Every once in a while, I come across a comic that makes me want to gush my arse off. It’s maybe not one of the comics, and I recognize that it’s probably not best or most creative thing that’s ever been written, but it makes me so frickin’ happy that I want to share it with everyone.
That’s ALL-NEW X-MEN in a nutshell.
The premise is as follows: Cyclops has become a mutant revolutionary because of some heavy stuff that happened in another comic you don’t need to read in order to understand this one. Beast is terribly worried Cyclops is leading mutantkind towards genocide, and he figures the best way to avert this crisis is to pull the five original X-Men into the future just long enough to talk some sense into Cyclops. They’ll make a running visit, head on back to their own time, have their minds wiped by Professor Xavier (how kind of him), and carry on with their regularly scheduled lives.
It’s an ongoing series, so you can maybe guess things don’t work out as planned. Circumstances conspire to keep them in the present, and when it finally seems like they could head on back to their own time, they discover they’re stuck. Indefinitely.
And isn’t that just great for the space-time continuum?
Okay, so maybe it’s hell on the timeline, but let’s be real here: the X-Men’s timeline was pretty messed up to begin with. (Hence my decision to catch up on the team in whatever damned order I please.) And you know, I wouldn’t want the timeline to be all nice and orderly if it meant I’d have to miss out on this awesomeness.
Basically, ALL-NEW X-MEN is fun for the reader but messy and awkward for every character involved. The original X-Men (Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Angel) have only been X-Men for about three weeks when they’re pulled forward in time, so life in the future is a huge adjustment for them. They’re not even properly trained yet, and they’re pretty used to people freaking the fuck out whenever they show up. Now they’re in the middle of a full-blown mutant school where people live fairly openly, their mentor is dead, and the dream ain’t going quite so well as all that (see: suspected mutant genocide on the horizon).
On top of that, they’ve all got to deal with their future selves, who are revolutionaries possessed of living fathers and brothers, or blue and hairy, or dating Kitty Pryde1, or just generally kind of weird due to some future trauma no one will talk about2.
Or, y’know, dead twice over.
Jean has it the roughest. Her future self is really, really dead, and she knows she did (is going to do?) terrible things before the end came (comes? Time travel, man). And that guy she’s BFFs with, who she maybe sort of likes? She grows up to marry him, which is confusing as all hell. And her family? All totally dead. And her powers? Way more complicated than Professor X has led her to believe.
Jean grapples with lots of moral conundrums as she works out how to use her telepathy without crossing any ethical lines (assuming she even cares about those), how to process everything she knows about her future (assuming that’s even happening anymore), and how to live in a world where she’s half legend, half cautionary tale.
The last is true for all of them, really. The adults they interact with all know them from way back, except they also don’t know them yet because time travel, man. They’re constantly up against who they currently are versus who they’re going to be, with their entire lives informed by how their supporters and detractors feel about who they’re going to be.
Assuming, of course, that they even grow up into their established future selves, given that almost everything about their lives is now different.
Kitty Pryde makes herself responsible for them and works hard to ensure they get a good education and minimal culture shock, but even she runs into these sorts of issues both in her own interactions with them and and as she acts as their liaison with their older selves. It's a great big pickle.
This all sounds very deep and serious, I know, and I suppose the core is pretty heavy, but writer Brian Michael Bendis and a rotating cast of artists temper the darkness with plenty of humour. Because really, there’s a lot of hilarity to be found in interacting with a world that’s utterly different from what you’ve known. Especially when you’re a snarky sixteen-year-old with super powers.
At the heart of it, the original X-Men are still kids. They play around with their powers, they crack stupid jokes, and they have fun with the future’s many advantages. Like, they can wander around Westchester3 without getting pelted with rocks! And they can talk with girls who actually think their powers are pretty cool! Plus, TV has gotten a lot better in the last twenty-five years4. Food Network is now a thing. There are cupcake wars.
The kids also gain a rotating support system with whom to banter and train and all that other fun stuff. Kitty is a mainstay in their lives as their designated future protector person, and the various other students and teachers at the two mutant schools also step in as peers5, instructors, and occasionally antagonists. They meet the Guardians of the Galaxy6, too, and it’s pretty awesome because the tree talks and so does the raccoon and they go to space, dude. Space.
