Thursday, June 15, 2017

Micro-Reviews: WOLVERINE EPIC COLLECTION - MADRIPOOR NIGHTS: Part Two


MARVEL AGE ANNUAL #4 - 1988
I’ve never seen that Art Adams cover before. Surprised it hasn’t been recycled endlessly like his CLASSIC X-MEN #1 cover.

This was a preview for WOLVERINE #1, that’s actually been placed after issue #3 in this collection. I like the way the editors don’t just toss stories out there; they want to make them fit. I’ll play “umm, actually” and point out that it should be placed sometime after #4, however, because Logan doesn’t know Gen. Coy is in Madripoor at this point.

Calling this a story is generous. Wolverine wanders Madripoor, and all of the X-teams somehow make quick, unexplained, cameo appearances. It’s worth reprinting, though, because it’s by the original creative team, and I love when the Epic collections find these obscure pieces that no one remembers. 


WOLVERINE #4 - February 1989
These opening pages are Orzechowski at the height of his hand-lettering days. There’s just as much character in the lettering as the art, but it isn’t distracting at all. It’s also Orz’s last issue as letterer, which I suppose helped to give WOLVERINE an identity separate from UNCANNY X-MEN, but it feels like a real loss.

This issue, Claremont makes his greatest strides in establishing the world of the series. New villains and supporting cast members, like the pilot Archie Corrigan, are introduced, while Claremont leftovers from SPIDER-WOMAN and NEW MUTANTS also join the cast. I’ve always admired the way Claremont seems to have a plan for any character who had more than a walk-on appearance in one of his books. Allegedly, he has notebooks packed with plot ideas for all of these obscure characters.

I’ve never heard of a clear reason why Bloodsport’s name was changed to Bloodscream. Was it really to avoid a lawsuit from the “Bloodsport” movie producers?

Not that this goes anywhere, but having Jessica Drew play against Logan’s acceptance of Tyger is a smart idea. Wolverine figures she’s the “good” crimelord, because she doesn’t deal in drugs or slaves. Jessica doesn’t want to side with any criminal. 

What Tyger actually DOES do for money isn’t clear, aside from some scenes establishing that she runs joyhouses (Code-approved brothels). We’re told she’s a crimelord, but what that entails is murky.


WOLVERINE #5 - March 1989
The debut of Hardcase & the Harriers, some of them at least, a paramilitary team that didn’t take off. Even though the Harriers all resemble background GI JOE players, Hama had no use for them. Hardcase later appeared in WOLVERINE as a parody of Cable clones, even though Erik Larsen didn’t seem to know that Hardcase predated Cable’s debut.  

Another oddity this issue - Psylocke’s Inferno-era armor debuts…months after it’s already appeared in UNCANNY X-MEN. Jessica and Lindsay discover it in the offices of Landau, Luckman, & Lake, which also debuts here. I’m assuming Claremont had some secret origin in mind for the armor, and LL&L, but I doubt we’ll ever discover it. I’ll repeat again that it’s a shame X-MEN FOREVER didn’t cover this territory. 

While Hardcase offers no real threat, Wolverine spends much of the issue fighting Coy’s hired guards. An extended fight scene featuring an Anglo hero fighting minority foes, and there’s no scene like this to make it okay. 



Oh, how backwards we were in 1989. And 1999. And 2009. Comics had yet to reach peak wokeness.


WOLVERINE #6 - April 1989
Tyger is rescued, while Karma joins Wolverine’s side and Claremont drops very Claremontian hints that never paid off.

Karma’s working with her criminal uncle in order to rescue her missing siblings. No payoff (from Claremont).

The armor that appears to be Psylocke’s was apparently not forged by “mortal hands.” No payoff.

Archie Corrigan is somehow a “disgrace” to his uniform. No payoff.

I’m convinced that Claremont did have resolutions in mind, it’s just clear that they weren’t deemed a priority at the time.

One continuing theme of the series is the thin line between heroes and villains in Madripoor. This issue, Karma is inspired to become a hero again, thanks to Wolverine’s influence. (Wolverine’s arc from rebel to mainstay had already been completed. And it’s a testament to Claremont’s skills that fans still embraced the character.) Meanwhile, their big heroic mission is to save one crimelord from another.

