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Brian Michael Bendis’ X-Men: Changing Everything You Ever Knew About the Marvel Universe

A fascinating thing occurred to me in anticipation of next week’s debut of Uncanny X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo (CBR has a preview of the issue here). Brian Michael Bendis gained a great deal of notoriety for his changes to the Avengers franchise, but I always found the change theory to be a bit overblown. I mean, the one constant that the Avengers as a book seemed to have was change. I mean, for crying out loud, there was a point in time when the Avengers’ roster was seriously as follows: Black Widow, a powered-down Hercules who dressed like he was working out at the gym, Quicksilver, Crystal, Vision and Deathcry. That was the Avengers. So the notion that that team was somehow the “real” Avengers and Bendis’ team was not “real” because he had Wolverine and Spider-Man on the team (the latter, of course, had previously joined the team during the 1990s) always seemed silly to me.

With his work on the X-Men so far, though, I have to say that he is actually surprising me with just how much of a change it all is. It is debatable whether it is a change for the GOOD, but I am still impressed with the fact that he’s willing to dare to change the main franchise so much.

First off, the whole “bringing the original five members of the X-Men to the present and leaving them here” thing is interesting. I don’t think we’ve ever seen something on this scale before. The closest comparison I can think of is the Legion clones from Keith Giffen’s Legion. That was fairly similar, I suppose. But as far as the Marvel Universe goes, this stands out. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, and I sort of love that about it. It embraces the idea that this is a comic book to the extreme. There are all these rules about time travel and Bendis basically is saying, “Eh, whatever. I am not going to worry about that stuff. This is fun.” And it HAS been fun so far to see the young X-Men living in the future, particularly what it does to young Scott and young Jean, who basically see their whole worlds blown up in front of them (one by learning of all the things his future self has done and the other by seeing that she’s, you know, DEAD).

Moreover, though, the concept behind Uncanny X-Men is absolutely fascinating. For years, fans have clamored for a return of the X-Men to being outcasts. I can recall more than a few comic book runs that opened with the notion of the team becoming outcasts but it sort of died on the vine (Zero Tolerance for one). The status quo returned quickly. However, when you look back at the famed “outcasts” era, the X-Men rarely really WERE outcasts. Basically God Loves, Man Kills and I guess kind of sort of when everyone thought that they were dead. Otherwise, the X-Men worked pretty much as normal superheroes. Yes, mutants as a WHOLE were treated like shit, but the X-Men themselves rarely found themselves hunted down or anything like that. Heck, the Avengers even had a storyline where the government hunted them down during the mid-80s, so the X-Men were practically even with the Avengers! What Chris Claremont DID do is have the X-Men go on the run a lot. However, these were things where they were on the run from villains, not society as a whole (the post-Magneto/Savage Land journey where Jean thinks that the X-Men are dead, the Brood epic, the post Mutant Massacre era where the X-Men’s home is attacked, the Australia era and the post-Siege Perilous era). Now, though, for perhaps the very first time, we have an X-Men team that is legitimately on the run from society as a whole. Cyclops’ new team are legit outcasts with no easy way to get back to the status quo.

I can certainly understand taking issue with the direction Bendis is taking the X-Men, but at the very least, he is definitely trying new things with the Marvel Universe as we know it.

34 Comments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I actually give a shit about “X-Men” (and Marvel in general) for the first time in a reeeeaaaally long time.

I can’t really agree that Bendis is being all-new and all-different. On All-New, he’s doing a reverse Days of Future Past, and on Uncanny he’s basically doing a direct continuation of the themes of Gillen’s run (and the long-running developments leading up to those, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying what Bendis is doing a great deal–the only Marvel Now book which has had me as excited for its launch as Uncanny X-Men is Young Avengers–but I can’t really see it as him making radical changes.

If Days of Future Past ended with the X-Men from the future becoming regular cast members of the X-Men, then sure. But it didn’t. The time travel aspect is not the unique thing, the fact that a whole team of time traveling characters with doubles in our time are now regular cast members in the present is the unique thing.