Yeah, they’re in space because of Terrible Horrible Spoilery Things, but still. It’s frickin’ space. As if that’s not an exciting experience, no matter the circumstances.
Which sort of brings me to the one big thing I wish the series would address, and which the series has thus far dodged. Right now, the five of them are stuck in the future, but the story still exists under the assumption that they eventually have to go back to the past so the future can actually happen. (Assuming, of course, there’s not some sort of divergent universes paradox thingy going on. One can never discount the possibility of divergent universe paradox thingies where Marvel is concerned, especially given what’s going on with the New Avengers right now and this upcoming Secret Wars thing.) They’re all quite aware that Professor X will wipe their minds when they return to their own time. It’ll be like none of this ever happened.
If I were one of the time-displaced X-Men, I’d be upset at the prospect of losing all memory of these adventures I’d been on, even if it also meant I wouldn’t have to remember I was destined to kill my sorta-dad under the influence of an uncontrollable dark force, or turn blue and hairy, or snog Kitty Pryde, or end up with metal wings and a weird personality, or die twice over after destroying a few civilizations. Because losing those things would also mean losing a big part of who I was, and why I’d become that person. And if I were one of the adult X-Men those teenagers (might) become, I’d be really fucking bitter that all that was taken away from me.
I dunno, y’all. Professor X is pretty big into mind wipes, so I guess it’s possible everyone’s just used to it and they’ve made their peace with the whole shebang, but it’s still something I’d like to see addressed.
Maybe it is addressed in the issues I haven’t read yet. To date, I’m up to #32, which puts me a short way into Volume 6. Y'all know I’m a vocal read-by-story-arcs girl, but I’m loving this series so much that I can’t wait that long between fixes. I read ALL-NEW X-MEN as soon as a new issue hits Marvel Unlimited.
Do yourself a favour and seek it out. It’s dark and exciting and frickin’ hilarious, and simply the most fun I’ve had in ages. I want you to have it in your life, too.
Here're some ways you can make that happen, should your local library be unable to oblige:
- Series page on Marvel Unlimited (digital; subscription service; $9.99/month for unlimited Marvel comics six months or older)
- Series page on comiXology (digital; for purchase by issue or collection)
- Volume One Kobo (digital; for purchase; coupons work)
- Volume One on The Book Depository (hardcover with bonus digital edition; for purchase; free shipping worldwide)
- Volume One on Amazon (hardcover with bonus digital edition; for purchase)
I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the comic through one of the above links for Kobo, The Book Depository, or Amazon.
- Me, I can’t really imagine how someone could see that their future self dating Kitty Pryde and think, “Man, that’s rough,” but it’s clearly an issue for young Iceman.
ETA: I'm disappointed with myself for not figuring out why this was so distressing for young Iceman. Heterosexism can creep in anywhere.
- Reading ALL-NEW X-MEN has made me realize my only significant contact with Angel prior to this was in MARVEL 1602. I have no idea what his older self is like or what he went through. Also, I keep expecting him to be queer, and thus far he has shown no evidence of liking people who are not girls.
Come on, Angel. Do something queer. I know you’ve got it in you.
- So a couple years back, I got to talking with this librarian at Book Expo America. I told her I was from Manitoba and she told me she was from Westchester.
“That’s where the X-Men live!” I said, all excited. Because how often do you meet someone who lives in the same town as the X-Men?
She had no idea what I was talking about. She was clearly not in charge of her library’s comics collection.
Also, I later learned Westchester isn’t a town. It’s a county comprised of 500 square miles. Sleepy Hollow is also in Westchester, which came as a huge shock because I totally thought it was fictional.
I’m not very good at American geography.
- Apparently it’s been about twenty-five years in-story since the X-Men were founded, even though it’s been fifty for us. Similarly, Kitty Pryde’s space bullet adventure/nightmare happened around a year ago in-story, even though that was about a decade ago for us. Timelines, dude.
- I’m super excited X-23 has joined the team. Marjorie Liu’s work on Laura’s solo title made me love her a lot.
- And y’know, I don’t think Peter Quill’s past self would be too upset with his current self’s reaction to Kitty Pryde. Just saying.