Friday, April 6, 2012

Wolverine and the X-Men

Recently, I’ve been bemoaning the fact that none of my friends read comics, and I’m stuck reading them by myself and having absolutely no one to talk to about it. I would go out and find some people, but there are two difficulties in that. One, if I found someone online, they’re almost certainly guaranteed to be a complete asshat. And two, if I found someone in person, that would require the shameful first move of admitting that I like comics, in public, to a living, breathing homo sapien. Neither of these are good options, so I find myself, once again, writing something that only I will read about comics that I like, and why I actually like them. Also, I’ll probably include some other thoughts on them as well.

Wolverine and the X-Men

First off, this title is improperly named. However, I understand why they used this name; if you throw the word “Wolverine” in the title of anything, it’s bound to sell more books. And while Wolverine does play a starring role in this book, I wouldn’t say that the main focus is Wolverine himself, but instead his students.

X-Men has always been, at its core, about a school of strange young people in a world that hates them. It’s a very relatable concept, and it’s easy to see why it’s been repeated throughout the X-Men universe so often and achieved great popularity. However, focusing on students as they sit through classes is hard to make into a superhero comic book. It can easily be a drama comic book or even a romance comic book, but superheros? It’s hard to do. Wolverine and the X-Men has turned the focus onto the school, its students and its teachers, while not sacrificing any action or slowing down the pace. On the contrary, the pace is one of the defining characteristics of this book, as the endless series of problems facing Wolverine’s new school keep everything feeling frantic, but not cluttered.

While still keeping a lot of action in the mix, Wolverine and the X-Men has been able to focus almost entirely on its characters and it does a damn good job of it too. I’ve always lamented the fact that the X-Men were too large a group, with too many personal relationships floating around. After M-Day and Schism, however, I can see that all that is changing. The focus has been set on the personal relationships between the teachers and the students, amongst themselves mostly.

The resounding overall theme here is that of being something more than you could have hoped to be. There are so many examples of this I don’t even know where to start. Well, that’s not true, I suppose you’d have to start with Wolverine, since his name is in the title and all.

First of all, if I told you, as a reader, that Wolverine would be the headmaster of a school, you might think that’s, at best, a somewhat wacky idea, and you’d be correct. That’s one of the issues dealt with here, as Wolverine himself has to come to grips with being a professional, official headmaster, being a team leader instead of the lone wolf.

And it only begins there, since Schism, the X-Men have been split in two, and it seems as though the more august superheros have gone in one direction, and the misfits have headed towards Wolverine’s school. As a result, many of them have to come to terms with how they want to act when they’re in the classroom and, in some cases, how they act administrators. For example, Gambit, who has long been defined by his shadiness has discovered recently that he loves being a role-model to young students. Rogue is now an extremely capable and well-liked leader and teacher, but a terrible subordinate. Iceman has been experimenting with what his true potential is, while lamenting the fact that he’s been underperforming for years. I can’t repeat it often enough: It is stories such as these that make an excellent comic, not the quality of their “fight scenes” or how cool their characters appear.

When I stated before that the “misfits” had made they way to Wolverine’s school, that applied to the students as well. Some of the younger mutants had remained with Cyclops, and those students were indeed the more serious group. At Wolverine’s school, however, we find many students who feel as though they’re less than this ideal image of a “School for Gifted Youngsters” attendee. We have Broo, who is struggling with what appears to be the unavoidable fact that he is a monster trying to be a well-educated, polite and kind young boy. Genesis, who may or may not be irreversibly damaged to be the point of being the most evil person in the world, has to find his own identity and then come to grips with being the reincarnation of genocide and destruction. Quentin Quire represents every good-for-nothing and smart aleck know-it-all that ever cursed a classroom since the dawn of time. It’s interesting to watch him grow and change, and as a reader, you want to see him succeed. In fact, you want to see all the students succeed as they struggle to not only survive and thrive in a world that hates and fears them, but also overcome their own setbacks and shortcomings.

In general, I regard the art to be secondary to the story by a great deal, but not here. Not only is Chris Bachalo providing beautiful pencils for this book, but moreover, it fits. His cartoony, playful style absolutely represents the characters that he’s drawing. Anywhere else and I would absolutely hate this artwork, but here, dealing with characters who live their lives as the butt of the joke, who revel in their strangeness, who have never seemed to have found a home for themselves, this tongue-in-cheek style of art absolutely fits and the book would certainly not be the same without it.

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