Wednesday, October 31, 2012

X-Men: Schism (comic)

Writers: Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen
Artists: Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Billy Tan
Collects: X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis

I guess you could say this is a story that's been in the making since Wolverine first joined the X-Men. Perhaps what's important to you is the fact that the group is splitting up into two sides with two entirely different mission statements. For me, the most important part is the fact that I've finally got an X-Men comic I completely enjoyed with the promise of more in one of the series launched in Schisms wake.

I guess it had to happen at some point.

It starts out simple enough. Cyclops and Wolverine represent Utopia at an arms conference - because in the Marvel universe, all you have to do to become a country is herd two hundred people on a rock and call yourselves one - to ask nations of the world to disarm their Sentinels. Who knows if he would've managed to get anywhere, because Quentin Quire shows up and decides it would be a good time to make a complete mess of things by forcing the worlds leaders to embarrass themselves on live television. Guess how they react. Worse still, this is all part of the plan of the new Hellfire Club. On top of that, Wolverine is growing increasingly agitated over the use of kids in their little mutant wars. Cyclops doesn't help matters by insisting on it.

A lot of the book is a conflict of ideology, with the fisticuffs only coming into play in the last third. Cyclops sees himself as a General in a war, willing to use whatever is necessary to survive and win. On the flipside, Wolverine is a man who has found himself tired of seeing kids grow up without childhoods, knowing only how to fight. The tensions only increase over the five issues until Wolverine is ready to blow up Utopia to force everyone to evacuate - as opposed to Cyclops, who wants to risk the kids by leading them into battle with a huge Sentinel - and, out of options, Cyke goes for the verbal equivalent of a low blow. What Wolverine says next hits a little too close to home and the fight is on.

To a certain extent, you can look at Schism as a story of men who, over time, have changed. Cyclops barely even resembles the character he was before and I've detailed my disdain for that several times in the past. Wolverine, on the other hand, has become less a loner and more like a gruff parent who only wants what's best for the kids. It's a change that's happened over time and tracks well; he always took young wayward teens under his wing and tried to show them the way. The direction he's gone in only makes sense for his character and with the X-Men now resembling an army - one with child soldiers whose main education is in fighting - you get the feeling this is the only way it could have ended.

Ultimately, who is right is left up to your own individual opinion. As you can guess, I'm with Wolverine and think Cyclops is a complete ass, but Jason Aaron has gone out of his way to make it so that feeling the opposite is a legitimate view as well. This can be seen pretty clearly in the ending conflict of the book. Schism couldn't resist making Cyclops ultimately "right"* - he, Wolverine and the kids DO manage to push back the Sentinel, as he believed - but it doesn't forget to balance the scale; as Wolverine points out, it doesn't really matter that they COULD do it, the point being that the kids should not be forced into positions like the one Idie found herself in, as has been necessary in the Cyclops Army. You could take either side and Schism will not go out of its way to make you feel like you are wrong, unlike the inexplicably beloved "Civil War" event.

On the whole, Schism is a well written book that opens up different avenues for the franchise. If you actually like the way the X-Men books have been since House of M, well, I have no clue how to understand your point of view, but you could keep up with Uncanny X-Men and the other books following his side. If you're with Wolverine and want to read a book with a more traditional approach, you can follow him back to Westchester in Wolverine and the X-Men. Works for me. Guess which book I'll be reading.

The art situation is... complicated. There are five different pencillers, each assigned to an issue. Normally, this would be the sort of thing I would slam a book for. Trouble is, each and every one of the artists used is a great. They all do fine work, to boot. If I had to lodge a complaint, it would be that Acuna's art does not really fit with the other four, but that's about it.

The X-Men: Regenesis one-shot - scripted by the talented Kieron Gillen with art by Billy Tan - is also included here. It's not really necessary - the book is basically a "who will go with which side" deal juxtaposed against some weird tribal standoff representing the split of the "tribe" - but it's a nice inclusion that gives you an idea of which side you might find your favorite X-Men on. The art by Billy Tan is decent. I've never had a problem with his artwork, though I suppose he suffers a bit by comparison, given the number of great artists collected in the rest of the volume.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

Against all odds, we get an X-Men event that manages to complete it's mission statement and be legitimately good. Who'd have guessed? X-Men: Schism is definitely worth a read, even if you just want to see the Wolverine/Cyclops brawl they finally decided to get around to years after the imitator**. Schism has me interested in Wolverine and the X-Men as well; we'll see if that's the X-Men book I've been waiting for.

Cyclops Douchebaggery Alert: The book takes great pains to keep Cyke from being too much of a dick and ruining his side of the argument, but he still has a few moments of his now patented brand of douchebaggery. Giving a troubled girl with questionable control over her powers the go ahead to "do what she has to" when the adults "won't make it in time"? Gee, I wonder how THAT plan will end? Also, see the complete dick move Cyke pulls when he brings up Jean Grey and tells Wolverine she not only never loved him, but was frightened of him. She had absolutely no bearing on anything; Cyclops was just pissed Wolverine left him with no options and decided to take the cheapest shot he could. He doesn't particularly care for the reply.

* Cyclops has been sort of a writers pet since as far back as Ed Brubakers run onwards. For some reason, writers have had a hard-on for the character, going out of their way to make him either right or "cool". They even gave him a jetpack. For me, it never worked. I just ended up hating Cyclops.

** I'm talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here. The relationship between Leonardo and Raphael has always been a carbon copy of the antagonism between Cyclops and Wolverine. They took almost as long as the X-Men to stop dancing around it and just have the two duke it out. That happened in the fourth TMNT film, which was done in CGI instead of live action. Decent film, if not particularly memorable. The Leo/Raph fight is worth watching online if you don't feel like seeing the whole thing.

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