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coverSavage Wolverine: Kill Island 2013 (HC & SC TPB) 136 pages.

Written and illustrated by Frank Cho.
Colours: Jason Keith. Letters: Cory Petit.

Reprinting: Savage Wolverine #1-5 (2013)

Suggested mildy for mature readers

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

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: July 2015

Savage Wolverine was a spin-off title that, I'm guessing, was sort of modelled after something like Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight in that it was meant to have a changing creative team basically telling self-contained Wolverine stories/arcs set any where/when in the character's life. Though it only ran a couple of years, so I'm not sure how successful it proved.

Anyway, to kick things off this opening arc is set comfortably in the modern era (Wolverine in his yellow tights) and, appropriate to a comic called "Savage" Wolverine, the action takes place in Marvel's prehistoric Savage Land. On board as writer/artist is Frank Cho, basically promising (as one editorial note humouressly suggested) "babes, brawls and brachiosaurs." So along with Wolverine, Cho also throws in Savage Land resident, the jungle girl, Shanna the She-Devil. Cho had earlier written and drawn a Shanna mini-series, but that was a re-imagined, out-of-continuity Shanna -- this is the real thing. He also tosses in a recurring Marvel character named Amadeus Cho (with whom I was unfamiliar -- and I still finished the story not really knowing who he was), an appearance by The Hulk, and even a sort of cameo by the Man-Thing.

As you might imagine from Cho (an artist first, a writer second) with all those characters and plenty of running about, jungle tribes, and dinosaurs, this is more about bringing toys out of the toy box to play with than a nuanced drama.

The saga begins with Wolverine literally just appearing on a mysterious island in the Savage Land -- mysterious even by Savage Land standards! That lack of logical explanation I suspected was a hallmark of Cho's style but, to be fair, it is later explained why people randomly appear on the island. Indeed, getting to the island is relatively easy -- it's getting off that proves tricky. Wolverine hooks up with Shanna -- the sole survivor of a research expedition that became stranded -- and they seek a way off. There is a mysterious energy field that prevents radioing for outside help and the island itself is inherently hostile with everything that can walk or crawl having a vested interest in killing you. Amadeus Cho also is brought to the island and learns something of its mysterious secret.

This carries on for five issues with lots of running back and forth, lots of fights with natives and dinosaurs, lots of jokes and quips, lots of Shanna in her leopard skin bikini in Cho's signature mix of Playboy Playmate measurements and female bodybuilder musculature. And, as mentioned, even the Hulk is thrown in for the final issue. Although I'm not sure if Cho's depiction is true to the character or not (the Hulk undergoing so many variations over the years) -- even to the point where he can get stabbed through the skull and yet recover!

And it's mildly entertaining -- and sort of not.

Cho isn't making any pretensions that it's anything more than a tongue-in-cheek rollercoaster, but it does feel a bit lacking in any real substance to rest five issues on. And even though there are twists and turns, equally there's not a lot of variation in the action since it does all take place on one small island. Worse, the island's secret is that it contains an ancient extraterrestrial malevolence -- and the story builds to a kind of open ending. In comics with their endless on-going continuity it's not unusual to lay the ground work for some later story. Except Cho isn't working on any reguatr titles, and even the editor cheekily acknowledges it's a cliffhanger with no planned resolution ("I guess we'll never know!")

I'd mentioned earlier that Cho (after my having read his earlier Shanna series) isn't really big on logic or plotting, more just enjoying dragging out the toys to play with.

Cho's main fame draws from his art, and the art is certainly good; detailed, realist, and with clear storytelling. And though his Shanna is buxom, arguably he's a little more restrained here than he was in the more blatantly cheesecake-y Shanna mini-series -- this time there's less conspicuous glamour poses or, y'know, butt shots. Though Cho's not really a mood artist, with little shadow or atmosphere to the art. It's also pretty violent at times, what with Wolverine happily clawing his way through man and beast alike, Cho more than happy to depict severed limbs, heads, or flying eye balls -- though it's done in a fairly bloodless way that mutes the gore. Still, reading comics like this I can't help remembering reading an interview with Wolverine creator Len Wein who claimed his intent was that Wolverine wouldn't kill -- that the emotional heart of the character would be his fight against his berserker impulses. Instead, later writers (and fans) are clearly bored by such moral dilemmas.

In the end this is attractively drawn, and clips along, but the very lightness of it means it starts to run out of steam after a few issues -- all building to an anti-climactic ending. As I say, Cho is clearly just playing with toys: Wolverine, Shanna, Hulk, Amadeus Cho, dinosaurs, giant gorillas, Elder God aliens, noble savages, lost islands. But whether that's enough for you, that's another question.

