Monday, 10 March 2014

All-New X-Men Vol. 1: Yesterday's X-Men (Marvel NOW!)


All-New X-Men Vol. 1: Yesterday’s X-Men (Marvel NOW!)

Okay guys, let's all look ignore the fact that
Iceman's not wearing any pants...
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Stuart Immonen

Collects: All-New X-Men #1-5

Background Information:

Ever since around 2000, the X-Men leader Cyclops has been getting more and more nasty. When the world mutant population got cut down to around 200, Cyclops became more militant, sending the X-Force to covertly kill anti-mutant lobbyists and relocating to Magneto’s old home on Utopia. It lead to the permanent splitting of the X-Men between Cyclops and Wolverine. When the phoenix plot device... sorry, I mean phoenix force... came back to earth, Cyclops was officially pushed over the edge and killed his mentor, Charles Xavier.

But the dude’s named after a mythical Greek monster famous for killing people; shouldn’t be a surprise, right?

Review:

So now that Cyclops is completely gaga, the rest of the X-Men are left in a state of shock. Cyclops has been leader of the X-Men since day one and nobody is less impressed by Cyclops’ change of character than Hank McCoy, also known as Beast. Like Cyclops, Beast was one of the original X-Men and he knows that years ago, Cyclops would have hated what he has now turned into. But things are still pretty bad for the big blue X-Man. He’s continuing to mutate and it’s starting to kill him. In a last desperate attempt to make things right before he dies, Beast travels back in time and brings the original X-Men from yesteryear into the present. For those expecting a young Wolverine, this means younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey (not just a younger version, but an alive version to boot), Beast, Iceman and Angel. In X-Men history, Gambit, Rogue, Wolverine and Storm all joined the team much later.

Beast’s intent is to remind Cyclops of his past self and thereby encourage him to stop killing people. What it actually ends up doing is freaking out pretty much everyone in the X-Men franchise. Time travel is a logical nightmare when telling stories. Thankfully, writer Brian Michael Bendis uses some of these problems to not just further the narrative, but develop the characters he writes. It’s a relief and it actually allows Bendis to do what he really does best.

The X-Men that Beast brings back are all teenagers- aged between 12 and 18. Bendis is best known for writing Ultimate Spider-Man back in the early 2000s and there he absolutely nailed the teenage voice. In Yesterday’s X-Men, Bendis is back in his element. There is a distinct difference between the way young and old Cyclops talk, between young and old Iceman (though to be fair, they are both absolute goofs) and even Jean Grey actually sounds like a teenager. The only character for whom Bendis misses the mark is Beast; who, despite being twelve, talks like a twenty-year old. I understand that even the young Hank McCoy is a genius, but there is a difference between smart and mature that I don’t think Bendis realises here.

But ultimately this book is a thematic triumph. The book deals with the very relatable conflict between innocent idealism and worldly jadedness. The great part here though, is that innocence isn’t a weakness. For the young X-Men, their innocence is what drives their idealism. They have yet to “learn” that peace between humans and mutants can’t happen and as such, they get great power from believing that it is possible. In a world where too many people mistake innocence for weakness or even stupidy, it’s nice to see the innocent triumph.

The art is done entirely by Stuart Immomen, who just does an amazing job at character designs. The young X-Men are all wearing the original yellow and black costumes. Their civilian clothes include ties for the boys. Jean Grey sports a haircut that went out of style in the sixties. It would have been so easy to “modernise” these characters to make them dress and appear “cooler”, but Immonen takes a harder, yet more impressive route. Somehow, he makes these old designs appear fresh through excellent use of light and shadow and brilliant use of movement and expression.

My only real issue from the book, apart from young Beast “all-too-old” voice, is the newer mutants that are introduce in this volume. Because Bendis spends so much time developing the new status quo around the already well-known characters that the newer mutants introduced in this book seem more like afterthoughts. I’m supposing, that since they are on old Cyclops’ team, that they will appear in Uncanny X-Men (also written by Bendis), but at the moment, I’m just left to wonder why they’re there.

Yesterday’s X-Men is an awesome hearkening back to the days when X-Men was more simple. It’s an emotionally charged book that gets a four out of five Greek monsters.

****

+  Character designs are excellent

+ Themes are poignant and relevant

+ Bendis almost perfectly writes the teenage voice

- Young Beast sounds a little too old

- Are we supposed to care about the new mutants?

Alternate Option: Uncanny X-Men: Revolution

Admittedly, it’s not one I’ve read yet, but it’s the companion book to All-New X-Men, so definitely worth a look.