We know how it ends. With Wolverine and Cyclops heading philosophically opposed X-teams. But how does it begin? That's what this five-issue mini plans to show us, and it gets off to a pretty good start here.
Wolverine is knackered after another day as Marvel's busiest mutant, but Cyclops has booked him to take young mutants through a training session. He cancels class on learning that one of the kids, Irie, is only 14, and has never had a childhood. Plus, he needs some sleep.
Some chance. Scott Summers, leader of the mutant homeland of Utopia, wants Logan to be his security as he addresses an arms conference in Switzerland. He hopes to persuade the world's governments to decommission the Sentinels, the huge mutant-hunting - and killing - robots. What he gets is rogue mutant Quentin Quire, aka Kid Omega, blasting delegates with a mental wave that forces them to shout out their darkest secrets, in a sequence that's funny and scary by turns (click on image to enlarge).
Cue panic, and an attack by Sentinels secreted outside the building. Cyclops and Wolverine despatch the aggressors and return home to see what the world does next. To no one's surprise, that would be countries showing off their own Sentinel tech. Cyclops sees this as an openly aggressive act, Storm believes it's simply a bit of chest-beating, the natural result of the Quire attack. Wolverine keeps his counsel, with not even the reader privy to his thoughts.
Elsewhere, an arms dealer named Kilgore is murdered by his ambitious, lunatic 12-year-old son, earning him a seat at the table of the all-new, maybe-different Hellfire Club.
There's some good characterisation here, from Wolverine's typically paternal concern for Irie to Cyclops' disinclination to explore any paths beyond the martial one - if it looks like a fight is coming, by God, he'll give someone a fight. And if that means using child soldiers, that's all the better for the kids - it's a tough world out there, better get used to it.
I think Cyclops' attitude - he's damaged goods, having been fighting for survival since he was 16 - explains a weird moment, when he tells Wolverine, who has Quire's scent, not to bother finding him: 'Forget Quire. He's irrelevant now. The damage is done.' That's Quire who has just mentally asssaulted an entire room, causing a murderous robot attack. Irrelevant?
Cyclops' attitude is echoed later, when Magneto tells the X-Men 'management team': 'Quire is not the issue.' This has to be Aaron pointing out that Cyclops gets more like Magneto by the day, a mutant isolationist, quick to take the fight to the perceived enemy. And he'll use anyone as a weapon if it means getting his way. Ironically, it's the man with the berserker rage, Wolverine, who is contemplating the situation, wanting to avoid a war that will see more kids die. While the schism within the team doesn't come this issue, already you can see how it might come about, and likely allegiances. I'll stick around to see if I'm right.
Aaron's script is nicely crafted, especially strong in showing how the relationship between Cyclops and Wolverine has gone from antagonism to a grudging, affectionate friendship. The joylessness of the X-Men's island points up the irony of calling it Utopia, and I liked seeing Wolvering provide a little light by giving Irie one of Kitty Pryde's old dolls. I love that the new Hellfire Club dresses in robes and meets in gloom, the cornballs.
One thing that sits less well with me is the world's kneejerk reaction to the Quire incident, with governments from North Korea (OK, I get that) to France waving their weapons at the TV cameras. It just seems, well, stupid, as if no one remembers the many times that mutants have saved them.
Plus, Aaron eschews the recent trend to introduce characters in little boxes naming and describing them. Yes, the witty captions pioneered by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction quickly became 'witty', but the basic idea is good - introduce the players as they arrive on set. I had to pack in reading this issue after only a few pages, and run to Wikipedia to find out who Irie and the other kids were (the Generation Hope lot, it seems). If you're not going to introduce folk via dialogue, narrative or 'pop-up' boxes, then use that text page at the start. Please, patronise me.
The artwork, by penciller Carlos Pacheco, inker Cam Smith and colourist Frank D'Armata, is effective, capturing the body language of main players Cyclops and Wolverine well. At times Wolverine is a bit too stocky, but it's nice to see a penciller remember that Wolverine isn't supposed to look like Hugh Jackman. And the team makes Cyclops' deathly dull costume - a black sausage, basically - look as good as it could. The limited action sequences - the Sentinel fight and the assassination - are well done, especially a spread showing Cyclops and Wolverine taking down the giant robots. The quieter moments work too, such as the shot of Iceman enjoying the beach, that brings us to another excellent image - Wolverine after a typical day out. Both are great examples of Aaron allowing the artists to show, rather than him telling; it's good comics.
Good-looking as the art is, I'd like to see Pacheco relax into his own style. God love him for giving us a John Byrne Cyclops, a Frank Quitely Wolverine and a John Cassaday Kitty Pryde, but I rather like his own style. Let it loose, sir.
My foray into Wiki tells me that Irie's eyes are two different colours to reflect fire and ice powers. Here they're both dark, but I don't know if that's a colouring error - it could be that they change when she uses her abilities, as do Storms. Whatever the case, D'Armata finds a nice balance with the colouring, naturalistic without being dull, making the moments of high drama more exciting by contrast. And Jared K Fletcher does an excellent job with the lettering. I bet he'd like to do a few captions, though.
In all, this opener bodes well for the rest of the series, with a confident, smart script built on pretty much every period of the X-Men's existence, and sharp illustrations. If you're a lapsed mutants fan, and haven't already leapt back onto the Blackbird with Kieron Gillan's current, impressive Uncanny X-Men run, give this one a try.