And while Bendis is using Gillen’s team (for the most part), Gillen’s team were not outcasts. They even specifically teamed up with the Avengers! And the point is that these characters ARE outcasts/outlaws/etc (that’s why I spent so much time discussing the outcasts angle in the piece). That is different from any X-Men comic we’ve seen before (some of the ancillary titles have used the approach but never the X-Men title, especially not a book Marvel is themselves describing as the “flagship” X-title).

There are all these rules about time travel and Bendis basically is saying, “Eh, whatever. I am not going to worry about that stuff. This is fun.”

It’s not like everybody dislikes his changes just because they’re changes;it’s this kind of thing here that most grates about him, and why I haven’t ready anything written by him in years. Any corners that can be cut, get cut. If a plot point contradicts something another writer that came before him established–whatever, ignore it. If something he wants a character to do is ridiculously out of character–the hell with it, the character just gets written that way. Someone writes in to the Powers letter column suggesting that all his characters sound the same–get prickly and make a blowjob joke and keep on writing snarky Wolverine or whoever. A 2001 homage is written as “The Dawn of Time” instead of “The Dawn of Man”– fuck it, what’s the difference?

It’s comic books, these characters have been around so damned long, it’s not like we all haven’t seen dozens of other writers putting in some effort to do away with a continuity point they don’t like with at least an attempt at some internal logic and characters remaining basically recognizable. But why bother with that bullshit nowadays? Good enough is good enough. (I don’t read DC nowadays either, but I’m just going out on a limb and guessing I wouldn’t be too nuts about the New 52, either. I know, I’m basically a living cliche that didn’t see the last Star Trek movie because of the whole “this isn’t your father’s Star Trek” thing. I’m 28, I’ve got no problem with a fun Star Trek movie. I’ll be hapy to watch if it’s Star Trek, not just a brand name slapped on to make some more money.)

This is a professional writer that’s kind of infamous for, and has several reviews on Amazon that mention, rampant spelling and and grammatical mistakes. It can definitely be argued that spelling and grammar don’t have much to do with writing (I’m not nuts about that argument, since I see proper spelling as a requirement for a somewhat intelligent person, and I usually like knowing that the artist whose work I’m consuming is not a fool). But I don’t think it can be convincingly argued that proper spelling and grammar don’t have much to do with effort.

Ugy, sorry about the rant, and for repeating the word “and” while bitching about grammatical mistakes (seems like that always happens). I’ll never even read this series, it’s just that reading about Bendis disregarding rules and continuity brought about bad Secret Invasion memories. And that team with Deathcry on it wasn’t any more or less “real” than the team with Wolverine on it–it just sucked for a different reason than Bendis’ avengers.

“If Days of Future Past ended with the X-Men from the future becoming regular cast members of the X-Men, then sure. But it didn’t. ”

You’re making it very hard for me not to make jokes about Bendis padding out his stories so they drag on forever. ;-)

(And Rachel did eventually come from that future to become a regular character, but I concede the difference there.)

As for the Gillen-to-Bendis thing–yes, Bendis has taken the team the next step forward, but it’s a step on a road it was already on. The Extinction team was already in conflict with non-mutant society, and that has now escalated. In that team-up with the Avengers, Cap actually got quite pissy when Cyclops left to take care of more important mutant business.

“Bendis bashing” is almost a default status for comics fans nowadays. It’s almost a recognised term.
That gives me three initial thoughts:
1. That can’t be good for the guy’s self-esteem.
2. It sounds like a euphemism.
3. It pretty much sums up the default status many comic fans switch to when they hear about something new nowadays.
Fans get angry about pretty much any impending change in comics, especially now that things are previewed so far in advance. That, in itself, provides the opportunity for people to get themselves in a state about a story three issues down the line when the back story hasn’t had a chance to grow yet and actually be read yet.
Bendis’ run on Avengers from the launch of New Avengers to Siege was possibly the best the Avengers has ever been. It’s certainly easier to recommend his much more modern take to a non-comics reader than, say, Under Siege or the original 1960s stories. We, as comics fans, understand why those old school comics read that way, but let’s be honest, here… they’re dated. Even the Busiek run reads like it was produced in the 1970s, and that’s hard to sell to new modern readers. It already feels old.
I’ve managed to get people reading comics who normally wouldn’t all thanks to New Avengers.

