If you were going to criticize “X-Men: Schism,” it would be for failing to convincingly divide up the X-Men between Wolverine and Cyclops before its final page. When Wolverine left Utopia, we caught a glimpse (but little more) of those he took with him, but the fate of a huge number of characters was left hanging in the air. Of those we knew were going, we had little understanding of why they were leaving. For a book about an ideological schism, it did very little to convince us there was any wider dissatisfaction within the X-Men that would actually lead to such a split.
Helpfully, “X-Men Regenesis” redresses the balance somewhat, giving almost every major cast member (with some notable omissions) a convincing motivation for following either Wolverine or Cyclops. For some, it is powerfully ideological. For others, it’s a simple matter of convenience. At least one is hoping a change of scenery does him good. There’s nothing quite as pitched as the fight between the two men in charge, but some characters’ emotions do run high.
In terms of surprises, well, we’ve all seen the covers. The surprises here aren’t so much in what individual characters choose, but the story paths they set down as a result of their choice. We all expected Psylocke to come out of “Schism” with a plot attached, given her appearance on both sides of the fence, but Husk? Cannonball? Toad? It all points to quite how thoroughly this has been thought through. Everyone’s going to have something to do, and as an X-Men fan, the idea of some lesser-used characters getting a moment in the spotlight excites me.
The best thing about the book, though, is the framing device, which takes the idea of the superhero fight as a metaphor and recurses it a level, detaching it from the literal setting entirely. It puts an extra level visual excitement on top of a book that could, quite easily, have been nothing but talking heads. We’ve seen the “leader assembles a team” issues a hundred times before, so it’s refreshing to get a slightly more original execution of one.
Indeed, the framing device really helps to highlight Tan’s strengths as an action-oriented artist. At their best, the pencils, coloring, and inking have an almost Kubert-esque look. Those panels specifically represent some of Tan’s best work yet. Unfortunately, the sequences where Cyclops and Wolverine recruit their team members are subtler, slower, and thus not as well-suited to Tan’s artwork. When not engaged in combat, his figures become stiffly posed, and his expressions are often hard to read. It doesn’t harm the book substantially, but it’s tough not to wonder if a different artist might have pulled it off more convincingly.
At 36 pages (and often quite wordy pages) this is a book with a lot of material in it, and readers will be satisfied by the depth, breadth and thought put into the characters’ decisions. Inevitably, there will be some choices fans disagree with, but in general Gillen makes even the apparent fudges (Storm on Cyclops’ team?) work on their own terms. For a book that could’ve been all about the destination, it manages to make the journey something substantially entertaining as well, and even for that reason alone it’s worth a look.