A lot of writers get these weird anxiety attacks over how “hard” it is to write Superman, which is basically how things like Man of Steel happen. They cite the issue that a man who has as many abilities as he does, and is as steadfastly moral as Superman is, can beat any challenge (this is, by the way, a dumb notion, so if there’s a writer out there who’s in the midst of this dilemma, may I offer this starting point: Come up with a threat that can’t be ended by Superman putting his fist through it or hurling it into the sun, and work from there).
But while Wolverine has a few things in common with Superman – nigh-invulnerable, capable of outfighting just about anyone, and already the subject of thousands of stories, raising the question of what new can be said about the character – they’re never seen as story-hurdles because the core engine of Wolverine offers so much fertile ground. It’s been articulated a lot, and I’m pretty sure Braak wrote a piece to this effect a few years ago, but basically:
Wolverine is a living weapon that wants to be something better.
And if you can’t come up with a story that addresses that core idea…well, you’re probably also someone who thinks “Having too many powers” makes Superman an impossible nut to crack.
All of this is to say, there are a LOT of really good places to start if you’ve never read a Wolverine comic before.
The character may never have quite the Iconic Story in the same way Superman does – a “For the Man Who Has Everything,” or an All-Star – but having a wealth of very good options isn’t too shabby either.
And unlike, say, Iron Man, who has a few iconic stories that haven’t necessarily aged that well, something about Wolverine stories’ focus on western and wilderness surroundings, or exotic made-up locales like Madripoor, gives them a somewhat timeless quality. Wolverine’s solo stories usually take place Anywhen.
But of course, there are always exceptions. In this case, it is the case of a high-profile writer who just gets it Wrong, one guy who has actually written more Wolverine comics than all of these COMBINED, and of course, Mark Fucking Millar. But let’s start with the good stuff.
If you like…
Dangerous Games and Flies to a Spider – These caught me completely off-guard, as I hadn’t really heard of them – both a collection of various back-ups and one-shot specials from the last few years – upon release, and just grabbed them for some quick reading, not expecting much. But each story’s by some top-notch creators, including Rick Remender, Chris Yost, Greg Hurwitz, and the character’s ability to fit into a variety of stories, from straight-forward “One guy vs. a pack of bikers” to “Eerie, twisting noir” serves this format well. There’s also probably my favorite, “Killing Made Simple” by Yost, a story where Wolverine puts to rest the misconception that he’s immortal, by outlining to one of the young X-students just how many ways there theoretically are to kill him.
If you like…
The first Wolverine Mini-Series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller – Technically, Claremont’s florid writing style is a bit passé, as he tends to explain exactly what’s happening in each picture, and relies on some purple-prose narration, but it’s pretty much THE Wolverine book, the one where a lot of his tropes were set up, right down to the “I’m the best there is at what I do…” line. It’s also the primary basis for this month’s The Wolverine.
Wolverine Vol. 2 by Chris Claremont & John Buscema – Wolverine’s first ongoing series is actually a lot more
entertaining, not least of which because it’s not as rooted in melodrama and tragedy as his initial miniseries. Adding to that is a new location and supporting cast largely divorced from the X-Men that makes it very new-reader-friendly, and a new wrinkle (Logan, along with the other X-Men, are supposed to be dead at this point in time) designed to keep Wolverine out of his costume and popping claws, lest he blow his newfound anonymity, while still handling very Wolverine-ish stories involving ninjas, mystical swords, secret agencies, etc.
If you like…
GROUNDED, NON-SUPERHERO ACTION COMICS
Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith – AKA, “The Wolverine Origin Story Before They Went and Overcomplicated The Hell Out of It.” Beautiful art and spare scripting by Windsor-Smith shows the excruciating process that turned a burnt-out operative into a half-feral killer with metal knives in his hands, against the backdrop of the Canadian wilderness. The visuals have been used in the movies a couple of times, but they’re so much more effective here.
Wolverine Vol. 3 by Greg Rucka & Darick Robertson – No costumes, no superpowers, just flannel-shirted Logan hunting down bad people. The stories are quite simple and naturalistic, but the decompression (19 issues makes up about three stories, with a couple palate-cleansers in between) lends a lot more weight to the somewhat inevitable conclusions (do you think Wolverine is going to have a nice chat about responsibility, once he tracks down a bunch of assholes who shot him with machine guns?).
Wolverine: Not Dead Yet by Warren Ellis & Leniel Francis Yu – As with most of his work-for-hire stuff, Ellis finds a simple hook that minimally relies on continuity, and uses the basics of the character to set up a fast-paced story. In this case: What if an old, presumed-dead enemy started gunning for Logan, using tactics designed to test him at the peak of his abilities – not knowing that his healing factor is severely limited and he no longer has unbreakable bones?
