Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wolverine: First Class #2

The latest series in a long line to focus on telling the forgotten stories of years gone by, Wolverine: First Class returns readers to the Xavier Mansion of the mid 1980's. Although the marquee on the cover reads Wolverine, the focus of this story is young Kitty Pryde, with guest shots from a number of other team members from that era thrown in sporadically.

I'm getting a little tired of the trend that's been developing around this style of "forgotten adventure" storytelling, but First Class is a bit different in that it's not trying to reinvent the wheel, nor is it concerning itself with a very weighty subject. Naturally, it's not all fun and games, but the majority of the issue is a rare glimpse at happier moments behind the scenes, which is a welcome change from the doom and gloom that typically follows the team. On a few occasions the tone of the book seems inappropriate for its characters (I can't imagine anyone throwing a surprise birthday party for Logan) but writer Fred Van Lente makes up for it by adding a little depth to these familiar faces. I'd never really thought about it, but it makes sense that Storm wouldn't have a need for a driver's license… if you can propel yourself through the air with just a thought, the wait at the DMV starts to seem a bit unnecessary.

Occasionally, the writer takes these gimmicks a bit too far, especially with the ridiculously themed restaurant that Logan visits in the second half of the story, but these excesses are kept in short doses so they never become more than a momentary interruption. And every so often, the writer surprises you when one of those gimmicks really pays off. When Sabretooth shoved a fistful of wasabi up Logan's nose, I thought he was just being an asshole… until he snickered and hid, reveling in the knowledge that he'd stolen his enemy's powerful sense of smell.

I'm happy to note that the writer takes great care to maintain the setting of the story in the '80s, too. While I've seen a flashback sequence that features modern technology more times than I'd like to admit, Van Lente takes every opportunity to remind us that this story took place over twenty years ago. Kitty's computer is a clunky old tower with a fat CRT monitor. Logan's wardrobe is yellow and brown-dominated. Mariko's cel phone looks like a brick. Everything fits, and that does a lot to immerse readers into the storytelling.

Andrea Di Vito's artwork is a good pairing for the lighter tone of Van Lente's story. It's smooth and stylistic, with a minimal amount of linework but a big emphasis on personality. Di Vito gives each character a unique identity through body language and clothing alone, and works through some borderline cheesy material in a way that keeps the read upbeat and enticing. His work benefits tremendously from Laura Cillari's beautiful colors and textures, which enhance his minimal backdrops just enough to give them depth without losing the minimal approach of the surrounding artwork. While Di Vito falls back on a solid black page border that doesn't feel appropriate considering the tone of the book, that's really his only mistake… and it's a minor one at that.

I was pleasantly surprised by First Class. What looked at first glance to be a frilly, needlessly upbeat look at an over-documented era in the X-Men's past is actually an entertaining ride down memory lane. It's not going to blow your socks off, but it's at least a pleasant diversion. Borrow it if you've got the chance, or at least give it a long look on the shelves.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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