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Apr 15

All-New X-Men #25

Posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 by Paul in x-axis

It’s a jam issue!

Does anyone actually like jam issues?  And by that, I mean “like reading them”, not “like making them”.  Rare indeed is the story that is actually improved by hurling 15 wildly different artists at it, in the same way that few songs have benefitted from the tender mercies of a charity ensemble cover version.  Jam issues tend to end up with weird structures – like this issue, in which the Beast is visited by a mysterious figure who shows him a bunch of possible future timelines.

The result is not a story.  It’s a bunch of pin-ups and a couple of gag strips with a framing sequence.  Spin it how you want, but that’s the bottom line.

Now, granted, some of them are very good pin-ups.  David Mack’s painting of Cyclops being burned at the stake is lovely.  So is the picture of Emma going crazy in a corner.  The two-page Peter/Kitty comedy strip is genuinely funny self-parody.  However, there’s also a fair amount of material that would make a merely adequate cover – though it’s not as if the script gives some of the contributors much to work with.  A lot of this stuff just isn’t off the wall enough.

Let’s talk about the framing sequence, though.  What exactly is the threat in All-New X-Men?  The series has spent a lot of time making the point that bringing the Silver Age X-Men to the present day has created a paradox that only gets worse as more and more things happen that can’t be simply explained away with a mind wipe.  So the timeline has been screwed up, and this is Bad, in an inchoate sense.  But what in practice this leads to remains rather vague.  Does it all get sorted out somehow?  Does the timeline just smooth itself over?  Does a big hole open up and swallow the universe?  (And if so, why hasn’t that happened already?)

The general thrust of the framing sequence is that the effect of bringing the Silver Age X-Men to the present day has been to bring about a bunch of nasty timelines and eliminate a bunch of nice ones where everything turned out basically okay.  This sort of makes sense: the threat is that history will be revised in a way that turns out worse for everyone.  But the common theme of the “dark” timelines appears to be that the X-Men cease to exist as a team, and everyone goes off the rails without the support of their teammates.  Quite why that follows from the teen X-Men visiting the present day is thoroughly obscure, and of course Beast doesn’t bother asking the very obvious question.

The dialogue attempting to explain the significance of the “good” timelines is a complete mess.  The Watcher – for it is he – starts off by identifying them as timelines that exist, only to do an about turn and reveal that they’ve been eliminated as possibilities.  The Beast, meanwhile, appears to raise the point himself out of nowhere, earlier in the conversation than he should.

Still, this is at least trying to identify in some concrete terms what the stakes are: if the damage to the timeline can’t be fixed, the X-Men’s lives get worse and worse.  The problem is that this feels like a completely arbitrary consequence, even allowing for the necessarily hand-waving nature of most time-paradox stories.  Quite simply, it doesn’t flow from the paradox – or, perhaps more to the point, it doesn’t feel like something that would flow from the paradox.  After all, there plainly is an X-Men team, so how can the paradox already have guaranteed a bunch of dark timelines where the team doesn’t exist?  Considering that explaining this point is about the only plot task that the issue sets itself, it’s less than encouraging to see that this is the explanation we get.

So, yeah.  It’s a bad issue on its own terms and it’s a bad issue on mine as well.  But it’s a jam issue; what do you expect?

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    So basically, the current timeline, where people are constantly dying in horrible ways and entire cities get wiped out and superheroes fight each other while the villains flourish, that’s the best conceivable outcome out of infinite possibilities? How depressing.

  2. Paul says:

    Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

  3. Don_Wok says:

    I don’t understand how a mind wipe from Proffessor X is supposed to fix anything. Won’t we just end up with a Charles Xavier with knowledge of future events (including his own death), or are we to presume he won’t look at what he’s deleting? Which seems especially odd given the moral lapses that characterised most of his appearances in the last 10 years

  4. Paul says:

    If Xavier’s purpose in wiping their memories was to preserve the timeline then presumably he would avoid retaining any memories himself, for the same reason. Alternatively, someone else could wipe their memories before going back.

  5. Ozwell says:

    Just what the X-folk and comics needs: another random assortment of alternative universes and dead end timelines. At least DC invented the Anti Monitor to eat those things.
    It was clear from the get-go that there’s no satisfactory way to resolve the ANXM continuity loop. “Things happen for a reason” doesn’t make for a compelling narrative.

