Friday, August 7, 2009

Wolverine (comics)

Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Frank Miller
Trade Collects: Wolverine #1-4, Uncanny X-Men #172-173

If there's one comic team that's weathered the years, it's the X-Men. Writer Chris Claremonts run on the X-Men spanned almost two full decades, taking the group to places and levels of popularity it had never seen before. Prior to the relaunch with the "All New, All Different X-Men", the group was like the red headed stepchild of the Marvel Universe. Of all Stan Lee's creations, this was the one that just didn't catch on, ending up canceled instead of becoming the almost instant icons other creations were. But Chris Claremont changed that, shaping the team into what would become a phenomenon and long running franchise that continues to this day.

One of the most popular aspects of this run was the Wolverine character. Back in the early days, he was nowhere near the exposure he receives now; he was just one side character in a cast that contained several. But he was one of the most popular of any X-Men and eventually it led to a mini. Chris Claremont, as he states in the trades introduction, wanted to break Wolverine down, looking to build him back up into something better than he had been before the story.

Mission accomplished.

This is the story that established one of the greatest tropes of Wolverine stories; his strong connection to Japan and it's mythos. After returning from a hunt for a renegade bear, Wolverine finds that his letters to Mariko Yashida, a woman he met in earlier issues of Uncanny X-Men and fell in love with, had been returned without explanation. A phone call reveals she has gone back to Japan, so Wolverine follows. Despite being warned away, he presses on, only to find the love of his life has married a man she does not love out of loyalty and honor for her family, including her corrupt father.

When, heartbroken, Wolverine tries to leave, said father has him captured; Mariko's father seeks to battle him and show his daughter that the man she loves is not worthy. In the midst of battle, Wolverine loses his composure, popping his claws and reverting to a berserker rage that he is chided as more animal than man for; despite his formidable fighting skills, Wolverine is soundly defeated and disgraced, his honor and self worth quickly a memory. From there, he must rebuild himself, waging a war of honor to prove himself worthy and win back the woman he loves, as well prove once and for all that he is not an animal, but a man. It's the tale of a failed samurai risen up to claim what he deserves.

As far as Wolverine stories go, the story told in this mini is a definitive classic, even to this day. Wolverine, for the first time the leading man of a story all his own, is humanized in a way few stories can ever manage. His plight is one of loss and personal strife, not entirely physical, and you are brought to care about him through the course of the tale. It was Wolverine as he'd never been seen before and from that point on, he started to become the backbone of the X-Men. This tale hd expanded and changed the character forever; hell, it was even the series to introduce one of his best known phrases, "I'm the best at what I do, and what I do isn't very nice".

On the subject of love interest Mariko Yashida, I must admit that I love the character already amongst Logans many loves. She was arguably his greatest love of all the women he's been with, which shines through. She's bound to honor and duty; Wolverines love and longing for her bring about change to the man in ways other love interests have not. She's perfect in this tale of honor, shame, love and pure mayhem. That's a good bit of praise for me.

For the most part, the tale holds up beautifully and I suspect it always will. This was Chris Claremont when he was on the top of his game; modern Chris Claremont sometimes has similar problems to Stan Lee's modern stories in that the scripts are overly talky and over explain everything. This story is in stark contrast; back then Claremont knew when to pipe down and let the art tell the story. Everything is top notch in regards to the writing, the story ending as strongly as it begins. It's not hard to see why Japan became such a strong presence in the years to come once you read this story; it's a place Wolverine works very well in and is often rife for drama.

As for the art? It equals the great writing held within, if not surpasses. This was also Frank Miller when he was arguably at his best. His style is fluid and dynamic, rendering the fight scenes quite expertly and lending the story the visual punch it needed. Without his work, it's arguable that the story might not have been as powerful. While the coloring is definitely reminicent of the time it was published, the art holds up wonderfully today.

Without question, this was and still is one of the definitive Wolverine tales that I think anyone with even a passing interest in the character should read.

I really can't talk much about the two included Uncanny X-Men issues without spoiling the end of the miniseries, sadly; and while it's been twenty years since the mini was published, I don't want to run the risk of spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read it. In some ways, they're very necessary to cap off the story told in the mini; the main throughline of the issues involves following up on the mini. They are not completely self contained, however.

This stems largey due to Chris Claremonts style of writing on the regular X-Men title. He tended to have several different subplots simmering in the background at any given point in time, progressing them forward piece by piece before they eventually took the spotlight. Seeing as the included capper issues are of Uncanny X-Men, that's certainly the case here too. Don't expect to read the issues and get everything that's going on; plots like the Jean Grey lookalike Madalyne Pryor and Rogues struggle to fit in amongst the X-Men, whom she'd previously fought, started long before those two issues and continue for long after.

In some ways, this general approach affects the cap of the Wolverine story, as well. The issues end in a way you might not expect; something is clearly wrong with the reactions and it's hinted whom is behind it. Basically, the storyline started in the mini is brought to an awkward conclusion and not truly ended, as it had then become another plotline amongst the many in the title. What was wrong with Mariko and why things happened the way they did was not really solved until a couple of issues down the road in the Uncanny title. Don't expect a truly clear resolution.

I can be a bit more clear, however, on the art of the two issues of Uncanny. They were not done by Frank Miller, but Paul Smith. They hold up very well, actually, following Millers art on the miniseries. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the included Uncanny issues were still quite excellent despite the change in artist; thought there are a few instances where the artist change is pretty glaring, but that it holds up in the face of Millers work should speak very well of the work given here. It feels quite visually consistent, which truly eases the inclusion of the issues with the miniseries.

My Opinion: Buy It

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