Alan Davis joins writer Jason Aaron for the fourth installment of “X-Men: Schism” and, after weeks of waiting, readers finally get to see Wolverine and Cyclops throw the first punches at one another. The new Hellfire club has set a giant Sentinel on a collision course with Utopia, and only Cyclops, Wolverine, and a band of teenage X-Men remain ashore to stop it. The only problem is that the men in charge have a severe difference of opinion on how to handle the matter, and in traditional comic book fashion things will be solved using fisticuffs.
In truth, the true breaking point (for both characters) wasn’t just their difference in philosophies, it was the moment they both decided to invoke Jean’s memory so that they could twist the knife in their opponent. There’s no going back from a sucker punch like that. The chief point worth noting is that unlike “Civil War,” neither side is easily mappable onto a right/wrong continuum. Although Wolverine’s attempt to blow up Utopia is perhaps a little extreme, his general position -- that Utopia is just a place, not the thing they’re fighting for -- is arguably the more defensible, so in that sense it evens out.
In some ways, it’s odd that Wolverine is the one suggesting they run, and that his position is that teenagers should be kept out of battle at all costs. He’s the one X-Man who, in the past, has been happy to let them tag along, with the likes of Jubilee and Shadowcat. If you read interviews and promo material, it’s clear that this change in attitude is a result of his encounter with the Red Right Hand in his solo title, but that doesn’t get a look in here, even though it’s the sort of continuity reference that wouldn’t just enhance the story, it’d actively help explain it.
Although the fight is satisfying and enjoyably executed, it would have helped if the character’s different ways of thinking had been highlighted more definitively a little earlier in the series. At this point, the separation should feel inevitable, but instead it’s hard to imagine it having occurred at all without the catalyst of the Sentinel attack. That makes for a weaker narrative overall.
Even so, it’s an exciting story for X-fans, and one which places a clear character-based conflict at the center in a way that almost all Marvel event books could learn from. Aaron’s plotting and scripting are sharp, even if his pacing has been uneven. With one issue to go, “Schism” already feels like a story that Wolverine and Cyclops can’t come out of unscathed, so in that sense it’s already been a success. Whatever follows is just going to further advance the rift between the characters. As an X-Men fan, that’s definitely the kind of story I want to see.