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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 281: Wolverine and the X-Men #13

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month (for a while) I will be showing pages chosen by you, the readers. Today’s page is from Wolverine and the X-Men #13, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated September 2012. This page was suggested by Third Man, who already had one of his suggestions featured and I know I said only one per person, but this page is pretty keen. I make the rules, yay! Enjoy!

Hmmm ... that looks familiar

The first page of Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw’s Wolverine and the X-Men #13 is, of course, a homage to the first page of Watchmen #6 (see below). Bradshaw gives us the nine-panel grid and a Rorschach test (who knew they used Rorschach tests in alien cultures?) and someone lying about what they see. Across the top we learn that the person taking the test is a cadet, and that she (we don’t know from this page that it’s a she – the portrayal in the final panel is somewhat sexless – but Warbird is a female, trust me) is seeing beautiful, delicate creatures when she looks at the ink blots. Aaron paces the page so that what Warbird sees is in Panel 3 and 6, while Warbird herself appears in Panel 9. What she tells the magistrate is in Panels 4 and 7, giving us (at least in the first instance) a momentary caesura while we move our eyes from what she sees to what she says, making her words have more of an impact. In the second instance (from Panel 6 to 7), we know what’s coming, but in that brief instance, we wonder if she’ll lie again. We’re also wondering what she’ll say (because we know it’s not what she sees) and it also allows us a brief moment to consider why she’s lying. This becomes clear (or at least clearer) in Panel 9, when she tells the magistrate what she wants to do with her life. We know she’s probably lying again, but it’s obvious that the magistrate wants to hear those words. Aaron does a lot on this page – he gives us plenty of information, and he sets up Warbird’s character well – she’s not above lying, it seems that she’s different from most Shi’ar, and she’s tough even if her soul is artistic.

Bradshaw is a ridiculous Arthur Adams clone, but if you’re going to rip someone off, it might as well be Adams. With a nine-panel grid, moving the readers’ eyes across the page isn’t as important, but Bradshaw’s pencils are quite nice. He uses “true first person” point of view in Panels 1, 2, and 4, as Warbird looks at the Rorschach blots, so we see the room from her perspective. This is a handy device because it allows the reader to get more inside a character’s head without using first- or second-person narration. It also transitions to Warbird’s imagination easily, so that the visions in Panels 3 and 6 are more personal. It also makes the magistrate more aggressive in Panel 5, as he almost pushes the ink blot in Warbird’s face. There’s a subtle implication that he doesn’t really believe Warbird, so he needs to hear her tell him about another one. Even if this isn’t Bradshaw’s intention, it wouldn’t work any other way than seeing the scene through Warbird’s eyes. Of course, this way of structuring the page also allows Bradshaw to wait until Panel 9 to reveal Warbird, although it’s not like seeing her brings about any shocking revelation – she’s a Shi’ar. Anyone who’s read an X-comic over the past 30 years probably knows a tiny bit about the Shi’ar.

The coloring on the page is fascinating. “Guru eFX,” who according to DeviantArt is really a guy named Joe, uses purple as a base color for the “real-world” part of the page. Why? Purple is an imperial color, of course, and Warbird makes it clear in the final panel that she’s living in an empire, and purple seems to be a favorite of the Shi’ar. If you were picking this book up cold, you wouldn’t know that about the Shi’ar, but it’s true! Purple is also a softer color than other dark colors, and Guru eFX needs to use a darker color in the “real” panels because the two panels of Warbird’s imagination are so bright and vivid. Blue wouldn’t have worked as well, because the blues in the “imaginative” panels are so well blended into the scene. Purple becomes the obvious choice. The two panels in Warbird’s imagination are bright and even fiery – the red in Panel 6 is explicit – and show a person ruled by passion, even as we see Warbird in Panel 9 seemingly ready to submit to the will of the “imperium.” In many ways, the coloring is showing us what we need to know about the Shi’ar – a rigidly structured society with very little room for improvisation. Obviously, if Warbird can imagine those beautiful fauna and flora in Panels 3 and 6, she’s probably seen them somewhere and therefore there’s plenty of beauty in the imperium, but it’s also obvious that she’s meant to submit, as the colors help imply.

Note a few things with regard to the homage of Watchmen. If you’ve never read Watchmen, the page still works. It’s part of the story, and it leads into the story nicely. But if you have read Watchmen, there’s a lot of clever touches. Both “patients” are telling the “doctor” what they want to hear, but Dr. Long and the Shi’ar magistrate want to hear completely opposite things. The first Rorschach test the magistrate gives to Warbird is identical (well, almost identical) to the one Dr. Long shows Kovacs. Bradshaw even gives the magistrate white hair on the side of his head, mirroring Dr. Long’s white hair. Both colorists use red prominently in the imaginative panels, but in Watchmen, it’s blood and signifies violence, while in Wolverine and the X-Men, it’s a flower and the body of a butterfly and signifies passionate life. It’s very clever.

