Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WOLVERINE #125 – #126, June 1998 - July 1998

Wolverine #125

Logan’s Run!

Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo & Gerry Alanguilan (inkers), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: Jubilee has dreams that merge her early adventures with Shadowcat’s. She’s awakened by Shadowcat, who explains that six of the people closest to Wolverine (Yukio, Phoenix, Jessica Drew, Rogue, Tyger Tiger, and Psylocke) have been brainwashed by Viper into kidnapping him. Viper tried to brainwash Shadowcat, but she managed to escape. With Gateway’s help, the pair travels with Lockheed to search for Wolverine in Mount Logan, and later Agarashima. Viper’s agents finally abduct Wolverine, but he’s rescued by the Black Widow in Madripoor. Shadowcat phases through Phoenix, which briefly merges their minds and nullifies the brainwashing. Wolverine, who was driven into a berserker rage after Psylocke forced him to relive the deaths of his past loves, is prepared to kill Viper. Jubilee talks him out of it, as Viper explains that Wolverine must fulfill his vow to her. Wolverine explains to the others that Viper is his wife.

Continuity Notes: Mount Logan is where Wolverine lived with Silver Fox, and the place she was killed by Sabretooth (although this had been revealed as a memory implant by this point). Agarashima is the home of Clan Yashida in Japan, and the place Wolverine’s former fiancée, Mariko, was poisoned.

Shadowcat develops a new use of her powers in this issue, which seemed to drive collective fandom mad. She phases Jubilee underground, then remains “at rest relative to the earth”, allowing the planet’s rotation to move them “thirty clicks west”. People hated this scene. Claremont’s defense was that he always intended for Shadowcat to develop these powers one day.

Review: And here we have Chris Claremont’s first return to the X-titles. Claremont returned to Marvel in an editorial role in Fall 1997, with a vaguely defined title I can’t recall (apparently, he worked with Bob Harras to oversee the “big picture” of Marvel Comics). He ended up writing this issue, I believe, because it was an anniversary issue, and someone thought it would be a nice way to announce his return to Marvel (he also ended up on Fantastic Four as a last minute replacement for Scott Lobdell, who wasn’t getting along with Bob Harras). Having Claremont back on an X-title was a big deal at the time, even though a vocal segment of fandom was pretty soured on the experience after his four-issue stint was over.

The kneejerk response some fans had when hearing of Claremont’s return was that he was just going to ignore everything that happened after he left. That’s not very fair, as all of the characters appear in their current status quos, and even Mariko’s death (which was mostly overlooked at the time it happened) is referenced. However, we do have Shadowcat commenting that her natural state is intangibility, Jubilee going back to her 1989 "Girl Wonder" look, and Gateway being called in to take the heroes where they need to go. I don’t really have a problem with Shadowcat’s intangibility issue, since I don’t recall any other writers actually resolving the story. I’m also okay with Jubilee finding her old clothes while digging through her stash at the X-Men’s old base. I think if any other writer had written those scenes, he would’ve been complimented for acknowledging past continuity. Having Jubilee spontaneously call out to Gateway for a teleportation trip doesn’t work at all, though. If she can do that, why didn’t she ask for his help after Bastion kidnapped her (or during any number of her previous adventures)? I understand that this is an anniversary issue that’s supposed to highlight the history of the lead characters, but it seems like logic is thrown out of the window in order to justify his cameo. And Gateway isn’t the only example of this, as the all-female “Wolverine Hit Team/Rescue Squad” forces the reader to make several leaps of logic.

I can understand the point Claremont’s making, that Wolverine tends to make his strongest connections with females, but the execution doesn’t quite work. For one thing, you have to ignore his friendships with Nightcrawler and Colossus and just accept that he’s closer to Rogue and Psylocke. And even if you buy into the all-female conceit, it’s hard to rationalize many of the specific characters chosen. Jessica Drew over Carol Danvers? Psylocke over Storm? Really? There’s also the question of how powerful characters like Rogue and Phoenix could’ve been overtaken by Viper’s poisons, but I’m willing to give Claremont a little slack on this one (the all-powerful Phoenix was mind controlled by the Hellfire Club back in the “Dark Phoenix Saga”, after all). However, you have to wonder why Viper has bothered to gather a half-dozen characters in order to chase down Wolverine. Why not go after him directly? There is a throwaway explanation that she “could think of no other way” to bring Wolverine to her, and that his friends knew “best how to find and capture” him. So it was easier to track down six different people from all over the earth, poison/brainwash them, arrange an elaborate kidnapping plot, and then find Wolverine? On top of this, we also have the unexplained opening that has Jubilee reliving Shadowcat’s first X-Men adventure in her sleep (Why? I'm assuming this is a part of a psychic attack by either Psylocke or Phoenix, but why merge her memories with Shadowcat's?). Plus, Wolverine somehow hopping from Canada to Japan over the course of a few minutes (I guess that’s what’s happened, since Gateway is supposed to be sending Shadowcat and Jubilee to his current locations). What’s frustrating is that the basic premise of the story is interesting. Wolverine getting chased by six of his female friends while Shadowcat and Jubilee rush to his rescue is a fun setup for a story, especially an anniversary issue. However, the story doesn’t do an awful lot to justify the all-female premise, or create motivations that stand up to real scrutiny.

