Wolverine and the X-Men 24

Welcome back to the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. The teachers are taking their day off to go clubbing, so I’ll be filling in. For those of you who aren’t already enrolled in one of the school’s programs, you’re encouraged to sit in on classes, and this is a fine issue to do so in. So come along; it’s time for class.

1st Period: Topics in Mutant History

It’s an interesting time to be an X-Man. The post-Schism era is ending, evolving into something new. Now the shadow of AvX and All-New X-Men hang over this title. All-New X-Men means that you can’t point to two flagship titles for the Blue and Gold teams anymore, especially since the new volume of Uncanny X-Men hasn’t even started yet.

Charles Xavier is no longer a good-natured councilor that Wolverine can turn to; he’s a memorial statue in the gardens. Cyclops is no longer an isolationist rival, but a mutant radical. Jean Grey is not just the school’s namesake but also a temporary resident. And even Storm has returned, fresh off the heels of her ugly break up with Black Panther, to replace Kitty Pryde as Headmistress and await X-Men #1 (the extremely exciting all-female X-book. Marvel! How do you keep convincing me to buy more X-titles!?).

It’s also worth mentioning that old Wolvie hasn’t had the best few weeks, being humiliated in story and tied down in our world by an evil circus arc that lasted too long for me, even at bi-weekly pace. He’s also suffered in other titles, being well-written but hard to sympathize with in All-New X-Men. It’s been seeming that Wolverine might revert to type and run the Jean Grey school in name only, showing up when there’s something to pop a claw in.

Though I would have praised Wolverine and the X-Men for its handling of the AvX tie ins and for its swift return to normalcy afterwards, it feels clear that this is the real reset back to what made this book a must buy in its first arc: hope in hard times and the struggle of a man of war to be a man of peace.

2nd Period: Sex Ed

This might have been a better issue for next month. In the words of Magneto: Being a mutant is great, we all internally date” (then make some X-Men babies. Yeah, they’re born that way!). If you’ve missed those weird X-pairings, you know, the ones that don’t define the franchise, Rogue and Magneto; Storm and Forge; Chamber and anyone, rejoice! You’ve got decent odds of seeing at least one new one start in this issue. And it does not discriminate by age. From the students to the faculty, love, or at least make-outs, are in the air. You might be surprised just how interesting an issue of X-Men without a major battle can be. Each of the couples are portrayed distinctly and with personality to spare. Most clearly and least spoilably, there’s Kitty Pryde and Bobby “Iceman” Drake, finally having their first date after a sudden kiss over twenty issues ago.

If you haven’t done the reading for class, you might want to step outside until the bell, the nature of this class mean there will be spoilers (I think Sex Ed classes would be much more interesting if they all contained that warning).

I could have avoided going into specifics about the relationships in this issue but part of what makes it such a fun read is the ability to set up these pairings as a way to say more about each of the characters involved.

For Kitty and Bobby, Jason Aaron looks at one of the most interesting problems of the X-Men and, to a degree, of this generation: how to become an adult. For Iceman and Shadowcat, time has largely stood still, while Cyclops and Nightcrawler went on aging, they aged a bit and then settled down as comfy beacons of humor and nostalgia. Of course the reason for that is the same reason Spiderman sold his marriage to the devil, grown ups are boring, Marvel needs hip, sexy twenty-somethings. But Aaron takes on that unenviable task with gusto, using Iceman as a metaphor for the series. Just because he’s/it’s grown up doesn’t mean he/it can’t be fun. Kitty and Bobby have a date that I wish I could go on and one that shows the delicate balance between daredevil fun and big-hearted compassion that makes an X-Man tick.

Meanwhile, Aaron uses a subtle touch to paint a picture of Wolverine and Storm in the DangerBathroom. They’re a casual pairing with a long friendship and a lot of history and they’re not necessarily going to change that, but they are there for each other when they need each other. As Storm comes to grips with the terror and the freedom of life without T’challa, she challenges Logan to stop hiding from the struggle he agreed to undertake in starting the school. It wasn’t Kitty Pryde’s school and though I’m sure that she’ll provide compelling evidence to the contrary, it won’t be Storm’s alone. It’s Wolverine’s school. He’s headmaster alongside Ororo and he needs to start acting like it, for the kids’ sakes.

Though each of these are extremely well rendered portraits of old friends finding ways to help each other move on, Aaron truly proves his skills at comic book romance in the three other pairs in this book. Beast and Abigail have date on the Peak that’s sweet and funny and real. Though it’s not the highlight of the issue, it’s a spectacular example of the amount of character and fun Jason Aaron can cram into a single page. Though it’s played for laughs there’s something in Beast that screams out how guilty he is about Broo’s condition, possibly even more because of his recent brush with death. It reminds you why he’s a hero. Don’t we all want to be able to say that we have an adorable, healthy relationship? And don’t we all want to be able to say that we would do whatever it takes to save a child we knew?

Broo remains in the infirmary, with Idie at his bedside. These scenes can break your heart. Broo’s been the heart of Wolverine and the X-Men since its inception and it hurts to watch the most fragile member of the Jean Grey School beg him to wake up.

