The Jean Grey School For Higher Learning: “The best there is at what we do.” The clever twist on Wolverine’s catchphrase shows what a difference a “we” makes; by reopening the Westchester school, Wolverine is taking the X-Men back to its roots as a makeshift family for outsiders and rejects. With this summer’s Schism miniseries, Jason Aaron proved himself one of the best X-writers of the past decade, but that was just a warm-up for the unbridled fun and excitement that is Wolverine And The X-Men #1 (Marvel).
Teaming with veteran X-Men artist Chris Bachalo, Aaron is bringing the “merry” back to Marvel’s mutants, and despite the danger around every corner, the book never loses its quirky sense of humor.
It’s the first day of school, and Headmaster Logan has to deal with an infestation of interdimensional gremlins, bratty teenagers, an attack from the new Hellfire Club, and worst of all, two state inspectors that hold the fate of the institute in their hands. It’s a dense story but it moves quickly, and Aaron adds more ideas and characters with every page, creating a healthy stable of subplots and relationships for the series to expand on later. The only weak point of Aaron’s script is an exposition-heavy page where Kade Kilgore recounts the events of Schism in a successful attempt to rile up Wolverine, slowing down the issue’s momentum for a brief moment before its explosive conclusion.
As headmistress, Kitty Pryde serves as Wolverine’s liaison to the outside world and the tour guide for the first issue, doing most of the talking while trying to hold back an increasingly frustrated Wolverine. Aaron’s cast is a collection of fan-
Bachalo’s art has become increasingly chaotic with each successive project, but he dials back on this title, bringing greater clarity without sacrificing energy. Bachalo’s firm understanding of facial expressions and body language makes his characters great actors, and his cartoonish, exaggerated style works with Aaron’s script to heighten the book’s humor. The architecture of the new institute is colonial by way of Apple, and Bachalo fills the building with character, with each new part of the tour revealing surprising details about the facility. After this first issue (and the hilarious class brochure printed in the back), who wouldn’t want to enroll?
Genetically engineered by NASA to survive the journey to Mars, the brutish Orson is a man without a purpose, family, or friend after the space program’s collapse. He dreams of the red planet as he wanders the world in drug-induced haze, sailing through toxic waters in search of scrap to sell for his next hit. Despite the dialogue, Azzarello crafts a strong story about a man betrayed by his country, in search of a meaningful life. Orson’s fantasies of Mars offer a sharp contrast to his reality, and when he rescues the kidnapped daughter of a Brangelina-like celebrity couple, he has the opportunity to become someone that makes a difference.
The difficult dialogue means Eduardo Risso has even more pressure to make the story clear in his artwork, and he’s more than up to the task. Intricately detailed and specifically minimalist, Risso’s art creates a fully realized world that balances technological glamour with shitty everything else. His characters are incredibly expressive, particularly their eyes. After taking a drop of some “primo Chem,” Orson turns out to the reader with a look of contentment that brings previously unseen softness to the character. When he finds the child Tara, there’s intensity, almost sultriness, in her eyes that spells trouble ahead. At $1 for the first issue, Spaceman is worth the price for Risso’s artwork, and despite the stumbling block of Spaceman’s dialogue, it’s worth remembering that Azzarello’s creator-owned work tends to pay off in the end.
Teaming with Aaron on art duties is famed Marvel artist Marc Silvestri. Well, Silvestri and however many other pencillers, pencil assistants, finishers, and inkers Marvel may need to get the series out on time. Five artists work on the first issue, and the second boasts a whopping 11. It would probably help if Silvestri didn’t put crosshatching on everything, because those tiny lines take a lot of time. Silvestri’s recent ankle injury casts further doubts on the timeliness of future Incredible Hulk issues, and the artistic inconsistency breaks Aaron’s swift pacing with artistic shifts. The transition from Silvestri to Billy Tan is barely noticeable (Tan was a protégé of Silvestri’s at Top Cow studios), but the rushed Whilce Portacio’s pages that end the second issue take a significant dip in quality. Aaron is building up to a clash between Hulk and Banner, and it would be a shame if artistic inconsistency prevents his story from reaching its full potential.
The stronger stories go for more than just set-up, and offer some insight into the minds of the spotlighted characters. Chris Yost and Ryan Stegman’s Scarlet Spider segment provides a fitting epilogue to Peter Parker-clone Kaine’s pre-“Spider Island” life, and Matt Fraction’s Dr. Strange story shows how magic and medicine have become one for Stephen, while also planting seeds for the new Defenders series. The best teaser comes from Fred Van Lente and Salvador Larroca, focusing on new characters Coldmoon and Dragonfire, twins kept separate for most of their lives, now united against the malevolent Taiji Corporation. It’s one of the few stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and Van Lente’s dual narration creates a strong image of both characters in a short amount of time.
The narration doesn’t make much logical sense, and ends up forcing the Christmas Carol parallels rather than letting them rise organically from the actual events. It’s entirely possible that Bermejo turned to narration because of the weakness of his dialogue, especially for Batman, who gets groan-worthy lines like, “Consider yourself lucky that you make a better piece of live bait than jailbait.” As weak as the story may be, Bermejo turns in some gorgeous artwork, even if the first six pages of the book are splash pages of the Gotham skyline with narration plastered on top. The many dialogue-free splash pages give the book a storybook quality at times, and while this entire story could easily be told in a 22-page comic, it’s best viewed as a spotlight for Bermejo’s rich artwork, not his writing.