Best of 2012: Wolverine and the X-Men: Seeing the Cool Tree in the Middle of the Crossover Forest
I think we likely place too much emphasis on our “top ten” comic books of the year, as obviously with the thousands of comics out there in any given year, there is a much bigger difference between the cream of the crop and the bad books than there are between the best books. So rather than giving honorable mentions in my Top Ten Comics of 2012, I will spotlight a few of my favorites through New Year’s Day. – BC
Ah…the double-edged sword that is the comic book crossover. If you’re a comic book title, you WANT to tie in with crossovers because they raise your sales a lot. But at the same time, they also interrupt your stories, even here, where Jason Aaron, writer of Wolverine and the X-Men, actually was PART of the writing staff for Avengers vs. X-Men. Still, of the nineteen issues of Wolverine and the X-Men that came out in 2012 (by the way, NINETEEN issues? Dayum) NINE of them were crossover issues with Avengers vs. X-Men. That’s a hard row to hoe, but Jason Aaron I think for the most part was able to keep his little corner of the X-Universe working as an autonomous entity. And wow, the Jean Grey School for Mutants is quite an autonomous entity!!
The first Wolverine and the X-Men story arc took place in 2011, so 2012 picked up with #4. The first arc was very good, but it was very much a set-up arc, so the story beginning in #4 was the first story arc featuring the book in its natural state. And the natural state was one of sheer inspired chaos!
Whether it being Beast taking the class on a trip into Toad’s insides to examine the human body…
Or if it was Kitty Pryde becoming “pregnant” with a miniature Brood invasion…
The book is filled with fun and outlandish ideas. Chris Bachalo was nominally the main artist on the series, but as it turns out, Nick Bradshaw (the artist above) really became the main guy. Of the 19 issues that came out in 2012, Bradshaw penciled nine of them (Bachalo penciled five, Jorge Molina penciled three, and Steve Sanders and Mike Allred did one each). Bradshaw’s style fit the over-the-top stories Aaron gave the series quite well. This is really one of the most fun X-Men titles of all-time.
Like the story of Wolverine taking the telepathic Kid Omega to a gambling planet to try to raise some money for the school.
However, one of the things that most impresses me about Aaron’s work on the series is the way that he was able to juggle so many characters while giving them all a little bit of characterization, even in the midst of a crossover. For instance, Warbird is introduced as just the bodyguard for one of the students, Kid Gladiator (Gladiator’s son), but in #13, right smack in the middle of Avengers versus X-Men, Aaron manages to give us a spotlight on Warbird that shows her unique past as a Shi’ar warrior…
That’s some powerful stuff.
Aaron even managed to use the Phoenix Five aspect of Avengers versus X-Men to good effect. In one issue, he has Phoenix Cyclops wipe out all the Sentinels in the world in a spotlight on the main bad guys of the series, the young leaders of the new Hellfire Club. I was not a huge fan of these kids when the series began, but Aaron has been doing a great job developing them as characters, especially the descendant of Dr. Frankenstein, who is part of the current story arc involving Frankenstein’s Monster and the X-Men being caught up in a circus again (remember the classic Mesmero circus from John Byrne’s early issue of Uncanny X-Men? Think that). In the other, Aaron gets to explore the dynamics of Colossus and Kitty Pryde’s relationship.
Kitty Pryde is a fascinating character. She is so ultra-competent but Aaron also manages to capture the fact that, in many ways, she is still so young and so way over her head. Only she can’t deal with it because she has to be the Rock of Gibraltar for the school. It is an interesting type of stress and it comes as no surprise that she would be drawn to the lighthearted Iceman as a balance to the daily stress she goes through as the school’s headmistress (she technically is the co-head with Wolverine but there’s a recurring joke about how Wolverine is rarely actually at the school, so he is not exactly doing much headmastering).
I would be remiss if I did not point out one of the great single Marvel issues of 2012, the Doop spotlight! Doop has seemingly just been a background character in the series, but in #17, Doop co-creator Mike Allred returned to the character for a spotlight issue where we learn that Wolverine has enlisted Doop as a sort of roving troubleshooter, addressing threats to the school before they arise, like legislators…
or extra-dimensional invasions…
Soooo awesome. The issue also has Nazi bowlers!!!
All in all, Aaron has created his own little corner of the Marvel Universe where he can get away with all sorts of bizarre stories that are just a joy to read. He is losing Chris Bachalo to the new Uncanny X-Men series, so there is some worry over who will step into Bachalo’s shoes in 2013, but for 2012, when 15 of your 19 issues are drawn by Nick Bradshaw, Chris Bachalo and Mike Allred, you’re totally set (and this is not even to knock Jorge Molina or Steve Sanders’ contributions, as they did a good job themselves).