By: Jason Aaron (writer); Nick Bradshaw (pencils); Marc Deering, Walden Wong (Inks) Laura Martin (colorist) 

The Story: The Hellfire Club finds itself betrayed as its leader makes Oya a dangerous offer.

The Review: Over thirty issues in, it’s starting to feel like Jason Aaron has finally managed to get back in touch with what made me so excited about this series in the first place.

Jason Aaron’s lush imagination is at play again this month, building the Hellfire Club’s arsenal and sparking intrigue within the fold. The humor you know is still here, but most of the gags have a bittersweet quality. The whole run feels like it’s been leading to this, and there is a certain epic appeal to seeing the first rumbles of the turning tide.

Aaron’s handle on his characters is also much clearer this month. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of Idie Okonkwo. Though some of this issue’s narration could have been trimmed down, it does a fine job of showing just how horrifically effective Hellfire Academy can be. I think that’s crucial, since it was played for laughs for a whole issue last month.

Idie’s relationship with Kilgore becomes a battle for her very soul. After a year and a half of acting out of guilt or on behalf of others, we finally get a sense of what Idie wants. And while I’ve been critical of Toad’s regression under Aaron’s pen, it’s always satisfying to see such put upon characters have their moment of glory, so despite the artificiality of it all, I found it rather satisfying.

Nick Bradshaw’s pencils are very cartoony and vary drastically in terms of detail from panel to panel, but, more so than perhaps any other issue of the series, he captures the tone and energy of the story. This isn’t a comic that gives the illusion of movement very well. Aaron’s script clearly focused more on the emotional beats of the story than its sense of continuity. As a result it falls to Bradshaw to keep the tension high and make the action feel alive throughout this wordy issue. Luckily he comes through. Single panels stand in for entire fight scenes and victories feel substantial even if each side barely throws a single punch.

Bradshaw’s rendition of Kade Kilgore is especially improved. The sense of contradiction and child-like simplicity are highly apparent in his scenes. It contrasts beautifully with Quentin Quire’s struggles, marred by dank architecture and caked on dirt.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. WatXM #33 has time to play with pacing and tone because it knows that it’s got three more issues to wrap things up. It’s just relevant enough to punish you for skipping it, but not much more.

The Conclusion: The Hellfire Saga is finally picking up steam, returning a sense of purpose to this title. This is the kind of comic that you can find yourself cheering along to. That said, this is a wordy issue trying to fool you into thinking it’s all action. The issue is entirely dependent on tension, and if it doesn’t move you so, it will likely fall flat. Likewise, most of the progress in this issue is a matter of perspective. Still, the converging storylines make this a great issue for longtime readers of the title. Wolverine and the X-Men #33 takes me right back to the days of a youth spent reading manga with a season finale seriousness and an insistence that even in such dark moments, comics should be fun.

Grade: B

-Noah Sharma