Jason Aaron's enthusiasm and Daniel Acuña's discipline make this book a solid read, and a surprisingly strong entry in a mini-series event book that until now I wasn’t entirely sure I cared about. As a reader, I don’t love seeing Cyclops and Wolverine coming to blows, physically or ideologically. I prefer them as grouchy begrudging best friends that have seen and done it all, mostly side by side. I may be alone in that as a reader, but regardless of my personal preference, I don’t yet buy the split we’ve all been told we’re headed for. But that doesn’t make this a bad comic. In all the ways that count, this is actually a really good comic.
In “X-Men Schism” #3, Cyclops is remotely monitoring a group of X-Men while they make an appearance at the opening of a mutant history museum. Around the globe, other X-Men fight rogue Sentinels, which Cyclops also monitors from Utopia. Meanwhile, Wolverine is drinking in a bar. Hmm. Regardless, the X-Men at the museum are attacked by a new Hellfire Club, led by a quartet of evil child geniuses, with twelve-year-old Kade Kilgore as their Black King. Chaos naturally ensues.
Jason Aaron has put a lot of players on the board here, but he handles them with apparent ease and delivers some of the more legitimate “hero in peril” moments I’ve seen in a while. I really believed the danger that some of these characters were in, even at the hands of bratty (evil) child geniuses, which is no small feat. Aaron juxtaposes the villains’ strengths and weaknesses in clever ways. They seem to be self-aware enough that they don’t want to be “super villains” because super villains “always lose,” but they fall into “super villain” patterns nonetheless, like explaining how some of their toys work and over-speechifying in general. It’s a nice combination that is both strangely threatening and humorous and Aaron balances it all nicely.
The plot moves along surprisingly well, especially for a mini-series/event, but Aaron doesn’t skimp on character work. The only issue I have is that the conflict between Cyclops and Wolverine still feels forced, at best. The argument they have about whether young mutant Idie should be pulled from the scene or not, doesn’t feel like the stuff that great dissension is built on. And while writers have obviously had these two characters on a collision course ideologically for a while now -- after all they’ve been through together and the uneasy peace they’ve found -- it’s feeling forced right now. There’s still time for it to work, I suppose, but that’s a ways off.
Acuña’s art is gorgeously detailed and full of life. The characters look wonderfully fleshed out and accurate, from their clothing and body language to hairstyles and facial expressions. At the same time, the story is well paced and easy to follow while still managing to find gorgeous artistic moments. Acuña also has a great ability to make our heroes feel as if they’re in jeopardy, something that happens far too infrequently in superhero comics. When Namor goes down brutally, it looks in fact brutal, not pretty. When Magneto and Emma are taken out by genius children in horrifying Hellfire masks, you feel their takedown in a visceral way. When the children fit the X-Men with “brain slugs” you’re appropriately horrified, and much of that is to do with Acuña’s ability to commit to the action and take it to the next level. My sole complaint about the art is that the Wolverine design, as interpreted by Acuña, is completely bizarre, and results in him looking like he’s wearing a heart-shaped hairshirt under his white tank top. It’s an odd choice to say the least. But in a book full of beauty and powerful action it’s a minor quibble at best.
Though the whole series has been strong, “X-Men Schism” is hitting its stride now with solid plotting work, good character moments, a ratcheting up of tension, and a good cliffhanger. This series has also been a great taste of the energy and enthusiasm that Aaron will bring to his “Wolverine & The X-Men” title when “Schism” creates its inevitable break in the family.