But best of all is the scene between Quentin Quire and Jean Grey. Like Damian Wayne over at the Distinguished Competition, Kid Omega is a character who can really grate when he’s winning but is absolutely fascinating when he actually acts his age. Luckily this scene gives us the best of both Quentin Quires. We see his instant respect for and possibly even intimidation by Jean Grey. Indeed, after the hint that Quire is a likely host for a future incarnation of the Phoenix, it’s hard not to see Jean Grey as the one person in history that he aspires to be. And for one beautiful panel we get to see him sweat. And then he’s back to himself, and that too is beautiful in its own bizarre way. Likewise, Jean isn’t just an acknowledgment of continuity, this scene helps flesh out the character we met in All-New X-Men. The art is essential for these pages and it doesn’t let us down.

Throughout it all, the most important element is the care and attention Aaron brings to these stories. Issue #24 gives us a snapshot of the Jean Grey School. From Ororo’s brief remembrance of Kurt Wagner to Sabertooth and Mystigue hooking up again to Bobby’s statement about his “line of work” recalling his attempts to start over as an accountant, Aaron makes it clear that he eats, sleeps, breathes, dreams X-Men. Brian Michael Bendis may be the new big thing in the X-Men universe, but Aaron proves that there’s no monopoly on writing the X-Men as familiar, nuanced, human characters.

Wow, that was a long class. Sorry to our prospective students. Hurry along to your next class. I’ll answer any questions or remarks in the comments.

3rd Period: Art

David Lopez is new to this book, or at least not an artist I can remember working on it. He brings a nice charm to the issue, but I’m not sure I’d want him as a permanent artist.

One thing that’s probably nice about working on a book with such a strong sense of humor is that it makes the beats really clear. If they weren’t when Jason Aaron handed over the script they were when Lopez turned in his pages (is that accurate? Do they still use the “Marvel method?”). And it’s not just timing, Lopez seems to like hiding gags in the details (who knew Doop was such a snappy dresser?).

A lot of artists show their skills by drawing comics that flow very naturally from one panel to the next, giving a sense of clear movement, but that’s not Lopez’ way. He lets a little more time pass between panels. Some might feel that this makes the comic feel less sequential, but I think it remains controlled enough to keep from distracting. The plus side to this is that each panel is free to be the best version of itself, not so constrained by its brothers and sisters as they often are.

Lopez draws a fine Wolverine (as distinct from headmaster Logan) and his interpretation of the Beast’s new form does a much better job than Stewart Immonen’s at helping me accept the change. For all his talent at drawing these heroic images, his consistency slips dramatically when it comes to the human face. That’s not to say that he can’t draw a good face, just that there are a number of noticeable lapses. Part of this has to with the way he renders expression. Most expressions in this comic are big ones and, particularly when a character’s eyes widen, these sometime start to look a little weird. Bobby, Kitty, and Jean seem to be particularly hard hit, and Storm’s facial features, though attractive, don’t seem to be terribly consistent.

Still, there’s something nice about the big cartoony moments that Lopez brings to the script. Quentin Quire and Rachel Summers are particularly funny in this issue and that suits Lopez perfectly. He does a commendable job but the book could probably do with an artist that is a little more even, at least in the long-term.

4th Period: Free Block/Debate Team Meeting

Alright, today’s topic is about this issues accessibility. I’ll be arguing for the pro-accessibility position and who wants to be anti-accessible? Eye-Boy? No? Idie? Right, she’s with Broo. Shark-Girl? Well, not with your mouth full. I know! Inaudible Strawman, you’ve been pretty quiet this semester, any objection to helping me discuss this issue for the prospective students? Anything? No? Ok.

Well, I’ll start. I think this issue does a fine job of reaching out to the new reader without giving up on those who have been with it for a while. The recap page helps, of course, but, more than that, it gets back to basics and highlights a number of the big players at the Jean Grey School in an entertaining and subtle manner that shows how things work rather than telling the audience how a normal issue is.

Each character’s issues are brought to the fore and the humor and drama that made this book such a hit are both excellently represented. Jason Aaron thrusts a new reader directly into the school’s drama, giving them enough support that they can figure it out for themselves, thus engaging the reader. I think this issue works equally well whether a reader has been along for the whole ride, read issue one and wants to check in on an interesting premise, or has never looked at Wolverine and the X-Men before.

I disagree, Inaudible Strawman. While the book is clearly undertaking a difficult task by dealing with the fallout from AvX and All-New X-Men, I’d say that it ably meets that challenge. While we get some information that readers of those titles already know, it’s presented in a different manner and doesn’t strain credibility. Additionally, it keeps readers who haven’t invested in a number of other expensive X-Men books up to date. In my opinion, it’s rare that a comic manages to not only acknowledge the snarls of continuity that spring up around it but manages to make them a natural part of the plot.

Oh wow, that’s a good point. Yeah, I guess they don’t give much in the way of specifics about Scott and Logan’s two recent fights. I’m afraid that I do have to concede that, while this issue does highlight the premise of the series, it isn’t necessarily kind to readers who haven’t been following at least one of the other X-Men books. Well played, Inaudible Strawman. So students, who do you think won the debate?

Wolverine and the X-Men #24 is a fine issue and, as I see it, I sign that things are getting back on track for one of my favorite titles. It has its problems but it’s got real heart. I hope you’ll consider attending the Jean Grey School next month.