Thursday, June 15, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS: Part Two


MARVEL AGE ANNUAL #4 - 1988
I’ve never seen that Art Adams cover before. Surprised it hasn’t been recycled endlessly like his CLASSIC X-MEN #1 cover.

This was a preview for WOLVERINE #1, that’s actually been placed after issue #3 in this collection. I like the way the editors don’t just toss stories out there; they want to make them fit. I’ll play “umm, actually” and point out that it should be placed sometime after #4, however, because Logan doesn’t know Gen. Coy is in Madripoor at this point.

Calling this a story is generous. Wolverine wanders Madripoor, and all of the X-teams somehow make quick, unexplained, cameo appearances. It’s worth reprinting, though, because it’s by the original creative team, and I love when the Epic collections find these obscure pieces that no one remembers. 


WOLVERINE #4 - February 1989
These opening pages are Orzechowski at the height of his hand-lettering days. There’s just as much character in the lettering as the art, but it isn’t distracting at all. It’s also Orz’s last issue as letterer, which I suppose helped to give WOLVERINE an identity separate from UNCANNY X-MEN, but it feels like a real loss.

This issue, Claremont makes his greatest strides in establishing the world of the series. New villains and supporting cast members, like the pilot Archie Corrigan, are introduced, while Claremont leftovers from SPIDER-WOMAN and NEW MUTANTS also join the cast. I’ve always admired the way Claremont seems to have a plan for any character who had more than a walk-on appearance in one of his books. Allegedly, he has notebooks packed with plot ideas for all of these obscure characters.

I’ve never heard of a clear reason why Bloodsport’s name was changed to Bloodscream. Was it really to avoid a lawsuit from the “Bloodsport” movie producers?

Not that this goes anywhere, but having Jessica Drew play against Logan’s acceptance of Tyger is a smart idea. Wolverine figures she’s the “good” crimelord, because she doesn’t deal in drugs or slaves. Jessica doesn’t want to side with any criminal. 

What Tyger actually DOES do for money isn’t clear, aside from some scenes establishing that she runs joyhouses (Code-approved brothels). We’re told she’s a crimelord, but what that entails is murky.


WOLVERINE #5 - March 1989
The debut of Hardcase & the Harriers, some of them at least, a paramilitary team that didn’t take off. Even though the Harriers all resemble background GI JOE players, Hama had no use for them. Hardcase later appeared in WOLVERINE as a parody of Cable clones, even though Erik Larsen didn’t seem to know that Hardcase predated Cable’s debut.  

Another oddity this issue - Psylocke’s Inferno-era armor debuts…months after it’s already appeared in UNCANNY X-MEN. Jessica and Lindsay discover it in the offices of Landau, Luckman, & Lake, which also debuts here. I’m assuming Claremont had some secret origin in mind for the armor, and LL&L, but I doubt we’ll ever discover it. I’ll repeat again that it’s a shame X-MEN FOREVER didn’t cover this territory. 

While Hardcase offers no real threat, Wolverine spends much of the issue fighting Coy’s hired guards. An extended fight scene featuring an Anglo hero fighting minority foes, and there’s no scene like this to make it okay. 



Oh, how backwards we were in 1989. And 1999. And 2009. Comics had yet to reach peak wokeness.


WOLVERINE #6 - April 1989
Tyger is rescued, while Karma joins Wolverine’s side and Claremont drops very Claremontian hints that never paid off.

Karma’s working with her criminal uncle in order to rescue her missing siblings. No payoff (from Claremont).

The armor that appears to be Psylocke’s was apparently not forged by “mortal hands.” No payoff.

Archie Corrigan is somehow a “disgrace” to his uniform. No payoff.

I’m convinced that Claremont did have resolutions in mind, it’s just clear that they weren’t deemed a priority at the time.

One continuing theme of the series is the thin line between heroes and villains in Madripoor. This issue, Karma is inspired to become a hero again, thanks to Wolverine’s influence. (Wolverine’s arc from rebel to mainstay had already been completed. And it’s a testament to Claremont’s skills that fans still embraced the character.) Meanwhile, their big heroic mission is to save one crimelord from another.

The promise of seeing Wolverine “cut loose” has him slicing Bloodsport’s throat…off-panel. It’s all amazingly tame today, but it was as close to edgy as Marvel was going to get in 1989.


