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Wolverine Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews ~ Page One
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"I'm the best there is at what I do...but what I do isn't very nice..."

Wolverine published by Marvel Comics

For other appearances see
The X-Men (of course), as well as Infinity Gauntlet


 


X-Men: Kitty Pryde and Wolverine 2008 (HC TPB) 152 pages

Written by Chris Claremont. Illustrated by Allen Milgrom.
Colours: Glynis Oliver Wein. Letters: Tom Orzechowski, with Joe Rosen. Editor: Ann Nocenti.

Reprinting the six-issue mini-series (1984-1985)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

The decisions behind comic book collections these days can be as mysterious as any super hero adventure. This mini-series was originally published in 1984 -- only the second series to feature Wolverine's name in the title -- yet wasn't collected until 2008! This despite Wolverine having been a cash cow for Marvel for years, his name plastered on a zillion series, mini-series and one-shots.

Maybe now seemed like a good time, tying into the current retro series, Wolverine: First Class, which focuses on the relationship between Kitty and Wolverine. Though why it was released as X-Men: Kitty Pryde and Wolverine as opposed to simply Kitty Pryde and Wolverine is another question. (Kitty being one of those characters who's had a number of aliases -- in this series announcing she is to be called "Shadowcat" -- but none that stuck and she remains to this day simply Kitty Pryde). Maybe it was all just to tie it in better with the movie franchise (where even the Wolverine movie was called "X-Men Origins: Wolverine").

Anyhoo...

Set amid the comics of the time (including a few inconsequential references to some Thor comics), with Kitty still the (relatively) young, novice member of the X-Men, the story has Kitty finding her dad with some Japanese mobsters. She pursues them all to Japan, but finds herself in over her head -- particularly once she is captured and brainwashed by a mysterious, possibly immortal ninja named Ogun. Which is when Wolverine shows up -- Wolvy having a history with Ogun himself.

The fact that it took almost a quarter of a century to be reprinted might suggest that, well, this sucks. But it doesn't.

Claremont was very much at the top of the field in his heyday, but even then his penchant for verbosity could be a blessing and a curse. It gave you a lot for your money, his stories often aspiring to be more than just a disposable read while you finished your slurpy at the 7-11 -- but it could also be overwritten, with long, clunky monologues that resembled nothing people would really say. But here, he keeps better reign on that. Yes, it's verbose, with dense word balloons crammed next to the characters, but the characters -- particularly Kitty -- remain mostly in character. Actually, it's only really toward the end that the writing gets completely away from him, including teenage Kitty calling Wolverine "my dear, dear friend" -- yeah, that's how teens talk (maybe in Anne of Green Gables).

As only the second Wolverine-centric mini-series, it acts as a thematic sequel to the first. Both take place in Japan, both feature the (rather curious) wild n' crazy female ronin, Yukio, in the cast...and both have a lot of talk about honour and duty and all those martial arts (and vaguely Nietzschean) ideas.

Wolverine's transformation from the beer guzzling brawler of the early X-Men comics into the quasi-samurai of his solo appearances was a bit awkward, as was the kind of haphazard way his backstory was added to -- here introducing Ogun, a guy never previously mentioned, as someone who was like a father and brother to him. There's also the kind of curious way that Wolverine and Yukio are clearly sleeping together, yet Wolverine and Mariko are still together. I guess Claremont felt with Wolverine's backstory as a secret agent, giving him a James Bond penchant for polygamous relationships wasn't a problem!

So the story has Wolverine having to free Kitty from Ogun's thrall, leading to an extended sequence of Wolverine trying to rebuild Kitty's body and spirit "Karate Kid" style (as Kitty snaps, "You're too tall -- an' too darn ugly -- to be Yoda!"). It's all tough love, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" sort of stuff, which can be both interesting and provocative...and kind of creepy and trite. In fact, when Wolverine goes into full sensei mode and chastises Kitty's father, suggesting he is unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions like a real man should, you can wonder about the dynamics. I mean, Wolverine's killed scores of people...and never done a lick of jail time (or even presented himself for trial to be exonerated). Not sure he's the guy to get all pious about personal responsibility.

