Writing for the X-Men is not as easy as it may look. These characters have been with us for so many years that their personalities have been ingrained into our brains. There are currently four X-Men ongoing series with a fifth soon to follow. So, we're going to get X-Men five times a month, plus the three ancillary titles.
By any measure, that's a lot of X-Men stories coming out. But how many writers have been able to recapture the magic of the Chris Claremont run or the big ideas of the Grant Morrison era? Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis both had entertaining runs on Astonishing X-Men, but neither of them seemed interested in guiding the franchise into its next iteration. More than any other Marvel book, the X-Men books need to be guided by a writer with an actual vision,.
And after four issues of the Schism miniseries, I'm convinced that Jason Aaron is the right man for the job. He may even be the next great X-Men writer.
That shouldn't be a shock if you've been reading Aaron's Wolverine for the last couple of years. Among other things, Aaron is one of the few writers at Marvel who has actually come up with a viable reason behind Wolverine's decision to spread himself thin across the multiple Avengers, X-Men and X-Force teams. He also seems to have a very good handle on Wolverine's personality.
In Schism, Aaron demonstrates that his understanding extends to the other X-Men as well. Even in this relatively fast paced book, there are some terrific character moments that play out in silence, like Cyclops looking at a picture of himself with the original X-Men team as he seems to wonder where it all it went wrong. Another one of my favorite bits comes later in the book when Cyclops is addressing Hope's team and the few healthy young X-Men left on Utopia. He looks directly at Idie, the young girl whom he essentially asked to kill the Hellfire club soldiers in the last issue. And there is nothing in her eyes. Idie looks and acts like she's dead inside.
At this point, Cyclops doesn't even know who his real enemy is. All he knows is that he's been manipulated into sending X-Men around the world while some of the most powerful members of the team lie incapacitated from the attack at the museum. To top things off, there's a gigantic Sentinel constructing itself out of any material it gets near that not even Wolverine or the X-Club can stop. And it's heading straight for Utopia.
All of that is window dressing for the ideological battle between Cyclops and Wolverine, which has broken down their relationship until they finally attack each other in this issue. And it's an extremely well choreographed fight with some added punch from Aaron. Because just as the two men are on the verge of tearing each other apart, Cyclops brings up the one thing that he and Logan had in common as a way to get to him and Wolverine throws the same line back in his face.
I have to admit that I wasn't sold on the concept of X-Men: Schism coming into this series. It just didn't seem feasible for Cyclops and Wolverine to split up the X-Men, especially when Wolverine usually seems to prefer not being the leader. But Aaron has made it work. Wolverine's stated reason in this issue is that the X-Men shouldn't be using their kids… their students as foot soldiers and killers in their war. Cyclops calls Wolverine out for his naivety and even some fans and commentators have said that they don't buy Wolverine's reasoning.
However, it's actually perfectly in character for Wolverine. Nearly all of his really close relationships within the X-Men were almost fatherly towards Kitty Pryde, Jubilee and even X-23. Wolverine also reached out to Idie in the beginning of this series because that's what he does, even if it's not necessarily the thing that he's the best at.
Aaron also manages to keep both Cyclops and Wolverine sympathetic without resorting to cheap tricks to make the audience side with one or the other. Wolverine and Cyclops ultimately want the same thing, they just no longer agree on how to achieve it. This is their Professor X and Magneto moment. They may eventually be allies again but this is probably the end of their friendship.
I haven't mentioned the art yet, but it's by Alan Davis so you should already know that it's fantastic. My favorite sequence in the entire book is a double page splash of Cyclops unloading his optic blast on the giant Sentinel… to no effect. The previously mentioned Wolverine and Cyclops fight is also a highlight, with Cyclops in particular using his powers in smarter ways than he usually does.
Davis is also a master at conveying emotions on the faces of his characters, even on Cyclops when a mask obscures most of his face. This is just a really good looking book that happens to be well written as well. I can't speak for everyone, but that's exactly what I want out of a superhero comic.
Crave Online Rating: 9/10