WOLVERINE #7 - May 1989
The status quo continues to evolve - the Prince declares that Coy & Tyger will both serve as crimelords. Since Tyger doesn’t touch drugs or slaves, Coy can handle the nasty stuff. Wolverine gives some rationale on why this is okay. It’s another way duality is introduced into the series. Both Tyger & Coy are morally flawed, but only together can they make life work in Madripoor.

Meanwhile, the Hulk appears, in scenes that were supposed to be colored as night, but weren’t. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be that big a deal, but Hulk only comes out at night in these comics, and that plays to the issue’s cliffhanger.

Another sign this was intended as an “older” Marvel book of the era - two attempted rape scenes in one issue. Not that anything happens, of course. We also learn the Prince is an obsessed fan of Lindsay’s and it’s played as a joke. Jessica questions if this is a man who would ever accept “no,” however.

More odd continuity - Lindsay can remove Psylocke’s (?) armor, but Tyger can’t. Wolverine has the “ultimate key,” because he commissioned it from “a friend.” 



WOLVERINE #8 - June 1989
Hulk, split between Joe Fixit and Banner, is here for a silly guest spot, but Claremont is still mindful of the theme. Just as Madripoor’s Lowtown and Hightown represent the two sides of Wolverine, and Tyger and Jessica Drew represent his dueling animal/hero natures, Hulk is also two people residing in one body.

I always liked this issue as a kid. Wolverine spends much of the story conspiring ways to put the Hulk back into purple pants. And in the closing pages, it’s heavily implied that Hulk has seen through the “Patch” disguise, so he ends up with a small victory over the hero. 


WOLVERINE #9 - July 1989
The first of many, so many, WOLVERINE fill-in issues.

It’s possible this was inventory, maybe a MARVEL FANFARE story, that was slotted in. The final page reveals that the entire story’s been a flashback, and there’s some attempt to have Logan declare that he isn’t the same man we see in the story.

The plot treats Wolverine as the Punisher, methodically tracking down mercenaries and killing them for their actions in Iraq five years ago. Wolverine says he was “Weapon X” then, and then claims the flashback was also years ago, so…how long were we to believe Wolverine’s been an X-Man? He also appears in his yellow outfit, another hint that the story might’ve been lying around for a while. Then again, I don’t think Peter David was writing freelance for Marvel during the yellow costume days, so maybe this was intended for WOLVERINE.

While the story plays out like an EC morality tale, David still makes an effort to maintain Wolverine’s unique moral code. He assures the reader that he takes no joy in killing, and only finds happiness in innocence. The mercenaries have to die because they stole that innocence from someone, and he’s keeping a promise he made years ago. This was all pretty daring stuff for Marvel in the ‘80s…now, it reads as a template WOLVERINE solo tale from the early Quesada years.


WOLVERINE #10 - August 1989
The comic that cemented Sabretooth’s place as Wolverine’s major villain. The seeds were planted during “Mutant Massacre,” but this was the moment that a generation of kids forgot that Sabretooth was a lame henchman character, along the lines of the Constrictor, and embraced him as Wolverine’s evil opposite.

It’s still so early in Sabretooth’s development, his name is spelled “Sabre-Tooth.”

The fight here has been revisited numerous times. And, done properly, it could’ve been an excellent set piece in one of the movies. Instead, it was thoroughly botched in that first WOLVERINE movie.

Another significance of the issue is that it’s one of the extremely rare Wolverine flashback stories from this era. One of the first ever -- I think the KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE mini might’ve had a flashback, but other than that, Claremont tended to avoid them.

It’s also the final Claremont issue, although he leaves with no fanfare. His return is over 100 issues away, and perhaps the less said about that the better. The internal politics of Madripoor are still in play, as we learn that Jessica & Lindsay have set up shop in a “bawdy house” under the Prince’s command. None of the post-Claremont writers wanted to touch this stuff. The closest anyone came was the Goodwin run, which used Madripoor effectively as a setting, but I believe avoided the politics.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS


I remember people being angry when, in the midst of lost Silver Age reprints, Marvel collected WOLVERINE in the Essentials books.

“Classic Lee/Ditko DR. STRANGE remains out of print, but the dumb fanboys get their Wolverine!” (Not that the Essentials ended up skipping DR. STRANGE, of course. He eventually came out okay.)  I think most of that elitism has dissipated, and the Epic Collections are steeped in the 1980s, so WOLVERINE doesn’t appear out of place.

