Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Uncanny X-Men #600 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Bendis has two pretty significant tasks here.  First, he has to wrap up any loose ends remaining from his 2.5 year run on the X-Men title.  At the same time, he has at least has to hint at the reality that the X-Men face after "Secret Wars."  As usual with Bendis (at least in terms of his run on the X-Men), he manages to make his way quickly to the ending here in a way that doesn't feel rushed, since he takes the time to hit the right emotional notes along the way.

The "Secret Wars" task is perhaps the hardest, because it's actually difficult to tell when this issue takes place.  (He's been pretty clear in tweets that Marvel's timing issues with "Secret Wars" is a major source of frustration.)  My guess is that it's post-"Secret Wars," though we still don't know how exactly we can tell the pre-"Secret Wars" world from the post-event one (other than perhaps the absence of the Fantastic Four).  It's pretty clear that "Extraordinary X-Men" #1 happens in the post-"Secret Wars" era, and three events here set up the status quo that we saw in that issue.  At the very least, then, if this story happen pre-"Secret Wars," it means that the status quo at the end of this issue sticks in the post-"Secret Wars" era.  (Jesus, I need a drink just writing those sentences.)

First, Hank leaves the X-Men after Storm stages an intervention that he mistakes (or doesn't, really) for a trial.  In "Extraordinary X-Men" #1, we learn that Hank finds himself with the Inhumans, researching the impact that the Terrigen Mists have on the mutant population.  Second, Illyana and Peter reconcile.  She lets him know that she's been studying under Dr. Strange and regrets that she didn't learn to control her powers sooner.  He simply decides to love her.  Was it a bit easy and simplistic?  Yes.  But, frankly, Peter's love for Illyana has always been a bit easy and simplistic.  The only time that it wasn't was during the "Dark Peter" phase in the wake of "Avengers vs. X-Men."  It was that Peter that threatened to kill Illyana (in "Uncanny X-Men" #18).  Bendis makes it pretty clear here that both Illyana and Peter have grown since then.  Even if the moment is rushed, he makes a pretty compelling case that this reconciliation would've happened eventually.  He just shortened the timeframe.  Finally, Jean comes to grips with being in the present by telling the team that she needs a break.  If they're going to be in the present forever, then she wants them to live their lives here.  It sets up her presence at E.S.U. in "Extraordinary X-Men" #1.  Although the larger mysteries about the Terrigen Mists and Scott's fate remain, Bendis gets the characters where they need to be for "Extraordinary X-Men" #1 to make sense.

With the requisite deck-clearing accomplished, Bendis is able to focus on the story that you can tell that he really wants to tell:  Bobby coming out of the closet.  Now, the media spoiled Bobby's coming out for me, so I wasn't as shocked as I could've been.  (That said, it wasn't all that shocking, given that we knew that his younger self was gay.)  But, Bendis handles it exactly as I'd want him to handle it.  Most importantly, Bobby admits that he's gay (yay!).  As a teenager, he just desperately wanted a part of him that wasn't hated and persecuted, so he pushed off the moment of reckoning.  Weeks became years, and he suddenly found himself trapped.  (Bendis does a much better job of having Bobby explain it than I do here, so you really should just read the issue.)

The part that I liked best was that Bendis presents us the Bobby that we all know and love, but the one that the X-Men themselves are quick to forget.  Jean reads his mind and reveals that he's worried that taking 10 percent of the energy that he puts into the X-Men and putting it into making himself happy would make him selfish.  It's a reminder that Bobby, at the end of the day, is the last of the original X-Men standing.  He may play the joker and be dismissed as one, but, to even his own surprise, he's Professor X's legacy.  It's not Jean or Scott or Warren or Hank.  It's Bobby.  Jean makes the case to him that he'll finally be the person -- and X-Man -- that he was meant to be by being true to himself.  I hope someone really seizes on that, the idea that the part of Bobby that always failed to meet his potential was the part focused on keeping himself in the closet.  With Bobby free, I'm ready to see a whole new Iceman.  In this way, Bendis is addressing haters that say that outing Iceman is simply a politically correct diversification of the line.  He's telling us that we're finally getting the Bobby that we always knew that he could be; now, we just know why he was struggling to be that guy.

Given his importance to Bendis' run, Scott actually gets short-shrift here.  The issue ends with Scott gathering all the mutants on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC to prove that they can be united and not kill one another.  It's here where Bendis is rushed.  We're not told how Scott manages to track down every mutant and gather them in Washington so quickly.  It's implied that he created the mini-Cerebros (something we also see in "Extraordinary X-Men" #1), but we're not given any insight into how he did so.  (After all, Scott himself was never a technological genius.)  Moreover, it's clear that it's not this Scott-engineered event that results in humanity hating the X-Men, as we learned they do in (again) "Extraordinary X-Men" #1.  For how important "Dark Scott" (if you will) has been not just to Bendis' run, but to the X-Men line since "X-Men:  Schism," it's weird to see him reduced to organizing a publicity stunt.  In case you were looking for an update on Bendis' other creations, the students from the New Xavier Institute, you'll be disappointed.  They're given only a few panels of sparring with Iceman here; I guess it shows that they're so well integrated into the School that they're little more than background noise.

Overall, Bendis does what he needs to do here.  A lot of the questions that I had in "Extraordinary X-Men" #1 have been answered, and, if nothing else, I'm thrilled to see Bobby come out.  It might not be a mind-blowing final issue, but, frankly, we didn't need that from Bendis.  It's a reflection of his careful and steady stewardship of the line over these last 2.5 years.

As anyone who's read this blog for a while knows, I really disliked Bendis during his time on the "Avengers."  ("Dislike" is probably generous.)  As such, I was skeptical on him essentially taking over the X-Men.  I had picked up the X-Men again with "Messiah Complex" in 2007, and I was thrilled with the amount of character development that every author brought to the table since then.  We watched any number of characters -- Scott, Henry, Bobby, Kitty, Illyana, Peter -- evolve into different people than they had been.  It was full of steps forward and steps backwards, but it was a thrill to watch it happen organically.  These developments didn't come from events that suddenly "changed everything" only for everything to look exactly like it originally looked after a few issues.  Instead, the events were the vehicles to show these changes.  Scott wasn't corrupted by the Phoenix in "Avengers vs. X-Men;" the Phoenix was the vehicle to show his corruption.

As such, when Bendis came on board, he was responsible for keeping this streak going.  It might've been crazy to bring the original X-Men into the present, but he's really successfully used them as the catalyst for change that Henry hoped that they'd be, even if the results are different than he expected.  Slowly but surely, Bendis brought the X-Men back together.  Everyone didn't rush together to defeat a villain and decided that they all loved each other.  (I'm looking at you, "Inferno.")  It's been a delicate rapprochement that happened in phases and feels precarious.  But, it's the X-Men, and it's supposed to feel that way.  Bendis leaves us with the sense here that this eight-year story -- the Rise and Fall of Scott Summers -- has come to an end, and he sets the stage for the new story, even if he's not going to be the one to write it.  So long, Bendis, and thanks for all the fish.

*** (three of five stars)

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