Buy This Book: ‘Wolverine And The X-Men’ #21 – 23
I love Wolverine and the X-Men. I’ve said before that it’s as close to my idea of what the X-Men should be as anything else I’ve ever seen, but over the past three months, it’s gotten even closer. The characterization is strong, the ideas are fresh and new, the philosophy that runs beneath everything is fascinating, and it’s one of those rare comics that’s been able to capture that sense of adventure that I had when I first started reading X-Men comics as a kid. And the last three issues have not only shown exactly why I love it, but they’ve taken every single thing about the book to a new level.
It’s amazing what a trip to a zombie circus run by a Frankenstein can do for a comic book.Back when the X-Men first started, the tagline for the book promised “The Strangest Teens of All,” and that seems to be the core of what Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw are doing, especially in these three issues. I’ve always thought that there needed to be an emphasis on the X-Men as a school for teenagers to really underscore the metaphor that comes along with super-powers that hit during puberty, and Aaron’s scripts have put a real focus on that aspect of the the book. It’s full of teenagers with big emotions and big problems, full of self-loathing and frustration and the knowledge that they’re the only ones who really understand how things need to be. There’s a sense of isolation and being an outsider among the younger characters, even when they’re surrounded by their peers, and it’s the craft that goes into that feeling that roots the book in those emotions that we’ve all felt, the same elements that have always made the X-Men franchise such a touchstone for kids who want the changes in their lives to come with a set of unbreakable adamantium claws.
But there’s an equal focus on the strange, and that’s just as important for that metaphor. When you’re a teenager (and, for a lot of us, when you’re an adult), it’s not just that you feel out of place, it’s that the world around you seems strange and unexplainable, full of weird little bits of magic and unexplainable tragedies and things that are out to get you around every corner. I don’t know what it was like for you guys, but for me, there was always that creeping sense of uneasiness at not knowing what the future holds, and that’s been replicated perfectly in this book. Wolverine and the X-Men gives us a corner of the Marvel Universe that’s full of oddities, where anything can happen at any moment, and then lives up to that premise in each issue.
Which brings us back around to the Monster of Frankenstein and his Magic Zombie Death Circus. The whole visual of the X-Men as a freakshow isn’t a new one — it’s another one of those metaphors that the series lends itself to so readily — but Aaron and Bradshaw twist it into something that feels new. And they do it by taking the focus off of the older characters that have been through this song and dance (and clown) act before, instead following the kids who exist outside the freakshow, showing us how they’re dealing with a situation that’s completely new to them. The end result is some of the most compelling stuff I’ve seen in an X-Men comic in a long time.
Like the best X-Men stories, this one puts the spotlight as much on the villains as it does on the heroes. In this case, it’s Maximilian von Katzenelnbogen, the last descendent of Victor Frankenstein, who is also currently the Black Bishop of the teenage Hellfire Club. This new Hellfire Club, which got its start five or six events ago in the pages of Schism, is one of Aaron’s best ideas, and I’ve loved the way he’s positioned them as the ongoing villains for the Jean Grey School. I’m a pretty noted fan of high concepts in general, so just the idea of a pint-sized Frankenstein going around causing trouble for Wolverine is going to get me interested right off the bat, but the way he’s fleshed out (so to speak) in this one is just brilliant.
When you get right down to it, he’s really the focal point of the story. The X-Men themselves are incidental to his arc, and the way it plays out in these three issues is beautifully tragic. We see his warped beginnings as a brilliant but cowardly child, the reason for the shame he feels at the name of Frankenstein, and the conflict that he feels when he’s presented with his one chance for even a small redemption, which he ultimately passes up.
Added onto that, you have the Monster himself, which just adds to every level of the story. Given my love of Marvel Dracula and his amazing moustache, it should be no surprise that I’m a fan of Marvel’s take on the classic monsters, but Aaron’s idea of Frankenstein (or Frankenstein’s Monster, for the pedants among you, or Adam for the die-hard continuity nerds) is fantastic. A misshapen creature of science and magic on a mission to kill each and every member of the family that produced him, out of sheer revenge for his own existence? It’s perfect for a book about angsty teens, and thrilling in every aspect.
Of course, those big metaphors are only part of what makes this book so great, and the rest of it is that it’s just big, goofy fun. The thing I love most about the series as a whole is how much Marvel Universe weirdness Aaron is able to work into his scripts, from space casinos to psychic shotguns to Krakoa the Living Island moving to Westchester and becoming the school grounds, and this arc is his weirdest yet. I mean, there’s a part where Frankenstein throws an elephant at Wolverine.
That’s comics, y’all.
It’s also worth noting that it’s an absolutely beautiful book. Normally, the presence of four inkers on a book is a pretty bad sign (and an increasing symptom of Marvel’s double- and triple-shipping schedule affecting the look of a book), but here, it works. Nick Bradshaw’s pencils are beautifully detailed and expressive, and Laura Martin’s colors make his clean, curvy lines pop in the best way. Trading off with guys like Chris Bachalo and Mike Allred is no mean feat, but Bradshaw’s holding his own, and making a book that I love to look at.
Considering that this is an X-Men book with the word “Wolverine” in the title, I don’t think anyone really needs me to tell them to pick it up. But sales numbers aside, it’s easily — and consistently — one of the best and most exciting comics coming out these days, and these three issues are the best yet. If you’re not already reading it, check these out, and if you are, well, read ’em again. They’re still great.