Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Reads You Review: WOLVERINE Volume 1


WRITER: Chris Claremont
PENCILS: Frank Miller
INKS: Josef Rubinstein
COLORS: Glynis Oliver (#1-3), Lynn Varley (#4)
LETTERS: Tom Orzechowski
COVER: Frank Miller with Lynn Varley
EDITOR: Louise Jones
ISBN: 0-87135-277-X; paperback (1987)
96pp, Colors, $4.95 U.S., $5.95 CAN

Wolverine received his first solo comic book in the form of a four-issue miniseries, entitled Wolverine, which was originally published from September to December 1982.  Written by Chris Claremont and penciled by Frank Miller, Wolverine tells the story of Logan/Wolverine’s mission to Japan to learn why the love of his life has rejected him.

For the last decade or so, readers have become used to trade paperbacks arriving shortly after the publication of the story arcs and miniseries that they collect – sometimes as soon as a month after a story arc or series conclusion.  Once upon a time, trade paperback collections were not common.  Wolverine, which collected the miniseries, Wolverine (Vol. 1 #1-4) was published almost five years after the original miniseries first appeared on newsstands and in comic book shops.  Even the indicia for the trade paperback was nothing more than the indicia for Wolverine #1 with a few changes to indicate new dates and prices, as well as the change in Marvel Comics’ ownership.

I suggest that before jumping into this series (and it is worth jumping into) that you read Chris Claremont’s introduction to you story.  That introduction appeared in the original version of the Wolverine trade paperback.  I must note that I am reviewing Wolverine from a 1987 first printing of the trade paperback.  I don’t know if the introduction has appeared in subsequent collected editions of the miniseries.  Claremont explains how he approached the story and why he used it as an opportunity to redefine Wolverine.

For a time, this book was a personal favorite, one I subjected to numerous readings, but I think it has been close to two decades since I last read it.  Reading it for the first time in a long time, I found that (1) I still love this story and (2) there is something about it that has been nagging at me.  After finishing my recent read, I figured out what that something is.  Chris Claremont and Frank Miller were working together to tell the same story, but they were telling it by using different genres.

First, the plot of the 1982 Wolverine miniseries:  Wolverine is spending time away from the X-Men in Canada.  He discovers that all the letters which he has been sending to Mariko Yashida, the Japanese woman he loves, have been returned unopened.  She does not respond to his telephone calls, nor will anyone connected to Mariko help him make contact with her.

Wolverine travels to Japan, where he discovers that Mariko has entered into an arranged marriage to Noburu Hideki.  This arrangement has something to do with a debt incurred by Mariko’s father, Shingen, Lord of Clan Yashida, whom Mariko once believed to be dead.  Wolverine confronts Shingen only to be easily bested in combat by the clan lord, and then, finds himself marked for death by The Hand, an organization of ninja assassins.  Wolverine’s only ally may be Yukio, a mysterious woman of questionable motivations, who is crazy in love with Wolverine.

Claremont states in the introduction that he and Miller “wanted to utterly, ruthlessly and seemingly irrevocably destroy” Wolverine.  They would use their story to make the character better.  Neither creator was interested in the Wolverine that, at the time, was so popular with readers.  That was Wolverine the “pint-sized, hell-raiser with a hair-trigger temper.”  Claremont wanted a character that was more complicated.  Why just play Wolverine as a “psycho-killer” and an animal when he could be a human who struggles with his killer/animal nature?

Claremont reveals in the introduction that he saw Wolverine as a “failed samurai.”  Thus, he wrote a story in which Wolverine struggles to attain pride, self-respect, and honor, while circumstances require him to be a berserk killer.  By exploring this conflict and struggle, Claremont uses character to drive the plot rather than have plot drive the character, which is what would happen if the story was simply about Wolverine killing his adversaries and other assorted people who want to kill him.  Basically, Claremont tells Wolverine’s story as a samurai drama with a side of existential crisis.

Meanwhile, Frank Miller tells Wolverine the character drama as a kind of crime thriller and martial arts ninja movie.  Miller’s popularity with comic book readers isn’t just because of the many unique and varied drawing styles that he has employed over the better part of forty years of drawing comic books.  Miller captures readers with his graphical storytelling – using graphics and illustrations that are connected to tell a story, but Miller does this in an especially visually arresting manner.

Miller has mastered design, not just in the way he presents pages, but also in the way he composes content within panels, connects one panel to another, and how he uses and manipulates space.  He uses the comics medium to suggest, to evoke, to prod, to provoke, and even to challenge his readers.  He goes beyond simply engaging imagination; he goes after the reader’s emotions, and that is what his pencil art does in Wolverine.  Miller tells this Wolverine character drama by visualizing the struggle between man/samurai and animal/killer with bracing depictions of battle, duels, violence, and tests of will.  Whereas Claremont uses dialogue and exposition, Miller uses visceral action.

What else can I say?  I loved going back and reading Wolverine in anticipation of the movie, The Wolverine.  This film is apparently based in part on Claremont and Miller’s seminal Wolverine miniseries, and the filmmakers could not have made a better choice.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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