Wolverine has received several one-shots in recent months, presumably as part of Marvel's drive to put out more issues of certain titles in a year without pressuring the regular creators.
What this is doing, unfortunately, is creating a glut of rather pointless-feeling books that float around the market unsure what their real place is, unable to make much of a splash. In order to represent good value entertainment, these stories need to be incredibly good. After all, they haven't got the crutch of continuity or cliffhanger endings to fall back on.
"Wolverine: Dangerous Games" features two complete stories, one by Simon Spurrier (writer of the brilliantly off-the-wall "Gutsville") and another by Rick Remender (currently writing "The End League"). They're not obvious choices for a Wolverine story, and one undeniably good thing Marvel have been doing with these one-shots is courting talent that, one way or another, wouldn't have a chance to get near the main Wolverine title. It's a nice initiative, but not one that necessarily yields the best results all the time, though.
Take Simon Spurrier's story -- usually, he's a talented creator responsible for some very individual and original comics. Grafted onto Wolverine, he turns in a story that grates against the character, having made the frankly bizarre choice of dredging up the debate about fox hunting in the UK as his premise, when the matter has largely been laid to rest even on the side of the Atlantic that still cares.
Spurrier's villains are nothing short of caricatures. The type of handlebar-moustachioed aristocrats the story depicts as its main antagonists haven't been seen outside of a political cartoon anywhere in the last hundred years, so what are they doing in Louisiana? (Credit is due, though, for using the region without including Gambit!)
The fox hunting debate in the UK was always complex: part-class struggle, part-animal rights, part-bloodsport and part-pest control. Trying to use it as a basis for a story like this is a mystifying choice, especially when Wolverine will quite happily kill people (and the in-story justification that Logan feels that fox hunting "isn't a fair fight" doesn't remotely ring true). It's very hard to see that there's any real idea behind this story beyond Spurrier's own politics.
Ben Oliver's pencils are fairly high quality â€" his figures and storytelling are good, though the lack of particularly distinct backgrounds leaves the pages looking a little bland despite the best efforts of the coloring.
The second story, by Remender and Opena, is far more befitting of the character, taking the classic theme of Wolverine's struggle with internal rage and throwing in some of the character's eastern philosophies too. As a story, it's far more likable, and Opena's delicate and detailed pencils are fantastic. Though utterly inconsequential in the grander scheme of things, it quickly and accurately gets to the essence of the character without getting bogged down in the details, and looks great doing it. If you're buying a Wolverine one-shot, surely that's what you want to see?
A good second story doesn't really excuse the poor quality of the lead. Once again, this issue comes at the increasingly (and worryingly) popular $3.99 price point, and yet again, fails to deliver equivalent value. It's the latest in a line of sub-par Wolverine one-shots. The idea and format certainly have merit, but the quality needs to improve quickly before the audience is driven away for good.