Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review # 24: "Wolverine by Mark Millar Omnibus"

If you were to make up a list of the most influential comic writers of the 21st Century (so far,) Mark Millar would have to be on it. His depictions of Tony Stark and Nick Fury in "The Ultimates" and their influence on Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson in their portrayals of those characters have left an indelible mark on how Marvel properties and ALL superheroes are received in popular culture. Part of the reason they exist so well in movie blockbusters is because the source material under Millar's watch is very much like one itself.

That's what I was thinking as I read through both "Enemy of the State" and "Old Man Logan" collected here in a single hardcover omnibus. Light on continuity (though not violating it,) these two stories are what "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" wishes it could be: true, entertaining, compelling blockbusters. They're fun, they look great (with art by John Romita Jr. and Steve McNiven) and anyone can pick them up and be entertained.

The first story, "Enemy of the State," takes place in the main Marvel continuity. It introduces the new villain Gorgon who kills Logan and has him resurrected by the Hand, a process introduced during the Frank Miller era of "Daredevil" that turns the subject into a brainwashed assassin. The indoctrination of Wolverine is the first part of a HYDRA/Hand scheme to slowly convert heroes into doing the villainous organizations' dirty work. This leads to fights between Logan and S.H.I.E.L.D., The Fantastic Four, Daredevil and - of course - the X-Men. It's been established in the past that Wolverine has been controlled so many times that he's developed a resistance. This constant battle as he argues with parts of his own mind, along with HYDRA tech that allows them to send direct orders to his brain, is compelling. Unfortunately, you can tell he's losing as he goes so far as to kill an old friend (when he had actually been aiming for someone he had an even deeper connection to.)

Despite the twists, what you expect to happen does indeed happen: Logan breaks away from his conditioning and goes on a revenge spree. Nothing wrong with giving the people what they want.

I fully expected the first story to be the cream of the crop, but was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. Set years in the future in a reality where the villains managed to put aside their differences to nearly wipe out all heroes and take over the world, "Old Man Logan" is like "Marvel Comics meets Mad Max." After a harrowing event in "present time" that is only alluded to, Logan has given up on being a hero, swearing to never pop his claws again. He becomes a farmer, raises a family and is willingly bullied by criminal landlords. His new life is interrupted by the arrival of an ironically blind Hawkeye, who recruits him for a vaguely-stated cross-country mission that would allow Logan to pay his overdue rent.

The depiction of America as controlled by the worst the Marvel U has to offer is chilling, and you're left wondering how things went so wrong. You are only really given two tastes of the events that led to this insanity, including - eventually - Logan's own. The reason Wolverine vowed to stop being Wolverine is jaw-dropping. Meanwhile, you're haunted by a section of America being controlled by an unidentified "President." The scenes involving this "President" are among the best I've seen from this villain, and this is a real heavyweight we're talking about.

Again, despite the twists, what you expect to happen does indeed happen: Logan is pushed to the point that he pops his claws and we're treated to a bloody good time. That's really what these two stories are about. They haven't had a lasting effect on the Marvel Universe, or any of the characters involved, but they're a ton of fun... something 20th Century Fox needs to figure out on the silver screen.

With Millar in charge of their Marvel properties now, I'm encouraged.

Rating: 8.5/10

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