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

04 May 2012

Wolverine: Evolution

Collects: Wolverine (v. 3) #50-5 (2007)

Released: February 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 152 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785122562

What is this?: Wolverine vs. Sabretooth, with dreams of prehistoric serial-killing furries.

The culprits: Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Simone Bianchi

The public library system I patronize has a small graphic novel collection — sparse, I’d say, but I haven’t found a good way to browse outlying branches’ collections using the catalog, so maybe there’s more there than I know about. In any event, I’m always interested in how the library chooses the few graphic novels it has — so interested, I wrote a book that was partially about that very question.

Which leads me to the question of why my local library chose to purchase Wolverine: Evolution. Evolution collects Wolverine (v. 3) #50-5, which is not exactly a standout storyline. The library does not have an extensive collection of Wolverine titles or X-Men books or even Marvel works. It isn’t literary enough to fit in the collection’s graphic novels, and it’s too violent to be a good fit for the Young Adult section (although that’s where it’s shelved anyway). Evolution came out in 2008, well before the Wolverine movie, and there are better Wolverine stories to choose from once currency isn’t a consideration. The only thing I can figure is that someone recognized writer Jeph Loeb’s name from Heroes or the book was advertised with that info, and some librarian latched onto it.

Wolverine: Evolution coverLoeb’s story will certainly win no prizes. The plot alternates between Wolverine fighting Sabretooth and Wolverine saying, “Huh?” to whatever nonsensical exposition Loeb has added to the story. At several points during the story, Wolverine admits his befuddlement or complains that whatever has just happened makes no sense. If only some editor had listened to Wolverine and forced Loeb to make the story more coherent, we’d all be better off. Alas …

Evolution decides to explore the mysteries of Wolverine’s past. I too thought we’d put all that behind us, after Logan was revealed as a nightshirt-wearing Victorian and Grant Morrison had Wolverine learn the secrets of Weapon X. But Loeb thinks that vein can still be mined for gold, adding not only a mysterious, powerful stranger who can blank Wolverine’s memory but also delving into the very secrets of the hero’s DNA. Yes, he proposes that Wolverine, Sabretooth, and other mutants with a feral nature could be descended from what Storm calls Lupus sapiens.

Because linking all the mutants with similar morphologies to a common ancestor worked so well for Chuck Austen. Also, binomial nomenclature doesn’t work that way; while biologists may be split on the fertile interbreeding of species (and where to draw the borders of species), breeding across genera is almost unheard of. (Certainly across orders; wolves and humans are in different branches of class Mammalia. Or is Loeb / Storm suggesting a Lupus is a new genus in family Hominidae?)

But putting aside the vagaries of Marvel science and the patent inadvisability of this plot, there is still little to recommend this story, as the fights have no thrills, and most of the characters act like they want to be somewhere else. Wolverine picks a fight with Sabretooth at the beginning of #50, and the fight continues across three countries without much innovation or escalation. The fight peaks at the end of #51, when the two brawlers crash a Blackbird while scrapping. That may sound impressive, but they both barely pause in their fight, and there is no anticipation for the scene, which is barely set up. (Some might appreciate Sabretooth reattaching his own severed limbs as a high point … but when did Sabretooth become a D&D troll?) Storm and Black Panther pop their heads into the story to show Wolverine and Sabretooth an archaeological site relevant to Wolverine’s dreams and then do everything they can to avoid getting involved with the rest of the story in any way. Black Panther, just wanting his wife’s embarrassing mutant friends to go away, holds his temper when Sabretooth kills two of his soldiers. Feral, Thornn, and Wolfsbane show up to round out the ranks of L. sapiens, and only Feral seems eager to interact with Sabretooth or Wolverine. (Perhaps it’s because she’s been sidelined with her terminal non-mutancy for so long.) After being mostly ignored by Thornn and Wolfsbane, Wolverine seems so glad to have someone to talk to that he forgets all about Feral’s murderous, terrorist past. Even Sabretooth is tired of this story by the end, just waiting for Wolverine to kill him.