This is a very nice first page, even if you don’t recognize the fact that it’s a homage. In a world where every third cover is a homage to something, it would be nice if some comics had more pages that homaged older stuff. That would be kind of keen.

Next: We’re going super old-school tomorrow! Find some other really old comics in the archives!

13 Comments

The best part about this comic is that it was an AvX tie-in and it still managed to be entirely about developing Warbird. Jason Aaron rocks.

So Carol is now Captain Marvel, and there’s a new Warbird? Man, the musical chairs Marvel does with its trademarks gets really confusing sometimes.

Thanks for featuring this page Greg, it’s my favorite first page in recent memory, and indeed it was so good that after reading the page for the first time, I didn’t even turn the page. I just stared at it for a second and thought “damn, that’s a good first page.” And, of course, this comic came out after this feature had already started, so I’ve been in a frame of mind to notice the quality of first pages more clearly.

I agree with Toozin that it’s amazing to think this was an AvX tie-in. All together, 7 consecutive issues of Wolverine & the X-Men were AvX tie-ins, but Aaron figured out ways to make all of them completely succeed as individual issues of a great comic book series, and they all provided excellent and illuminating character work. Warbird, who had mostly been a background character in the first 12 issues, gets this issue mostly to herself, and it was a really vivid, entertaining story. Those 7 issues together function as a great example of how to create event tie-ins that please the editors while also entertaining your readers (who may not care about the “event”) and furthering your own stories.

I also really appreciate that Aaron found a way to not just homage the look and setting of a famous first page, but he even found a way to reference the subject matter in a manner that worked perfectly for the story he was telling. He used the same ink blot from Watchmen #6, but reversed the responses in a way that was both funny and useful.

I really think Wolverine & the X-Men is the best comic on the stands right now. 17 issues in, not a single one has been disappointing. They’re all funny, they’re all semi-ridiculous, they all function well as individual issues instead of segments of a trade, they all have great character work, and they all play with a universe and a huge group of characters in interesting and unique ways. This may sound cliche and hyperbolic, but this is the X-book i’ve been wanting to read my entire life, just without knowing it. It’s kind of like a cross between Morrison Doom Patrol, Giffen/Dematteis JLI, and Lobdell/Bachalo Generation X.

A year or so ago, when Brian did the top 100 creators countdown, Jason Aaron placed somewhere in the top 25 and I’d never even heard of the guy. I think I wrote some condescending comment on the post about how people are idiots for voting for guys who have only been around a few years. But that high placement made me check out Scalped, and then Wolverine & the X-Men started just a few months later so I checked that out too. Now, via back issues or trades from the library, I’ve read probably 75% of Jason Aaron’s creative output, and I can honestly say that I think he is the best writer in comics right now.

And this is why I love the polls that Brian does. If not for that creator poll, who knows how long it might have taken me to discover Jason Aaron.

@ buttler

Warbirds are Shi’ar guards much like imperial stormtroopers. There are probably hundreds or thousands, and their uniforms are modeled after Deathbird. This particular Warbird was sent to the Jean Grey school to be the bodyguard for Kid Gladiator, the son of Gladiator (purple mohawk Shi’ar guy), who is studying at the school as a sort of semester abroad experiment. Neither of them are main characters of the title, but they just kind of show up in random scenes at funny times, and Aaron uses them really well.

And this is why I love the polls that Brian does. If not for that creator poll, who knows how long it might have taken me to discover Jason Aaron.

How about all the other times we talked about how great Jason Aaron is? :)

I think Scalped has been high on my Top 10 Comics of the Year the past four years!

Wolverine and the X-Men has been incredibly disappointing for me. To restate the argument I made on the CSBG board, under the “Comics You Want To Like But Don’t” thread…

” For me, the comic that frustrates me the most is Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men. I really enjoyed the Schism storyline, and I loved most of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine stories, so I was really looking forward to his ongoing X-Men book. That hope dried up only a few issues in. Instead of focusing on the more interesting story threads from Schism, Aaron played up the weakest part of the story– the Hellfire Kids– and used that tone to define the whole book. The Hellfire kids themselves could potentially work, as a thematic conflict towards Wolverine’s Friend To All Children role; instead, they come across as villainous Scrappy-Doos, immediately thrust forward as A-List villains despite offering little except wacky plot devices. Just because you give them a Wendigo-ray doesn’t make them convincing.

In fact, wackiness seems to be the rule of the day for Wolverine and the X-Men, and the whole tone of the book is like an obnoxious sit-com. The X-Men themselves don’t do too much, and even their sub-plots are done with so little development that they just feel forced (such as putting Iceman and Kitty together, with no good dramatic reasoning, or doing the same for Husk and Toad). The spotlight goes to the new kids, but most of them are cut down to comedic stereotypes; Broo being the menacing alien with the lovable nerd persona, Idie’s fundamentalist upbringing reduced to talking about how mutants are monsters with a completely straight-faced smile, Kid Gladiator being the obnoxious school jock, Quentin Quire (who was introduced as a disturbing, intense Eric-Harris-style murderer) as the rebel with a heart of gold, etc. There doesn’t feel like there’s any credible character depth, and the plots are similarly kept from going past “OMG so crazy”. I can forgive Aaron the Wolverine-in-a-wheelchair thing due to the scheduling of AvX derailing it, but since it wasn’t going to last more than a few issues anyway, the whole thing couldn’t have been much more than a piece of contrived storytelling designed to set up a simple and tasteless joke of Wolverine in a chair like Professor X.

