No, Wolverine hasn’t come back to life. Yes, his death at Magneto’s hands during “Ultimatum” was handled in the classic open-ended Marvel style — a skeleton and a charred hand were left over to be buried back at the X-Mansion, raising the question of how long it would take before some writer decided it was time for James Howlett’s body to regenerate and claw its way out of the dirt. But today is not that day.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about “Ultimate Comics Wolverine” #1 by Cullen Bunn and David Messina. There’s plenty of Wolverine in this book, but only in flashbacks set “years ago” that show him leading a covert team tasked with stopping a political assassination attempt. These are juxtaposed with present-day scenes of young mutant Jimmy Hudson, who’s still trying to come to terms with the revelation that Wolverine is his biological father.
Writer Cullen Bunn is best known for his bloody-fun Oni Press comics “The Sixth Gun” and “Helheim,” which are books based on big ideas about weird horror in cool settings, and Bunn seems to chafe a bit under the restrictions of writing in the Marvel style. All the pieces of a classic X-Men book are here: emotional drama as Jimmy watches and rewatches Wolverine’s final message to him, weird mutant action, an intriguing conspiracy, personal relationships between young X-Men put to the test — but the book almost feels like a fill-in-the-blanks exercise. The story of a young man feeling angry, confused, betrayed and intrigued by the father he never knew is familiar ground, and Bunn doesn’t add anything new with Jimmy Hudson. Where the best Marvel writers have been able to take the formula of superheroic action and personal melodrama and really make it come to life, Bunn can’t seem to make the leap from good writing to great.
David Messina’s art is similarly workmanlike. It’s reminiscent of Tony Harris or Leinil Yu, but without Harris’s expressiveness and Yu’s flair for action. The art is also somewhat uneven; the attention Messina puts into close-ups doesn’t carry through into long shots, which sometimes suffer from an awkward emptiness and lack of detail. Overall, Messina gets the job done, but just doesn’t rise above simply showing the action frame by frame.
Bunn’s Ultimate Wolverine is also a bit softer than usual. He’s generally been written as a morally gray character that doesn’t always do what’s best for his team and lets his darker instincts lead him from time to time. In Bunn’s hands, though, he’s a bit more warm and fuzzy, especially where his son is concerned. It’s closer to the usual depiction of Wolverine in the primary Marvel continuity, which is strange in a universe that’s generally been a bit edgier than the mainstream series. Aside from the continuity itself, this could easily be an issue of a regular Wolverine or X-Men comic.
With all that said, there are certainly things to like about “Ultimate Comics Wolverine” #1. Even if they’re only flashbacks, it’s nice to see Wolverine back in action, especially in the role Bunn has given him: professional badass in charge of a team up against a mysterious enemy. Watching him give orders is always a blast. The mystery driving the book is plenty intriguing, and it’ll be fun to watch it unravel simultaneously in the past with Wolverine and the present with Jimmy Hudson. The question for “Ultimate Comics Wolverine” #1 is whether it will be able to achieve the Marvel gold standard of action and character drama, or if Bunn and Messina will settle for bronze.