Friday, 21 August 2015

Essential Wolverine volume 5

Essential Wolverine volume 5 contains issues #91 to #110 plus "Wolverine '96" which was the unnumbered annual for 1996 and also the crossover issue Uncanny X-Men #332. Notably absent is "Wolverine '95", the annual for the previous year. The writing on the regular series is all by Larry Hama bar the final issue by Tom DeFalco. The stories in the annual are by Jeph Loeb, Ralph Macchio and Joe Kelly and the Uncanny X-Men issue is by Scott Lobdell. The regular series art is by a mix of Adam Kubert, Val Semeiks and Anthony Winn with other issues by Chris Alexander, Ramon Bernado and Joe Bennet whilst the annual is by Ed McGuinness and Tommy Lee Edwards and the Uncanny X-Men issue by Joe Madureira. With a lot of creators, inevitably there's a separate labels post.

The last volume ended with reality shattering as the universe was temporally altered but after a four month interruption and the "Age of Apocalypse" crossover the series and normal service resumed. The substitute title "Weapon X" is not included in this volume but its absence is not felt in the slightest (which, together with it not actually being part of the series, is why it won't be covered in an "Omitted material" post), showing how in consequential some giant crossovers can be. The one mega crossover that is represented here is "Onslaught", a massive crossover from the summer of 1996 that engulfed nearly every single title in the Marvel line and led to radical changes in some of the "Heroes" titles. Its impact on Wolverine's adventures was rather less and the two issues we get here are somewhat periphery to the main storyline. Issue #104 sees Wolverine and Elektra investigating the origin of Onslaught but it doesn't add anything to what had already been revealed. In #105 Wolverine decides that his powers and abilities are more use in the clean-up operation than the actual battle with the Sentinels and so works with fire fighters to save people from burning buildings. During one rescue mission he encounters the mysterious Stick, Elektra's mentor. A visit by the Human Torch at the end to round up heroes for the final battle is the main connection to the wider crossover but otherwise this series continues its practice of avoiding too much entanglement in wider events and instead concentrates on telling its own story.

The main theme of this volume is Wolverine's further degeneration as he discovers that his adamantium skeleton had actually disrupted his mutation and healing factor but now the metal bones are gone his body and mind and getting ever more feral, taking to living in the wilderness. The situation is even more accelerated midway through the volume when Genesis tries and fails to reintroduce adamantium to Wolverine's body with the result that his degeneration continues even further. Much of the focus is upon Wolverine's attempts to claw his way back and regain control but it's not the easiest task for someone who has always been fairly wild. His fellow X-Men try to help but it's not the easiest of tasks as the healing factor is also greatly accelerated.

The pattern for much of the volume sees Wolverine teamed up with various characters, old friends and new, as he struggles to suppress his feral nature in favour of his human side. There's an early encounter with Generation X, the latest incarnation of young mutants in training, which both provides the cover for the volume and allows another encounter with Jubilee who has been apart from Logan for some time now. Guardian and Vindicator, Wolverine's old friends from Alpha Flight, both monitor and try to reasons with him as he roams the city, but it's complicated by the mutant Dark Nap who absorbs victims and takes on their forms - until he tries to absorb Wolverine, accelerated healing power and all. The young X-Man Cannonball falls into the traditional sidekick role, making for some humour when he tries to tackle the Juggernaut whilst drunk and then again when a camping trip is attacked by a grizzly bear. Throughout much of this there's a meandering story involving the cross-dimensional agency Landau, Luckman and Lake that doesn't seem to really get anywhere except a battle in their offices with the mysterious Chimera. Otherwise the involvement of the agency's Zoe Culloden seems mainly to serve the purpose of getting Wolverine to various locations for his adventures.

