The skinny on Wolverine and the X-Men #1: "more, please"
I think it’s fair to say that Wolverine and The X-Men #1, from writer Jason Aaron and artist Chris Bachalo is not something anyone expected when the book was announced. I also think it’s fair to say that this is completely unlike anything Marvel – or any mainstream publisher, really – is releasing right now. I also think it’s fair to say that Wolverine and The X-Men #1 is totally, totally awesome.
That said, it’s also a comic book that’s squarely in my personal wheelhouse, and wears its influences on its sleeves. The biggest influence, of course, is Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, which reintroduced weirdness to Marvel’s Mutants in a big way. This includes some of the more offbeat characters created by Morrison, of course, like Glob Herman and Kid Omega; as well as general weirdos and fan favorites like the X-Statix Doop (which, given that he and Wolverine are best friends, makes a lot of sense).
But it’s also present in Aaron’s strip-mining of nearly every strange, off-kilter idea from the X-Men’s long history, most of which I won’t mention here since we’re keeping this spoiler free. And it’s also present in the dominant aspect of the book, the razor sharp focus on what it’s like to run a school for superheroes in the “real” world of the Marvel Universe.
Wolverine and The X-Men #1 mixes the best of Grant Morrison's New X-Men with a manga sensibility
That gets into the second, more surprising influence, or at least potential partial inspiration: Manga. There’s been a number of attempts at injecting a manga sensibility into mainstream American comics, mostly on the art side of things. This has had a divisive effect on fans, who are sometimes abrasively negative toward a medium they see threatening their precious superhero comics. Those of us who have ventured outside of the oversized pamphlet, to the black and white Manga volume, though, know there’s a wealth of storytelling techniques and tropes mostly underutilized by The Big Two that can only help to make the storytelling in superhero comics richer.
Here, there’s two big ways Manga seems to have influenced the world of the X-Men, both for good over evil. The first is Bachalo’s pacing throughout the issue, which varies mostly between a pretty tight panel structure (there’s even one page made up of twelve dialogue heavy headshots) and gigantic double page splashes. It leads to a ton of story in the issue, which is always welcome, but it’s also jarring if you’re going in expecting the maximum five panels per page we’ve come to expect from a top-of-the-line X-Men comic.
The second is, again, the focus on the school. There are innumerable Manga volumes focused on kids going to a strange, off-beat school where the teachers, the students, and even the physical school itself are weird. They usually focus on the one kid who wants to be better than anyone else (and we do get some of that here), but here we get the focus squarely on Professor Wolverine, and his Headmistress Kitty Pryde as they try desperately for the school not to be shut down by the board of education on its first day. Suffice to say, things don’t go that well.
Writer Jason Aaron injects humor and character development throughout the book
It’s the latter element, I think, that’s so exciting to me. Aaron, as usual, injects humor and character development throughout the book, as well as setting seeds for conflicts to come. But, with few exceptions, there’s basically no punching or fighting anywhere, it’s all about how the idea to set up a school, and the practice of setting up a school are two very different things, and its one of the most exciting comics I’ve read in months.
I don’t want to get too superlative here, but reading Wolverine and the X-Men #1 makes me hopeful for the future of comic books in America. If this book is a success – and I imagine it will be – hopefully the Big Two, and their fans, will feel freer to embrace books that aren’t just random poses, spandex fights, and ultraviolence. That would be rad.
Last little note, if nothing else, this book is worth it for the fabulous, poster-ready back-matter by Irene Y. Lee, and a class schedule that might be one of the funniest things Marvel has ever produced. This book – in case it isn’t clear – is packed to the brim with fun, excitement, and the promise of what comics can, and should be. More, please.
Wolverine and the X-Men #1 hits stores tomorrow, 10/26!