Friday, June 05, 2015

Review: All-New X-Men Vol. 6: The Ultimate Adventure

The sub-title of this volume is a joke, of course, as the story arc that ran through issues #31-36 of All-New X-Men was neither "ultimate" in that it was the final one, nor was it ultimate in that it was the "best achievable or imaginable of its kind." Rather, it took place in the Ultimate Universe, home to Marvel's once robust, now-waning line of Ultimate comics.

Get it?

No, it's not that funny, but what else could writer Brian Michael Bendis have called it instead? It is, essentially, just a way to usher the stars of this particular book–four of the five time-lost teenage X-Men founders, plus X-23–out of the way while Bendis focuses on a fairly major turning point in his X-Men narrative in Uncanny X-Men, the issues dealing with the reading of Charles Xavier's will, and the omega-plus level mutant Matthew Malloy. As we've seen, the end result of those events were pretty dramatic on the status quo of these two X-books, and having these particular mutants around for the proceedings would have made them a lot messier, as their importance to X-Men history has a tendency to warp things around them. That may be one of the reasons Bendis keeps sending them off into outer space for adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy (this story arc was immediately followed by their second such team-up, following The Trial of Jean Grey).

Instead of shooting them off to space, here he shunts them into a parallel universe. (While these collections read more-or-less well-structured in this format, when one takes a few steps back and considers the mega-story, it is kind of weird that Bendis brought the "First Class" X-Men to the present, and then has spent so much time finding busy work for them, as if marking time between Age of Ultron and Secret Wars, isn't it?)

For brevity's sake, I'll try not to get too off topic, but suffice it to say that the Ultimate Universe is not what it once was.

Originally a 2-4 title imprint with writers Bendis and Mark Millar boiling a few concepts down to their essences and updating them for the 21st century–Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four–while eschewing all of the things that kept potential new readers from trying out superhero universe comics–high issue numbers, decades worth of continuity, crossovers, stunts and resurrections, reboots and headline grabbing changes of status quo. Within a few years, the line became everything it was supposed to not be, to the point that it was even a more unwieldy and unfriendly place for new readers than the core Marvel Universe (I've tried returning to it several times after dropping the books–somewhere around the time they jumped form $2.99 to $3.99 in price and Ultimate Spider-Man re-numbered for no reason–and have found it nearly impossible to find my footing. The Ultimates/Avengers franchise in particular, as its consisted of "seasons" and miniseries by at least a half-dozen different writers, and many of the big events that have shaped and changed the team happen in miniseries unconnected to The Ultimates/Ultimate Avengers in terms of titling).

While Bendis' still on-going Ultimate Spider-Man run hasn't been too bad, having "only" renumbered and been re-titled three or four times (that I know of), killing off Peter Parker and replacing him with Miles Morlaes at one point, the X-Men franchise has been a real mess. It went through three writers before I dropped it–Millar, Bendis and Brian K. Vaughan, with a Chuck Austen fill-in–and, as with The Ultimates, carried on in various mini-series and event stories that made them difficult to keep up with once one stopped paying attention to the line for very long.

As All-New X-Men is an X-Men comic, the cast's visit to the Ultimate universe is naturally going to be most concerned with the Ultimate X-Men. This is unfortunate, to the point that it may explain why Bendis gives the most panel-time to Miles Morales of any character from the Ultimate universe; that, or his tendency to cross his titles over with one another, perhaps to try and cross-pollinate the sales of each. While Ultimate Spider-Man and Doom are in here too (I always liked the goat legs, if not the blanket draped over him), this is in large part a sort of All-New X-Men/Ultimate X-Men crossover and, I'll be honest, I have no idea what the deal with the latter is.

I'm not entirely convinced Bendis does either, after reading this. I recognized Storm, Jean Grey, Iceman and Rogue, who are all easily identifiable by their powers and/or hairstyles, but there was also a brunette with no costume who never used her powers (who turned out to be Kitty Pryde, with a new, more stylish haircut than the last time I read a comic with Ultimate Kitty Pryde in it), a blonde kid with Wolverine claws who turned out to be Ultimate Wolverine's son, Jimmy (?), a lady with Human Torch powers who is never named, and a blonde guy with terrible hair who is also never named, but disappears midway through the story anyway.

