Thursday, 9 December 2010

Review - Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller TPB

It’s hard to believe it now, but back in the late-1970s / early-1980s, even though he was one of Marvel’s most popular characters and was certainly the most popular character in the then-best-selling Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine didn’t even have his own comic. These days, he has at least two monthly solo titles, also features in the odd mini-series, and is in at least one of the current X-Men teams and the New Avengers. He may even appear in other Marvel titles on a regular basis, too, for all I know. But back then, he had to make do with a co-staring role in the Uncanny X-Men and the odd guest appearance in titles like Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One. He didn’t even have his own movie franchise! In 1982, however, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller took pity on the little fella and gave him his own four-issue mini-series, opening the door for the glut of Wolverine crap that followed and giving the world the classic / corny catchphrase: ‘I’m Wolverine. I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.’

In 1982, I liked Wolverine a lot and I loved Frank Miller for what had done with Daredevil, so naturally I loved the Wolverine mini-series. These days, I can’t stand Wolverine and I am no longer that keen on Frank Miller – although I still have a lot of time for his Daredevil comics and the Dark Knight Returns – and I sold my ‘Wolverine’ comics many years ago now. However, I couldn’t resist keeping back this book, which collects that mini-series, from a collection of graphic novels I bought on eBay a year or so ago, just so I could read it one more time.

The book starts off with Wolverine killing a crazed grizzly bear that has killed some people and then tracking down the hunter whose poison dart drove the bear insane. That part of the story done with, he heads to Japan, where he discovers that his sweetheart, Mariko, has been forced into a marriage of convenience by her gangster / ninja father. Wolverine gets into a swordfight with Mariko’s dad, gets his arse kicked and is left for dead. He is found by Yukio, a female assassin who works for Mariko’s dad but also loves Wolverine, and the pair team up. There are lots of fights with ninjas and the book ends with Wolverine killing Mariko’s dad and getting engaged to Mariko after Yukio kills her husband (luckily, Mariko’s husband was evil).

Did I enjoy reading this again? Well, no. Actually, I found it a bit tedious. But it did remind me what it is I used to love so much about Frank Miller. In recent years, I have started to think that Miller is actually quite a bad writer, and his dialogue often makes me cringe. It works sometimes, and when I first read the first (and best) Sin City book – recently re-titled ‘The Hard Goodbye’ – I thought it was a parody of pulp fiction (not the film), full of tough guys and ‘dames’, and really liked it. However, I’ve since started to think that’s just the way Miller writes. As bad his dialogue can be, though, Miller is a great visual storyteller.

I loved Miller’s run on Daredevil at the time and I still like it a lot now, but I like the first nine issues from that run, written by Roger McKenzie, just as much as I like the issues that Miller wrote and drew. Thanks to the old Marvel method of producing comics, in which the artist was given a rough plot to work from and the dialogue was scripted once the art was completed, Miller did effectively write the action scenes in those comics, and exciting (occasionally brutal) action scenes is what he is best at. Chris Claremont’s script for ‘Wolverine’ is not that bad but is a bit dull and wordy, full of waffle about honour and nobility because it’s set in Japan. And as this is a Marvel comic that predates this great age of graphic novels, it was necessary for Claremont to recap the story at the beginning of each chapter. The fact that Wolverine is scripted by Chris Claremont doesn’t really matter, though, as this is really a Daredevil-era Frank Miller comic, full of well-drawn, well-timed fight scenes. In fact, the ninjas in this book are ‘The Hand’ from Miller’s Daredevil run, so drawing this probably wasn’t too much of a challenge for him. And Yukio is really just a Japanese version of Elektra.

One thing that really stood out to me about this book was how tame the punishment Wolverine had to endure seemed, relative to what he has to endure in modern Wolverine comics. In 1982, seeing Wolverine get beaten up, hacked with swords and shot with arrows, only to just about pull through thanks to his healing ability, was quite exciting. In the first chapter of ‘Wolverine’, he is nearly beaten to death by Mariko’s father – an old man – with a wooden sword. However, in modern Wolverine comics – and I haven’t looked inside a Wolverine comic for a couple of years now – Wolverine seems to get incinerated on a fairly regular basis, stripped right down to his adamantium bones, only to regenerate soon after. It’s like his healing ability has made him careless. I mean, you (probably) don’t see Cyclops getting his face shot off, or getting blown up, on a regular basis, do you? The modern Wolverine is as indestructible as Superman, and it’s made him just as hard to care about. Still, this old adventure, featuring the pre-indestructible Wolverine, didn’t seem anywhere near as exciting as it did back in 1982.

I doubt I will ever read this book again but I will probably keep it, just for the Frank Miller art, along with all my Daredevil graphic novels. It didn’t really cost me anything anyway. I bought it on eBay as part of a collection of about 28 graphic novels that cost me around £80, but I sold off all the stuff I didn’t want for a little over £80, so this was effectively free. A couple of years ago, Marvel re-released this as a ‘premiere’ hardcover (RRP £14.99) and then released a new softcover edition last year (RRP £12.99). Both editions are cheaper on Amazon (etc.) but this early version of the book (published in 1987) is the sort of thing that pops up cheap on eBay all the time, so if you do fancy checking it out, you may want to look there first.


  1. I sold my set of the originally issues on eBay recently and got les than a fiver for each copy which I was surprised by. Oh well. Good review, Rob.

  2. Thanks, Paul. When I had a quick look on eBay yesterday, there were at least five copies of this old edition of the graphic novel on there, none of them with any bids. I'm surprised there was enough demand for Marvel to re-release it as a slim, expensive hardcover. Or maybe there wasn't and Marvel just printed it anyway?