Wolverine: Weapon X #1-2 (Marvel); Wolverine: Prodigal Son Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

weaponx_header.jpgMarvel and Del Rey vie for movie fan dollars with two very different new takes on everyone’s favorite Canucklehead.

 

 

 

Wolverine: Weapon X #1-2 (Marvel)

40 pgs. (#1) and 32 pgs. (#2), full color; $3.99 ea.

(W: Jason Aaron; A: Ron Garney)

 

Wolverine: Prodigal Son Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

186 pgs. B&W; $12.99

(W: Antony Johnston; A: Wilson Tortosa)

 

It may have taken them a few years and a dozen or so tries, but Marvel seems to finally have the whole movie/comic cross promotion thing down pat. With X-Men Origins: Wolverine—the first solo movie featuring Marvel’s most perennially popular mutant—slicing its way through theatres this month, the Wolverine PR machine is in overdrive, most notably with the debut of two new takes on the clawed killing machine, launched in hopes of turning at least a few Hugh Jackman fans into dyed-in-the-wool Marvel Zombies.

The cover to Wolverine: Weapon X #1 by Ron Garney. Click for a larger image.The more high profile attempt is the new ongoing series Wolverine: Weapon X, which reunites writer Jason Aaron and artist Ron Garney, the team behind last year’s four-parter "Get Mystique!" It’s definitely a reunion to get excited about; "Get Mystique!" was a tense game of cat-and-mouse that captured Logan at his revenge-driven best, with a script that dripped noir cool and some of the slickest art of Garney’s career (click here for just a small sample). The team’s profile only increased in the intervening year, with Aaron (previously best known for his Vertigo crime drama Scalped) turning heads with the miniseries Wolverine: Manifest Destiny (a samurai movie homage with artist Stephen Segovia) and well-received runs on second-stringers Black Panther and Ghost Rider. Meanwhile, Garney let his imagination run wild on the savage barbarians and gruesome monsters of the Conan-esque Skaar: Son of Hulk.

If the first issue of Weapon X is meant to get Wolverine fans worked into their own berserker frenzy, Aaron sure picks a weird way of accomplishing his goal. He’s got two different stories cooking, one in Columbia, introducing the book’s new bad guys (brutal killers with claws that pop out of their hands—I wonder what that could mean…), and the other in San Francisco, where Wolverine slices up some muggers before meeting with the former mutant Maverick, who gives him the skinny on some shady dealings involving Weapon X. Given Wolvie’s less-than-friendly history with Weapon X—they’re the clandestine military program that gave him his adamantium skeleton, erased his memories, and more or less ruined his life—it’s got the makings of one hell of a showdown. But rather than running both halves in parallel to get the whole thing simmering, Aaron runs through the Columbia chapter in its entirety, drawing things out so much that the book’s hero doesn’t even make his big debut until page 13, over halfway through the story (and several pages after Hugh Jackman makes an appearance in costume in an ad for the BluRay release of the X-Men films).

Aaron’s plan was probably to "write for the trade" (i.e. pace it to be read in the 200-page collected edition), but the result when read in single issue form is a Wolverine comic that feels like it barely even has any Wolverine in it. And when you’re asking a whopping $4 for a Wolverine comic, it damn well better have some Wolverine in it. Not that Marvel didn’t try to make fans feel like they were getting more for their money, at least, adding five pages of guidebook-style bios of Maverick and the Weapon X program as well as a 6-page preview of the Aaron-penned miniseries Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire (with art by Roland Boschi).

The cover to Wolverine: Weapon X #2 by Ron Garney. Click for a larger image.Though the first issue made for a less than satisfying package, things get cooking a little more by issue #2. Logan’s brief run-in with San Francisco Post reporter Melita Garner starts to bear fruit, as she is drawn into the Weapon X conspiracy via their ties with the mysterious military contractor Blackguard (all resemblance to actual military contractor Blackwater purely coincidental, I’m sure). But what really pays off here is the first battle in a soon-to-be war between Wolverine and the Blackguard’s squadron of assassins that share his powers. Here, Aaron leaves the heavy lifting to Garney, who does his usual stellar job on the art chores. Garney has an uncanny skill at staging thrilling action scenes, and he really thrives here with a fight that’s as visceral and brutal as the book’s PG-13-ish rating will allow. His style on Wolverine: Weapon X may just be his finest yet, a middle ground between the polish of his work on "Get Mystique!" and the rougher, shot-straight-from-the-pencils look of his work on Skaar. It’s easy to recommend the book for its art alone, but Aaron is no slouch in the writing department either. This is definitely a book worth reading, but it may be better to wait to read it in one satisfying chunk than to read it one $4 bit at a time.

