Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wolverine: First Class -- The Rookie

Given the title, this book must follow the "Origin" mini-series in telling about Logan's early days in the Canadian wilderness, or at least their military, right? No wait, there's an ongoing monthly series already covering that territory called "Origins." Okay, so this covers his days in the Weapon X program, like his own title, the various Weapon X series, "Origins," and even an upcoming "Weapon X: First Class" mini-series. No, praise the Lord. It couldn't be Wolverine's early days with the X-Men, also covered ceaselessly, dating back to the '80s "Classic X-Men." Why the frig does this book exist again?

Ah yes, because Marvel wasn't willing to release "Shadowcat: First Class," or even another "Kitty Pryde and Wolverine." When I first began reading "Uncanny X-Men" as a lad, Kitty Pryde was an adorable, relatable mainstay, long before I'd ever heard the term "Mary Sue." I've always had a good deal of affection for Kitty, despite her conceptual faults, and I also really enjoyed writer Fred Van Lente's "Action Philosophers," so I gave this first trade a spin. It's important to note though that I've been mostly X-Free since I quit those characters in the early '90s, and have since grown to loathe filthy mutie scum.

Chris Claremont always imagined a great unwritten scene where Kitty Pryde would bounce downstairs all chipper, catch Logan on the exact wrong day, and be gutted by him. That became increasingly less likely as the '80s progressed, with Claremont and Jim Shooter conspiring to neuter most of what made Wolverine interesting. By turning him from a borderline sociopath into a "failed samurai," Logan became an acceptable anti-hero to market to children (as opposed to Shooter's original order to send the murderous loner to prison.) This of course led to Wolverine's typically shitty but extremely profitable solo series. They dropped the samurai bit in favor of a berserker with foot long claws on his hands who could never connect the fucking things to anybody, save shredded clothing and minor flesh wounds. Eventually, he started killing again, but only in that unimpeachable Seagal/Van Damme/Rambo way where everybody totally deserved it and shit. I pretty much think Wolverine is a waste of blood, bone, and gobs of hair.

Van Lente hints at that Claremont scene in his first issue collected here, but by the end made it clear his characterization of Logan would owe more to the version from the cartoons, where he's nothing but bluster. That left young Kitty Pryde, near the start of her time with the X-Men, to carry the book. I could see that working, but Van Lente seems inclined to also treat her with kid gloves, essentially scripting an all-ages series geared younger than most stories Kitty has appeared in. The first read like an After-School Special, although there's a soft twist tp prevent it from being preachy. Sabretooth makes an appearance in the second tale, the best of the lot. It uses one of those great "Classic X-Men" back-ups by John Bolton as a springboard, and allows us a look at Kitty's dark side. Keep in mind though, this was way before her ninja assassin days (*snicker*,) so I mean more along the lines of how teenage girls can be a tad manipulative and self-possessed. There's also a cute punchline that does a bit of harm to a character I don't care about, but others might take issue with.

A third story, this one spanning two issues, is where I began to feel my purchase of this trade was a mistake. There was a time when the big reveal of Wolverine's secret origin would have been that he actually began life as his small, vicious, fur-bearing namesake. Rather than a human mutant, he would have been a varmint mutated by the High Evolutionary. That nutty idea was dismissed ages ago, but Van Lente remembered, and used it as a launching pad featuring those lovable anthropomorphics on Wundagore Mountain. I wouldn't have been distressed by any of that, had the story not become increasingly more contrived and less involving as it progressed. The second half is filled with arbitrary crap that kicks you out of a story that seemed to deteriorate into shambles as fast as I could read it. I like to imagine something like one of those collapsing bridges from an Indiana Jones movie, but the truth is it was so lousy, I relegated it to the bathroom for a series of visits before the ultimate completion.

If you've been keeping score, that's four standard size comics of material in this $12.99 trade that I've covered. For no clear reason, the trade ends with a reprint of Wolverine's first full appearance in Incredible Hulk #181. Again, I remember the '80s, when Hulk #180-181 were collected together in a newsstand reprint volume with additional editorial material. In fact, for all I know, all those behind the scenes anecdotes I've referenced in this review may have come straight out of it. I recall at the time I was unimpressed with the story, but I enjoyed it more on this decades hence revisitation. The Len Wein script and dubious Herb Trimpe art are very much of their sad times, but there's a nice pathos and chutzpah present as well. I think I'd have enjoyed it even more in the first part of the goddamned thing were present here, as I was forced to rely on exposition and personal recollection to follow what was going on. For fucks sake, wouldn't a reprint of Kitty Pryde's first appearance, far less common than Wolverine's, have been more appropriate and interesting filler for a slim and ultimately underwhelming trade?

I would say that the art is something of a saving grace here. Andrea Divito's work on the single issue tales was very appealing, although his clean linework and the bright coloring are part of what lends the book its "young readers" vibe. This is even more true of Salva Espin on the High Evolutionary story, as he was better at drawing the darling animal characters than the human figures. Shame the latter script was such mindrot.

I honestly can't recommend this trade for anyone but the most devoted Kitty Pryde fan, or for some geek trying to indoctrinate his kid into their numbers. Wolverine fans should actively avoid it, as he scripts seem geared toward making Wolverine seem foolish and ineffectual. This is Mary Sue-- er, Kitty Pryde's book, and I doubt readers weaned on Larry Hama could handle their hero playing second fiddle so transparently.

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