The series is very much about character and philosophy -- there's lots of action, too, of course. And Claremont has clearly put a lot of thought into it, and his Japan which, though doubtless cliched and stereotypical, is nonetheless researched, from references to Pachinko parlours to the real life swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. But it's also kind of familiar. To be fair, perhaps less so then, than now, but still... And with the final showdown between Wolverine and Ogun, a battle that takes most of the final issue, the resolution is a bit weak, with Wolverine's triumph having less to do with any character growth or epiphany...and just Wolverine winning by the way he always does.

But as a story, it trundles along, balancing the action and the introspection, and with Claremont effectively shifting between the disparate personalities of his two title heroes.

Following on the heels of people like Frank Miller, John Byrne and others, Al Milgrom might seem like an odd choice. Milgrom is a guy whose pencils benefitted from a good inker, and whose inks could be effective over the right pencils...but maybe shouldn't have been inking his own pencils. Still, the first issue starts out reasonably well, even stylish. Milgrom affects a crude, thick ink style, but shows some nice eye for composition and panel arrangement. And that continues throughout, but his actual drawings get cruder, so that you find yourself looking at the images to tell the story, not because the pictures are pretty to look at. In a review of this in the book, The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide, they refer to Milgrom "euphemistically drawing" the comic. That's harsh. He does do a decent job with the story telling and composition. And he's arguably hamstrung by the density of Claremont's script, forcing a lot of pages to be composed of a lot of little panels. But, on a guess, if there was anything that kept this off the collections roster for so long, it was probably the visuals.

I bought this when it first came out decades ago, and had been meaning to read it again in recent years. And so I remain a little mixed on it. Given the length (six issues) and verbosity, it nonetheless moves along well, the story snaking along with a few twists and turns. But the fact that I kept putting off re-reading it for so long indicates I didn't really have any strong feelings for it in my memory, either.

So the result? A better than decent thriller, with effective realizations of Kitty and Wolverine, and a mix of action, character and exotic, Eastern philosophy. And if Millgrom's art simply supports the script more than enhances it, that's not always a bad thing.

This is a review based on the story as it was originally serialized in the comics.

Original cover price: $__ USA.


cover by Leon & MartinbroughLogan: Path of the Warlord 1996 (SC GN) 49 pages

Written by Howard Mackie. Pencils by John Paul Leon. Inks by Shawn Martinbrough.
Colours: Gregory Wright. Letters: Richard Starkings. Editor: Mark Powers.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Wolverine, of course, started out as a "guest star" character in a couple of Hulk comics, became a member of a revived (and soon to be mega-successful) version of the X-Men, where he became one of the most popular characters, eventually landing his own long running comic (the only X-Men to successfully carry his own series, I believe) as well as being sufficiently commercial that even as the X-Men team has been broken up into various groupings, the Marvel brass still manage to make him be a member of most of them! Along the way, the feral, occasionally amnesiac, anti-hero has had his background slowly -- and enigmatically -- developed, explaining how his mutant healing factor makes him long lived and how, before becoming a super hero, he was a mercenary, soldier and secret agent for the Canadian government.

Which then brings us to the idea that Marvel has used that history to release occasional "retro" stories about Wolverine's pre-costumed hero days (hence why these projects are sometimes labelled "Logan" as opposed to "Wolverine").

Such as this...Logan: Path of the Warlord.

The advantage to such stories is that, though they might be laced with little cryptic elements meant to have resonance for hardcore fans, foreshadowing already established events, or fleshing out previously hinted at previous incidents, they are, in other ways, largely self-contained, not directly related to the morass of cross-wired continuity as are most contemporary-set X-comics.

You can read it just for itself, with no more prior knowledge than a vague understanding of who Logan is (and even that probably isn't essential as the gist of the character is explained as you go). Heck, even the time period seems vague (it seems modern but is supposed to be set before Logan became Wolverine)

The story has Logan working as a freelance operative wrapping up a mission for a private firm -- a need to know mission, and his employers feel he doesn't need to know the what or the why. Cut to a few years later, and Logan is drawn back into the matter, finally learning more about the secrets involved...including inter-dimensional travel. I'm being deliberately vague because I knew nothing about the plot -- even the back cover description is oblique -- and part of the fun is letting the story unfold.

