Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

07 October 2011

The Three Stages of Man: Stage Two: Wolverine: Not Dead Yet

Collects: Wolverine #119-22 (1997-8)

Released: April 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785137665

What is this?: Wolverine must confront an old friend / threat from his past. Shocking, right?

The culprits: Writer Warren Ellis and artist Leinil Francis Yu

Continuing from the last post, we move on to the next stage in the three stages of man, as exemplified by Wolverine:

Stage Two: The Badass, as represented by Wolverine: Not Dead Yet.

Wolverine: Not Dead Yet coverAfter discovering who he is, it is time for man to be the best he that he can be at what he does, even if it isn’t pretty. If that means composing symphonies and choral works, so be it. If your burden is that you have an outstanding mechanical aptitude, it’s up to you to embrace, not shirk, that destiny. If, like Wolverine, killing a lot of people is what you do, then you need to do it, and do it as often as possible.

Striving to reach the pinnacle of your profession is not without its dangers. If you are one of the greatest composers of your time, a rival might try to drive you insane and then kill you with rheumatic fever. If you are a great mechanic, a rival might decide to crush or lop off your hands. And if you are one of the great killers of the world, well, another great killer might decide to end your life, especially if you left the man alive after trying to kill him.

I mean, it just stands to reason.

Yet another old acquaintance coming back into Logan’s life to kill him / get killed is a hoary trope that was getting old even when writer Warren Ellis and artist Leinil Francis Yu collaborated on this four-issue storyline in 1997. Somehow, though, Ellis makes this idea work. Wolverine is the X-Man best suited to Ellis’s approach, a low-power hero with a boost from weird science and haunted by a conspiracy. Ellis doesn’t touch upon either of those elements, but they are still in the background, in their way.

Not Dead Yet comes at an odd time in Wolverine’s history. After finishing the main story of the Operation: Zero Tolerance crossover in Wolverine, Larry Hama ended his 80+-issue run on the title. His last storyline was cut off in the middle — not that it looked very promising, to be honest — and suddenly the man who had defined what kind of stories the book would tell was gone. The luster gone from Hama, whose stories had been going downhill for a year or more, Marvel went for their newest badass, Ellis.

It wouldn’t be an Ellis story without a character from the British Isles; in this case, it’s McLeish, a Scottish killer from Logan’s past. In four issues, Ellis has to establish McLeish as a threat and disguise that most of the story is just faceless mooks trying to kill Wolverine. (Not faceless as in “wearing ninja masks,” but faceless as in “not very important” — an important distinction in a Wolverine story) Ellis does this masterfully, alternating between flashbacks to the charismatic but evil McLeish in Hong Kong and rapid action in the present. The middle issues are either fight scenes, with adamantium bullets and auto accidents, or McLeish ranting about killing. OK, there’s also a love interest who buys it, but that’s fine: Logan is also probably the best there is at getting former lovers killed,61 which we must agree isn’t very pretty.

Still, if Yu wasn’t an excellent with action scenes, then there’s no way this storyline works. Fortunately, Yu is up to the task, with action shots that seem to pop off the page. (A little bloodless, though.) Yu’s first American professional comic work was Wolverine #113, and I remember Usenet going crazy for him at the time. (I remember Usenet. I’m old.) His McLeish is threatening, despite not doing anything violent on the page, and slightly deranged without being cartoony.

My main complaint with this story is the price. Twenty dollars for four issues? Even if it is a hardback, that’s much too much. This Marvel Premiere Edition adds almost an issue’s worth of Yu’s other Wolverine covers, which does help — but it doesn’t help that much.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol (4 of 5)

Next: Stage Three: Wolverine First Class: Ninjas, Gods, and Divas (forthcoming)

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