Don’t Stay in School: “Wolverine & the X-Men #31”

Say you’re a school that caters solely to a bunch of young, immature, superpowered teenagers with poor impulse control and underdeveloped critical thinking skills. Let’s ignore for a moment that anyone tasked with managing this endeavor is either insane, foolish, or just enjoys being hacked off all the time. How much harder would it be to turn these young superpowered teenagers into moral, upstanding members of society as opposed to training them to be evil, selfish, blood-thirsty reprobates?

Since its inception, the Jean Grey Institute has been doing things the hard way. Wolverine (who you could easily argue is insane, foolish, and enjoys being hacked off all the time) has been struggling with it throughout the pages of Wolverine & the X-men. It hasn’t exactly been a booming success. The school has nearly been blown up on several occasions, it has been attacked by aliens and cosmic forces, and most recently a couple of students have defected to a new school that is trying to do things the easy way, the Hellfire Academy.

In both the real and the fictional world, it’s much easier to turn teenagers into unfeeling sociopaths than it is to turn them into the kinds of ideals inspired by iconic characters like Superman. The Hellfire Academy knows this and has set up their school to do just that, swiping students from the Jean Grey Institute and even hiring agents from within the school. Because if they’re going to set an example for their students, they need to first show them how to give their rivals a sufficient walloping. Both Idie and Kid Omega joined up, although they also indicated that they may be trying to infiltrate the school before it tries to blow up the Jean Grey Institute…again.

In the current Marvel universe where mutants are randomly arrested like minorities in South Central Los Angeles and anyone who tries to make a global utopia with a cosmic force is thrown in jail, teenagers have plenty of reasons to be miscreants. In that sense the Hellfire Academy has a lot to work with. We saw in the previous issue of Wolverine & the X-men how the Hellfires had the likes of Starblood, Mystique, and Sabretooth at their disposal. They have so many ways they can frustrate the Jean Grey Institute and corrupt young teenagers that they could probably make a reality show of it on the network that shall not be named.

In Wolverine & the X-men #31, readers are offered a thorough tour of the new Hellfire Academy. It comes mostly through the skewed perspective of Kid Omega, who left the Jean Grey Institute in the previous issue to follow Idie. Why he’s following her is hard to surmise. Trying to guess at the intentions of any narcissistic teenage is hard enough, but in some respects he offers the perfect perspective for the Hellfire Academy.

The exploration of the Hellfire Academy is beautifully organized, offering a fairly comprehensive understanding of how this training ground for future Dr. Dooms operates. Mystique is essentially in the same role as Storm, but rather than teach gardening tips she encourages her students to get in touch with their inner narcissist. And when Kid Omega tests her resolve, she makes it clear that bullying is not only permitted in this school, it earns students extra credit. That offers a telling insight into the incentives in place at this school.

In addition to Mystique, the Hellfire Academy has plenty of devious staff members. It depicts science lessons with Sauron, (alien) biology lessons with Starblood, hunting with Dog Logan, hellish literature with Master Pandeomnium, public relations with Madame Mondo (basically Mojo but feminized), and study period with a very temperamental Husk. Even Toad is there, but sadly he’s still the janitor. You may feel sorry for him, but even future supervillains need squeaky clean floors.

This large cast of villains presents a pretty daunting challenge to the staff at the Jean Grey Institute, but they only show up in this comic briefly. After Kid Omega and Idie left, they’re understandably angered and yet, also downright lost. It leads Wolverine to question the very existence of the Jean Grey Institute. Now maybe this is just excessive melodrama on his part, but it nicely reflects the utter frustration he and the others experience in their thankless efforts to prevent future Magnetos and Sinisters. I imagine there are real schools out there that share his frustration when they’re unable to prevent students from losing their way. At its core, Wolverine & the X-men has always been about running a school and this latest challenge nicely reflects that.

It also reflects how poorly Kid Omega plans things out. Throughout the issue, he muses over how he’s going to accomplish his goal of helping Idie. It’s clear he hasn’t even thought things through, but he eventually manages to stick in the craw of enough people to get sent to the “principal’s” office. And it’s here where we learn that like some for-profit educational institutions, the whole point of the Hellfire Academy is to drive up demand for sentinels. Because if there are deranged mutants in the world, that scares people into buying killer robots. It sounds so cynical, yet so logical. In terms of a genuine business plan, I could not find any flaws that weren’t purely ethical in nature.

And that’s what makes this issue so enjoyable. It’s conveyed in a fun, light-hearted tone despite the very serious overtones of the story. And as crazy as the concepts are, it does actually form a coherent plot. There’s a lot of entertainment value for a comic that involves a school bent on creating evil mutants and it’s not just because Mystique is in a sexy teacher’s outfit. This issue is the first of the five-part “Hellfire Saga” and based on what it established, it’s shaping up to be a hell of a saga so to speak.

RATING 9 / 10