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SUNDAY SLUGFEST: X-Men: Schism #1

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2011
By: The Firing Squad

Jason Aaron
Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith (i), Frank D'Armata (c), Jared K. Fletcher (l)
Marvel
The big X-Men event of 2011 kicks off as Cyclops and Wolverine battle Sentinels, Kid Omega and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad! Also some kid throws his dad out of a helicopter, and Wolverine eats some ice cream.

Danny Djeljosevic:
Matthew Z. Rios:
Robert Tacopina:




Danny Djeljosevic:

Hot damn -- if there's one comic drug I always get hooked on, it's an X-Men crossover. This probably comes from my time as a kid reading select issues from '90s crossovers like "Fatal Attractions" or "X-Cutioner's Song," where I know that it was a big deal if X-Force, X-Factor and both X-Men teams (Blue and Gold, nevar 4get) were all banding together to fight Apocalypse or whatever. Even as a relatively conscious adult, I got a giddy little thrill from Messiah CompleX and Second Coming. I guess I ignored Necrosha because that didn't involve the main X-Men book, which my bank account thanks Marvel for.

Schism seems to be exclusively about the main X-Men team, because I'm certain that X-Factor doesn't care whether or not X-Men splits up into two separate entities due to a difference in opinion on the direction of mutantkind. At least, that seems what the plot of Schism is going to be, especially considering we already know that we're going to have a Cyclops-led X-Men book and a Wolverine-led X-Men book in October. Such is the nature of superhero comics: it's the announcement that's the surprise, not the comics themselves.



Well, there is a surprise in superhero comics -- when we enjoy a ripping good capes and tights yarn without knowledge of the basic endpoint of the story deterring from it. X-Men: Schism is that kind of book. Jason Aaron has scripted one of the better opening chapters of an event comic in recent memory -- one where I can throw out all of my obligatory first issue mitigation and actually write about the goddamn thing.

The main plot of Schism concerns Cyclops attempting to deliver a speech about the danger of Sentinels to a conference in Switzerland about arms control, only to have Kid Omega bust through the doors to deliver some anti-mutant tomfoolery. In the wake of his actions, Sentinels get a bit of a resurgence and Aaron drops on us a surprise return of a classic threat that isn't Magneto or Apocalypse. "A world that hates and fears" mutants has become an easy clichť in the X-Men comics, but here we actually get a sense of an entire world hating and fearing mutants, which feels like something we haven't seen in a long time.

Sure, Aaron uses his given thirtysomething story pages to set up the conflict of the book, but he also spends a lot of time feeling out his characters, establishing the Wolverine/Cyclops dynamic in order to break it into a thousand pieces (one expects). Aaron's characterization of that relationship feels right. It's mildly antagonistic, but there's a reason Wolverine sticks around on this team instead of fucking off and doing his own thing.



Wolverine also gets a mini-arc within this first issue with Idie, one of the Generation Hope kids, that plays off of his fondness for teenage sidekicks and the fact that mutant kids have to grow up real fast most of the time, or die. It's not explored a whole lot in this issue, but as a B-plot that finishes up in the issue's pages it gives Schism #1 a sense of completeness. And there's nothing I appreciate more in these kinds of books than character beats amidst all the high drama. The panel of Wolverine quietly eating ice cream with Idie as the sun sets over the Golden Gate bridge is a sweet, touching image, infusing the proceedings with the humanity that makes all the superhero antics mean something.



So, yeah: Aaron has no trouble with Wolverine -- he's had a head start writing the guy in his solo adventures, after all -- but he gets Cyclops surprisingly well. Cyclops was always my favorite X-Man thanks to his sweet visor and laser eyes, but it feels like he only got interesting when Grant Morrison started writing him -- a torch that got passed on to Matt Fraction for a run that involved Cyclops flying into a press conference with a fucking jetpack. Scott Summers has always been a character with potential, but as middle-management for Professor Xavier, he was pretty much stuck in a position with no upward mobility. However, Xavier's been brushed off to the side, allowing writers to actually make him a leader of an entire nation instead of just a straight-laced field commander for a super-powered G.I. Joe.

It's no surprise that writers have trouble with Cyclops. You can't see his eyes, for one thing -- just a big visor with a red slot running across. For most writers, that's a flatline, a closing door that you can't slip through, a mail slot that only allows the thinnest of characterizations to get into his head. Spider-Man has huge eyes, he's gotta be pretty easy to write. Cyclops had to be rebuilt after being marginalized for decades. These days, Scott's a nervous breakdown held together in a bodysuit and a visor, the master of stress management, with Daredevil and Spidey as distant runners-up. The guy who keeps it together because he has no choice, the guy who's been raised to fight giant robots set out to kill him since his teens. Curious that Wolverine -- the bleeding heart who wants to keep the kids away from the images of Sentinels mobilizing on TV and Cyclops basically wants to remind them that mutantin' aint' easy. Maybe that's the perk of being the lieutenant and not the general. After all, he has enough free time to be on like seven other teams.

