The time displaced original X-Men (save Cyclops) are trapped in the Ultimate Universe, along with X-23. The last issue ended with Jean Grey and Miles Morales running into the current iteration of the Ultimate X-Men, while the others found themselves in a variety of other situations. Who better to write this than one of the Ultimate Universe’s creators, Brian Michael Bendis?
It’s refreshing to see two groups of superheroes not fighting each other when they meet up. Instead, they resort mostly to talking and figuring things out. The two Jean Greys open the issue up with reading each other’s minds, learning about each other’s universes. The scenes between them are generally quiet and kind of nice, exploring 616 Jean’s self-doubts about being the team’s leader. Her scenes bookend the issue, ending with a cliffhanger that could mean almost anything big. Is it good or bad?
Of the other scenes, Iceman’s has the most progress as he fights one of Mole Man’s monsters again before the cops arrest him. So far, this is the best storyline in All New X-Men for Iceman; he shows actual competence in the fight and with the cops that arrest him instead of simply being the team’s punchline. Beast’s situation is also elaborated on; he’s held captive by Ultimate Dr. Doom and questioned about where he’s from, while also hinting that Doom has plans that could cause problems in the future, whether in this storyline or another yet to come. The section that takes up the least space is between X-23, Angel and Jimmy Hudson (Ultimate Wolverine’s son). What’s great about this scene is that X-23 figures out that they’re not on their own earth, showing her intelligence that many of her recent writers have forgotten about. Bendis also seems to be writing her speech patterns better with each issue; personally I hope she remains in this book after Wolverines starts (Sabertooth will be in Uncanny Avengers, so I don’t see how it’s impossible).
The art by Mahmud Asrar is good. The layouts are almost reminiscent of Stuart Immonen’s yet they still fit his style perfectly. The splash page where the Jeans read each other’s mind is complete with all sorts of panels that showcase different events through their lives. Having not read much of the Ultimate Universe I can’t really comment on the Ultimate X-Men stuff, but the All New X-Men panels have a good mix of different meetings and situations they’ve had since travelling to the present, along with a quick reference to the Vanisher from the X-Men’s early years. Iceman’s scenes showcase his growing mastery of his powers with plenty of detail, while also adding drips to his costume and ice slide thanks to the intense heat. Also, Jimmy Hudon’s hopelessly confused look while X-23 figures out the situation is hilarious. And finally, Beast’s scene in Dr. Doom’s castle makes great use of colour shifting and the glow of candles to enhance the sinister mood along with Beast’s frustration regarding his attraction to Jean Grey.
This isn’t exactly the best story arc in All New X-men, but it’s still great for what it is. Every X-Men book featuring younger characters needs at least one storyline where the characters are stranded in an alternate reality of some kind, and Bendis is making good use of the trope to compare the main universe to the Ultimate Universe without being pandering. This remains a good character-focused series. In one issue Bendis delves into the emotions of Jean doubting herself as a leader, Beast’s love life difficulties and Iceman’s development into a more mature superhero. Some may not like his slower pace, but if you’re an X-Men fan who hasn’t given this a chance yet, you really should. It’s consistently been the best-selling X-title since launch for a reason.