And, yes, Bendis probably outstayed his welcome on that franchise. I wish he’d left after Siege. But for five years, the team that I always felt were the prefects of the Marvel Universe were actually fun to read again and were far more accessible that they’d been in quite some time.

What concerns me, though, is that new readership. As potentially new fans come along and look online to see what stuff they should pick up and try out and just see all the so-called ‘fans’ claiming they hate the current direction and what a travesty it all is, yadda yadda yadda… and they’ll think “even the fans hate this. It MUST suck” and walk away. That’s where the death of comics could lie.
That might seem a little overly dramatic, and I’m not saying people aren’t entitled to their opinions, but isn’t it past time we brought back that excitement and anticipation that comics can bring?

We’re lucky to have this medium. Let’s be thankful for that.
And let’s be thankful for Bendis taking risks, getting us talking and making this stuff interesting enough to pick up every month.

“We’re lucky to have this medium. Let’s be thankful for that.”

Agreed. Great comment.

Best,

LJP

The thing that pissed Avengers fans off about Disassembled was that Bendis wasn’t undoing the Bob Harras era lineup you mentioned or even the Reborn universe which Liefeld dished out. No, Bendis took on the classics which Kurt Busiek and George Perez had lovingly brought back together, the ones people like Perez and John Byrne had memorably worked on in the 70′s and Roger Stern written in the 80′s.

Bendis didn’t screw with the 90′s members much as he undid the membership most associated with the Avengers: He killed off Hawkeye and Scott Lang, blew up the Vision for good, destroyed the Mansion, and basically made the Scarlet Witch irredeemable for quite some time. Later on, he took out the Wasp as well. All these things made way for the introduction of A-Listers such as Spider-Man or Wolverine and were seen as turning the team into the equivalent of Grant Morrison’s JLA for the sake of better sales. He also brought in his pet favorites like Luke Cage and Spider-Woman just because he could.

If all these changes had occurred right after Harras left or post a worse “event” such as The Crossing, the ensuing tidal wave of nerd rage wouldn’t have been so monumental. I for one, would have liked to have seen Luke join back when he was Power Man or had Jessica stay aboard after Chris Claremont and Stern each featured her as a guest star. Spider-Man should have continued his tradition of rebuking membership and Wolverine should never have been considered. Don’t get me started about the Sentry.

But it’s all moot anyway, since he wisely placed the toys back in the box before departing, as many have stated already.

The trick is that many new readers will start reading with All new x-men, but if they fall in love with x-men, they will likely try some classics. And when they’ll try the classics, they’ll instantly start to sound like grumpy old fans. That’s how I started (kinda) few years ago.

I don’t think Bendis problems were in plotting or coming up with interesting ideas; generally the ideas during his runs were pretty good. It was the execution of them. I don’t think he was that good at juggling a large cast of characters – however All New X-Men is a real step up, so maybe he’s improving.

“the Avengers’ roster was seriously as follows: Black Widow, a powered-down Hercules who dressed like he was working out at the gym, Quicksilver, Crystal, Vision and Deathcry.”

True. That group followed the team that had Sersi and the Black Knight with matching Avengers jackets and the Knight had a lightsabre. Not necessarily a highlight either. The late 80′s (post Stern/Simonson/Byrne) to mid 90′s were not necessarily a great time for the Avengers.

