Monday, December 12, 2011

Wolverine & the X-Men #1

Marvel, 28 pages, $ 3.99

Writer: Jason Aaron
Penciler/colorist: Chris Bachalo
Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey
Letterer: Rob Steen

In which Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo turn in the best X-Men story I’ve read in years.

About half a year back, when I saw the X-Men: First Class film, I was wondering why there wasn’t an X-Men comic that’s like it: a busy, self-contained, character-driven comic-book series about a team of young mutants in a world that hates and fears them, with an air of excitement and a sense of humor about itself. In other words: an X-Men comic that goes back to the core of the concept, rather than getting lost in trivia or in the big overall Marvel Universe narrative.

Wolverine & the X-Men is that comic, it seems.

Mr. Aaron and Mr. Bachalo’s debut issue is not as boldly and fearlessly inventive as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s New X-Men #114. And it doesn’t have the nostalgic, almost pastoral charm that Joss Whedon and John Cassaday brought to the characters in Astonishing X-Men #1. But it sits comfortably enough in-between those two to merit the comparison, and you could do a lot worse than that.

The book isn’t perfect. I don’t entirely buy Wolverine or Xavier’s awfully chummy voices in the first few pages, some of the scenes and dialogue could have used a little more oomph, and the set-up—education inspectors getting a tour of the new Jean Grey School for Higher Learning—is familiar.

Still, thanks to the execution, the set-up works, and the overall story is more than just one step in the right direction. The X-Men have always worked best in a school setting, and everything here seems geared towards toning down down the angst and tension level for a bit—which, lord knows, is a good change of pace for the X-Men.

There’s a good mix of characters, as well. Kitty Pryde, Beast and Iceman provide a good, upbeat emotional core for this type of book, and making Wolverine—who is, in many ways, the poster child for grim and gritty, after all—their headmaster provides a nice foil for them.

Curveballs like Doop (the receptionist of the new school), Toad (the janitor!) or intriguing new characters Broo, Kid Gladiator and those little Nightcrawlers provide a welcome injection of new blood. I’m even forgiving the story the presence of Quentin Quire. It was emphatically idiotic to bring him back, in the context of his original appearances in the Grant Morrison run, but having him in the mix here works, if you take the story on its own terms.

Most importantly, though, the creators succeed at selling the characters and the exciting, relaxed, delightfully busy atmosphere of the whole thing. It really does feel like a school full of young people—a real place where things don’t stop happening whenever they’re not on panel.

Of course, Marvel just announced a big crossover storyline that’s about to take over the X-Men books for six months. So this is a miniseries, basically.

That’s a shame, because this is actually a pretty good start. The concept and execution here would have been strong enough to carry an ongoing title.

Maybe next time.

Grade: B

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