Have you ever seen one of those cartoons that run on PBS kids? One of those things like “Dragon Tails” for instance, where every episode ends with an important lesson and a hug? That’s what “Wolverine: First Class” #1 is like. It’s like getting a hug from a pink cartoon dragon.
Writer Fred Van Lente’s “Action Philosophers” has been one of my favorite comics for a couple of years, and I’ve been rooting for him to succeed at Marvel. I thought some of his earlier Marvel work was mediocre, but I enjoyed “Modok’s 11” and hoped he would get more of a chance to play with the toys in the Marvel sandbox. He’s brought some real heart and substance to his work on “The Incredible Hercules,” and if this is starting to sound like a list of Fred Van Lente achievements, that’s because I’m trying to demonstrate that he’s on some kind of upward trajectory at Marvel, landing bigger and bigger gigs almost daily.
But I’m not sure where “Wolverine: First Class” fits in. Like it’s big sister,”X-Men: First Class,” this new series exists in a nebulous area somewhere between Marvel Adventures and the Marvel Universe proper. It’s not an Ultimate-style reimagining, but it’s also not truly a fill-in-bits-of-continuity book either. Tonally, it’s also in that strange realm of “X-Men: First Class,” bringing a kind of jokey, light-heartedness that the X-books abandoned years ago (if they were ever this jokey and light-hearted). It’s also highly kid friendly, which is a good thing, but it has that saccharine aftertaste that goes along with that pink cartoon dragon hug I mentioned at the beginning. This reads like a Wolverine book (or a Wolverine and Kitty Pryde book) that’s supposed to be good for you, and being the cauliflower of comic books isn’t something to be proud of.
Van Lente, however, with the able help of artist Andrea Di Vito (whose art has looked better in the past, to be honest), manages to create an interesting dynamic between Kitty Pryde and Logan. It’s perhaps too simplistic, and the reason for the two of them going on a mission together seems perhaps too implausible (although maybe not, because even if he lashes out at her, she can phase through his attackâ€”so perhaps she has the best chance against a grumpy Wolverine), but the story works. It is what it is, a noble effort to continue the “X-Men: First Class” franchise and create a comic that younger readers could pick up and appreciate without having to read a dozen other issues of anything.
I don’t think it offers much to a regular Marvel reader, and since Van Lente has the practically impossible task of telling stories set during the Claremont/Byrne years (arguably the best X-years ever, which makes you wonder why you shouldn’t just go back and reread that stuff instead), he may not pull it off in the end. But, as a first issue, it’s a pleasant little inoffensive hug of a comic book.