I think the worst part of Evolution is not its bad ideas but that he bad ideas are so unoriginal; unlike its name; Evolution refuses to move in an original way even incrementally. Fighting Sabretooth, mysterious masterminds, stupid science, Weapon X … Wolverine has done them all so often. For instance, selected events in the history of L. sapiens are revealed to Wolverine through dreams. Putting aside the stupidity of having “true” dreams about things he had no knowledge of, it is a hackneyed way of delivering unexpected exposition. The story starts at the X-Men’s mansion, ends at Logan and Silver Fox’s cabin, and wends its way through Weapon X and flashbacks to Japan and World War II with Captain America. This book shows us Wolverine’s greatest hits, although that greatest hits album should be named Tedium. (I will admit visiting Wakanda is novel for Wolverine.)

The lasting effect of Evolution is to introduce Romulus, the mysterious mastermind lurking behind Wolverine’s life, Weapon X, and the entirety of L. sapiens. He bedeviled Wolverine for a few years in Wolverine and Wolverine: Origins before being exiled to the Darkforce Dimension; here he’s shown only in outline. Wild Child, a L. sapiens who is Romulus’s agent of destruction, tells Wolverine that Romulus is orchestrating the current iteration of L. sapiens’s battle between the blonds and the brunets. (Honest to Thor: among L. sapiens, there’s allegedly always a blond and a brunet battling for leadership. Always, across millennia. Geez.) I — and the Marvel Universe — need another powerful, impenetrable cipher who has been manipulating people and events for decades like Brooklyn needs another hipster.

Mighty SasquatchaSimone Bianchi’s art is better than Loeb’s story, but only because it would be hard not to improve on such a dreadful plot. But his work is confusing, and his and Andrea Silvestri’s “washed halftones” give every page an unflattering murkiness it can’t afford. Bianchi’s choices don’t help Loeb’s story, although I’m not sure Leonardo da Vinci’s art would be much help. In one scene, Wolverine is revealed to be chained to an in-flight airplane, but the reveal has all the impact of a Nerf dart. When he’s supposed to draw a fearful Sabretooth, he settles for “contemplative.” He draws Sasquatch as Chewbacca — not merely similar to the Wookiee but a should-be-afraid-Lucas’s-lawyers-will-call copy. He designs Wild Child as a leather boy with multiple piercings, which is sloppy visual shorthand for either “badass” or “I don’t care about Wild Child.”

There are ways Evolution could be worse — Bart Sears‘s artwork comes to mind with a rapidity that shows all those hours of therapy were wasted. The reveal of Romulus’s name could have been strung out over a few more storylines. It could have featured Daken, Wolverine’s son, as well. Wolverine and Sabretooth could have shown no emotions, rather than the one they were allowed to share.

But if any of these had happened, you would have to expect an editor couldn’t have ignored how awful it was and would have been forced to do something. Because, otherwise, what is an editor for?

Rating: Half X-Men symbol (0.5 of 5)

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Blogger Marc said...

I started getting Wolverine in early 2001 and bought every single issue for the next few years -- up until this storyline, when I dropped it after just one issue. The writing, as you say, is nearly incomprehensible; and then there's the artwork. As I was reading your review, I thought I remembered writing something about it once and, sure enough, I dug up this quote from a review I wrote of Green Lantern: No Fear a couple of years ago:

"[Bianchi's] artwork tends to be either hit or miss for me, often, ironically, within the same comic – in Wolverine: Evolution, for instance, his characters will look stunning on one page, but like amorphous blobs on the next."

I seem to remember, as well, a really strange cameo that seemed like it was there just to shoehorn the story into what was going on in the other X-Men comics. I think the character was Rogue, but can't be quite sure at this point. Anyway, the ridiculousness of that scene was the tipping point that led me to drop the book as soon as I'd finished the issue.

Unfortunately, it was recently announced that Loeb would be returning to Wolverine to continue this storyline (and resurrect Sabretooth -- surprise!). Your list of ways this book could have been worse could very well come true. (And who knows, maybe they'll even get Bart Sears!)

As for why your library decided to purchase this book -- perhaps they heard the announcement I mentioned, or maybe a patron specifically requested that hey buy it. I know I've certainly requested a lot of older books at my library, and they've been more than accommodating; they now have more than a dozen Marvel Masterworks and several Omnibus editions.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Raoul said...

Yeah, it was Rogue. Wolverine shows up at the Mansion, intending to kill Sabretooth. Rogue tells him he shouldn't do that, but Wolverine says he's going to anyway; Rogue goes away.

Characterization is six syllables and nothing more to Jeph Loeb in this book.

12:40 AM  

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