[6 October 2009]
PopMatters Comics Editor
By the cliffhanger of the third issue, the middle issue of the five-part series-opener, “The Adamantium Men”, Logan, the eponymous Weapon X, is back on familiar territory. The old, safe ground so diligently developed by Larry Hama in the ‘80s. Former super-soldier Wolverine finds himself “wasted and wounded”, as Tom Waits croons in the moody “Tom Traubert’s Blues”. Down but not out, Logan walks away from an eyeball knifed into a tree. Dangling from the optic nerve is a GPS tracker bug. The trail of Wolverine’s quarry has gone cold.
On the same page, a second plotline is developed. The CEO of Blackguard, a private military contractor, appears before Senate. Glib and radiating arrogance, he assures the Chair of his company’s capacity to deliver the necessary manpower and technology for the US military. But the senate hearing is nothing more than a formality, the deal is already in the bag. Blackguard shock-troops are poised to becoming integrated into regular military as super-elite special forces.
The new monthly series Wolverine: Weapon X opens with typical fare for the character, albeit with some interesting post-9/11 setting fixtures. Wolverine discovers a secret black budget program to reactivate the Weapon X program, the program responsible for psychologically scarring him. In his attempt to hunt down and deactivate the perpetrators, the criminal Blackguard corporation, he discovers that the newly reactivated program is already further advanced than he had thought. Scores of new “Wolverines” have been bioengineered and deployed into the field. Moreover, these strike-team members are superior to Logan in every aspect, with improved hypersenses and a more rapidly-functioning healing factor.
The plot series regular writer Jason Aaron winds its way through relatively usual territory. Wolverine, the man who once walked as beast, now relearning to walk as a man, must confront ghosts from his past. Noone should reactivate the Weapon X program. There’s a moral imperative at play here, but also a kind of languidness, a usualness. This is familiar territory for both character and reader. “Seems every few months now,” Logan’s captioned monologue interjects the savage experience of roaming through the abandoned Blackguard lab with the title character, ‘somebody else is setting up some labs, looking to build the perfect killing machine. That’s usually when I show up… and remind them they already did’.
But the almost bureaucratic regularity of the plot itself only serves to underpin the singular nature of Aaron’s writing. Jason Aaron’s prose, executed mostly as captioned monologue, simply elevates Wolverine above and beyond the character’s set genre. Even the stock-in-trade nature of the plot conspires to produce one of the most singular and most excellent visions of the Wolverine character in recent memory. Without an easily-understood, readily-accessible cycle-of-revenge style plot, something essential would be lost in Aaron’s scripting. Aaron’s struggle against the near-unassailable mediocrity usually associated with Wolverine plots seems to be mimicked in the character’s own invariable resorting to violence.
This is not the “Wolverine for the New Millennium”. This is the “Same Old Wolverine”. Older and wiser, but no meaner. Laconic, but wistfully pensive in his monologues. The usualness of the necessity-for-revenge storyarc makes for a far more meaningful experience when reading the melancholy ramblings of the character as he eliminates the final elements of Blackguard in the concluding chapter.
Aaron also produces the most literate version of the character perhaps since Wolverine’s inception. In deliberately setting the final conflict at sea, in writing a character that becomes more eloquent and more melancholy as the pages turn, in inverting the answering-the-call-of-the-wild structure, Aaron deeply taps a vein in Margaret Atwood’s classic novel Surfacing. Wolverine’s mortal fear of drowning is Aaron’s final clue that his Wolverine: Weapon X sets out to invert the logic and structure of Atwood’s novel. But it is one clue among many. The comic book’s association with the novel makes the lead character’s final meditation on Hell and the impossibility of a Heaven all the more moving. Unlike the Nameless Surfacer in Atwood’s novel, Wolverine is a character who struggles towards language, not away from it. His words ring as true, “Maybe I’m wrong about Hell. Maybe it ain’t down there in the depths after all. Maybe it’s up here with us. Maybe Hell is that we have to keep going, keep working… keep killing, keep hating… keep watching everyone around us die.”
Tapping Surfacing also means tapping Jack Kerouac’s immortal On the Road which Atwood herself acknowledges as the original template for her own novel. And it is here that Aaron leverages his most incisive comment on the post-911 condition. That the model of ceaseless self-exploration inevitably ends in condition that needs to be endured and ultimately survived.
This first storyarc of Wolverine: Weapon X, “The Adamantium Men” will eventually be collected in a single trade paperback. As individual issues, or the forthcoming tpb, Aaron’s offering comes with the highest praise; it deserves to be owned, as much as it deserves to be read.