Comic Picks By The Glick

X-Men: Schism

January 28, 2012

The worst thing that can be said about this title is that it’s an editorial mandate in its purest form.  Somewhere along the line, someone decided that the X-titles were kind of directionless and needed an event to re-shape the line’s focus.  You’d think that would’ve been the aim of events like “Messiah Complex” and “Second Coming,” but as good as they were these crossovers were only of importance to the overall narrative of the line post “M-Day.”  Contrary to what I thought at the time, they didn’t necessarily leave the line in better shape as whatever plot threads they left to be followed up on were either quickly resolved or fizzled out.  So now we have “Schism” which sets the tone for the franchise and the direction of the relaunched “Uncanny” and the new “Wolverine and the X-Men.”

At this point, it’s not really much of a spoiler to say that this book focuses on the philosophical divide (with punches!) between Cyclops and Wolverine over the fate of the mutant race.  While the two have always had a prickly history due to their frequent personality clashes, they’ve developed a real mutual respect over the years which has served them well in these trying times.  So what could possibly drive a wedge between these two and fracture the diminished group of mutants on Utopia?  The task of finding out falls to writer Jason Aaron; and, as you’d expect from the writer of “Scalped,” and the man who has given us some great runs on “Wolverine,” “Punisher MAX” and “Ghost Rider,” he delivers.

It all starts with the two leaders attending an arms conference in Switzerland, which is subsequently crashed by the long-missing Quentin Quire.  While he’s there mainly to cause chaos, a contingent of Sentinels outside of the conference only adds fuel to the fire.  Though this causes most of the nations of the world to re-activate their long dormant Sentinels, of which all turn out to be defective and start wreaking havoc across the globe.  Naturally, it falls on the X-Men to stop this rampage of mutant-killing machines themselves.  If you thought that this sounds like a huge diversion so that someone can attack Utopia directly, then you thought right.  The Hellfire Club is back and being led by five very ambitious children with an aim to make themselves a lot more money and power at the mutants’ expense.

It may seem ridiculous to have a bunch of kids as the main villains for such an important story, but this is the Marvel Universe after all.  I think we can all agree that this isn’t the most ridiculous thing we’ve seen there, or even in the X-Men’s corner of the universe, so let’s just shrug collectively and move on.  Though they’re clearly in the antagonist role here, the story isn’t really about the Hellfire Kids since their purpose here is to serve as instigators and to re-introduce the club itself as a viable threat for future stories.  In that sense, their debut is successful since they come across as insufferable little geniuses and psychopaths who I want to see again if only so that they can have their assess handed to them.  Now, I don’t know if this was intentional on Aaron’s part, but writing them with an intelligence beyond their years also gives them quite an attitude as well, which makes them feel as if they walked out of the pages of a Mark Millar comic.  As a result, I wound up hating them a lot more than he probably intended, but they still represent a credible threat to the team if only for the fact that the kids represent a threat that can’t simply be beaten into submission.

Of course, having kids serve as the villains in this story nicely mirrors the reason behind the title event as it comes down to the future of the youngest mutants.  With their species’ numbers at their lowest ever, Cyclops doesn’t think that anyone has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and being a non-combatant.  Wolverine, on the other hand, has been killing threats both visible, as part of the team, and not, as leader of X-Force, so that other people, the kids in particular, don’t have to.  I didn’t put a spoiler warning in front of this because you can’t really talk about the plot otherwise, and there’s a lot more to both sides of their arguments.

Cyclops may have let his militant stance on mutants’ future go to his head over the years, but when a giant Sentinel is bearing down on your home what other options do you have?  Even if Wolverine thinks that deserting your home in the face of a threat is the answer, is it really worth it if you have to call on kids to be your footsoldiers?  Neither viewpoint is wrong and both have merit, which gives the ensuing fistfight much deeper resonance than it would’ve had otherwise.  Well, that and the “I can’t believe they just went there!” exchange between the two that kicks things off.  When you’re dragging HER memory into things, reconciliation is no longer an option.  Also, for all of the talk about how superhero comics are about the “the illusion of change” it’s worth noting that if you had told me when I started reading “X-Men” back in the 90’s that one day Cyclops would be telling people to stay and fight and Wolverine would be advocating that they run away, I wouldn’t have believed you.  At all.

Though Aaron does a great job with the conflict at the core of this mini-series, along with Kieron Gillen who expertly handles the “Whose side are YOU on?” fallout of the “Regenesis” one-shot which is also collected here, he gets mostly excellent help from the five artists individually handling each issue.  Carlos Pacheco leads things off, and he’s pretty OK -- it’s competent superhero art that gets the job done, though the blah color palette from Frank D’Armata doesn’t do him any favors.  Frank Cho does more lively work showing the entire cast and then some fighting Sentinels across the world while the Utopians cope with the drama at home.  The only real issue is that his Cyclops is distractingly off model as he looks about ten years older than he usually does, with a receding hairline to boot.  Daniel Acuna is the most divergent of the bunch, but I’ve always found its retro look appealing and it suits the explosive drama and dialogue of the third issue well.  Alan Davis is from an entirely different generation of creators than everyone else in the book, but he nails the action in every scene he’s given and probably gives us the most memorable moments in the book as Cyclops and Wolverine lay into each other.  Adam Kubert finishes off the main story, and while his style has always been more suited to action scenes like the one that starts his issue off, he also proves adept at handling the quieter moments as the group splits and goes their separate ways.  Not to be forgotten, Billy Tan is given a lot of character moments to illustrate in “Regenesis” as the cast decides which leader they want to follow.  He sells them all, and the primal fight scenes which are unavoidably on-the-nose, but still an effective distillation of the conflicts in the issue.

So even though this story started off as an editorial edict, Aaron and everyone else have turned it into a memorable X-event.  It has a strong idea at its center, and clearly sets out the purposes and directions of “Uncanny” and “Wolverine/X-Men” while providing a lot of great character moments, both humorous and dramatic.  I’m sure the ensuing stories will be great, but I hope we see a greater sense of direction with these titles.  With the board cleared, I hope that Aaron and Gillen will be able to craft great runs on their respective titles rather than mark time while sales slip away.

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