With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuña, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert, Billy Tan
Issues: X-Men: Prelude to Schism #1-4, X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis
The X-Men have been united for quite awhile following the big events of X-Men: Messiah Complex and Second Coming. Cyclops had successfully united the 200 or so remaining mutants, providing a (relatively) safe mutant haven in an island off the coast of San Francisco. An island that used to be Magneto’s Asteroid M, who now serves as an old war general and confidant. The times they are a-changin’.
So in 2011 Marvel decided they needed to break up the X-Men.
I can definitely see the reasoning. There’s always been a ton of mutants, and teams are usually split up based on where they are and what they’re doing. But with everyone in Utopia it gets super weird having multiple X-Men comics with different teams, for no real reason other than sales.
Enter X-Men: Schism, the much touted Cyclops vs Wolverine fight that splits up the extended X-Men family. The idea is neat, the dialogue suitable, and the actual fight between our veterans pretty darn violent and satisfying. But the overarching plot and kid-villains are incredibly dumb and frustrating, draining much of Schism’s power.
Jason Aaron’s strengths definitely lie in individual dialogue scenes. Particularly the many scenes between Logan and Scott, two characters that have been written about to death by now.
Interestingly their roles have become flipped from their earlier counterparts. Cyclops has been steadily molded into a political freedom fighter who speaks loudly and carries a big stick made of lasers.
In contrast Wolverine has become disillusioned with the constant fighting. He feels a kinship toward the new generation of mutants that have suddenly sprung up again thanks to Hope, and knows they know of nothing but combat training, public hate, and sovereignty. He just wants them to be able to be kids; Cyclops believes they haven’t the time for that anymore.
Cyke is proven a bit right as a duplicitous attack at a UN hearing leads to the typical mass hysteria over of mutants and what they can do. Countries all over the world begin shuffling out their old Sentinels, most of which go crazy and destroy their own populace.
The X-Men are forced to send out multiple teams to combat the threats, leaving Utopia dangerously vulnerable. That’s when our villains reveal their true plan.
So things were alright so far. I dig the political angle with the mutants, as always. And I feel like both our heroes are justified in their thoughts and actions.
Then we have our new 12 year old villain. Some rich son of a major arms dealer. He kills his dad dramatically, assumes control of the company, and enlists the partnership of several other insanely evil trust-fund kids. It’s easy to hate them and confusing on why they’re doing all this. They join the Hellfire club (that’s still a thing?) only to later murder them all.
Their plan involves a terrorist attack at the Mutant History Museum’s grand opening. They manage to take down all of the X-Men’s heavy hitters (talkin’ Colossus, Magneto, Emma Frost, and Namor) with a single stupid alien brain slug McGuffin. Then they set up a bomb.
Cyclops is back on the island and Wolverine is racing toward the location. But it’s young fourteen year old Idie, a new mutant activated by Hope, who has to act. She kills the group of hired thugs, though the damn kids get away. The bomb goes off anyway and turns into a giant self-replicating Sentinel monster that goes straight for Utopia.
Idie becomes the central figure in Logan and Scott’s division. Here we have a young girl, still very unsure about herself and her powers. Logan bonds with her in a heavy-handed fashion, buying her dolls and eating ice cream together. Cyclops tells her she needs to do what she feels is right during the attack – which Logan is horrified to hear. Idie kills, and accepts her fate as a monster that kills monsters.
It’s not the most carefully handled situation but I liked the personal nature of it. It also helps to read Generation Hope (Issues #10-11 specifically tie into Schism) to get a better feeling for Idie as a character and her relationship to the other X-Men both young and old.
The monstrous Sentinel bears down on Utopia. Cyclops gathers the young “students” together for a last stand, but Logan will have none of it. He grabs explosives from his safe (huh?) and threatens to blow the entire island if Scott doesn’t let the kids get out. That seems incredibly dumb and short-sighted.
Cyclops flips out and the two have a knock-down fight filled with laser blasts searing flesh and vigorous claw-stabbings. The whole comic basically leads up to this moment and its intense as hell. It’s also pretty dumb as the giant Sentinel reaches them during the fight and they keep fucking fighting each other! At one point the kids show back up to help battle it off, and finally our two idiots put aside their differences to destroy it.
So Cyclops’ philosophy wins the day, but loses the war. Wolverine calls it quits and recruits several X-Men to go with him. His goal – return to the East Coast and restart Xavier’s school. The split is shown in the one-shot “Regenesis,” which is told in concert with a very goofy primal showdown with all the X-Men half-naked with torches as they choose their sides.
Aside from the shaky story, “Schism” is plagued by inconsistent art. Why Marvel had a different artist on each of the five issues is beyond me. They all do a similar style to each other, which is almost worse. The heavy colors were nice but none of the styles really worked for me.
I also read the lead-up issues, “Prelude to Schism.” It’s a four-part series with each issue focusing on another key member of Cyclops’ brain trust: Charles Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, and Cyclops himself (Emma Frost is notably absent).
The tone was wildly over dramatic. They build the threat to Utopia up as something catastrophic (I was thinking galactic or freakin’ biblical in nature), but the one super sentinel in “Schism” is rather easily destroyed by the dozen or so mutant kids.
Absolutely nothing happens in any of the “Prelude to Schism” issues but damn if I was still riveted. It had some particularly great characterizations of Xavier and Magneto. Magneto’s issue alone is worth a read, as he dives into his own family’s history as Jewish Germans during the lead-up to World War II.
After a bevy of awesome X-Men events, “Schism” is the first real fizzle I’ve read in years. The split makes sense and I’m interested in seeing where things go from here with our different groups. But the actual reason things happened was dumb, with Hellfire kids, super sentinels, and Logan threatening to blow up their home if he didn’t get his way. Also, maybe don’t battle a guy that can keep fighting you even after you’ve melted the flesh from his face.