If you like…
Jason Aaron & various: Weapon X, Wolverine, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine, Wolverine & The X-Men – I can’t really overstate this: Jason Aaron’s Wolverine stories are nuts. His first couple efforts (“Get Mystique” and “Adamantium Men”) read as fairly straight-forward action stories, but pretty soon he plows into insane-asylum horror stories, future-dystopias and demonic possession and alien casinos. Oh right, and there’s that time he and Spider-Man got transported back to dinosaur times because of The Orb, who is a dude that wears Evel Knievel jumpsuits and has a giant eyeball for a head. It’s all a lot of fun, but there are some incredible surprises and a late-series twist that serves as an impressive gut-punch to the character.
Enemy of the State by Mark Millar & John Romita, Jr. – This one came about after Greg Rucka’s more grounded run, and it’s basically just a chance to have Wolverine play with a bunch of Marvel’s toys again. So there’s brainwashing and ninjas and SHIELD and Elektra…it’s big, poppy and loud – empty-calories entertainment.
HEY, MAYBE DO NOT READ THESE
Wolverine: Evolution/Return of Sabretooth by Jeph Loeb & Simone Bianchi – Oh man, Jeph Loeb. Loeb
writes, bless his heart, some of the nicest-looking, dumbest comics you’ll ever read. This is a man who has pulled the same red-herring mystery (“Haha, the culprit CAN’T be the most likely suspect because I’ve just killed him midway through the story…or HAVE I?”) at least three times now. But his Wolverine stories are a special kind of dumb. This is essentially six issues of Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting, which on the face of it isn’t a terrible idea, though obviously it’s a bit repetitive. THEN, Loeb introduces the idea that the two characters, along with a few other more animalistic mutants, are all descended from a line of “Lupine-sapiens,” who evolved from dogs, not primates. Yeah. THEN, when it appears Loeb’s just gotten kind of bored with the whole business, he introduces a special sword that, for no actual stated reason, can kill Wolverine and Sabretooth. Then he kills Sabretooth. And then, of course, he brings Sabretooth back a few years later. It is so dumb, you guys. So so dumb.
Essential Wolverine by Larry Hama & Various – Eight years, Larry Hama was on this book. EIGHT YEARS. That’s got to be impressive, right? Unfortunately, those eight years were from 1990 to 1997, AKA, “The Worst Decade For Comics,” and it suffers every indignity that decade had to offer, including Liefeld knock-off art, storylines constantly interrupted by never-ending X-Men crossovers, Kewl, Edgy (and totally forgettable) antagonists, and Hama’s piling on of Logan’s fairly simple amnesiac status quo with memory wipes, memory implants, memory tricks and…sigh. At one point Logan “devolves” into a more feral version of himself that, for reasons that are beyond EVERYONE, had no nose. This shit is rough.
Wolverine: Origin by Paul Jenkins and Andy Kubert – Yeeeeesh. You may not know this, now that there has been an entire goddamn movie called “X-Men Origins” that covers pretty much every little thing, but Wolverine’s origin used to be more or less unknown – to the point that “mysterious past” ended up being something creators added into every single new character in the 90’s to make them seem cooler. When Weapon X came out, that was a big deal. Then Larry Hama cluttered his origins up by adding in all the memory implants and out-of-nowhere “forgotten” allies. So when Origin came out, a lot of the question was, “What else can you add?” Well, you can add in extended scenes of Wolverine as a wheezy little boy in a night-dress in the early 1900’s. Because that is definitely what people wanted to know about. Other Midichlorean-esque additions: young Logan adopted all his tough-guy mannerisms from an actual tough-guy he hung out with when he was young; Logan’s memory-loss problems are the result of his brain having its own “healing factor” to block out traumatic events for him.
Old Man Logan by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven – Meanwhile, as always happens when you find yourself
recommending a Mark Millar book, you must also balance the scales by warning someone away from a Mark Millar book. In this case, it is Old Man Logan, a beautifully illustrated, tonally ugly book that is basically Unforgiven in a dystopian Marvel America where all the heroes are dead, the villains have divvied up the country into a series of desolate fiefdoms, and the Hulk has a bunch of inbred hillbilly children because Mark Millar has an astonishingly juvenile sense of “edgy” humor. It is a dumb, mean-spirited comic book that thinks it’s being clever, and again mirroring Unforgiven, it’s five issues of Wolverine NOT DOING Wolverine-things, but without any of the insight or grace of the Clint Eastwood film.