Welcome to VS REVIEWS! Here at SITCWC (when you say it out loud it sounds like “sit-quick”) I try to shake things up and make them slightly more interesting now and then, and thus I conceive this idea – taking two graphic novels that on paper are quite similar and seeing how they compare to each other. Call it a review competition, if you will – and if you won’t, and would rather something more engaging, I’d recommend either something hilariously awful or some depressing navel-gazing instead.
So, VS Review! This week are the first entries for both of the post-Schism X-Men series; Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men. Different authors, different aims…similar outcomes? Let’s find out!
Both volumes come on the heels of Schism‘s game-changing ending. Aaron’s work starts with Wolvie and co. taking the ruins of Westchester school and turning it into the “Jean Grey School for Higher Learning”, turning the series into equal parts high school drama and action-adventure narrative.
Gillen, meanwhile, focuses more on the action-adventure bit with the oddly-named “Extinction Team” pulling a bit of an Avengers-esque plot of tackling mighty intergalactic enemies that threaten planet Earth, starting with recurring X-baddy Mr Sinister and making the series a mashup of Bryan Singer and Michael Bay in terms of narrative content.
In terms of the story, I found both followed a similar structure; the first three issues presented an introductory story, mostly for those who’ve never heard of those blokes Wolverine or Colossus before, and a fourth issue that acts as a standalone aftermath/possible bleed-in to the next story presented in Volume 2. I did like the bite-sized nature of both books’ stories (although the price was a little hefty for what I got) but I found myself much more enjoying the light-hearted, action-packed, character-driven story of Wolverine’s endeavours just that little bit more; it’s paced quite well, the juxtaposition of Wolverine as an action man/educator was a refreshing take on the character, and the the narrative did its best to involve newer readers without seeming like a kids’ “My First Avengers”-style comic.
Conversely, Uncanny X-Men suffers from rather staccato plotting, a bit of an incoherent cloning plotline and a fourth issue that, ultimately, doesn’t impact that much on either the previous story or the one to follow, given the hastily-wrapped-up nature of the ending. It’s a shame, because I was really going into Gillen’s effort hoping that, since my favourite X-characters are present, it’d at least be more fun and enjoyable than anything Chuck Austen ever wrote.
No such luck, I’m afraid.
I won’t sugar-coat this – Wolverine and the X-Men‘s artwork starts off really ugly. I know Chris Bachalo goes a little more abstract and stylized when it comes to his illustrations (look no further than The Sandman), but I found it a lot harder to engage with the story because the higgledy-piggledy artwork style just kept getting in the way. I was glad when they finally moved into Nick Bradshaw’s drawing in the final issue, which was much more of a Steve McNiven-styled artwork, but I still have to mark it all down a bit for being harder to visually digest than the stars of The Shire.
Uncanny X-Men takes a supreme win in this area, with the tag-team of Carlos Pacheco and Brandon Peterson deliver one coup de gras after another throughout all four issues, including some truly disturbing visions of standalone baddy Phalanx and his neo-Borg assimilation tactics in the concluding story. Parts of that made me feel physically ill, in a good way – like if you vomit after going on the biggest, most badass rollercoaster you’ve ever been on.
Don’t think about that analogy too hard – God knows I didn’t.
On top of that, the duo gains extra points for depicting sultry telepath Emma Frost in a really hot costume that strongly evokes Morrison’s X-Men run. And I mean, come on, who doesn’t like a good corset every now and then?
This one’s a little harder to find a clear winner; both stories have good scripting, well-fleshed-out characters consistent with the personalities we’ve come to know and love. I did feel a lot of Joss Whedon influences in Wolverine and Matt Fraction in Uncanny, which was both good and bad; I do love those authors, and their style is comfortable for me, but the writers need to find their own voice a little.
In this instance, Wolverine and the X-Men goes that extra little mile by having some good comedic lines interspersed with action dialogue. I found myself liking the characters just that little bit more than the ones in Uncanny because the dry wit and snark of previous X-runs (like Whedon’s) was present.
Uncanny does its best to make you engage with the characters, including some decently-written one-liners (mostly delivered by Frost or Magneto), but it just gets a bit too clunky whenever Mr
Exposition Sinister is around. It felt more like a James Bond story than an X-Men one in terms of dialogue, which ultimately was the figurative bullet to the foot when the villain exposits, at great length, their entire MO. I thought Dr Evil showed us that that’s never a good idea?
For my first VS Review, Wolverine and the X-Men takes the gold medal and $20,000 paycheck for having wit, great characters and an engaging story despite some grating artwork for the first few issues. Uncanny X-Men is still a good read, and a damn sight better than some other big titles I could name, but just doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi that Wolverine’s merry band of misfits possesses. If you liked the last few Transformers films and find yourself getting engrossed whenever boobs are on-screen, Uncanny might be more your cup of tea.
Or, y’know, you could read something better instead.
WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN: VOLUME 1
BEST QUOTE: “COFFEE! If I don’t get more coffee in my gullet post-haste, I will commence the tossing of bodies out the window!” – Beast
UNCANNY X-MEN: VOLUME 1
BEST QUOTE: “Adapt to this.” – Hope Summers