All-New X-Men #40
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Michael Moccio
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Note: This would seem obvious, but please note that this review will contain spoilers of All-New X-Men #40.
Life gets incredibly confusing sometimes, mostly because we live in a world of in-betweens instead of polarized opposites. The X-Men are famously known for representing marginalized communities: their stories have echoed themes seen in overcoming racial prejudice and advocating for equal rights for women and the LGBTQIA community. Fresh off the "The Black Vortex" storyline, the original X-Men (plus X-23) are given some much needed down time as Brian Michael Bendis sets up the next story arc. While the plot point centers around Bobby Drake falls short, the rest of the issue is poignant and exciting enough to propel the team forward into the next storyline surrounding the Utopians.
The Internet fired up yesterday as several pages were leaked prior to today’s release and drew both praise and criticism. These several pages of Jean confronting Bobby about his sexuality and outing him – and it’s important to make the distinction that Bobby did not come out – are the weakest parts of this otherwise strong issue. To be clear, Bendis’ authorial intent is a good one – it’s obvious that he meant well, with his intended message that it’s important to be who you are and embrace your whole self, and recognizing that you can lean on your friends when you need to. That said, even with these positive intentions, there are some other, less positive angles that Bendis might not have anticipated or addressed – in particular, Jean outing Bobby without his consent and robbing him of the opportunity to choose what to label himself and whether or not he wanted to be labeled, which Bobby is surprisingly okay with by the end of their conversation.
Other eyebrow-raising moments include Jean’s comments about how Bobby isn’t bisexual. While the scene can be read as Bobby clinging to his overcompensating act, from the perspective of the LGBTQIA community – this reviewer included – that dialogue comes across as dismissive of those who identify as such. Even looking at it from just a writing perspective, the dialogue feels a bit clunky and out of place. While more diverse characters are appreciated and sorely needed in the industry, within the pages of All-New X-Men #40, this choice ultimately feels like it could have been better to enhance the story instead of just feeling like an inconsequential insert. It doesn’t help after the last issue of "The Black Vortex" specifically mentioned that characters had the potential to change following their transformations – and that Bobby in particular had a change “in his heart” – which calls into question why this is the time that Jean chooses to confront Bobby about his sexuality.
The rest of the issue is much stronger and more enjoyable. The romance between Warren and Laura is much more interesting and engaging that the rest of the issue, especially because Warren has retained his cosmic powers from the events of The Black Vortex. It’s clear that there will be ramifications for his choice in the future and Bendis does a great job at increasing the tension within the group as they judge Warren for his choice. The Utopians only get two short scenes in the issue, which was a smart choice, as that ups their intrigue. While die-hards will recognize some of these characters, they’re intriguing enough for new readers not to mind not knowing the specific identities of the Utopians and excited enough to continue through with the storyline.
Artists Mahmud Asrar and Rain Beredo do an incredible job throughout the issue. Asrar has quickly become a personal favorite of mine with his art, as he does a great job capturing the important teenage look with the characters. The issue is predominantly conversation – besides the scenes with the Utopians – and Asrar and Beredo make it visually enjoyable enough to have those scenes flow smoothly. Specifically, when Jean and Bobby had their conversation, Asrar did a great job posing Bobby to adequately show his discomfort when the conversation started. Overall, it’s easy to take for granted the quality that Asrar and Beredo bring to the table and it’s important to recognize that the book would not be as good without their talents.
If there’s one thing we can learn from the X-Men, it’s that the world is full of grays. It’s important to recognize that, while the issue was enjoyable as a whole, there were certainly problematic qualities that need to be addressed and called out. The X-Men have consistently stood as an allegory for marginalized communities, which is why it needs to be held to a higher scrutiny. Authorial intent aside, the specific scenes with Bobby and Jean don’t read well from a LGBTQIA perspective. And while we can be displeased with how that played out, and feel uncertain if having another male character outed is the kind of representation we need, we can still be happy that the industry is making strides on a global level, and also recognize the strength of the other parts of the issue.