In the beginning was Wolverine. He was without form and void, a mystery man with sharp claws and hard edges. He was particularly interesting when compared to Cyclops, a strait-laced and fairly open leader. As time went on, Wolverine’s mysteries faded, only to be replaced by ninjas, samurai codes, globe-trotting espionage, and more. While we once knew next to nothing about Wolverine, we began to know entirely too much. Still later, we discovered Wolverine’s actual origin, and all was lost. Lamentation. Lamentation.
Wolverine tales since have tended to focus on his history and past. His son, Daken, returns to haunt him. A secret mastermind behind a group of clawed mutants emerges from the darkness to try to kill him. He discovers that he has sired several children over the years shortly after killing them while battling an enemy composed of people from his past. Too many Wolverine stories tend to be about Wolverine and things that he has done, rather than placing Wolverine into new situations and seeing what happens.
The reason why Wolverine: The Best There Is is the best Wolverine story of 2011 is simple. It takes a very Wolverine-unfriendly idea–immortal enemies that cannot be killed with claws and the threat of apocalyptic germ warfare–and throws Wolverine directly into the middle of it. Wolverine’s traditional methods, like berserker rages and healing from any wound, are weaknesses here. The enemies, code-named “Unkillables,” are a motley crew of regenerators and immortals. Madcap and Suicide, the Ghost Rider Villain, are the highest profile villains in the crew. The rest are new creations, fifty-year old characters who appeared in comics once (twice if you count reprints), and people like Mortigan Goth, who appeared in Marvel UK’s attempt at getting in on some of Vertigo’s market share in the early ’90s. A couple supporting characters show up later on who are from ’70s-era cosmic Marvel comics. Everyone involved is as obscure as obscure gets, basically.
And yet–the story works. Rather than being a story where Wolverine is the absolute best there is at what he does, and what he does is tear through anyone and everyone with ease, we get a story where Wolverine is forced to slow down, change his tactics, and think things through before really getting loose (because we have expectations for Wolverine stories, of course).
Charlie Huston’s one of the best at depicting urgency, nervousness, and confusion. His dialogue comes in clipped, rapid-fire sentences that beg for you to fill in the blank, like an obfuscated James Ellroy. People interrupt and talk over each other, speak half-formed thoughts out into the ether, and argue incessantly. Not only is Wolverine out of his depth, but he’s forced to conversate with people he had would otherwise cross the street to avoid (spacemen, mainly) and deal with the theatrics of the lead villain. The speedy patter gives the entire book the feel of a train headed straight for a collision with the end of the world. Something is going to go down–it’s just a matter of what and when.
Juan Jose Ryp’s artwork and Andres Mossa’s colors are great, too. This is much uglier than Wolverine has been in years. Buildings are cluttered with litter and walls are pockmarked with age. Everything is rusted and water damaged. It’s filthy, and it looks so good. Ryp and Mossa render gore and cheesecake/beefcake with equal skill (this is despite the rating of the book preventing actual nudity, resulting in wisps of smoke and cleverly placed obstructions over everyone’s crotch). Together, they have sort of a Geof Darrow with OCD style. Everything goes hyper-detailed, for better or for worse. (Sometimes for worse, but the better is so good that I don’t mind.)
Wolverine: The Best There Is is gross. It’s gross in all the right ways. It throws a character we all know well into new situations and provided a welcome respite from the rather dour nature of Wolverine comics these days. It’s funny, it’s violent, and it doesn’t feel like a regular old Marvel comic. It’s a little dirtier, and a little more juvenile, but even more enjoyable than usual for those exact reasons.