The promise of seeing Wolverine “cut loose” has him slicing Bloodsport’s throat…off-panel. It’s all amazingly tame today, but it was as close to edgy as Marvel was going to get in 1989.


WOLVERINE #7 - May 1989
The status quo continues to evolve - the Prince declares that Coy & Tyger will both serve as crimelords. Since Tyger doesn’t touch drugs or slaves, Coy can handle the nasty stuff. Wolverine gives some rationale on why this is okay. It’s another way duality is introduced into the series. Both Tyger & Coy are morally flawed, but only together can they make life work in Madripoor.

Meanwhile, the Hulk appears, in scenes that were supposed to be colored as night, but weren’t. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be that big a deal, but Hulk only comes out at night in these comics, and that plays to the issue’s cliffhanger.

Another sign this was intended as an “older” Marvel book of the era - two attempted rape scenes in one issue. Not that anything happens, of course. We also learn the Prince is an obsessed fan of Lindsay’s and it’s played as a joke. Jessica questions if this is a man who would ever accept “no,” however.

More odd continuity - Lindsay can remove Psylocke’s (?) armor, but Tyger can’t. Wolverine has the “ultimate key,” because he commissioned it from “a friend.” 



WOLVERINE #8 - June 1989
Hulk, split between Joe Fixit and Banner, is here for a silly guest spot, but Claremont is still mindful of the theme. Just as Madripoor’s Lowtown and Hightown represent the two sides of Wolverine, and Tyger and Jessica Drew represent his dueling animal/hero natures, Hulk is also two people residing in one body.

I always liked this issue as a kid. Wolverine spends much of the story conspiring ways to put the Hulk back into purple pants. And in the closing pages, it’s heavily implied that Hulk has seen through the “Patch” disguise, so he ends up with a small victory over the hero. 


WOLVERINE #9 - July 1989
The first of many, so many, WOLVERINE fill-in issues.

It’s possible this was inventory, maybe a MARVEL FANFARE story, that was slotted in. The final page reveals that the entire story’s been a flashback, and there’s some attempt to have Logan declare that he isn’t the same man we see in the story.

The plot treats Wolverine as the Punisher, methodically tracking down mercenaries and killing them for their actions in Iraq five years ago. Wolverine says he was “Weapon X” then, and then claims the flashback was also years ago, so…how long were we to believe Wolverine’s been an X-Man? He also appears in his yellow outfit, another hint that the story might’ve been lying around for a while. Then again, I don’t think Peter David was writing freelance for Marvel during the yellow costume days, so maybe this was intended for WOLVERINE.

While the story plays out like an EC morality tale, David still makes an effort to maintain Wolverine’s unique moral code. He assures the reader that he takes no joy in killing, and only finds happiness in innocence. The mercenaries have to die because they stole that innocence from someone, and he’s keeping a promise he made years ago. This was all pretty daring stuff for Marvel in the ‘80s…now, it reads as a template WOLVERINE solo tale from the early Quesada years.


WOLVERINE #10 - August 1989
The comic that cemented Sabretooth’s place as Wolverine’s major villain. The seeds were planted during “Mutant Massacre,” but this was the moment that a generation of kids forgot that Sabretooth was a lame henchman character, along the lines of the Constrictor, and embraced him as Wolverine’s evil opposite.

It’s still so early in Sabretooth’s development, his name is spelled “Sabre-Tooth.”

The fight here has been revisited numerous times. And, done properly, it could’ve been an excellent set piece in one of the movies. Instead, it was thoroughly botched in that first WOLVERINE movie.

Another significance of the issue is that it’s one of the extremely rare Wolverine flashback stories from this era. One of the first ever -- I think the KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE mini might’ve had a flashback, but other than that, Claremont tended to avoid them.

It’s also the final Claremont issue, although he leaves with no fanfare. His return is over 100 issues away, and perhaps the less said about that the better. The internal politics of Madripoor are still in play, as we learn that Jessica & Lindsay have set up shop in a “bawdy house” under the Prince’s command. None of the post-Claremont writers wanted to touch this stuff. The closest anyone came was the Goodwin run, which used Madripoor effectively as a setting, but I believe avoided the politics.

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