Do you remember that old Disney movie The Incredible Journey? The one with the 3 household pets who get lost in the wilderness and have to trek 200-odd miles to get back to their owners? It was a pretty good story for kids, although as I grew up I realised that it was a bit lacking in x-rated combat violence and human decapitations. Thank goodness that writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely were able to spin their hi-tech twist on the tale in the 2004 miniseries We3.
It's a straightforward tale, plotted succinctly over 3 issues, which concerns 3 top-secret bleeding-edge experimental bio-weapons escaping from a military development facility and going on the run. Piloting each of these potential WMD's are a dog named Bandit, a cat named Tinker and a rabbit named Pirate; although through their enhanced intelligence and self-awareness they only know themselves as respectively '1', '2' and '3'. So the concept of the comic alone contains a bewitching dichotomy - the pathos and poignancy of an 'animals in peril' storyline, meshed with the high-octane action of a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. It's almost genetically designed to appeal to the man-child genre-fan who refuses to grow up (and yes, I'm including myself in that demographic). In fact, I'm quite surprised that Grant Morrison would dream up a story which manipulates it's audience so blatantly, and which doesn't really contain a subtext beyond the anti-war/ anti-animal testing messages that have been rolled out dozens of times before by less ambitious writers. He's normally to be seen writing sprawling epics, multi-stranded meta-physical mind-benders along the lines of The Filth, Final Crisis or 7 Soldiers of Victory . It's pretty clear that with this effective little series, Morrison was trying something a wee bit different.
Morrison had wrapped up his ground-breaking and controversial run on New X-Men for Marvel only a year or so before We3 saw publication, and the popularity of the Morrison/Quitely creative team was on the ascension. The influence of their work together on the Marvel title is apparent here; with a preference for Matrix style cinematic action, and a near-wordless storytelling style which keeps expository dialogue to an absolute minimum. But it almost seems like an attempt by the creators to distil their craft down, to produce a potent reading experience which can reach as wide an audience as possible, and will entertain as efficiently and as thoroughly as possible before anyone has time to realise the ridiculousness of what they're actually reading. The plot itself is largely stripped down; and the mechanisms of the three-acts are clearly apparent. Human characters are also given a bit of a short-shrift, with none of them being particularly fleshed out, or even amounting to anything more than plot-devices. One of Morrison's more successful techniques was to give the animals a limited synthesised vocabulary - it quickly gives insight into the creatures' characteristics and motivations, without being so implausible as to scupper suspension of disbelief. One of the best bits of the series is a sequence which juxtaposes Disney-style cheezy schmaltz with nasty natural-world horror; when Bandit, assuming the leadership role of the team while they are on the run, raises morale with the stilted yet stirring motivational speech "HOME IS. RUN. NO. MORE.", while in the foreground a seagull feasts on the intestines of a train crash victim which the dog had just failed to save.
I remember hearing at the time that Quitely was attempting to develop an art-style akin to 'westernised manga'; although I don't really see much evidence of that here. What he has employed is a heady mix of storytelling techniques, from the extended escape sequence related only through surveillance camera footage, to the fractured panel lay-outs which make the action-sequences seem to explode in the reader's hands. To be honest, his depictions of the anthropomorphic protagonists (seen only from the neck up for most of the story) are not particularly nuanced or convincing, although the bio-tech armour designs for each of them are fantastic, and more than make up for the animalistic mis-steps. Basically; Quitely's off-the-wall storytelling is firing on all cylinders here; and his sometimes overly-clinical penmanship and slightly frosty characterisation actually help to temper the sentimentality of the plot.
All of this adds up to self-contained comic-book story which stretches the conventions of the medium without breaking them, while being completely accessible to a readership beyond the core super-hero fanbase. If you're a comics-fan who hasn't read We3; I strongly recommend getting a copy of the TPB from Vertigo. Read it, enjoy it, and then buy a few more copies for your non-comics-fan friends. This is gud comics.
Wolverine is a comic book character that truly needs no introduction; he has long outstripped Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and The Avengers as Marvel's flagship hero. Public awareness of Wolverine is now sky-high, a popularity which has led the X-Men movie series to be one of the longest running cinema super-hero franchises of recent years. And Marvel, knowing a cash cow when they see one, have placed the character front and centre in a number of their most popular monthly titles. It's hard to imagine a time when Wolverine was not so shamelessly ubiquitous, but the fact is that the first decade and a half of this X-Man's publishing career was positively subdued. Writer Chris Claremont kept a very tight leash on the character, carefully expanding upon Logan's solo adventures over a number of miniseries.
The recently published Wolverine Omnibus from Marvel contains many of these early stories, from Wolverine's first appearance as a colourful guest star in a 1974 issue of The Hulk, through to his first meeting with The Punisher in the late 80's; an encounter that was derivative of the grim and gritty decade of comics to follow.
