Four parts brilliant to two parts...not-so-brilliant.
Author: Chris Claremont
Artist: Frank Miller
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colorist: Glynis Wein & Lynn Varley
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover Artist: Frank Miller
Uncanny X-Men 172-173
Artist: Paul Smith
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Much like the recent Wolverine film, I recommend the first two-thirds of this trade paperback for the ideal Wolverine experience. That is to say that I recommend reading the Wolverine mini-series penned and penciled by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, and not so much the issues of The Uncanny X-Men that succeed it. While the additional issues may add to the perceived value of this collection, the drastic shift in tone, plot and pacing diminish the impact of the core 4-part story. This shift can be attributed to two factors: the absence of Frank Miller, and the presence of the X-Men.
I can only conclude Frank Miller’s heavy involvement in the scripting of Wolverine, as the disparity in Claremont’s writing is striking. Wolvie’s visceral tale of revenge and honour is not an easy act to follow, but the appearance of the X-Men is crude and garish by comparison. The super-team feel like a cameo in their own book; an unwanted intrusion into Logan’s story. I would recommend tracking down the mini-series alone if the price is right. If this trade paperback is all you can find, then I implore you to stay your curiosity and stop reading when Miller stops drawing. Not because Miller’s art is that much greater (though it is) – I honestly believe the issues that follow spoil the overall story. I don’t know if that speaks to Logan’s character as the quintessential lone wolf, but I’ve still seen him operate effectively in well-written X-teams, and unfortunately this is not one of them. Perhaps Claremont’s ongoing X-Men work was running on a tighter schedule and he was simply phoning it in. Perhaps sales were flagging in the main book, and Wolverine’s re-introduction really was forced into the story, rather than the other way around.
Rogue’s character is particularly grating, both in dialogue and concept. Case in point: Rogue casually mentions (in her irritating Southern accent) that she is half-alien, hence her immunity to poisons, and so of course she is the best candidate to help Logan on his mission! Logan accepts her explanation as a matter of course, and is all of a sudden willing to put all his misgivings about her aside and take her on board(!). Claremont infers that Wolvie employs good ol’ logical reasoning to arrive at this decision (“Hmmm…half-alien, immune to poisons…I guess you have a point”)! On the back of a classic Japanese revenge tale, you can probably appreciate that I found this *a little* hard to swallow. Also present is a pointless cameo of The Phoenix, Scott Summers’ new girlfriend who COINCIDENTALLY LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE JEAN GREY AND COINCIDENTALLY SURVIVED THE VERY SAME PLANE CRASH THAT JEAN GREY DIED IN – but it’s not Jean Grey; it couldn’t possibly be Jean Grey! X-fans curious as to the hallowed origins of Storm’s mohawk will also be pleased to know that its contrivance is explained herein! See what I mean? Well, I suppose you won’t until I elaborate on the mini-series itself.
Wolverine is the story of Logan’s battle for the heart of his ex-lover, Mariko. Three obstacles lie in his path:
- Mariko’s father is Shingen Yashida, crimelord extraordinnaire. His return to Japan necessitates:
- Her political marriage to an abusive Yakuza.
- Mariko is Japanese, Wolverine is a Gaijin (basically the n-word for white people, meaning ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’).
This means Wolvie has to try extra-hard to prove his worth. That Lord Shingen is trying to kill him with his elite ninja force doesn’t help any. To further complicate matters, maverick assassin Yukio also falls for Logan, despite being contracted to kill him. Yukio proves to be an interesting character, surprisingly free-spirited for someone in the business of taking lives. Unfortunately, this eccentricity is overplayed in Uncanny X-Men. (To spare you the torture, Yukio has the dubious honour of inspiring Storm’s mohawk.)
Our (anti-?)hero’s position as an Westerner coming to grips with the Japanese ideology is well-placed from a writing perspective. It would have been foolishness for Chris Claremont to claim mastery over a foreign culture. As Claremont’s understanding increases, so too does Logan begin to embrace Japanese concepts of honour and duty. Having read the very Japanese Ronin and Sin City, I can’t help but wonder whether this could have benefited from even more involvement from Frank Miller. His artwork is cleaner and more academic than the style he’s become renowned for, but remains distinct and dynamic, especially during action scenes.
Without a doubt, Wolverine’s solo debut is a defining moment for the character. Even his famous line “I’m the best at what I do” is coined here, but never overused; and the phrase feels fresher for knowing. This is recommended reading for any comic reader. Ignore the extras and you’ll be just fine.