In light of The Wolverine, directed by James Mangold and starring Hugh Jackman as the growling mutant Logan, I thought it worth revisiting the comic that cemented the character’s legend in earnest. Wolverine issue #1 to #4 was published in 1982, written by Chris Claremont, drawn by Frank Miller, finished by Josef Rubinstein, and lettered by Tom Orzechowski.
So, with the soon-to-be-legendary Miller on art duty, and with adept writing by Claremont who is clearly a fan of Japanese culture, Wolverine begins in the Canadian wilderness. This is where he is in his element, hunting an out of control bear, and then getting justice for its pointless suffering by beating up a witless hunter. He’s then off to Japan to find out what’s going on with the love of his life, Mariko, who it turns out has been married off to a wife-beater thanks to her evil father Shingen.
Wolverine butts heads with Shingen but is ultimately forced to acknowledge he has no place in Mariko’s life. Left wandering around Tokyo like a loser, he’s soon roped into a nefarious plot by assassin Yukio who has a thing for the rugged gaijin.
The crux of Wolverine’s predicament is essentially a broken heart, which sounds flimsy, but considering the character is invulnerable, the heart is the most effective way to hurt him really.
Claremont’s dialogue is aces, slipping into Wolverine’s distinctive parlance with ease. No mean feat, when there’s so much dialogue, especially ‘voice overs’ to set a scene or give exposition. Claremont’s writing is consistently easy to read and full of attitude. So much of comic book writing can be lazy in its attempt to entertain kids and teenagers, but Wolverine avoids that, and though it doesn’t ascend too high, it remains high enough to still be enjoyable to this 30-something reader.
Miller’s economical depiction of violence is superb. He excels at conveying it without actually showing it. Examples include a panel showing hands gripping weapons, and in the next the fists are open with the weapons tumbling. Wolverine climbing up from the water towards guards; the next panel their shadows are tumbling into the water, accompanied by a typical comment from the gritty character. So simple, so precise. Issue #2 has an awesome double-page spread of ninja mayhem worthy of being framed alongside Hokusai’s great wave.
Something missing from the movie which was awesome in the comic: Wolverine wielding a sword in a duel with Mariko’s father. Now granted, you’re wondering why Wolvie needs a sword, but to that I say:
a) it’s cool.
b) his claws can act like a spiky crossguard.
c) seriously its cool.
d) the duel is actually a clever way to get Wolverine to dishonour himself in front of Mariko.
Mariko’s father is quite a douche, brutally fighting an already drugged Wolverine, so when Wolvie decides to even the odds with his claws, to Mariko it just seems that he’s a sore loser.
The film had a hard time justifying Wolverine’s romance with movie Mariko, considering he’s obsessed with Jean Grey the whole time. I remember a female audience member at my screening groaning when the love scene reared its head, “she looks fifteen!” she complained to her sniggering boyfriend. Well, there are some who like to think Wolverine’s rule to dating is to half his age and add seven decades, but anyway.
The point is, this comic dispenses with a half-assed attempt at getting Wolverine into a relationship and just tells you they’re a lovestruck couple amidst a long-distance relationship. Granted, I haven’t read her first appearance in Uncanny X-Men #118, so I can’t judge the quality of their first meeting, but regardless, the lack of preamble in Wolverine #1 ensures a story with good pacing.
By contrast, the film handles the females better than the comic. Movie Yukio is stronger than her comic counterpart, and Movie Mariko although somewhat still a weak woman driven by emotion, still feels stronger in Mangold’s take. In the comic she’s a worthless damsel in distress and barely features, making you wonder why Wolverine cares so much for her. He has more of a connection with Yukio, they’re almost a perfect match with their penchant for violence.
Although the idea of a love triangle sounds tiring, Wolverine literally spells out his dilemma in Claremont’s story, and its compelling: blood-thirsty Yukio loves Wolverine the way he is, but Mariko makes Wolverine want to change and control his berserker instinct. But as mentioned, Mariko is barely in the story so we just have to take Wolverine’s word for it.
In the comic’s favour, it does not feature Viper who was a terrible character in the movie, just an utterly pointless distraction. There’s also no clumsy Silver Samurai causing a mess in the last act of the comic’s story, so ultimately it’s a tough call to pick which version comes out on top. It would be nice if copies of the Blu-ray would come with the comic though.
Wolverine volume 1 is essential reading for fans of the X-Men franchise, and obligatory for fans of the character. The film is admirable in its attempt to capture the spirit of the comic, improving on it in some aspects and faltering in others. In both, Logan journeys through a country obsessed with honour and departs a changed man with new resolve.