  6. Brian says:

    Ah, jam issues: where the paying customer gets to stare in confusion at the random pages of the paid writers and artists apparently having the time of their lives, not unlike having to look at a group of strangers’ vacation photos and be expected to enjoy them…

    After twenty-five issues, shouldn’t there be *some* hint for the home audience behold “temporal foreboding”? There’s a decent chance, after all, that they’ve picked up all these issues, the GUARDIANS crossover, the other BATTLE OF THE ATOM issues, probably some UNCANNY issues at $4 each, expecting to have an idea by now what this storyline might broadly suggest for the Marvel Universe — in conflict, if not in any means of yet-plausible resolution.

  7. Nu-D says:

    The premise doesn’t make sense in the context of the Marvel Multiverse anyhow. With infinite timelines breaking from infinite decision points, the number of “good” timelines and the number of “bad” timelines would be equal, and infinite, regardless of whether the O5 go back or not.

  8. Dave says:

    “and of course Beast doesn’t bother asking the very obvious question.”

    Like nobody asking how Corsair’s alive. Or how Star-Lord’s alive. On top of the questions about why Mystique’s just after money now, or why Beast thought this was all a good idea in the first place, or why Magneto’s powers are messed up when he didn’t get a Phoenix fragment…
    Is there any part of any plot (being generous) Bendis has been doing lately that doesn’t contain a big element of ‘Why would they do that’ or ‘how did that happen’ ?

  9. ASV says:

    The funniest of the pin-up pages is J. Scott Campbell’s anti-narrative effort, where a narration box has been conspicuously placed over his signature.

  10. errant says:

    Why do we always assume that jam issues are fun for creators? I’d guess they’re just like any other page or two for any gook they contribute to. Only mor half-assed.

  11. JG says:

    I’ve seen some theories that the “Watcher” in this issue was actually the bad Professor X from BOTA.

    Which would actually make some sense. So I guess that can’t be the case then :)

  12. ZZZ says:

    Is there some rule that says any anthology work with a framing device must include at least one vignette that doesn’t make any sense in the context of the framing device?

    (I guess I shouldn’t complain, seeing as the Kitty/Colossus strip was my favorite part of the issue, and it definitely made no sense in context)

    I’d be willing to bet that the two-page Kitty and Illyana montage wasn’t even drawn for this issue, but was just a piece of extra art Marvel or the artist had lying around.

  13. I read this as foreshadowing for an upcoming crossover event. It was extremely clumsy, and it’s not clear to me why they’ve just been throwing hints here and in Guardians of the Galaxy, rather than spelling anything out to make it seem more like, you know, a story, but I think I understand what Bendis was going for. (Warning: it is doubtful that anyone will find the answer very satisfying.)

    What’s going on here is awkwardly belated followup from Bendis’s godawful story Age of Ultron, by way of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers. If neither of those stories interested you, tough luck – this issue kind of blatantly shows that this whole series’ lack of a plot is just a holding pattern until the stars of release schedules align and this series can connect with those.

    With that in mind, I expect this issue will make a little bit more sense to everyone in a year or two, but since it still won’t be any good then, I don’t mind spoiling the silly mystery. Beast thinks he’s created a few bad timelines, but then the Watcher corrects him, and explains that actually these aren’t the result of his use of time travel, they’re the casualties. He and the other superheroes (though Bendis is trying to keep this more focused on this series by pretending it’s all Beast’s fault) made those parallel universes collapse before they could reach the uninspiring points the pin-ups show.

    The punchline of Age of Ultron was that the superheroes’ willy-nilly abuse of time travel (in almost every Marvel series for a while there, not just All-New X-Men) had “destroyed” the spacetime continuum. Now, the spacetime continuum has seemed remarkably intact since then, so that ending was very uninteresting and abstract (not to mention out of left field and disconnected from the random events that had preceded it), but Bendis put a very very unsubtle hint at the end of the Infinity lead-in issue of Guardians of the Galaxy that there was a connection between Age of Ultron and the rampant destruction in Infinity. To spell it out: the collapse of the multiverse one timeline at a time in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers (and Avengers) is because the superheroes actively destroyed it by solving all their tiniest problems with careless time travel, and now the only way that not every conceivable timeline will be destroyed (and maybe we’ll end up with the limited number of timelines foreshadowed in Uncanny Avengers) is if someone, does the universe a favor and destroys the Earth in every timeline, which is what the Builders were trying to do in Infinity but weren’t able to because the superheroes had enough power, in every sense, to stop them.

