This week’s release brings Brian Michael Bendis’ 79-issue run in the X-Men comics to an end. He took over as lead writer in the X-Men franchise back in 2012, one of the shock changes in Marvel team line-ups in the aftermath of AvX. Heading up two books – All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men – it’s safe to say that Bendis transformed the shape of the X-Men landscape. But how did his run pan out?
Over the next few days, I’ll be exploring different aspects of the Brian Bendis era – first up:
The concept of the All-New X-Men had been bouncing around the X-offices for some time, and the ball fell into Bendis’ hands. He made this central to his pitch – All-New X-Men launched months before Uncanny X-Men, and all three of the X-Men crossovers in his run affected this team. It’s safe to say that, to Bendis, All-New X-Men was the flagship book.
There’s a certain flow to Bendis’ time on All-New X-Men. At first, he’s relatively conservative about making changes to the characters and concepts; sure, he has Jean Grey confronted by her future as swiftly as All-New X-Men #5, and she’s soon doing everything she can to change her fate, kissing Beast and pushing Cyclops away. But nothing changed too much, and right up until Battle of the Atom fans were convinced the All-New X-Men would soon be back in their own time. I well remember theorising (on this very site) that they’d be going back and that the book would change focus. Instead, by Uncanny X-Men #13 Bendis was carefully establishing that there was no way the All-New X-Men were going back:
Getting bolder, in The Trial of Jean Grey Bendis mixed things up quite dramatically, giving Jean a whole new powerset, with subtle hints that Professor Xavier’s repression of her telepathy during her early teenage years had been the reason this power hadn’t developed before.
Still, with that notable exception, Bendis remained cautious – up to the 2014 Uncanny X-Men and All-New X-Men annuals. These focused in on the character of Tempus, a potent time-traveller. We learned that, in the aftermath of Age of Ultron (a Marvel event that Bendis had penned prior to taking over the X-Men franchise), the nature of time had changed. Now, to change the past is to completely rewrite the present; and so Tempus, in a neat parallel of the All-New X-Men, unintentionally wipes out the timeline she has grown to love. It’s now the case that the present-day Marvel Universe is only stable so long as the All-New X-Men are in the present. The moment they return to their own time, all the continuity we know and love is erased. Simply put: there’s no going back. The All-New X-Men are here to stay. Incidentally, if you want to know how shocking those two annuals were, check out this haunting scene. They’re easily among some of the best comics I’ve read in years.
That revelation seemed to embolden Bendis (although it’s possible he was also influenced by discussions about leaving the X-Men franchise to write Invincible Iron Man). This year saw more changes than before, with Angel exposed to the Black Vortex and transformed both physically and in terms of abilities. Most dramatically of all, in All-New X-Men #40 Bendis had Jean reveal that Iceman was gay.
The key images leaked online, and fan reaction was explosive. Still, Bendis completed that arc in Uncanny X-Men #600, and brought it to a satisfying enough resolution to get a complimentary article in the New York Times.
The road wasn’t always smooth for All-New X-Men, though. Several of Bendis’ arcs – a strange, drawn-out tussle with Mystique, a second attack by the future Brotherhood, and an odd journey to the Ultimate Universe – seemed odd, low-key and largely irrelevant. Ironically enough, though, the last of those three arcs may yet come to be important, as it’s been alluded to during the “Secret Wars” tie-in Ultimate End.
Any discussion of the All-New X-Men has to include a brief focus in on the character of Jean, who Bendis clearly loves a great deal; he shows far too many characters falling in love with her, and even lampshades it in Uncanny X-Men #600:
Bendis’ love for Jean radiates through every page of his writing, but many fans just couldn’t see why; he wrote a Jean who frequently abused her powers, using her telepathy to force Angel to choose to stay in the present day, and ‘outing’ Iceman as gay. Many fans were left irritated and even outraged at Jean’s choices, but Bendis himself was defensive of her.
Strangely enough, for me Jean’s highlight under Bendis’ pen is in All-New X-Men #26. After a nightmare in which she laid claim to the Phoenix Force, Jean has a seriously awkward conversation with the present-day Cyclops – and actually begins to make a move on him. It’s a brilliant moment, tinged with the awkwardness of a teenager talking to the man she knows she’d otherwise have married.
Needless to say, Cyclops turns her down!
Next: Uncanny X-Men!