Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Wolverine By Chris Claremont and Frank Miller

As part of an occasional look at material left out of the Essentials it's time to turn to this classic mini-series.

Wolverine By Chris Claremont and Frank Miller is the full title of a Panini pocket book that has on the cover and spine just "Wolverine". It contains the four issue limited series from 1982 plus the follow-up in Uncanny X-Men #172 & #173. (The series has had lots of other releases over the years as well, both in the original English but also in quite a number of other languages. Be warned that not all collected editions include the Uncanny X-Men issues.) As a bonus it also contains Wolverine's first full appearance from Incredible Hulk #181. The mini-series is by, amazingly, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller with Claremont also writing the Uncanny X-Men issues which are drawn by Paul Smith. The Incredible Hulk issue is written by Len Wein and drawn by Herb Trimpe.

This was one of the very first limited series from Marvel and may have been the first to be commissioned for the format. It's a curious tale for its era as although Chris Claremont scripts the story it feels as though Frank Miller is the main creative force as we get a lot of his recurrent themes from ninjas to a deconstruction of the lead character against a dark, edgy world. It also begins the practice of taking Wolverine away from his normal environment and starting a long run of adventures with him set in the Far East. However there is an opening sequence set in his original stomping ground of Canada as he tracks down a raging bear that has been wounded by a stalker/hunter who made the mistake of assuming a poisoned point was enough to kill. In a nice piece of foreshadowing it is a mistake made more than once in this series.

The story of the limited series is very brief, focusing on Wolverine's attempt to regain the hand of Mariko Yashida and conflicting with her father Shingen, head of the clan and a crime lord. Defeated in battle with Shingen and scaring Mariko, it becomes a matter of honour for Wolverine to win a rematch and show that he is not a savage animal. Along the way he encounters the ninja woman Yukio who is drawn to him. The Uncanny X-Men issues have the rest of the team arriving in Japan for a wedding but there are further conflicts around the Yashida clan leading to Wolverine and Rogue alone having to take down the Silver Samurai, the Viper and Hydra. The ending comes with a shocking twist due to a surprise intervention.

The real focus is on the characters and the world around them. This series first came out in 1982, just as the US was embarking upon a craze for all things ninja (although in the UK it would run into the slightly awkward problem that the word "ninja" and a number of weapons were deemed inappropriate for younger audiences) and discovering more and more about Japanese culture which had hitherto been little known or understood in the west. One result is a high degree of exposition for concepts that were not so familiar back then. Wolverine is a fierce fighter normally able to hold his own against Shingen, Yukio, the Samurai and various ninjas he comes up against, though at times only his claws and healing ability save him. It's also increasingly clear as the series progresses that Yukio and not Mariko is the right woman for Wolverine. Midway through the story it seems Mariko is set to stay with her abusive arranged husband and Wolverine is enjoying time with Yukio, but his heart is clearly elsewhere. We're still not given much in the way of Wolverine's background beyond the odd reference, including a comment that he can only trace his family as far back as his father, but we do get the start of Wolverine stories including an important longstanding friend of Wolverine who has never been seen before and won't be seen again, here introduced by local spy Asano Kimura.

The art is strong and suitably dark but the story can be a little confusing at times with various revelations and switches of allegiance but it ultimately boils down to the traditional tale of the hero setting out to prove his worthiness and rescue the damsel in distress. It's exciting but not the most tremendous Wolverine tale ever told. Still it does a lot to add to his character and show his complexities. The Uncanny X-Men issues form a sequel that deal with the outcome of the limited series and it's useful to have a resolution to the final page (plus they bring up the page count). For Wolverine the main interest is in his first teaming with Rogue as she seeks to prove herself and overcome his hostility. The issues work for him but for other characters they're part of a longer running saga and some of the ongoing subplots and themes can be confusing in isolation.

As a bonus we also get the first full appearance of Wolverine as he enters a fight between the Hulk and the Wendigo in the Canadian wilderness before it became a cliché. Here he's just a plucky little fighter who first manipulates the Hulk into subduing the Wendigo but then ultimately loses the one on one fight. Based on this issue alone it's surprising that he went on to great fame as here he feels like just another one-off character thrown in the Hulk's path.

Both the Uncanny X-Men and Incredible Hulk issues are available elsewhere (in Essential X-Men volume 4 and Essential Hulk volume 5 respectively) so the main interest in this little book is the limited series. It's okay but not the all conquering story of legend. Still it's good to see it available in such an easy to access format.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...