By: Jason Aaron (writer), Nick Bradshaw (pencils), Walden Wong (inks), Laura Martin (colorist)
The Story: Who doesn’t love a good villainous breakdown?
The Review: Though the story continues to crawl along at a snail’s pace, each issue of Jason Aaron’s Hellfire Saga has been more engaging than the last. This penultimate issue is no exception and longtime readers of the odd-ball series will be happy to see that a seemingly satisfying end is in sight for this chapter in the tale.
This issue isn’t as cohesive as the last, amounting to little more than a series of brief snapshots from the siege of Hellfire Academy, but Aaron’s character work keeps it from suffering too much for it.
The action is big and impressive, but not fully realized. If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing Krakoa and a giant ice-Voltron fight off an army of living volcanos, you’ll see it here, however, the experience is distinctly two-dimensional. With so many battles to jump to and characters to revisit, there’s not time to give us more than single moments of combat.
The saving grace of this issue is Kade Kilgore. While the Black King of the new Hellfire Club has been a polarizing figure, I think that most will agree that ignoble defeat suits him better than smug threats and easy victories. Kilgore’s been built up into such a loathsome schemer that it’s great fun to watch the house that he built come tumbling down. But, then again, there is one more issue and I’m pretty excited to see it, having read the end of this one.
Nick Bradshaw’s art has been gradually improving on this title and, here, just short of the finish line, he’s clearly evolved into something more than he was when he began. Bradshaw brings detail and emotion to his cartoony style.
Walden Wong steps up as the issue’s sole inker and knocks it out of the park. His sharp, powerful lines combine with Laura Martin’s colors and Bradshaw’s ever improving pencils to make this one of the best looking issues of the series to date.
While the issue feels great in the moment, I worry that Aaron has kicked the can too far and that he won’t have the space he needs to conclude things next issue. The story has a strong sense of pace and tone that will likely read well in a trade – certainly better than over three months – but it’s concerning to see myself giving each issue the same comments about plot progression. It could wrap up beautifully, but if the arc falters at the finish, I might wish I’d given this issue a different score.
The Conclusion: Anchored by Kilgore’s meltdown, Wolverine and the X-Men #34 crawls to the peak of The Hellfire Saga, promising big things for next issue. This story is clearly written for trade, but I’m inclined to be forgiving in light of how much improved it’s been since it began. Strong art and a bunch of cute character moments make this a fun issue, but it’s probably the least necessary part of the arc.