You knew just by walking into your comic book store that All New X-Men was going to be special, if only because issue #1 came in nine different versions—meaning that with this week’s #2, technically, it’s already outlasted several of DC’s cancelled “New 52” titles. But really it’s the bold premise that sets this mind-bending story arc apart, as the original five “X-Men” are “plucked from the past and brought to the present.” Of course much of what they find is disturbing, starting with the fact that one of them is dead and another needed to be housebroken.
It’s the kind of “high concept” that makes Hollywood executives salivate, although that could also be rabies. Just try to imagine the feelings engendered by your own teen self meeting you as a 30-year-old. Exactly: profound disappointment, the same kind of soul-crushing regret Howie Mandell would experience if he traveled from his past to discover he’ll wind up as a game show host.
Besides how much weight you gained, shocking revelations would await human and mutant alike leaping forward fifteen years from the late ’90s to right about now, including the price of comic books. Some things would just be inexplicable, like reality TV, Lady Gaga, the Patriot Act, Gretchen Carlson, and the ubiquity of vampires, zombies, and Starbucks. You’d find disappointments, like a dormant space program, and your Enron stock; and things that are just outright confusing, like everyone staring at their cell phones like angry teenagers waiting for boyfriends to call. There would be things you’d miss, like record stores, and things you wouldn’t, like the screechy noise your dial-up internet connection made. And you might find comfort in the things that somehow managed to stay exactly the same, like the Cubs and Donald Trump’s hairpiece.
But above all else, any self-respecting nerd-geek’s brain would explode over how technology has changed the way you’re entertained, from YouTube to Netflix to iPads, movies on demand and thousands of cable channels, and especially how much faster porn downloads. Even more mind-blowing would be the advances in filmmaking that have made possible epic comic book spectacles like Avengers, Watchmen, Iron Man, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, although you might wonder why it was necessary to make not one but two Spider-Man origin movies in a decade, as well as an apparently really dangerous Broadway musical (with music by U2?!).
Somewhere inside those nine unnecessary covers, these and a million other soul-wrenching feelings must be what the All New L’il X-Men Babies are facing, as well as a consensus of revulsion over Honey Boo Boo. Narratively, the original X-Men are here to convince Cyclops he’s being an asshole; but what’s the larger universal message of Bendis’s uniquely existential take on time-traveling teens? Are they here to help us recall the more civilized heroes of a simpler time, to shame us for a future that didn’t live up to its promise, or simply to ask what the hell happened to Joan Rivers’s face?!
This is the stuff of great storytelling—big themes about hope and destiny and faces… and the larger idea that we’d have much to learn both from our future selves and the people we used to be, if we could only confront them without giggling. Also, that we’re capable of killing a beloved mentor when we’re having a bad day and then becoming a terrorist.
And when these strangest teens of all get back to where they came from, maybe they’ll share the lessons of a dark, failed future in their own past to ripple across time, just like Back to the Future 2, restoring today to what it should have been: a world where heroes matter and NASA still soars and Donald Trump is a zombie vampire. Also, they should buy a boatload of Apple stock.