Classic Marvel - Graphic Novel: Wolverine (1982) - Reviewed

Michelle takes a step back in time to look at an earlier tale of Wolverine. 

"I'm the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn't very nice."

With these iconic words, writer Chris Claremont immortalized Wolverine and made him the superhero we know today. Before getting his own solo comic, Wolverine (real name James Howlett but known as Logan), was merely an animal in a human form. He had no motivation other than anger and was prone to go in "berserker" mode in which he viciously attacked anyone unlucky enough to get in his way--friend or foe alike. While this is exciting for a comic book character and pretty easy to write, Chris Claremont wanted to give this psychotic beast a soul--give him a muse, if you will. Claremont teamed up with artist/writer Frank Miller and together they gave Logan some depth and in doing so made him more relatable.

The collection I read collects Wolverine #1-4 and Uncanny X-Men #172-173 which was originally published in 1982. This arc covers Wolverine's experience in Japan, fighting for the love of Mariko Yashida, the daughter of a prestigious clan leader named Shingen Yashida. Because of Japan's extremely formal traditions, Mariko is married off to another man who just so happens to be the leader of a dangerous Yakuza sect. The rest of the sordid tale follows Wolvie in his quest to get Mariko back into his life and to protect her from the ire of her father. I found the setting of Japan to be incredibly interesting and Claremont took great pains to be as accurate as possible in depicting the culture. This being the 1980s, it would have been easy for him to resort to clich├ęs, but Claremont shows great restraint and nuance in his writing.

Claremont's style of writing does take some getting used to as he is a bit...formal and tends to hit the exposition side of things pretty hard. You have a lot of characters describing in detail what exactly they are doing with their powers and what their intentions are instead of letting the visual aspect of the medium take up some of the slack. As a positive though, this gives each character, especially Wolverine himself, a lot of depth. You really get a feel for how Wolverine is always fighting his animalistic and brutal urges and his longing for a normal life. For the first time in this series, Wolverine expresses his need for love and affection and this tempers his need to rip apart any problem that comes his way. It's a touching love story that is rendered beautifully and it brings his character into the realm of believability.

Frank Miller provided the pencils for most of the run and this stands as some of his best work of all time. Wolverine is a muscled and squat force of nature under his artistic style, always crouched with vicious power simmering under the surface ready to spring into action at any point. The fight scenes are tight and staccato which matches Wolverine's savage fighting style perfectly. I also love the use of lighting and shadow--Miller loved to have fights lit from behind which renders the combatants down to black silhouettes, a shadow play of gorgeous destruction. I'm not  fan of what Miller's style eventually evolved into, but back in the day he was one of the masters of the medium. He always added an element of mystery and noir to whatever he was drawing and it's especially intriguing in this comic. Glynis Wein's coloring is simple on the surface, but her use of bold primary colors and backsplashes make each page pop and contributes to the frantic feeling of the work.

This is the story that really put Wolverine on the map and made him a beloved and admired character in the X-Men universe. It's a mixture of comic book pizazz with a dash of James Clavell's epic novel Shogun (1975) thrown in for good measure. I love the parallel between Wolverine's inner sense of honor and that of a samurai warrior. Any fan of Wolverine would be remiss in skipping out on this classic comic arc.

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-Michelle Kisner