Wolverine is a pop culture staple. Whether hopping around your child’s TV screen as an animation or swaggering in a Hugh Jackman incarnation, the yellow and blue uniform with jutting blades is almost instantly recognizable. What has made Wolverine stand out above his fellow X-Men is his dark past and morbid personality. The anthology “Wolverine Blood & Sorrow” collects four of the darkest comics starring him. The trade paperback (as such things are called) is heavily weighted in the early-2000’s. Two of the stories originate in 2006, another in 2003. The remaining story is from 1991.
I picked up this book at a local comic-con some months ago and had very low expectations for it. It was from a bargain bin and the cover art left much to be desired. It looked cheap and thrown together. I am also not a particularly strong fan of Wolverine. However I could not turn down such an inexpensive collection and was pleasantly surprised to find some great storytelling within.
The first comic was originally in X-Men Unlimited #12. A popular series, each comic tells short vignettes that take place between the major points covered in X-Men proper. This one, entitled “The Healing,” seems like the opening to an action film. Wolverine lies surrounded by wolves in the great Canadian Arctic nothingness horrifically wounded. Though his powers allow him to heal, he is still weak and in great pain. The writing (by Stuart Moore) is clear and compelling, not an easy task in a story that contains nothing but a man bleeding. C.P. Smith’s art mostly satisfies, with strong palette choices and rough, edgy strokes.
The second comic, “The Package,” dates from 1991’s Wolverine #41 and is a bit of a train wreck. The writing in the story is amusing. Wolverine has to transport the infant daughter of an assassinated African leader to the border without falling into the hands of General Lago, a Kony-like figure. While watching Wolverine play babysitter is amusing, and the story is relatively well-done, the art is a mess. Also by C.P. Smith, many panels contain far too many lines and scribbles, obscuring the action while othes have big empty spaces that likewise fail to do the scene justice. Onomatopoeia graces far too many panels and some of them (Snikt! Buddabuddabudda! Kassh!) would be better suited to Adam West’s portrayal of Batman than anything else.
Fortunately, Smith’s art had greatly improved by the time of Giant-Size Wolverine #1 (2006). The art has a haunting, Lovecraftian feel with a palette relying heavily on eerie greens and sickening browns. The story is a big confusing out of context, but David Lapham nevertheless turns an interesting tale.
By far my favorite story in the collection is the final one: 2003’s “Wolverine #49.” Wolverine is sent on a last-minute Christmas shopping errand by Kitty Pryde, a younger X-Men able to move through solid matter. Of course, the trip quickly turns sinister as a violent cult attacks and takes a young heiress hostage. The villain is wily, insane, and fabulous to watch. Wolverine is at his cynical best and the artists due a great job of translating the blinding fluorescent lights and fake cheerfulness of a mall at Christmastime.
I wouldn’t recommend this book for newcomers to the comic scene. It requires too much prior knowledge of the Marvel universe. For loves of Wolverine (especially those on tight budgets) this is a fair buy.
For those of you who would like an introduction into X-Men I highly recommend “Origins,” the critically celebrated explanation of Wolverine’s birth and childhood.