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‘All-New X-Men’ revitalizes the status quo of Marvel’s signature franchise

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When Brian Michael Bendis first began writing the “Avengers” in 2004 his first act was to completely disassemble the team. The status quo that had built up over the previous five decades was removed from the picture. But in that act Bendis was able to get back to the core of what the Avengers originally were Marvel Comics’ greatest superheroes.

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At the time the “Avengers” were created in 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby assembled what were then Marvel’s most powerful/known heroes, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp. They were soon joined by Captain America and were Marvel’s most prominent heroes. Slowly that faded away and the star power of the Avengers subsided to characters that could not quite make the cut of being important enough to hold their own ongoing series.

So Bendis revitalized the Avengers by getting them back to their roots with Marvel’s biggest heroes joining the team, that meant a complete shake up to who could be an Avenger as Spider-Man and Wolverine joined a team that included Captain America and Iron Man to make the “New Avengers.”

Since the disassembling of the Avengers, the heroes that were once an afterthought to Marvel’s publishing plans have found new life dominating the sales charts for Marvel Comics with several spin-off series. Bendis ended up writing more issues of “Avengers” than any other writer in history.

So what happens when Bendis is given the keys to Marvel’s perennial powerhouse the X-Men? It is once again a complete shake up that returns the characters to their roots in an all new way.

With Marvel NOW! in 2012 Bendis took over writing the X-Men by launching a new series “All-New X-Men” with artist Stuart Immonen. Unlike with what he did with the “Avengers,” Bendis kept the active team of mutants together and then spiced it up by bringing the original team, as introduced by Lee and Kirby in the pages of “X-Men” #1 (1963), to the present.

What bringing the original five X-Men to the present day Marvel Universe does is creates a great deal of conflict shaking up the circumstances of the X-Men that have existed for years. As the lives of the X-Men proceeded ever closer to the nihilistic future that they have fought so hard to avoid they had become grim and gritty without the sense of wonder that was originally promised with the tagline “The Strangest Teens of All.” Through countless deaths, lost loves, twisted manipulations, and a constant war for equality that is ever falling away the X-Men became hardened, jaded and cynical. They were far from living up to the dream of Professor Xavier of a peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants.

When the dream seemed all but lost to the mutants, the idealistic individuals that first took up the fight for Mutant equality came to them. Seeing the innocence of the young founding X-Men rattled quite a few of the current members, but nothing could prepare the young team for what they would find in their future.

It is this conflict between old and new that sparks the storylines. From the contingent of X-Men that want nothing more than to force these time travelled X-Men back to the past or the contingent that sees them as a bright spot in the X-Men’s darkest hour. What the time lost teens want is to do anything they can to prevent the future they are seeing from happening.

As the original X-Men were formed Cyclops led a team of Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman. At the point they are plunked from the past they are about a month or two into the job. They have much to learn about their powers and the shades of gray that exist when you fight for civil equality using super powers.

The most affected by the time jump is Marvel Girl aka Jean Grey. Not only is she dealing with a complete expansion of her powers to include telepathy for the first time, she is hammered with the fact that she is dead in this time. The man she loves has killed the man who was like a father to her. She is revered by many in the mutant community while sneered at by others. Everything she had wanted out of life is thrown into complete turmoil and like any teenager she completely flips out.

At these moments you feel for Jean, you get a connection to what she is experiencing. No matter how the hero has been maligned in comics by fans everywhere for the trappings that other writers have fallen into when dealing with this character, Bendis makes her completely interesting. It is fascinating, you read the book and hope for the freak out, but you also dread the repercussions. She is not just the pretty girl next door anymore and by changing that Bendis has made this character once again a star at Marvel.

The team is quickly indoctrinated into the ongoing mutant civil war as the Cyclops of present day has taken a militant approach to dealing with the civil rights of mutants. Seeing his future self face to face the young Cyclops not only has to deal with the fact that he will turn into a man he cannot comprehend he also has to deal with the looks of his friends and fellow mutants who see him as the man who killed Professor Xavier, something he has not done and something that he can’t imagine doing in his worst nightmares.

The conflict between the pacifist X-Men who still follow Xavier’s dream and the militant team is a constant theme throughout “All-New X-Men.” Bendis is able to manipulate the emotions of the characters so that you can understand each side of the conflict and why they have their views.

Bringing it all to life in the graphic format is primarily the art of Immonen with inker Wade von Grawbadger. During the initial 15 issues of the series, this team provided art for 11 of the issues (David Marquez drew three and David LaFuente drew the other one).

Immonen is able to convey much of the emotional turmoil that Bendis needs to get the drama of the situation across. The artwork is stunning in its beauty. Immonen gives the young team a distinct look even in their school uniforms with body language and mannerisms that fit a teenage team of super heroes. They are smaller and less muscularly defined than the “adult” X-Men and this contrast in size plays nicely with the dynamics of the story.

The tone established by Immonen for the series is carried forward with Marquez’s artwork in the second story arc as he draws the original X-Men’s first days after agreeing to stay in the present. They chafe under the demands of the school and they want to find their place in this world that is completely different to them. One runs away and another comes face to face with his future self that scares him to the point where he feels he needs to get away from the situation no matter what.

LaFunete’s artwork on “All-New X-Men” issue 15 is a change of pace that falls in line with the more humorous tone of the issue. LaFuente’s style is more inspired by Manga than the look of Immonen’s realistic style.

Much like Bendis knocked the rust off of the Avengers when he reintroduced them as the “New Avengers,” the writer has revitalized the X-Men franchise of Marvel. With “All-New X-men,” Bendis has reinvigorated the X-Men with a new purpose bringing the roots of “The Strangest Teens of All” to the modern era of comics. The exploration of the character growth combined with the beautiful artwork makes this brand of X-Men stand on its own as one of the more seminal periods in X-Men history.

The first 15 issues of “All-New X-Men” have been collected in three volumes by Marvel Comics. Find them at your local comic book retailer or your nearest book store. Each is also available on your digital device.

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