All-New X-Men 8

Alright students, welcome back. Today we’re looking at All-New X-Men # 8. I hope you’ve done your reading, but if you haven’t quite finished I think you’ll be ok.

There’s the bell.

1st Period: Psychology

The process of individuation features prominently in the work of many noted psychologists. It is perhaps most associated with the writings of Carl Jung, but, in reality, it is one of those essential questions that we strive to solve as part of the human condition: how do we become who we are? Jung believed that humans went through two major stages, the first an attempt to become a part of a community and the second an attempt to hold onto that cultural identity without being subsumed by it. This is obviously an oversimplification, even if you hold to this idea, it is obvious that we are taking both actions at all times, but there is something poignant about it.

The X-Men franchise, and especially All-New X-Men, is a fascinating look at these processes. Like nearly all teenagers, the X-Men are searching for ways to be accepted, to find community. One could make an argument that this search is one of the cornerstones of the X-Men mythos. But in the case of Brian Bendis’ All-New X-Men, we get a very rare look at the ways that these “strangest teens of all” are becoming individuals. This issue, we turn our gaze on Warren Worthington.

Warren has been deeply concerned by his own seeming absence from this future, but now he finds that it may be just as distressing to discover the truth. Metal-winged, long-haired, and speaking in riddles, Angel’s joy at meeting his counterpart is hardly reciprocated.

The Angel we meet here is familiar but decidedly a different take than the one you might know from Wolverine and the X-Men. He’s a little sharper, a little more with it, but maybe that’s just the effect of pairing him with one of the only mutants on Earth who’s less comfortable in this time and place than he is.

The sequence where the two Angels team up to take on a HYDRA assault does make an important point, though. When the X-Men started they were designed to be a small team that would handle the threat of other, more sinister mutants. They weren’t assembled to handle gun-toting uprisings or planetary threats. That’s changed. And they’ve changed along with it. The current Angel is more than capable of decimating HYDRA, but it’s not so easy for Warren. Warren’s only power is flight, at this stage. That means that he can move freely in six directions instead of four. But bullets don’t much care how high you are, you’re either in range or you’re not a threat. The fact that this fight goes so well for Warren is a miracle. And despite his charm, Angel’s complete obliviousness highlights the disturbing ways that the world has changed for mutants.

2nd Period – Philosophy

One of the primary disagreements between Aristotle and Plato was the value of Democracy. Plato, heavily influenced by Socrates, who was executed under a democratic system, saw Democracy as a form of mob rule that pandered to the lowest common denominator. Aristotle, Plato’s disciple, felt that the quality of a political system could not be separated from its character. While he agreed that an aristocracy (in this case rule by the best, as opposed to rule by the rich) was superior to a democracy, he argued that aristocracies frequently decay into oligarchies (or rule by the few) and that these are inferior to a constitutional democracy or timocracy (rule favoring the honorable) and even to a mob-rule democracy. Your opinion of which philosopher is right largely depends on how much of their other theory you agree with* and how cynical you are as well as what you’re cynical about.

Warren is quickly learning to see the truth in both arguments. After all, of the original X-Men, Warren was the only one who voted to return to the past and now he’s a willing hostage of his teammates.

This issue proves that that willingness is not to last. Though it’s hard to argue that Scott and Jean kind of need to be here, it’s also clear that Warren would be better off in the past. Aristotle argued that the chief virtue of democracy must be freedom. Should Warren’s freedom to leave overrule his teammates’ right to their memories? Does this make Professor Xavier a tyrant or a philosopher king? In the true Athenian fashion, this issue tackles these questions head on in a debate, however, it ends in the Athenian fashion as well.

Never forget that Plato acknowledged the decay of the aristocratic system, the true disagreement between he and Aristotle was if a well-functioning democracy was superior to a tyranny.

Aristotle also provided us with one of the first definitions of comedy in his Poetics. To Aristotle comedies were stories of low or base characters seeking insignificant aims, and end with some accomplishment of the aims which either lightens the initial baseness or reveals the insignificance of the aims.  But as years of X-Men comics and the Jun Fukuda Godzilla movies have shown us, clearly a better definition would be ‘Iceman and Kitty Pryde dubbing real life’*.

This sequence is honestly pretty amazing. One of the things I’ve felt to be missing from X-Men of late is baseball. Not specifically mutant baseball, but all those moments of casual funny weirdness that make their world feel alive. This rather scathing look at Cap and the X-Men is made all the better by Bendis’ choice not to tell us what is really being said. It speaks to the dull necessity of the scene that it made its way in but didn’t need to be heard or even summarized for the issue to continue.

Even more exciting is the possibility that there will be significant fall-out from this conversation. Serious space-time incongruities and a potential trump card against Cyclops’ mutant revolution are both important issues for the Avengers. Though  next issue we’re promised follow-up on Mystique’s appearance last month, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cap shows up around our humble school again.

3rd Period – Art

David Marquez handles the art for this issue. While he’s not quite Stewart Immonen, the general tone of the art is similar. It’s an attractive and exceedingly modern looking book. Perhaps Marquez’s biggest strength is his ability to use small panels. This issue features a number of huge panels, but it doesn’t suffer much for it because Marquez manages to make every panel feel justified. The battle scene toward the start of the book is probably the best example. There are plenty of artists who would have either cut up these panels or just used full-page splashes, but somehow it works.

He also does a great job of rendering the winged mutants’ expressions. Especially in battle, where space is precious and dialogue is rarer, this can do wonders. Given that the sequence is a opportunity to compare two versions of the same person (kind of), it’s essential.

Unfortunately, other characters don’t fare as well. In fact, pretty much every other character looks at least a bit weird. Thor is a notable example, but Jean, Cap, Scott, and the modern Iceman all have their moments, especially around the cheekbones. Luckily, the issue only really requires Warren to do any non-verbal emoting.

4th Period – Literature

Let’s talk about pacing. I walked into my comic shop today, had a nice chat with my friend who works there, wandered about a bit, and went to buy my selections for the week. While I was there I mentioned how recently it was that the first week of the month was my light week and how quickly that’s changed. My friend pointed out that Marvel has been front loading lately, and I couldn’t deny it. Which reminded me just how long it’s felt since the last time I read a new issue of All-New X-Men.

Now these things are subjective, and it hasn’t been all that long, but after the blitz of issues that started the series, I’m just not used to the sense of having to wait for more.

I know that Brian Bendis has had his hands busy relaunching Uncanny X-Men, but part of the reason it feels like so long is how different the comic’s pace is. In the first few issues, everything was happening as fast as you could process it, quiet moments like Jean discovering her future were set against the backdrop of life-saving surgery.

Now we have distinctly more breathing room. The fight between the Angels and HYDRA is just as action packed as the face-off between the two Cyclopses, if not more, but it doesn’t have the same stakes, and that affects the pacing too.

Additionally, we’ve been hearing Angel’s reluctance to stay and his worries about his future for months now, and while the delay drives home how much his voice is being ignored, it also lends a dash of tedium to the story.

The point is that Bendis hasn’t been quite on his game for at least three issues. It’s not that they haven’t been interesting additions to the story he’s telling, it’s just that they’ve felt slow, and when you have a reputation for being a wordy wide-screen comic writer, you can’t afford to slow down when you’re on a roll.

I haven’t been reviewing Uncanny X-Men, but I’m comfortable saying that it was not the bolt of lightning I found All-New X-Men to be in its early issues. I just hope that Bendis has the energy to handle both series at once.

 

 

*Because Aristotle is wrong about everything.

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