Wolverine 1987 (SC TPB), 96 pages.

Written by Chris Claremont. Illustrated by Frank Miller. Inks by Josef Rubinstein.
Colours: Glynis Wein (with Lynn Varley). Letters: Tom Orzechowski. Editor: Louise Jones.

Reprinting: Wolverine #1-4 (1982 mini-series)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

The feral, Canadian-born X-Man, Wolverine, goes to Japan looking for his lady love, Mariko Yashida. He finds her, only to learn her newly returned father, Lord Shingen, has forced her into marriage with a brutal thug -- a marriage the duty-conscious Mariko refuses to get out of. Lord Shingen is also a power mad mobster, attempting to wrest control of the Japanese underworld...and possibly Japan itself. Mariko's rejection of Wolverine sends him spiralling into despair and self loathing and into the arms of the enigmatic lady-assassin, Yukio (making her first appearance), as well as bringing him into conflict with the ninja assassins of The Hand. Eventually he must reclaim his lost honour...and tackle Lord Shingen himself.

This is an atmospheric, action-packed thriller, with plenty of brooding introspection mixed with splashy fight scenes. The art by Frank Miller is extremely good -- back then, Miller had one of the best eyes for composition (when to use close-ups/longshots, the proper angles for conveying the full impact of a moment, etc.) in comics, but here Joe Rubinstein's inks give his work an added level of dimension and reality (particularly faces). The colouring, particularly by Glynis Wein, is superbly effective.

Chris Claremont's script is also very strong. In fact, one wonders if he was influenced by Frank Miller. A weakness often with Chris Claremont is his tendency to run toward verbosity, clubbing the reader with his words, but here his writing is more pithy, more subtle in spots, with clever "Millerisms" that play off of the images.

The first half is particularly strong, a dark, moody odyssey into this fantasy Japan of honour and ninjas, and a journey into Wolverine's psyche. Chris Claremont & Frank Miller easily suck you in with words and images and a convoluted plot promising twists and turns. But it weakens a little toward the end, particularly the final climax in which all the twists and turns are gone and we just have a lengthy action piece -- action largely devoid of suspense because Wolverine is such an unstoppable fighting machine. And the climactic duel with Shingen is problematic. No matter how much Chris Claremont tries to pretend that it's an equal match, it's impossible to believe the middle-aged, normal, Shingen has any chance against the almost invulnerable, unkillable, Wolverine.

And, to quibble about comic book continuity for just a moment, Mariko was supposed to be the cousin of Sunfire, a Japanese super-hero. So where was he while this corrupt patriarch was despoiling the family name?

Wolverine, the story, seems less like a comic than a movie, or novel. That's partly thanks to the off-beat story and solid characterization (and the lack of other super-hero trappings like Sunfire).

But it's also because, as one would expect from a story featuring the ruthless Wolverine, there's little comic book-style morality. Instead it features violent, kill-or-be-killed action -- though there's more moralizing than in, say, an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. There are, in fact, decidedly disturbing elements to the story, as Chris Claremont (through Wolverine) goes on various tirades about honour and duty, and the warrior's way, all as a justification for characters hacking their way through each other. There's just the whiff of martial fascism to the thing.

Still, taken not too literally, Wolverine is an exciting, brooding read.

It's intriguing to consider the different attitudes in different mediums. In U.S. films and TV, Japan is often portrayed in a negative, sinister light, with the All-American hero triumphing over the inscrutable Orientals (ala "Black Rain" or "Rising Sun"), but American comic books are far more intrigued and embracing -- if not of the real Japan, than of this fictional version full of honour and ninjas and rock gardens (the real Japan is more prosaic). The fact that Wolverine is a gaijin is not meant to show the superiority of the Westerner, but merely as a fact of his character.

The TPB collection also contains intros by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller.

This is a review of the version originally serialized in the 1982 Wolverine mini-series

Cover price: $18.15 CDN./$12.95 USA

cover by Davis.Wolverine: Bloodlust 1990 (SC GN) 48 pgs

Written and drawn by Alan Davis. Inked by Paul Neary.
(at least, I assume -- actual credits read: Alan Davis and Paul Neary, Story and Art)

Colours: Bernie Jaye. Letters: Michael Heisler. Editor: Bon Harras.

