Review: Wolverine and the X-Men #41 – Toad and Husk’s New Start
✔ Husk, Max Frankenstein, and Manuel Enduque return to the story after long absences
✔ Jason Aaron writes a sympathetic, almost endearing Toad, and his convincingly complicated relationship with Husk
✔ Matt Milla's colors shine in the Jean Grey School teachers' costumes and in action scenes
✘ The main cast of Jean Grey School teachers and students barely appears in this issue
✘ Few action scenes
✘ Milla's grey-tone backgrounds fit Toad's melancholy but seem too dour for a penultimate issue
Wolverine and the X-Men’s penultimate issue — at least of Jason Aaron’s run — shifts focus from the main cast of Jean Grey School teachers and students to Toad, Husk, Max Frankenstein, and Manuel Enduque. One of the strengths of the Marvel Universe is that few villains are simply pure evil. Magneto is a traumatized grown boy who has seen his affinity groups hunted and executed. Mystique has always been marginalized for her appearance, and dismissed from society despite her intelligence and shrewd leadership. Toad has played lackey for other villains, with little chance to be his own person. This issue shows Toad is a man unwanted by most, yet who has the capacity to love someone deeply. The object of his love is Husk.
Husk has not shown up much in X-Men comics the past couple years outside of Wolverine and the X-Men. This is unfortunate because she captures the heart of what classic mutants like Nightcrawler and Angel always experienced: rejection due to appearance. Mutants who can safely pass in society, like Psylocke and Kitty Pryde, fit the powered-but-normal superhero archetype of those who could just as easily fill an Avengers team instead of the X-Men. It is for this reason that Husk is important to the Marvel U. Aaron writes her in this issue as convincingly young and unsure of herself, yet wanting Toad to know her as she figures it all out. Husk seems desperately willing to give someone a second chance. This is not surprising, given that Husk’s life has been chaotic and she has frequently been embarrassed due to the lack of control over her body morphing abilities. She understands Toad’s feelings of humiliation.
Aaron’s writing really excels in all the panels where Toad speaks. For a character with a reputation for being ineloquent, Mortimer has the most poignant lines of any character in this issue. The Marvel Universe has seen many characters cross from criminal to hero — Emma Frost, Scarlet Witch, and Black Widow, to name a few. Toad’s journey has been more faltering, but Aaron writes a sympathetic character. We as readers want to believe that Toad has good in him, and we want to see him succeed at being good.
Pepe Larraz, Todd Nauck, and Matt Milla’s art seems underutilized in this issue. Milla’s colors really shine when the panels call for a brighter palette, such as the lightning-like beams shooting out of the energy bots, Iceman’s appearance, and Wolverine’s costume. Rachel Grey’s costume and psionic weapons look fantastic. However, the overall artistic tone of this issue is grey and muted, almost foggy. In all of the first half of this issue, Westchester County in the background looks like it is wrapped in the dense fog of Sleepy Hollow.
One intriguing point of social commentary: the two villains in this story, Max and Manuel, are the only humans amidst the broader cast of good mutants. As with the Purifiers recently seen in All-New X-Men #19-21, it is the self-proclaimed “normal” people who have the capacity to be truly evil. It is the marginalized who prove they are good. The humans’ insistence to declare themselves normal and others abnormal is the heart of discrimination and hate. I am glad that this plot point, which is a cornerstone in the Marvel U, remains.
This issue gets a 6.5, for Aaron’s excellent writing in the voice of Toad, Husk’s authentic struggles, but not enough action and an overall dour artistic vibe.