Wolverine: Prodigal Son is a different beast entirely, and not just because it packs over 180 pages into one tight, affordable package. Where Weapon X is a more traditional Wolverine story that ties into both the new film and the current Marvel Universe milieu, Prodigal Son is a complete reinvention of the character, using the tropes of shonen manga (literally"boys comics," action stories aimed at a young, male, Japanese audience) to tell a story that is only related to the X-Man’s unwieldy history in the most superficial of ways.

The Logan we all know and love is a gruff old loner with claws, a healing factor, a knack for finding trouble wherever he goes, and a mysterious, forgotten past that continually comes back to haunt him. Prodigal Son‘s Logan, on the other hand, is a cocky young high schooler, with all of those other qualities still very much intact. Orphaned on the doorstep of the Quiet Earth School for Young People (a martial arts dojo in rural Canada), the young Logan is a formidable fighter who feels bored with the lack of challenge his non-powered schoolmates have to offer. His teacher, the kindly old man Elliott, seeks to give him that challenge, to prove to his young charge that he isn’t the "best there is at what he does" yet, but he has the potential to be. Naturally, Logan suffers emotionally crippling losses on both the personal and martial arts battlefields, setting him on the path to self-actualization through fistfights.

Shonen manga is a genre rife with clichés, and British writer Antony Johnston (Oni Press’ Wasteland) seems bound and determined to cram every single one of them into this first volume. It’s less an original story than a pastiche of Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball Z, and a hundred other "quest to be the best" manga rolled into one, with a requisite battle against all of his friends and classmates, a heart-to-heart talk with the master, a supposedly impossible (yet somehow easily completed) training challenge, and a fight against a much better opponent in the big city, all crammed into the book’s 166 story pages. The dialogue is utilitarian, moving the action along at a quick clip but never imbuing the characters with enough personality to make any of their emotional travails grab hold.

The cover to Wolverine: Prodigal Son Vol. 1 by Wilson Tortosa. Click for a larger image.Despite its formulaic tendencies, teenaged readers will probably still eat this book up. The action is relentless, and captured with finesse by Filipino artist Wilson Tortosa. Tortosa draws with a typically spiky-haired shonen style, but with a heavier line and sharper detail that bring to mind Air Gear‘s Oh!Great or Battle Angel Alita‘s Yukito Kishiro (the latter named specifically as an influence). Johnston was even kind enough to give Tortosa a chance to showcase his chops with "Silent Running," a ten-page chapter without a single word of dialogue that the artist rockets through ably. He occasionally goes way overboard with the speedlines during the action scenes, but for the most part, Tortosa’s art is easily readable, and helps propel this first volume along to a swift conclusion. His art is also on full display in the bonus section, featuring 18 pages of character development sketches, including several nice sketches of the book’s inventive villain, the telepathic Lady Silence.

Though both are ultimately enjoyable books, it’s hard to imagine anyone outside of each one’s traditional audiences getting too fired up about them. Weapon X avoids getting too mired in the muck of X-Men continuity, but it doesn’t offer quite enough meat for the casual fan—after all, why drop $8 on 40% of a story when the same price got you a complete story in the movie? And the manga-meets-Marvel take in Prodigal Son may draw in the Naruto crowd, but the character has been so radically changed that movie fans and monthly Marvel readers will likely be more inclined to stick with the source material. | Jason Green

Click here for a preview of Wolverine: Weapon X #1, click here for a preview of #2, and click here for a preview of Wolverine: Prodigal Son Vol. 1.

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