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

Number of readings: 1

(Though published in a the familiar graphic novel/prestige format manner, with the title on the cover, and a stiff square spine and no ads, inside, the publishing notes list this as Wolverine Annual 2 - Bloodlust)

While in the Yukon, during winter, Wolverine investigates savage attacks by mysterious beast-creatures -- creatures whose psychic abilities threaten to undermine Wolverine's self-control over his more savage, bestial nature.

Boodlust is one of those middle-of-the-road projects -- not really that good, not really that terrible. It's nicely self-contained, the menace wholly original to this story, and does offer a few bumps along the way (the creatures are renegades from a more benevolent race), and boasts some particularly good art -- moody, dramatic, well composed. Some of Davis' best that I've seen (and given that Davis is a popular artist, that says something). The story itself is an excuse for a lot of savage, bloody battles, but Davis' art keeps things relatively clean and palatable, as opposed to making it a visual gore fest. The story tries for some philosophizing and New Age musings on man and the environment, but Davis' attempts at deeper meaning seem a bit ill-conceived and undeveloped. The good creatures are essentially spirit of the earth pacifists...yet would they really then embrace the brutal Wolverine as a welcome ally? Ultimately, Wolverine just isn't an appropriate character to touch on themes like that.

Or, at least, Wolverine as he evolved isn't the right character for those themes. But I've kind of been intrigued about the "path not taken" after reading an interview with Len Wein -- the guy who created Wolverine all those years ago, but had little involvement with the character subsequently -- who remarked that his idea for Wolverine was that he wouldn't kill, that the whole emotional hook of the character would be a guy constantly at war with himself, determined to keep his feral nature in check...rather than the existing character whose popularity is basically 'cause he happily unleashes his inner beast all the time...and generally justifies it after the fact.

As well, the story is, ultimately a tad thin for a forty-eight pager, relying a lot on kind of reiterating the same themes and ideas over again (Wolverine picking up psychic emanations from the villains that trigger an empathic bloodlust within him). It's not like there are many clever twists or turns. And, of course, as a character, Wolverine isn't exactly a strategy kind of guy -- his power is that, well, he out fights his opponents.

And, I can't quite finish without mentioning Davis' depiction of Dawson City and Northern Canada...which he seems to have picked up from reading hundred year old Jack London and James Oliver Curwood novels -- or, more likely, watching Bugs Bunny cartoons with "Black Jack" LeBlacque! Davis seems to feel Dawson City is a one horse town peopled with French-Canadian lumber jacks and a local Sheriff. It wouldn't be a problem, taken as just a romp set in this archetypal fantasy North -- except that Davis clearly wants the story to seem heavy with themes and serious ideas, and everytime the locals show up, it can threaten to slide into unintentional camp.

Anyway, as mentioned at the beginning, I'm kind of on the fence about this -- beautifully illustrated, with some nice mood set in its northern clime, and with Wolverine doing what he does best: getting into big fights while brooding about his internal man/beast dichotomy. It's not a taxing or ponderous read, but it never quite becomes the "profound" story I think Davis was hoping it was.

Cover price: $5.95 CDN./$4.95 USA

coverWolverine Classic, vol. 2 2005 (SC TPB), 128 pages.

Written by Chris Claremont, with Peter David. Pencils by John Buscema, with Gene Colan. Inks by various.
Colours/letters: various. Editor: Bob Harras.

Reprinting: Wolverine #6-10 (1989) - with covers

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

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Feb. 2011

When TPB collections first became a part of comics publishing, it used to be that story arcs -- or selected "best of..." stories -- would be so favoured. Then it reached the point, for modern comics, where an entire run was just automatically repackaged in sequential TPBs. And more recently, such treatment has been afforded to some older series, too. All this is just a preamble to explain that the pretentious "classic" label aside, Wolverine Classic, vol. 2 is no more than the second volume sequentially re-presenting the early issues of Wolverine's inaugural on going solo series after having first clawed his way to popularity as a member of the X-Men.

As such, volume 2 isn't neatly collecting a specific story line between a single cover. Indeed, it drops us down into events that are already underway from the previous issues. Though whether that means Wolverine Classic, vol. 1 ended "to be continued", or simply with threads left dangling, is unclear, as the plotting in these issues can seem a bit free flowing. So the first three issues here carry along threads from an on going story line, tossing in the Hulk (in his grey, intelligent phase as he was in 1989) for a guest star, and sort of wrapping things up, then segues into two basically stand alone tales.