Christ, when did this jump from review to essay?



Anyway, the artist for this issue Carlos Pacheco, who's set up to be the guy for Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-Men relaunch artist. Looks like each issue is going to have a different artist on it (thankfully that lineup includes Frank Cho and Daniel AcuŮa). Pacheco, no stranger to the X-Men, has always been a solid artist, but here his art feels inconsistent. While his layouts and storytelling are generally fine, his attention to detail falters the farther away things gets from an object. Which is true of any artist, but for Pacheco, at least in this issue, it gets extreme real quick, giving the reader a feeling of nearsightedness. He can do a pretty great close-up on a character, full of expression but as soon as he needs to depict him more than a few feet away, we have to depend on basic body language. Shame you can't do a widescreen superhero comic in close-ups, huh? Ultimately, It feels like inker Cam Smith and colorist Frank D'Armata are left to do the heavy lifting and add detail whenever Pacheco's couldn't be bothered to pencil any in.



Questionable art aside, X-Men: Schism #1 was a welcome surprise, considering I wasn't even particularly looking forward to it. But thanks to Jason Aaron's thoughtful scripting, I'm actually really excited for the next installment.



Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book writer, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.




Matthew Z. Rios:

Itís no secret that I love a lot of superheroes. Captain America, Spider-Man, Batman -- thereís always someone hidden behind a glossy cover that I adore. However, thereís nothing quite like the X-Men. Sure, the idea for an ostracized group of freaks isnít a totally original concept in comics (DOOM PATROL), but theyíre really the ones that push this thought home the best. As a kid, they were my number one.

Cut to years later, and they had fallen out of my good graces. Their stories just get so confusing after a while! As luck would have it, my girlfriend had fond memories of these rowdy mutants and it was because of her that I gave them another shot. Iím sure glad I did -- the outpour of nostalgia and good vibes I felt welcomed me back quickly. So now that I was onboard again, it only made sense for me to gravitate toward this Schism thingy.



So once again, the X-Men are doing their best to fight prejudice and stamp a good name for themselves in the eyes of the public. Despite their courageous actions over the years, I guess the world needs more than that. Yet, things go wrong and a villain from their past shows up at the perfect moment to give these good intentions the boot and now mutantkind is in it deeper than ever.

Iím sort of a sucker for special crossovers and events -- they flag us down to the fact that things are getting real and you shouldnít miss it. Case in point: the world is embracing the idea of the Sentinel and assembling them at a rapid pace. But nowadays, these special books often donít deliver this sentiment as hard as they can. In my eyes, Marvel is more guilty of this -- overall good series, with a slow lead up and less impact than preached upon us. Remember all the boasting and ads for Secret Invasion? Praytell, what exciting and bold changes were we supposed to have embraced? Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for Schism, but donít worry -- its really not that bad at all.



X-Men: Schism is brought to us by Jason Aaron. If you donít know who Jason Aaron is, you arenít reading comic books properly. Aaron has woven his terrific style and voice through books you should be reading, like Scalped and Punisher MAX. Heís got a good sense for the gritty and using characters to ravish your sentimental mind, and Schism is no exception.

The first noticeable thing from this issue is the spot-on voices of personalities that have been stamped into our minds. Cyclops is still a hopeful tool while Wolverine is a man of few words, laced with an occasional soft spot. This proper characterization is the key factor that holds everything together and we are fortunate to have that standing strong. Plus the idea of Wolverine and Cyclops finally hitting that breaking point is enough reason to celebrate. This is something readers have been wishing for infinitely, and getting to see the X-Men being pulled into this is even better. Unfortunately that idea isnít present just yet.



The problem with Schism is that it doesnít read like the explosive starting point for a mini-event but rather aÖ prelude? Marvel had been supplying us with this Prelude to Schism thing for a few weeks now and it really didnít catch my interest. Vagueness plagued it and I wasnít given enough reason to wait it out. This premiere issue feels like it could have been better used for these purposes -- to slowly seep the discourse and difference of opinions until they reached a powder keg; to settle the backbone for why everyone will be forced to choose a side. Iím not asking for a ridiculous Michael Bay-esque introduction, but still I felt a little more oomph would have pitched the sentiment better. Right now, it feels more like X-Men: Uncomfortable Silence at the Dinner Table rather than a line drawn in the sand with friends forced to turn on each other. Iím not saying it was bad by any means, but once again, it feels like another false start that jumped the gun too early.



I am still excited for where this is all going and hope that the changes to come with be something more permanent than a month.

So in summary:

X-Men: Still cool.

Sentinels: Back!

Schism: Happening soonish.

Marvel: Still goofiní around.

Itís okay, Marvel, you can let your stories percolate a bit before releasing them. Either that, or cut down on the hype. Your stories will lead the readers your way, not the eight ads per comic.



