Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Review: Wolverine & The Black Cat: Claws

What do you know about Joe Linsner?

If you’re like me circa a week ago, the name might not mean anything at all to you, although once you find out that’s the name of the person who does those Dawn comics, then you’ll probably have a flood of mental images of a painted-looking, red-haired lady.

Now, not being familiar with the work of Joe Linsner meant the fact that he was doing a Marvel miniseries with the semi-reliable writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray did nothing to excite me, nor did the characters being featured, nor did the title—Wolverine & The Black Cat: Claws.

The series was serialized back in 2006 , and it sure seemed like a random couple of characters to throw together for a team-up, two characters who, as far as I knew, had nothing in common other than what is alluded to in the title.

As it turns out, that’s probably a large part of the reason why the characters were chosen (the other, made clear in the back matter, was simply that Linsner liked ‘em). The fact that Linsner and company managed to find another Marvel character, particularly a female one, that didn’t have history with Wolverine, the most often teamed-up with character in the Marvel Universe, is actually kind of remarkable.

The book gets off to a rather slow start, with a kinda crass flirt-and-fight involving Black Cat and Spider-Man that only served to confuse me (Spidey woulda have still been married at the point this was published if it was in-continuity, and everything else seems to point toward it being in continuity), although I really liked this part:At the point I read that scene, I was thinking I’d rather read a story about Spider-Man accidentally webbing a bird and trying to deal with de-webbing it without hurting it then about Black Cat and Wolverine teaming up.

Once Wolvie is introduced, in a two-page scene revolving around the difficulty of flying commercial with a metal skeleton, I really started to warm-up to the book, which just got better and better from that point on.

The plot is one more riff on the “Most Dangerous Game,” people-hunting-people premise, with someone claiming to be Kraven the Hunter capturing the two stars and setting them loose on a trap-laden island with a volcano rigged to go off in a certain amount of time, while various killers and hunters try to track them down.

The most immediate problem with the premise—how it’s any fun at all, given Wolverine’s relative immortality and regeneration powers—is overcome by the screwball romance sort of relationship between the two leads, the villain behind “Kraven” (I don’t want to spoil it, but I think he’s one of Marvel’s best villains in the way he shows endless potential for creating scenarios, is completely ridiculous in that any of his plans will sound completely impractical to anyone who thinks about them for more than three seconds, and the way in which his modus operandi reflects that of comics creators) and, of course, Lisner’s wonder, wonderful artwork. Linsner is a superb “actor” and an even better character designer. His handle on facial expressions puts him up there with Kevin Maguire and Amanda Conner (and his Wolverine in particular reminded me of Darick Robinson's), although each and every character he draws is so distinct from each other one that it makes many modern superhero comics look like amateur work.

That is, you can tell his Wolverine from other characters not only by his claws and weird hair, but by the shape of his nose, the way he rolls his eyes or grits his teeth, his unruly eyebrows, or the shape of his chin.

Lisner can design, he can draw, he can cartoon. This is pretty much perfect superhero comic book art, and I feel kinda like a sap for missing it the first time around.

One other thing Lnisner did here which I wouldn’t have noticed until reading it, not being a religious Spider-Man reader, was rather completely redesign Black Cat’s costume, make it much more cat-like and more realistic and practical at the same time, since, as he explains in the back matter,“if you look at her present outfit, as she’s pictured most often, you could call her the White Weasel and not have to change anything.”

As much as I enjoy process stuff about comics, I generally don’t get too excited about sketch pages and the like at the end of trades, since it usually amounts to little more than filler. This hardcover collection had a pretty massive 30-page section by Lisner, but it had enough original work and, most importantly, commentary from the artist that it was actually a pleasure to read.

In it, he reveals that he based his depiction of Kraven as a cross between Frank Zappa and Jesse Ventura, for example. That is relevant information of great interest to me!It actually bummed me out all the more that Linsner didn't get to do more scenes with the character.

There’s only two things I didn’t like about the book. One was our heroes’ apparent willingness to sacrifice a goat while revenging themselves on our villains (luckily, the goat survives), and two was this scene right here:
Come on, Wolverine can’t possibly be that strong, can he?

Otherwise, this was a fairly wonderful little genre story, featuring some of the best art you could possibly ask for.


JohnF said...

Wolverine is much stronger than they let on. See X-Men #158, where he punches Rogue through a several-feet thick concrete wall.

Anthony Strand said...

Oh wow, yeah. That art is beautiful. I'd love to see more work for Linsner.

tomorrowboy 2.9 said...

Huh, while that art is mostly nice, I don't see how that mask for Black Cat seen when she's being thrown can work with her hair in most of the other scenes.

Anonymous said...

Man, you REALLY don't like violence against innocent animals in your comics.

Also, before I read your description of the scene, I thought she was being thrown by Crusher Creel.

Caleb said...

Man, you REALLY don't like violence against innocent animals in your comics.

Also, before I read your description of the scene, I thought she was being thrown by Crusher Creel.

Oh yeah, I was just complaining about the wolves in Wonder Woman, huh?

No, it's not something I like much, it seemed especially off in this case. A lady who dresses up as a cat and a dude who runs around naked with wolves both seemed like animal lovers to me, so them using a live goat as bait struck me as unlikely.

Re: Wolvie's appearance in that scene, it was after he was hit by napalm and had a blast of lava from a volcano land on him, so he was burned hairless at the moment.

Hdefined said...

Wow, this is the only positive review I've read of this series. Everyone else absolutely loathed it.