All that said, I really enjoyed this comic as a teenager, and actually had fun rereading it. Despite the rickety plot, the character interactions work very well, as Claremont is able to exhibit what made Shadowcat, Jubilee, and Wolverine so appealing to the audience in the first place. Shadowcat and Jubilee have an amusing chemistry that makes me wish the previous creators had done more with the pair (I wonder how long Claremont had been planning a team-up adventure for the duo). There’s a lovely hallucination scene after Wolverine is stabbed by Psylocke’s psychic knife that has Yu turning to a more shadowy, expressionistic style reminiscent of J. H. Williams III. Watching Mariko die again draws Wolverine into his feral nature, reviving the internal “man vs. beast” conflict that Claremont defined so well for the character back in his original miniseries. He’s brought back down by Jubilee, who gives him a speech about the importance of honor and all of the ideals she’s learned from him. It could be dismissed as pure schmaltz, but it reminds me of the strong moral point of view the X-titles used to convey (before every storyline seemed to turn into an excuse to tear the characters down). So, yes, the plot is filled with holes, but the characterizations are strong enough to carry most of the weight. As for the rest of the storyline...

Wolverine #126

Blood Wedding

Credits: Chris Claremont (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Edgar Tadeo & Gerry Alanguilan (inkers), Jason Wright (colors), Comicraft (lettering)

Summary: With the exception of Shadowcat, all of Wolverine’s friends leave Madripoor. She tries to talk Wolverine out of marrying Viper, but he declares that he’s honor bound to do it. After he exchanges vows with Viper, Sabretooth appears and kills the minster. Shadowcat takes Viper to safety as Wolverine fights Sabretooth. Shadowcat watches the fight, suspicious that something was different about Sabretooth. She discerns that his claws and skeleton have been laced with adamantium. Shadowcat shoves Wolverine off a cliff to save him, leaving her alone with Sabretooth.

Continuity Notes: Wolverine says he knew Viper years earlier when he worked with Seraph, the original owner of Madripoor’s Princess Bar. During a fight with Sabretooth, Seraph sacrificed herself to save Wolverine and Viper. Her final request was that Wolverine honor anything Viper asked of him.

Shadowcat claims that phasing through adamantium is physically painful for her, citing an early incident in the Danger Room. I know this is a retcon, but I don’t know if it contradicts any earlier occasions when Shadowcat phased through adamantium (note that the story says it’s painful for her, but not impossible). Shadowcat claims that something felt different when she phased through Sabretooth’s claws this time (which is amusing, since she’s referring to a scene that took place four pages earlier, and the art never showed his claws actually going through her body).

“Huh?” Moments: Wolverine refers to Viper as his wife twice (three times if you count last issue’s cliffhanger), and then proceeds to marry her. I think that usually works the opposite way.

As they prepare for the wedding ceremony, Shadowcat asks Wolverine if he wants to “scandalize the natives” and marry her. His response is that it’s a tempting offer. I get that the characters are supposed to be kidding, but…wow. Shadowcat also refers to herself as an X-Man, which hadn’t been true since 1987. You could cite this as an example of Claremont ignoring other creators’ work, but he’s actually the creator of Excalibur. I suppose you could argue that it’s a characterization point, and perhaps foreshadowing for her upcoming return to the team.

I Love the ‘90s: Sabretooth declares “I’m the king of the world” as he prepares to finish Wolverine. “I’m the King of the World!” is also listed as the title of the next issue, just one page later.

Review: And here’s where things get pretty dicey. Aside from the fact that Wolverine can’t seem to decide if he’s already married or not, the story doesn’t present a real motivation for either character to actually get married. I can see why Viper’s reason might be left mysterious, but it’s strange that Wolverine doesn’t seem that curious as to why she’s doing this. Wolverine’s own motivation is rushed through in a four-panel flashback that’s incredibly vague and unsatisfying. Really, they’re getting married because that’s the gimmick of the story, and apparently Claremont thinks that it’s a strong enough idea that motivations don’t really matter.

