Path of Stones, Wood of Thorns
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Duncan Rouleau (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Marie Javins & Digital Chameleon (colorists)
While Wolverine continues to live in the woods outside of the mansion, the other X-Men discuss his condition. Storm is appalled that Wolverine nearly killed Sabretooth while he was in their custody. Beast theorizes that Wolverine is living in the woods because he feels guilty about the attack and is exorcising his demons. Storm wonders if he’s staying outside because he’s afraid he might hurt one of the X-Men. Psylocke catches a glimpse of his consciousness and compares it to an animal’s “rolling redness”. As Wolverine howls at the night, Xavier takes Beast and Storm to his lab. Xavier theorizes that the presence of Wolverine’s adamantium impeded his natural evolution for years, and that without it, he’s mutating again. James Hudson of Alpha Flight, via video screen, confirms Xavier’s suspicions. Nearby, Wolverine stalks one of the X-Men’s neighbors. He watches the drunken man confront his wife, as the X-Men approach Wolverine and try to talk to him. As the man prepares to beat his wife again, she runs out of the house in horror. Wolverine grabs the man and unsheathes his claws. Beast pulls him away, and the woman punches Wolverine for attacking her husband. Wolverine warns the team that if the man kills her it’s on their conscious, just as he will be if his condition isn’t dealt with soon.
The idea that losing the adamantium could harm Wolverine has been hinted at in previous issues, but this is the first time it’s outright stated. It becomes another dropped storyline over the next couple of years, as Wolverine continues to exist just fine without the adamantium until he gets it back in 1999.
The Statement of Ownership has average sales at 380,383 with the most recent issue selling 351,400 copies. Considering the fact that the ‘90s boom had peaked, that’s very consistent.
The title of this issue is a reference to a poem by William Butler Yeats, which actually does have a strong thematic connection to this story (Hama has got to have the record for inserting the most references to poetry in Wolverine comics).
This is a beginning of an era in Wolverine that everyone seemed to agree was a bad idea. I’m trying to look at each chapter objectively, and not let my knowledge of where this is going affect my opinion of the individual issues. Hama tries to make this an organic transition from the previous issues, but it’s not hard to see the heavy hand of editorial in this. Even though Wolverine’s going through a rather arbitrary change, Hama at least gives the supporting cast realistic reactions to what’s going on. There’s still an emphasis on characterization, which helps to make some of the events a little easier to swallow. The idea that stabbing Sabretooth somehow pushed Wolverine over the edge is just too hard to buy, though. The story tries to emphasize the fact that Sabretooth was a prisoner at the time and Wolverine’s physical assault was unethical, but that ignores the fact that Sabretooth had escaped his cage and was bragging about the people he was about to kill unless Wolverine stopped him. I don’t think anyone reading this really thinks he has a lot to feel guilty about. The idea that losing his adamantium skeleton has driven Wolverine over the edge also seems strained, since he seemed perfectly sane in the immediate issues leading up to this one (in fact, he was lucid enough to complete a character arc and return to the team after months on the road). Right after issue #75, there were a few hints that Wolverine was losing his grip, but it hadn’t been brought up in over a year at this point. Coming back from the AoA to see Wolverine living like an animal outside comes across as ridiculous shock value, and it’s something I never bought into even in my early teens.
Wolverine, like a lot of the titles, returns with a fill-in artist. This is rough early work from Duncan Rouleau, whose characters tend to look spindly and awkward here. A lot of the faces also look strange, which doesn’t help an issue that mostly consists of conversation scenes. Later on, he would develop a manga-influenced style that suits him a lot better. Hama does a decent job of selling the story, but it’s held back by the art. The later chapters of this storyline, before “Scooby Wolverine” debuts, I have fonder memories of, and I think Adam Kubert’s art has a lot to do with that.