X-Men: Schism

As the bi-weekly issues of Avengers vs X-Men catapult towards the allegedly game-changing conclusion that sets up the Marvel NOW! rebooty-thing, I figured it was time to finally read the last of the three pieces of required reading before it all comes to a close. This decision did not come lightly; quite frankly, the concept of the X-teams splitting down the middle sounded like an absolutely ridiculous idea, as I may have briefly mentioned previously, and I was fully prepared to go into this thing and come out re-affirming my belief that Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon need to rightfully re-inherit the X-Men and bring them out of what would clearly be a thinly-veiled attempt to double the number of X-books out there so Marvel can squeeze every penny they’re worth.

I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise for the characteristic “judging a book by its cover” faux pas I’ve committed, grab myself a fork and start chowing down on some crow, because X-Men: Schism is not a bad book at all. In fact, out of the three books touted as important lead-ins to AvX, I might go so far as to say it’s the best.

The story is actually a bit more complex than I initially thought it’d be, dealing with the fallout of recent X-crossover Second Coming and establishing, once again, that there will always be those darn homo sapiens who keep ragging on the titular homo superior in a rather opaque allegory to anything from same-sex relationships to the mistreatment of ethnic minorities. Fortunately, though, the eponymous schism that separates X-Men mainstays Cyclops and Wolverine is not over a massive racist issue or anything like that – no, this is a lot deeper, a lot more believable, and a lot more heartbreaking.

Back when the 2006 Marvel event Civil War took place, the writers copped a lot of flak for basically turning each side of the superhero registration debate into opposing footballs teams separated only by the colour of their jerseys, with heroes picking teams based on roster rather than what their beliefs on the issue were. While the book was still definitely enjoyable by the end of it the moral issues had all fallen flat in favor of a massive dust-up between the two warring super-factions.

Schism doesn’t have that problem, and in fact goes out of its way to establish not only the ideals Slim and Wolvie stand for but also attribute real, justifiable reasons for their cohorts to decide which team to pick. The post-finale issue dealing the separation of X-teams between Utopia and Westchester was a heartbreaking look at who goes where and why, which left me genuinely saddened by story’s end. It did also beautifully set up the two main series’ that began in its wake – namely Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men – and while I still believe this move was partially motivated by desire for profit I’m not left feeling entirely gripped in the corporate vice by using Schism as a device for further storytelling. I’m left wanting to explore further, and check out the X-books out in its wake – so I guess that means it did succeed as a device for further storytelling and for adding a few more centimetres to the Marvel Money Mountain.

The only area where the story really loses points is the villains – they’re ridiculous. Seriously, a bunch of egotistical, corporationy kids band together and not only take over the freakin’ Hellfire Club but instigate global events that end up helping drive the X-Men apart? Kinda over-the-top, especially when they introduce space slugs and killer walrus people (no, seriously). Hell, the one-dimensional villains from Captain Planet weren’t as out-of-place as these terrorist tykes are.

Artwork takes a bit of a hit not only because it varies between all five issues – making things seem a little schizophrenic and inconsistent – but because too often you see Cyclops’ eyes through his glasses and visor. I’m not sure why this bothers me so much, but it detracted from his depictions a little. I guess part of what gives Cyclops appeal for me – limited though it is – is not ever having to see his eyes. The number of egregious and morally-questionable acts he’s committed over the last few years (with the formation of X-Force being a big one in particular) kinda fit with a mysterious, enigmatic figure whose eyes you can never see, despite his public status as leader of the X-Men and an emissary for mutantkind. I like that juxtaposition of moral grey and public recognition, if that makes any sense, and seeing his eyes so many times kinda wrecked that a little for me. That, and Cyclops’ body in issue 2 makes him look like an undernourished pole vaulter.

The dialogue is actually my favourite part of the book – Jason Aaron strongly evokes Whedon’s Astonishing run in terms of snark and dry wit, and made me chuckle on quite a few occasions. As always Emma Frost is on hand for some nice ripostes – including some rather nice ones in the ending pages aimed at Cyclops – but there’s banter aplenty with almost every character. It fell down a little because of the aforementioned child villains (including the cringeworthy line of “You know what I love most about being a kid? Senseless violence.”) but on the whole was pleasant and engaging and surprisingly lacking in any major cliches. It means either the writers are getting more sophisticated or Marvel are hiring some actual human people to write their dialogue (Waid, Bendis and Brubaker notwithstanding).

One thing I’d really like to point out as a highlight is the final battle between Cyclops and Wolverine on the shores of Utopia, while a neophyte Sentinel wreaks havoc all around them. There was almost no dialogue right up until the point the other X-Men showed up, and seeing these two long-time friends going at it panel after panel was as gut-wrenching as it was heart-rending to look at. My hat’s off to Adam Kubert for drawing an incredible fight scene, and one of the best uses of the unspoken “one fight every issue” rule superhero comics seem to abide by. The initial exchange between the two combatants regarding former love-triangle-hypotenuse Jean Grey just added to the melancholy, despondent background as they really kicked the crap out of each other. Truly excellent stuff.

What? No. That’s not a tear in my eye. Honest. Just allergies from…oysters.

On the whole, X-Men: Schism is an enjoyable – if darkly tragic – X-book that really sets the stage for some of AvX‘s conflict and the future of the X-Men as a whole. It gives me hope that AvX won’t just be a cop-out money-making crossover event, and might make me reconsider my “judge a book by its over” ideal.

Emphasis on might.

STORY: 4/5
ARTWORK: 3.5/5

OVERALL: 12/15

BEST QUOTE (of which there are many): “Yes, this is Ms Frost. I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel my 3:00 pedicure. On account of what? How about the supreme stupidity of everyone else in the world but me?” – Emma Frost

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