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Evolution into Annoyance: The James Howlett Story

December 6th, 2006 by | Tags: , ,

Wolverine sucks these days.

He has two on-going series and neither of them is very good. And I realized something about this. The fact that Wolverine sucks now kind of gets my goat. Wolverine, to me, is a character like Superman and Batman. I don’t exactly love him, but I respect his spot in the big comic picture and tend to enjoy his mostly-stagnant existence. With the three of them, I find they all shine the most in a team setting or in guest appearances. It sounds silly, what with all the jokes about Wolverine and Batman being in every comic ever, but they work for a reason. Their personal stories may not develop too far, but their relationships with others can. I personally think Wolverine’s dynamic with Spider-Man is wonderful and understated.

Superman and Batman have crappy stories all the time. I didn’t really like Batman’s descent into King Jerk, but it didn’t bother me. I haven’t read too much of Morrison’s run, but I hear it’s not too hot and I’m still not so bothered. Same with Superman. I may not be too interested in seeing him fight General Zod XXI, but I still raise my eyebrows when he pops in to say hello to Blue Beetle.

So I wondered, why do Wolverine’s recent exploits annoy me so much? After some thinking, I came to realize that he’s washed up potential. I think back to around a year ago. Simply a year ago, and I see all this promise. Wolverine had so much going on and a lot of it looked like it was going to lead to some real fun. Let’s see what he was up to:

Joining the Avengers. This was a really controversial decision and in my opinion, it paid off. I’ve enjoyed Wolverine’s stint as an Avenger more than I’ve enjoyed his stuff with the X-Men for the past ten years. This includes Astonishing, I have to admit. In terms of effectiveness, Wolverine’s been lacking (purposely, according to Bendis and JMS). What he brings to the team is, best I can explain it, charm. He isn’t the drunken uncle to a bunch of teenagers here. He’s the drunken, lovable nuisance that his peers have to put up with.

The stuff I remember Wolverine for are his character moments. The way he helped Mary Jane deal with Spider-Man’s “death” in The Other by acting like a dick so she’d be angry at something. His kinship with Speed in Young Avengers. His whacky antics with Aunt May. His calm reaction of, “Mazel tov, man,” when Luke Cage excitedly announced his engagement to Jessica Jones. Wolverine as an Avenger brings a presence of amusement I haven’t enjoyed since the early 90’s cartoon.

Astonishing X-Men. Beer jokes continue to be funny.

Secret War wasn’t all that great and I haven’t actually read too much of Enemy of the State (hermanos says it’s shit, but he hates Millar like Doom hates mirrors). But those two stories set up one hell of a good character scene in The Pulse.

Sure, mixing rape and comics will always have a level of silly to it, but this and the rest of the breakdown are so powerful that you can’t help but feel bad for the guy. Despite all his powers and skills, he’s never given the peace of being what he wants to be. He’ll always be kidnapped, experimented on, mind-fucked, lied to, spit on and pushed in a determined direction. Between that, his tendency to have his girlfriends die and the futility of Xavier’s dream, Wolverine’s entire existence seems to be a non-stop uphill battle.

– In House of M, Wolverine is a second-string hero who rises to become the story’s main protagonist. And it makes sense. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, two mutant Avengers, are the antagonists. Of course the main hero should be a guy who is both an X-Man and an Avenger (On a related note, I liked how they did the same thing by making Beast the protagonist in the Disassembled What If. That was a nice touch). Again, it makes sense with the story that “STOP RAPING ME” Logan wants to know the truth about himself and know his own memories. There really couldn’t have been a better catalyst for undoing Magneto’s utopia.

We also discovered several revelations thanks to Scarlet Witch’s wish-granting. For one, Wolverine secretly looks up to Nick Fury. But even more interesting is the revelation that Mystique’s desire is to be with Wolverine. Judging from Wolverine’s reactions and the fact that he has Mystique turn herself into Jean, it’s safe to say that this wasn’t his idea. Halfway into the story, Layla Miller awakens the minds of several dozen meta-humans, including Mystique. So now she knows that he knows.

The House of M tie-in dealing with Wolverine and Mystique was one of my favorite side-stories in the miniseries, so I was hoping they’d do more with this potential relationship. There are enough ingredients there to carry years of storylines. Their lack of aging, their similar styles in fighting, their relationships with Sabertooth, their relationships with Nightcrawler, Mystique’s inability to truly fool Wolverine with her powers (sense of smell and all) and other stuff. And also, Mystique has red hair. Wolverine likes red hair.

