Without a shadow of a doubt, the X-Men are the most important superhero franchise to me. I first became interested in superheroes and comic books through watching the excellent, if more than a little cheesy X-Men Evolution cartoon, which reimagined the classic X-Men as high school students with all the pitfalls of adolescence and growing up to go along with being feared and hated as mutants. And the comic that made me a life time lover of the medium was Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spider-Man. So, yeah, on paper, Brian Michael Bendis writing the flagship Uncanny X-Men title is a dream come true as a comic book fan. Although this run has had pitfalls through snaking storylines and decompression, Bendis truly shows his grasp on the X-Men as a family, school, and most of all, a metaphor for otherness in issue 600.
He uses his ear for dialogue and conversational rhythms to put the action and fighting on the backburner and focus on character relationships, including the entire mutant race’s one with Hank McCoy, who has been playing God all of Bendis’ run. There is also the strained relationship between the siblings Colossus and Magik with a little Kitty Pryde thrown in to make fans of Chris Claremont and Joss Whedon smile, a emotionally compelling and probably controversial scene where young and old Iceman chat about their sexuality, some Jean Grey self-realization, and finally the real meaning of the “mutant revolution”, which has been the arc word of his run. The ending of the comic is a little too “timey wimey” for lack of a better word even though it is done in lush, full painted art from Frazer Irving, but in its own way, it continues the time honored X-Men theme of their never ending struggle for survival and a full life in a world, which hates and shuns them.
Major credit must be given to the all-star team of artists assembled on Uncanny X-Men #600, who have also made their mark on the series and Bendis’ run before this anniversary issue. This art team is like if Peyton Manning’s offense with the Indianapolis Colts was on the same team as his current defense with the Denver Broncos, but with superpowered mutants. Sara Pichelli, most famous for co-creating Miles Morales, holds the book together as she draws the “Trial of Beast”, which is the framing narrative of Uncanny X-Men #600. She does an excellent job showing Beast as a feral, angry creature, which is diametrically opposed to the crazy genius routine that he uses to pass the buck for his crimes against nature, the timestream, and mutants themselves. However, she softens her art work (especially when drawing those adorable souls Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler) to show the X-Men’s care for Beast and desire for him to see the error of his ways and not continue to perpetuate alternate timeline after alternate timeline in his misguided quest to stop Cyclops from destroying mutantkind.
Even though they feature vastly different characters, the three flashback stories in Uncanny X-Men #600 share a common theme of honesty and repairing relationships in contrast with Beast, who spends most of the time in the main story justifying his actions or blaming Cyclops. There is Kitty Pryde, who hosts a more successful reunion between the estranged Colossus and Magik. Bendis and Anka understand the special place that these three characters have in X-Men fans’ hearts and give them their wildest dreams. Bendis lets Kitty and Colossus banter like an old married couple while Anka gears up for the reconciliation by casting a shadow on his metal face. (Claremont would probably use “visage” instead. Dude loved his five dollar words.) He shows the distance between the siblings by keeping their faces veiled until Colossus armors down and hugs his little sister in an emotionally rewarding conclusion. Even if Magik has upgraded her sorcery game and Colossus hasn’t done much in the core X-Men titles, they can still share a special bond. The series of panels is sealed with the hug, and Kitty smiling at them captures the essence of X-Men as family and hints at the mutants as a whole (Sans Beast and our Australian Clara Oswald stand-in Eva Bell.) uniting under Cyclops’ leadership at the issue’s close.
The next flashback scene is drawn by Mahmud Asrar, who proved his merit on both All-New X-Men and Ultimate Comics X-Men and also drew the famous (or infamous) scene of young Iceman being outed by Jean Grey and coming as gay in All-New X-Men #40. This story is a more mature sequel to the previous coming out as the older Iceman gives a particularly cutting and relatable line of dialogue for anyone (myself included) who has been in the closet, which is “Can I just have one part of my life that I’m not being persecuted for?” The mutant metaphor becomes reality in this one line of dialogue as the eras that adult Iceman has lived during were not conducive for LGBTQ people, and even today, people still don’t accept certain sexualities because of the way they were raised, religious beliefs, cultural background, or just plain hate and bigotry. This is why I’ve been hesitant to completely come out to certain people (mostly family), kept a relationship with a man secret from all but some friends and confidants, and try to keep my sexuality on the low unless I’m in a safe space, like my very welcoming college, with friends, or on the wacky social media platform called Twitter.
