Posted on Sunday, January 26, 2014
by Paul in x-axis
One thing about the solicitation system is that, by requiring even cryptic plot details to be released months in advance, it can make it abundantly clear when plans have changed. These four issues will form the majority of All-New X-Men vol 4 (the volume being rounded out, rather oddly, with issue #22, which is the first part of “The Trial of Jean Grey”). Over on Amazon UK, that volume is still listed alongside copy that first appeared in the solicitation for issue #18:
“The X-Men are shaken to the core by the Battle of the Atom. Kitty Pryde is particularly shaken by the events of the X-Men crossover. With her students gone, what is Kitty to do?”
And indeed, the cover of issue #18 shows a distraught Kitty kneeling amongst the discarded uniforms of the teenage X-Men.
But what actually happened at the end of “Battle of the Atom” was that Kitty decided to defect to Scott’s faction, and the teenagers decided to follow her. So there’s pretty obviously been some rewriting going on here – the entire original point of issue #18 appears to have been jettisoned somewhere along the way, to live on only in a now incongruous cover and a solicitation for the upcoming collection that somebody really ought to get around to updating.
Here’s what actually happens in these issues. Kitty and the Silver Age X-Men arrive at the “New Xavier School”, which remains a rather optimistic name for a repurposed supervillain bunker. Issue #18 features assorted introductions to the cast of Uncanny X-Men, and Bendis rightly takes some time to re-establish the relationship between Kitty and Illyana. And the teen team get some new uniforms which are pleasant enough but a bit bland. It’s a downtime issue, for the most part, but it plays to Bendis’ strengths, gives everyone something to do, and sets up some relationships with the new cast, as well as reasserting the old Scott/Jean/Warren love triangle that was on hold while Warren was separated from the rest of his group. It’s a perfectly fine issue.
Then we have a three-parter which serves to introduce X-23 into the cast, and throw her into the romantic mix as a potential love interest for Cyclops. As somebody makes sure to point out, that’s a particularly weird idea since she’s, well, a clone of Wolverine. But it does actually feel reasonably natural, since X-23, unlike Wolverine, is even more massively uptight than Scott is. You can sort of see how they might identify with one another.
X-23 is wandering around Miami after escaping from Avengers Arena (or however that story ended – wisely enough, Bendis acknowledges it as a Recent Traumatic Event but doesn’t bother worrying about the details). She’s being hunted by the Purifiers, in their classic role of anti-mutant religious nut jobs. And that attracts the X-Men to her rescue. All nice and simple.
About half of issue #19 is taken up with a fairly routine fight scene, something that has never been Bendis’ strength, though it picks up with a cute subplot about Scott simply refusing to run from the police because he’s a Golden Age hero and he’s sure it’ll be fine. At any rate, the X-Men retrieve X-23 and take her back to the New Xavier School. Strangely enough, finding herself in the former Weapon X Project headquarters does little to soothe X-23’s nerves, and much of the rest of that issue consists of her going nuts until Scott calms her down. In terms of the relationship building, this is pretty decent.
Then we detour into an issue and a half of the X-Men going after the Purifiers. This isn’t so good. Bendis is certainly trying to acknowledge the Purifiers as sincere in their religious beliefs, but this really boils down to them loudly proclaiming their zealotry, without much more behind it. One of the Purifiers is the son of William Stryker, who turns out to have been given super-powers by AIM as part of a deal by Stryker to save him from some illness or other. This flashback works – Stryker trying to enlist a bemused and uncomfortable AIM rep in a prayer circle has a genuine sense of a worldview which is both sincere and detached from reality. The Purifiers themselves, including Stryker’s said son, are considerably less interesting.
There’s a ton of artists on this – Stuart Immonen on issue #18, Brandon Peterson on #19 and #21 with Mahmud Asrar helping out on #20, and even Brent Anderson popping in to do the William Stryker flashback on #21. It’s all rather bitty, as the above synopsis might lead you to suspect, and it doesn’t help that the whole final issue is spent in the Purifiers’ base, a murky collection of generic machinery backdrops that offer about as much visual interest as a below average underpass.
Still, these four issues do serve as a solid set-up of the book’s new status quo and a strong introduction for X-23. The material with the Purifiers isn’t great, which is unfortunate since they’re the closest thing these issues have to a through-plot, but the remainder has enough of Bendis’ strengths to carry the book through.