In addition to X-Men 2, this pairing also happened in a recent What If written by Claremont where Magneto decides to be a good guy from the beginning and starts up the X-Men with Xavier.

– Has nothing to do with his comic self and isn’t relevant to the article, but Matt Gardner’s version of Wolverine is tops.

– Right after House of M, Daniel Way began writing Origins and Endings, an arc in Wolverine’s book about his newly brought-on revelations. Due to the ending of House of M, Wolverine now remembers his entire life, but there are still many questions to be answered. For the most part, we’re left in the dark about these questions. Still, this arc is a great start. Certain government employees react to the news of Wolverine’s memory rather extremely by burning evidence left and right while one official blows his own brains out. Sounds serious.

The story features two really good fights where Wolverine takes on Silver Samurai and then later fights Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. Samurai had just appeared in the rather good New Avengers storyline with Ronin and Hydra, so the interest is still fresh. Not only does the fight work on a story level, but it’s well-written and ends nicely. The story continues to keep us in the dark by not showing the dialogue, but explaining the reactions. In fact, something Silver Samurai says to Wolverine surprises him enough that Samurai can impale Wolverine with his katana. This leads to this nice image.

What I really like is that this takes its toll on Wolverine. He doesn’t just toss away the sword, heal up in a minute and run off. He slowly makes his escape, spends hours holding in his own intestines and weakly finds an alley to rest in. And he doesn’t just sit there for a couple minutes as if he has a choice. He passes out. Wow, it almost makes him seem vulnerable!

Much like Samurai, Bucky was still fresh from a fantastic Captain America storyline. This was the first appearance of the Winter Soldier outside of Cap’s book, so that was welcome. The fight between the two was seriously good, with Bucky scouting out Logan in many ways and even winning (he did have help). The revelation that the two share a past helps thicken Bucky’s newly revealed past and adds some familiarity to Wolverine’s newly discovered backstory.

Then… things start to go wrong.

Daniel Way’s Origins and Endings was the launching point for the new series Wolverine: Origins. I was on board for a little bit, but the art immediately added resistance. From the little I’ve read of Preacher (yes, I’m lame), Steve Dillon used to be fine. These days, everyone in his comics has that face. That ugly horse face that makes me wish he’d work on a Question series so we could get a break from looking at it. Frank Castle having that face wasn’t so much a bad thing. Wolverine, on the other hand, should never have it.

Nasty.

The first arc involves Wolverine crossing paths with the thought-to-be-dead Nuke, leading to several flashbacks to show that Wolverine essentially ruined Frank Simpson’s life for the government and made him a monster. I’m in the middle on this. I didn’t think Nuke was worth bringing back, but the potential Punisher vs. Nuke storyline would be a KFC bucket full of amazing. In fact, if you think about it, not only are the two characters similar, but their initial storylines were almost exactly the same. Just replace Castle’s cold and calculating with Simpson’s rampaging fury.

I’m still not sold on the series. Why exactly should Daniel Way be in charge of fleshing out Wolverine’s yesteryear anyway? Why should he be the one to explain what makes Logan tick? This is the guy who wrote the Venom series from a couple years ago and gave us this infamous Wolverine scene.

That is a nuke. Not only did he survive that, but all it did was knock him out and burn away his shirt.

Back to Origins, I lost touch with the series for the most part, flipping through the occasional issue at work during my breaks. A lot of it is uninteresting, but one part really got me to shake my head. While dealing with Captain America, Cyclops, Emma Frost and Hellion, Wolverine dodges through Cyclops’ optic blasts and when it seems like he’s going to chop Cyke down with his red katana, he merely offers it instead.

“This is the only thing in the world that can put me down for good. Take it.”

“But… why? Why me?”

“Because when the time comes… you won’t hesitate.”

I appreciate the whole Superman/Batman/kryptonite ring gesture of trust that Way is tossing in here. It’s a nice wrinkle in the Wolverine/Cyclops relationship. But there are two things that grind my gears. One, when Cyclops thinks Wolverine’s about to chop his head off, he gives an exaggerated flinch and screams like a wimp. I’m not saying he should have smiled and taken it like a man, but he definitely shouldn’t have acted like I do whenever someone shoots a rubber band near my eye level.

