Review: Wolverine and the X-Men Vol.1 hardcover/paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

[The fianal review in Doug Glassman's month-long spotlight of Kitty Pryde stories.]

After the “Schism” event in the X-Men titles, Cyclops took over the mutant micro-nation of Utopia while Wolverine founded a school for mutants in honor of Jean Grey.

If this sounds backwards to you, then you’re not alone. Wolverine himself questions this turn of events in the first few pages of Wolverine and the X-Men Vol. 1, as do numerous X-Men and the inspectors sent by the New York school board to investigate the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. In fact, writer Jason Aaron seems to be on the defensive throughout the first issue, outlining many of the inherent problems of the school, such as a lack of teachers with certification and bathrooms that turn into Danger Rooms. Is this Aaron having fun with the reader, or is he airing his grievances with the plot he was given by the editors?

Either way, Aaron swiftly introduces the incredibly large cast. After Schism, Kitty Pryde and Piotr Rasputin went their separate ways, and Kitty is the glue that holds the school together as its headmistress. Beast is still present as the school’s technical genius -- a necessity given that the school is equipped with advanced Shi’ar technology. The other original X-Man at the school -- at least until issue four -- is Iceman, the least mature but potentially most powerful of the first five. When the school is attacked, Bobby Drake finally steps up. Another key faculty member is Rachel Grey, the resident telepath who keeps the kids disciplined.

One of the oddest choices in faculty members is Husk, who is forced to change her skin during an English lesson to silence the students. Another oddity is the perpetual sad-sack Toad, now the janitor at the school. I’m not exactly when he changed sides, but like having Beast and Iceman present, it adds authenticity to the title.

The student body consists mostly of memorable characters from previous younger X-Men titles. Some, like Rockslide and Glob Herman, have been around since New X-Men: Academy X. Others, like Idie Okonkwo from Generation Hope and the kindly Brood member Broo are becoming new favorites, especially because of the adorable romance developing between the two. The most important student is Quentin Quire, a.k.a. Kid Omega, a super-powerful anarchistic terrorist put under Wolverine’s custody by Captain America. Quire actually warranted his own mini-series, Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega, which was a neat riff on Days of Future Past.

Just as the school opens, it faces a threat from something bigger than the New York Board of Education. The new, controversial Hellfire Club arrives to destroy the school. The mixed reaction comes from the members being super-powerful, psychotic pre-teens. Personally, I don’t mind them. The X-Men have faced far weirder foes, like Mojo and the Mutant Master, and the age difference makes sense considering the school element. Along with other threats, like an army of Frankenstein’s Monsters, the Hellfire Club unleashes Krakoa the Living Island, who makes an intriguing choice near the end of the initial arc. The attack even ends up solving the school’s problems, both with the school board and with their monetary woes, complete with a cameo from the X-Men’s lawyer, Matt Murdock.

After the first three issues, we get a stand-alone story introducing elements from Uncanny X-Force into Wolverine and the X-Men. I’m not a huge fan of X-Force in any of its non-X-Statix incarnations, but this is actually a storytelling necessity along with a probable editorial mandate. Two new students are introduced; one is the new child version of Apocalypse, the key figure in Rick Remender’s overall X-Force version. The other, surprisingly, is Angel, whose mind has been wiped. The sadness felt by the faculty, especially the other original X-Men, is palpable when they see what happened to him. However, there’s some comic relief when Deathlok, a cyborg from the future, predicts the fates of the kids with ... mixed results.

The other most controversial element of Wolverine and the X-Men is the artwork of Chris Bachalo. I’ll admit that it’s not to everyone’s taste, as it’s extremely cartoony and exaggerated. There are some moments where the action is obscured, such as when Husk intimidates her students with her rocky form, or when Krakoa attacks. However, I think a lot of this comes down to some very heavy inks, which were provided by seven different inkers, indicating that there were some scheduling issues. Nick Bradshaw’s art in issue #4 is far more clear and crisp. Future stories alternate the two artists, allowing fans of both art styles to be happy.

Along with the usual design sketches in the extras, two of the letter columns are included. These are answered by Kitty and Iceman, respectively, and other faculty members answer columns in other issues. There’s also a live Twitter session of issue #4, which I don’t entirely get. Why do a Twitter version of an existing issue? I think it would have been better to do a session of an unseen class for extra humor. A cool infographic provides cute stick figure versions of the characters as an organizational chart. It even includes characters not seen in the book itself, but are in the Astonishing X-Men sister title, such as Rogue and Karma. Finally, there’s the brochure, which could be the best extra ever included in a comic book. There are too many brilliant jokes to list them all here, but I’m particularly fond of “Algebra Sucks, I Know, But You Still Have To Learn It,” taught by Iceman.

Kitty Pryde, a.k.a. Shadowcat, has undergone an incredible character evolution, going from a naïve teenage girl, to a ninja, to a key member of the modern main team, to running the newest incarnation of the school that started it all in Wolverine and the X-Men. I hope you enjoyed this month's look into one of the most prominent (and earliest identified) Jewish characters in comics.

Next year (just a week away!) my reviews begin again with a return to Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor and a story he could only call “Ragnarok and Roll!”
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4 comments:

  1. These reviews tempt me to pick up mainstream Marvel books again, but all of it just feel imposible to get into.

    Is there any stuff I should read first, or is this series self-contained?

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  2. Despite how much I hated Schism, I tried approaching this book with an open mind, but Aaron's writing is so devoid of subtlety and full of forced humor that I just can't seem to get into it. I kept reading the book for a year or so, but once the AvX tie-ins ended, I finally dropped it.

    I usually like Bachalo's artwork, but I wish he'd let someone else color it. He tends to use only two or three primary colors per page, which only makes his art look murky, and the white characters' skin color looks all wrong to me. Bradshaw's art is quite clear and detailed, with a nice Art Adams influence, but his incapacity to draw adult faces really puts me off.

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  3. @Saidestroyer: I personally picked it up without reading Schism, but I think it depends on how much you know about the X-Men to begin with. If you're willing to put up a little extra money and time, go look for the "X-Men: Earth's Mutant Heroes" one-shot Handbook. http://marvel.com/comic_books/issue/37491/x-men_earths_mutant_heroes_2010_1 It'll either help you out or confuse you even more.

    @Shagamu: Jason Aaron has many writing talents, but I agree that subtlety isn't one of them. I do think WATX's humor isn't forced, but humor is subjective and etc.

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  4. It took only 2 issues for Wolverine & the X-Men become the best X-Men book being published! Jason Aaron is such a good writer, and the amazing artwork of Bachalo and Bradshaw were just the icing on the cake.

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