On the surface, this shouldn't work. Half of the cast of "Uncanny X-Men" split off into yet another X-Men title, not interacting with the half left behind, and then tying in closely to recent events in "Uncanny X-Force." In outline form, this sounds like a bit of a disaster.
As a result, it's that much more to Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw's credit that "Wolverine & The X-Men" not only works, but that it's a pure joy to read. "Wolverine & The X-Men" #4 has a rare mix of drama and fun, with Aaron's script effortlessly slipping from doom-laden to grin-inducing at a moment's notice. Aaron's dialogue for characters like Quentin Quire and Broo is hysterical, with Quentin's cynical nature contrasting well with Broo's eagerness. Then again, what's rapidly turning into Aaron's core group of students (Quentin, Broo, Kid Gladiator, and Idie) all have a wonderful give and take with one another. It's fun to watch them emotionally push and pull, a perfect set-up for a glimpse into a potential future of all four of them working together.
"Uncanny X-Force" has been a shockingly great series this past year and a half, but part of what made it work was being able to operate in its own little corner of the X-Men titles, away from everyone else. Here, Aaron brings the recent events right smack into the middle of "Wolverine & The X-Men," and I was surprised at how well it clicked in with everything else. Aaron is taking the potential of the new character of Genesis and instantly making him an important pivot point for the others to react to. Likewise, Deathlok's presence provides a lot of great plot points (and results in one of the funniest history lectures we've seen in comics outside of Kate Beaton), and Angel's appearance is slightly heartbreaking. Once again, Aaron's able to take a scene that starts out with one emotional note (for instance, the humor in Deathlok's predictions for the students) and then shift it to a different one (the moment where he applies his predictions to Genesis and it all goes grim) in the blink of an eye.
Bradshaw's art reminds me so much of Arthur Adams' work that it's hard to not mention him here. Like Adams, Bradshaw is drawing lush, beautiful pages; I could look for hours at the thick locks of Kitty's hair, the individual spikes of ice on Bobby, or the carefully coiffed shag haircut and red tattoos that frame Rachel's face. But there's more than just great individual details, here. Look at the scene where Angel swoops into the neighborhood; the sun peeking out behind his wings, the billowing of his pant legs and belt, or how he's framed with the power lines, rooftops, and trees in a perfect manner. He's got a strong grasp of how to stage a page in comics. and I'm delighted that we've got more issues of Bradshaw art around the corner.
"Wolverine & The X-Men" is a title that, pre-publication, seemed destined for a middle of the pack existence. Instead, it's roaring up and challenging parent title "Uncanny X-Men" for the top spot. When Deathlok tells a nervous student, "That is what you are here to discover," it hits an emotional note that all X-Men authors strive for, but few reach. In just a few issues, Aaron (along with Chris Bachalo and now Bradshaw) has turned "Wolverine & The X-Men" into a must-read title. 2012 is already shaping up to be a great year for comics, and this is one of the titles that makes it that way.