My issue with Bendis is his writing style. It’s not for me. Now, on books like Alias and Daredevil I thought he was a great match. But I like my super heroes fighting sometimes, not talking all the time in the same voice. I think it has to do with that. I stopped reading the Avengers when the went up in price, and it was easier because of the stylization of his writing. I have been reading X-Men for awhile. My first issue was #251 where Wolverine was on the X Cross and that image blew my mind as a young kid. I stopped around the man who shall not be named (Draco) and came back around Claremont. I stopped around the relaunch because the whole AvX thing was just a Civil War reduex. I picked up Bendis’s All New and couldn’t get past the Beast, a scientific genius who is in New Avengers, doesn’t think about the space time continuum. I mean, it is very stupid. I do not understand how the new x-men can just stay in the present forever. I think that is stupid. Plus, he just writes and writes dialogues after dialogues. I think I will pick up the new Uncanny though because I love that idea that Cyclops is the new Magneto and completely misunderstood. But if he gets too Bendisy for my taste I will probably drop it. I can always go back to my Claremont issues and read the X-men I enjoyed.

I wish I could get into the X-Men. I tried the first few issues but I just can’t get past the Bendis-isms. My favorite period of the X-Men was Giant SIze to 200 so I guess I prefer Claremont-isms.

I am pleased with Bendis’s run onthe Avengers and I expect great stories out of Bendis with the X-Men.
I hope he finds a way to return Synch and even Neil Sharara’s Thunderbird and also I hope he brigns in the Mimic as well. On the flipside, I’m also glad Sunfire has returned to being a hero to, even its with the Avengers.

I’m not going to join in the Bendis-trashing. I liked his “Avengers” run as much as I liked Englehart’s, Stern’s and Busiek’s. Among the top. And I liked the fact that he revamped Luke Cage and Spider-Woman into A-list characters. He’s also responsible for rehabbing Carol Danvers into an A-lister, and now we have a great new “Captain Marvel” series.

Side note to Brian: Great article overall. I have been turned off the past few years by Fraction’s X-Men and ended up ignoring Gillen’s as a result, which I hear was actually better. But I tried “All-New X-Men” and so far so good. This along with Jason Aaron’s “Wolverine and the X-Men” gives me hope that the franchise is finally on the rise again.

Incidentally, the Magneto/Savage Land story you mentioned I believe is referred to as “The Odyssey,” because it was structured after Homer’s “Odyssey.”

Did somebody really say they like their super-heroes fighting instead of talking and prefer Claremont instead??

Yeah Mike, apparently nostalgia clouds people’s memories pretty hard. :D I personally find all the Bendis-hate pretty amusing, and complaints that Bendis brought in Wolverine and Spider-Man “just for the sales” are downright ADORABLE. Yeah, the creators of those older Avengers runs never did ANYthing “just for the sales”, nooo sir, they were fully committed to artistic quality AND NOTHING ELSE! Stan Lee didn’t gather Iron Man, Thor and Hulk on the same book because he realized that gathering their best-sellers in the same book would boost that book’s sales, it was all done just for the purest artistic reasons and with the highest literary standards in mind! And when Peter Parker first announced that he was quitting the Spider-job “forever” it wasn’t a sales stunt, Parker REALLY gave up being Spider-Man FOR GOOD and was never seen in costume again! Yeah, damn that greedy greedy Bendis for improving the sales of the franchise he was trusted with by doing something perfectly consistent with what had always been done with that franchise! Has he no shame?!?

I still don’t understand how people can call characters “not real Avengers” when one of the earliest roster changes introduced two X-Men villains and Hawkeye, who was just reforming himself. I’d say that established anyone can be an Avenger right out of the gate.

I’m not a Bendis apologist (his events are horrible, for one), but I liked him in Avengers and his X-Men run its looking surprisingly good so far. And with All New, Wolverine and the X-Men, X-Factor, Uncanny X-Force, ect…. I can’t remember a time when there were so many X titles with such high quality.

Bendis defenders are as amusing as Bendis haters. It’s fun to watch.