As for the story, it opens with a three-page sequence set in the Ultimate Universe, which reveals that Ultimate Tony Stark is still around, and that they've got an Amadeus Cho, too. They're talking about a portal to another universe, and then the portal shuts itself off. It probably had something to do with that time Miles Morales visited the Marvel Universe, or 616 Galactus tried to eat the Ultimate Earth.

Meanwhile, back in the regular Marvel Universe, the "All-New" team watches as all teachers leave to go be in Uncanny for a couple of months, and then Teen Beast starts tinkering with Cerebro, because that is convenient to the plot. Then he detects a new mutant, and he, Jean, Iceman, Angel and X-23 go to recruit her, deciding to leave the rest of the students there, because that's convenient to the plot. The new mutant's power? She can open portals to alternate universes. That's extremely convenient to the plot.

Naturally, they all get thrown into the Ultimate universe, and are separated.

Iceman finds himself fighting Ultimate Mole Man and friends under Ultimate Atlanta. Jean Grey winds up in New York, and meets Miles. Beast ends up in Latveria, and is kidnapped by Ultimate Doctor Doom, aka Victor Van Damme (Hey, I totally forgot that was his name!). X-23 ends up in the middle of a football game...somewhere, then steals a motorcycle, climbs on the back of a truck and travels to Canada in, like, a few hours (Apparently unsure she's in a different universe, she tries going back to their base, which exists there, but is obviously pretty different). Angel ends up in The Ultimate Savage Land, where he meets the new Ultimate Wolverine (The pair of them get to the Ultimate Canadian tundra about the same time that X-23 does, despite traveling there from the south pole).

And the mutant who got them all there in the first place? She's essentially out of the story until the last issue, when she's needed to send them home.

So the plot is basically inconsequential, involving the various All-New X-Men visiting various characters in the Ultimate Universe, comparing notes, and then teaming up with Ultimate Spider-Man and the Ultimate X-Men for a big showdown with Doctor Van Damme, and then going home, because the story is over.

It's extremely thin on plot, and essentially pointless–Wolverine Jr. mentions that on his world, human beings created mutants in a lab, a big difference between the two universes, but it doesn't come to anything. There's perhaps some interesting character bits for Jean Grey here. If she were an actress on a TV show playing two parts, this might be a fun string of episodes for that actress, but here it's just one more example of Jean Grey meeting one more example of an alternate version of herself. At one point, she herself bemoans the repetitive, pointless nature of their adventures, complaining that not only is she in the wrong time, she's also in the wrong place.

Were this 2002 and anyone at all cared at all about the Ultimate universe, a meeting between the Marvel Universe X-Men and The Ultimate X-Men might have been something of an occasion, particularly since this was one of those things that then-Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada said would never, ever happen, and was therefore having Marvel cross the streams like this would have been akin to an inter-company crossover fans thought they'd never see; maybe not JLA/Avengers, which they were waiting on for years, but maybe, I don't know, Batman/Daredevil.

But now? This is something like the fourth or fifth (at least) crossover (or semi-crossover, as in the case of some of the Marvel Zombies business, and that one thing with the Squadron Supreme), at least the second by this very writer (and prominently featuring Miles Morlaes) and the characters involved are an alternate version of the Marvel Universe X-Men and what is essentially the dregs of the Ultimate X-Men; Jean and Iceman are the only ones with Ultimate analogues around and, as I mentioned, several of these Ultiamte X-Men are so negligible that they don't even have names.

Pointless or not, Bendis does still write conversations well (even if everyone sounds like various degrees of wise-cracking Spider-Man...which works well for the Icemans, but not so much with, say, X-23). My favorite bit was probably Beast's line of questioning of the new mutant, Carmen, upon their first meeting her. Mahmud Asrar's artwork is excellent, and seems to get better as the book progresses, so that the scenes at the end seem much cleaner and smoother than those at the beginning (although the colorists do change at least once during the course of the events.

The covers are all very, very misleading, implying that Ultimate Spider-Man is visiting the All-New X-Men, and obscuring which universe is host to which visitor (Also, Teen Cyclops is on the cover of the trade for some reason, despite not appearing within the story at all; I suppose he's still in space with his dad).

1 comment:

Robert Jazo said...

When I look at the cover I can't help but notice that Miles' webbing makes a circle around Jean Grey's, er, pelvic area. I wonder if that was intentional.