Is the original X-Men’s time in the present changing their pasts?

(Panini Books)

THE fast-paced release schedule of this series prevents the reader from noticing the lack of any substantial plot development, although the focus on strong characterisation and soap opera elements which have always been part of the X-Men line more than make up for this shortcoming.

Three books down the line and we still have the original X-Men struggling to cope with their legacy in the present, as the time-tossed teenagers are forced to confront both their contemporary selves and the consequences of their actions over the years.

For Scott (Cyclops) Summers, that means coming to terms with the fact that your older self is a wanted mutant terrorist and the man responsible for killing his mentor, Charles Xavier, while Warren Worthington III, the high-flying Angel, refuses to accept his eventual destiny and quits the team in protest.

Meanwhile, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey has been forced to confront her fate as Scott’s future wife, as the host of the destructive Phoenix Force and ultimately as a fatality of the X-Men’s mission. At the same time she has to come to terms with being virtually canonised as the inspiration behind the Jean Grey School for Mutants, and reacts dramatically in a bid to change her future by beginning a relationship with Hank McCoy, aka the Beast.

Away from the ethical dilemma of allowing the past team to interact with the present, and the impact this could have on the time steam when they eventually return home, the bubbling sub-plot concerns the machinations of shapeshifter Mystique and her comrades, finally revealed here as a bid to purchase control over the crime-ridden island of Madripoor from terrorist sect Hydra. The reasons for this move have yet to become clear, but at least we now know something is happening behind the scenes, which is a step up for the reader after the involuntary ignorance of the past dozen or so issues.

There are some absolutely perfect scenes in this latest book, particularly the duck-and-dive encounter between Jean Grey and her “daughter” from another reality, Rachel Summers-Grey, and writer Brian Michael Bendis does a fantastic job focusing on yesterday’s X-Men dealing with the traumas of today.

After years of navel-gazing and maudlin melodrama, the current run of X-books is perhaps one of the most exciting since the glory days of Chris Claremont and John Byrne, and as we head towards the crossover event Battle of the Atom, there’s no doubt that the mutant heroes’ stars are on the ascendant.

Highly recommended for X-fans old and new.