PIPELINE PODCAST #14
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Greg Rucka lasted 19 issues writing WOLVERINE before an exclusive contract with DC sent him over to Marvel’s distinguished competition to help annihilate the remaining cast list of the Giffen/De Matteis-era JUSTICE LEAGUE.
But for 19 issues, he presented a ground-level Wolverine set in a closer approximation to reality than the superhero conventions Mark Millar is currently putting everyone’s favorite hairy Canadian through. This shouldn’t be surprising, coming from the man whose Atticus Kodiak novels were thrillers that engaged in political issues without hitting you over the head with them, nor a British spy series (QUEEN & COUNTRY) that cleverly disguised character conflicts amidst a sea of international espionage and politics. I can picture Rucka sitting in his office amidst a sea of research materials, carefully keeping notes to use in some unknown future story. In the course of his WOLVERINE run, in particular, he touched on gun control and illegal immigration before delving into a more continuity-based storyline based on Wolverine’s nebulous past. Tellingly, it’s the stories that involve the politics that stand out as successes. That last story centering on yet another Sabretooth/Wolverine matchup comes up just short. By comparison with the two previous stories, it’s just too wrapped up in itself and in past dealings of the character.
Volume 1, “The Brotherhood,” sets Wolverine on the hunt for a gun dealer after the sweet girl next door is brutally gunned down. He promised her he’d help, and he’ll do nothing to fail her. The story includes an off-the-grid town run with an iron grip by a madman, and an FBI agent who gets wrapped up in the whole thing for reasons that quickly turn personal.
While the first half of the story sets itself up to be a screed against gun ownership, Rucka doesn’t stoop to creating a polemic. He uses it as a springboard to bring the reader into a seedy little community. While there aren’t too many responsible gun owners seen in the story — there rarely ever are in literature, since they’re “boring” — I’m not going to call this story an affront to the second amendment or anything.
After the main story concludes in the fifth chapter, the sixth story is a memorable meeting between Wolverine and Nightcrawler. The two have quite the history, and their friendship is always appreciated on the comics page. This story holds no exceptions, as Wolverine picks on Kurt for hiding his true visage, while Kurt plays spiritual advisor for a man who’s so desperately trying not to give in to a darker side of himself.
Darick Robertson provides the art, inked by Tom Palmer. His Wolverine is noticeably more animal-like. This fits in with Rucka’s entire run on the series. In this series, Rucka explored Wolverine’s relationship between his more human side and his animal bezerker rage side. It’s a delicate balance. Robertson’s art clearly brings a visual element to that relationship.
At the time these issues originally came out, gossip mills turned with stories of Marvel asking Robertson to change his depiction of Wolverine to match more closely the look of Hugh Jackman’s movie version of the character. We’ll come back to that in future volumes, but you will see a change in the art style as these books progress.
For a book packed with so many locations and daring battles, the last story of the first book stands out artistically for Robertson. The restrained art he worked up for a story set mostly at a bar with two people chatting is admirable. His well-known love for the character of Nightcrawler translates well on the pages here, too. Kurt is an expressive individual, without delving into anything cartoonish or out of place.
Volume 2 is “Coyote Crossing,” for which Wolverine heads to the Mexican border in Texas, stumbling across a murderous border crossing scheme. As usual in pop culture, stories of illegal aliens fail to make committing crimes a bad thing. The focus on this story is the evil people who took advantage of the illegals and, effectively, murdered them. The story crosses into the drug trade and the uneasy relationships on both sides of the Rio Grande. I wonder what kind of story we’d have in this volume if The Minutemen were in the news when Rucka was writing this. Rucka continues his development of Wolverine’s uncomfortable relationship with his own berserker rage, while the federal agent’s hunt for Wolverine yields surprising results.
Rucka carefully plots this story, to make sure things flow neatly from one point to the next. Before you realize it, Wolverine’s extreme reactions make perfect sense. The doubts he had in the first book that you, as a long time Wolverine reader perhaps didn’t take seriously, suddenly ring true. Rucka is at his best in writing solo books with smaller supporting casts. He’s able to get into characters’ heads and motivate them properly. It’s no different here.
Leandro Fernandez rejoins Rucka, after a successful outing on QUEEN & COUNTRY’s “Operation: Crystal Ball.” It is the movie version of Wolverine that Fernandez clearly is drawing here. Wolverine is noticeably taller and his features more closely resemble Jackman’s, almost to the point of photoreference. Q&C fans will be thrilled to hear that Wolverine does not, however, gain an enormous set of breasts to flaunt inappropriately throughout the story. Fernandez gets the chance to do that with the federal agent who returns from the first story. Thankfully, he doesn’t go in that direction.
It’s hard to keep Wolverine fresh anymore. He’s a strong character, to be sure, but he’s been so overwritten over the years. He’s a superhero. He’s a loner. He’s a gruff guy with the heart of gold. He is ninja. Rucka works well at focusing on the loner aspect of it, while throwing Wolverine into dangerous situations that are bigger than he is.
Too much of that gets thrown out the window for the third volume, though. It’s the longest of the trio, collecting a full eight issues of the series, but it’s also the one that changes tone drastically.