Two, what do you mean “the only thing in the world that can put me down for good”? Granted, none of those What Ifs or alternate reality stories were canon, but I’d like to believe that a lot of those examples of Wolverine dying would, you know, count. I’ve accepted that by today’s standards, Wolverine cutting out his own throat wouldn’t kill him, but what about the rest? Galactus devouring the planet’s life energies, toxic gas, electric fences, Sentinels with good aim… hey, wait. That one was canon!

The fact that Origins is an on-going instead of a mini-series doesn’t sit well either. Giving us a series that is really nothing but Wolverine B-characters stopping by to give a new revelation about his past kind of cheapens all of these would-be surprises. But enough about that. This is just Daniel Way writing the secondary Wolverine series. It’s not the first time someone’s had Wolverine do something ridiculous. I’ve heard there was a story where Wolverine walked the bottom of the ocean floor without having to worry about that pesky breathing. But it’s not like that issue’s taken as gospel.

So let’s shift gears to the mainstream Wolverine series that followed after the end of Origins and Endings. Marc Guggenheim on story and Humberto Ramos on art. Ramos gets some guff for his style and while I don’t think he was quite right for Spider-Man (sorry, hermanos), I have no qualms with him on a Wolverine book. I know nothing of Guggenheim and I really enjoyed the first issue of his Wolverine run. Tied into Civil War, Wolverine decides to go chase after Nitro, the super-villain who sparked all this controversy in the first place.

Wolverine and some SHIELD agents rush into conflict with Nitro, proving that even though Wolverine is the best at what he does, what he does apparently isn’t coming up with a decent strategy. Wolverine’s entire body is burned away, leaving only an adamantium skeleton. That sucks. Marvel just lost their second-biggest cash cow. …Oh. No, at the end of the issue, a naked and healing Wolverine smacks down Nitro and stands over him.

Rather than show you the images from that issue, I’m just going to quote healing factor copycat Deadpool as he answers his fanmail in Cable/Deadpool #33:

Reader Tylor asks, “Can you take an explosion like Wolverine did from Nitro, or is your Deadpoolness too great to get into that situation?”

To which the yellow-word-bubbled one replies, “Hey, he was like practically incinerated and then healed himself all up like in one or two panels, right? Heh-heh. That’s pretty funny. Fabian says I can’t do that because it would be kind of ridiculous.”

When Wolverine’s goofy quasi-clone thinks something Wolverine did is too silly, something is seriously wrong. But hey, it’s not a total loss. The solicitations show that in an upcoming issue, we would find out just how Wolverine survived both a rather explosive plane crash and the much talked about Nitro incident. In other words, we were getting settled in for a plot device to explain his noticeable rise in healing powers. I’m cool with that. Maybe he got one of those secondary mutations. Maybe he’s somehow absorbing all that energy Juggernaut’s been losing over the past few years. Maybe the Scarlet Witch is punishing him for ruining the House of M reality.

We get a couple stories involving Namor and the Sentry, but nothing too important. Finally, we get Wolverine #48. The story is a series of flashbacks that show Wolverine experiencing incidents that should indeed kill him, like Nitro. After talking to the ghost of Jean Grey for a bit, he fights some guy named Lazaer for a bit and wins the right to return. Whether this is real or something his fried mind has come up with to deal is up to the reader, so I can cut that part some slack. But I can’t agree with the rest. How did Wolverine survive being reduced to an adamantium skeleton? He just grew back together.

And that’s just the way it is. Sure, there’s a break between Nitro’s blast and sudden regeneration, but it still isn’t right. First, Wolverine shouldn’t even be able to heal from that. Being rendered a skeleton really ought to be the end of him unless somebody like Dr. Strange pulls something out of his ass. Second, adding a couple hours doesn’t cut it. If he can heal from that, he shouldn’t be able to do that even in the span of the day. I really wish I could remember who said it, but when seeing the Wolverine-being-nuked segment from that one Venom issue, someone commented that by showing Wolverine can’t die, they’ve successfully killed the character.

That’s how I feel. Superman can be overpowered because that’s his deal. Wolverine needs real and conventional weaknesses. One of the reasons why he and Spider-Man are the torch bearers of Marvel fandom is because they are flexible. They’re street level, only moreso. They can take a fight to the Hulk and the Juggernaut, but someone like Shocker or Avalanche can put them down for at least a little bit and make the getaway. Wolverine used to be Gambit’s bitch, but now I can’t even see that. He’s lost his versatility.

