Wolverine #56–61 by Jason Aaron (#56), Marc Guggenheim (57–61) and Howard Chaykin
I reserve books from my library using their online search facility – I searched for Jason Aaron after discovering how brilliant Scalped was, and this collection was listed under his name. It was only when I got it that I found out that it was mostly the TV writer Guggenheim’s show. Fortunately, it was Chaykin’s art all the way through.
In Aaron’s issue, ‘The Man In The Pit’, the story is about the man who routinely shoots Logan while he sits at the bottom of a pit, with Logan a supporting character in his own book. Aaron has a great way with dialogue and first-person narrative, as the story is told from the viewpoint of the ex-cop who now works for an anonymous company keeping Logan prisoner and subduing him with a heavy-duty machine gun. Until Logan starts talking to him and chipping away at his psyche, which affects the job and him. Aaron is complimented by Chaykin on art duties – isn’t it weird to see this hellraiser and rule-breaker working on a mainstream Marvel superhero? – who gives the book a thoroughly snazzy feel. Small things make all the difference – when our protagonist is walking through security, Chaykin even draws the air holes in the plexiglass separating him from the woman behind it. We all know Chaykin is capable of drawing beautiful women, snarling men and exquisitely designed art, but he doesn’t quite get Wolvie’s claws quite right, as you can see on the cover of issue 56 (which is also the cover of the trade, and much better than the covers of the rest of the individual issues, which are quite ugly). They don’t quite look right, more like flat metal blades going to a point, rather than the usual claws, but it’s only a minor point.
The bulk of the trade is Guggenheim’s ‘Logan Dies’, which has a big idea behind it that doesn’t quite work: essentially, the story posits that Logan fights Azrael, the Angel of Death, in a sort of limbo whenever he has been effectively killed so that his soul can return to the land of the living. This is a very silly notion, and not one that fits in with Wolverine as a character – he simply doesn’t need it as part of his story. It’s an unnecessary addition. Guggenheim needs it for this story so that Logan has something to fight against; seemingly, a female Atlantean cover operative called Amir (dressed in an outfit that could only be designed and drawn by Chaykin, of what look like pieces of plastic rope interlaced in a vast string catsuit effect) is the new object of Logan’s heart and he simply didn’t have the will to live when he was killed after she was killed in action with him. This is another stupid step – I don’t know if she has been in the book before, but it is totally implausible that Logan loves this unknown so much that he just gives up.
Still, Guggenheim constructs a decent enough story, with nice moving backwards and forwards in time – we first see Logan fighting in the First World War (which is the first encounter with Azrael, and the source of Guggenheim’s other misstep – he decides to have Logan fight in the trenches with bayonets attached to his forearms, which he thinks is ‘Like I was born to fight like this.’, which is just embarrassing in its desire to be link to the claws and highly implausible as an effective method of combat) before switching the current time period – before putting him in limbo, where Dr Strange comes to help him. There is some good stuff between Strange and Tony Stark when Stephen goes to collect the body, with some choice dialogue in just two pages between them.
There is a fair bit of mumbo-jumbo in explaining this stuff, which is the usual arena for Dr Strange, but at least Guggenheim has a nice line to explain it: ‘The metaphysical doesn’t lend itself to English.’ Essentially, Logan has to confront his soul in order to come back to life, which does some provide some fun as Logan fights previous aspects of himself, starting with James Howlett on the fateful night, himself in the trenches of the First World War, Weapon X, the version that first fought Incredible Hulk in issue #181, Logan in space before the death of Jean Grey story, the Wolverine of the Claremont/Miller mini-series, even when he lost his admantium. There are many links to Logan’s history – the story has him go to Japan, where he fights The Hand, seeking a woman he saw in his memories while fighting for his soul (oh, spoiler alert – Logan wins and doesn’t actually die), who in turn is connected to Mariko’s father, whom Logan killed. And there’s a link to the Mark Millar Agent of SHIELD story arc. Quite a bit of research and joining of dots by Guggenheim.
The whole point of this story is to reduce Logan’s healing factor down to believable levels, rather than the practically immortal levels it had reached in recent history. It goes a long way to achieve this, and the solution is credibility stretching to say the least, but there are some enjoyable parts and Chaykin’s art looks like he’s having a lot of fun – it’s great to see his design and strong line work on superhero action, even if it does seem a little beneath him. Entertaining stuff, if a little odd in places and fairly lightweight.