Volume 3 is “Return of the Native,” which gives Sabretooth and Wolverine another chance to fight and show their animal instincts across a stretch of wilderness. This one was in trouble from the start, when the entire first chapter of it is a dream sequence. From there, we get another Weapon X reject, and a chase is on. Taken on its own, it might form a satisfying story, particularly in light of the way in which Rucka was exploring Wolverine’s barely suppressed beastial nature. Mostly, though, the thing feels like a rehash of so many previous fight spectacles we’ve seen Wolverine involved with before. On top of that, Sabretooth never comes off as being particularly scary. It’s just dancing in the same footsteps left behind previously. There are a few cute moments to it, but it never completely captures my interest.
As the third of three trade paperbacks, in particular, it just leaves the reader on a sour note. Nothing feels completed. While Nightcrawler makes a couple of appearances again in the finale, it’s not substantive enough to feel like a resolution. Perhaps there was more planned and the storylines had to be dropped when the contracts ended. I don’t know.
The most disappointing part of this final volume is that the relationship between Wolverine and the federal agent is never satisfyingly ended. It’s a loose plot thread, at the very least. The way the story unfolds in this issue, though, it seems more like a thread that was purposefully dropped. The Sasha Bourdeaux (Rucka’s DETECTIVE COMICS series) storyline felt more natural than this one, and we all wanted to see more when that was done. (She stars in the OMAC mini-series that DC just previewed on-line.)
Robertson returns on art duties for this storyline, complete with his own cabal of inkers: the much underrated Nelson DeCastro, Tom Palmer, Jimmy Palmiotti, and himself. There is a marked change to his portrayal of Wolverine. He’s not quite the Jackman clone Fernandez drew, but he is definitely more humanized. He’s taller and a lot less cro-magnon.
In the end, I can’t help but feel that this run of the title was a failed experiment. There seems to be one more story screaming out to be told. The first two trades held up separately as their own stories, but the third dashed the on-going subplots in an effort to fit a story into a more classic Marvel blow-’em-up mode. I felt more thrills and chills from the first story, though, where there was a measure of humanity behind the situation, and some more attention paid to the logistics of the situation, not just the unintentional buddy adventure the third one turned out to be.
I would suggest picking up the first two trades, if you’re looking for Rucka’s stories. The third is most likely to be a disappointment, but it does have some pretty art and will give you a very awkward sense of unintended closure.
PREVIEWED NO MORE!
Every month, I take a look at the cancellations, resolicitations, and out Of Order listings in the back of the PREVIEWS order catalog. This month, we have a very long list from Marvel and DC that would be impossible to completely summarize. I’m just too stupid to realize that I shouldn’t give it a try.
Marvel has a lengthy list of sold out items from their trade paperback and hardcover lists. Hardcovers that are now sold out include PUNISHER Volume 2, 1602 (that was fast!), ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN, and BORN. I know Marvel has said since the beginning of this hardcover program that they were only printing these to initial orders, basically, but I wish they’d consider stockpiling a few extra. Second printings would even be a good idea. In the case of 1602, in particular, the Gaiman fans will be looking for this book for years to come. While the trades will still sell, I think there’s some money to be made from the hardcover yet.
There are some trades listed as “out of stock,” which is different from “sold out” in that — well, I have no idea. Does Marvel keep a separate warehouse somewhere that it feeds the Diamond warehouses with when they run out? In any case, the first George Perez volume of AVENGERS LEGENDS, AVENGERS Volume 3: THE SEARCH FOR SHE-HULK, and CAPTAIN AMERICA Volume 4: CAPTAIN AMERICA LIVES AGAIN all fall under this category.
WHA HUH is designated as cancelled by the publisher. Most unbelievably, so is the DAREDEVIL FATHER hardcover edition. I call it unbelievable, because I can’t believe they ever bothered to solicit a hardcover edition of a book that never saw a second issue printed.
From Image, SYLVIA FAUST is officially cancelled now after making it halfway through its four-issue mini-series. The book had a great visual look, but I didn’t keep up with it after a confusing first issue. A bunch of other Image books are sold out, including SAVAGE DRAGONBERT: FULL FRONTAL NERDITY, SUPERSTAR: AS SEEN ON TV (how many years has that been available now?), the second RISING STARS trade, and the hardcover version of MAGE Volume 1.
DC has a list of sold out books longer than my arm. The only thing close to it is the list of “out of stock” books. BATMAN: HONG KONG is sold out as both a hardcover and a trade paperback. The SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT hardcover is gone. The list is too long to pick and choose from. Funny enough, though, DESPERADOES: A MOMENT’S SUNLIGHT is listed both as “sold out” and “out of stock.”
The Pipeline Podcast returns late Tuesday night, while this column will return next Tuesday, with additional trade paperback reviews.
Over at Various and Sundry this week: The weirdest DVD podcast I’ve ever done. The end of rebates? A complete rundown of this week’s AMERICAN IDOL telecasts. TV ratings. NBC’s version of THE OFFICE. And more.
The Various and Sundry DVD Podcast continues to look at the week’s DVD releases, every Sunday afternoon. Those of you with a podcasting program can subscribe to it right here.
All political discussions have been pushed off to one neat side at VandS Politics.
Close to 700 Pipeline columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page. I haven’t had that account in years, but they’ve yet to delete the page space. Go fig.
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