Wolverine: The Best There Is #4
I'm about to blow your mind: the X-Men movie was ten years ago. Feel old yet?
This factoid popped into my mind as the result of a fairly circuitous line of reasoning - but really, is their any other kind of reasoning for me? It's weird to think that not merely was there an X-Men movie, but there were three X-Men movies, a Wolverine spin-off - and soon to be an X-Men prequel and a sequel to the Wolverine spin-off. Our cinematic Wolverine is now and for the foreseeable future Hugh Jackman: as unlikely a choice as any, considering the man himself is tall and even a little bit wiry, hardly the squat fireplug of the comics. But they make it work, and in terms of attitude and demeanor it's hard to imagine another actor in the role anytime soon. (Although, sure as I'm typing this we will see another Wolverine, just as it is a certainty that there will be new James Bonds from here to perpetuity.)
What prompted these musings? Well, here's another little trip down memory lane for those of you old enough to remember a world without an X-Men movie. It's not really a big deal now that even some of the most obscure characters have received the big screen treatment (seriously, we have a movie coming out with Azazel, people). But back when the category of "comic book movie" was a sleepy backwater that could be depended on to score big with Batman movies and nothing else, nerds were positively starving for big screen representations of their favorite superheroes. "The Casting Game" was the most popular pastime among multitudes of fans. And if there was one thing that was as certain and unchanging as the sun rising in the east, it was that every comic book fan knew - knew with a confidence that bordered on sociopathic - that there was only one man in the entire universe who could ever do justice to the character of Wolverine: Glenn Danzig. Even people who had never even heard a lick of Danzig - let alone the Misfits - knew that Danzig was Wolverine, if only from the vaguely creepy B&W photos of Danzig that used to pop up in WIzard periodically. In fact, maybe it was WIzard that popularized the idea? Perhaps the world will never know for sure.
Thing is, I don't think Wolverine was ever quite as metal as his most hardcore fans believed him to be. Back in the era of the Comics Code (wow, that hasn't been on a Marvel book in almost a decade), there were a lot of things Wolverine couldn't do at all. Many of his most important attributes could only really be inferred, because the true NC-17 gore and carnage of his most fearsome adventures simply could not be published. But for decades Wolverine fans had no trouble filling in these lacunae with their active imaginations - everyone knew he was the hardest of the hardcore, even if his true appetite for destruction could only ever be implied on the printed page. And in the minds' eye of nerds across the world, Glenn Danzig was their barbarian mutant supergod killer.
But as I said, Marvel hasn't published a comic with the Code on the cover in almost ten years. In that time, the explicit content tolerated in mainline Marvel books has risen slowly but steadily, until now when the only real difference between a book like Wolverine: The Best There Is and Deadpool MAX is that the former has to cover up the swears with #### symbols - this is as gory as anything ever published with the MAX label. The issue at question here achieves a goal I had long believed to be impossible: the true Wolverine has finally emerged from the fetid fever dreams of a hundred thousand frustrated adolescents. This, finally, is Glenn Danzig's Wolverine: no noble samurai or grizzled superhero elder statesman, but a raw animal, covered in blood - his own and that of his enemies - wreathed in guts and screaming for the devil. That is impressive.
What you need to know about this comic is that it features Ego, the Living Planet on a collision course with his heretofore unseen twin brother-planet Alter-Ego in a battle to the death. The only being that can possibly prevent these two mighty planetoids laying waste to our solar system is the mighty Thor, whose vaunted power is next to nothing as compared to these cosmic giants.
Your reaction to that thumbnail sketch should be sufficient to determine whether or not you will think this is a monumentally awesome comic or utter trash. The two positions are not, it should be said, mutually exclusive.
It's not like I don't see an outline of a good - or at least competent - story here, but the problem is that the book itself is so monumentally decompressed that, even in collected form, there is no way this storyline will take up more than twenty minutes of even the most scrupulous reader's time. As charitable as I sometimes would like to be to obviously talented creators, I have to remind myself that this ain't a chairty, this is $4 a pop for 22 pages - 22 beautifully colored pages, yes, but that color speeds by in a queasy blur when the plot is so skimpy it barely qualifies as stripper floss.
I am beginning to get the sinking feeling that the real reason this story is so painfully elongated is that Fraction is playing for time until Fear Itself kicks off and the "real" business begins. I admit to a small twinge of curiosity as to just how the major threads from the last year or so of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man are going to add up to a major crossover story, but the promo art and advance teasers I've seen haven't exactly set my world on fire. More than the story - of which I don't know enough to even begin to hazard a judgment - I am interested in seeing how Fraction (and Brubaker, since his Cap is feeding into the event too) is going to build his story. Even if I haven't been satisfied with much of his Marvel work, Fraction still retains enough in the way of mechanical skill when it comes to the nuts & bolts of plotting large-scale stories that, at the very least, I expect the event to be legible, which would be a significant improvement on the last few Marvel epics.
We shall see: is it silly to expect a book specifically tailored for audience enjoyment be at least minimally enjoyable? We shall see.
J.T. Krul was the man behind the mask for The Rise of Arsenal, perhaps the most widely mocked comic of the new decade. He is not a man who most would describe as being a particularly "good" writer, based on his most visible work. But his work on these last few issues of Teen Titans actually goes a ways towards establishing an alibi - were all the awful bits (basically the whole damn thing) in the Arsenal books simply the product of ham-fisted editorial fiat? Because his work on these last few issues has been, compared to those books, a revelation: well-defined characters with recognizable motivations, reasonably individuated dialogue, an actual ear for the kinds of things young adults might conceivably say to one another. Disposable villains, true, but more than enough of an excuse to give the protagonists the kind of obstacle that allows them the opportunity to interact in creative ways. Hardly rocket science, but good enough to make me do a triple take to ensure that the J.T. Krul on the writers' credits for these last few issues was indeed the same man whose name is on the dead cat heroin thing.
Part of the appeal, I am certain, is Nicola Scott's artwork. This woman can draw like a house on fire: she doesn't have any extraneous flashy style tics, just incredibly solid figurework and expressive faces and real bodies interacting in three-dimensional environments - even panel-to-panel continuity! It's so basic, so elementary, it's amazing it should be so rare, but here I am, jumping for joy because a B-list DC comic actually meets and even partially exceeds the bare minimum standards for competent entertainment. Not merely that, but the book is actually good - holy shit, a good Teen Titans comic in 2011? Next you're going to be telling me the moon landing wasn't a hoax.
So what does DC do after just a few issues of this dynamite new direction? Crappy artistic fill-in! Great job, guys . . . Drawing the Line at Keeping It Half-Assed.