Cyclops Vs Wolverine: Five Months In

Everybody’s been enjoying the ‘Regenesis’ rebranding of Marvel’s X-Men line (right?), which saw Cyclops and Wolverine have an ideological split and break the X-Men into two halves. One half stayed with Cyclops on Utopia, and decided to impress the World by stressing the one thing humans and mutants have in common: neither want to be invaded by aliens or Mr Sinister or these strange bat-thingies that have suddenly started living in Montana. Wolverine’s half of the team – which includes many of the more popular characters amongst the fanbase such as Rogue, Iceman, Cannonball and Kitty Pryde – have opened a school to teach young mutants the importance of integration with humanity. Regardless of which side you think is right (personally we side with Cyclops, at least in theory), the end results have been excellent for telling stories. Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & The X-Men have both been quirky, interesting tangents for the X-Men franchise.

BUT WHICH IS BETTER?

In an ideal World, we’d have them fight while Harry Hill amps up an already-excitable ITV audience. But life is filled with sorrows, and Hill’s absence here will just have to be one of them. Let’s look at Uncanny first, Wolverine second, and see how far both titles have come over the past five months.


Uncanny X-Men

Kieron Gillen had the hardest side of things. His Uncanny X-Men is basically a continuation of everything that’s happened before – his core cast members remain the same, only several of them have now been ripped from his grasp. The characters all still exist on Utopia, and the mission hasn’t changed particularly. Cyclops still believes that mutantkind should unite as a militant force, ready to pro-actively take down anybody who wishes them harm. Nothing has really changed, except there are less characters available to use and now the team have to deal with the aftermath of Schism hanging over them – and everything they do.

The first issue of Uncanny X-Men had them face off against Mr Sinister, who had decided the next evolution of mankind from homo superior should be… Mr Sinister. Issue five sees the third arc begin, with a slightly-tweaked line-up (Emma Frost is out, Psylocke is in) and an overview of how far the characters have all come. It is, actually, the perfect issue to look over the series as a whole. Gillen’s team of eight are all paired-off partway through the issue, which is ostensibly a ‘Dark Angel Saga’ fallout storyline. After Uncanny X-Force killed off Angel and blew up part of Montana, the X-Men head off to investigate, with only Psylocke aware of what’s actually happened.

She pairs off with Magneto, who proceeds to completely demolish what little self-esteem she has left as he openly mocks her for her role in the Montana incident. Hope, meanwhile, prepares for Avengers Vs X-Men by flirting at Namor, and Magik tries to convince her brother that there is something worth living for. And during all this, Storm and Cyclops are trying to still get to grips with the aftermath of Schism, and what their future will be. So it’s more business as usual for Uncanny, really, as the title simultaneously deals with plots started by Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Rick Remender and more, while Gillen throws some of his own stories in for good measure. Uncanny has always been the title which deals with everybody else’s mess, but here Gillen proves himself one of the few writers who can actually handle something like that. A poisoned chalice, Uncanny has been a wasteland where talented writers go to dust and ashes for decades now. Gillen’s starting to reverse that trend, and good luck to him there.


Wolverine & The X-Men

Jason Aaron’s attempt to mix Grant Morrison’s X-Men with…. Kieron Gillen’s X-Men style, Wolverine & The X-men is a fresh-feeling comic which hurls comic moments and subplots at the reader with wild abandon. Aaron is clearly having a ball as he takes the majority of the good student characters, adds some interesting and entertaining ones of his own, and causes mayhem with them all. Fan-favourite characters abound, from Doop to Quentin Quire and Husk. The book touches on all the different student books that have come before, but focuses entirely on madcap entertainment rather than character development or thematic resonance. Wolverine and Kitty Pryde run the school, with Iceman, Cannonball, Beast and Rachel Grey amongst the various teaching staff responsible for looking after the kids. Every issue features at least four different subplots, with one taking centre stage as the others circle round and cause Wolverine no end of stress.

Issue one of the series saw the school open, as Kitty Pryde toured two school inspectors around and tried to distract them from the general madness that goes on every day. Issue five sees about seven different storylines unfold, from Angel being declared unfit to run his company, to Kitty Pryde’s ‘pregnancy’, to Beast shrinking some of his students so he can go explore the inner-workings of Toad’s body, and offer a science lecture to them. There are also, excellently, a hoarde of mini-Nightcrawlers running around, scrawling “wolverine eats boogers” on the architecture and causing chaos wherever they go. The book races about, with cutaway jokes, bizarre one-liners, and a definite sense of homage to Grant Morrison’s work. A new title burdened with high expectations, Wolverine & The X-Men currently has enough momentum to keep things going smoothly.


Uncanny X-Men Vs Wolverine & The X-Men

While Uncanny has a tendency to ignore the central cast and focus too much on the villains, or the location, W/X-Men has too much focus on the cast and no idea what its long-term plans might be. Aaron packs a lot of different sub-plots into each issue, but that also means most characters default back to their generic character-traits: every issue Lockheed is angry, Quentin Quire is rebellious, Idie is religious and Doop is a visual joke. It’s nice to see Aaron attempting such an ambitiously large cast, but at some point Rogue and Gambit will turn up too, and there’s simply too many characters for anyone to get real focus. Uncanny X-Men treats the end of The Dark Angel Saga as an important moment for mutants, and Psylocke/Magneto in particular. W/X-Men generally treats it as a bit of a joke.

The jokes are a tad forced, at times, too. Gillen throws most of his jokes into his uniquely-written dialogue, matching Storm’s haughtiness with Namor’s lack of modesty, and so on. Aaron simply writes a lot of jokes, and throws them all on the page in the hope that some will hit home. Both titles are well-written, but Uncanny seems more geared towards longevity at the moment. Not that Gillen writes perfectly – one recent issue was essentially a twenty-two page speech given by Mr Sinister, with little room for the other characters to breathe. Storm, too, is a victim of recurring character-beats. Each issue so far she either makes fun of Cyclops or comments about the nature of violence – there’s more to her than that.

Artwise, W/X-Men is miles ahead of Uncanny. Nick Bradshaw in particular is a complete delight on this series, mixing elements of Frank Quitely with Art Adams to create a style all his own. Every page he draws throws in tonnes of small details and quirks which truly enhance everything that Aaron writes. Uncanny, meanwhile, has Greg Land doing the best work of his life – which is still rather poor, but at least not as poor as it’s tended to be in the past. Cyclops smiles or grimaces most of the time, which makes it hard to tell what Gillen’s subtext may be at any given point. And there is a lot of subtext in Gillen’s writing, which is largely absent from Aaron’s work here. Cyclops seems conflicted and difficult to like – Wolverine is a hero, a try-hard teacher and put-upon friend. He’s getting away with rather a lot, considering he’s currently running a black-ops team which recently had to put down one of his oldest friends.

Although both titles are excellent at the moment, W/X-Men is more entertaining and Uncanny is more interesting. What would actually work best, strangely enough, is if Gillen and Aaron swapped titles, and wrote about something closer to their personal strengths. But based entirely on the five five issues of both series? Uncanny X-Men is the better-written, more independent and daring comic of the two. Wolverine and the X-Men has yet to build any sense of urgency or importance, while Uncanny has been building up its cast for five months in a row. If Gillen starts ramping things up – as seems to be happening with his ‘AvX’ crossover issues – then we could be onto that rarest of things: a decent Uncanny X-Men run.

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