X-Men – NOW! To the Battle of the Atom

When Marvel NOW! began it took nearly every book that was being published at the time by Marvel Comics and rebooted them with new writers, artists, concepts and sometimes casts.  For the most part it worked, in a few cases it did not and in the case of the X-Men, it happened to worked really well.

The first perception though was that the X-Men books would be mishandled.  There was fear that the X-books after being so good for so long, that Brian Michael Bendis who was announced as the writer would do what he did with the Avengers and throw the baby out with the bathwater.  It is interesting to note that when Bendis did take over the Avengers, and even though he made some drastic changes, it was one of the strongest periods in Avengers history creatively speaking.  But the worry did not come from that necessarily; it was the end of his tenure on the Avengers franchise that did people in as it seemed he was burned out and running out of ideas.  As it is, Bendis’ last year on the Avengers books was his worst year.  It was by no means terrible, but in comparison it was not as good as anything that had come before.  So, with the X-books being as good as they were and a writer who was not doing as well as he had previously, there was some justification.
The first flagship book of the X-franchise to make its debut was All New X-Men.  It was a title that not only paid homage to its predecessor in name but also thematically as it featured the return of the original X-Men as their sixteen year old selves.  When the book opens Hank McCoy, the Beast, is going through another transmutation but unlike the other times he fears he will not live through this one.  With that upon his shoulders and the state of affairs between humanity and mutants what it is, he sees no other option than to go back in time to bring forth the younger versions of themselves not only to possibly save his live, but save mutanity by bringing them back more in line with Xavier’s dream.

That is the premise that Bendis sets up for the first flagship X-book in Marvel’s line and it shows that all he needed was a change of scenery to get him back into fighting shape.  The good thing is, is that Bendis is not tearing anything down, but embracing what has come before and adding his own stamp upon it while moving everything forward.  With so many great writers preceding him on the books in the last few years, Bendis does a great job of honouring their work.
The second book to roll out under Bendis’ reign would be a reboot of Uncanny X-Men.  It spun directly out of the events of All New X-Men with Cyclops, Magneto, Magik and Emma Frost making up the core team.  He immediately sets up the status quo of the book making Cyclops into an almost civil right leader and his team a rogue faction – all of them on the run but with a mission to recruit the new emerging mutants, to protect them and their future.  It is an interesting take by Bendis to define Cyclops in such a way, but one that seems perfectly natural as he has been the de facto leader and face of mutants everywhere for many years.  Cyclops, while being the new face of mutant uprising and battling their oppression, also wages a war within himself over the murder of his mentor Professor X.  With Cyclops as perhaps the strongest and yet one of the most flawed characters of the X-Men, the internal struggle he faces with every aspect and corner of his life reminding him of what he did makes Uncanny a book that stands apart from the other books on the stands today.

Marvel giving the reigns so to speak of the X-franchise has turned out to be one of the best decisions of the Marvel NOW! era.  Not only are both books outstanding on their own but he has woven them tightly together to make it seem as if it was a single book that simply switches off viewpoints.  During his Avengers tenure he had written both leading titles but kept those books separate letting them have their own identity.  It worked well as the teams were drastically different with missions that were diverse.  While All-New and Uncanny each focus on different aspects of the mutants, they are both ultimately about race and family.  Bendis has created a unified vision of just what these books are about and where he wants to go.

On the artistic front the books are just a wonder to behold. Stuart Immomen is producing some of the best art of his career on All New X-Men.  His portrayal of the original X-Men is just amazing as he perfectly captures the awkwardness and inexperience of the younger students.  The way Immomen draws Iceman is quite hilarious, but also shows how little experience the character had using his powers at that age compared to the way he looks now.  On the Uncanny front two totally different artistic styles switch off every arc between Chris Bachalo and Frazier Irving.  It also distinguishes the two books from each other where Immomen is all clean lines and brightness, Bachalo and Irving are a little darker and grittier complimenting the storyline of fugitives on the run.  Magik looks dangerous and every bit the demon under Irving’s pencil while the new mutants such as Goldballs are nicely defined by Bachalo.  Even though the books ship on an accelerated shipping schedule, it is nice to have consistent art teams in place to keep the books looking as uniform as possible.

As the first crossover between the X-books, the Battle of the Atom looms, everything that Bendis has been doing has been leading right up to it. The conflict between the two teams, the distrust between the public and the mutants, the possible ramifications to the timeline of the younger students being there and just what will happen should one side’s way of thinking prevail are merely drops in the bucket as to what has been happening in the books.  So it is good to know that the X-Men have been put into very capable hands with Bendis and company on board.  While initially the future seemed uncertain, fans can take comfort knowing that Cyclops, Wolverine and every other mutant are being taken care of.

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