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Jason Aaron and Michael Allred embrace the weird with Wolverine And The X-Men #17

Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Wolverine And The X-Men #17. Written by Jason Aaron (Scalped, Avengers Vs. X-Men) and drawn by Michael Allred (Madman, X-Statix), it’s an issue that takes advantage of Marvel’s wacky history to tell a hilarious yet touching story about Wolverine’s secret weapon: Doop. 

On the cover of this week’s Wolverine And The X-Men #17, Wolverine stands back-to-back with a giant green blob that is wearing his costume. It’s a goofy image and acknowledged as such by Doop, who says in its unique language: “If you think this is ridiculous, wait’ll you see what happens on the inside.” A mix of Slimer from Ghostbusters and Mr. Potato Head, Doop is one of the strangest characters in Marvel Comics, an incredibly powerful, mysteriously alluring green thing that was given a history with Wolverine for the sole purpose of selling more books. (On the cover of X-Force #120, a leather-clad Wolverine sits on a pool table and says, “Ya know, I’m only doing this to boost sales.”) That self-awareness is what made Peter Milligan and Michael Allred’s X-Force/X-Statix one of the most distinct superhero comics of the past decade, and Jason Aaron recaptures the spirit of that landmark series with his script for this Doop-centric issue of Wolverine And The X-Men. 

Milligan and Allred’s X-Force featured dark, provocative, ripped-from-the-headlines stories told with bright, retro artwork that added a sense of fun to all the grisly death and destruction. It was unique for its treatment of mutant as celebrity, with Allred’s artwork balancing the glamorous and the grotesque as Milligan explored the deeply damaged psyches of his main cast. Aaron’s Wolverine And The X-Men may not offer the same level of social commentary as X-Force, but it expertly juggles high drama, intense violence, and subtle character development, while keeping a sense of humor throughout. Aaron’s comedic talents are spotlighted in this delightfully odd done-in-one story, spotlighting the ex-cameraman of X-Force who has become the receptionist/substitute teacher for the Institute. 

The cover says that it only gets weirder, and it does; on just the first page, there’s an alien wearing glasses and a cyborg from the future giving faculty progress reports. So many of the ideas in this series are inherently goofy, but Aaron has found a way to make them more believable by incorporating them into a story that is grounded in semi-realistic problems. That alien in glasses is undergoing a serious adolescent transformation, and that cyborg is evaluating employee morale in a high-stress workplace that is always on the brink of collapse. One of those employees isn’t pulling its weight, and the second page reveals Doop passed out at his receptionist desk, a copy of Playblob resting on its chest, haphazardly hidden behind an avant-garde film magazine. Also on its desk: a bra, X-Statix: The Movie, a bloody yo-yo, a Tony Award, a gun, a half-eaten pizza, and a stack of bills. These are various keepsakes from Doop’s other job: secretly protecting the Jean Grey Institute. 

Allred did fantastic work on last month’s Daredevil #17, which took advantage of his Silver Age style for a story from Matt Murdock’s past. Aaron’s script provides a showcase for the wider scope of Allred’s talent, taking Doop throughout the Marvel Universe as he protects the Jean Grey Institute from threats monstrous, mechanical, and political. Past stories have characterized Doop as an expert of seduction, and when Doop discovers that two members of the Westchester School Board want to shut down the Institute, it dresses up in stereotypical porn outfits (construction worker, French maid) and sleeps with them to change their minds. Doop is like a one-blob X-Force, except instead of fighting the Brotherhood Of Evil mutants, it fights the League Of Nazi Bowlers. 

While Aaron doesn’t like to label the series as a humor comic, Wolverine And The X-Men is a consistently funny title, and this episode takes the comedy to another level. Doop’s cartoon appearance makes it a perfect character for visual gags, and Aaron uses Doop’s busy schedule to leap around the Marvel Universe and have Allred draw all kinds of absurd situations. To get Doop to join the team, Wolverine has to be its tag-team Mexican wrestling partner, sit through an Andy Warhol film that is five hours of a man sleeping (hour 17 of a Warhol marathon), and perform a one-man show where he dresses as Cyclops and stabs himself in the eyes. (Presumably, Doop won a Tony Award for producing that performance.) The fight with the Nazi Bowlers is a comedic highlight of the issue, giving Doop the opportunity to riff on the Bowlers’ cry to action: “Ready your balls for destruction, my brothers!” It’s spoken without translation, so the reader has to translate Doop’s response as it appears out of the bowling-ball chute. That bit of extra work makes the laugh even bigger when Doop’s dialogue is deciphered: “You can say that again.” 

Once employed at the Institute, Doop becomes both a security system and everyone’s best friend: Doop goes to roller derby with Tigra and She-Hulk, gets kinky with Warbird, punches out Fin Fang Foom, teams up with Krakoa for an underground beat-’em-up, tries Cannonball and Gambit’s Cajun pig intestines, beats the devil in a guitar solo, goes golfing with Lockheed, explodes with Deadpool, and fishes with Man-Thing. In what may be one of the year’s best comic-book moments, Doop and Howard the Duck stop a Robo-Barbarian invasion from Dimension ZZZ, armed with only a broken sword, a rubber chicken with nails in it, and a gun that shoots bees. And while Doop is exhausted at the end of the day, it still has enough energy for one last protective act: smashing a nun’s laptop with a baseball bat when she posts negative comments online about the Jean Grey Institute.

Michael Allred is an impeccable superhero artist, bringing a pop-art sensibility to his linework that’s both classic and hip. His creative rapport with colorist (and wife) Laura Allred has grown immensely over the years, and they’ve become one of the most versatile art teams in comics. Part Daniel Clowes, part Jack Kirby, Michael Allred draws realistic characters who happen to live in a fantastic environment. It’s amazing how a few wrinkles in a costume and varying face and body types can make a superhero world feel more tangible. And then there’s Doop, who looks like it’s stepped out of a lost Chuck Jones-directed episode of Ren & Stimpy. Allred always includes these kinds of inhuman characters in his work, using them to emphasize the whimsical, exotic possibilities that are available in this medium. Why stick to humanoid designs when you can take inspiration from a pickle? (And Doop isn’t even the only pickle-based hero.) Allred is a wonderful fit for this book’s cast of misfits, and with him taking over art duties on FF with writer Matt Fraction in November, hopefully he’ll get to spend some time at the Jean Grey Institute with a crossover sporting event. There’s an upcoming football game in Avengers Academy #38; perhaps a scavenger hunt with the kids of the Baxter Building might be in store? 

Allred’s readiness to embrace the strange in his artwork makes him a perfect match for Jason Aaron, who has taken elements from all corners of the X-Men mythos and brought them together into one flagship X-title. Doop is a character that could have been easily been abandoned because it didn’t fit into the more realistic superhero image Marvel has been pushing. By embracing Doop, Aaron shows that there’s more fun to be had by stepping back from all the continuity-laced drama and taking advantage of the weird history that has been built with these characters over the past half-century. 

Bonus Doop Translations:

  • Cover: “If you think this is ridiculous, wait’ll you see what happens on the inside.” 
  • Page 4: “I think I’m good right where I’m at. Too bad you didn’t ask back when being an X-Man still meant something.” “Suit yourself.” 
  • Page 6: “Hmm… I’m thinking about it.” “We’ll talk more after you’re done.” “Okay. You win. I’m yours.” 
  • Pg. 8: “Wha…”
  • Pg. 9: “You can say that again.”
  • Pg. 10: “If you insist.” 
  • Pg. 14: “Kill them all.  Or die trying.”
  • Pg. 16: “I am now.”