Monday, May 22, 2023

Essential Wolverine Volume 7 by Erik Larsen, et al.

Past his prime
Back when I used to habitually read Marvel Comics in the 1980s and ‘90s, one of my favorite titles was Wolverine. I kept up with most of the X-Men comics but always preferred Wolverine’s solo title. The issues from that era (now called Wolverine Volume 2, to distinguish it from Frank Miller’s miniseries of 1982, which is Volume 1) have been collected and reproduced in Marvel’s Essential series of trade paperbacks. Essential Wolverine Volume 7 includes Wolverine issues 129 to 148, as well as one crossover issue of Hulk (#8). These issues originally ran from October 1998 to March 2000. Frankly, that’s a little late for my tastes, and these issues demonstrate a drop in quality from what I remember of the Wolverine title I used to know and love.

Most of these issues were written by Erik Larsen, the same Erik Larsen who created The Savage Dragon for Image Comics. What I liked best about the character of Wolverine is that he had a mysterious past that he was working to uncover. Writer Larry Hama took full advantage of that in his extensive run of issues in the early ‘90s, in which he gradually revealed an intricate history of Logan’s work as a covert operative. These stories by Larsen, on the other hand, just seem to put Wolverine into battle scenes with not much story behind them. Often Wolverine doesn’t even know why he’s fighting who he’s fighting. The stories also get sidetracked by Marvel’s crossover mania of this era. Wolverine spends several issues in the personification of Death, one of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen, and the final issue of this volume presents him as a member of the new Fantastic Four, along with Hulk, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider. Wolverine’s solo comic used to focus more on grittier earthbound matters, but here Larsen and company deliver a lot of outer space and alien invasion storylines that would be better suited for the X-Men books.

The art has also taken a turn for the worse. Marvel’s Essentials series reprints comics in black and white on newsprint paper, which is fine for the classic “coloring book” style of comics art. By the late ‘90s, however, that pen- and brush-heavy style had been abandoned in favor of more Photoshop coloration. The issues in Volume 7, therefore, are scanned as grayscale rather than black-and-white art, which causes a great lack of clarity in reproduction. There is also a definite manga influence to the graphic style, with the figures exaggerated in a cartoony manner. Big action-packed splash panels are emphasized over sequential storytelling. About half the issues in Volume 7 are drawn by Leinil Francis Yu, who really has an exciting visual style with detail-rich figures and backgrounds. Sometimes he makes it hard, however, to figure out what exactly is happening in a given panel. It made me miss the glory days when Marc Silvestri used to draw the Wolverine title in a more traditional noir style reminiscent of classic comic masters like Will Eisner or Milton Caniff. In addition, I’ve never seen more lettering errors in a volume of comics. Almost every page has at least one typo, missing word, or duplicated word. It makes you wonder if they actually scanned the final art or mistakenly used some unedited working draft.

I’m old enough to prefer the classic Marvel style I grew up with, as exemplified by the comics of Jack Kirby, John Buscema, or John Byrne. When Marvel started to turn away from that style in the late ‘90s, I began to lose interest. I was hoping Essential Wolverine Volume 7 might be a nice trip down memory lane, but instead I found that by 1998 the Wolverine title was already past its prime. One would be better off rereading the earlier volumes by Hama and Silvestri, which can truly be called Essential.
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