It's the beginning of a new era over in the X-Men books, but first, the old range has to wind to a close. In the case of All-New X-Men #19, that means writer Dennis Hopeless (a personal favorite since the days of Avengers Arena) gets to draw a line under a story that's been running since 2012. Why can't the time-lost All-New X-Men return to their original timeline? Finally, no less than five years after Brian Bendis launched this arc, we have an answer...
The X-Men Go All... Timey-Wimey
Back in 2012, Brian Bendis — who'd been so strongly associated with the Avengers range for years — moved on to #Marvel's X-Men books. An idea had been floating around at Marvel retreats for a couple of years: why not bring the original X-Men into the present-day, and explore their reactions to the world as they found it? As Bendis observed:
"I'm a big fan of 'Days of Future Past.' I think it's one of the greatest imagination-inspiring storylines — the idea that your future is going to be hell on earth. If the original X-Men saw what was going on at Marvel today, this is worse than 'Days of Future Past.'"
Time trave has always been a core part of the X-Men franchise, but Bendis gave the concept a fantastic twist. Instead of the time-travellers from the future exploring their past, he brought time-travellers from the past to the present. But, of course, as the characters changed and developed, fans were left puzzled and bemused. Wouldn't they change the past when they returned? When Jean Grey unlocked a new (already forgotten) powerset, wouldn't it alter history? When Iceman decided not to repress his homosexuality, how would that change the course of his life?
In the 'Battle of the Atom' arc, Bendis revealed that they couldn't go back. But he never gave a reason — and now, in All-New X-Men #19, it's fallen to Dennis Hopeless to clear up that issue!
They Can Never Go Home Again
Science may have failed to solve the problem, but the young Hank McCoy has been dabbling with sorcery to get the team home. All-New X-Men #19 features McCoy taking the team back to their time, and they're relaxed and overjoyed — until Beast drops a bombshell. When the All-New X-Men were brought to the present day, they unwittingly created a whole new timeline. In the history of this reality — the only history they can access — they never left.
There's no Original-Five-sized hole in the timeline. There's nowhere here for them to belong. Even with the use of magic, Beast can't keep them in the past for long; they're soon jolted back to the present. Emotionally, this revelation is devastating, and Hopeless demonstrates it through best through Cyclops. Where his friends have settled and forged hints of a new identity, Cyclops is still lost. For far too long, he lived in the shadow of his future self, who was erroneously believed to be responsible for some sort of ill-thought-through act of genocide. He's the All-New X-Man who most desperately wants to return to his own time. But now, he can never go home.
It's telling that, shortly after, he leans in and kisses Jean, desperate for something to go the way his heart tells him it should. Jean, however, has learned a different lesson; she's unwilling to travel down the same road as the future Jean Grey she's heard so much about.
A Statement to the Fans
This is a moment of closure for the All-New X-Men, and one that will come to redefine them. But more than that, it's also a revelation for fans, whose response to the concept has always been mixed. Time and again fans have asked; when will they go back?
It took 2014's All-New X-Men / Guardians of the Galaxy crossover arc, 'The Trial of Jean Grey', to persuade me that they shouldn't go back. The characters were growing and changing in too many interesting ways, with Bendis developing Jean's powers (in an arc that's been sadly forgotten). As the years have gone on, Angel has been transformed by a powerful alien artifact; Iceman has embraced his repressed homosexuality (and forced his older self to do the same); and Beast has started tampering with magic as well as with science. Cyclops actually had his own solo series for a time, and got to be a space pirate with his father Corsair; he's now a member of Marvel's top teen team, the Champions.
I've read too many comics featuring these five mutants to want them to go back. For them to be lost into the past would mean wasting all that character development. I no longer view them as just teen doppelgangers, but as characters in their own right, and I don't want to lose them.
That's why I consider Dennis Hopeless's revelation to be absolutely pitch-perfect. At the same time, I understand that reactions to this issue will be mixed; some, who aren't interested in these characters, will just wish they could be cast back into their own timeline. Whatever your reaction to this may be, though, Hopeless's narrative twist is clearly designed to bring a sense of closure to the era of the All-New X-Men. It's no coincidence that Marvel is abandoning this brand, with the young mutants now starring in a newly-titled book, X-Men: Blue.
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So there you have it, X-Men fans. The All-New X-Men are now and forever a part of the present-day Marvel continuity. That means we'll continue to see the Original Five in action in the present, taking on today's threats and fighting for a better tomorrow. Personally, I'm delighted.
Do you think the All-New X-Men should have returned to their own time?
(Source: Newsarama; Poll Image Credit: Marvel Comics)