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

04 October 2011

The Three Stages of Man: Stage One: Weapon X

Collects: Weapon X stories from Marvel Comics Presents #72-84 (1991)

Released: 1994 (Marvel)

Format: 226 pages / color / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785137269

What is this?: Logan gets adamantium bonded to his skeleton by the Weapon X project, the first step down the road that leads to Wolverine.

The culprits: Barry Windsor-Smith

Willy Shakespeare might have been a great writer and all that, but his “seven ages of man” stuff doesn’t really hold water. I mean, I’ve never been a soldier, justice, or pantaloon, and I don’t know too many people who fit those roles. (A few soldiers, a few lawyers, but I’ve never met a person who was also a pair of pants.) No, the Great Shakes had an ear for what sounded good, but he wasn’t about to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Therefore, I would like to suggest my own examination of the path of human life, using the greatest fictional character ever, Wolverine. Therefore, I give you, The Three Stages of Wolverine:

Weapon X coverStage One: The Enigma, represented by Wolverine: Weapon X.

In this stage, man must begin to grapple with important questions of our times: who am I? Am I a moral being? Am I a being of instinct? Are my sensory observations real, or are they merely being fed to me through clunky ‘80s computer technology powered by batteries large enough to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a hernia? Can I take control of my life, or am I doomed to constantly be manipulated by vast international conspiracies of megalomaniacs and supervillains? Although everyone must examine these questions for themselves, Logan answers them, according to his own peculiar circumstances, in Weapon X.

The late ‘80s / early ‘90s was the era in which a straightforward story such as, “Who decided it would be such a great idea to turn a mutant into ‘the ultimate killing machine’ and then never do anything with him?” was so important it couldn’t be answered — well, it couldn’t be answered in Marvel Comics Presents, in which this material originally appeared. So, the Enigma. Writer / artist Barry Windsor-Smith shows how Logan became Wolverine, transforming from a burned-out and falling apart government agent into the feral, adamantium-laced killing machine that is Wolverine. Ultimately, Logan doesn’t learn much about himself in this one, other than he’s a man, not an animal (important), which is good, because Logan is hell on wild animals (not important). But I suppose it would have started him on the path of self-revelation if it hadn’t been for those pesky memory implants.

Weapon X is surprisingly seminal despite its lack of revelations and slight plot, the former dictated editorially and the latter by the eight-page format of stories in MCP. We have the Professor employing disgraced doctor Abraham Cornelius; while starting up their experimentation facility, they hire Carol Hines to run operations. After they abduct Logan, they implant the adamantium onto the bones, and they begin to brainwash him into being a killing machine. And then he kills stuff, in both reality (mostly animals) and in virtual / hallucinatory realm (everyone). The Professor inadvertently reveals he’s answering to someone, someone powerful, but that’s about all we learn.

Despite the eight-page per story format, we do get a good bit of development on Hines and Cornelius. They aren’t shadowy villains; they are scientists down on their luck. Cornelius has legal problems in the U.S. Hines worked for NASA at one point. How do they rationalize the horrible thing they are doing to another human being? It’s an interesting question, and Windsor-Smith does explore the idea, but the lack of a true payoff to the story keeps that angle from being fully fleshed out.

Unsurprisingly, Windsor-Smith’s art is what sticks with the reader. Several panels are iconic, known to just about every comic reader of the last twenty years: the full-page shot of Weapon X atop a pile of soldiers, slicing up more; Weapon X in the snow clad only in batteries and the control helmet / VR gear; shots of Logan in the adamantium tank. The art nouveau elements from his Conan work are gone or muted; the work is bloody, brutal, and dynamic, but it still looks unlike other artists before or after. (Although his characters have a tendency to have eyes like Little Orphan Annie.)

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

Next: Stage Two: Wolverine: Not Dead Yet

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

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