    There are a few problems with this concept. First, it’s crappy storytelling to do a half-dozen stories with no hook or discernable plot and then justify it all later by saying there was a plan, which is very much what’s happening here. Yes, there’s a plan, but it won’t retroactively make this series seem intelligent. (After all, there’s still no reasonable explanation for why the normally responsible Beast brought the kids to the future in the first place. It’s not like “terrorist Cyclops” had proven to be any danger at all.) Secondly, for those who have been reading the whole story, the forced ambiguity about how it fits together feels awkward. Beast is seeing a bunch of alternate timelines that fell apart here, which is exactly what he’s been seeing as a member of the Illuminati in New Avengers issue after issue (and that we’ve been seeing in The Avengers as well in every issue since Infinity), but he acts like he knows nothing about that.

    I really hope they get around to spelling the whole thing out soon. This has not been a success for them; time to cut their losses.

  14. kelvingreen says:

    Nu-D is right. If the original X-Men go back with their knowledge of the future the worst that happens is that they create Earth-78455 (or Earth-616.NOW); the core timeline doesn’t get affected.

    All that said, that’s how things have always been done in the Marvel Universe but Bendis is notorious for ignoring anything that doesn’t fit his story.

  15. Jamie says:

    “The punchline of Age of Ultron was that the superheroes’ willy-nilly abuse of time travel (in almost every Marvel series for a while there, not just All-New X-Men) had “destroyed” the spacetime continuum.”

    Not just that – Wolverine specifically broke it this final time. =P

    Also, did anyone else think Infinity was utter garbage? Beautiful garbage, but it made not a lick of sense. Hickman is usually good at characterization-deprived chess piece shuffling, but he didn’t even do that well in Infinity.

  16. Jamie says:

    Say what you will about Bob Harras the EIC, but Bob Harras the writer had some talent, and Operation Galactic Storm was Infinity done well.

  17. JG says:

    Isn’t some kind of “Great Destroyer” supposed to be the original cause of the ongoing multiversal collapse in New Avengers?

    But maybe he’s just Beast’s new alias in the future.

  18. Jonny K says:

    The Transmetropolitan jam issue was great.

    I like them if you’ve got great artists each getting enough space to do a scene or two which make sense in context. Which is, er, rare.

  19. Jonny K says:

    Oh, and the finale of Young Avengers. That held up well, I thought?

  20. errant says:

    Where is Opal Luna Saturnyne to clean up this mess when you need her?

  21. Omar Karindu says:

    Bendis put a very very unsubtle hint at the end of the Infinity lead-in issue of Guardians of the Galaxy that there was a connection between Age of Ultron and the rampant destruction in Infinity.

    I dunno, my sense of “time is broken” is less that it’s a plotline and more that it’s Bendis saying “whatever rules anyone wants to use for time travel and alternate futures, use them and the hell with consistency or consequences.”

    This is a guy who has characters go on about how “time is an organism,” which sounds good right up until you realize that a) yes, Eternity’s been around since the Silver Age and b) in terms of time-travel and possible timelines, that explanation means absolutely nothing at all.

    As with most Bendis books, the fun is in seeing the character interactions and the plot is something you’re not meant to spend much time looking over; Bendis himself is much more interested int he former than the latter. He’s a writer in the odd position of writing hangout books that somehow have to gesture towards massive crossovers. The Watcher’s appearance here, for instance, is Bendis trying to trail Original Sin in his usual shaggy fashion.

    Also, did anyone else think Infinity was utter garbage? Beautiful garbage, but it made not a lick of sense. Hickman is usually good at characterization-deprived chess piece shuffling, but he didn’t even do that well in Infinity.

    Infinity was crap, but my sense is that it was a pair of bog-standard plots told with poor pacing and structure and laden with Hickman’s increasingly abstruse “cryptic” dialogue.

    The plot boils down to “the Avengers beat a bunch of generic aliens in space by hitting lots of things while Thanos is replaced as a villain by his creepy son and creepy turncoat henchman,” just stretched over way more issues that that bog-standard plot can support.

    That, plus the odd decision to have major events go nowhere or end up resolved in a tie-in issue of Avengers rather than in the main mini, made it seem a lot more complicated than it actually was.

  22. Joseph says:

    This issue at least could have been a special or annual. It has no right calling itself a regular issue.

    But my take away from this is still Bendis setting up lil Jean’s transformation into Xorn. And part of what’s plaguing Hank is seeing what he’s done/will do to Jean, and the monster he himself becomes as a result.

