“Wolverine and the X-Men” #23 by Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw concludes the three-part storyline about the Murder Circus which has been driven by the growing alliance between an increasingly violent Idie and the Hellfire Club’s Maximilian Von Katzenelnbogen, the last descendant of the Frankenstein family.
As an arc, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is too far away from what you might consider an X-Men story to be entirely successful. The characters are magically brainwashed into being circus performers while Frankenstein’s Monster attempts to track down and kill the younger Hellfire club member, which plays to the themes and ideas behind the X-Men in absolutely no observable way.
The interplay between Idie and Max, two people who should be mortal enemies, is at least interesting enough to keep the book’s chances alive. By the end of the issue, Idie’s slide towards wickedness is accelerated, while Max is the first member of the Hellfire club to acquire a two-dimensional character. The book’s major subplots even take another step forward, which is something this title has been good at doing — it’s rewarding for long-time readers.
Aaron has always had fun with this book, but three issues of the X-Men at the circus is arguably the point where he’s having more fun than the readers. One issue of Wolverine in clown make-up is funny. Two, a little less so. By the third, readers are more than tired of the joke. The cast is too large for everyone to have a decent role in the story, and the concept is too crazy to really retain reader interest alone.
It certainly helps the story that “Wolverine and the X-Men’s” art can carry such weird concepts without faltering. In many ways, it seems like it’s been written specifically for the artists — for the detailed-yet-cartoonish Bradshaw and the vivid colouring of Laura Martin. It’s an over-the-top story, and one that requires over-the-top art.
It’s a testament to the creativity and capability of the book’s team that this issue works at all, but it’s perhaps a step too far into the weird, even for a series that typically embraces such things. It worked better that it should have, but let’s hope this was an interlude, not the new norm.