Summary: Wolverine arrives in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival. He reconnects with his old friend, detective Tony Vargas, who’s investigating a series of rumored vampire murders. The culprits, St. Cyrus Leviticus and Tony’s undead wife Ezra, soon confront Tony in his home. While Wolverine is knocked unconscious, Ezra kills Tony. Wolverine pursues the killers, and learns Leviticus is possessed by an alien symbiote that he believes will grant him immortality in exchange for human souls. Wolverine kills Leviticus and the symbiote, saving the participants in Carnival. Wolverine mourns the loss of Tony and vows vengeance on Ezra.
Continuity Notes: Decades earlier, Wolverine worked as a bouncer for Tony, who once owned a bar called Devil’s Grill.
Production Notes: This is a $5.99, prestige format one-shot. Inker Eduardo Alpuente is incorrectly credited as a writer on the inside front cover.
Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Even though the bookshelf format books weren’t submitted to the Code, Marvel still felt the need to color all of the blood in this comic purple.
Review: It’s obvious Marvel was quite pleased with Joe Casey’s work on Cable, as he was assigned one of the Wolverine bookshelf titles less than a year after breaking in. Black Rio follows the basic Wolverine template of introducing a heretofore-unknown friend from the past, the death of said friend, and a group of villains who can survive at least a few pages of slicing and dicing. Casey also seems found of the slightly sleazier interpretation of Wolverine that often showed up in the ‘80s, so he ends up spending almost as many pages partying in Rio and drinking with Tony as he does chasing the bad guys. While Wolverine is a character better suited for Rio than, say, Spider-Man, this is the first flaw in the story. Wolverine learns of a series of vampire murders, vows to help his friend, and then spends the next several pages getting drunk out of his mind. That’s commitment.
The villains are also a problem. The story repeatedly sets up a vampire menace, only to reveal that the vampire is a subordinate/possible lover of another character -- a mystery man with a Lovecraft-style monster attached to his chest. Since she’s creating legions of the undead, do they count towards the souls St. Cyrus Leviticus is supposed to be feeding his master? And why do some of Ezra’s victims become vampires, but others, like Tony, simply die? How exactly Ezra became a vampire is also left as a mystery, and while this kind of thing isn’t wildly unrealistic within the Marvel Universe, it still feels like a glaring omission. The wife of Wolverine’s friend, who went on to become a detective, is actually the vampire responsible for the series of murders he’s investigating? It feels like too much of a coincidence, and considering that she isn’t even the main threat, I’m wondering if the character needed to be in the story.
Thematically, Casey explores the idea of mortality. Wolverine, although he knows better, feels that people like Tony should live forever, and isn’t prepared for his death. Ezra has cheated death by becoming vampire, while Leviticus feeds souls to a monster to stay young. Wolverine achieved his virtual immortality by an accident of birth, and is forced to watch the impact of time on his loved ones. Casey doesn’t seem to have a lot to say on the specific topic; apparently the idea is broached simply to parallel Wolverine’s character with that of Leviticus and Ezra. Perhaps Casey felt a need to make the villains feel less like random selections, but their interactions with Wolverine really go nowhere. I don’t want to be too hard on the book, as Casey writes a respectable Wolverine and the early scenes with Tony are nice. The story just feels disjointed, which doesn’t seem appropriate for a prestige format book that costs six dollars.