Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Wolverine: Goodbye, Chinatown

Last night I talked a little bit about how difficult it can be to catch up on some series in trade when the publisher publishes particular stories in multiple titles, collects them under different names or does something weird with the number, like having two consecutive collections of Batman Inc both labeled "Volume 1."

Here's another series I've had trouble following: Writer Jason Aaron's Wolverine comics. He wrote an arc of a comic called Wolverine (Collected as Wolverine: Get Mystique. Then he got his own Wolverine series, a new book entitled Wolverine: Weapon X. That lasted 16 issues, and I want to say it generated about three trade collections. Then, after Weapon X was canceled, he wrote a brand-new volume of a series simply entitled Wolverine.

Figuring out what titles Jason Aaron wrote and what order to read them in can be a bit tricky; certainly more tricky than figuring out the reading order of, say, Eiichiro Oda's One Piece, which are all entitled One Piece and assigned volume numbers on the spine. I was trying to read Aaron's Wolverine comics in trade for a while, but eventually gave up, occasionally coming across one in a library and picking it up if it looks unfamiliar to me.

Like Wolverine: Goodbye, Chinatown, the small print of which tells me includes issues #17-#20 of the rebooted Wolverine series which, come to think of it, was just recently rebooted again.

As difficult as it may be to figure these books out—despite this being part of a run of story arcs written by Jason Aaron and despite the fact that it continues sub-plots from previous issues and leaves other unresolved for future issues, there is no volume number—I enjoyed this. Like most of the Wolverine comics by Aaron I've read, like most of the Marvel comics by Aaron I've read, it was fast-paced, quick-witted, snappily-dialogued and plotted on the ridiculous side, with Wolverine playing straight man to the lunatic world of the Marvel Universe.

It probably didn't hurt any that the title story, which accounts for three-fourths of the contents of this book, prominently featured characters and concepts familiar from Jeff Parker's Agents of Atlas comics.

Here's where I really started enjoying the trade:
That's the second panel on the very first page.

Wolvie is preparing to leave San Francisco, where he and the other X-Men have been based for a few years, to head back East and found a school (So this takes place after the events of Schism, but before the launch of Aaron's Wolverine and The X-Men series), and wants to bid farewell to his girlfriend and collect the money he has saved up.

But that money has been stolen, and to get it back he has to live up to his responsibilities as The Black Dragon, the secret kingpin of the Chinatown underworld ("Did I forget to mention that I'm secretly the kingpin of the Chinatown underworld?"), and that means investigating the kung fu crime wave that the local turf war has engendered.
Wolverine, a vaguely <a href = "http://indianajones.wikia.com/wiki/Short_Round">Short Round</a>-like kid and a white eyebrow master follow a trail that leads them to a dragon-carved tunnel that leads from San Francisco to China, The Jade Claw and a particularly silly section of Wolverine's rather silly rogue's gallery. Wolvie and his friend's aren't the only ones in the literal underworld beneath the figurative underworld though; Gorilla Man (seen most prominently in Parker's various Agents of Atlas comics) and Fat Cobra (from Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and David Aja's Immortal Iron Fist run) are also knocking around and ally themselves with Wolvie (Gorilla Man does so only after the traditional Marvel fight and then team-up ritual).

It is, like so much of Aaron's Marvel writing, pretty insane, but it's also a lot of fun and very funny. Gorilla Man may be one of the last characters one would think to pair Wolverine up with, but Aaron finds an awful lot of similarities between the two so that they play off one another nicely, and artist Ron Garney even hammers those parallels home in his posing of the two hairy, teeth-gritting brawlers.

Garney's work is, as always, superb, and he does a pretty incredible job of marrying the wildly different characters and concepts—created in different eras by different artists—into something seemingly seamless. Chinese dragons, guy from '70s kung fu movie, Wolverine, a talking gorilla in a pair of pants and a white button-down shirt, Razorfist—all appear in the space of three panels, and all look perfectly natural doing so.

Garney doesn't draw the one issue that appears in this trade that isn't part of the title story. That's drawn by Renato Guedes, and finds Wolverine in New York City just in time to catch a whiff (literally; he smells it) of a meeting between a Japanese yakuza boss and Wilson "The Kingpin" Fisk, a meeting interrupted by some amusingly weird bounty hunter characters that apparently appeared in another Wolverine story I haven't run across yet (And who reminded me of the two guys who look sorta like Yosemite Sam in the old Looney Tunes short Along Came Daffy; it's watchable here, for the time being).
Guedes' art is fine, but it's so different from Garney's that it takes some getting used to, and is sort of a shock to see. His Wolvie is shorter, hairier and uglier, his hair more clown-like. There's a great deal more detail and texture to all of his art, so the more realistic style clashes with the flatter, more abstracted, more comic book-y look of Garney's art.

This particular story is a little straighter to, as it's more plot-driven and involves more familiar plot elements for Wolverine comics...and modern Marvel comics in general.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Yeah, this was a good one. It just came on the heels of some pretty depressing story where Wolverine went to hell, came back possessed, and then unwittingly murdered his his own kids(What a day, huh?), so Aaron went back to something light, very reminiscent of his very good "Manifest Destiny" story. Aaron's very good at mixing up styles with his Wolverine stories: cat-and-mouse thrillers(Get Mystique), Spy Movies(Adamantium Men), horror(the insane asylum one), sci-fi apocalyptic(the one with the Deathloks), now he's another kung-fu flick, very "Big Trouble in Little China". There's another rather good one where he travels to Japan.

I'm a big fan of Aaron's Wolverine work. He has a great voice for the character and his world, and he backs up up his big ideas and wacky concept with great dialog and smart storytelling choices. He's still writing the character in WATXM, way I figure, he's just gonna keep writing him until he can't anymore. Suits me just fine!

If you haven't read it, I can't recommend Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine enough. Fantastic story, great Adam Kubert artwork, manages to tell a heartfelt story among all the DOOM THE LIVING PLANET and Mecha-Devil Dinosaurs. A celebration of the inane wacky logic of the Marvel Universe.