KC COLUMN: JASON AARON AND THE X-MEN

KC Carlson in disguise

KC Carlson in disguise


by KC Carlson

The thing that finally impressed me about writer Jason Aaron was discovering that he had a sense of humor. Or, more properly, since I’ve never actually met him, that he could write humor, which actually is more important.

Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider


A lot of his early work was for characters I just never warmed up to. The Punisher, Ghost Rider, even the Wolverine solo series all lost me early in their runs (all long before Aaron started writing them). I completely missed those Aaron runs, simply because I didn’t care much for those characters. To me, they seemed to exist only as an excuse to tell stories filled with violence — and because of this, I grew bored with them. And why would some writer I’ve never heard of (then) make me change my mind?

X-Men: Schism

X-Men: Schism


So, Aaron had a long, and it seems distinguished, career in comics long before I really encountered him, in X-Men: Schism, which was the ramp-up book to Marvel’s Avengers vs. X-Men event. Apparently a lot of folks detested that as a whole, but I thought it was pretty well-done — although a bit dragged out. It was the book that actively got me reading X-Men again, after several years of mostly ignoring it. (That was pretty easy to do, because by that time, the team was self-exiled on an island way away from the rest of the Marvel Universe! Sometimes I think people don’t think these things out before they write them.) Aaron plotted and wrote the A vs. X event with fellow Marvel Architects Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, and Matt Fraction, and much of the event was based on reestablishing the Marvel Mutants more firmly in the current Marvel Universe.

Aaron’s issues of Schism really stood out for me, so I was anxious to read more by him. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long, as his new series Wolverine and the X-Men debuted shortly thereafter. By the end of issue #1, it was my new favorite Marvel comic book.

The first issue sets up the premise: In Schism (which also serves to introduce several concepts and characters which are important later in the Wolverine and the X-Men series), Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Wolverine (Logan) have a huge difference of opinion over ideological matters. They argue over how the team (actually, the entire active mutant society) is run, and Logan decides to break from Scott and leave Utopia, offering to bring along any other mutants who want to come with him.

THOSE IVY BAMF COVERED WALLS

Wolverine and the X-Men #1

Wolverine and the X-Men #1


This leads directly into Wolverine and the X-Men #1, where we discover that Wolverine’s plan is to move back East and reopen the X-Mansion, re-christened the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. They rebuild — from the remains of the previous mansion on the original grounds in Westchester County, New York — a school completely redesigned by the Beast (Hank McCoy), who is also the new Vice Principal. The new building looks impressive, but there are rumblings that not all the bugs are 100% worked out yet.

Logan is the Headmaster (and uncomfortable in the role) and Kitty Pryde is the Headmistress. Instructors include (initially) Gambit, Rachel Grey, Rogue, Iceman, Cannonball, Chamber, Husk, and Karma, plus Frenzy, Doop, and Warbird. At first, there are almost 20 students at the school, most of them coming from other X-titles featuring young characters, including New Mutants, Generation X, Young X-Men, and Generation Hope. As the title progressed, most storylines tended to focus on a few characters at a time, and eventually favorites emerged, while others were used sparingly. Professor X appears in the first issue, planting these early issues of the title between Schism and Avengers vs. X-Men.

We get a good look at the school (and the cast) during a tour of the facilities with a couple of snooty members of the New York State Department of Education, and we quickly discover that it’s going to be a shaky first day. Toad, the janitor, is complaining of the building rumbling and shaking, and there’s lava coming out of the walls and flowing down the corridors. Plus, it seems that the Boys’ Bathroom doubles for the legendary Danger Room, which is possibly the most “spot-on” name for anything in comic books. Hank McCoy discovers further power fluctuations, anti-gravity problems, and parts of the building “tilting”. Plus, there’s a visit from Kade Kilgore, the leader of the “new” Hellfire Club, of which all the members are evil pre-teens. Oh, and the building is infested with Bamfs, mini-demons who are stealing all the whiskey!

Wolverine and the X-Men #2

Wolverine and the X-Men #2


In issue #2, we discover that the entire building is now built on top of Krakoa, the “living” island that was a huge part of the “New” X-Men’s origin way back in 1975. Except, it’s not — it’s the “grandson” of the original island… Umm…

Krakoa later becomes part of the “staff” of the school. (Security, I believe.) Of course, he does…

And this is only part of the first few stories. It gets even stranger over 42 issues…

Jason Aaron writes the entire series, which is drawn by (co-creator) Chris Bachalo, alternating with Nick Bradshaw, who, in turn, alternates with Ramón Pérez, after Bachalo moves over to Uncanny X-Men.

Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron Omnibus

Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron Omnibus


The best news is that almost the entire Volume One of the series has just been compiled into a massive 936-page hardcover Omnibus. For the record, it collects Wolverine & The X-Men #1-35, #38-42, and Annual 1. (#36 and 37 are part of the X-Men: Battle of the Atom crossover with other X-titles. That story is collected in its own hardcover volume — and so those issues are not included here, because they wouldn’t make much sense without the other crossover stories.)

Not only do you get all these gonzo stories, the volume also includes all the great extra material associated with the series:

  • all the covers, including many of the variants
  • all of the “various” bonus pages created for the series, including some of the original letter columns from the early issues (which were compiled and answered by the characters themselves)
  • transcripts of the “Jean Grey School Live Tweet” for the early issues
  • character sketches and designs
  • cover sketches
  • a look at how some of the covers combine
Jean Grey School faculty and student chart

Jean Grey School faculty and student chart


Scattered throughout the book are some of my favorite bonuses: Class List flyers, various “Previously” pages I.D.ing the characters and recapping the story, and extremely cute character charts for both the Jean Grey School and the new Hellfire Academy. The former gets an update halfway through the series, which doubles the number of characters. The latter gets an “evil” class list. Plus, don’t forget to slide the dust jacket off to see a completely different Bachalo cover on the actual book!

My favorite new extra is an a Afterword by Jason Aaron, explaining why “fun” is not a dirty word and why he wanted this series to be fun and different. And to reclaim “The Strangest Teens of All!” tagline from the original X-Men series.

LIVING UP TO “ORIGINAL”

Original Sin #1

Original Sin #1


I’m also really enjoying Aaron’s latest Marvel Event book, Original Sin, which I thought going in was going to be a really stupid idea. But I was immediately won over by the brilliantly touching Prelude to the story (otherwise known as issue #0). That was not written by Aaron, but by Mark Waid, who amazingly made the (mostly) unspeaking Watcher human in his warm relationship with the new teen Nova — just in time for something really bad to happen to the Watcher in the first Aaron issue (#1).

Aaron had me sold on the series by page 11 (one page short of the series’ “big reveal”) in the scene with the four “old friends” (Captain America, Wolverine, Black Widow, and Nick Fury) having dinner. There’s a very important reason why these specific four characters should be together enjoying each other’s company, but Aaron wisely does not tell us why. Instead, he subtly hints at it in dialogue. I hope there’s a bigger payoff down the road (something that seems really bad happens in #3 that I can’t talk about), but even if it doesn’t, it’s a nice moment for detail-oriented fans paying attention.

Original Sin #2

Original Sin #2


There’s an absurd moment in the reveal of the series’ “big bad” at the end of #2 that makes the artwork of the first page of #3 very surreal (and very humorous, at least to me), and it also keeps me interested in what happens next. And then there’s “TELL EYEBALL MAN TO STOP STARING AT HULK!” later in #3. Brilliant.

Original Sin #3

Original Sin #3


I hope that what happens at the end of #3 isn’t “real”, and I suspect that the “big bad” isn’t really the “big bad” of the piece. Original Sin is fun so far — I just hope it’s not derailed by the numerous tie-in crossovers and miniseries and manages to stay true to what’s already been established.

RUNNING SOME AARONS

Amazing X-Men

Amazing X-Men


Aaron recently dropped the new mutant title Amazing X-Men after completing the first story arc (I think to concentrate on Original Sin). That arc brought Nightcrawler back into the mutant fold as a regular swashbuckling team player. I hope Aaron gets the chance to return to the title eventually, as he’s set up some interesting backstory for the character (not the least of which is he’s not dead anymore – I think) that I’d love to see him continue.

Thor: God of Thunder

Thor: God of Thunder


I’m also looking forward to getting caught up on some of Aaron’s other notable works as part of my summer reading. I found a good deal on the Wolverine Omnibus collection of stories I’ve never before read. Plus, I read the first couple of issues of his current Thor: God of Thunder and thought “this would be a better read for me if I waited and read a whole bunch at once.” Now it’s time to do that.

Scalped

Scalped


I still have runs of his Vertigo series Scalped (which a good friend recommended) and PunisherMAX from the days when I could still afford to buy stuff and not read it immediately. (Not anymore…) Looks like an Aaron summer for me!

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KC CARLSON SEZ: I do, however draw the line at Ghost Rider. Never liked the concept and would only consider reading it if it was an absurdist comedy — but then the fans it does have wouldn’t buy that!

 

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