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X-Men: Everything old all-new again

By Staff | Feb 28, 2013

The X-Men have long been a popular brand, dominating the comic industry for years before crossing over into television and movies.

But the franchise wasn’t always a juggernaut (if you’ll pardon the expression). In fact, the series was on the verge of being canceled before it ever reached 100 issues. Reprints of original stories ran for several years until writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum introduced a new group of X-Men, including popular characters like Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler and some guy named Wolverine.

The first five X-Men Cyclops, Jean Grey (aka Marvel Girl), Iceman, Beast and Angel are well-known but the original team never developed the passionate following of the newer iteration, which was eventually taken over by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and became the gold standard of comics.

So why would Marvel and Brian Michael Bendis bring back that old lineup, plucked straight from their more obscure days, to headline a series in the Marvel NOW initiative?

Apparently for the best reason of all to tell a good story.

In a situation hardly unique to the X-Men, decades of continuity have, for better or worse, resulted in a bizarre status quo light years away from the original concept. Spoilers follow: Xavier’s school has been replaced by the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters, named in honor of the late Marvel Girl by her unrequired flame, Wolverine . Possessed by the Phoenix, Cyclops killed X-Men founder, mentor and school namesake Professor Charles Xavier and is on the run, trying to redeem himself by being a kinder, gentler, hardline mutant militant. Ex-villain Magneto’s his right-hand man.

So the current Beast brings the original five X-Men back to the future to try to talk some sense or shame into present-day Cyclops. It turns the classic dystopian future storyline (like Claremont and Byrne’s immortal “Days of Future Past”) on its ear and adds an extra layer of resonance for fans like me who sometimes wonder what the heck has happened to the X-Men.

The first arc, which will be collected in a hardcover trade soon, shows the Beast breaking pretty much every rule science fiction fans let alone super-powered geniuses in those stories know about time travel to enlist the aid of his younger self and teammates. It doesn’t harp on the logistics though, as Bendis provides an easy out to explain why the space-time continuum hasn’t collapsed.

The dialogue is filled with Bendis’ trademark witty banter (which can sometimes be so trademark that it’s easier to recognize his voice than the individual character’s) as the modern X-Men deal with their time-tossed counterparts. Besides the obvious parings of Iceman and Iceman and Beast and Beast, there’s a new take on the Cyclops-Wolverine dynamic with the latter hating the former more than ever and the young Cyclops not really knowing why.

The third issue shifts focus to spell out the new status quo for Cyclops and his fugitive team, now featured in the re-relaunched “Uncanny X-Men” series that debuted last month. It’s a necessary step, but hopefully, most of the series will continue to center on the five youngsters rather than the mega-sized casts that have become the norm in team books these days.

Despite its connections to recent and long-ago comics, “All-New X-Men” feels pretty accessible. If you understand the basics of the X-Men, you shouldn’t have much trouble picking up on the dynamics, even if you don’t know exactly why some things are the way they are.

Which, honestly, could help you relate even more to the time-traveling teens at the heart of the book.

Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic Support Group.