Gory, silly, funny, violent and a little bit sleazy… Sometimes that’s what I crave from a comic book, and nothing is delivering it for me right now like Wolverine: The Best There Is.
I need some monthly comic books that can be the peanut butter & jelly sandwiches of my emotional diet. I use them to feed me with all the wrong stuff, yummy, fattening and pretty much irrevocably immature, but oh so delicious. Of course I crave substance, I want to nourish my soul with great works of art, with truth and beauty. I need to feed my mind with the intellectual equivalent of an organic, grass-fed filet mignon and an organic broccoli side.
Sometimes though, despite my best intentions to eat right, I find myself craving Chocolate Twizzlers and other nasty, tasty things. Naturally it isn’t just my diet that straddles two opposing tastes, so go my comic book appetites too. While I love the classics and happily debate the need for peaceful, resolution-oriented superheroes, the comic book which currently makes my week is the outrageously silly Wolverine: The Best There Is.
I first spotted this book because of the Bryan Hitch covers. I love the way he draws muscles, and Wolverine has a lot of muscles. As it happens, the interior the art by Juan Jose Ryp is easily cover worthy and personally, I’d be as happy with a Ryp cover as I am a Hitch cover. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the powers-that-be decided that different cover artists were a better marketing device. At times it can be misleading and unnecessary, but that’s just how things are done, so at least in this instance they’ve picked some great artists.
Anyway, Ryp’s art on Wolverine: The Best There Is is reminiscent to his excellent work on No Hero with Warren Ellis. The writer on this (Charlie Huston) is no Ellis, but he has this similarly gruesome sense of humor going on. The only crack in the facade would have to be that, despite the wildly inventive story line, characters and situation, he has this adorably clunky habit of giving characters dialogue where they explain _why_ they’re behaving in a certain way. It isn’t that I don’t love it (as a bit of a process addict, I’d have wanted to read this thinking anyway), but it just isn’t feasible. Bad guys outside of Tarantino movies don’t philosophize when under pressure and no one does to this extent. They don’t have any reason to, it would be time-consuming and tedious for them to have to explain the subtleties of their motivations. To my mind, Huston is a man who could clearly benefit from a few footnotes or thought bubbles (remember those? Dorky as they can be, they served a purpose and I still prefer them to breaking the fourth wall or breaking character.)
The great thing about this slightly trashy book is that even the odd hiccup, like over-the-top dialogue is so damn enjoyable, that just like a decent Tarantino movie, we can even get into the lack of realism. Besides, as the series progresses, the pace seems to be picking up and simultaneously smoothing out.
The use of discorporate entities and viruses is damn brilliant. One of my favorite science fiction writers (Neal Asher) has written a whole series of books about planets composed entirely of parasitic life forms, from the microscopic virus’ up to the elephant-sized monsters. Similarly Huston has thrown a slew of highly inventive alien life-forms at Wolverine and it is definitely providing some much-needed challenges. Funny and totally outrageous, Wolverine is perfectly in-character, even to the point of totally screwing himself by the end of at least 2 out of 3 issues, (which might be one of the reasons I’m always gagging for the next issue.)
Nine issues into this insanely silly comic book and I’m hooked. That feeling of slight elation when I realize that the new issue comes out tomorrow is such a treat. Then there is the anticipation of owning the comic book, but not yet having the time to read it (these things can’t be rushed.) By the time I finally so, my expectations are pretty damn high, despite knowing that this isn’t some life-altering work of high art. Still, it satisfies in a way that I still feel is so necessary from my comic book reading. I don’t always want everything to make sense, I don’t care why or how everything works, I just love getting swept up in it. Wolverine is such an innately violent character, creating an environment where he is forced to deal, to think and work to outwit his foes is ridiculously fun.
This isn’t high art and it isn’t going to change the world or alter the fabric of my life. What this is, is a bloody good time. In some ways it is the absolute opposite of Weapon X, which was a symphony of pain and a revelation in the world of Wolverine at the time. But since then there have been times when he has devolved into a caricature of himself and this descent back to his down and dirty roots is just what the doctor ordered.
There is great skill in creating memorable and satisfying story content in just 18 – 22 pages of monthly comic book, particularly while giving enough space to the action that an artist like Ryp is capable of depicting. Not many people really seem to do this anymore, as writing for the inevitable collected trade paperback becomes the norm. It can be really frustrating to pay $3-$4 every month just to read a single character intro, or have a story remain static for months on end. While Wolverine: The Best There Is covers a short space of time each month, a ton of stuff happens. It makes sense that Wolverine would actually live a very fast-paced life, since in this book at least, he is more action hero than superhero. With opponents that threaten his existence and push him to the edge of his endurance, we get to see the man going through the mill on many levels.
There are plenty of books that I wait to read as a compilation because month-to-month they are too frustrating, but I still need my fix of ongoing monthlies and this is where a book like this excels; Just enough outlandish inventiveness to keep me on the edge of my seat, without so much detail that I feel the need to understand how it all works.