Posted on Sunday, August 11, 2013
by Paul in x-axis
Nice of Marvel to give me a light week this time round.
Volume 3 of the All-New X-Men collections covers issues #11-15, but this is a self-contained issue filling the gap before we get to “Battle of the Atom” next month. That provides an opportunity for a guest artist – David Lafuente, an ideal choice for Bendis’ stories. Not only is his work nice to look at, but he’s a cartoonist who does wonderfully expressive characters. His people can act, in short, which is what you need to give these scenes the depth and heart required for them to work.
And this is a pretty good issue, even if it does bring up some of my regular criticisms about this series allowing its characters to remain extraordinarily and improbably ignorant of things somebody would surely have mentioned by now. So issue #15 – yes, #15 – opens with Rachel Grey returning to the school after an evidently extended absence, attributed solely to her “being a good old-fashioned superhero”, and finally bumping into Jean Grey. Since Jean is her mother – kind of sort of, and depending on which version of history we’re accepting this week – that’s naturally a difficult encounter, and one that Bendis obviously has no real interest in dealing with, or else he’d have done it months ago. So instead we get the two of them crossing paths in a hallway, scanning one another telepathically, looking incredibly awkward, and moving on. It could very easily fall flat in the wrong hands, but Lafuente’s got the lightness of touch to make that exchange work without dialogue.
Mostly, though, this issue has two main threads: Scott and Bobby go to a market and end up impressing some girls, while back at the school, Jean telepathically picks up on the fact that Beast (her version) is in love with her, and makes a move on him. That, obviously, is the big plot point.
Starting with Scott and Bobby, though, they get a nice little sequence which allows their characters some room to breathe and properly sells the idea that they’re teenage versions of the characters. Bobby really hasn’t had much to do so far in this series, to the point where it rather feels as if he’s here because he came as a package deal with the concept. And in plot terms he still doesn’t have much to do. But he does have a role here as the most outgoing member of the group, and the one who helps bring Scott out of his shell. When the junior X-Men are at the school, everyone treats them as oddities and children, but out in the wider world Bobby’s the one who can comfortably wing it with real people his age. It’s Scott’s experiences here that really matter to the wider story, by reminding him that he does have options other than Jean, but you couldn’t do the scene without Bobby to start the conversation.
The Jean/Hank stuff is a bit more of a stretch. I can see what Bendis is going for, I guess. The X-Men have decided to stay in the present, supposedly to alter a history they’re appalled by, but they have no apparent plan for how they’re going to do that. We’re pretty much at the stage where the vagueness of their objective, and the total lack of any concrete proposals to achieve it, almost has to be seen as a plot point in its own right. But it makes sense that Jean would be drawn to any possibility of messing up her history. On a personal level, the idea that her life is predestined should freak her out; the adult Scott hardly seems like a great catch right now; and in terms of their supposed goals, if your aim is to change history and you haven’t got any better ideas, there might well be some attraction to just screwing up your own personal history.
On the other hand, there was pretty much nothing in the original series to suggest that Hank was in any way smitten with Jean. Admittedly, he’s the only one of the group who could be cast in this role. Early issues of the series already had Angel as a rival suitor, so he wouldn’t be a surprise. Iceman is too young for her. That just leaves Hank, who could use a story in any event. We all know this has to wind up with Scott and Jean getting together, since that’s how history turned out, but there’s something intriguing in having Jean try to escape that as her fate, as well as the looming question behind this series – what happens if they really do succeed in messing up history? Given its time-travel themes (and the broader Marvel Universe storylines of time going wrong), “Battle of the Atom” may finally advance that side of things.
The story moves forward the cast relationships quite significantly, which is unusual for a between-arcs issue such as this. And Lafuente makes it work; he sells the original X-Men as characters rather than just continuity icons, and he carries enough of the load that Bendis is frequently willing to stand back and get out of his way.