Usually, when you pick up a comic that’s designed to be “all-ages”, you can be pretty sure the reality of the situation is that they’re aimed at young children, and it’s difficult for adults to find the complexity that they’ve come to expect from modern superhero comics. So when fans of X-Factor, one of Marvel’s most complex and adult superhero comics, started raving about Wolverine: First Class #18 (penned by X-Factor author, Peter David) my curiosity was more than piqued. So I picked it up.
And, well, I was pleasantly surprised. There’s no denying that it is, unashamedly an “all-ages” title – but David takes the Pixar approach to “all-ages”, crafting something that can be enjoyed on more than one level, aiming specific elements of the story towards more than one age group, rather than watering it down until it’s suitable for the most vulnerable. That the idea works at all is testament to David’s craftmanship.
For the kids, it’s a straightforward superhero team-up adventure as Wolverine, Kitty and Madrox try to track down one of Madrox’s wayward duplicates. For more grown-up X-Factor fans, it actually serves as a direct prequel to that series, telling a previously untold story of how Madrox’s abilities and outlook became what they are in X-Factor today. But it’s not just the continuity references that gear it towards – there are some fairly philosophical ideas about identity thrown in to give adult brains a little food for thought, while a scene where Wolverine confronts some movie pirates reads as a brief morality lesson for kids, or a hilarious piece of meta-commentary for those familiar with the events surrounding the release of the Wolverine movie.
Now, admittedly, it’s not got all the depth of a non all-ages comic. There’s an aura of deliberate campness around the whole endeavour, from Madrox’s old costume to the traditional “burning building” superhero rescue sequence. But it does work. Although it’s their title, Wolverine and Kitty are fairly incidental characters in this issue, with much of the focus going on Madrox. Artistically, it’s competent, but generic. The storytelling is good, the artwork is clear – it’s actually vastly more pleasing than many artists on regular Marvel Universe titles – but there’s a certain lack of individuality and style to it that will hopefully emerge as Portela grows as an artist.
It’s an unexpectedly good comic coming from a publishing initiative I’d previously written off as ignorable chaff. If David can find excuses for more stories along these lines, well, I’d actually be happy to buy more. A brilliant use of the format.