After eight years of writing the Avengers, in 2012 Marvel announced that Brian Bendis was moving to a whole different franchise – the X-Men. Now, we’ve learned that ‘Uncanny X-Men #600’ will be his final issue. In honour of this run, today I’m going to cast my eye over the last few years…
Bendis’ run began with his bringing the original X-Men into the present-day in ‘All-New X-Men #1’. It was actually an idea that had been doing the rounds at various Marvel retreats for a few years, and Bendis was immediately attracted to the idea. As he told Newsarama: “I think it’s one of the greatest imagination-inspiring storylines – the idea that your future is going to be hell on earth.”
The real shocker was that, while Bendis brought the original X-Men into the present-day, he kept them here. He was honest from the start that this would be the new status quo, but nobody believed him; I freely admit that, by the time ‘Battle of the Atom’ came around, I’d expected this to be the storyline that ended that arc. I was wrong, and – with the 2014 annuals – I learned that the rules of time-travel had changed. Again, Bendis had been honest about it from the start, warning that fans should be very afraid of time-travel. We’re now in a place where we honestly don’t know if the All-New X-Men can and should go back at all!
The series has seen Bendis dramatically change the lives of the All-New X-Men. The relationship between Cyclops and Jean Grey was tested almost to destruction, with Jean telepathically learning of everything that the future held from her – a stunning scene.
In many senses, Jean held a starring role in ‘All-New X-Men’. For a while, we see her running from her future – even toying with the idea of a relationship with Beast instead of Cyclops – and ‘Battle of the Atom’ left her facing a future that seemed even worse than what she had just seen. It was in ‘The Trial of Jean Grey’ that events really kicked off, though, expanding Jean’s powerset in a rather creative way.
As for Cyclops, he was left reeling by the man he had become, and fell prey to Mystique’s manipulations. Ultimately, though, the core of the character remained solid, and in the aftermath of ‘The Trial of Jean Grey’ he made a fateful decision: to spend some time with his father in space, so launching into his own solo series.
Beast was fascinated by the time-travel conundrums, and appalled by some of his future self’s actions. Thanks to a telepathic ‘slip’ by his older self, his feelings for Jean – bubbling beneath the surface since ‘Uncanny X-Men #1’ – were revealed, but any possibility of a relationship soon broke down. The evidence of recent issues is that he’s a lot more cut-up about that than he makes out.
Angel and Iceman have been less changed, with Iceman recently showing he can pull off tricks he shouldn’t have learned for decades, while Angel is the guy who wanted to head back to their own time. Reluctantly sticking around, he’s now started an unlikely relationship with X-23.
One of the most fun twists in the book, though, was the addition of Kitty Pryde (‘Professor K’) as the All-New X-Men’s mentor. This led to her transitioning to Cyclops’ school in ‘Battle of the Atom’, and it was Bendis – who also writes ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ – who initiated the popular Kitty Pryde / Star-Lord relationship that has proven key to ‘Legendary Star-Lord’.
‘All-New X-Men’ has largely been a character-driven book, but the most common criticism has been the glacial slowness with which characters have progressed and mysteries have been revealed. That said, the concept alone has proven ground-breaking and emotionally satisfying, and has made the book an intensely fun one to read.
A few months passed, though, and the inevitable happened; Bendis launched a new series of ‘Uncanny X-Men’. He placed Cyclops in the position of founding a ‘revolution’ of some kind, although he recently suggested that Cyclops had actually had a nervous breakdown at the outset (and on a reread, the subtle hints are all there). The revolution has suffered slightly by the fact that we haven’t really had an explanation of the ideology driving Cyclops in the present-day, only getting a real hint as Cyclops conversed with Matthew Malloy in ‘The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier’. From a dramatic viewpoint, that’s made it difficult to understand just how radically (if at all) Cyclops has deviated from Xavier’s Dream.
Bendis wove an entertaining tale, building up a shadowy threat that meant Sentinels were attacking wherever the X-Men went. He teamed Cyclops with Magik – whose power-levels were dramatically increased, and who began taking lessons from Doctor Strange in the past – as well as Emma Frost; the relationship between Cyclops and Emma post-‘AvX’ was worked in a brilliantly nuanced manner. When Bendis first handled Emma, he seemed to really struggle with the character, especially with her ‘voice; this has greatly improved with time. Magneto was a semi-constant presence, with an issue setting up the launch of the ‘Magneto’ series, and Dazzler was also a regular.
Dazzler, though, proved one of Bendis’ most controversial ideas. In the aftermath of an extended period of torture at Mystique’s hands, Dazzler launched herself onto a new path – complete with a makeover, that had very strong negative reactions from fans.
Ultimately, though, the break-out star of ‘Uncanny X-Men’ is Tempus, one of Cyclops’ young mutants who starred in the annuals. Her time-travel powers have proven an excellent mechanic for explaining the ramifications of time-travel, and tied in wonderfully into the ongoing arc.
As with ‘All-New X-Men’, ‘Uncanny X-Men’ tended to be slow-moving – sometimes too much so, and with some anti-climaxes (such as the Dark Beast’s death). That said, ‘The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier’ has proved to be an absolutely pulse-pounding read, with twists and turns that are seriously unpredictable. The book has become a must-not-miss.
Although some X-fans have become convinced the X-Men are soon to vanish from the comic book scene, Bendis has been insistent that this is not the case, even in the interview where he announced he was leaving the X-books as a franchise writer. Even though he is leaving, he continues to argue that the X-Men have a future in Marvel Comics – but, with his stories set to culminate in ‘Uncanny X-Men #600’ and with the Marvel Universe’s future in doubt post-‘Secret Wars’, it remains to be seen what that future will really look like.