Getting past the absurd marriage storyline, this issue also introduces the adamantium-laced Sabretooth. This idea didn’t last for long, but I always thought it had potential. Now that Wolverine’s physically weaker after losing the adamantium, giving it to his deadliest enemy is a legitimate avenue to explore. This could’ve opened the doors to a new kind of Wolverine/Sabretooth fight, one where Wolverine is clearly the underdog and has to find creative ways to survive. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as Wolverine regained his adamantium a year later (I think Sabretooth lost his adamantium off-panel in an issue of Gambit). This issue’s fight between Wolverine and Sabretooth isn’t bad at all, as Claremont uses it as an opportunity to spell out his take on their conflict (Sabretooth views people as prey and Wolverine as a second-rate clone; Wolverine always has to prove himself a worthy opponent, and fight against the animal instincts Sabretooth embraces). Sabretooth’s given motive for crashing the wedding is that he just has to kill any woman Wolverine’s involved with, which is pretty amusing. The fight scene isn’t enough to save the issue, though, as it’s really a distraction from the main story, which still makes little sense.


Aqualad said...

This kind of thing never bothered me. I always assumed that members of X-Factor, X-Force, Excalibur, etc considered themselves "X-Men" as an umbrella term for mutant superheroes fighting for Xavier's dream.

kerry said...

I seem to remember this storyline as being riddled with lettering mistakes and a few coloring mistakes to boot.

And the whole Sabretooth-with-adamantium thing drove me crazy, especially since I never saw his losing it addressed anywhere. Was it really just off-panel in Gambit?

Like Aqualad above, I always assumed "X-Man" was usable by any X-spinoff. Or, alternately, "Once an X-Man, always an X-Man."

Jeff said...

This story is almost completely incoherent. It's a shame because it has some strong ideas, they just don't come together. I actually like it a little better once the Hand and Hydra show up.

JD said...

From what I remember, we did get to see an explanation of how Sabretooth lost his adamantium : Apocalypse took it from him and gave it to a brainwashed Wolverine (so that he could become the new horseman Death).

I think this was told in flashback in an issue of Wolverine in the early stages of the Twelve crossover.

wwk5d said...

Actually, wasn't Sabertooth's adamantium removed and given to Wolverine during (or just before) the Twelve? Or whenever he was replaced by the Skrull impostor (my memory of the specific timeline is a little vague)?

Another omission: Jessica Drew over Heather Hudson? Really? And yeah, hard to fathom Rogue and Psylocke being there and Storm isn't. I know Claremont had them bond after they met up in Acts of Vengeance, but still...

I never quite understood Claremont's fascination with Viper. She's an interesting character, but it seems like he does keep trying to force her into the X-mythos, and he's probably the only person I know who thinks of her as a major X-villain or supporting character. Has anyone besides him ever used her that way?

I would have rather he wrote a one or 2 parter examining the dynamics between Logan and his 2 'daughters', Shadowcat and Jubilee. Oh well.

rob said...

Count me in as someone who was really excited for Claremont to return to the X-titles with this, and completely let down by this incoherent mess. I wish I had remembered this feeling when he returned in 2000, instead of spending the first couple months of that trying to convince myself it was good.

I don't even think the characterization is good enough to cover the ridiculously gaping plot holes. I think it's pretty weak throughout. The wedding plot is pretty awful too, and, as you say, justified by a terrible little flashback. It's just such a stupid plot.

Matt said...

I recall enjoying this story, except for the fact that everyone's characterizations seemed to revert to 1991. But even so, no one writes Wolverine like Chris Claremont (though Larry Hama was always a close second in my book).

I remember reading an article in Wizard that explained what Claremont's role with Marvel was, but I can't recall what it was called. If I'm remembering correctly, though, he basically had final plot approval on everything that came through editorial to make sure it lived up to the Marvel legacy. He mentioned in the interview that part of the reason he had this position was because he was the only person left at Marvel who had been on staff in the days when Stan Lee was still running the show.

Teebore said...

I wish I had remembered this feeling when he returned in 2000, instead of spending the first couple months of that trying to convince myself it was good.

Ha, me too!

I remember being uber-excited for Claremont's return to the X-Men, and then when it landed with a dull thud, I tried to convince myself it was equal to my excitement.

It wasn't.

Matt said...

I agree that his 2000 run was pretty bad, but I enjoyed X-Treme X-Men for the most part, and I really got into his second return to Uncanny a few years ago, but it was sadly cut short by Claremont's health and Marvel editorial.

Jeff said...

I kind of enjoy X-Treme X-Men as well. His run in 2000 is maligned pretty fairly, although I still enjoy X-Men #100-102. There's something about those issues I just find fun. But it fell apart pretty quickly.

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