Last year Marvel broke up the original Mutant hero team, the X-Men. The two opposing forces were team leader Cyclops and stalwart soldier Wolverine.
Cyclops viewed the role of the X-Men as a force that should rival the Avengers in power and would act as soldiers to enforce a new peace between humans and mutants. Wolverine, no stranger to the world of bloody conflict, found himself at odds with Cyclops over the use of children in his war. As he has ever been the reluctant mentor/protector to many younger mutants (Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Armor, etc), he did not want kids used on the front lines of this conflict.
So Wolverine and large segment of the X-Men left Utopia (the independent nation/island floating off the coast of San Francisco) and return to the East Coast to open the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters.
Cyclops team was featured in the newly re-launched Uncanny X-Men title. The focus of this book was on large-scale threats to the world and mutantkind. While the art was very good, I found myself horribly bored.
This brings us to the other X-book: Wolverine and the X-Men. The first thing that I have to mention is the art. Chris Bachalo is a little more cartoonish than I would like; he is a more exaggerated Art Adams. That isn’t to say that his art is bad, but it is not to my taste, running towards the juvenile. But this art was a good reflection of the first issue.
In issue 1, we are introduced to all of the characters of the Jean Grey School as Kitty Pryde gives state school inspectors a tour. Most everything is played for laughs and is juxtaposed very strongly against Cyclops’ team. So it seemed that we had two X-books that split the difference in tone: one too serious and the other too silly.
But over the past few months, Wolverine and the X-Men has really found its voice. It is trying to strike a balance between being a superhero book and a strange high-school book. Like the recent graphic novel All-Gouls School written by Marc Sumerak and drawn by David Bryant, the Jean Grey School is sight of horrors and hilarity. Some of the wacky characters include:
Broo: an intelligent child of the Brood race (think of something like the Alien from Alien) who finds the human world deliciously fascinating to his innocent mind
Kid Gladiator: super strong, overly confident son of the Emperor of the Shi’ar
Quentin Quire: a super-telepath who yearns for an anarchistic uprising of Mutants (when he’s not in detention)
Krakoa: Grandson of the living island of the same name, he can grow and control plants and vegetation out of his earth-like body. He’s the groundskeeper.
Writer Jason Aaron has also assembled some of the forgotten X-characters like Toad (formerly of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, now the janitor), Husk (Cannonball’s sister who can molt her skin off), and Doop (I don’t know how to describe him, other than “He’s Doop.”
All the while they are being taught by senior staff Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Rogue, Gambit, Rachel Grey, Beast, and Headmaster Wolverine.
While the series started off on an off-beat tone, as I said, it has matured. The funny exterior does give way to actual character development. I recently read issue #15 where the characters are preparing for a big confrontation from which they may not return. The focus was on how each of them have grown with each other and found unexpected friendships. What struck me was how these connections had subtly blossomed through shared struggles. And like a lot of friendships, the characters didn’t even realize how close they were until a parting was needed.
Even gentle, funny Broo has hints of something much more serious brimming under his surface. This book has grown on my quite a bit. At first I thought it was absurd to have Wolverine running a school, but Aaron makes it work. This isn’t the Xavier School. It is more chaotic and dynamic. But it is also a lot more fun.
I’m looking forward to where this book is going. It isn’t perfect. The villains, for one, are lacking. The main enemy is a newly assembled Hellfire Club made up of children. I know this is meant to be a foil to the children at the Jean Grey School, but they come off more as annoying than threatening. And while I am used to the art, I am still not a fan.
But the book is a fun read, and worth checking out. After X-Factor, it is the best X-book out now.
3 and ½ stars out of 5