Part of the point behind the Wolverine solo comic was clearly to break away from the more obvious "super hero" template. The X-Men are publicly believed dead (yet again!), so the premise is that Wolverine is keeping a -- for him -- low profile in the South-East Asian nation of Madripoor, going by the name "Patch" (he wears an eye patch) and when going into action he eschews his giveaway Wolverine super hero costume for a generic black ensemble, where it's not even clear if he's wearing a mask or not (there's just an ill-explained shadow over his eyes). The idea was just to take Wolverine and plug him into a "Casablanca"-type milieu (and a zillion other pulp-era tales of American ex-patriates in exotic-yet-corrupt climes -- Terry & The Pirates, or what have you). And this holds true even though scripter Chris Claremont tosses in other super heroes (and favourite characters of his) such as Karma of the New Mutants, and private eye Jessica Drew (a.k.a. Spider-Woman but, like Wolverine, staying in her civvies).

Aiding the mood and atmosphere is artist John Buscema, one of the pillars of Marvel's evolution, equally adept at super hero adventure or sword & sorcery fantasy. His mix of realism, heroic kineticism, and almost effortless panel composition (where you tend not to think about his use of close ups or long shots, because it just seems so natural to the moment) is a beauty to behold. It's easy to take Buscema's work for granted -- I know I have. And maybe he was just particularly on form here, excited by the chance to work in a slightly different milieu, but it's top notch work from him (look at the hands, man, the hands!) -- particularly when inking himself.

I think part of the point of the series was to let the sometimes overly self-important Claremont let his hair down, not just because the milieu is a shameless homage to a bygone era of storytelling, but even the scenes themselves often veer between action and suspense...and tongue-in-cheek whimsy. But that may also explain why, as mentioned earlier, the plotting can seem a bit free flowing, as if Claremont is more interested in having fun, and evoking a mood, than he is in coherent plotting. I mean, he tosses the Hulk into the mix (during this era, the Hulk was reasonably intelligent and acting as a surly heavy for a Las Vegas tycoon) but the Hulk's involvement just seems...ill-explained, like the notion that he is loaned out to a mobster...even as we are assured neither he, nor his boss, are crooks. He gets attacked at an airport...and it's not really clear by who or why. Again, it's all meant to be slightly whimsical, watching the suave Humphrey Bogart -- um, I mean Wolverine -- out fox the Hulk.

Of course, to be fair, the fact that we're dropping down in the middle of an on going run, might add to my sense of disconnectedness, not entirely sure of the significance of some incidents, or the sub-text to character interaction.

And it's sort of fun...but not necessarily that fun.

There are a lot of fight scenes thrown in just for the sake of a fight scene, not because it generates tension or furthers the plot -- like the Hulk being accosted by bikers. Um, why would bikers harass a limousine (knowing therefore, their target will be rich and influential with the authorities) let alone continue when a seven foot tall man monster steps out of it? (Apparently being grey, as opposed to green, means no one recognizes him?!?)

This is followed by stand alone tale pinch hitted by writer Peter David (soon to come aboard as the regular writer) and Gene Colan. Colan's art is particularly rough and raw here...but still great to look at, full of mood and rumpled faces and figures, though ironically his Wolverine is rather poor and sketchy -- but maybe that's on purpose. Because it's a tale where Wolverine barely appears, treated more as a force of nature as a gang of hoods are terrorized and killed off one by one by the largely unseen Wolverine. It's a not uninteresting idea, essentially a horror story with Wolvy the monster...but feels stretched at 22 pages. Like with the Hulk battling bikers, it's not like there's much suspense in who's going to win. And even the backstory that's gradually filled in isn't that unexpected or surprising.

This is followed by another stand alone tale, reuniting Claremont and Buscema, yet isn't really that stand alone as it seems to expect a certain pre-knowledge on the part of the reader...even as, if you have that pre-knowledge, there's nothing new here. Wolverine is being hunted by his nemesis Sabretooth on his birthday, as he is every year, while he flashes back to their first fight, years before, in backwoods Canada, after Sabretooth killed Wolvy's girlfriend Silver Fox. But Claremont had already been the "birthday hunt" route -- more effectively -- in a story collected in X-Men Vignettes, vol. 1. And the backstory as presented here doesn't really tell you much about the relationship between Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Silver Fox -- in fact, what's funny is I had assumed the reader was supposed to know the background, but according to a quick google search, this was the first appearance by Silver Fox (and she's already dead!) meaning it really is as confusing as it seems.

The result is nice art from two old masters, John Buscema and Gene Colan, and stories that are not without their moments and can get you to turn the pages, yet nonetheless are kind of minor and frankly unmemorable (I literally had to flip through it to remind myself for this review). I picked this up half price, and on that level, it was an okay sampler of this era of Wolverine...but not much more.

Cover price: $__ CDN./$12.99 USA

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