(Marvel Comics, 2013)
Review by Shawn Warner
Written by Jason Aaron
Pencils by Ed McGuinness
Inks by Dexter Vines
Color Artwork by Marte Gracia
Jason Aaron is one of the few writers who could take on a story so inherently fraught with potential theological complications and esoteric mumbo-jumbo and turn it into one of the most fun-filled and exciting high adventure X-Men stories to be written in quite some time. Aaron has brought his same unique brand of storytelling that made Wolverine and the X-Men such an entertaining and vivacious series to Amazing X-Men and in so doing he has created his own niche in the X-universe. His take on these characters might be a little less brooding and dour than the usual Mutant Politics heavy X-fare most of his Marvel colleagues are turning out but Aaron’s stories certainly pack just as much of a punch when it comes to excitement, intrigue and endearing characterizations.
In Amazing X-Men we get to see what the staff of the Jean Grey School is up to when they are not on campus and in this first arc they are as far off campus as they can get, the team is split between Heaven and Hell in search of their deceased friend and teammate, Nightcrawler. Headmaster Wolverine has taken Quicksilver and Beast with him to battle their old nemesis and Nightcrawler’s father, Azazel as he attacks Heaven with his merry band of demon pirates aboard their floating pirate ship while Storm, Iceman and new faculty member and fellow former amazing friend of Spider-Man, Firestar are sent below to much balmier climes where they do battle with Hell’s army. Unfortunately for our mutant heroes, Storm’s powers are all but useless since there is an almost complete lack of weather in Hell and Bobby is doing all he can not to melt away to nothing. If things weren’t bad enough, Wolverine is now literally hanging on for dear life in the pirate battle of Heaven. Jason Aaron has masterfully crafted an entertaining tale full of suspense and adventure; there is a pervasive sense of urgency that adds a deeper level of anticipation to the search for Nightcrawler. The fact that he provides narration but only appears in one panel of this issue does not diminish his presence in the narrative, we are aware of him without having to see him because his rescue is the motivation for everything the team must endure albeit unknowingly for the most part.
Aaron doesn’t get embroiled in the heady minutiae and Judeo-Christian implications that could easily accompany the pseudo-theology underlying the narrative here, instead he very astutely relies on his brilliant storytelling prowess and penchant for heart-felt dialogue to build a story that just happens to take place in this eternal arena, Heaven and Hell are secondary to a great story. It’s the setting that allows for Aaron to write such great scenes as Wolverine’s reaction to finding himself in Heaven juxtaposed with Bobby Drake’s dilemma of being melted in Hell which Ed McGuinness expertly renders with brilliant tonal contrasts while avoiding the stereotypical imagery of the afterlife such as Heavenly harps and Hellish scenes of torture.
McGuinness’ stylized take on anatomy and dynamic character design is a perfect fit for Aaron’s imaginative story. His high-energy approach to storytelling works in perfect unison with Aaron’s kinetic pace. McGuiness is capable of conveying voluminous amounts of emotion through his mastery of facial expressions and body language. He uncannily captures the attitude and personality of each character with attention to subtle details and mannerisms. McGuinness’ depictions of the ethereal locations in this story are in line with Aaron’s more fanciful take on Heaven and especially Hell. Although Hell does feature a river of blood it never feels oppressively dark and gothic, it’s more like an underworld of lamentation and introspection without the languishing souls and gnashing of teeth.
With the recent news of Aaron’s departure from Wolverine and the X-Men it is good to know that his imaginative, engaging and most of all fun take on the X-Men will continue in the pages of Amazing X-Men. Just two issues into this first arc Aaron and McGuinness have taken us on a swashbuckling adventure spanning the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell featuring characters that harken back to the days when we first fell in love with the strangest team of mutant heroes Marvel had to offer. They have rekindled that child-like awe that was sparked by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and brought that sense of wonder to a new generation of comic book readers. This is a tremendous start to an ambitious series that is sure to satisfy the craving for fast-paced, action-packed adventures full of witty dialogue and captivating characters that overtakes every true comic book enthusiast each and every Wednesday. I recommend this book to X-Men fans old and new as well as anyone looking for a lively, fun story that’s complex without being complicated. (4.5/5) This one definitely deserves a spot on the pull list.
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