Jason Aaron is perfectly capable of playing stories, even superhero stories, with convincing characters and dramatic stories. He doesn’t have to go as angsty as the X-Men have been in the past few years, but he shouldn’t try to play Xavier’s School as Hogwarts, unless he’s going to acknowledge that the Harry Potter series got really dark really fast and was better for it. ”

The above page is an unfortunate example, because it makes the Shi’Ar culture so ridiculously over-the-top in its bloodlust that it becomes impossible to believe the X-Men would ever ally themselves with those guys at any point.

@Neil Kapit

Well, obviously I disagree, but that’s okay.

I think the wackiness and the sitcom tone are the charm of the comic. It’s a lot like Arrested Development as a comic. There’s that same degree of brilliant inanity and use of non-sequiters. It’s a book where fun is definitely the driving force, but it’s not merely about getting laughs. Like in Giffen/DeMatteis JLI, the adventures are often as ridiculous as possible, but there’s a charm to the disfunctionality of the school and the weirdness that it attracts. The characters all come and go, with no one really the focus other than Wolverine, Kitty, and Beast, and even they don’t always get much screen time. I think the book gives a day to day look at how fun and bizarre it must really be to go to a school with mutants. There’s an ever-moving constant array of strange characters, interesting windows into bizarre classes and social situations that aren’t necessarily returned to.

Even the best comics about schools for people with powers have always emphasized the adventures and villains far more than the day to day, and this book does the opposite. There is always a bigger story, but the story always has divergent paths that aren’t necessarily in service to the narrative, and I think this aspect works incredibly well, even if it seems to be against the “rules” of storytelling.

I think the Hogwarts analogy is a good one, I would just say that you’re off base in the presumption that Harry Potter was necessary for great stories about Hogwarts. What about the school after all the Potter/Voldemort drama? Wouldn’t it just be a ridiculously fun place to hear about every few weeks and get glimpses into? And sure, the Harry Potter series was at its best in the darker parts, but the Harry Potter saga was a great epic about heroism, destiny, parents and children, power, responsibility, and the like. Wolverine & the X-Men isn’t trying to be that, or at least not yet (who knows where the series is going). I think it’s just trying to be a damn fun and engaging yarn, and in that capacity, I can’t imagine it succeeding better.

It seems to me like you’re just not letting yourself enjoy the book on its own terms. And sure, I understand that what we enjoy isn’t really a conscious decision and we either react to something or we don’t, but I also think it’s possible to initially dislike something because of a false idea of what it would be, and I wonder if that’s the case here.

Or, perhaps the series just doesn’t work for you, and that’s okay too. But it works incredibly well for me.

Brian said: “How about all the other times we talked about how great Jason Aaron is?

I think Scalped has been high on my Top 10 Comics of the Year the past four years!”

Yeah, but it hasn’t been #1 any year, and we all know that Third Man only cares about the very best ;)

I kid, I kid.

Actually, the funniest part for me is that wasn’t Aaron’s one column on CBR about his not really liking Moore any more due to comments Moore made about current comics creators apparently not being very creative and just re-using elements that Moore used 25-30 years ago? And there Aaron is, re-using a page that Moore did 25 years ago….

I know, I know, he does do something a bit different with it. But it still amuses me.

Greg,

Can we still request 1st pages?

@Neil Kapit – “Jason Aaron is perfectly capable of playing stories, even superhero stories, with convincing characters and dramatic stories.”

I personally disagree with that. I know people like Aaron, but his straight-forward super-hero stuff typically leaves me downright bored. Maybe it’s a pacing issue, I’m not sure. But I do enjoy Aaron when he is doing comedy (like Wolverine & The X-Men) or horror (like Ghost Rider).

It’s all personal opinions.

@ Third Man : I’ll admit that my expectations were set up by Schism, which Aaron wrote as a more serious, character-driven series. There, the Hellfire Kids were instigators used for comic relief sequences, to keep the story from going into straight angst. Here, their wackiness dominates the tone. It’s disappointing to me that the narrative within Schism wasn’t really followed up by Aaron, with the actual weight of that divide being thrown to the side in favor of the wacky comedy.

I’ve lost a lot of my interest in such non-sequitir driven comedy after Family Guy and Adult Swim ruined it for the entirety of pop culture, so I guess it’s just not my book.

[...] Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 281: Wolverine and the X-Men #13 (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) [...]

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