    As for Infinity, I really wanted to like it. Hickman can be so good at playing the long game, but with the multiple books drawing it out the ending was anticlimactic. It amounted to Marvel setting up it’s attempt to cash in on Game of Thrones (Inhumanity), and in lieu of any pay off Hickman telling us that the real event would be sometime down the line. I’ve enjoyed Hickman (and Spencer’s) Avengers books on the micro scale, but the “event” aspects have been misfires. Amazing how much better MP and East/West are.

    On the other hand, aside from these big brand titles floundering creatively, Marvel is enjoying something of a golden age. Ales Kot’s Secret Avengers is off to a good start, Hawkeye continues to be amazing. Thor is surprisingly good. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, and Ms. Marvel. Doop, Loki, Magento and Moon Knight might turn out to be interesting but certainly the first few issues of each have me coming back for more.

  23. The original Matt says:

    Infinity was telling 2 stories at the same time, and neither required the space they got. Avengers was all about military manoeuvres. And new avengers was about Thanos wanting to kill his last son.

    Earth was apparently invaded. But that got 2 whole panels? I didn’t read any tie ins.

    It was weird structure, though. Does infinity work as a mini if you don’t read avengers/new avengers? I can imagine entire plot points disappearing.

    But yes, it took more issues than needed.

  24. Niall says:

    I think Infinity was just Chapter 2 of Hickman’s Avenger’s run. He’s earned a whole lot of good will from me after his Fantastic Four run, so while Infinity was not really all that satisfying in itself, I am confident that Hickman is going somewhere.

    The Beast we see here (in All New) seems to be a completely different creature from the one we see in New Avengers – and several other books. I mean Beast is a dick on a cosmic level. He takes the high moral ground when it comes to Scot and his team, while secretly destroying entire universes in his spare time. He threatens the entire timeline just to piss off Cyclops.He’s a proper prick.

    On that note, X-Force is running into similar problems. The Fantomex we see in X-Force is not the one who we see in WATXM and likewise the Psylocke we see in X-Force is not the one we see in X-Men.

    And then of course, there are the 1000 faces of Wolverine . . .

  25. ChrisKafka says:

    Maybe the big reveal will be that every book as part of Marvel NOW took place in its own alternate universe, hence the ignoring of continuity?

    What I got from this issue is that due to Beast’s actions, the original X-Men will be so changed that when they return to their own time, they’ll be unable to remain as a team, so the future of the X-Men will be shattered, hence the dark future time lines created for all Beast’s friends.
    I get hints, like the fact that Jean and Scott can’t imagine marrying each other now. Jean not wanting such a depressing future for her adult self. Everything about young Scott wondering how he ends up like modern-day Cyclops.

    Once again, this creates the problem that the original team needs to have everything happen as it already did in Earth-616, otherwise Beast will not take the 1960s X-Men from their own timeline. If Beast does not do this, the teen X-Men don’t change Earth-616′s timeline. So, the old Earth-616 timeline remains the same….

  26. Jamie says:

    “so while Infinity was not really all that satisfying in itself, I am confident that Hickman is going somewhere.”

    I’m it’ll only take about 86 more issues to get there . . .

  27. Steve says:

    It’s always seemed to me that Bendis clearly wanted to write the O5 as teenagers and then decided to tack a story on afterwards.

  28. Wire says:

    ” I mean Beast is a dick on a cosmic level. ”

    Beast has been written as a colossal jackass for several years now, but the weird thing is that the writers don’t seem to realize it. I think they believe they’ve been writing Beast as some sort of statesman/voice of wisdom but he’s just been an annoying hypocrite.

    He was pissed with Cyclops because of X-Force, then joined up with Wolverine and didn’t seem to have a care in the world about Wolverine continuing to operate X-Force. Then he had the whole self-righteous “THIS IS ON YOU!!! YOU OWN THIS!!!” rant at Cyclops over Nightcrawler’s death, as if it was somehow unreasonable of Cyclops to send a team out to try to save the only new mutant since M-Day from a band of mutant hunting maniacs.

    Those are just the first two examples I can think of of Hank’s complete a-hole behavior from the last few years, but I don’t get the impression that the people writing him have done it intentionally.

