Retro Review: Wolverine and the X-Men #1

Wolverine and the X-Men #1

D

Yesterday being a rare “fifth Wednesday,” my pull-list this week was looking mighty light, so I decided to pick up a book that many of my friends with good tastes had been raving about: Wolverine and the X-Men #1. I admit I was already curious about this title. Despite its all-too-convenient timing (announced merely days after DC’s), a reboot is precisely what the impenetrable X-Men franchise needs, probably more than any other in comics. I personally was all ready to dive back into Marvel’s mutant books after this year’s excellent X-Men: First Class, but none of the monthlies rolled out any kind of welcome mat for me back in June. Is Wolverine and the X-Men what I’ve been waiting for, then?

Nope. Not at all.

I’m genuinely confused by the outpouring of love for this book. At best, I found this issue derivative, and at worst I thought it was an amateurish piece of comics art. Speaking of that art, let’s talk about penciller/colorist Chris Bachalo. I must admit this book started down in the count with me because I straight-up don’t like how he draws, and nothing in Wolverine and the X-Men convinced me otherwise. His pencil lines are wild, his character designs formless; there’s no such thing as visual consistency in these pages. It’s so bad that I often can’t tell where backgrounds end and characters begin; each page is just kind of this formless mass of random shapes. That effect’s only increased by the coloring. Bachalo’s style is weirdly at odds with itself — does he intend to draw in the style of a giant, manga-ish cartoon as his linework implies, or is he trying to paint some grim and gritty realistic picture? The coloring here’s very serious, even attractive, and recalls work by digital painters like Richard Isanove. Unfortunately it in no way matches the linework, which would suggest doing away with any sort of subtle shading and going for a full-on coloring book aesthetic.

Writer Jason Aaron comes off a little better than Bachalo, but not by much. There’s nothing in this comic I haven’t seen before and done better. To my mind there are only two modern X-book runs worth their salt — Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men and Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. New X-Men, if you’ll remember, mostly concerned itself with establishing Xavier’s Institute as a legitimate school catering to a subculture growing more prevalent by the day. It was there that characters like Quentin Quire and the Stepford Cuckoos were first introduced and there where some of the most interesting challenges that would come with having a school for mutants were exploited (at least until the run went off the rails post-”Murder at the Mansion”). Aaron’s playing in precisely that same ballpark here, and other than making a few very facile changes he hasn’t found anything new to do with it. Quentin Quire still incites rebellion, huh? Students still bully other students for not being mutant enough? (What a stupid plot, by the way. These kids should know better.) I’ll just read my Morrison books again.

Of course there is one substantial change with this title, and it’s one that makes no sense at all. Wolverine’s now the headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. If you’re wondering why on Earth Wolverine, the ultimate loaner, would ever assume not only a position of leadership but one of an educator, well, this book isn’t of any help to you. Other than an oddly glib Professor Xavier spouting some BS about Wolverine being “the right leader for this new generation” (is that supposed to be meta-commentary on his popularity?), there’s absolutely zero justification for his actions here. I suppose I could go read Utopia or Schism or whatever to figure it out, but I don’t want to. The whole point of a reboot (or “Regensis,” I guess) is to bring new readers on-board, right? Well I’m not on-board with this.

And that’s why Marvel’s X-Men relaunch has already failed (even if they don’t know it) while DC’s has soared. DC boldly and smartly threw out almost everything about their characters except what you’d already know from pop culture, ideally the most iconic things about them. That means you can come to their books with only the slightest understanding of each character and enjoy them. Can you imagine if Batman #1 opened with Dick Grayson in the costume, or if in Superman #1 there was a whole planet of Kryptonians chilling above Earth? That would have been an instant turn-off to so many of the readers DC was hoping to snare. Yet here, for some reason, Wolverine’s a teacher. If all you knew of Wolverine was what you saw in the X-Men movies, or from comics you read a decade ago, this book has already set up an adversarial relationship with you. And it’s not just this comic: if you page through Uncanny X-Men, you’ll see that Colossus now wears Juggernaut armor. Um, what? All Marvel’s done here, all they ever do, is hype up their continuation of impossibly dense soap-opera stories with a parade of meaningless new first issues that promise a “bold new direction” but flatline on delivery. It’s not revolutionary, and it’s not even interesting. In fact, it reminds me why, other than Daredevil and Secret Avengers, I don’t read any Marvel books at all.

So basically, I don’t get the appeal of this book, which is doubly sad because I find the core of the X-Men franchise so damn compelling. But until Marvel can find another Joss Whedon to make the franchise work and make it friendly to casual readers, well, Make Mine DC.

tags: chris bachalo, jason aaron, wolverine and the x-men

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