Wolverine (Chris Claremont & Frank Miller)
Wolverine, one of the most exploited characters in Marvel Comics and comic books in general. A short angry Canadian that people go gaga over. Member of about twelve different teams in the current comics and about three solo titles (these numbers might be slightly skewed) he is everywhere. He is one of those characters that fits in neatly with most stories, his gruff attitude and violent streak make him popular with fans and creators a like. Through him we can cut loose and see raw rage play out before us on the page. Well that used to be the case these days however Wolverine ranges from being a teacher and leader of the mutants (he’s basically the new Xavier) to man with a haunted past and Avengers team member. He has become incredibly diluted as a character and the opportunity to see what he was like before he became Marvel’s go to action man was an interesting proposition.
Wolverine collects Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s four issue mini-series that really got the ball rolling on the character’s path to superstardom. The volume sees Logan head to Japan to track down his love, Mariko and when he finds her it turns out she is married to someone else! Chaos and violence ensue as Wolverine cuts his way to the bottom of the mystery and the Tokyo underworld.
The book opens well enough with the first instance of Wolverine’s trademark line “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice.” and we see Logan hunting and killing a crazed bear in the Canadian Rockies because he’s Wolverine and that is what he does, fights bears to the death. He then jets of to Japan to begin the adventure proper. One thing you should know about this book is Frank Miller’s art is gorgeous and you can see the starting points of what would become his signature Batman The Dark Knight Returns style as Wolverine fights ninjas on a variety of brightly coloured backgrounds and strikes iconic poses. The story moves at a brisk pace that does not have a chance to give even the faintest hint of boredom. It is going to be interesting to see what they do to turn it into the new Wolverine movie due next year. Overall it was a good read but the major thing that held it back for me was that it is very much a product of its time.
The story focuses on Japan and the whole Logan being a samurai style character thing which is cool and all but in this you can see it has been put together with that 80s view of the east. Everyone who is Japanese in this book is either a ninja, a samurai or involved with the mob. Also despite it being the 80s and several instances of modern culture being evident everyone acts like it is the height of the Edo period. Japan has a culture steeped in tradition but the presentation of it here is pure 70s/80s everyone knows martial arts shallowness. Perhaps I am being overly harsh but for me it made the book seem very shallow. These days when a comic goes to Japan we are shown a few landmarks, signage, a couple of instances of culture smashing and the Japanese public milling around. In this the only things that make it clear that it is set in Japan is people mentioning Tokyo frequently and all the ninjas.
The other niggling thing that got at me while reading was the treatment of the story’s two female characters. Mariko fills the damsel in distress role and is sort of redeemed by her being a very traditional Japanese lady. Still it does not sit right with me, it is only towards the end of the book do we see her show any true regret or dispare for her situation. The rest of the time she is set dressing intended to look at Logan in shock at the right moment. Then you Yukio who is actually an interesting character until she instantly falls in love with Wolverine because he is Wolverine. Later in the book it is shown they have much in common and share a destructive nature but to begin with it is a case of “he’s Wolverine therefore I must sleep with him.” Like I said it is very much a product of its time. The book having two distinct and apposing female characters is a good thing, it is just the treatment and use of them as sexual and emotional foils to Logan that puts a dampener on things.
Like I said it is an enjoyable read provided you can put your 80s goggles on and look past its now very apparent failings of the story. At the time I am sure this was groundbreaking and you can see hints of that today. It is a simple but very effective tale that really makes Wolverine stand out as a character. It even has me interested in seeking out the other Japan set Wolverine stories provided that they have a bit more depth to them.