Through some dialogue between the young Jean Grey, who arguably got her her fullest character arc since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men or X-Men Evolution in Bendis’ run, and the Icemen, Bendis connects Iceman’s status as an Omega-level mutant, who hasn’t reached his potential with him being a closeted gay man. This might come across as heavy handed to some, but to me, it’s like Bendis and Asrar pulled a Jean Grey, read my mind, and captured my experience of coming into my own in my identity as a bisexual man. And if you’re reading this article, yes, I’m bisexual and have dated and loved both men and women. I didn’t choose to be this way. It would definitely much easier to conform to society’s heteronormative expectations and not deal with feelings and desires that someone decide to label as wrong one day. This is why related to Iceman’s dialogue about not wanting to be persecuted. I’m already a liberal agnostic in a conservative and religious family. Why would I add another strike to my record by coming out as bisexual or queer?
I think it’s for the same reason that Jean Grey tells older Iceman why he should come out as gay: to reach his full potential as a mutant, human, and X-Man. I think coming out as a bisexual even just to a few trusted people early on has helped me overcome the pitfalls of depression, suicidal thoughts, and self-doubt that plagued my life in both college and high school. It has given me the drive to write about and pick apart the characters and stories I love and increased my confidence in myself even if I currently don’t have the most successful personal and professional life. Also, it’s fun to openly talk about the male superheroes you find sexiest, which the Icemen do to defuse the tension with a little humor about the good looks of Angel. Asrar adds to the comic relief with the most awkward of facial expressions. For me, I think Warren Worthington III has great abs, a fabulous bank account, but he’s a little vain for my taste. In conclusion, it was wonderful for me to find my own experience laid out in a superhero and X-Men comics as Bendis tosses aside the queer subtext of mutants for text in the case of Iceman.
Another character who finds self-realization in a more sci-fi way is the younger Beast, who the older Beast keeps addressing and talking down to as he avoids confrontation with the X-Men. Storm, who is the de-facto leader of this intervention or trial, and is given a striking appearance and page stretching height also uses him as a kind of prop to show Beast that he once believed in things, like basic scientific ethics. However, in a flashback scene, Stuart Immonen gives him the chance to stretch his legs, explore his doubts, and even find romance in what I personally consider this issue’s biggest twist even if Bendis has been foreshadowing it sense the original five X-Men were sent forward in time.
Even if Stuart Immonen and his trusty inker Wade von Grawbadger paint an outward picture of relaxation with help of sweeping green colors from Marte Gracia and Jason Keith, Bendis’ dialogue for the original five X-Men betrays their stress and tension. Seriously, if you have to use the words “relax” or “break” almost a half dozen times in one short exchange, you’re definitely not enjoying yourself. And Bendis and Immonen show the stress of the events of All-New X-Men on these time displaced X-Men, who have gone from secret hideout to hideout and even the Ultimate Universee on the run from SHIELD, Mystique, and other enemies barely getting a say in things. (At least, Cyclops got to go to space with his long lost dad.) So, maybe it is really time for them to move on and focus on finding and improving themselves instead of chasing fleeting dreams of being sent back by the unreliable and amoral Beast.
Beast definitely has the lion’s share of the negative feelings among the five so he scampers off to the woods by himself half-muttering dialogue about messing with the fate of mutant kind. Immonen shows him bounding and not walking in the panels in which he appears. He is trying to physically find peace through defying the laws of gravity and not staying earthbound. However, Jean Grey joins him in the sky as she flies with her telekinesis. Bendis pulls out the romantic dialogue out of his bag of tricks and sets up Jean and Beast as a viable couple because they both have extremely complicated feelings. Jean knows what everyone is thinking through her telepathy and even knows about her own death and resurrection while Beast knows that he grows up to wreck the space time continuum and even possibly become the villainous Dark Beast.
