Thursday, June 2, 2011

WOLVERINE #132 - December 1998

A Rage in the Cage

Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Tadeo/Koblish/Elmer/Candelario (inks), Comicraft (letters), Jason Wright (colors)

Summary: Wolverine discovers that one of the X-Men’s neighbors, Bob Higgins, is wanted for the murder of his wife. Higgins has escaped with his son Richie, leading Wolverine to stalk their trail to a nearby airport. Meanwhile, the police investigate the suspiciously small fingerprints left on the murder weapon. They discover Richie is the killer. After Wolverine confronts Higgins at the airport, he learns the story. During a fight, Jane Higgins pulled a gun on her abusive husband. Richie hit her with a shovel before she could shoot, inadvertently causing her neck to break. As Higgins is arrested, Wolverine declares that Richie isn’t the true killer.

Continuity Notes: Bob Higgins is the abusive drunk from Wolverine #91, who Wolverine nearly killed in a feral state.

Review: After five years of completism, this was the first issue of Wolverine I skipped as a teenager. It didn’t seem like a bad comic at all, but it was clearly a fill-in. After a solid year of filler, including a few issues that shipped biweekly, perhaps to make up for the lack of a 1998 Wolverine annual, I was burned out on Wolverine. I was willing to give Erik Larsen a shot whenever his run began, but I wasn’t going to buy any more fill-ins. Of course, as it turns out, I missed the best Wolverine issue in years.

The issue doesn’t read like an inventory story, partly because it picks up on a plot thread from Larry Hama’s run, but also because it marks Fabian Nicieza’s return to Marvel. Nicieza didn’t stay at Marvel for long after his departure from the X-books, as he was hired to revamp Valiant/Acclaim Comics in 1996. Acclaim couldn’t last in the post-implosion comics market, but as editor-in-chief, Nicieza produced a respectable line of comics, featuring creators such as Kurt Busiek, Christopher Priest, Kevin Maguire, Ashley Wood, Mark Waid, and Barry Kitson. This is Nicieza’s return to the X-universe, and while it’s a quiet reentry, it’s notable that one of the head writers of the ‘90s has returned. Nicieza goes on to deliver a solid run on Gambit’s first regular series, disappears from the X-books for a while, and then returns with the excellent Cable & Deadpool.

Despite his lengthy stint within the X-universe, Nicieza’s barely touched the character of Wolverine. Wolverine was certainly around during Nicieza’s run, even getting his adamantium skeleton ripped out in X-Men #25, but Nicieza rarely centered a story on him. This issue proves he does know how to write the character, as Wolverine is given a believable personality that doesn’t rely on catchphrases or any of the other lazy clich├ęs associated with the character. Wolverine had a chance to kill Higgins months earlier, and was even proud that he didn’t slice his throat because he thought it proved to Xavier that his humanity isn’t totally gone. Now, he regrets allowing the abuser to live, giving his narration a proper amount of guilt without going overboard on the angst. The twist comes when we learn the true identity of the killer, and thankfully Nicieza doesn’t blow the story with the revelation. Lesser writers would’ve revealed Richie has secretly been a sadist obsessed with killing his mother for years as the "dark" twist. Nicieza makes it clear this was an accident. The villain is still clearly the father, and Wolverine still has to live with the guilt that he didn’t do enough to help the Higgins when he had the chance. It’s one of the better standalone issues of the series, and it’s a shame the other fill-ins from this era aren’t nearly as good.

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