Tuesday, December 9, 2008

WOLVERINE #102 – June 1996

Unspoken Promises
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler), Dan Green (inker), Joe Rosas & Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Wolverine leaves the mansion and heads into the city. Meanwhile, a mother puts her child to bed. The child grabs a gun underneath his mattress and sneaks out. He meets up with a drug dealer who is mentoring him. The dealer gets into a firefight with a rival dealer, which kills a bystander. Believing that his rival is dead, the dealer runs away and kills the two nearby witnesses. Wolverine appears from the darkness and kills the drug dealer. His young protégé shoots Wolverine in the back. Wolverine chases him to a train station, which leads to him landing on the tracks as a train approaches. Wolverine saves the boy, protecting him as they drop down several yards. He directs the boy to go home, and then collapses from his wounds. The boy turns back and helps Wolverine, when the rival drug dealer reemerges. He cocks his gun to shoot the boy, but Elektra appears from behind and saves him. The boy reunites with his mother, as Elektra greets Wolverine. Watching Wolverine’s adventure, Elektra remembers her father’s gardener, Starvos. As a child, she was shocked to learn that the Starvos who regretted killing weeds had been a relentless Nazi killer in the war. When two Nazi loyalists returned to her father’s home years later to kill him, she was held hostage. One of the Nazis tried to convince the other not to kill her. After Starvos killed the bloodthirsty one, Elektra pleaded with him to spare the other’s life. He hid out amongst her family and eventually became a foster child to Starvos. Before she left for college, Starvos thanked her for teaching him about redemption.

Review: The story I’ve always heard about this issue was that Larry Hama submitted this as a totally silent issue with no dialogue (like the occasional G. I. Joe issue), and that Bob Harras asked him to include some words. The story still has no dialogue, but instead has Elektra telling a story through the narrative captions. It’s probably Hama’s best issue of the series, and it’s the final Adam Kubert issue, so it’s too bad that it has to star bestial Wolverine. Hama does tie his new animal mindset into the story, treating this as if it’s the first time Wolverine has contemplated the concept of redemption, but I think the story could’ve worked just as well without the bestial angle. At the very least, Hama does use the story to establish that Wolverine is still human enough to act like a hero and save the boy who was trying to kill him a few seconds earlier.

The inclusion of Elektra’s narration adds another layer to the comic, enabling it to be read three different ways. You can ignore the narrative captions and follow the art to see the story of Wolverine in the city, you can ignore the art and read Elektra’s story, or you can read the narration and pay attention to how it connects thematically to the story told through the artwork. Just following the art gives you an Eisner-esque story about a kid rejecting his mother’s values, but realizing the error of his ways when one of his potential victims risks his life to save him. Elektra’s narrative is another story of redemption, focusing on a man who lost everything to the Nazis but was willing to allow one to redeem himself. It’s a superbly written scene, reminding me of how underrated Hama often is. It’s impressive that an issue with an editorially mandated guest star, featuring an editorially mandated new status quo, with (allegedly) an editorially mandated narrative device can turn out as such an enjoyable issue. Adam Kubert’s strengths are also highlighted, as he’s able to tell a story that doesn’t require words without losing the reader. Every character is clearly defined and moves smoothly from panel to panel. Aside from the clear storytelling, he’s also able to create attractive figures that balance cartooniness with realism. He also creates a striking interpretation on New York City, which acts as a character in its own right in the story. Kubert draws the covers for the series for the next few months, but it always disappointed me that he never returned to the book.


wwk5d said...

By far, one of the best things to come out of the X-offices during this era, and easily one of the better ones that holds up to this day. It's issues like this that remind how good a writer Hama can be sometimes. It's a shame Kubert left, as I really liked his art during this period, and he drew a great Elektra.

kerry said...

For years I've mentioned to people how this is one of my favorite single-issue comics ever--period--and they've looked at me like I was crazy (especially if they know it's a "regressed" Wolverine story). Certainly Hama's best effort, in my opinion--but then, I know what he goes on to do to Generation X, so I suppose I see this as his last and highest point. Fantastic issue.

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