I’ve beaten the comparison thing into the ground during this article, but I have one last one. Wolverine is the hero version of Jason Voorhees. Wolverine is basically the slasher who kills badguys. If you see he’s coming for you, chances are you’re fucked. If you’re going to make it out alive, it’s because of either serious skill or dumb luck. I can go on with the comparisons, like how they originally wore stupid masks, they have healing factors, etc. but I should really get to a point. The later the Friday the 13th movies, the more ridiculous Jason got. He became literally unkillable and soon became a self-parody. Wolverine’s on that track right now. Wolverine’s current situation reeks of Lobo’s inability to die, and Lobo himself is a parody of Logan.

Hopefully his next writer will be someone who doesn’t write things so nonsensic… It’s Jeph Loeb? Great.

I guess I shouldn’t really be bothered. He’s just a necessary cog in the Marvel machine after all. Guess I’ll stop looking at these Wolverine comics and move onto something that still has potential. Iron Fist, here I come.

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10 comments to “Evolution into Annoyance: The James Howlett Story”

  1. It’s sort of a long shot, but there was an old X-Men story involving an over-powered alien and a magic crystal thing.

    Long story short, Wolverine dies, a drop of blood hits this crystal, he becomes one with the universe and brings himself back to life. He’s creations champion or something.

    Then he says some stuff about how one cell is enough to regenerate from if there’s sufficient power. So I dont know, maybe he can convert explosions into energy to fuel his healing factor now? That sounds just crazy enough to work.

    Of course, even if he did die, there’s no chance of him staying dead. I defy anyone to name five main characters who have stayed dead.


  2. Even more good news: Guggenheim’s slated to come back after Loeb. I gave up on Guggenheim with that offensive scene in issue #46 where Wolverine shut Emma up by telling Cyclops she used to sleep with Iron Man. Wow, you showed that slut by saying she slept with a guy years before she got together with Cyclops! The same guy… you… borrowed an Iron Man suit from last issue.


  3. Wolverine was the first comic book I ever read almost…damn 20 years ago now, so he holds a kind of special place in my heart.

    With that said, I totally agree with the article. I didnt really realize I agreed with you until I read the whole article.

    Wolvie has been done to death but it seems his mutant healing factor just wont let him die :)

    I hope both his books get better than they have been but I liked just about every arc so far in the main book (the last book in the CW arc, that filled in on the death thing, was really cool IMO) but Origins falls flat every single month. But I still havent dropped it :? So I guess its the Wolvie-Zombies (myself included in that) are to blame.

    What about Wolvie showing up in X-Factor when he was on the road hunting Nitro during the Civil War tie-ins??? Really really crappy.


  4. Yeah, I’m a Wolvie fan of old, and I liked Guggenheim’s run a lot, but that last issue was probably a mistake. Probably hurt the character in the long run.

    Killer art, though. I’m half-hoping that Guggenheim gets Ramos back after Loeb/Bianchi’s turn is over.


  5. I pretty much agree with every single thing stated here, and I also think his personality has been kind of off-base these past months in his main book. He’s acting irrational and stubborn, and seems really arrogant in his dealings with fellow heroes.

    I like Wolverine when he’s understated, like in the very beginning of house of M when Captain America says that “There’s always another way” (referring to killing the scarlet witch) to which Wolverine replies with a sorry look “Not always.” and then cap just snaps back with a confident “ALWAYS.” No condescending, no implying that he knows better than anyone how the world works, just kind of breaking his experience down to cap, disagreeing with him. Nice, not asstastic.


  6. Wolverine’s been going downhill ever since they decided to give him bone claws. I think it was because it was at that point that someone decided, “Look, we need to have Wolverine slashing stuff up with his claws on every cover.”


  7. Howard Chaykin’s drawing the Guggenheim arc; it was taken out of the upcoming Marvel Comics Presents revival and moved to Wolverine proper.


  8. That… makes me somewhat less interested in Guggenheim’s next run.


  9. Chaykin does not seem to be at his best unless the story he’s drawing involves a dynamic, oversexed Jewish protagonist.

    I wish I was kidding. Read American Century.


  10. One interesting way to both tone Wolverine’s power/healing/God-ness down would be to, instead of explode, flay, dismember, etc. him… transform him into something innocuous. I’m thinking either “bunny” or “Swiss cheese sandwich.” It’d be no less realistic than him surviving a point-blank nuke, and having him get all introspective inside the digestive system of an Avenger or an X-Man would make for some truly memorable art.