Friday, 27 March 2015

Essential Wolverine volume 4

Essential Wolverine volume 4 contains issues #70 to #90. As a bonus there's a one page feature on Albert and Elsie-Dee which appears to be from one of the various "Something Files" one-shots that were all the rage in this era. Everything is written by Larry Hama. The art is a mix with the largest number of issues by Adam Kubert and others by Dwayne Turner, Jim Fern, Tom Coker, Ian Churchill, John Nadeau, Ron Wagner, Ron Garney and Fabio Laguna.

The issues in this volume come from 1993 to 1995, a period that many look back on as an era of comics that often neglected organic story in favour of flashy art, gimmick covers, rampant crossovers and dramatic changes to characters that were often soon reversed. The volume reflect some of this but not all, whether through the series not going that way at the time, reprint editorial choice or the luck of the format. Without knowing what "X-Men Deluxe" means on the covers of the last few issues it's easy to miss that this was a period when a number of Marvel titles were published in two formats - at a higher price on deluxe, glossy paper with "full bleed" artwork printed right up to the edge of the pages, and at the standard price on traditional newsprint with standard white borders. (It sounds great that readers could chose their preferred format and sales at the time were strong enough to support two versions. But annoyingly the standard format came out two weeks later and so most comic shops assumed readers wouldn't want to wait to read their series and so prioritised ordering the deluxe format. Unsurprisingly the standard format was soon phased out, to further annoyance of other readers when their titles were subsequently switched to the deluxe format without any chance of a say so. By mid 1996 the deluxe paper was largely abandoned.) Issue #75 had a deluxe cover with a small hologram image on it, and no non-deluxe alternative. Here the cover is reproduced with the hologram represented by a vague image. It's as though the volume has been assembled by scanning original issues directly; this explains why everything has the colour burned in as greyscale and also why the last few issues seemingly alternate between the standard and deluxe formats. Where the volume does suffer especially is that there is a heavy liking for double page spreads that leave dialogue too close to the binding to be easily read. Worse still some of the double page spreads are sideways on, requiring the volume (or the head) to be rotated 90 degrees in order to be able to read it; a particular problem if reading in public. Adam Kubert is the main but not the sole offender

More fortunately for the narrative flow this volume only includes the Wolverine issues from two of what were by now annual X-Men family crossovers. Issue #85 is part of the "Phalanx Covenant" from the summer of 1994 which served to introduce a new team title, Generation X, though none of the team appear here. The issue is part of the "Final Sanction" phase of the crossover along with an issue of Cable but rather present all of this section of the storyline let alone the entire crossover we instead get a one page text summary of the entire event. It's an inelegant solution but it saves the latter part of the volume from being overloaded with a crossover that doesn't feature that much of Wolverine. The single issue here sees him reunited with Cyclops, Jean Grey and Cable as they battle the Phalanx, described in the summary as "a race of techno-organic beings with a collective intelligence bent on the conquest of all other sentient races". Well at least they don't look too much like the Borg. The issue isn't particularly memorable for Wolverine beyond a reunion with Scott and Jean that gets cut short by the action and the arrival of Cable, whose family ties and history are becoming better known.

"Fatal Attractions" has an importance of a completely different order. Issue #75 was part of the X-Men's thirtieth anniversary crossover that ran across special large issues of each of the six main X-Men titles, complete with hologram covers. This series's contribution comes towards the end and follows up on a major battle with Magneto in which the Master of Magnetism uses his powers to rip out Wolverine's adamantium skeleton. It's a bold change for the character, and unlike some other big alterations for comic characters in 1992-1993 it's not reversed within a year or so. It has long running consequences as Wolverine's healing factor is impaired after saving his life and he embarks upon a journey to both discover his new limits and see old friends for possibly the last time. But astoundingly this change doesn't happen in Wolverine's own title; compounding this the Essential volume doesn't include X-Men (volume 2 or the one launched in 1991) #25 in which the incident happens. Instead we jump from the last few traditional adventures of Wolverine and Jubilee as his sidekick to the aftermath of the battle as the other X-Men struggle to keep him alive whilst flying him to Muir Island aboard a damaged Blackbird. From the perspective of Wolverine's solo series alone this feels like a mistake, though it may seem differently from the perspective of the X-Men titles. Major changes for characters with ongoing solo series should ultimately take place in that character's own title, especially if, as here, the title hasn't taken part in the overall crossover until after the big change has happened. In general this series has not relied on other titles to tell its stories and so it's been possible to read in isolation despite originally being published in an era when many series were so tightly tied together that it became almost impossible to follow them in isolation. But here by far the biggest change to the character, and one that heavily drives the story for at least the rest of the volume, happens off stage from the series and from the volume. It may have been possible to include X-Men #25 here on its own to at least rectify the error in collected form though it would have impacted on the space available to reach the natural ending point.

