Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Wolverine Vol. 1: Hunting Season

This trade collects the first six issues of the latest volume of the Marvel's Wolverine comic book, recently relaunched as part of the publisher's successful "Marvel NOW!" campaign. It's written by Paul Cornell, an inventive writer known for highly imaginative plots and delivering extremely "comic book-y" stories that teeter on the edge of crazy with a completely straight face. It's mostly drawn by pencil artist Alan Davis, an old hand who has been regularly producing slick superhero art since long before I had ever read my first comic book (He's working here with his frequent partner, inker Mark Farmer).

It's a good example of what has made the post-Marvel Now line of comics so successful, from a creative standpoint (although, as far as I can tell, they're doing just fine in sales as well, and still regularly beating DC in their ages-old war for direct market market share).

Good Writer + Good Artist + Popular Comic Book Character = Good, Popular Comics.

The formula here is tweaked somewhat slightly, as so many of the Marvel Now relaunches were, by the fact that the good writer and good artist just so happen to be ones that the average comics reader might not have thought would be a good fit for the character, and the fact that they're leaning hard in a direction that is far from the predominant one for the character and book.

This is Wolverine as superhero, the character somewhat divested from his large supporting cast/s, his unwieldy history/continuity and the emphasis taken off of his personal demons and his bloodthirsty stabbiness. Cornell isn't writing an "Ultimate" Wolverine, of course, and there are explanations given as to why Wolverine doesn't call the Avengers or X-Men for help with this particular conflict, and he makes references to his past, his long life and some of the significant events and people in it, but they are just mentions, organic and natural: If you get them, you get them and, if you don't, the panel or scene, let alone the whole story, hardly demands that you do.

One way of stating just how pure a superhero story this is might be to say that you could take Wolverine out of it and plug in another hero, but while that's true in the broadest sense—Wolverine is fighting some kind of mind-controlling, hive-mind alien life-form that have a connection to a mysterious high-tech weapon—Cornell builds the story around this more-or-less generic superhero threat specific reactions to Wolverine's powers and behavior.

Long story short, this is a Wolverine comic book for people who don't necessarily know, like or even care all that much about Wolverine...while at the same time being an extremely polished comic book for fans of the character as well. It's a Wolverine comic book about Wolverine, not a Wolverine comic book about other Wolverine comic books, if that makes sense.

While it was surprisingly good, two words in that particular order I keep returning to with the Marvel Now books I sample, it was far from perfect, but I like to think that in a perfect world, this would be the base-line for a mainstream superhero comic: Smartly made by highly-skilled professionals trying something new with old, familiar toys in an attempt to reach new readers without sacrificing old ones.

What keeps it from being perfect? Well, it's still a Wolverine comic book, and at the risk of sounding snobby, I think it's safe to say that the most a Wolverine comic book can aspire to being is a perfect Wolverine comic book, not a perfect comic book in general.

Beyond that, some of the individual chapters seemed a little too fleet; they're constructed with beginnings, middles and cliffhanger endings, but sometimes those endings seemed awfully close to the middles, and I imagine that could have made the serially-published books a bit of a disappointment to read (This wasn't a $3.99 comic, was it? Oh God it was).

The bigger problem was that two-thirds of the way through this trade, and this story, Davis disappeared, and was replaced by a Mirco Pierfederici, with a trio of inkers finishing his art (Karl Kesel and Zach Fischer on #5, Tom Palmer on #6). Marvel tried to cover for the fact that there's fill-in art here, by labeling the first four issues as part of a four-part "Hunting Season" arc and the last two issues as a two-part "Drowning Logan" arc, but its an unconvincing attempt; this is all one story, with nothing differentiating the two arcs from one another aside from the fact that the art changes and Marvel labeled them as different stories (a distinction made all the more clear when read in a single collection like this).

Pierfederici and company's art isn't bad or incompetent or anything, but it is quite obviously not that of Davis, which was a good one-third to one-half of the book's selling point (see the Marvel Now formula stated above), and since Davis is around for the first two-thirds of the story, he's there more than long enough to establish a distinct look and tone for the book, which Marvel then blows by having a clearly rushed fill-in artist swoop in (I do hope this wasn't published at the accelerated, more-than-monthly schedule of so many of Marvel's current comics, because, if so, then they reeeaaallly screwed this one up pretty thoroughly, and there aren't any convincing excuses as to why they might have done so).

I did note while reading that Pierfederici's character design was a bit off—he's missing a stripe that Davis has on Wolvie's costume in his chapters—but then, the colorist made a postal uniform red and yellow instead of blue in an earlier chapter too, so maybe they're just sort of rushed all-around in the production of this comic?

The disappointing fumbling of the ending aside—looking at the credits for the serial issues that follow those contained here, it looks like Pierfederici draws #7 as well and then Davis returns after a three-issue break—this was a nice, clean break from the Wolverine comic/s that preceded it (and I really liked those Jason Aaron ones), and appears to be an interesting take on the character with several promising narrative paths to explore.

It's just too bad Marvel can't manage their scheduling better (And that they insist on charging so much for their damn comic books; this is a perfect example of a comic book I'd happily have on my pull-list and buy and read monthly at $2.99, but at $4-a-pop will happily wait to read in borrowed-from-the-library trade).


Anonymous said...

Love Davis, but that is hands-down the single blandest cover I have ever seen on a book about a man with knives built into his arms.

Which is kinda something, given the history of generic stabby-action poses we've seen on X-titles over the last thirty years...

Nitz the Bloody said...

" What keeps it from being perfect? Well, it's still a Wolverine comic book, and at the risk of sounding snobby, I think it's safe to say that the most a Wolverine comic book can aspire to being is a perfect Wolverine comic book, not a perfect comic book in general. "

What's wrong with Wolverine?

JohnF said...

The problem with comics Wolverine is that he just doesn't compare to movie Wolverine. Just one man's opinion, of course.