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?