Wednesday, September 16, 2015

All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis #22-24

[This review will include my very first set of criticisms concerning Bendis' ANXM]

After the overwhelming clusterfuck that was Battle of the Atom, I simply had no energy to spare to read and review another crossover with this title. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED BATTLE OF THE ATOM! It was superbly written in spite the parts that got me tangled up in a chaotic bundle of nerves, and even significantly weirded out. It's not a perfect or the most well-polished piece, true, but it had its awesome moments but I must admit that it had drained me profusely that I knew that when I heard about The Trial of Jean Grey, that I cannot withstand another crossover event. I prefer my All-New X-Men fluffy, a bit melodramatic and fun-times all around, thank you very much, and slices of grimy scenes here and there do give me a rush but I don't think I could ever enjoy it being smacked in the middle of big-event storylines like the recent Secret Wars, for example because--and I can't stress this more enough--I don't know enough about the Marvelverse to be enticed by its big, whopping moments. Lately I realized that there is a rich and diverse alien canon for Marvelverse which X-Men usually get a lot of collaborative plots with, but such stories are just not my cup of tea. I refrain from them as often as I could since much prefer Earth 616-based storylines for the time being and this  was why the premise for this arc (and the appearance and participation of the Guardians of the Galaxy) did not appeal to me at all. I don't think I have anything comprehensible to offer for this post as I type this, honestly.

Like most of the general audience, I loved the movie adaptation of this comic title starring Chris Pratt. It was probably the most enjoyable Marvel movie I have ever encountered that balanced humor, action and enough nuanced characterizations (though 'nuanced' would probably be considered too generous if you're actually reading the comic book versions; but my opinion is based solely on the fact that I only knew of the Guardians from their cinematic counterparts). It is no doubt a marketing strategy that Marvel executives asked Bendis to incorporate the Guardians in one of his stories for ANXM, and it's not a bad idea per se, but I just wasn't that crazy about it. This would explain why I decided to do a compact and singular review of the three ANXM issues that are included in The Trial of Jean Grey. Please take note that the other three installments were packaged in the actual Guardians of the Galaxy title, and I didn't waste my time trying to secure their copies and reading them; I simply just absorbed and comprehended the available material entailed in the ANXM issues.

Issues #22-24 for The Trial of Jean Grey had enough substance as standalones, but was ultimately forgettable and even gratingly lacked any sort of forward direction. The Shi'ar empire abducted the young Jean Grey so she could stand trial for what she had yet to commit as her adult self possessed by the Phoenix Force. Confused, pissed and scared to her wits, teenage Jean doesn't understand why she is paying for crimes that were never hers as of yet, and it angered and scarred her deeply that she was once again caught in the middle of something she has no other choice but to deal with. It's been an interesting parallel lately that Bendis has been sort of working on, to compare her slightly with that of Magneto. The very fact that the titular premise is a trial heralds back to that Chris Claremont issue in the late seventies that also placed a reformed Magneto in front of an international court to be tried by law and punished by its justice system. That was a compelling piece that I will always recommend for any Magneto fan to read, and I got the sense that perhaps Bendis was trying to recreate the same thing with this arc--but, I'm sorry to say, only halfway got there. There just wasn't enough investment on this current Jean Grey because she wasn't the Jean Grey we've all grown up with in the old continuity so caring about her at this point is based solely on the fact of the ideal and the past she represented as an X-Man and as a character whose basic internal conflict has always been her struggle with controlling her powers and not the other way around. Teen Jean has been lovely for me so far; and I'm so glad Bendis kept exploring her, giving her depth and insight, making readers care enough to root for her victory over all her enemies including her worst self.

That being said, she is not the same Jean Grey. She will never be and she doesn't have to be. And that was why the Shi'ar empire's plan to try her for crimes she has never committed has diminished the moral accusation of any sort of gravity because it is fundamentally a flawed condemnation. It was so irrational and stupid that I can't believe we got six issues out of it. I think Bendis did well enough to keep the story together but my god, this has been so meaningless and unfruitful. It also had to force someone who is exclusively reading ANXM to peruse the installments in the other title (which I did after all, but it didn't improve my experience). Overall, The Trial of Jean Grey was a half-baked attempt to place a uniquely damaged character like teen Jean in a spotlight she doesn't deserve standing on in the first place. I'm trying to establish some perspective about her entire characterization and her relation to the old Jean Grey I was always a big, die-hard fan of. On one hand, I love teen Jean in that nostalgic sort of way you would adore a girl-next-door for what she meant to you as an ideal; on the other I find her pitiful and underwhelming as a character altogether especially when Bendis can't stop making overt comparisons between her and the old Jean. Honestly, I was much happier and accepting of the future-Jean version she met in Battle of the Atom (whom I dubbed Xorn-Jean to avoid confusion) because that was the Jean she did grow up to be after choosing to stay in a timeline she should never have been a part of.

I wouldn't describe having a love-hate relationship with her but after reading this arc, I may have to re-calibrate and question my sense of loyalty to teen Jean. I think we have spent too much time on Jean. To break it down, here is a pie chart of how the writing and focus of the narrative for issues in AXMN have been poorly allocated among the five OCF and other characters:

Notice the discrepancy in the servings?

Yes, yes, yes, Jean Grey is awesome. I enjoy reading about her all the time. A lot of us find her breathlessly intriguing in whatever version she may be. But I would appreciate more page time to deal with Warren or Bobby's stuff. Heck, even Hank (whose future self is responsible for this whole clusterfuck anyway) doesn't get enough page time to reflect on his role. Ever since the first two volumes, Bendis has stopped exploring the other four characters and just zeroed in on young Jean which is great for feminist writing but I can't help but feel an imbalance on the overall quality of the work Bendis puts out for ANXM. I'm glad we get Jean in the X-Men comics continuity again after her death years ago but she's beginning to get the Wolverine Syndrome treatment and a little bit goes a long way, Bendis and co. 

The thing is, after The Trial of Jean Grey ended, teen Scott who was reunited with his father, Corsair, decided to travel the stars with him. That was a twist I did not expect and it was a great revelation but also quite a pitiful turn because now we have one less OCF member to explore. Scott was the near second OCF character to get enough page time to develop his arc, so I guess him being put on the sidelines meant more time for Bobby and Warren. I read ahead in #25 and #26 and Warren definitely got three or four more pages than his usual quota. Bobby--lovely, sweet and funny Robert--has to fucking stop with the comedic one-liners by now. He's more than just a supplier of punchlines, Bendis. In issue #18 we had these panels of him talking about his feelings and opinions about all has happened--and Bendis himself and the character he was talking to DISMISSED THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION! I didn't notice it at first but now that I revisted that part in issue #18, I realized that was a little cruel. Heck, at least Jeff Parker was able to balance each OCF in his issues, allowing them enough page time for readers to get to know more. If we can't sent these kids back to their own timeline anymore, we might as well make the most of that and develop not just Jean Grey but also the other boys, no? I'm very adamant about this, Mr. Bendis.

I sure hope that change is on the horizon. This is the very first time I complained about ANXM but it actually helped me put things in perspective after picking apart some of the stuff I was displeased with after consuming almost thirty issues of this (counting the crossover titles). This is also the first time I'm giving my lowest grade yet and this rating covers all three installments of The Trial of Jean Grey.


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