MADRIPOOR NIGHTS opens with the initial MCP serial, starring Wolverine. The decision to do a solo book had already been made, and the regular creative team (Claremont & John Buscema) are here to introduce the new world of Madripoor.

Madripoor has become an accepted part of the X-canon, and larger Marvel Universe. The chances of it appearing in some X-related movie/TV project are inescapable.  (Of course, as WIZARD told us, Claremont did nothing memorable after 1980… )

The Essentials volume just dumped readers into the first issue of the regular series. If you wanted the Madripoor backstory, you had to buy that separate “Save the Tiger!” one-shot, or assemble the first ten issues of MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS.  

I actively resisted MCP as a kid, and have few regrets on that score. I did miss those Sam Kieth issues that stayed out of print for years, though.

I didn’t even know about this Romita cover until just now. Those quickie MCP reprint one-shots didn’t bother with pesky covers.




The Epic collection doesn’t skimp on the extras, so you also get the promotional material for the original WOLVERINE ongoing. The sales hook is that Logan is now unleashed, without the restraints of the X-Men’s moral code. It means Tom DeFalco’s now in charge, and he’s less squeamish at the thought of Logan killing.

Even so, Logan’s not too lethal in the opening arc. He only kills when in life or death situations, or to save an innocent. Also, there’s little-to-no blood in any of these comics.

The story has Logan entering Madripoor, following an off-panel encounter with a dying man. He’s obligated to deliver a message…or to deliver a locket. The continuity’s a bit choppy in the opening chapters. Eventually, we discover that an acquaintance of the X-Men has a new life in Madripoor, and is plotting to overthrow the local crimelord. Problem is, she wants to take his place.

The character is Tyger Tiger (just try keeping that specific order straight), a meek banker that was kidnapped by the Reavers when they realized they had too much money. Tyger was supposed to be their accountant, but the X-Men interrupted their brainwashing process. Claremont can at times obsess over minor details, and I’ve always thought this was a clever angle to play. What does a team of efficient cyborg thieves do when they have so much money they can’t spend it all? Well, what does any billionaire do?

Tyger wasn’t fully turned, but she isn’t her old self, either. Rejected by her family and the Hong Kong banking community, she’s found a new home in the seedy world of Madripoor. The makings of a great character are here, even though Tyger disappeared a few issues into the book’s run. Claremont’s setting up a parallel between Logan’s inherent dichotomy and Tyger’s identity struggle. Something could’ve been done with this, but instead she ended up a forgotten, not-quite love interest.

Wolverine sides with Tyger, taking on Roche and his major henchman Razorfist. I realize he’s just here as muscle, and is killed off quickly, but this design hasn’t aged very well.


I think we were in the final days of legless unitards being okay in comics.

At story’s end, Tyger’s in position to rule Madripoor’s underworld, and a conflicted Wolverine sticks around to act as her conscience. That’s the setup for the regular series, which had potential, until pretty much the day Claremont left the book. 



WOLVERINE #1 - November 1988

I read most of these issues for the first time in the Essential reprint. The Buscema/Williams/Green art does lose something when colors are added. There’s a depth to the drawings that just doesn’t translate with color. Buscema famously hated superheroes, and I suspect Claremont’s pitch of doing the book as TERRY & THE PIRATES was his way of appeasing Buscema. Plus, Claremont wasn’t thrilled at the thought of a monthly WOLVERINE book, either. He likely was looking for a way to alleviate his own boredom.

This issue, Logan formally adopts his Patch disguise, which is literally an eyepatch. Launching a solo WOLVERINE book while the X-Men were believed dead is an early case of Marvel allowing commercial interests to overrule internal story logic. It seems like a minor issue now, but I could see Jim Shooter fighting his bosses over this. DeFalco was more of an attitude of publishing what he knew the fans wanted. And they wanted WOLVERINE, every month.

When in battle, Wolverine wears all black, and shadows magically appear over his eyes. This makes no literal sense, and I doubt Marvel was willing to claim that Logan was now wearing mascara. I bet Peter Sanderson was thrown for a loop when updating Wolverine’s Handbook entry. “Do I explain that eye trick? How?!”

Interestingly, Wolverine comes across a different courier who’s been tortured by savages, but now it’s on-panel. Coincidentally, the item he’s in charge of also has ties to Madripoor, and Wolverine’s ex, Mariko.

Mostly, the story’s an excuse for Buscema to draw what he likes, and for Wolverine to “cut loose” in a way fans weren’t used to seeing. All of this would seem pretty tame by today’s standards, though. Even when Logan’s cutting through an army of thugs, his narration spells out his specific moral code.


