It took me something of an adjustment period, but I eventually grew to quite appreciate and be a fan of the Brian Michael Bendis era of AVENGERS, after the rough start that smacked of sensationalism and death-for-death’s sake. I came to see Bendis’s real affection for the characters and the Avengers history, and enjoyed his lengthy run on the series immensely.
With AVENGERS now in other hands, Bendis has begun again on another mammoth Marvel franchise, with ALL-NEW X-MEN, which has a most unusual twist, and which I’m pleased to be able to recommend wholeheartedly right from the jump. This is good stuff, kids.
A quick refresher: the series closely follows the events of AVENGERS VS. X-MEN, in which the legendary Phoenix Force returned to Earth, eventually possessing the minds and bodies of several X-Men, including Magneto, Magik, Emma Frost and founding member Cyclops, who eventually found himself the sole host of the Phoenix. Cyclops’ mentor and X-Men paterfamilias Charles Xavier comes out of retirement in an attempt to stop his former student, but is tragically murdered. Eventually, the Phoenix force is driven from his body, leaving a guilt-ridden and yet still somewhat unrepentant Cyclops behind to account for his sins.
Still reeling from the loss of Professor X, when the X-Men discover that Cyclops has escaped from prison and is on the run with Magneto, Magik and Emma Frost, it’s too much to bear for Cyclops’s fellow founding X-Man the Beast (who appears to be in poor health to boot), who embarks on a radical, seemingly insane course of action. Swiping Dr. Doom’s and Reed Richards’ time travel technology, the Beast goes back to the past, to his own teenage years at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, where he convinces his younger self and the other four original X-Men (including the now-dead-again-in-the-present Jean Grey) to return with him to the future, in the hopes of shocking today’s Cyclops back to his senses.
It’s a bold idea, and one that works on a couple different levels. The reader gets a fresh start for the X-Men, with young, teenage versions of these characters many readers have grown up with, but without it feeling like a do-over, as if the series was starting from scratch, as was the case with so much of DC’s New 52. It also struck this reader how much I missed this version of the X-Men, hopeful young kids with the whole lives in front of them, which makes the series’ tragic tone a they begin to learn more about their eventual fates, and what has become of Xavier’s dream, all the more poignant.
Another clever decision came at the end of the first story arc, with Kitty Pryde’s decision to act as the younger kids’ mentor in adapting to the new world around them. It’s an elegant reversal of the Kitty Pryde/X-Men relationship, with her shepherding and looking after the same people who once did the same for her, once upon a time.
The art by Stuart Immonen is simply gorgeous, conveying a heartfelt innocence for the younger X-Men, especially Jean Grey, in contrast to the harsher, uglier, more confusing world they find themselves in.
And as for Bendis’ writing, it’s fresh and exciting, with the writer eschewing many of his familiar conventions and dialogue quirks. This is Bendis inspired and at the top of his game, and it shows.