Posted on Sunday, April 27, 2014
by Paul in x-axis
I seem to be slipping behind a bit. So let’s take a quick look at this story, which finished last week. (I’m going to skip the epilogue to the first Amazing X-Men arc, since, well, it’s an epilogue to a story I’ve already reviewed.)
Wolverine is one of the more dubious relaunches of the second wave of Marvel Now, featuring as it does exactly the same writer and no genuine fresh start. Instead, this “new” series actually begins with the second phase of a storyline that started with… well, with the previous relaunch.
The previous series ended with Wolverine having lost his powers, and having had his spirit broken by Sabretooth after a disastrous attempt to prove he could still hold up against his old enemies. That seemed to be setting up for Wolverine throwing in the towel and starting a new life, and indeed this series begins with him hanging around as a mid-ranking henchman for a low level criminal, apparently trying to knock some rookie super villains into passable order. In the absence of his healing factor, he’s now wearing an armoured version of his costume. (In a nice touch, the story doesn’t flag up the fact that he’s not using his real claws any more either; the armour has its own.)
As we’ve come to expect with Wolverine, while these four issues are billed as a storyline, they’re really not. It’s really four issues of trying to swerve the audience and sell the idea that Wolverine has really thrown in his lot with the bad guys in despair about the state of his life. And it cheats a bit, really. The upshot is that, no, he’s actually on an undercover mission for SHIELD, the idea being that recent events make his cover credible. Which is fine, except that the first issue goes out of its way to flag up that possibility and try to seal it off; and that the story being teased in these issues feels like it could well have been more interesting than the one we’re getting.
These four issues are pretty much all about that tease – notionally, the larger plot is that Wolverine is infiltrating this group in a roundabout attempt to get in with Sabretooth’s organisation, who are after Some Thingummy Or Other, but we don’t even get to the stage of finding out what the Thingummy is. The arc of these issues ends up feeling like “Wolverine’s a villain now, Wolverine’s a villain now, Wolverine’s a villain now, oh alright he isn’t.”
This might have worked a bit better if the other X-titles at least gone through the motions of pretending that Wolverine’s status quo was changing. Paul Cornell was working damned hard here to sell the idea of the book having a new status quo, but it doesn’t help when he keeps showing up in the other X-books as if nothing had changed. Still, no harm done in the long run.
While four issues to get to this point feels a bit of a scenic route, there are some promising ideas here. The relationship between Wolverine and his new squad has potential; they’re no angels, but they’re not so bad, and they’re starting to bond as a proper team. There’s an obvious question about whether Wolverine is really going to be up for turning on them down the line.
And I like the concept of Wolverine’s new employer, the Offer, even if it’s arguably been explained better in interviews than it has on the page. The idea is meant to be that Offer is a sort of superhuman negotiator – he can’t control your mind, he just knows instinctively what he’d have to offer you in order to get his way. Apparently he doesn’t necessarily know why you’ll accept, as otherwise he’d know that Wolverine was undercover; he just always knows how to get the best deal available. Consistent with this gimmick, Offer comes across in these issues as a genial man of his word who treats his people well – after all, the appeal of his offers depends on his reputation for honouring the deal.
This is a neat little idea in itself, but I really like the way his strategy seems built around the logic of his powers. He wants Wolverine on his team because he figures that having Wolverine around will attract the attention of Sabretooth. Once they’re talking, Offer is (reaosnably enough) convinced that the negotiations will see him emerge on top of a merged organisation. In other words, his plan to gain control of the Hand is… simply to manufacture an excuse to start talking to them.
I rather suspect this is heading towards Offer breaking his deal with Wolverine in an attempt to get in with Sabretooth, and finding out the hard way that Sabretooth doesn’t generally respond very well to reasoned debate. But it could go a number of ways, and I’m genuinely curious about where he and his crew are heading in this series. It’s far more successful then the stuff about Wolverine’s supposed defection. Admittedly, they’re a criminal organisation who at this point don’t seem to engage in a great deal of actual crime, which might tend to undermine the implications of Wolverine’s decision.
But keeping that sort of thing off panel helps keep the new characters relatively sympathetic while they’re being introduced; and the story does make clear that Wolverine’s deal doesn’t require him to do anything too dodgy. (It makes sense that Offer would agree to this, since he fulfils his wider objective just by having Wolverine around in any capacity. Anything the little guy is willing to do for him in the meantime is a happy bonus.)
I’m left, then, with a story that seems to be trying a bit hard to justify a forced issue #1 with a new status quo that seems about as short term as you were probably expecting. Four issues to end up telling us that our first guess was right after all doesn’t seem a great result. But there’s plenty more promise in the new characters being introduced, and that does enough to keep my interest in the book.