Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)


I've already written a lot about Chris Claremont and how much I love his run on Uncanny X-Men. I still insist that I want an X-Men feature film that spotlights Kitty Pryde as the main character and has Storm heading up the iconic 80's team I grew up with.

You know, I've never been a huge fan of the classic team. When I first started hearing about X-Men: First Class, I assumed that it would feature the original X-Men: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel. Of course, the film decided instead to break new ground and feature a team of X-Men who had never existed together to my knowledge, but I had been blasé about the idea of the classic team being in a film. The old X-Men just seemed strange, not very powerful and not very interesting compared to other teams. I never got a sense of that team's chemistry or the way they went together as characters.
I have to say that hands-down Brian Michael Bendis' All-New X-Men is one of the most enjoyable X-Men comics a hardcore X-Men fanboy could read. This comic has made me eat my words about the classic team and it leaves you feeling like this was the most interesting X-Men line-up there ever was instead of the least. Of course, it would seem at a glance that All-New X-Men has a whole lot to do with Cyclops. After all, Hank McCoy brings the X-Men from the past into the future with the hope that the young version of Scott Summers will talk some sense into the now wanted-by-the-Avengers-and-militant-mutant-protector Cyclops, who seems to resemble Magneto more than Professor X these days.

And the contrast between Scott then and Scott now is really compelling, but what I love is how much you learn about all of the original five. And how true to form the comic stays to the original intent of the characters and their relationships at their inception. It feels like the original comic and makes their dynamics pronounced in a way that makes you re-think skipping past all those early issues in the 60's. Here's how it is (was?):

Cyclops: Even if Scott hadn't become the new self-declared savior of mutantkind with a penchant for terrorist tactics, we're at least use to seeing Scott be a stern, confident leader. What I find interesting about young Scott is that he's got leadership potential but he doesn't seem that comfortable in the role. An orphan, Scott is use to be a loner and you get the feeling he'd be more comfortable sinking into he background or taking off and going his own way all together. He's conflicted. Still, the potential to be a great leader- and teacher-is there.

Jean Grey: Like I said, Cyclops is the subject of much attention, but none of the original X-men make a stir in the ranks as much as the arrival of this controversial figure does. Jean was a trusted friend of most of the X-Men, but she could also be a frightening, out of control force. And what starts to become evident very quickly is how wildly powerful she is. At the start of All-New, Jean is telekinetic, but then it becomes apparent that she's also telepathic. And then it starts to sink in that Jean is more powerful than all of her comrades combined.

Imagine what it's like for her, however, to arrive in a future in which she is met with equal parts admiration and fear? Young Jean has to come face to face with the fact that most of her new (old?) friends are worried she's a ticking time bomb. Where do you go with that? Still, Jean is their powerhouse; their big gun so to speak. Of course, one of the other things that's evident about the old team's dynamic: it isn't just Scott who's in love with Jean. Frankly, they're ALL a little in love with her, which is confusing to be sure.

Beast: I always thought McCoy sans fur was a strange figure, although ultimately his powers aren't really that different. But as always, Hank's the brains and the team's answer to Reed Richards and Hank Pym. Learning, however, that he subjected HIMSELF to genetic manipulation, aggravating his mutation and that he's crossed lines that he never thought that he would is a strange predicament for Hank. Hank approaches everything in a sensible, rational way and while he's not the de facto leader, this grounds the team and gives them direction when they otherwise seem lost.

Angel: Now, here is a member I find interesting. Warren isn't exactly thrilled to learn of the increasingly strange things that have happened to him in his future, many of which the other X-Men--even the future version of himself--isn't willing to speak of. But what I love about Warren as a character in the original line up is this: he's a hero yes, but he's from a very different walk of life than his teammates. He's wealthy, he's more wordly then they are and debatably he's got a stronger sense of self preservation. The end result is that the charming Warren is not quite as idealistic as the Professor and the other X-Men aspire to be.

He considers their work important but you kind of get the impression that if things came down to it, Warren might sort of pull out of Xavier's whole endeavor, financial backing and all, in order to protect himself. Not that he's a bad guy exactly, but it seems to me that one of Angel's biggest roles in the old X-Men comic was to serve as a foil for Scott. Maybe this is the more sensible choice for the leader of the X-Men than the sometimes shy and insecure Cyclops? Maybe this is who Jean Grey is going to fall in love with. I mean, he's good looking, wealthy and confident...why wouldn't she? See, Angel seems like a great guy but in a weird way he's kind of a loose cannon who makes controversial decisions (from us, the readers', perspectives anyway). This gives the team chemistry though.

Iceman: You know, in a universe full of funny characters--Spidey, Human Torch, whoever--Iceman always seemed second rate. I consistently find myself losing it whenever Iceman is 'on camera' in this comic. Iceman's power is actually fairly formidable but his light-hearted, maybe even lazy, nature doesn't result in him being very imposing. He seems more interested in women than mutant politics. And sometimes he might seem frustrating but the thing is, you start to realize that the team needs this. They need somebody to be that down to earth. He's the heart and he lets them breathe easy and smile even when they're up against terrible odds.

I particularly love the 'Battle of the Atom' in which the past X-Men run into even more bizarre versions of future X-Men. Bobby keeps 're-meeting' himself at different points in the timeline and it seems like his form is constantly changing: from a snowman, to an iceman, to a shrouded, ice-wizard like character, to a monstrous ice golem. His reactions to seeing himself are priceless and make me lose it every time.

In all seriousness, this is one of the best X-Men titles I've read in a LONG time. No big surprise, I love its willingness to embrace--rather than shy away from--complexity. Young Jean meeting Rachel Grey--her daughter from an alternate timeline whose very existence might be a paradox now that future Scott is with Emma Frost--is beyond weird. And for once, seeing Wolverine be the one to talk sense into a young Scott instead of the other way around is intriguing. Kitty (or Professor K as the all-new X-Men call her), is really excellent as the team's mentor and it's like she's finally arrived at the long-term destination that she was meant for.

Really, X-cellent comic. Please read.

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