Friday, July 19, 2013

Essential Wolverine, Volume 1 by Chris Claremont, et al.

Maybe not essential, but definitely enjoyable
Back in the early ’90s I used to collect the Wolverine series from Marvel Comics, but these early issues were a little before my time, so it’s great to finally get my hands on them in this collection. The Wolverine solo series was always a little bit different from most Marvel Comics in that it was more like a detective or spy series where some of the characters just happened to have super powers. While in the X-Men comics Logan would travel through time and space fighting alien races, in his own magazine he was usually firmly grounded here on earth, roughing up low-life thieves and killers.

This collection reproduces issues 1 to 24 of the Wolverine series in black and white. It features some of the best artists who worked for Marvel back in those days. John Buscema’s art (issues 1-8 and 10-16) comes across beautifully in black and white, resembling something out of the glory days of newspaper comics, like the work of Milton Caniff or Roy Crane. John Byrne (issues 17-23) is another excellent Marvel artist, though his work does suffer a little here from the lack of color. Gene Colan also illustrates one issue (#9). Veteran inkers Al Williamson, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Klaus Janson each contribute their own unique skills to the finished art.

The writing overall is very good, but there’s nothing here that’s going to go down in history as an iconic story in the Marvel mythology. Chris Claremont (issues 1-8 and 10), sets the foundation for the series by establishing Logan in Madripoor, a seamy, crime-ridden island city-state somewhere in southeast Asia. The Wolverine that Claremont presents here is a lot like Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca. By offering well-intentioned assistance to a motley crew of supporting characters, he finds himself continually confronted by danger and intrigue. Peter David’s run on the series (issues 9 and 11-16) is less successful. His six-issue “Gehenna Stone” story is basically a long, slapstick chase sequence punctuated by frequent fist fights. The collection finishes off strong, however, with an excellent seven-issue adventure by Archie Goodwin, drawn by Byrne (issues 17-23).

In issue #10, we are introduced to Wolverine’s love, Silver Fox, and her murder at the hands of Sabretooth. This story line was featured in the 2009 Wolverine movie, in a much altered form. Here it’s just a one-shot story, with little indication of the importance these events would play in Wolverine’s future adventures. In later issues writer Larry Hama and artist Marc Silvestri would further develop the Sabretooth/Silver Fox backstory. In their hands Wolverine becomes a sort of Jason Bourne figure, uncovering repressed memories of his paramilitary past. The Hama/Silvestri stories are collected in volumes 2 and 3 of The Essential Wolverine, and I think they’re superior to what’s included here in volume 1. Still, there’s obviously some value to starting at the beginning, and those who enjoy the inimitable character of Wolverine will find much to appreciate in this worthwhile collection of comic art.

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