Quality Time and Honest Mistakes: “Wolverine Annual #1”

[27 August 2014]

By Jack Fisher

There’s a big difference between honest and dishonest mistake. In an honest mistakes, people tend to act in a way that’s perfectly logical in the context of the facts, as they understand them. In a dishonest mistakes, people act only in the context that they see an opportunity to do something that they won’t have to apologize for. One usually results in an awkward conversation followed by a heartfelt apology. The other sometimes results in a blood feud or a standoff with federal agents. Contrary to popular belief, gold and food are not the oldest forms of currency. Excuses to act foolish and get away from it will always carry greater value in any society.

More often than not, the X-men find themselves on the receiving end of too many dishonest mistakes. Wolverine alone has had enough to be his own reality show on TLC. There promises to be a few more before his upcoming death, which makes whatever personal time he can spare all the more precious. Wolverine Annual #1 doesn’t attempt to put Wolverine in a position to cross a few more things off his bucket list before he takes his overdue dirt nap. It doesn’t even attempt to confront anything or anyone that might keep him from finishing his bucket list. It just tells a simple, concise story about Wolverine going on a camping trip with Jubilee and her adopted son, Shogo.

On the surface, it feels like a bland narrative. It only sounds slightly more interesting than a story about Wolverine getting drunk at a bar on St. Patrick’s Day. Why would a story about Wolverine camping with Jubilee be more entertaining than a story about Wolverine battling an army of ninjas and killer robots? It’s the nature of the conflict that he and Jubilee encounter that make this narrative compelling. That same conflict also provides some solid insight into what Wolverine is dealing with now that he has lost his healing factor. It’s also a conflict that isn’t fueled by some vengeful lover, another angry offspring, or an army of ninjas. It’s completely driven by a misunderstanding, but not the kind Wolverine and the X-men are used to dealing with.

The setting itself reveals the extent to which Wolverine’s circumstances are a case study in the unusual and the absurd. Jubilee isn’t just the adventurous former mall rat that endeared herself to fans of the ‘90s X-men cartoon. She’s now a de-powered mutant turned vampire who also happens to be the adopted mother of an infant child. In addition, Wolverine has some family of his own, but not in the typical drinking buddy tradition.

At some point in his unusual and absurd life, he became the pack leader of a bunch of wolves. They somehow managed to catch up with him and join their little camping expedition. It makes for the kind of circumstances that only Wolverine could be comfortable with. There’s a young girl, a baby, and some ferocious animals. If the wolves started talking, then it would make for the perfect Disney movie.

There’s a lot of insight into how Wolverine sees himself, his friends, and the people he considers family. There are even a few enjoyable moments with him and Jubilee that capture the playful spirit not seen since the Clinton years. However, this mood is ruined by someone other than Sabretooth for once. A couple of other campers who have no desire to seek bloody revenge on Wolverine or hunt vampires in the Van Helsing tradition happen to pass by. They’re just a typical married couple with a few problems trying to deal with those problems through camping. It’s cheaper than counseling and less dangerous than lawyers.

This is where the misunderstanding begins. Take any two ordinary people, put them in the woods, and have them come across a wolf being in close proximity to an infant. What’s the most appropriate reaction? These two have no idea that this baby belongs to a vampire teenage girl and this wolf is friends with Wolverine. Even if they weren’t ordinary, that thought would never cross their mind. So they hardly come off as the bad guys when they grab Shogo and run. To them, they’re rescuing a baby from a hungry wolf. And when a teenage vampire girl shows up, they only have even more reasons to react in a perfectly appropriate manner.

That’s what makes this conflict so compelling. It doesn’t have to resort to ninjas or blood feuds. For once, this really is a sincere misunderstanding where perfectly normal and perfectly appropriate emotions lead to a major clash. It leads to Wolverine getting shot and Jubilee channeling her anti-Twilight inclinations. It’s a conflict that hits the right emotional chords without needing a conflict on the scale of a Roland Emmerich movie.

While the emotions and actions involved in the story are strong, the conflict itself is somewhat rushed. There’s a concerted effort to give the couple involved in this misunderstanding a measure of depth and sympathy, but it’s not enough to give the resolution to the conflict sufficient weight. There’s definitely plenty of drama, but there just isn’t enough struggle to make it satisfying. And in this rare instance, throwing ninjas into the mix wouldn’t have helped because it wouldn’t fit the context of the story.

It still makes for a strong story built around quality character moments and a different kind of conflict. For once, Wolverine got involved in a fight that was based entirely on an honest mistakes. Honesty might not even be appropriate in this instance, given the absurd circumstances of his life. Wolverine Annual #1 helped highlight the nature of these circumstances while also showing how vulnerable Wolverine is when he tries to deal with them without his healing factor. It’ll make his bucket list much harder to complete, but it also makes for a more meaningful journey and a more eventful camping trip.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/184952-wolverine-annual-1/