast. Fingers crossed that the other power problems have a meatier resolution. WHY DID HE HAVE TO GET RID OF THE GOGGLES?!…I promise I will stop now.

4.       Quantity Over Quality

As I said in the intro, this started as a two issue sampling, which in turn led to my imposing of the Multi-Issue Reading Rule on the series (I’ve also imposed this rule onto Grant Morrison’s Action Comics and Batman, INC, mainly because they make not one lick of sense month to month) and this proved to be a big help for the book.

Bendis is at his best when it comes to episodic storytelling, but with the first few issues, he had to cover a LOT of ground, plot wise and that made the debut issue seem a bit flat, but when you immediately pick up #2 right after, you feel like you’ve gotten a full experience of a story that was started and barely moved along with #1. I hear you now, pounding on your keyboards in frustration, screaming “OF COURSE, it works better when you read #1 and #2 back to back! It’s a series, you dillweed!”, yeah, I know that, but hear me out, if I would have read #1, waited two weeks and then read #2 and then waited an ENTIRE month for #3, dollars to donuts, I would have hated it and never picked it up again because I would have felt like the wait wasn’t worth it. Ingesting them in this way allows me to process the story that Bendis is going to take his pretty sweet time laying out without having to be all pissed off month to month waiting on something to happen *coughENDTIMEScough*.

It’s like watching an hour long drama. Sometimes his issues feel like half of two separate comics and in this way, I feel like I’m getting a full experience from both issues. Am I insane, maybe, but hey, if it makes me like this comic, I am willing to be crazy town banana pants.

5.      The DUN DUN DUUUUUUN of It All.

It’s good to see that Bendis’ capacity for writing cliffhangers is still as strong as ever, but sometimes he to duffs them… and he duffs them pretty, pretty hard, so instead of exciting the readers or leaving you with a slack jaw they tend to make you snort in confusion. Here in All New, he has delivered a few doozys already and I don’t anticipate him stopping any time in the near future, but with the way that I have been ingesting them the few that haven’t worked have served as sufficient act breaks, allowing a smooth transition into the next installment. Of course, I am only basing this on the first five issues, but once again, if I had started this book on a monthly basis, I would have hated the last page of every issue, thinking that I just paid $3.99 for a limp noodle ending.

Maybe once I become fully invested into the series (which I really anticipate happening within the next few issues), I will start to read them month to month and I’ll see if I have a different opinion, but the majority of Bendis’ works are infinitely better in trade form or taken in bulk. Another thing might be that the book still really hasn’t left me clambering for the next issue like it has some of my peers. Now that the book has gained the appropriate amount of dramatic horsepower up after this opening arc, I am really hoping that it will have me really committing to the book like Ultimate Spider-Man or New Avengers.

6.       Stuart Immonen

‘Nuff Said.

Actually, no, not ‘Nuff Said, because why TELL you when I can just show you this:

 

This:

 

And also, this:

 

 

Those are just three MINOR examples of the power that Immonen brings to this book. If it was ANYONE else on this book, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much (though I am excited about David Marquez guest pencils coming up in later issues). He is very, VERY much the Lee to Bendis’ Claremont, lending a quiet smolder and grandeur to the heavy rhetoric of the script. You can tell that he is adding levels of much needed emotion and nuance to the panel that demands your attention. Immonen was an exceptional artist before this, but this might be some of his best work. Every expression is readable and bright, and every character has definition, which in a cast as large as this book is HIGHLY important. Too often, I lose characters in team books because of rushed pencils or poorly defined linework, but Immonen and his incredible inker/colorist team of Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia are giving us on the best looking and dynamic titles of Marvel NOW, and that’s saying a LOT when stacked up against titles like Thor: God Of Thunder and Captain America.

Immonen’s style is the pitch perfect complement to the script. The high energy of the art offsets the staunch and stuffy dialogue, even making some of the more tin eared bits crackle with energy. He finds new and exciting layouts and effects to deploy when they are needed. It’s a really exciting creative team. I’m glad to see that they hadn’t lost their touch from their stellar New Avengers issues.

It would probably not shock you to know that I am very active Tumblrer, and as a member of Tumblr, I’ve come into contact with a great many comic book fans of varying temperament. Most are wonderful, kind people with interesting and insightful things to say, and some are just cads of the highest order, BUT to both alike, on said Tumblr, I announced in a particularly haughty post that if I enjoyed All New X-Men, then I would greedily wolf down a whopping portion of crow with the speed of a man possessed. This rambling into the vacuum of The Machine was my grand buffet. I fought it and fought it for as long as I could, but I am more or less convinced that the X books are in good hands with Brian Michael Bendis. Of course, 7 issues down the line could come some inane Bendis screwball of a plot twist and I throw my hands up in disgust and reclaim my position as the guy marching through the streets of New York, clothed only in a sandwich board proclaiming “GILLEN WAS RIGHT”…but my outlook is shining.

 

 

Needs More Namor,

-J. Partridge, III

 

 

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