A review of the final issue of the Hellfire Saga.
As pet characters of writer Jason Aaron, the Hellfire kids have divided the X-Men fanbase from the start. Some have attacked the inherent ridiculousness of the concept, while others have insisted that's the point. Wherever you stand, asking them to serve as the main antagonists for 35 issues was always going to be a stretch, and at times Wolverine and the X-Men has suffered because of it. This latest issue highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the series to date, but ultimately makes a compelling case for its continued existence, paying off almost two years of plotting while pointing toward a bright future.
Wolverine and the X-Men #35 brings The Hellfire Saga to a close; along the way, the Hellfire kids are written out (at least for the foreseeable future), clearing the deck for whatever is planned post-Battle of the Atom. Despite many of the villains escaping the good guys score a fairly comprehensive victory, and get to return to the Jean Grey School with a renewed sense of purpose. There are watershed moments for Quentin Quire, Idie Okonkwo, and Broo, as well as a tease for the upcoming Amazing X-Men featuring everyone's favorite fuzzy blue elf.
There are also problems. Aaron and artist Nick Bradshaw had a lot of fun first introducing the extensive faculty of villains employed by the Hellfire Academy, but few of them served any actual purpose. Including Dog Logan and Sabretooth offered potential for a fascinating thematic contrast with Wolverine, but the idea was never adequately explored. Creating a distaff version of Mojo, a character little-loved in the first place, was an unnecessary diversion, as was bringing the likes of Sauron and Wendigo into the cast. And to top it off, the new students were one-note jokes deployed with increasingly diminishing returns, a tactic the series has been guilty of on a number of occasions.
Yet on the other hand, consider the evolution of Quentin Quire. It's easy to forget that Grant Morrison used Quire as a cypher, a disillusioned teenager expressing an idea that was prevalent throughout New X-Men: that maybe Charles Xavier's methods had become hopelessly outdated and ineffective. Aaron has developed Quire to the point where he's one of the most interesting, well-rounded characters across the entire line; having found something worth fighting for in Idie, he's showing signs of leaving his youthful rebellion behind and embracing his heroic destiny. He's also proof that Aaron does care about characterization amid all the craziness.
Although some excellent artists have worked on the title, Bradshaw has proven to be the best suited to the material. His cartoony style helps emphasize the lighter tone, but he also nails the emotional beats; Toad's anguish over Husk's breakdown is conveyed perfectly, for example. There are a couple of action scenes where the choreography could be clearer, but all-in-all he delivers strong work that's full of energy.
It's hard not to admire a book that attempts to marry outright silliness with heartfelt character moments, even if it doesn't always get the balance right. Not since X-Force/X-Statix
has the X-Men line been blessed with such an oddball ongoing title, and while Wolverine and the X-Men never quite reaches the heights of Peter Milligan's and Michael Allred's landmark series, at least it's aiming for similar territory. Which is reason enough to root for it in my eyes.
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