I expected to enjoy “The Hellfire Saga,” Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw’s new storyline in “Wolverine and the X-Men,” if only because Aaron and Bradshaw have worked well together on this title. But in reading “Wolverine and the X-Men” #31, I wasn’t expecting a pitch-perfect parody of this title’s earlier introduction to the Jean Grey School. Even better, Aaron and Bradshaw don’t lose track of the bigger picture.
With Quentin Quire going undercover at the new Hellfire Academy, he and fellow new student Snot get a whirlwind tour of the different classes offered by the various villains on the staff of the school. It reminds me so much of the earliest issues of “Wolverine and the X-Men” (where readers got the same sort of montage for the Jean Grey School) that it’s got to be a deliberate callback. Like with the Jean Grey School introduction, glimpses of what’s happening at the Hellfire Academy are pretty funny — between warnings to not sell your soul before getting competing offers, physical education classes involving volcanos and quicksand, and Sauron issuing demerits in the form of stealing a student’s life force. It’s ridiculously over the top, and that’s a good thing.
At the same time, though, Aaron doesn’t forget he has a bigger story to tell. Quentin and Idie’s attempts to discover who shot Broo are still underway, and the rest of the X-Men are trying to find their missing students. There’s momentum here, and even some of the minor characters like Toad are getting their own moment in the spotlight. It’s Husk and Toad among the staff that end up standing out the most, because of their expectations on what they’ll find and what they end up doing. They’re both just as out-of-place at the Hellfire Academy as they were at the Jean Grey School, and I can’t help but think that they’ll be integral to the conclusion. Most of the other teachers feel like a bit of a throwaway, although with Mystique now appearing here, “Astonishing X-Men” and “All-New X-Men” all at the same, it does make you wonder if there might not have been a better character to swap in for her.
Bradshaw’s pencils are as great as always. I loved his early issues of “Wolverine and the X-Men” which reminded me so much of Arthur Adams’ comics, but since then his art has developed even more of a style of its own. We still get those handsome thin lines — just check out those crisp curls in Mystique’s hair, which is drawn beautifully — but there’s a bit of looseness to them now that feels like Bradshaw breaking out on his own. He’s still quite good with action, too; the scene near the end of the comic where Quentin is attacked by a former ally works not just because of the blast coming out of nowhere, but rather the force in which Bradshaw draws it. As Quentin is literally pushed out of the panel into the gutters, the flow of material around him looks wonderfully disgusting and fluid; Quentin’s protecting of his face feels natural because of how strong that attack is all around him.
With a familiar artifact from “Uncanny X-Men” situated in the cliffhanger that’s been gone since the early ’90s, Aaron provides not only a nice callback for long-time readers but also a storyline in which anything and everything can happen. After an all right prologue in the previous issue, this first official chapter of “The Hellfire Saga” has grabbed my attention quite nicely. Bring it on, Hellfire Club.