Brian Michael Bendis
David Marquez, Bruce Timm & Laura Martin, Arthur Adams & Justin Ponsor, David Mack, Skottie Young & Jason Keith, Robbi Rodriguez & Justin Ponsor, Lee Bermejo & Marte Garcia, Kent Williams, J.G. Jones, Ronnie Del Carmen, J. Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino, Maris Wicks, Jason Shiga, Dan Hipp, Max Wittert, Jake Parker & Matthew Wilson, Jill Thompson, and Paul Smith & Bob Wiacek & Jodie Bellaire
All-New X-Men #25’s cover blurb proclaims that this is a “monumental” issue, and it actually doesn’t feel like hyperbole. When All-New X-Men was first announced, many readers and critics scoffed at the concept—the original five X-Men, traveling through time to discover their shocking futures? Okay, that’s a good concept for a first arc, but an ongoing series? The original X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman) couldn’t possibly stay in the future indefinitely, could they?
Twenty-five issues later, they’re still here. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and regular artist Stuart Immonen have created one of the most fun, gripping, and vital X-Men books on the stands. There have been stumbles along the way (“Battle of the Atom,” what the fuck?) but Bendis has totally sold me on the concept of the young X-Men staying in the present, determined to make a better future for themselves and mutantkind. I don’t want them to go back.
But All-New X-Men #25 isn’t about the time-traveling X-Men. Rather, it takes us back to the man who brought them into the present in the first place—Henry McCoy, aka Beast. This is a dark night of the soul for Beast, as he receives a mysterious visitor who rebukes him for meddling with the time stream. Beast convinced the X-Men to time travel with him by telling them that they needed to stop present-day Cyclops from committing mutant genocide—a claim that was, to put it politely, bullshit. Beast hoped to shame his former friend-turned-revolutionary from his current path by confronting him with his young, idealistic self and his teammates, but this plan backfired. Not only did the young X-Men refuse to go back to the past, they eventually joined Cyclops and his team. Beast knows he’s made a mistake, but can it be put right?
The bulk of the story is essentially one big issue of What If? illustrated by a murderer’s row of talented artists, most of whom have never previously worked on an X-Book with Bendis. Beast is shown visions of over a dozen possible futures for the X-Men, many dark and foreboding. Bruce Timm draws a beautiful, dangerous vision of Jean Grey as Xorn from “Battle of the Atom.” J. Scott Campbell draws the X-Men in space. (Nightcrawler: Space Pirate?) Arthur Adams draws a Beast who succombs to his animal instincts and devours dinosaurs in the Savage Land.
But it’s not all grimdark apocalyptic futures; Bendis gives a good ribbing to familiar X-Men tropes and conventions, with hilarious results. The schism between Cyclops and Wolverine is transformed into “Scott + Logan: BFFS Forever!” Maris Wicks draws Kitty and Piotr’s on-again, off-again romance as the world’s most batshit soap opera (“Where’s your son?” “Apocalypse ate him”) with perfect comedic timing. And Max Wittert, whose comics parodying Jean and Scott’s domestic life have been a hit on Tumblr, makes his Marvel Comics debut illustrating what Jean and Wolverine’s homelife is really like. These scenes are a big highlight of the issue, and are fun departures from the X-Men’s usual action-oriented adventures. The sheer variety of the art makes All-New X-Men #25 one of the most unique comic books out right now.
Unfortunately, it’s hard not to feel “future fatigue” with the X-Men. There are a myriad of alternate futures already glimpsed throughout the franchise’s history—most recently in “Battle of the Atom” and Wolverine and the X-Men—and contemplating a dozen more is a bit exhausting. This issue has a lot of intriguing ideas, but limited to splash pages or two-page spreads, some feel like discarded, underdeveloped ideas jotted down in a notebook rather than fully-realized concepts.
Bendis is clearly having fun with this issue, and it has the vibe of a jam session with some of his favorite artists. But for readers who want to see the plot move forward after the status quo-changing end to “The Trial of Jean Grey,” Bendis’s interlude may be too self-indulgent.