In Depth: Amazing X-Men #4

Aaron, McGuinness, Vines, Gracia

 

I’m not ashamed to admit that this issue, the best issue of Amazing yet, hit me right in the feels. I think it’s safe to say that you’d have to have a heart as cold as the icy tundra of Purgatory itself to not be moved by some of the moments in this book. So if you’re ready for a spoiler filled trip through Heaven and Hell to rediscover an old friend you didn’t realise how much you truly missed then follow me, as I explain why this is newly crowned as my favourite X-book on the stands. Sorry Bendis.

 


This issue continues Nightcrawler’s omnipresent VoiceOver; this time narrating the plight of his closest friend Wolverine. Now, James Aaron knows what you want, he’s been teasing it since the final page of issue one (where Logan barely even dared to breathe a hope that his fuzzy blue elf friend could be alive), which is also why I suspect we open with him here; but you’re going to have to wait a little longer for that particular heart melter.

Speaking of melting we juxtapose nicely from the frozen wastes to the burning depths, as Firestar stands firm against the hordes of hell. Her thought balloons have provided us with some great character beats so far and here is no exception, with her almost Claremont-esque rallying monologue (hold onto that thought, we’ll be returning to him later). I could talk at length about Ed McGuinness’ art and how perfect it is for this series but this issue spoils us rotten with 3/4 to full page spreads like this one, the next page even more so, as Angelica Jones let’s rip her (one would have thought completely pointless given the environment) powers and “makes it burn”. One thing I will say here though, and I’m not sure if it’s me getting older, or maybe a sign that the times are indeed a-changing, but Firestar’s costume is almost obscenely graphic. She’s essentially been drawn completely nude (quite where she finds her belt from at the end of the issue I don’t know, she can’t have pockets) with only the colourist and a jaunty collar to prove she does indeed have something on, even if it must be purely painted onto her.

Anyway, another page, another gorgeous 3/4 splash, and from beauty to the Beast. A frankly hulked-up, terrifying Beast, as Hank goes postal on Kurt’s ass. Much as Storm tries to tell him though, Nightcralwer’s having none of it; he knows his old friend is in still in there – after all “When one has as much mind as Dr Henry McCoy, there’s little chance you could ever run out”. This takes us to our first flashback and we return quite literally to the glory days of Chris Claremont’s epic Uncanny run. From the casual mentions of Harry’s Hideaway (X-Men bar of choice – going back as far chronologically anyway as Classic X-Men #4. And yes I obviously had to look that up. Back then the sign said Harry’s Hideout) and of Beast speaking of having to return to the Avengers, to the character changes (it’s nice seeing Hank back to his old, old blue self, as well as seeing a Jean that ‘knows’ why her friends are staying behind without instantly prying into their heads like her younger version is so eager to do over in ‘All-New’), you are instantly thrown back to a simpler time. It looks, feels, hell even smells like the classic X-Men of old, the ones that even if you’re too young to remember – real-time this would have to be set, when, mid to late 70s? – we’ve all read some if not all of Claremont’s seminal work which really defined this group of characters and still influences the titles to this day, not least of all Amazing X-Men. The fact that it’s inclusion here in flashback form feels right at home speaks volumes about the spirit of this book, but more on that later.

Back to the present and cue our first big reunion of the issue, the second best, and the gang is slowly coming together. The secret of the Bamfs is pieced together by Hank too, and while we could have worked out that Kurt was the one who sent them to the Jean Grey school in the first place, their actual origin revealed in the next scene is…so much more disturbing than you can even imagine.

“I need to pee. Do dead men need to pee? Maybe that’s my hell. Always having to pee.” Right there with you Bobby. As Iceman considers his fate he discovers that of Kurt’s. Cue another reunion (getting close now) and that disgusting origin of the adorable Bamfs. If you’ve been reading Aaron’s run on Wolverine and the X-Men, this reveal has been a long time coming, over 40 issues in fact, not to mention their general presence in the X-world of other titles since he reintroduced their concept (one originally conceived by? Yep, Claremont in Uncanny 153). To say it’s not at all what I was expecting is a gross (pun intended) exaggeration. Turns out the sweet, cuddly, I-want-one-of-my-own Bamfs are actually Hell maggots. Yep. “Living off the scabs of the damned and The Devil’s sewage”. Just let that visual sink in for a minute. All the nopes, am I right? If you can believe it they take an even darker turn as Kurt gets his vague on about what he’s had to sacrifice in order to, I guess, provide salvation (fitting for a Catholic like him) for the Red Bamfs. The obvious assumption is each and every one he’s saved and turned blue has taken a piece of his soul, but do we really want to burden Kurt with such a depressing facet as that when we’ve only just got the fun loving, swashbuckling X-Man back? Time will tell.

We return to Wolverine’s plight in the Tundra, and to the main event (come on as if you or Aaron himself thinks any otherwise). Logan is doing what he does best; not killing, surviving. “Don’t fall” commands Northstar, to which Wolverine promptly does. It doesn’t last long though, as he searches the depths of his soul to struggle on and – what I like to think is a frequent source of strength for him – he thinks of Kurt. Cue another flashback, this one a bit harder to pinpoint in time, which I suppose is the point – it could have been at any time throughout their friendship. They’re sat in a bar discussing the ever present subject of death. Wolverine knows he’ll die surrounded by blood and dead ninjas, not by a wife and children, proclaiming “it’s better if I die alone”. With Kurt’s words ringing in his ears (“no one wants to die alone”), his resolve hardens, his determination is set and Logan drags his body forward, not stopping until he saves Nightcrawler. In the end though it’s the other way around.

Wolverine looks up into the face of a little Bamf, and with a solitary tear rolling down his cheek he hears a familiar voice for the first time in what feels like forever. Turn the page to a deserved full page spread of my heart breaking, aka Logan using his last ounce of strength to hug his best friend. All. The. Feels.

Rather than just hug and accept the fact that one of their own has returned from the dead as if he’s come back from the shops like everyone else has done (I guess this isn’t the first time this has happened is it) it takes him a moment to wrap his head around it all, which is only human, and makes it feel even more rewarding. Get over it he does though, and with the promise of whiskey and evil pirates, the X-Men are finally all together to follow Captain Wagner into battle in issue 5.

Jason Aaron really pulls it out the bag with this one. This is exactly what I want not just from a superhero book, but from an X-Men book. There’s a reason the flashbacks to a better time fit in so well here, why being reminded of the greatness of Claremont’s early work isn’t a slap in the face and why seeing a glimpse of the X-Men in a simpler time doesn’t make you pine for days gone by, and that’s because those glory days have returned in the form of Amazing X-Men. Seeing a climb to dizzying heights they’ve not been privy to in a long while, the X franchise as a whole is having a renaissance. Bendis on ‘All-New’ and ‘Uncanny’ and Aaron himself on ‘Wolverine and…’ have brought them out of the depths of a schism and let them bask in the sun.

This issue itself is chock full of amazing characterisation, like Beast and Nightcrawler’s geeky extreme chess match (wasn’t that done on Big Bang Theory?), Firestar’s wish to remain an X-Man forever and Bobby’s hilarious conversation with himself. Combine that with Ed McGuinness’ stunning art (rarely do you see Storm looking quite as beautiful as she deserves to be, or Beast as scary, Nightcrawler as wiry and athletic, I could go on) and you have an issue as close to perfect as I ever want a comic to be.

In the words of Kurt Wagner himself, “let’s go be Amazing”. And boy do they.

 

10/10

 

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