With the return of Nick Bradshaw to art duties, Jason Aaron seizes the opportunity to send "Wolverine & the X-Men" #21 to the circus. Problem is, the circus visit isn't a fun-filled team unity event, it's a circus filled with doom and soul-sucking machines and the X-Men (in this case the faculty of the Jean Grey School) are the star attractions.
Aaron uses the encounter set in the circus run by "Frankenstein's Army of Freaks" to showcase Quentin Quire (again) and to investigate the area surrounding Westchester, New York. The cast of characters that I buy the book to read about -- the X-Men -- get short shrift in this issue. There are only a few pages with the X-Men and barely a few panels to each as the general layout of the circus is translated for the readers. It's fun to see the characters tweaked every so slightly. Some of the adjustments are telegraphed, but by and large they are all still entertaining. Aaron crawls into the thoughts of both Storm and Wolverine, but only barely, just enough to give the reader a sense that those characters are as in the dark as the reader.
The story really is about the monster of Frankenstein seeking revenge upon his creator's bloodline. Naturally that leads to Baron Von Katzenelnbogen who was introduced way back in "Wolverine and the X-Men" #2. That character has a bit of a Megamind vibe swirling around him throughout this issue, which is both charming and distracting. Aaron manages to give Von Katzenelnbogen as distinct a voice as any other character "Wolverine & the X-Men" #21.
As issues of this series go, this one was the least appealing to me of the lot, but I found redemption in Nick Bradshaw drawing his knuckles off. Since joining the series, Bradshaw has made a herculean effort to fill pages with drawings and details. Naturally, a circus powered by the hordes of hell (literally and figuratively) provides Bradshaw and his accompanying host of inkers with ample opportunity to impress. Eyeballs floating in jars and decaying skin across the bridge of the Monster's nose are just a smattering of the details wedged between miniature splash panels of Windrider (Storm), Iceface (Iceman), Beastmaster (Beast) and others. Certainly more than enough to keep colorist Laura Martin busy, the artwork definitely makes this issue for me.
"Wolverine & the X-Men" #21 starts the next multi-part story for Jason Aaron and ventures into territory that promises fresh adventure and unpredictable moments. Now that the stakes are driven for the circus, I'm hoping Aaron can finish raising the tents and that once raised those tents are fit to burst with X-Men action. For now, this issue just seems to be delivering a great deal of information and performing as an opening act to get the rubes' attention.