WOLVERINE #2 - December 1988

If you’re counting the Claremont tropes, we have a possessed hero, a few “caper”s, and one “rabbit” as a verb. Honestly, this stuff rarely bothers me. I certainly didn’t pick up on them as a kid, and the scripts don’t read as lazy to me today.

Claremont continues to introduce old SPIDER-WOMAN characters, with Jessica and Lindsay officially joining the cast. They’re tracking the Black Blade of the Yashida Clan, which connects not only to Wolverine’s rarely seen love interest, but occasional Claremont favorite the Silver Samurai. 

There’s some character work amidst the action -- Lindsay gets drunk her first night in Madripoor, and discovers her bartender is from the same area of Long Island… Logan sees the possession of the Black Blade as a parallel to his berserker rages…more talk of Logan’s moral code -- Claremont rarely wrote generic fight scenes.



WOLVERINE #3 - January 1989

Essentially a Lindsay McCabe solo story, as she works to free Logan/Patch of the possession of the Black Blade.

It’s odd to think of the effort that went into creating a supporting cast for Wolverine, given that his standard solo adventures will entirely drop the concept. Probably because so much of the WOLVERINE solo book turned into fill-ins, which don’t lend themselves to large casts of characters. Then Larry Hama took over the book, and he seemed to think Jubilee was all the support Wolverine needed.

The story ends with the Silver Samurai taking possession of the Black Blade, and the story spinning a reason why this could be a good thing. Not a bad opening arc, overall, but I’m surprised that so little of it focuses on Madripoor.

I have to also give credit to the Epic team for reprinting all of the Wolverine Gallery pin-ups. The Essentials skipped most of them. One consistent trait is just how INconsistent the artists are drawing Wolverine’s hands. Sometimes he has the metal housings on his actual knuckles, sometimes he doesn’t. It’s like I’m watching the ‘90s cartoon all over again. For the record, the metal housings are on Wolverine’s gloves. He also has housings under his skin that bulge out when he extracts his claws, but ordinarily, Logan’s hands look normal.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Remembering the Show Banned by Parents Nationwise



My other CBR post of the week, an examination of the HBO animated series, TODD McFARLANE'S SPAWN.    I tried to cover the development and all three seasons in one post, while also discussing the possibility of the long-teased, still-missing, new SPAWN series.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The “Batman: The Animated Series” Episode That Didn't End Things, After All



Another installment of Adventure(s) Time is now up at CBR.  If you have any other animated episodes you'd like to see paired with ADVENTURES tie-ins, you can leave a comment or contact me on Twitter.

Also, if you're wondering if I'm only going to be posting links from now on, I'll possibly have micro-reviews of a certain series up in the coming weeks...

Monday, April 10, 2017

Adventure(s) Time: When "Knightfall" Invaded The Animated Series


My latest look back on Batman: The Animated Series and its tie-in comic is now up at CBR.

I cover an episode from what could be the strongest run of episodes during the series' run.  There are so many cool shadowy shots in this episode, I wanted to screencap all of 'em.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - Batman:The Animated Series and Its Furry Foes




Please understand that I've summoned all of my willpower to avoid making any reference to a certain 1962 novelty song that was, perhaps, performed by Bobby "Boris" Pickett.  My latest installment of Adventure(s) Time is now up at CBR.  If you'd like to see Batman Adventures, or any Adventures comic really, covered in the future, just leave a comment.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Interested in 10 Rejected X-MEN Movie Concepts?



Tough!  Because you're getting fifteen...

http://www.cbr.com/x-men-movie-moments-that-almost-happened/


(By the way, I forgot to mention what could be my favorite alternate casting from these movies.  Actor David Hemblen, who was the voice of Magneto in the '90s cartoon, was reportedly one of Bryan Singer's choices to play Magneto in the film, but he was unavailable due to his commitment to Earth: Final Conflict).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - When BATMAN:TAS Began to Grow Up



My newest contribution to CBR looks at the debut of Two-Face on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and the sequel from the ADVENTURES tie-in comic, written by Paul Dini. If that Two-Face painting I mentioned has been published somewhere, and I've simply forgotten about it, please be kind enough to tell me.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - The Batman Episode You Can't Escape


My latest piece for CBR...I probably should've mentioned that there is an amazing double-page spread of the Scarecrow's House of Horrors in that ADVENTURES comic: