For a moment, I considered combining this with my review of Black Vortex Omega, but there’s more than enough to talk about to make this a separate review. Yes, this explores the direct aftermath of the second Guardians of the Galaxy/All-New X-Men event, but it also contains a major character revelation.
All New X-Men 40 packs quite a bit into one issue, both in character development and with the Utopians introduction. Basically, the Utopians are a group of mutants living on the abandoned Utopia island and causing trouble for anyone who approaches, be it scavengers or SHIELD. Maria Hill’s reaction to this being a mutant problem is perfect. While they don’t interact with the X-Men just yet, the story setup is both entertaining and brings what could be a serious situation.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of character development for the Original X-Men. Cyclop’s space adventures are touched on, but the real focus is on Iceman, Angel and X-23. Angel explains to Laura why he chose the cosmic upgrade, and his reasoning is perfectly sound even if risky. Her reaction to his cosmic upgrade is also explored, and considering she worked with Archangel in X-Force volume 3, this exploration is needed. His reasons, along with her past being touched on, bring a touching moment that deepens their potential as a couple. Again, Bendis shows that the more he writes X-23, the better he is at balancing her voice with the character development he’s given her. Also, Bendis’s Magik dialogue is great as always.
But the real focus will be on Iceman. For those who haven’t paid attention to comic news, several pages leaked a few days ago, where Jean reveals that Iceman is gay. This has already caused a bit of controversy, not because a character is forced to face his true feelings, but because he’s been portrayed as straight since his inception in the 1960’s. That said, my thoughts are that this actually feels in character. While adult Iceman has had several relationships with women over the years, they’ve never lasted or ended well.
The conversation also goes beyond what was leaked, and the reasoning Iceman and Jean come to makes perfect sense. There’s also the aspect that the Black Vortex artifact could have had something to do with it (this is why I considered combining it with my Black Vortex Omega review). It’s hinted that for some characters who later rejected their cosmic upgrade, they’ll be internally changed. While it’s true that Jean Grey is sort-of forcing him to face his true feelings, it’s not out of character for her to unintentionally read someone’s mind and confront them about their thoughts. She makes it clear that she’s only trying to help. Usually I don’t talk about these subjects much because to be honest, I don’t really care, but in this case I felt it necessary to explore my thoughts.
The art by Muhmad Asrar is great. The scenes on Utopia complete themselves with all sorts of debris in the background that resembles the structures the X-Men used to have there. The later reveal of the Utopians shows a good variety of recognizable and jaded mutants. The X-Men’s facial expressions are captured well, whether it’s Jean Grey’s clear concern for Iceman, his surprise when Jean blurts out the reveal, and of course Laura’s skepticism when Angel talks about his reasoning for keeping his cosmic power. Also, the visual storytelling of Maria Hill’s reaction to the Utopia situation is priceless.
This is a great comic. The character development is strong, the dialogue is well-written and the Iceman reveal, while controversial, actually fits the character. With only one issue of All-New left, and then Uncanny X-Men 600 to finish Bendis’s run though, this Utopia story-arc will have to move quickly to finish right. I’m not worried though. Bendis’s X-Men run hasn’t always been great, but his strong character focus makes it worth giving a try for any fans of the franchise who hasn’t yet.