Wolverine and the X-Men is usually my fail-safe, dependable reading pleasure from Jason Aaron/Marvel, so it's disappointing that this latest volume in the series didn't fulfil my reasonably high expectations.
It starts really well with Kitty Pryde interviewing applicants for a new teaching position and various members of the Marvel Universe show up. Blade comes in snarling, promising to teach the kids about killing the creatures of the night, Deadpool repeatedly pops up begging for tenure (without knowing what it is), and numerous other inappropriate candidates try for the teaching position. It's a really funny sequence but what I liked best about this sequence wasn't just that someone like Blade is looking for a teaching position, or any of the other characters, but that Doop is in the background doing weird things to personalise each presentation - I've said it before and I'll say it again, Doop is the surprise discovery of this series and continues to entertain with his shenanigans.
After this comic (where a suitable teacher is chosen - the decision won't surprise you) comes an Angel issue which immediately made me roll my eyes. Angel is one of the dullest X-Men characters ever and repeatedly fails to be interesting in any way. Granted, Aaron has given him some nifty powers so he's not just a pair of wings (sometimes metallic, sometimes not), but his trip to South America to recruit a new student for the school who's displaying shark powers didn't grab me.
The main story of this book is an evil circus coming to town led by Frankenstein's Monster and a powerful witch who, using magic, manages to convince the X-Men that they're members of the circus - Kitty Pryde is a magician's assistant, Beast is, well, a beast who can also juggle, Storm is an acrobat, and, yes, Logan is a clown called Revolto! It's up to Quentin Quire and the rest of the student body to break the spell over their teachers!
On the face of it, this should be an awesome story - evil circus, Logan in clown makeup doing pratfalls - but there isn't much to it. Beyond the visuals, we're just waiting for the X-Men to remember who they are and fight back against the hordes of zombie clowns and magical creatures, which of course they do. It's fairly predictable and strangely boring given the potential of the rich subject matter.
Don't get me wrong - there's a lot to like in this book. Nick Bradshaw's back to draw most of the issues and his art is soooooooo good. It's so well laid out, so well-drawn, and so damn pretty. And there's lot of great little moments throughout like Nazi killer bees, the New Silver Samurai and Angel sharing a bro-tastic moment mid-fight, a funny reference to a famous story from Grant Morrison's New X-Men run, Doop has knuckle-dusters in his name, and lots of Easter eggs during the interview sequence at the start. The Broo storyline continues as does the New Hellfire Club setting up shop near the school, though these are barely touched on. But the book as a whole didn't hold my attention like other books in this series has done and I found myself putting it down several times to read other books. Volume 5 is lacking that intangible spark that makes the other books irresistible but of course I'm still on board for this series, hoping the next one is better.
I will say that in the final romance-themed issue where Wolverine and Storm get it on while Bobby and Kitty go on an awkward date, Bobby Drake aka Iceman says something that not only sums up how I feel about superhero comics these days but also how I think Jason Aaron's approach to writing this series has been:
"I suppose I could just stand around navel-gazing, moaning about how awful the world is. God knows we've done our share of that over the years. But what good does that do these kids? What good does it do me? Being grown up doesn't have to mean being endlessly morose. And having fun isn't just for five-year-olds. No, the day I can't laugh at how ridiculous this all is, while still loving every single second of it, is the day I walk away and find a new line of work."
Amen - DC take note.
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