I love it, the only other X-Book I’ve read lately is Jason Aaron’s run on “X-Men go to Hogwarts”

Look, we all know how the story ends. The x-kids get sent back to their own time, Charles mind wipes the experience, and BOOM! no continuity issues.

Bendis defenders are as amusing as Bendis haters. It’s fun to watch.

Wait, I thought Bendis Defenders were called The New Avengers.

Bendis fans often dismiss legitimate criticism of his work as nerd fury over changes to the status quo. But I think many of Bendis’s detractors feel the way they do because the man writes terrible comic books.

For example, I have no investment in the Avengers team, nor am I especially attached to any of the core members. The only Avengers comics I’ve ever read were written by Bendis, and I thought every single one of them was God awful tripe. Maybe I’m just a hater, or mad bro, but it’s possible that I disliked those comics because the plot dragged, the characters sounded the same, the narration was inept, the motivations didn’t add up, and the attempts at humor were forced, irrelevant, and took up a lot of space on the page.

Also, can we please dial down the praise for Bendis’s “risk-taking?” Like JMS, but even more so, somehow, against the grain of all sound reason, Bendis is a name creator. His name sells whatever comic he dashed off that morning. Considering Bendis made that name by shaking up the status quo (back when it actually was a risk for him to do so), it’s hard to see it as a gamble when he follows suit on a new title.

Thank You Clutch! That is my exact opinion… and anytime I tried to say that exact thing to Bendis diehard fans, I got labelled as a Bendis Hater. Mind you, I love his Powers series and consider his Ultimate Spider-Man run to be a must read on how to freshen up a character for any audience….

…but I couldn’t get into his Avengers run because of the “assumed” disregard for Busiek’s run and/or Marvel History/Continuity. Sure any writer usually bends continuity to suit their story but come on… his revamp of the Beyonder? Wonder Man? Ultron? Skrulls? Heck, that Avengers Assemble thing was a slap in the face to fans of DnA’s cosmic run with those events…

Now he gets to do his thing with X-Men… good luck with that but I’ll have a wary eye on it….

(Although I think Brian’s comparision with the “Archie Legion/Legion Clones” is a very good one… and let’s see where Bendis takes this story..)

In defense of Brian Bendis, his writing doesn’t stink as bad as a steaming pile of elephant dung.

Like anything, there are good and bad aspects to Bendis’ work. I think the New Avengers stuff started strong, and was novel and engaging in the beginning, before devolving later. The initial premise was good. I agree that the big events were poorly handled, team members rarely got meaningful attention paid to them (a difficult but appreciated skill for a team writer to have), and stories were dragged out horribly. Worst of all to me, the Avengers came off toward the end as a bunch of utterly incompetent amateurs rather than the seasoned professionals they were supposed to be.

But back to his strengths: there are some good ideas here, too, starting out fresh with the X-Men. If he can avoid the devolution that happened with the Avengers run, we could be in for some fine moments. Personally I can’t wait to see how shocked young Cyclops is at how far his present self has fallen after years worth of character assassination by various writers, and I can’t wait to see how present day Cyclops reacts when he’s forced to confront the issue. This could be a real chance to redeem the character, several years from now, away from the amoral, militant dick he’s become. Here’s hoping, anyway. This is a real chance to rehabilitate what was once a great character.

I’m digging All New X-Men, and I’m not really a Bendis fan. He seems to actually have different voices for characters, even the younger/older versions. I like how the time travel paradox seems to be off to the side right now (although it’s a bit odd that once Beast got better, he’s not insisting they go back, after getting all “I know I’m wrecking the timeline, but I HAVE AN OWIE!!!”), and it looks like we’ll get into the heads of the young version.

I do have some issues with it — how friggin’ old are the X-Men now?

If one more character says that someone “looks 12″, I’m gonna scream.

And howcum everybody started blaming Bobby? Yeah, he said “if Scott could see himself now”, but HANK is the one who actually brought the kids to the future! Jeez.