  29. Cory says:

    It seems that some writers have acknowledged that Beast has been a douche, primarily Bendis (of all people he’s a very self-referential writer). The question is if Marvel is trying to use his behavior as a catalyst to change the rules of time travel and establish something a little more workable. The idea that all time travel is essentially a visit to an alternate world and thus creates more alternate worlds in the process essentially makes time travel meaningless as a story device. Marvel may not want that anymore especially in light of X-Men: Days of Future Past coming out. They’ve just gone and made an event out of it in order to justify such dramatic changes to the status quo. By the end of this all I foresee a set past, present, and future and less emphasis on Alternate Timelines/Realities.

  30. ChrisKafka says:

    At the end of Morrison’s X-Men run, remember, the Beast had a very negative role. Could this usage of Beast be presaging that Morrison’s future could still happen? Are we expecting too much from continuity?
    I noticed that plots in Spider Man seem to be setting up the 2099 Universe. There’s no way Marvel is going to stick to that as the actual future of the Marvel Universe (even though 2099 was a great line of books for a time), so you wonder where Marvel is going with that?
    I mean, other than a relaunch of Spider Man 2099.

  31. ASV says:

    Wasn’t Beast complicit in some kind of mass murder in Warren Ellis’s SECRET AVENGERS run? Like they destroyed a whole pocket universe or something?

  32. The original Matt says:

    You may be thinking of Astonishing X-men. Issue 30 I think.

  33. Jamie says:

    “At the end of Morrison’s X-Men run, remember, the Beast had a very negative role.”

    It was Sublime.

  34. David says:

    ASV-

    Yes, Beast specifically had to pull the trigger and kill every person living in a subterranean city.

  35. David says:

    And yes, his willingness in that story to accept that the murder of thousands of people was justifiable to save many more people does further make him a hypocrite.

  36. wwk5d says:

    Between people not asking serious or follow-up questions and the nonsensical aspects of time travel as written here…this is becoming as ridiculous as Lost.

    Shouldn’t the universe be blinking out of existence at some point anyway, if Jean never goes back and becomes involved with the Phoenix Force and save the universe?

  37. Taibak says:

    Yeah, probably best to treat time travel as something that happens, something that can tell a good story, but something not worth exploring every excruciating detail about. For, like, these exact issues.

  38. The original Matt says:

    Probably best to fuck time travel off. It’s been overused to the point of… Something… Very… Over used? In the last few years.

    My brain clearly isn’t working.

  39. Nu-D says:

    The problem isn’t too many time-travel stories. The problem is too many stories written by hacks on a deadline with no real story to tell.

  40. The original Matt says:

    Well, that’s also an issue. But when every title has time travel something going on, it’s on the same level as secret invasion. One paranoid skrulls story could be fun. 50 paranoid skrulls stories at the same time is overkill.

  41. Neil Kapit says:

    Hickman and Bendis represent the two narratively unsatisfying extremes on the plot vs. character scale. This makes for an interesting from Bendis’ Avengers to Hickman’s Avengers, but utlimately I’d almost always go with the Bendis style of writing over the Hickman style of writing. With Bendis, the “hangout” character moments are done with such empathy, natural rhythm, and psychological complexity that they go a long way towards forgiving the flimsy plot structures (at least, when there are enough of those moments to counteract the “time is an organism and it’s now broken because we say so” stuff).

    With Hickman you tend to just get plot, plot, plot with character quips and cryptic captions as the impotent attempt at a character hook. As Paul O’Brien said, it’s impressive in the same way a well-balanced spreadsheet is impressive, and that’s not what I look for in a story.

    Of course, ideally we’d get writers who can balance both….

  42. The original Matt says:

    Given a choice of the 2, I’d go with Hickman. That’s just on a book like avengers, though. I feel like avengers should be plowing through huge plots like this. That’s why, I guess, people always had it in for Bendis team book as opposed to the solo stuff. Especially on a team like avengers which should be doing big sweeping epics.

  43. Nu-D says:

    Bendis has a reputation for good character moments; but he’s just riding on his reputation these days. His work on ANX and UXM has been atrocious, including the so-called character moments.

    That hug between X-23 and li’l Cyke was the most cornball, out-of character crap I’ve seen in a comic in a long time.

  44. Neil Kapit says:

    I had a lot of problems with Bendis’ work on the Avengers for that reason, but I’ve enjoyed his X-Men titles much more. Probably because even though they’re team books, 17 years of Chris Claremont (and even more years of imitators) give the book a strong precedent for focusing on soap opera first and plot threads second (if at all).

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