There’s been a surge of media attention this week around “All-New X-Men” #40, thanks to the news that a member of the original X-Men would be outed as gay within its pages. While it’s definitely one of the more interesting aspects of the comic (and will be discussed further down in the review, so stop now if you don’t want to know), it’s also hard to get around the fact that Brian Michael Bendis and Mahmud Asrar’s issue is not terribly exciting.
First, though, it’s worth noting that Asrar’s art is good here. If you can’t have Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger draw an issue of “All-New X-Men,” Asrar’s a worthy talent to tackle its pages instead. Asrar’s characters are cleanly drawn and, in a book that’s all about emotional reactions, they’re very much on display through the art. The “Yeah… I know,” moment, for example, wouldn’t be half as powerful if it wasn’t for the head turning away from Jean and the grimace on the speaker’s face. Occasionally, characters seem a tiny bit squat, perhaps to try and make them look like teenagers rather than adults, but it’s a very minor hiccup in what is an otherwise effective looking comic.
With Bendis’ time on the X-Men comics about to conclude next month, it’s a little surprising to see “All-New X-Men” #40 use most of its page count to deal with one member’s sexuality and then later with the relationship between Angel and X-23. The latter is probably the best part of the book, in which Angel talks about his recent decisions and how they have to do with his discovery of everything that happened to his older self and his attempt to avoid that fate. The problem, though, is that this is something that should have been articulated a little better throughout the previous 39 issues of the comic. It comes across less as the culmination of three years of a character’s progress and more as a sudden attempt to throw in an idea that had always been planned but suddenly has hit the now-or-never point on the timeline.
As for the big reveal, it’s handled fairly well, even as there’s a bit of uneasiness over the whole timing of the information. The idea of Bobby being gay is hardly a new one; writers and fans alike have batted around the idea from time to time but, aside from a slight inference back in the day when Emma Frost inhabited Bobby’s body, it’s never been followed up. The idea of a character having been in numerous heterosexual relationships while secretly/inwardly being gay (either on a conscious level or in deep denial) is something that we’ve all seen in real life as well as in media. While it’s nice to have the possibility of bisexuality brought up (before being dismissed), there’s no denying that this is a big shift being made to one of the characters. There have been other LGBT X-Men before (Northstar, Karma, Anole, Graymalkin) but this is certainly the highest profile character in that regard.
At the same time, though, it’s hard to not look at the timing of this event. Bendis’s time with these characters is about to end; Bobby will appear in “All-New X-Men” #41, “Uncanny X-Men” #600 and then the titles stop at least temporarily for “Secret Wars” with no word on what X-Men titles will return when the dust settles. Pairing this revelation with Angel’s explanation that he’s deliberately tried to steer away from the timeline set out for him, there’s a good chance that all of this will be a moot point after next month. There are a lot of possibilities that Bendis opens up at this point: a timeline reset (with the displaced X-Men going back to where they came from), a revelation that they’re not really from the same universe at all or maybe even a wholesale wiping out of these characters. That’s not to say that they might not stick around when “Secret Wars” concludes later this year, but the timing feels a little off; another example, perhaps, of a plot point meant to be introduced earlier that is now getting thrown in at the last possible moment before Bendis leaves the characters. Time (both in the comic and in the real world) will ultimately tell.
In the end, “All-New X-Men” #40 is a nice looking book with a few character beats that aren’t bad but also aren’t the most riveting for a book that’s about to go on hiatus. The cover-teased plot involving the Utopians is relegated to a few pages at the beginning and end of the comic; otherwise, it feels like a series of character beats all getting thrown in before the proverbial timer hits zero. The ideas here are intriguing, but it’s a shame that they didn’t have a little more time to properly play out instead of getting dumped onto the reader right before the buzzer.