[18 February 2014]
In professional sports, even the most well-conditioned athlete is only one catastrophic injury away from living the rest of their lives with a handicap. Those injuries can be pretty gruesome. In 1985 during a broadcast of Monday Night Football, the quarterback for the Washington Redskins, Joe Theismann, had his career ended in a horrific moment when Hall of Fame linebacker, Lawrence Taylor, tackled him in a way that turned his leg into a pretzel for a brief moment. This injury left Theismann unable to play football anymore and left his leg permanently deformed. It forced him to retire and find a new path in life. Now in wake of the events of Killable, Wolverine must face that same decision. While his injuries weren’t quite as gruesome as Joe Theismann’s broken leg, he is now without his healing factor and must change the way he plays his part as Wolverine.
Wolverine #1 marks the beginning of this transition. Unlike professional athletes, Wolverine doesn’t have the luxury of retiring and earning a six-figure income as a broadcaster. He is still the headmaster of a school that a lot of young mutants rely on. He is also still a target because the same enemies that took away his healing factor are still at large and prepared to shove his newfound mortality right down his throat. At the end of the Killable arc, Wolverine declared, “The Wolverine is dead.” He’s right to some extent. But Wolverine understands that he can’t stop being the best he is at what he does.
But being the best without his healing factor is like Michael Jordan playing basketball with a broken ankle and one hand tied behind his back. He still has his claws, but he doesn’t have the same ability to tear into his enemies like snarling chainsaw. So he makes a deal with someone known as The Offer, who provides him with a new high tech suit that gives him the durability that he’s used to. It’s not like Iron Man’s armor. It can’t fly, it has no firepower, and it doesn’t look any more intimidating than Wolverine’s old uniform. While this may protect him from Tony Stark’s lawyers, it limits his abilities to being similar to what they once were. And that establishes the underlying theme of Wolverine’s new situation.
He now can’t just be the ultimate loner. He is no longer durable enough or tenacious enough to just run off on his own, pick random fights with ninjas and demigods, and come back without a scratch on him. Wolverine now has to rely on others to help him remain the best at what he does. His mortality also has the potential to impact those he cares about. It forces him to have some difficult conversations with Storm about his future. It also forces him to refine his shooting skills with Black Widow. However, the impact of these difficulties is under-developed. It gives the impression of going from “The Wolverine is dead” to “Guess I’ll have to carry a gun again. Oh well.”
It’s the biggest flaw in this transition. Wolverine is still keeping Wolverine together with duct tape and new equipment. It takes away from the impact of him losing his healing factor. As he’s breaking in his new Wolverine armor, he takes the same kind of punishment he took when he had his healing factor. He even gets to throw in a Fastball Special. The only difference now is that he has to deal with the same problems that Iron Man deals with whenever his suit runs low on power. And since Tony Stark owns the patents on the arc reactor and the Jean Grey Institute apparently doesn’t have that kind of budget to work with, he has to rely on others to help him charge up. It adds a complication to this new dynamic, but it’s the same complications that came up in all three Iron Man movies so it lacks the necessary impact.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments that do have an impact. In the end this comic does succeed in demonstrating that this new life for Wolverine will be very different from the snarling, ill-tempered man/beast that Hugh Jackman brought to life in five movies. It shows in how he deals with an undercover agent that was attempting to make a deal with The Offer. He doesn’t use his claws this time, which have helped him solve so many problems in the past while creating plenty more. He uses a gun. It may not seem like a big difference, killing with claws and killing with a gun. But it shows that Wolverine is still Wolverine. And the whole “The Wolverine is dead” statement might as well have been as empty as a promise from Bernie Madoff.
It also shows that in having to rely on others, Wolverine must now work with people like The Offer to keep doing what he’s doing. It basically turns him from the ultimate loner into a hired gun who is also headmaster of a school. That’s like being a Sunday School teacher and a part-time hitman. It’s new dynamic for Wolverine, but one that seems out-of-character and shallow at times. It’s as if there was an issue before this and after Killable where he decided, “That whole Wolverine is dead crap was just the pain killers talking.” There isn’t enough detail in Wolverine #1 to show how he got to this point, how it affects others around him, and why using a gun is any less messy than using his claws.
The story still presents a new and unique situation for Wolverine. The concept of him having to find new ways to be the best at what he does still works and it plays out in a variety of ways in Wolverine #1. It just doesn’t come together in a compelling narrative. At the most, it sets the stage for the kind of Wolverine he’ll have to be moving forward. He’s still one of the most compelling characters in the history of comics. But giving him a gun is like giving him two different brands of beer. They look different, but in the end they have the same effect.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/179213-wolverine-1/