And the result is largely enjoyable.

Without the costume, and this being before he acquired his claws, Logan is basically a James Bond type (albeit with hyper senses and super fast healing) so the story starts out with the brooding, sober ambience of a spy story. Even as the plot becomes more outlandish and Flash Gordon-esque, it still manages to retain that aura, perhaps because Logan is surprised by the notion of inter-dimensional travel whereas a super hero might take it more in stride.

The dialogue is decent enough, the pacing brisk. The story might not be "War and Peace", but is sufficiently developed and complex to fill out its 49 pages (the final page is printed on the inside back cover). As well, there is some attention to characterization -- of Logan and others -- and themes to give it more weight than just an action movie in comics. In fact, writer Howard Mackie almost seems as though he didn't get the memo. Because although this has a "spy story" flavour, with Logan shooting it out with lethal force at times, an underlying theme is Logan trying to control his inner beast, preferring to knock out opponents rather than kill them.

Yet Marvel's usual message about Wolverine is that he's supposed to be sooo kewl 'cause unlike most super heroes, he doesn't mind killing -- he kind of likes it. And the fans are supposed to think that makes him such a neat-o bad ass. And all is right with the world.

Sorry...did that sound snide?

Anyway, Mackie's approach is pleasantly refreshing.

The art is by John Paul Leon whose work is drenched in a haunting atmosphere and full of deep, moody shadows and eclectic angles. The basic drawing may be a bit too murky at times, a lot of scenes take you a moment to quite figure out what you're looking at, particularly in the fight scenes. I've seen other work from Leon that had a better grip on mixing the shadow drenched mood with narrative clarity (maybe inker Shawn Martinbrough went a bit over board on the ink). Yet for all that there are weaknesses to the art, I think it sells the story more than it hurts it, because there is a palpable atmosphere at work that helps lend of a sense of gravatus to Mackie's script, capturing the feel of a brooding spy story and maintaining that sense of haunting mood even as it segues into the more fantastical, colourful elements. The colours by Gregory Wright also add to the moodiness.

Ultimately, this is one of those things which I picked up, largely on a whim in the discount bin (finding no reviews or even references to it) and found it an eminently readable, even engrossing tale, heavy on mood, mixing spy antics with SF and some character exploration.

Original cover price:$8.35 CDN./ $$5.95 USA.


coverLogan: Shadow Society 1996 (SC GN) 48 pages

Written by Mark Jason (story Howard Mackie). Illustrated by Tomm Coker & Keith Aiken, with Octavio Cariello.
Colours: Christie Scheele. Letters: Richard Starkings. Editor: Mark Bernardo, Mark Powers.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Logan: Shadow Society is a Wolverine one-shot set before he became the super hero Wolverine (hence why it's called "Logan"). Set during Logan's days as a secret agent for the Canadian government, it has him investigating a cryptic conspiracy along with U.S. agent Carol Danvers (likewise, long before gaining super powers and becoming Ms. Marvel) -- a conspiracy that relates to some rumoured, are-they-fact-or-fiction? off shoot of humanity...mutants.

And it's an odd little beastie.

As the synopsis indicates, this is not only set before Logan became Wolverine (or even his earlier nom-du-costume, Weapon X), but before the world even knew about the existence of mutants. And the reason I say it's odd is because that very concept raises all sorts of continuity questions. I mean, when is the story set, date-wise? The characters seem to dress in relatively modern fashions. In one, brief cameo we see Warren Worthington III (a.k.a. the X-Men Angel)...and he's only supposed to be about ten years old, indicating this is set years before the creation of the X-Men...yet is Carol Danvers really supposed to be that old? (The story suggests she's young for her position...but even that seems kind of hard to swallow, when Logan suggests their relationship already goes way back...yet she's not old enough to drink in some states!)

In a way, it can almost read better like one of DC's Elseworlds stories -- you know, taking familiar characters but putting them in realities that don't quite conform to the accepted canon. Yet, conversely, a lot of the story's significance and resonance seems to derive from it's foreshadowing of later X-Men continuity (building to a final scene that borders on an "in joke")!

