All-New X-Men #5

Against all odds, in large part due to the A-list creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen, the very weird idea at the center of the "All-New X-Men" series is working like gangbusters five issues in.

This issue, as the cover suggests, spends a lot of time with young Jean Grey as she deals with her future death(s). It's handled quite well -- and erases all of my concerns in issue #2 that the series would gloss over these kind of complications. Jean's reaction to these labyrinthine events and their devastating ramifications are appropriately complex, and in fact she ends this issue definitive but also confused, and more than a little angry (all of it apparently being directed at Scott).

There's a wonderful contrast beginning here as we alternate between present day Scott Summers' (and his team's) recruitment efforts as the ostracized revolutionaries/killers, and the young and optimistic X-Men of the past as they make their decision to make things "right." But of course, what is "right?" There are so many grey areas to explore in this book, it could make your head spin, but Bendis writes with a confidence that announces he knows exactly where he wants the series to go.

There are fantastic details to appreciate as well -- like the freedom with which all the characters assume that Charles Xavier (of the past) will mind-wipe them the moment they return to the past. It's telling both that they all accept this as fact, and that they're not pleased with the idea, but also don't deny that it's the only way that things could possibly move forward practically. It the kind of thing that speaks volumes about the complexity of their lives in general and the incredible moral grey area they so frequently inhabit (and how much worse it will in fact get as they get older).

I wondered in early issues if this idea had the legs to really become an intriguing series, rather than an interesting idea that would collapse upon itself, but so far Bendis has a smart handle on how to approach it -- both as an experiment in contrasts (old and new, young and old, naïve and world-weary) and as a very examination of that grey area that is so fascinating in the superhero world, but so rarely gets the in-depth attention it deserves (and can stand up to in the hands of the right writer).

Stuart Immonen is always a good fit for Bendis and his take on the X-Men, both young and old, continues to be a total delight. As always, the character acting is sublime, characters are easily indistinguishable from one another in multiple ways, and his storytelling (despite a massive cast to deal with) is effortless. Immonen is the kind of artist that can make the rather silly '60s X-Men costumes make total practical (almost) fashion forward sense while making "normal" people in real clothes feel natural, while flawlessly evolving the look of Beast. Most artists can barely manage one of those things successfully let alone all three. Stuart Immonen is not most artists. Also impressive in this issue is the fairly large art team -- with multiple inkers and colorists -- but they're working in such excellent sync that I'd be hard pressed to identify where the team changes. It's a total service to the book that they can make the transitions so flawless.

"All-New X-Men" is Bendis and Immonen at their best, which is always a great thing to behold. For me, as a reader, it's been the first big surprise of Marvel NOW! A book I didn't expect much of, despite the creative team, has turned out to be a total joy to read.

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