From the editorial memoirs that have been published by Marvel, it seems that Wolverine's creation was a lengthy process, and it appears to have involved a surprising amount of trial and error. His first appearance was in Hulk #180 and #181; inwhich he seemed to be a bit of a spare cog in a three-way dust-off between himself, The Hulk and a pretty dull power-house villain called Wendigo. The issue was a try-out for Wolverine, written by Len Wein who had already earmarked the character as a potential recruit for his planned reboot of the X-Men in the following year. Wolverine remained fully in costume for the entire story, and with his canary yellow spandex and face-mask, he looked more like a high flying lucha libre than any sort of savage anti-hero. Although you can't really tell from these early issues, it's been revealed that the character in this appearance was planned to be a teenaged mutant, with powers of agility and healing, whose hand mounted blades were actually part of his costume, and not infact an integrated part of his own fore-arms.
It was not until Dave Cockrum started to draw the character out of costume, in the seminal Giant-Size X-Men #1, that he was revealed to be quite a bit more mature - and even this might have just been an error on the artist's part. A few issues into the X-Men revamp, new writer Chris Claremont proposed that Wolverine's claws were actually produced from within his arms, making him a living lethal weapon. At this point, the blades were just that; adamantium machetes that had been forcefully implanted into Wolverine during the same operation that coated all his bones with the unbreakable metal. It was almost 20 years after his debut, during the Fatal Attractions cross-over event in 1993 when all the adamantium was stripped from Wolverine's body, and it was revealed that bone claws were intrinsic to the character's physiology. This is a trait that was compounded by the retcon of Wolverine's childhood, told in the 2002 miniseries Origin, and in the 2009 movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And this wasn't a throwaway adjustment; it intrinsically shifted the foundation of the character's animalistic psychology and killer instinct from something that outside parties had fostered within him, to something that he was almost entirely born with; removing the ambiguity between nurture and nature. Which is a shame, because a large driving force behind Wolverine's characterisation under Chris Claremont's stewardship was as a man on the run from, and trying to atone for, the inner demons that other men had placed within him.
Wolverine had two defining characteristics throughout his various solo adventures in the '80s, two personas which were at odds with each other and whose conflict drove his character development; that of the masterless samurai and of the raging berserker. These were both established in the seminal self-titled mini-series from 1982, inwhich co-creators Claremont and Frank Miller transplanted Logan into the seedy criminal underworld of Tokyo, and proceeded to deconstruct the character that had been, up until that point, only pretty sketchily developed. Miller wasn't new to this; he had previously achieved great success in reinventing the Daredevil comic as a noir ninja-thriller. In fact he would continue to explore themes of feudal Japan in his sci-fi opus Ronin, and all of this work would be famously instrumental in inspiring Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to produce the first issues of their zeitgeist baiting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The inaugural Wolverine mini is indeed a compelling enough thriller, but throughout it's limited 4-issue span, the supporting characters are all fairly 2 dimensional. Crucially, Logan's true love, and the catalyst for the plot, Mariko Yashido, has no discernable personality; while her malevolent father, Shingen Yashido, is a mincing stereotype of a villain.
Wolverine's exploits in Japan did spin out into another couple of series; first his ill-fated wedding to Mariko in the main Uncanny X-Men title (one of the SUPER-HERO WEDDING WARS!), and in 1985, into a sequel mini-series, Kitty Pryde & Wolverine. Even though Miller did not return to carry out the art duties on this second mini-series, it's still a cracking read, and possibly even an improvement on the first series. This time round, Claremont compliments the noir plotting and martial arts set-pieces with some wonderfully sympathetic characterisation for Kitty Pryde; this truly is a coming-of-age epic for the young X-Man. Wolverine's role here is more of a mentor figure, as a protector rather than an avenger. The villain from Wolverine's past, Ogun, muddies the boundaries between supernatural and mutantkind, making an enigmatic and compelling adversary for the heroes. Crucially, Wolverine remains a character who, despite his indestructable bones and increased healing, is not an infallible combattant. The action set pieces between Ogun and Wolverine, and Master and Student respectively, crackle with danger and excitement.
The masterless samurai conceit was an inspired fit for Wolverine during these years. After the clandestine experimentation gave Wolverine his unbreakable bones and lethal claws, he served for some time in the Weapon-X programme, in the Canadian Secret Service, and then in Alpha Flight. But since the events of Giant Size X-Men #1, Wolverine had effectively been following his own path, and trying to make sense of the part he was supposed to play in the global drama unfolding around him. I'm not so keen on the berserker rage characterisation though. It was made clear early on that the berserker represents Wolverine's raw, animalistic nature; like a rabid beast in it's death throes. Wolverine was terrified of unleashing this inner fury, presumably because of the terrible cost on his humanity. And yet in story after story, whenever Logan was faced with an unbeatable foe, he would submit to the fury; dispatch his enemies, and generally be none the worse for wear after a few hours of mutant accelerated healing. In a sense, the consequences of Wolverine's infrequent submissions to his berserker nature, despite being alluded to many times, didn't really carry any weight behind them.