But none of this matters as they gently smooch in the sky. Even though Cyclops and Jean Grey is probably the fan preferred couple, Bendis lets Beast’s unrequited love be reciprocated in one of the bolder moves of Uncanny X-Men #600. It is refreshing for both characters to spend a happy moment alone smooching and not dealing with the future consequences of their action. Immonen lets readers linger on the kissing scene by drawing it from three angles before concluding the story with two silent panels of Cyclops to show that not is all happy at paradise, and that the upcoming All-New X-Men series written by Dennis Hopeless and drawn by teen angst and issues veteran Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man) will have some juicy romantic drama. Bendis also does a nice job of rounding out Jean and young Beast’s arc through this shared moment while giving a chance for Hopeless to do his own storyline with the characters as the new king of the mutant sandbox.
And the most important non-sexuality related question of all: how does it end?And boy, does Brian Michael Bendis stick the landing in his final pages as an X-Men writer with the help of Pichelli and mainstay Uncanny X-Men artists Chris Bachalo and Frazer Irving, who come out of the bullpen as a powerful set up man and closer with evocative group shots and the dreamlike painting. First, Bendis doesn’t have Beast take the easy way out and reconcile with the X-Men after all he has done and has him storm out in a bestial rage from Pichelli, who makes his teeth look both sharp and deadly. (I still don’t understand how anyone could say no to Nightcrawler’s big ol’ Bamfy eyes.)
Then, he finally reveals what the “mutant revolution” that has been hinted at since the beginning of his tenure was: uniting peacefully. It’s a little surprising to see someone who just left the X-Men in the lurch during “The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier” storyline rally a crowd like that, but Bendis lets Cyclops win the final battle in his redemption as he gives a rousing speech about coming together as mutants and simply living. Bachalo creates some fun juxtapositions between various X-characters, like Eva Bell and Sabretooth to show that this unity is authentic. For now.
Yes, the thesis Cyclops and antithesis Magneto have put aside their differences and created a beautiful synthesis of mutants that would make both Georg Hegel and Charles Xavier smile. The panel of them smiling together as drawn by Frazer Irving is a shining moment in recent X-Men comics, but there are darker underpinnings. The X-Men will still be divided on whether Cyclops is a hero or terrorist, and the Irving ending of the comic sets Beast up as somewhat of a criminal mastermind with Eva Bell in tow. It would be too easy if Bendis wrapped all the time travel related shenanigans of the series in a neat bow. The Irving pages toward the end of comic featured a melancholy palette of mainly blue as Beast has become self-consumed, but it feels like a post-credits scene while Cyclops and Magneto joining together to honor Charles Xavier’s dream feels like the exclamation point of an ending Bendis’ run deserved. Either way, the X-Men are a visibly strong, united front going into the unknown of All-New, All-Different Marvel.
Uncanny X-Men #600 features some of the most visually pleasing superhero art of 2015 and is a thematically rich conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis’ X-Men epic. It casts aside the action for 36 pages of well-earned character interaction and progression from Beast’s fall into villainy to Jean Grey and young Beast’s romance and the older Cyclops’ well-worn and still criticized path to leadership and change. For me, the best part was the older Iceman coming to terms with his sexuality and realizing that being out could improve his life as both a hero and person in a slightly awkward sequence filled with hope, heart, and humor. Brian Michael Bendis ends his time on the X-Men on a note of victory and family reunion, but with just a touch of darkness
Uncanny X-Men #600
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli, Mahmud Asrar, Stuart Immonen, Kris Anka, Chris Bachalo, Dave Marquez, Frazer Irving
Inks by Wade von Grawbadger, Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin
Colors by Marte Gracia, Jason Keith, Chris Bachalo
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
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Logan is a nerdy, bisexual ginger, who recently graduated university with a degree in English Literature and Overanalyzing Comic Books. He loves comics, music (especially New Wave and BritPop), film (especially Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright), sports (college football and NBA), TV, mythology, and poetry. Joss Whedon is his master, Kitty Pryde is his favorite superhero, and his current favorite comic is The Wicked + the Divine.