But overall, it’s a cool book. Marvel is getting way more of my money than they oughta.

And nice point about the outcasts, too. I always hear the “feared and hated” bit, but they never really seemed all that feared and hated. Until the original X-Factor started hunting mutants down…. (wonder if that’ll get brought up?). I also never got how Professor X hadn’t been “outed” as a mutant to the world until the GMozz run. It was one of those “wait, no one knows?” moments that took me out of the story.

This Bendis debate is fascinating for me. I’ve read exactly one issue of his work and that was right in the middle of a storyline. I basically learned nothing about him other than that I wouldn’t get much story from one issue. I’ve not necessarily been avoiding his work specifically, I’ve actually just stopped buying singles. Actually, that applies even to modern trades. Watching people go back and forth from nerd hero to nerd devil is pretty neat, though.

All-New X-Men has been highly readable: one of – if not the – first comic I’ve been reading from my haul in the weeks it comes out. (I did think Bendis missed a big opportunity with issue #1 when he launched the Marvel Now title – it should have started with the original five and looked like a completely Brand New Day style reboot until blue Beast did an Emmett Brown and appeared in order to take them to ‘our’ future.) I’m definitely looking forward to Uncanny and love Cyclops’s new costume.

Bendis was /amazing/ on Daredevil. His Avengers was deeply flawed, but certainly not as bad as, say, a Geoff Johns comic. In light of the good will All-New has been getting and my unconditional love for Cyclops I’m considering starting on Uncanny X-Men just for the one-two punch of Bachalo and Irving.

It pretty much sums up the default status many comic fans switch to when they hear about something new nowadays.

Yep yep yep yep yep yep yep. The same response we’re seeing to All-New X-Men is happening with the Superior Spider-Man, which a really fun arc that is being moaned about because Peter Parker (temporarily) isn’t Spider-Man and the fun of seeing Ock be Ock-like as Spidey trumps women’s intuition…

Bendis was hit or miss for me on Avengers, but I’m loving his X-Men so far. I’ve never been so excited for a new series as I am for his Uncanny relaunch next week. He thrives in the dark corners where Scott is going. His Daredevil was incredible, and I bought Dark Avengers expecting a trainwreck and was blown away. DA is one of my favorite series. I think there are valid criticisms of his run (As I said, he was hit or miss for me. His attempts at more “traditional” Avengers stuff usually fell flat.) I find that a lot of the most vocal opponents keep making a big deal about who is or is not a “real” Avenger. If you don’t like the roster you don’t like the roster, but “he just used the popular characters and his favorites” isn’t a valid criticism because, barring editorial interference, every single writer of The Avengers used popular characters and his favorites. The series was explicitly started as a team-up book for Marvel’s most popular characters.

I’m still trying to understand the “all-new XMen” being Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel and Iceman

@Danny You have captured his greatest flaws perfectly. Everyone speaks “Bendis” and there’s no consideration for who the characters were before, they’re all his blank slate.

Having said that I’m enjoying the X run because they’re supposed to be acting out of character; or that character has changed. And at least the X-Men actually have some direction, rather than “what weird group of people can they meet next?” The question is is the All New X-Men really that different when we know they’ll all eventually go back. (Or watch, just one will stick around. And become a super-villain. Probably Bobby, to be shocking).

But lots of weak Avengers line ups have had good stories. Stern’s fun had Herc, Sub-Mariner, Black Knight, Captain Marvel, and the Wasp on the team with Cap. Stern was a better writer than the later era though. (Kudos to Bizzle for calling AvX just Civil War 2).

@Les, the Avengers certainly were meant to capture a JLA vibe, but I don’t really think you can consider Spider-man quitting to really be a marketing ploy. It’s not like there was “hype” out there back then about big events that were going to occur in the comics. You found out about them when you read them. And when Stan Lee had Spider-man quit, it wasn’t for a sales boost, and he didn’t carry it out over years. Thus, a story.

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