The Freaks Come Out at Night
Credits: Erik Larsen (writer), Lenil Francis Yu (penciler), Dexter Vines (inker), Joe Rosas (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
Summary: Cable checks in on Wolverine, who’s drinking in a bar owned by his friend Hardcase. Suddenly, the mercenary Longbow crashes into the bar. She’s returned from Madripoor, investigating the disappearances of several people. Wolverine and Cable look outside and discover a man mutated into a lobster. They follow him, and are soon assaulted by more genetic anomalies. They’re lead by Arnim Zola, who quickly kicks Wolverine and Cable out of his ship. Two of his creations also fall to the ground, but Cable neutralizes them with the control device he snatched from Zola. Unbeknownst to Wolverine, Zola has another captive -- his wife, Viper.
Continuity Notes: Hardcase first appeared in Wolverine #5, while the full team of his Harriers debuted in Uncanny X-Men #261. Although nothing in his initial appearance indicated this, Chris Claremont apparently decided by his second appearance in UXM #261 that Hardcase and Wolverine were old friends. The fate of most of the Harriers is disclosed by Hardcase to Wolverine this issue: Blindside “mostly works solo these days,” Warhawk and Deacon are married and living in Bermuda, while Timebomb “got into a bigger spot than he could handle.”
Three of Arnim Zola’s genetic anomalies are given names: Monkey-Boy is a man with two ape heads growing out of his chest, Doughboy is the organic ship Zola uses for transport, and Primus…doesn’t seem to do anything, but he looks like the Silver Surfer. The lobster man is never named, nor is the freak with a giant mouth growing out of his stomach. After their fight, Wolverine comments that his healing factor hasn’t repaired his wounds yet, which is apparently supposed to be significant.
Creative Differences: The debut of the lobster man was intended by Larsen to be a silent splash page. The published page is narrated with thirty-two words.
Review: I’d like to say that the return of Lenil Francis Yu marks an upturn in the book’s quality…but I can’t. This is still an awkward, slightly frustrating read. I know that Larsen wanted to use Yu’s skills for photorealism on utterly freaky comic book designs, and not real life items like motorcycles and handguns, but the result is patchy at best. I’m assuming that this is one of the issues Yu had to draw in a hurry, because for every convincing lobster man he draws, there are numerous figures that just look half-finished. When two of Zola’s freaks fall to the ground with Cable and Wolverine, for example, one of them is so sparsely rendered it’s almost impossible to tell who he’s supposed to be. The storytelling is also disappointing, as a couple of important story points are conveyed in extremely tiny panels that are easy to skip.
Not that he’s given a fantastic story to begin with, of course. The basic idea of pitting Wolverine against Arnim Zola and an army of his freaks is fine, but this never exceeds the quality of a generic Marvel Comics Presents serial. Larsen’s trying to convey the idea that Wolverine’s horribly discouraged following Aria’s death in the previous issue, but he doesn’t seem capable of giving Wolverine a believable personality. He’s just Tough Guy Wolverine and he’s feeling a little down this issue. Perhaps some of this pedestrian scripting can be blamed on overactive editors, but regardless of the culprit, this is bland stuff. Whoever is responsible for having Cable shout “Wa-hoo!” while fighting the bad guys should really be ashamed of himself.
Larsen does try to add some humor to the story, but he’s a little off. I remember Larsen justified bringing Hardcase into the cast because he thought it would be interesting to see one of Wolverine’s numerous “old friends” actually stick around instead of disappearing after one issue. Unfortunately, he also dismissed Hardcase as a Cable knock-off in that interview. He works that idea into the issue by having Hardcase and Cable stare face-to-identical-face and comment on their similarity. Not a bad meta-joke; except Hardcase isn’t a Cable knock-off. He debuted in Wolverine #5, which was released a year before Cable’s first appearance. So even the continuity shout-outs to fans don’t exactly work in this comic.