For this title, having its latest storyline revolve around an “evil school for mutants” is certainly more crazy than fighting Wolverine’s brother in the Savage Land, but less so than having the school face off against FRANKENSTEIN’S MURDER CIRCUS. So we’ve reached a nice middle ground of insanity here. The important thing is that with the title set to wrap up with its next volume (after two crossover issues of “Battle of the Atom”) Jason Aaron pulls together the plot threads he’s been developing over the past few volume and brings his run on this title to a satisfying climax.
The Hellfire Kids, with arms manufacturer Kade Kilgore as their leader, have been a thorn in the X-Men’s side ever since “Schism” and now we see their most elaborate plan realized here. Seeing as how mutant terrorists are good for business, they’ve rounded up some of the most morally dubious, or easily led, mutant teens and are putting them through the Hellfire Academy. It’s a finishing school for supervillains with characters like Mystique teaching “Introduction to Evil,” Sauron detailing the fine points of “Subjugation Through Science,” and “Public Relations for Psychopaths” with Madame Mojo. Not only will the chaos these kids be a huge boon to Kilgore Arms, they’ll have really stuck it to Wolverine and the rest of the teachers at the Jean Grey School. Of course, not only have the Hellfire Kids made enemies of some of the most powerful X-Men, they didn’t count on Quentin Quire having his own agenda at the school either.
It should be quite obvious from the class titles that a lot of the “school” scenes are being played for laughs with the whole concept of supervillainy getting a most agreeable skewering. Beyond the comedy is Idie’s driven quest to commit to the school’s ideology in order to find out who shot Broo and Quentin’s efforts to follow her and cause more chaos of his own. Idie has always been something of a problematic character with her religious upbringing generally being conveyed in an unsubtle and very serious manner. Here, she finally gets a transformative moment that puts her on the path to becoming a genuine hero rather than another tortured soul. As for Quentin, it’s great fun to see him be as much of a dick to the Hellfire staff as he was to Wolverine and the other instructors at the Jean Grey School. Aaron clearly realizes that the character isn’t supervillain material so much as anti-authority in any form, so his actions ring very true here.
Beyond all this is a ton of great superhero action. We get this in small doses at first when Wolverine, Iceman, Storm, Kitty Pryde, Beast and Angel utilize methods as diverse as telepathic scanning, having snowmen attack Hellfire strongholds, and bribing Bamfs with whiskey. When the fight is finally brought to the academy, then things get exponentially crazier with Iceman’s “Ice Voltron” teaming up with the school’s Krakoa to take out its other living mountain kin and the opposing teams of adults and students beating the crap out of each other. It’s a gloriously extended fight scene that works not just because of the witty dialogue, but because of Nick Bradshaw’s excellently detailed art. His cartoonish style is perfectly suited to capturing the madness of the fighting and the story itself while also giving the reader something new to marvel over on each page. Bradshaw shows that he’s clearly an A-list artist here with his best work on the title yet.
Even though it’s very entertaining, there are a few minor issues with the story that bear mentioning. With a cast this large, some of the more notable villains like Mystique and Sabretooth wind up getting marginalized. Yes, their presence adds credibility to the school but they’re utilized in a token fashion. The Toad/Husk subplot also reaches a culmination here in a way that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense unless you’re willing to take a stray bit of dialogue at face value. There’s also the usual caveat that applies with this title. That being if its general level of insanity hasn’t appealed to you before, then you’ll find that especially true here.
Yet if you’re like me, then you’ll be thoroughly entertained by this volume. In addition to everything I’ve mentioned above, I’ll also add that the fate of the Hellfire Kids -- Kade in particular -- is thoroughly gratifying to observe after seeing their plotting and scheming go generally unpunished for thirty-odd issues. Even though “Wolverine and the X-Men” will be wrapping up next year, this volume really drives home the fact that it will be missed when it does.