Given Logan's background as a government agent, and given the then-hit TV series, The X-Files, presumably someone at Marvel thought it'd be cool to do an X-Men/Wolverine story as a kind of X-Files conspiracy tale. And taken on that level, it can be sort of fun, with an appropriate murky, cryptic mood. But in execution it can be a little too murky, where writer's Jason and Mackie seem to leave things vague, precisely because they're not sure how it works themselves. At the same time, the basic plot and story development is kind of simplistic, building to a perfunctory showdown with Wolverine's ubiquitous arch foe, Sabretooth (yet this isn't even supposed to be their first meeting, as they're already supposed to know each other). A showdown which, by nature of Sabretooth being a recurring adversary, doesn't really resolve much.

The art is kind of like the story itself...mixes of strengths and weaknesses. There's an appealing photo-realism to the art, mixed with an atmospheric use of shadows that puts one in mind a bit of Jae Lee or someone, and suits the X-Files tone. Yet one gets the impression the artists rely a bit too much on photo-reference material, and aren't too particular about the images they're referencing, as there are spots where a characters' expression, or body language, doesn't really seem relevant to the scene. (And one minor character who seems patterned after Ronald Lacey in Raiders of the Lost Ark).

I closed the book with a kind of mixed feeling. On the one hand, the mood and kind of spooky espionage tone can be kind of interesting, and the pacing is decent. On the other hand, as a story, it can seem a bit too unspecific and inconsequential. Raising a few continuity problems...even as it seems aimed at hardcore continuity fans. And, of course, I got this in the discount bin, so it didn't cost me much.

So, for Wolverine fans, it might be a fun, off beat addition to the collection...but others probably won't get much out of it.

Original cover price: $8.35 CDN./ $5.95 US


Origin  2002 (HC & SC TPB) 160 pages

cover by Kubert, etc.Written by Paul Jenkins (story Jenkins, Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada). Pencils by Adam Kubert.
Digital painting: Richard Isanove. Letters: various. Editor: Mike Marts.

Reprinting the six issue mini-series (with covers)

Additional notes: commentaries by Tom DeSanto (co-writer X-Men movie), Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Wolverine was created by Len Wein in the pages of the Incredible Hulk; when Wein helped overhaul the X-Men in the late 1970s, he made the Canadian Wolverine one of the founding members of the new, multi-national team. Nowadays the X-Men franchise (with various spin-off titles) is the backbone of Marvel comics, and Wolverine has his own title, was heavily featured in the X-Men movie, and is arguably the company's most popular character not created by Stan Lee in the 1960s. All this, without having an origin story.

Calling on my scattered memory of Wolverine stories, one of his superpowers is that he ages slowly, meaning his true age is unknown. He also has no memory of his early years, his recollections beginning when he was a wild man living in the wilds of Canada, being befriended by James Hudson, founder of Alpha Flight. I think that's the basics, though some of that may have been changed over the years. Heck, in Wolverine's first solo mini-series, he refers to knowing who his father was...but that's no longer supposed to be true. Wolverine has learned various things about his past, but never his very beginnings.

Now Marvel tries to answer that. However, this isn't just meant to be a super hero adventure, but literature in a sequential art form. Even the minimalist title -- Origin -- is grandiose, as if there can only be one character in all comicdom that it's about (although inside the full title is Wolverine: Origin). In some of the accompanying commentaries, it's claimed Marvel decided to tackle the story -- and risk ruining the character's mystique -- because it was a risk, to send a message that the old Marvel, after years of seeming too staid, was back. Another motive was that with the X-Men movie franchise in full swing, they wanted to provide an official origin before Hollywood beat them to it. That latter explanation, though more mercenary, sounds a tad more plausible than the first.

The result is quite promising at first, ambitious and audacious, but not an unqualified success.

Instead of four-colour fisticuffs, Origin begins as if it's a superhero origin as written by, say, one of the Bronte sisters. It begins on a wealthy estate in the 19th Century, as young Rose comes to join the household staff. In true gothic style, there are brooding undercurrents and family secrets. An unlikely three-way friendship is formed between Rose, the sickly son of the master of the estate, and the rough and tumble son of the gardener. There's little action in the first part, but plenty to keep one's interest in the various characters, and a certain complexity applied to many of them. Particularly the gardener's son who, abused by his father, is a tragic figure, both hero and villain. Eventually things come to a head, and Rose and the boy- who-will-be-Wolverine flee, finding work in a remote mining camp and the literary inspiration seems to shift from Bronte to Jack London.

