(Panini Books)

LOOKING back over the X-Men’s vast history and there are various adjectives which spring to mind when trying to describe their exploits over the decades: melodramatic, intense, convoluted, brooding and, yes, pretentious.

But how often have the mutant misfits adventures been described as funny and accessible – possibly the key words which spring to mind when reading the new Wolverine-led team title.

Following the events of Schism, which saw the X-Men’s allegiance divided between supporting the forces of Scott (Cyclops) Summers or Logan, aka Wolverine, the latter resolved to stop treating young mutants as potential soldiers in a never-ending war, but to go back to the principles upon which the X-Men were originally founded – educating troubled youngsters in how to use their powers for the betterment of the world.

The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning continues the original dream of Charles Xavier by bringing together a disparate collection of mutants and misfits under the guidance of experienced teachers including Henry (Beast) McCoy, Kitty (Shadowcat) Pryde and Bobby (Iceman) Drake, aided by a support staff made up of the likes of Doop and Toad, all overseen by the most unlikely headmaster of them all, James “Logan” Howlett.

Their first intake of pupils ranges from the aliens Kid Gladiator and “Broo” the Brood to the counter-culture revolutionary Quentin Quire and Apocalypse’s clone Genesis, a fascinating mish-mash of characters who represent the next generation of X-Men.

Although Wolverine is determined to keep his students away from conflict, events continue to conspire against his good intentions. The new cabal of the Hellfire Club, an alliance of sociopathic children with megalomaniacal tendencies, seems intent on destroying the school, actions which inevitably lead to the involvement of Logan’s pupils in defending their home…

Writer Jason Aaron has crafted a refreshingly new take on the X-Men, moving at least this part of the mutant world away from the po-faced navel-gazing which often consumes the line, and shaping a story which first and foremost concentrates on the characters rather than continuity, while remaining faithful to the team’s long history.

He is admirably supported by artist Chris Bachalo, who injects every page with a kinetic energy that ensures the story virtually leaps out at you, while playing up to the script’s focus on the protagonists by giving each of them a visual personality which shines through in their body language and expressions.

A celebration of all that is special about not only the X-Men, but mutant culture as a whole, this is probably one of the best books to come out of the franchise since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men back in 2001.