Monday, May 23, 2011


Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Steve Lightle (artist), Michael Higgins & Bill Oakley (letters), Kelly Corvese, Carlos Lopez, Mike Thomas, & Renee Witterstaetter (colors)

Summary: While investigating the Project, a government program that’s accidentally created a serial killer, Wolverine encounters Mary Walker. Wolverine is smitten with the demure Mary, but soon realizes another personality lives within her -- Typhoid Mary. Typhoid abandons Wolverine and pursues her own vendetta against the government scientists. Wolverine continues his investigation and finds Trevor, a scientist for the Project who regrets his involvement. Trevor leads Wolverine to Sid, the Project’s director. He finds Sid operating on Mary, allegedly following her wishes to remove the Typhoid persona. Typhoid reemerges and wrecks havoc in the lab. She escapes, leaving Wolverine alone with Sid. Sid boasts that Wolverine won’t kill him, even as his claws reach Sid’s throat.

Continuity Notes: The serial killer, or “spy-killer” as the story calls him, is known only as Roberts. He reaches out to Wolverine because he remembers him from his spy days. Wolverine, at this point, still hasn’t recovered the lost memories from his secret agent life, so he doesn’t remember Roberts. He chains Roberts up while investigating his claims, but Roberts eventually breaks free and kills himself before he can murder anyone else.

Production Note: This is a sixty-four page one-shot, reprinting the Wolverine serial from Marvel Comics Presents issues #109-116.

Review: Ann Nocenti used to carry Typhoid Mary around with her on various assignments, which explains how the Daredevil villain met everyone from Wolverine to Spider-Man to Ghost Rider in just a few years. I’m not complaining; Typhoid’s a great character and likely the most memorable aspect of Nocenti’s Daredevil run, which was filled with fantastic stories. Described by Nocenti as a way to "shatter the female stereotypes--virgin, whore, bitch, ditz, feminist, girl scout, all-suffering mother, et al.--into tiny fragments and yet keep all the pieces in the same little female bundle," Typhoid isn’t what most people would expect to find in a Marvel comic circa 1988. As many others have pointed out, Nocenti was writing warped, Vertigo-esque stories for Code-approved Marvel books years before Vertigo even existed. She also contributed, with John Bolton, quite a few twisted Classic X-Men back-up stories during that era. Steve Lightle was the cover artist during this time, which is where I first discovered his work. I’ve always loved Lightle’s covers, and while his interiors during this story are occasionally murky, most of the art lives up to his reputation.

This is one of the first MCP stories to appear following the Weapon X serial, so the threads Nocenti picks up on regarding shadowy government conspiracies and human experimentation hadn’t been exhausted by numerous Wolverine writers yet. While writing Daredevil, she dropped hints that Typhoid had undergone her own days as a government guinea pig, so the connection with Wolverine doesn’t feel particularly forced. You could argue that there’s a sameness to most of Typhoid’s stories (hero meets innocent Mary, becomes enraptured in some way, Typhoid appears, hero is either repulsed by her violence or drawn in, established female love interest begins to wonder what’s wrong…), but I’ve always found it a plausible treatment of how a villain with psychic powers would interact with her opponents. Unless your hero has the mental prowess of Professor X, he’s going to get sucked in by Typhoid in one way or another. Wolverine is a great character to pair with Typhoid, since it’s conceivable that he could be attracted to either side of her personality. I don’t know if Nocenti had this in mind while writing the story, but Typhoid Mary directly parallels both of Wolverine’s love interests from his original miniseries -- sweet, reserved Mary matches Mariko, while the violent, liberated Typhoid is analogous to Yukio.

I’m not sure how tired government conspiracy stories were by 1992 (Nocenti even hints that the Project played a role in JFK’s assassination), but there is an effort to move past a few of the clichés. One of the problems I often have with government conspiracy stories, especially in comics, is the casual portrayal of human experimentation. Obviously, the real world brought us atrocities like Nazi experimentation and the Tuskegee syphilis study, but in the realm of comics, it seems as if there's no shortage of truly sadistic scientists willing to do anything for a paycheck. Rather than paint everyone with a giant brush, Nocenti introduces at least one sympathetic scientist, and even gives him a few pages to justify his involvement with the Project. The killer, Roberts, isn’t given a sensitive monologue, but his madness is successfully portrayed by a series of psychedelic fantasy sequences. These scenes could’ve been an excuse for arbitrary weirdness, but they serve the story by emphasizing just how badly the Project has damaged Roberts.

The most notable characterization of the story belongs to Wolverine, which is fitting since he’s the star, of course. Instead of dismissing him as a one-note killer, Nocenti emphasizes Wolverine’s strong moral code that actually limits his body count. As an extended narrative scene in Chapter Six explains: “Logan -- he can incapacitate, immobilize…maim and cripple a hundred ways. But he rarely kills. If you don’t believe it -- check their heartbeats.” This is the Wolverine that’s been lost over the years, as Marvel’s pandered to an increasingly bloodthirsty fan base. Wolverine knows how to kill, a part of him might still lust for the kill, but he’s heroic enough to use only the force that’s necessary. This might’ve simply been a repercussion of Jim Shooter’s mandate to tone him down (which also lead to the Hellfire guards Wolverine sliced up later becoming cyborgs), but I think it added another layer to the character.

The mastermind behind the experiments, Sid, is so confident that Wolverine isn’t a true killer, he taunts him even as Wolverine’s claws reach for his neck. When Wolverine asks who would even know if he killed him right there in the empty room, Sid responds, “You…you’d know.” Wolverine counters, “Don’t I always?” The story then concludes in darkness, leaving a black, empty panel to tease the reader. Did Wolverine give in to his urges? After learning what Sid’s done, could anyone blame him? Conversely, as Sid points out, he’s not the scientist who experimented on Wolverine, and nothing Wolverine does is ever going to erase the torture he’s already been forced to endure. The audience is left to decide Sid’s fate, and while it’s not hard to guess where a modern Marvel editor would stand, I miss the days when a Wolverine writer could get away with this kind of ambiguity.


wwk5d said...

Sounds like a good story, and one of the better Wolverine ones from the X-office during the 90s.

Lindsay said...

Hey, thanks for this review!

I really like Ann Nocenti's work in the Classic X-Men backup stories, but hadn't really known what else she's done. I'll probably try and get this title, based on your description of it.

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