Sunday, June 09, 2013

Review: Wolverine: Wolverine Goes To Hell

Despite how exactly the title of this collection describes the premise of the story within, it seemed to be missing rather large chunks of likely valuable information: I felt like I walked in on a movie already in progress, and or that pages were removed from the book almost at random.

Naturally, there were no volume numbers on the spine to indicate when this book should be read in relation to any other Wolverine comics so that it might make more sense, despite the fact that it stars Wolverine and is written by Jason Aaron who, at the time this originally came out, had been writing Wolverine for years (The fine print says these comics came from Wolverine #1-#5 though, so I guess this is technically the start of a new series, or just the renumbering and retitling of Aaron's ongoing Wolverine: Weapon X title).

Part of that may have to do with the way Aaron chose to tell the story, beginning with a scene from a special (Wolverine: Road to Hell) in which a naked Wolverine is falling down to hell like Alice falling to Wonderland, then flashing back to a point before that and the action on Earth, never dramatizing why or how exactly Wolverine's soul was sent to hell or why his possessed-by-demons body is still on earth, except in explanations delivered later in the game.

And part of it may have to do with the way I'm reading this story—in collected form—rather than the way it was originally published in serial form. Apparently, the original issues it appeared in contained back-up stories, so they would lead with a chapter of "Wolverine Goes To Hell" by Aaron and pencil artist Renato Guedes, and then there would be a shorter chapter of a back-up story entitled "Scorched Earth" by Aaron and a variety of quirkier, more stylized artists (Jason Latour, Steven Sanders, Michael Gaydos, Jamie McKelvie, etc) following Wolvie's possessed body on Earth. The two occur simultaneously, and the former refers at points to the latter, although someone reading the collection won't understand the references until the whole book is read. (One unfortunate side-effect of this collection strategy is that, unfortunately, if you're not aware of the back-up material, "Goes To Hell" seems to end quite suddenly, with a good 30 story pages left in the collection (which also includes a variant cover gallery, some design sketches and an 11-page "All-New Wolverine Saga" feature, in which Wolverine recaps his adventures in prose, while illustrations pulled from the comics those adventures occurred in liberally stud the paragraphs.

At any rate, in this story entitled "Wolverine Goes to Hell," Wolverine goes to hell; we eventually learn that he gets there via a trap involving a cabal of civilians who seem to really, really hate hm, a black magic ritual of some kind, and Mystique masquerading as his girlfriend Melita serving as bait.

While Wolvie's in hell, someone that speaks in yellow speech bubbles and refers to itself in the plural is in control of his body; he/she/it dress him up funny, change clothes a lot, and go about attacking and killing his friends and loved ones (In addition to Wolverine claws, the soul-less, possessed Wolvie body has Dark Side of the Force powers like air-choking and the ability to, like, summon insects and stuff like that).
Most of the loved one hunting occurs in the back-ups, but he also fights some X-Men (mostly Colossus) and two Ghost Riders and The Son of Satan, who Mystique has gathered together, apparently regretting her role in all this.

Wolverine's time in hell is...well, it's kinda weird. The devil isn't really ever referred to as the devil or Satan or Lucifer, and he doesn't look like any Marvel devils like Mephisto or Satannish. Rather, he's a kind of generic looking horror movie demon, with horns the size of Legend's Tim Curry, a mouth full of fangs and tusks, and purple skin, plus the traditional cloven hooves, batwings and a tail.
He's intent on "breaking" wolverine, who is intent on not being broken, and the punishment the devil has for Wolverine consists mainly of having Wolverine fight a bunch of dudes. He does so without the benefit of his healing factor (but he can't die, so he still kinda sorta has a healing factor, right?) or his adamantium, but isn't that also basically Wolverine's every waking day and, I imagine, his purgatory and his heaven? Fighting a bunch of ninjas, thugs and evil mutants, including one's he's killed before?

The devil has the most luck torturing Wolvie by having his old love Mariko flail him until he screams, which takes 12 blows depicted in 15 grueling panels.

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that Wolverine eventually escapes hell, thanks to some unlikely assistance from two unexpected allies in hell and a plan that seems so familiar I know I've seen it before, but I'll be damned if I can remember which movie or comic I've seen it in know, and an exorcism performed by Mystique and her leather boys up on earth.

Of all of the Wolverine material of Aaron's I've read, this was by far the worst. Not only is it not funny—there aren't many, or any, really, opportunities for humor—even dark humor—in the scenarios being set up here, but the big, huge, epic mythological scale and setting of the story seems brief, small and unimaginative. The hell Aaron gives us here is a pretty generic one, and so far removed from the other visions of hell other Marvel comics have shown us over the decades that it seems a poor replacement for them.

Check this out:
A full page of Aaron conjuring highly imaginative imagery of a horrible hellscape and its denizens, but we don't get to see any of it drawn, nor did we see Wolverine see any of these things he's now narrating that he saw. The actual hell in the comic book is just one big room full of standard, generic demons and devils.

It's disappointing, and that's all on Aaron: So much of his Wolverine material to date has been so great, that a merely decent story like this seems terrible by comparison.

Guedes isn't my favorite of Aaron's Wolverine collaborators—I prefer Garney—but he does a pretty find job. The demons are generic, but they're well-drawn generic, and his human characters are all rather finely detailed. I dug how he rendered Damion Hellstrom, as someone who looks like he should be hanging out with skull-faced bikers from hell, even if he's not rocking his original design (and my favorite look of his).
Melita's clothes seem to have a hard time staying on, though.
The artwork in the back-ups is mostly much more interesting, but it also comes in shorter bursts, and as much as I enjoyed, say, Latour's artwork, I don't think it would have worked quite as well in the main story.


bad wolf said...

I wonder if the purple demon is supposed to be a reference to S'ym, the character from Magik's Limbo?

I do like the last page here, the girlfriend arguing how much to trust someone with a small skull on her forehead.

Akilles said...

The first time I saw this, I knew that it wouldn`t be good.