Up to this point, it's pretty effective, even if it seems too self- conscious of its reach for greatness. And it delivers a particularly nice mid- story twist. Adam Kubert's art is unusually evocative of his father, Joe Kubert -- and that's a compliment. The senior Kubert being precisely the sort of artist who would suit this non-superhero superhero story. Blended with the pseudo-painted colouring, the story is visually atmospheric, evoking equal parts gothic melodrama and Tom Sawyer, with the children protagonists particularly well rendered, and lots of scenes of constricted beams of light stabbing into dark rooms, as if trying, and failing, to illuminate the secrets.

Like a lot of American depictions of Canada, it's unclear how familiar Jenkins and company are with their northern neighbour. I can't claim to be an expert on late 19th Century Canada, but the early part of the story is so clearly modelled after a British milieu in dialect and class conflict, that it's a surprise when, later, the reader learns it was Alberta all along (I could maybe easier believe it as 19th Century Ontario). It's a pleasant surprise, though. Given that Wolverine is one of the most famous "Canadian" characters in pop culture, it's nice Marvel decided to keep him that way (as opposed to having him be English or American by birth).

Unfortunately, when the story hits the mining camp, it loses some of its impetus. The characterization isn't as complex, or unexpected -- Wolverine incites the ire of a local buully who's motivation is that, well, he's the local bully. And the plot loses much drive -- it's not entirely clear what we're waiting for. The problem with telling Wolverine's "origin" is: what constitutes his origin? Being born with latent powers, we're not waiting to see how he becomes Wolverine. And though we're waiting to see how he ends up a wild man in the woods, it's not really that gripping a question. Wolverine already demonstrates feral leanings, running with a wolf pack. So, although something does sever his ties with civilization, there's a sense it would've happened regardless.

Characterization also is uneven, as often seems to be the case with modern comics that think they're sophisticated, but put the trappings of sophistication before the substance. The story is narrated by Rose in her diary, but Wolverine is often depicted in a hands off way, without Jenkins putting us into his head with words, and the relationship between the two is not totally developed. Early on we assume Wolverine will fall for Rose -- her red hair foreshadowing his later infatuation with fellow X-Man, Jean Grey. But as the story progresses, nothing is really developed beyond the platonic, so that when Wolverine belatedly announces he always figured they'd end up together...it, frankly, comes out of nowhere. If love, requited and/or unrequited, was going to be part of the story, Jenkins needed to give it more focus.

Another curious thing is how oblique the first few chapters are. Although one can infer relationships and attribute significance to certain things, and guess Wolvy's biological father isn't who he thinks he is, it's never stated out right. One expects everything to be articulated by the end...but it isn't. On one hand, that can make the story seem sophisticated, making the reader work for the answers. On the other, one can't help wonder how many readers might finish the book, never putting two and two together.

Ultimately, there's a feeling the writers put most of their effort into the first half, with its unexpected character developments and, as noted, a clever twist. But the last half just trundles ahead in an unsurprising way that, frankly, could've been told in half the number of pages.

A frustrating aside is that one of the commentaries refers to "extras" in the collection, including descriptions of alternate story proposals. But that isn't here -- I assume that was only in the hardcover version. I can't decide if Marvel left them out of this softcover collection as a bonus for people who bought the expensive hardcover...or to thumb their nose at people on a budget who buy the softcover. Either way, it's disappointing.

In the end, Origin does smack, at times, of an audacious undertaking, a risky attempt to tell Wolverine's origin, not as an action-adventure piece, but as something akin to literature. It's moody and involved...but loses its drive before the end, becoming prosaic and conventional. Ultimately, the "greatest story never told" (as the tag line for the book goes) becomes decent rather than great. It will be curious to see how this impacts on later Wolverine stories since the reader now knows his beginnings, but he remains ignorant. Enough characters connected to him remain around at the end, that it wouldn't be hard for someone to work this in to later stories, or have Wolverine encounter the grandchild of someone here.

Soft cover price: $24.00 CDN./ $14.99 USA 


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