SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Wolverine and the X-Men #1A comic review article by: Sara McDonald, Chris Kiser, Kyle Garret
It's the first day of school at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning and a pair of New York Education Department inspectors are visiting! What could go wrong, besides everything possible?
After leaving Utopia following the events of X-Men Schism, Wolverine has reopened the Westchester school, now dubbed the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, and put himself in charge as headmaster. This goes about as well as could be expected, and Wolverine and the X-Men #1 showcases the rocky start for this re-built and re-vamped school for mutants.
The central action of the book is a visit from two inspectors for the New York State Department of Education, who arrive on the first day of classes to decide if the school can continue or not. Their visit becomes a well-utilized plot device to bring the reader along on a tour of the school as well, introducing many of the characters that make up this team of X-Men and student body, showing the set up of the new institute, as well as laying the groundwork for what's to come in later issues. It's a clever bit of writing that allows for a fair amount of exposition without feeling like the comic is too weighed down by it.
There's a fair amount of humor in the issue as well, with several moments that lend themselves to genuine chuckles. Wolverine and Kitty's repeated failures at impressing the inspectors come with a dose of comedy to them, as well as much of the interaction between the characters. The opening scene with Xavier and Wolverine discussing Wolverine's decision to take over what was once Xavier's job is humorous rather than sentimental, which sets out a good tone for the rest of the book. There's moments of sentiment, such as the statue of Jean Grey in front of the building, but for the most part, the comic strays away from heavy-handed emotions, making it feel more as if it truly is a fresh start for this group of X-Men.
The rebuilt mansion itself is a mixture familiar and new, with a more space-age look to it than the old estate. We're also shown other changes to the new school, such as a "Danger Room" that's now capable of being any room in the school -- even the bathroom, apparently. It's a new and improved school, and it should be interesting to see how these changes play into future issues.
I'm still not feeling completely sold on Kade Kilgore and the new Hellfire Club as villains. He'd psychopathic and has the money to support his evil schemes, but he's still a human 12-year old-boy. He comes across as a bad guy who you know is a bad guy because you're told he is, and not as someone who's fully developed as a villain. Where the plot device of showing off the school through the inspection worked, Kade's appearance to read off a laundry list of past evil deeds to Wolverine felt more forced.
Overall, Wolverine and the X-Men #1 is a promising first chapter to a new start for the X-Men and a good step towards taking it back to its pre-Utopia roots while still moving forward.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.
2011 has been the best year to be an X-Fan since Joss Whedon left the Mansion, with both Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen currently doing wonders to breathe new life into the franchise. After just a single issue, I think it's safe to say that Aaron will be continuing that trend in the pages of Wolverine and the X-Men, the new post-Schism series that contains more than a few reasons to keep readers excited. For starters, it's a showcase of great characterization with a strong emphasis on the school setting that both Whedon and Grant Morrison used to transform their X-Men runs into classics. However, the real strength of the book lies in Aaron's surprising penchant for humor; this comic is a laugh riot!
Most of the yuks come from self-aware references to the outright absurdity of a training school for superpowered mutant teenagers, a concept that Aaron repeatedly calls back to. The entire issue is framed around a visit to the X-School by the New York Department of Education, whom newly minted headmasters Wolverine and Kitty Pryde will have to impress in order to gain approval to reopen the institute. What follows is a well-crafted comedy of errors, as Danger Room scenarios and extradimensional incursions confirm every prejudice the inspectors have against what Wolvie and friends are trying to accomplish.
But that's not all Aaron does to make us chuckle. He comes into this issue with an excellent sense of his main cast and knows exactly how to play several of them hilariously against character. The notion of Wolverine filling the Xavier role in a school for gifted youngsters should sound strange to anyone with even an inkling of the character's gruff personality, and Aaron doesn't back away from addressing those misgivings head on. There's also a nice moment where Beast, known by the rest of the X-Men for a reliable calm and charming demeanor, completely lets his teammates down in that area when they're counting on him to ease the tension.
In keeping with the tone Aaron sets, Chris Bachalo tweaks his art style to match the prevailing sense of levity. Bachalo's work has always been rather stylized, but it seems to be even more so here. Exaggerated features rule the day, ensuring that each character comprises an accurate visual representation of his or her personality. Bachalo also pulls off the rare task of coloring his own work, complementing the selective and variable level of detail he enforces throughout.
For some, the fact that I'm so adamantly classifying Wolverine and the X-Men as a "funny" book will come as a disappointment, but that would be to miss what Aaron is actually accomplishing. None of the humor is promoted at the expense of the book's drama, as this is still an exciting adventure tale about heroes in a world that hates and fears them. But it's also very witty and comical, taking full advantage of the rich characters and scenarios its writer has inherited.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found as @Chris_Kiser!
I'm torn by this book. That probably sounds odd, given that I'm awarding this four bullets, but I can explain.
I absolutely love the return of the school. I think this was a great decision on the part of Marvel editorial. With all the X-titles out there, it made no sense that at least one of them couldn't take place at some kind of school for mutants. And this is a great book, probably deserving of a spin-off of its own from the students' perspective.
So if I think it's great, why am I torn?
I have had a long standing issue with the X-Men, because I love the concept. I love the "hated and feared" bit, I loved when Morrison turned them into an actual minority. The core concept of the X-Universe is just so rife with potential, so perfect for telling emotional stories.
My problem is that I don't think it needs time travel and aliens to make it interesting, yet those two things have become a staple of these books. I would love to see an X-Book bereft of anything but the core concept so that the emotional moments carry more weight, because the death of Phoenix loses a little punch when she's on the moon fighting aliens. How is this a book about fear and oppression when Bishop comes from the future to kill some mysterious traitor? It's not, and I've always had a problem with that.
If you've read this comic, you can see how my problem would extend to what's on these pages.
Jason Aaron actually makes me okay with it, more or less. Because Jason Aaron does the only thing that you can and should do with the ridiculous cornucopia of science fiction ideas that has engulfed the X-Men: you make it even more insane.
From the sci-fi design of the new school, to alien students and mysterious natural disasters, Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo embrace the larger than life aspects of the X-Universe. All of the weirdness serves to underscore the chaos of the first day for the new school.
This isn't to day that character moments are pushed aside. Wolverine's decision to open the school is a great step in the evolution of the character, and seeing how he adjusts to this move was interesting. His conversation with Prof. X was particularly entertaining. And it was nice to see someone remember that Iceman's a CPA!
While I sometimes long for the less exaggerated style that Bachalo had back when he first floored everyone with his work on Death, he still has a wonderful kinetic feel to his art, so I'm willing to look past things like Kitty Pryde's ridiculously long and thing legs that kind of make her look freakish.
The inspectors were also a bit much. Yes, they're prejudiced, we get it. It was done over and over to the point where it was no longer funny.
And I'm still wondering how the students will fit into all of this. They're obviously meant to play large roles, but I find the high school experience to be a storyline that's easily overshadowed by all the science fiction elements we see here.
I enjoyed this issue enough to see where it goes, though, and that means it did exactly what it needed to do.
Kyle Garret is the author of I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At, available now from Hellgate Press. His short fiction has been published in the Ginosko Literary Journal, Literary Town Hall, Children, Churches, & Daddies and Falling Into Place. He writes comic book reviews here at Comic Bulletin and blogs for PopMatters. He can be found at KyleGarret.com and on Twitter as @kylegarret.