Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Truth Hurts (and Astonishes): All-New X-men #18

The following is my review of All-New X-men #18, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


The truth is supposed to hurt. The truth is supposed to set us free. Lies are supposed to be cockroaches that run into the cracks of the wall the second a light is exposed. That's the narrative the real world tries to convey, if only to convince children not to lie when they've taken one too many cookies from the cookie jar. It's not an entirely false narrative, but it is incomplete.

Lies can be every bit as harsh as the truth and the X-men comics have been demonstrating this since the conclusion of Secret Wars. So much of the narrative surrounding the X-men and their struggles against the Terrigen Mists is built around certain assumptions that helped give the story weight. Those assumptions included the understanding that Cyclops committed this horrible, heinous atrocity that made mutants more hated than whoever came up with Deadpool's mouthless design in Wolverine Origins.

Both the X-men and the readers share in these assumptions for most of the X-men's narrative after Secret Wars. Then, Death of X comes along and reveals the truth that these assumptions are inaccurate. The so-called crimes committed by Cyclops aren't his crimes. They aren't even his idea. They are an elaborate ruse, one only known to a select few individuals. It's not a conspiracy theory on the same level as Captain America being a Hydra agent, but it still has major implications.

Now, as Inhumans vs. X-men unfolds, this effects of this ruse are getting harder to conceal. All-New X-men #18, which directly ties into the events of Inhumans vs. X-men, sets the stage for undoing this ruse. Dennis Hopeless has a chance to explore the breadth of teen Cyclops' torment, being reviled for what his older self did and stuck in a future where every horrible thing anybody does exists forever on social media. Hopeless doesn't squander that chance and crafts one of the most dramatic issues of All-New X-men since Secret Wars.


It's not just that the truth finally comes out. Teen Cyclops does learn about the elaborate ruse surrounding the events of Death of X. That's actually the simplest part of the story. It's how Hopeless sets it up that gives it so much dramatic weight. The fact that this drama has nothing to do with Jean Grey, clones of Jean Grey, or a Shi'ar sneak attack makes this all the more remarkable.

Most of the story takes place in between the panels of the main Inhumans vs. X-men series. Teen Cyclops is part of the main attack on New Attilan. However, he doesn't contribute too much to this attack. The fact that he's an inexperienced teenager who has yet to become the man who will one day hook up with both Jean Grey and Emma Frost certainly shows. This is actually important to the structure of the story.

Hopeless makes it a point to show just how unpolished this version of Cyclops is. He's not the master tactician who fights Sentinels for breakfast and takes down Apocalypse before brunch. He's still a kid who's struggling with the legacy his older self left behind. That legacy, however skewed it may be, torments him in ways that have guided his story since the conclusion of Secret Wars. To this point, it's a burden he carries and one he thinks he can never escape. This helps make the Death of X spoilers all the more powerful.

It's not one of those reveals that's akin to Morpheus offering a teenage Cyclops the red pill. If anything, the reveal is a byproduct of another plot unfolding between the panels of Inhumans vs. X-men. Specifically, this plot involves Mosaic, the Inhuman who can possess other bodies. This ability is key to balancing the scales of the conflict, which to this point has played out in the X-men's favor. Part of this process involves him possessing teen Cyclops. While it's not entirely clear why this needs to be part of Mosaic's plan, it does have an important impact, even if it's unintended.

Mosaic's actions may very well be critical to advancing the main plot of Inhumans vs. X-men, even if the particulars are unclear, but what he does in All-New X-men #18 may end up having much bigger implications for Cyclops and the rest of the time-displaced X-men. Unintended or not, he helps teen Cyclops uncover the truth about what happened to his older self. More importantly, he finds out who is really behind the burdens, the self-loathing, and the angry flame wars on message boards.

This knowledge threatens the X-men's plans and motivations in Inhumans vs. X-men. Emma Frost is a major driving force in these plans and only a select few know of her role in Death of X. Now teenage Cyclops knows and is in a position to react with a level of extreme melodrama that only a teenager can appreciate. It doesn't just create a major turning point in teen Cyclops' overall narrative. It may very well change the entire outlook that he and his fellow time-displaced X-men have on navigating the future.


This dramatic shift is the biggest selling point of All-New X-men #18. Hopeless doesn't get too bogged down in the various nuances of the Inhumans vs. X-men conflict and, given the various flaws surrounding this conflict, this helps keep the story concise. However, some of those flaws do manifest at times. The whole concept of Cyclops being a war criminal for attacking a cloud still feels exceedingly contrived. It makes some of teen Cyclops' various musings seem forced, even by the lofty standards of teenage melodrama.

It leads to some parts being choppy and chaotic, but it doesn't take away from the impact of the main plot in All-New X-men #18. Mark Bagley's colorful renderings of the various moments helps to move things along as well. Whatever flaws there may be in the over-arching narrative of Inhumans vs. X-men, it doesn't undermine the big reveal that gives this issue so much weight.

It's not just another tie-in where a teenage character mopes and whines at being so overwhelmed. This story digs deeper, achieving an impact that goes beyond an ongoing crossover. For a tie-in that focuses on an anxious teenager, that's quite an accomplishment.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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