By the late '80s, Wolverine had still had not been awarded his own solo ongoing title. In fact, events in the main Uncanny X-Men comic at the time had resulted in the team of mutant heroes faking their deaths, moving to the Australian Outback and operating as a clandestine black-ops squad. It was a peculiar status-quo to choose to spin a solo Wolverine project under; and yet, throughout late 1988, the mutant formerly known as Wolverine found himself in a fictional port city in South East Asia called Madripoor, in a serialised adventure appearing in the bimonthly anthology title Marvel Comics Presents. To this day, it is unusual for stories published by Marvel to take place in non-existent locales, and yet although Madripoor is quite clearly based on the excesses of Singapore; the analogue allowed regular X-Men writer Claremont to ratchet up the corrupt government and criminal hierarchy to a higher level, without worrying about offending any of the sensitive Indonesian readership. Once again, Logan found himself as an outsider in a strange land, embroiled in a noir-styled plot, with a femme fatale, Tyger, in peril and yet another devious ganglord, Mr Roche, to contend with. Roche's right hand man, a musclebound enforcer named Razorfist, bordered on self-parody, and the revenge driven storyline was a bit of a retread of Claremont's previous mini's. But the gritty formula works well, so I can't blame him for sticking to it.
An intrigueing spin is put on events though, as Wolverine cannot reveal his true identity to anyone, for risk of blowing the greatly exaggerated reports of his team-mates' demise. This means that use of his trademark adamantium blades must be kept on the down-lo; and he operates under a mysterious pseudonym, Patch (complete with a redundant eye-patch over his left eye). The art for this minor re-invention was provided by the masterful John Buscema; and to my eye it was the best that the character had ever looked, outside of the core X-Men title. Buscema could draw beautiful heroic characters, but it felt like he specialised in misfits; and his Patch was at once noble but dangerous, hard featured but sexy. No sooner was Patch's inaugural Madripoor adventure complete, than the character's first solo ongoing comic launched, maintaining the same premise, setting and creative team. Actually, there were a few tweaks; the supporting cast was expanded with familiar faces Jessica Drew (formerly Spider-Woman) and her pal Lindsey McCabe, two Private Investigators visiting from San Francisco. They provided a much needed emotional core to the comic; particularly important since the Patch incarnation represented Wolverine at his most unsentimental. Despite the noirish themes, and storylines concerning drug cartels and corruption, Claremont was clearly having a lot of fun with this little pocket of the Marvel Universe; even making cheeky allusions to the film Casablanca, when Patch became proprietor of one the port city's roughest bars. By the time that the Hulk rolled into town, who was at that point operating under a hard-boiled persona of his own - mob enforcer Mister Fixit - the scene was set for a cracking rematch between the old adveraries.
Wolverine returned to the pages of Marvel Comics Presents in 1991 for a tale which recounted the darkest period of his life; the genesis of his adamantium skeleton at the hands of the Weapon X program. Popular creator Barry Windsor-Smith was the creative force behind the Weapon X story, drawing on his success of illustrating Conan comics to portray Wolverine at his most barbaric. It's interesting that the regular Wolverine scribe, Chris Claremont, did not contribute to this seminal story. Claremont's style was particularly verbose and exposition heavy, and by contrast Windsor-Smith's storytelling here puts the emphasis on the visuals, with results that are hallucinigenic, deeply psychological and disturbingly ambiguous. He uses the illustrations to drive the plot, with snippets of dialogue included mostly to just provide wider context. This is a Frankenstein's Monster type tale, and no punches are pulled in the visceral brutal horror of the unleashed berserker, as Wolverine visits terrible revenge on the Military scientists that would play God with his body.
A portion of internet fandom expressed great disappointment upon the release of the 2009 movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was not particularly faithful to the popular Weapon X comic. The fact is, if Hugh Jackman's film had attempted to adapt this story, it would've been an 18 certificated blood-bath, and would have alienated a large part of the audience against the character of Wolverine; who is essentially the villain of this piece. Director Gavin Hood and his production team instead decided to put together a light-weight, exploitation-style revenge thriller, which I found to be perfectly entertaining. Apart from the climax perhaps, where it struggled to incorporate a number of contrived sub-plots that were intended to dovetail the film into the original X-Men movie trilogy, and to set-up the character's further adventures. Ultimately, Woverine is a pretty straightforward character; a man who is living his life by a single principal - every day to try and be a better person. It doesn't take an adamantium bullet to the head to figure that much out.