The end of the Marvel Universe came and went before Uncanny X-Men #600 hit the stands, and it’s anyone’s guess why the powers that be decided to wait as long as they did. Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s big gun writers, had wrapped up the final issue of his years-long X-Men run earlier in the summer only to have it delayed by several months. Nominally, it would have been a great post-Secret Wars story that serves as the capstone to Bendis’ arc with the mutants and a good prologue to usher in the new status-quo set eight months after…well, whatever happens at the end of Secret Wars.
But delays have kept the ending to that multiverse-reshuffling story off the shelves, so here we have the end of one era for the X-Men and the beginning of a new one; the same week Uncanny X-Men dropped, Jeff Lemire’s first issue of Extraordinary X-Men came out too.
The end of Bendis’ X-Men run was laden with all of the problems I’ve had with his treatment of the title all along. Maybe he’s spreading himself too thin here; maybe there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to the mutants; maybe too many events and crossovers kept him from doing his best work. But jumping Jesus, All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have been a hot mess for a long time.
Ever since the Battle of the Atom crossover (which saw three versions of X-Men from the past, present and future duking it out), it’s been really tough to get a bead on what Bendis has been going for with the titles. Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Storm have been acting and re-acting to each other without a clear sense of what drives those actions, and there’s been precious little in the way of character growth for anyone save for the folks that Bendis have brought on, like Eva Bell and Goldballs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great characters — but you get the sense that Bendis doesn’t quite care about the rest of the gang.
Full disclosure: I’m a Beast fanboy, born and bred, and I’m willing to admit that most of my dissatisfaction with Bendis’ run comes down to his treatment of Hank McCoy. Under his writing, Beast mutated again, into some sort of oblong-headed, bat-eared, ape-mutant; brought the original five X-Men forward into the future; irrevocably broke the fabric of space and time by doing so, leading to the collapse of the multiverse; got a tongue-lashing from none other than the Watcher before he was murdered; and finally has to endure an “intervention” where pretty much every mutant who hasn’t stood with Cyclops calls him out. Through all of that, Hank has done little in response beyond look sad and then keep doing what he’s been doing.
So “The Trial of Hank McCoy” is…underwhelming for such a landmark issue. The gathered X-Men accuse Beast of breaking the laws of time and space, physics, nature; they want to “help” him, though they’re really vague about what he needs help with and what that help would mean; and Beast pretty much rants at them, calling down shame, saying “to hell with you!”, packing his bags and leaving in a huff. Before he leaves, he gets to see Cyclops — the entire reason he brought the original five into the present in the first place — hold a televised peaceful demonstration that…somehow proves him right?
It’s frustrating to see these characters you love twisted into shapes you don’t recognize by writers who don’t understand them. And I say this knowing full well that I’m just dude with a blog ranting about a fictional character in a universe that allows for Spider-Man, The Blob, The Punisher and Squirrel Girl to exist right alongside one another. I get how this sounds.
But there’s not a lot of cohesion to Bendis’ story with the X-Men. The only feeling you’re left with after reading #600 is “well…that happened.” There are interludes where young Bobby Drake confronts his older self about his sexuality, with Jean Grey there to provide the commentary, and the older Iceman’s reasons for remaining closeted all this time are actually pretty solid: because of who he was and who he ran with, he wanted just one part of his life to “feel normal”, even if that meant denying a basic part of himself. Those of us who exist in multiple minority spaces can sympathize with that — it can feel like you’re fighting against the current in every aspect of your life, and sometimes you’d give anything to know what it’d be like to not have to do that. I wish there had been more space devoted to this, but so far there’ve only been two whole scenes exploring the psyche of Bobby Drake. It’ll be interesting to see how this is handled elsewhere.
Ultimately, Uncanny X-Men #600 is a fitting capstone to Bendis’ run. The emotional beats are seldom earned, characters behave in confusing ways, and you’re never quite sure what to make of what’s happening. As a fan of Bendis’ work in the Ultimate Universe, I really wish he had done better here.
Jeff Lemire takes over from there in Extraordinary X-Men #1, and while a lot of the building blocks of the story are worn smooth by now there’s enough potential there that I’m curious to see what happens next.
Eight months after the end of Secret Wars and the restoration of the Marvel Universe, mutantkind are dealing with another extinction-level threat. The Terrigen Mists of the Inhumans are causing an illness in mutants and rendering them sterile; the rise of one race means the end of another. Against this backdrop, Cyclops’ stunt at the end of Uncanny #600 has caused humanity to lose their sense of respect (??) for mutants. Knowing they’re on the ropes and unlikely to fight back, mutants are being ostracized and eliminated to prevent the spread of “m-pox”.
Storm has taken leadership of the mutant nation now, and Iceman is her second-in-command. Right off the bat, it’s exciting to see Bobby step into a leadership position. Despite the fact that he’s apparently one of the most powerful mutants to ever exist, he hasn’t really lived up to his potential. It’s quite possible he’ll get to do so here.
The first issue is “the collection,” the part of the story where a catalyzing force realizes the need and taps heroes on the shoulder. Magik is put to use as the travel agent, locating mutants in trouble and bringing them to the Haven, a secret location where the X-Men are based. She goes for Colossus, of course, who is content to live out the rest of his days with a farm and a bottle of vodka. When she tells him he’s needed, he tells her he just wants a normal life — the same thing Jean Grey tells Storm and Iceman when they come to collect her.
Already, members of the team feel like they’re facing the same problem in different ways. Storm has doubts about her ability to lead mutantkind; Iceman has never really had any responsibility for anyone before; Colossus has never had a taste for the craziness of the X-Men; and Jean Grey doesn’t want the burden of being a symbol for Xavier’s dream. Almost none of them want to do what they’re being called to do — they’re doing it because they have to.
Nightcrawler and Old Man Logan round out the team — or will, once the former is rescued from a mysterious band of mercenaries collecting mutants as test subjects, and the latter once Storm and Bobby convince him to come along and figure out what his deal is. I get the feeling that the issue-ending reveal of the old Wolverine is supposed to be a big shock, and it probably would have been if Secret Wars had ended on time.
The art for both issues is pretty strong; Bendis has a number of collaborators for #600, and while it could have been distracting to have wildly different art-styles bouncing around between scenes it mostly works here. There’s enough continuity in the character models that you’re not left wondering who’s who, and there are some great dynamic panels that lend a sense of motion and emotion to the proceedings. (You can tell I don’t know how to talk about art here.)
But the artistic team of Ramos (pencils), Olazaba (inks) and Delgado (color) is pretty wonderful in Extraordinary. The character designs are crisp — cartoonish, but grounded — and the color palette does a great job at enhancing the mood of every scene. And not for nothing, but the new-look Colossus? Super hot. God. Damn.
The story for Extraordinary X-Men is likely to be unpopular. We’ve already covered the mutant race with their backs against the wall before, and the rumors that Marvel is effectively swapping out the Inhumans for the mutants seem to be 100% true. It’s kind of interesting that the editorial office is leaning in to the controversy by having the Terrigen Mists actually BE the reason for the extinction of the race.
But still, I’m hopeful for mutantkind. Even though they’re in possibly the worst situation they’ve ever been in story-wise, they’ve got good writers on their titles. It’ll be interesting to see how Lemire handles the relationships among Storm’s team. How will the adult Bobby react to the teen Jean Grey? Magik and Colossus haven’t seen eye-to-eye in quite some time; is all that bad blood really under the bridge? How is Storm going to get along with Logan? How does Logan deal with everyone else? I suppose we’ll see.