Before the change comes we get a couple of classic style Wolverine adventures including the resolution of volume 3's cliffhanger after a gap of only eight years. The battle with Sauron and the Savage Land Mutates is wrapped up fairly quickly and then there's a battle with a rogue Sentinel that now seeks to eliminate all life on Earth, complete with a time travel that allows Jubilee to discover the circumstances behind her parents' death. This leads to Wolverine taking her to confront the mobsters responsible and teaching her lessons about revenge and killing, showing her strengths and innocence. All in all these stories aren't bad but compared to what comes next they now feel like marking time.

Losing the adamantium has a dramatic impact that allows the series to go its own way, taking Wolverine out of the X-Men for the time being as he sets out on a journey on self-discovery. (And in the interests of reciprocity I'll note that it must have been equally irritating for readers of X-Men but not Wolverine to not see a significant change in the team's membership.) The journey takes him to a number of old stomping grounds including the Canadian wilderness, Edinburgh, Muir Island and Tokyo. Old foes cross his path, either in the belief that he still has the adamantium or to take advantage of his weakened state, starting with Lady Deathstrike and continuing with Cylla, Bloodscream, Cyber and the Hand, whilst there's also a clash with the Hunter in Darkness and its offspring. There are old friends too including Alpha Flight members Puck and both Guardians/Vindicators, Heather and James Hudson, then Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Moira MacTaggart, followed by Yukio to whom he entrusts raising his adopted daughter Amiko. With James Hudson agreeing to serve as Wolverine's executor it becomes clear that Logan is now contemplating the end, no longer as powerful an invulnerable as he once was. But this vulnerability also gives him a new edge as he is more at risk but more determined in his battles.

Wolverine is also not without weapons. A revelation comes when he suddenly grows bone claws. This may have been an attempt to limit the effects of the loss of the adamantium and keep him recognisable but it also signifies a slow descent towards a more feral form, accompanied by periods of delusion and madness. His journey is partially interrupted by the "Phalanx Covenant" bringing a reunion with his old X-Men comrades and then there's an odd tale with Albert and Elsie-Dee having travelled through time and battled the Adversary and the savage Man-Killer Wolf with help from future versions of Wolverine and Forge. Then we continue the journey of past acquaintances as Wolverine and Gambit team up to battle the Hand, encountering Maverick, another of the Weapon X programme agents who is now dying from the Legacy Virus. Then there's an encounter with another from the programme, Deadpool, in which it becomes clear that Wolverine's healing factor is returning to its previous levels. A team-up with the second Ghost Rider pitches Wolverine against his old mentor Ogun once more, before the final issue sees Wolverine back in the mansion for a showdown with Sabretooth.

The crossover interruption aside this storyline has been a good extended piece that allows the series to explore its lead character under significantly weaker circumstances, making the impact of Magneto's attack more than just switching adamantium claws for bone ones. It also fits neatly into a single volume rather than once again ending mid storyline, though thankfully the wait for the next volume was nowhere near as long as the eight years it took for this one to arrive. There is a cliffhanger here as reality shatters but it's part of the wider "Age of Apocalypse" storyline that otherwise has no impact on this volume. Instead we're once again looking at a strongly focused solo series. Although it's clear that straying too far from the concept of the edgy man with claws and a healing factor would take the series too far, the book nevertheless seizes the opportunity to both build on the foundations of Wolverine's past and take the series forward.

This may come from an era of comics with a bad reputation but this volume is actually quite good. With one big exception the crossovers aren't that intrusive, the character changes are handled organically and the fancy covers and paper don't have much impact on a black and white reprint. The main irritations are the large number of two page spreads with difficult to read dialogue at the binding and the widespread use of artwork that can only be read by turning the volume on it's side. Otherwise this is a series that manages to keep to its core goals of telling strong ongoing stories about the character that require little external reading to enjoy them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...