Have you ever sat down, looked at your copies of Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” and Marvel’s “Origin,” and thought to yourself, “Well, sir, gee whiz, if only they would find a way to combine these two things that I love into one place so I wouldn’t have to waste pesky time reading both?” I know I sure haven’t, because the idea sounds rather dumb to me. After reading the first issue of “Wolverine Noir,” I can say that the execution doesn’t prove me wrong. It reads very literally as “The Maltese Falcon” meets “Origin” with a heavy emphasis on the latter and I have to ask “Dear god, why?”
To be fair, Stuart Moore tries his best to make this baffling book work and he’s aided quite a bit by C.P. Smith, whose art is almost reason enough for this series to exist. It’s 1937, James Logan runs Logan & Logan Detective Agency with his ‘brother,’ Dog, and takes on a case from the wealthy and sultry Mariko Yashida. Men have been following her and she wants to know why. Dog, a brutish and perverted man-child, insists on taking the case.
And from there, things just kind of stop as Moore takes us back to Logan’s childhood to provide background on the detective. These scenes seem out of place, doing little variations on “Origin” without providing much insight beyond how Logan learned to fight with knives. The momentum of the mystery plot is severely slowed by these digressions to the point where it barely has time to get moving at all. Those scenes don’t have the room to breathe or really give a sense of play and wit that detective novels tend to have. Mariko Yashida is introduced and discarded far too quickly, the book in too much of a rush to show little James listening to his father sermon than to linger a little and revel in the genre that this series is, supposedly, dedicated to.
Moore has Logan narrate the issue and attempts for a Hammett or Chandler sort of voice with the gruffness of Wolverine thrown in and, for the most part, it works. Again, the descriptions of his past are worse than when Logan is discussing what’s happening now.
The art of C.P. Smith is dark, moody, and exquisite. More coherent than his work on “The Programme,” Smith’s art retains the charm from that book, while injecting noir elements. The way he lays out a page and portrays characters tells you more about them than Moore’s narration at times. Take a look at the preview pages and note the way that Smith shows Logan and Dog initially. Logan off to the side of the panel, hanging back in the shadows, while Dog plays with his knife, looking the big dumb brute that he is. Dog is caught up in what he’s doing, while Logan watches, thinking about killing him. Rain Beredo’s muted colors mesh well with Smith’s line work, both of which change in the flashback scenes, taking on a faded look that sets those pages apart from the rest of the issue.
Stuart Moore and C.P. Smith both try to raise “Wolverine Noir” above the absurd exercise in combining two genres for no reason other than ‘just because.’ Fans of Wolverine won’t get anything here that they can’t get elsewhere — and the same goes for fans of noir. “Wolverine Noir” is a case where the end product is less than the sum of its parts. Do yourself a favor and just go read “The Maltese Falcon” since this pale imitation with elements of “Origin” thrown in isn’t worth it.