Midway through the volume comes issue #100 in which Genesis, the time-travelling son of Cable, and his minions the Dark Riders seek to resurrect Apocalypse and make Wolverine the new Horseman Death, using adamantium from the killed Cyber in order to restore the skeleton. It's a dramatic story that sees Wolverine's feral nature inadvertently accelerated which will be a key factor in issues to come, but for all the talk from Culloden about Wolverine's destiny it just doesn't feel like a natural Wolverine story worthy of the anniversary issue and instead comes across as a more generic X-Men adventure as neither Genesis nor Apocalypse have been significant factors in the series outside this storyline. When originally released the issue had one of the fancy covers that were just still all the rage in this era; on this occasion being a special hologram on the cover that should have switched between an image of a costume Wolverine in pain to one of his skeleton depending upon which angle one viewed it from. However the hologram effects often didn't work well and the scan of the skeleton version of the cover is especially dark and difficult to follow. Fortunately there was also a non-hologram edition of the issue with the costumed cover and this is used to lead into the reprint here.

The issue is immediately followed up by a quick crossover with Uncanny X-Men as the ever more feral Wolverine encounters the ancient Egyptian Ozymandias who has carved visions of the future since being imprisoned by Apocalypse. This leads to a battle with the carvings, but there seems little reason why the story needed to be told over both titles unless it was to hurriedly get things out of the way in time to line things up for "Onslaught". The build-up continues as Wolverine encounters Elektra, who seeks to get him back onto his path as a warrior and retrain him. Together they learn the secret of Onslaught and then Elektra's mentor Stick pops up with his own lessons. Then in actions of joint cleansing they visit first Wolverine's old cabin in Alberta and then Elektra's family home in Greece, where unknown to her the last of her father's assassins has been captured by her family servants. There's also the revelation that Wolverine was a Canadian corporal who aided the gardener when he was in the Greek resistance during the Second World War, though as the gardener can't read he doesn't spot the names are the same. By this stage Wolverine's past is becoming less of an intriguing mystery and more of a patchwork of chaos with endless revelations that he was involved in one past action or another.

Some of the stories seek to tie up old threads with a return visit to Madripoor seeing the death of Prince Baran as well as encounters with Tiger Tyger and General Coy. The annual that is included here is more connected to the regular series than is standard for such fare, even though it does incorporate guest appearances. Set in Japan, the lead story sees a reconciliation with the Silver Samurai as he and Wolverine set out to rescue Sunfire who has been incarcerated after his powers got out of control. Meanwhile the mysterious Bastion has activated the Red Ronin robot, this time without a human operator. The annual has a back-up strip in which Amiko, Wolverine's adoptive daughter, runs away in search of a hero and a mythical place, only to find what she seeks is not what she has been dreaming off. It's a nice little character piece that also serves to reintroduce Amiko in advance of a key storyline in the main series.

The storyline sees Wolverine still in Japan as he battles a succession of agents of the Hand who kidnap Yukio and Amiko, hoping to brainwash the latter into turning against her adoptive father and it's not clear how far they've succeeded. This leads to a succession of battles with ninjas and cyber-ninjas that shows Wolverine is getting back to his normal self but there's none of the charm of Wolverine's past adventures in Japan and this instead feels like too many action sequences for the sake of it. The volume ends on a fill-in issue as Wolverine teams with Shaman, another ex-member of Alpha Flight, to track a grizzly bear possessed by a demon in the Canadian wilderness and also deal with two petty criminals on the run. It's a so-so piece but not a great issue to end a volume on, particularly given the previous issue ended on ambiguity about Amiko.

The issues in this run are reproduced with the original colour burnt in which can make the images very dark at times but it's usually clear just what is going on. What does impede readability is the continued use of double-paged spreads that have dialogue almost buried in the binding and the resort to sideways on artwork that requires the book to be rotated in order to be read at all. Fortunately the latter problem largely fades away as the volume progresses, suggesting that somebody realised people actually want to be able to read these stories easily, but the double-paged spreads continue to pop up throughout the run.

On effect of this is that the volume feels rather light with some issues being not much more than a protracted conversation and a battle to underscore the moral of the story. Also there's a lot of lengthy subplot building towards adventures that don't really pay off for the wait. The result is a volume that feels slight and over focused on inconsequential action even though it does seek to deconstruct and then rebuild Wolverine's character. It's an odd volume but not Wolverine at his best or most substantial.

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