Posted on Sunday, December 1, 2013
by Paul in x-axis
It’s a podcast weekend! But GarageBand has eaten it, so you’ll have to wait another week.
In the meantime, let’s have a look at the first and, it seems, only Wolverine and the X-Men annual. This is the X-books’ token contribution to the “Infinity” crossover, which it has otherwise managed to sit out, through the clever expedient of doing a crossover of its own. It seems we’re now back to the days when the X-books largely get special dispensation from participating in these books.
This is unquestionably an “Infinity” crossover, but that shouldn’t put anyone off. In fact, unlike a lot of annuals, it really is a proper extra issue of the regular series, in which regular creators Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw pick up on the storyline of Kid Gladiator, who was returned to the Shi’ar somewhat against his will. This issue is really about him failing to fit back in with the regimented Shi’ar military school, but finally getting to prove himself in battle, both to his peers and his father, and getting sent back to the Jean Grey School where he’ll be happy again.
It’s a straightforward enough story, but it shows what this book does well, when the stars align. The series is often flagrantly ridiculous, and taken literally, the Imperial Guard school is no exception to that. In fact, so is Aaron’s entirely ultra-military Shi’ar Empire. But however crazily exaggerated it is, at its core there’s something recognisable in Kid Gladiator missing the school he always thought he hated, and finding himself more of an outcast in the new one. W&TX works when it holds onto that core. (And it doesn’t when, as with the Hellfire Kids, it parts company with human behaviour altogether.)
There’s also a neat touch in the idea that the School has an entire squadron of trainees waiting to take over for each current Imperial Guard member, so there are entire classes of Smashers and such like. I think that actually comes from Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers, but it works nicely here, because Kid Gladiator and his father are the last of their race, so he’s in a class of one. It’s established continuity, but it happens to play perfectly into his isolation.
Huge space battles and elaborate training bases also play firmly to the strengths of Nick Bradshaw’s art, which has a cleanly cartoony feel that fits the book’s tone. He also makes Kid Gladiator look like more of a child when he’s dealing with his father, or the adult heroes – and he gets across Gladiator senior’s paternal instincts, which are not natural for that character.
Where does Infinity feature into any of this? Quite simply, because the plot requires a major threat - any major threat – in which Kid Gladiator can prove himself. The details are entirely irrelevant, which makes this one of those rare stories that actually benefits from being a crossover. Since the reader knows the details of the invasion are being dealt with somewhere else, Aaron doesn’t have to take up time putting flesh on something which (for the purposes of this book) is just a plot device anyway. He can borrow that from the wider crossover, and get on with the story he wants to tell. This is how you get crossovers to work in service of the series, instead of being an imposition on them.