With the New 52 entering it’s second year and the newfound status quo of Marvel Now having enough time to settle in, both DC and Marvel are trying to find ways to up the stakes in their respective universes. The problem with both is trying to find a way to respect the past while looking forward. Marvel has had a much easier time with the balance, namely because the timeline hasn’t been reset but has made a concentrated effort to make their books friendly to new readers but DC’s slightly unexplained past continuity allows them to play fast and loose with the rules of the timeline.
The conclusion of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and The X-Men #35 is in a difficult place. One of the few Marvel series to survive the Marvel Now relaunch, the series has always thrived on the company’s rich mutant history. Going back to the idea of a school and safe haven for the mutant population. The now concluded Hellfire Saga has paid off storylines from the last year, even going back as far as the first issue and Kade Killgore’s threat to destroy the Jean Grey School.
There’s a satisfying sense of completion to The Hellfire Saga, with the return of Brood’s intelligence, Quentin Quire’s longstanding struggle between heroism and rebellion and the slow dissatisfaction of many of the teen members of the Hellfire Club. Some of these characterizations date back to 2011’s Schism event and others go as far as Kurt’s death in Messiah Complex. It’s nice to see a book that pays so much attention to a franchise’s past in this day and age but what’s more important is how much attention is paid to the book’s internal continuity. The emotional payoff of Broo’s return is a moment which only has so much impact because of the way the last 17 issues of the book have featured characters struggling with their companions status.
Wolverine and the X-Men #35 is all about creating an ending and, in some ways, a new start. The appearance of Kurt at two points in the book is a tease for Aaron’s upcoming Amazing X-Men but the issue itself is mostly focusing on tying up a variety of story threads. The only noticeable loose end is the revolt of the White Queen and Kade Kilgore’s entrapment in the Siege Perilous. It’s an interesting move to create an issue which feels like a finale, particularly with the rest of Marvel’s line seemingly setting up more with each consecutive issue.
Geoff Johns has struggled to set up some consistency within the DC universe in some of the company’s biggest books, namely Green Lantern, Justice League and Justice League of America. The New 52 hasn’t given a lot of time to longstanding character interactions and storylines, which is a double edged sword. In one way, there’s room to overlook or acknowledge past stories without addressing them and, in others, it forces readers to struggle to deal with the variety of continuity complications intrinsic to the revamp.
Justice League #23 is clearly an issue long in the making and very aware of the universe’s age. From the opening pages, Johns sets up the League’s backstory, including their battle with Darkseid in the series’ first 6 issues as well as their battle with Starro in The Brave and The Bold #28 in 1960. It’s a canny piece of establishing the team’s shared universe and goes a long way in showing the tragedy the teams befalls after interacting with Pandora’s Box.
Johns does a great job in letting the teams’ short histories speak for themselves, with the mutual suspicion between Superman and Batman paying off, Kal’s tenuous relationship with Wonder Woman, the relative short tenure of Simon as a Green Lantern, Constantine’s dangerous work on both sides of ARGUS and the Atom’s mysterious allegiances. It’s smart work for a series which hasn’t gotten enough credit for the way it tries to link a large series of characters.
Johns’ attention to character details leaves all of the Leagues broken and battered by issues end and makes the reveal of the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 into a truly dangerous, powerful moment. There’s real promise sense of dread, like the heroes have truly failed to stop evil at issue’s end and using the potential of characters and a fresh, still relatively uncharted universe elicits a sense of danger and fear of the unknown that would have been difficult in the Pre-New-52 timeline. It’s an impressive feat and the only thing holding the book back is a somewhat unfinished plot made necessary by the continued need for cliffhangers.
Justice League #23 and Wolverine and the X-Men #35 both build endings out of potent beginnings, drawing characters’ histories, regardless of how long or brief, into focus to cause the most potent dangers and the most powerful denouements. It’s a sight mostly unseen in mainstream super-hero comics and the power heroes can have, whether or not they stop evil or are destroyed by it.