Matthew Z. Rios is an intrepid horror movie fan, a constant comic book connoisseur, steampunk enthusiast and collector of toys of any type. He has been in love with comics ever since the tender age of 4, when his dad gave him a copy of the Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told on Christmas and changed his life forever.

In college, Matthew majored in English and tossed in a screenwriting minor at the last second, which became his real passion. One day he hopes to write comic books, short features, or any type of creative media. Matthew is an active member in the tiki scene, which revolves around tropical drinks (the Zombie being his favorite). His favorite fictional/unobtainable crushes include Bettie Paige and She Hulk. On occasion, after several drinks, Matthew Z. Rios talks about himself in the third person. Matthew Rios was not drunk when he wrote this bio.

Matthew is also a writer for Tiki Magazine and can be Facebooked. His infrequent and begrudging Tweets can be found at @tikisideburns.




Robert Tacopina:

Make no doubt about it: I am an unapologetic X-Men fan. In fact, they are the reason that I even became remotely interested in comic books. And, if there is one thing that is a constant in my comic habits, it is indeed the X-Men and their spinoff books. With Schism, we have an event years in the making that is purported to take the beloved mutants in a bold new direction. Of course, having already been bombarded with countless images and solicits we know for the most part that Schism will result in the X-Men being split fundamentally at its core with the race either siding with Cyclops or Wolverine. Despite this knowledge of the end result it will be the journey to that point which shall dictate the magnitude of the end result. And I can't lie; this was my most anticipated book of the week. Anyhoo...



Schism actually started off rather slow, but not necessarily in a bad way. Writer Jason Aaron took his time in setting up the main premise which is that Scott and the X-Men are calling for the dismantling of the Sentinels that are being harbored in practically every country with a semblance of power. While the Sentinels seem to be a likely choice to serve as antagonists for this dilemma it actually makes a great deal of sense, especially how Scott addresses it to the audience. What made all of this talking so intriguing is that Aaron nailed the characters so wonderfully. Cyclops and Wolverine were the main focal point of the entire issue (rightfully so) and their dialogue was just spot on. This was classic Claremont, early Astonishing Whedon, and the Kyle & Yost greatest hits as cribbed by Jason Aaron. You had the feeling of nostalgia but also a noted relevance for today's age as well.

Yet try as he might, Cyclops just can't get through to the crowd of delegates representing their respective nations. They see mutants as a threat and feel that perhaps the arrogance of mutants has been at the heart of the problem. However, when Kid Omega makes his presence known by crashing the party all hell breaks loose and he uses his powers to "convince" the humans to confess their deepest and darkest secrets which of course lead to the humans siccing the Sentinels on Cyclops and Logan.



The only nitpick I had with this issue is that, despite my earlier praises on the characterization, there were a few times where Cyclops just did not feel right. This mostly all stemmed from the fact that he seemed perfectly content in not only allowing the actions of Quentin Quire to unfold to see where they lead but also in simply letting him escape by refusing Wolverine's request to hunt him down. Isn't that why Scott formed X-Force, to take down these threats? But now he is content with just letting them run wild to see how things will unfold??

However, as we find out by the end of the issue Kid Omega is actually being manipulated by a new player in the X-Men game, and certainly a surprising one at that, which leads to the reformation of one of the X-Men's most prolific enemies!

Overall, the story was rather polished and engaging. It definitely made a great deal of sense in the scope of things and has set up an interesting scenario for the X-Family to get involved in. Despite my slight concern with some of Scott's choices the characters were very well handled. Even when Wolverine and Idie have their conversation and Wolverine tells her to just be a kid, it came across as sincere and believable. The introduction of Kade Kilgore as the "man" behind the curtain was an interesting choice and I look forward to seeing what other tricks he has up his little sleeves. The closing pages were downright fantastic!



The art team did a splendid job with an exception. The most off-putting detail of this issue though, for me at least, was the depiction of Kenji from Generation Hope. He has always been drawn as a disfigured grotesque yet here in this issue he looked nothing like himself. In fact it took me a series of what-the-hell moments to finally realize who he was. But overall, it was just a beautiful looking book with pencils by Carlos Pacheco and Frank D'Armata providing his usual outstanding colors.

So with all the build up leading to this event I am pleased to say that Schism is definitely on the right track here. The portrayal of the X-Men was awesome and the twists that Jason Aaron included in this premiere issue were a shock and set the tone for what lies ahead. Was it perfect? No. Yet it did carry a significant weight to it, a feeling like you know big things are going to come as a result of what has been proposed within this book. If the creative team (which features a different penciler each issue) can maintain this quality for the long haul we will have a classic X-Men story that will set up years worth of intriguing tales. This just felt like an exciting old school heyday romp for the X-Men and I loved it!



Robert Tacopina is just your typical average everyday comic book fan. Robert is equally fascinated by both the print and digital formats and loves a multitude of titles. He spends his time waiting for next Wednesday by video gaming, reading, watching movies, following his sports teams, and desperately trying to spread the comics word. Proud to let his geek flag fly.



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