Posted on Thursday, April 6, 2017
by Paul in x-axis
I’ve been taking stuff out of order so as to get the X-Men titles up to date for the relaunch. So it’s time to go back and pick up on the Wolverine books. “Return to the Wastelands” is a curious three-parter. At root, it has one very simple job to do, but it takes a strange route to get there.
The story opens with Logan waking up back in the Wastelands, the post-apocalyptic future he left behind. For the first two issues, it cuts back and forth between two plot. In the Wastelands, Logan returns to check up on the Hulk baby – Bruce Banner’s grandson – whom he left behind with Danielle Cage. Of course, somebody has wandered off with the baby, and it turns out to be Kang. Ostensibly thanks to Kang’s time distortion, the baby has now grown up to become an evil adult Hulk called the Warlord.
In amongst this, we have flashbacks to Logan being sent to a space station to answer a distress call from Alpha Flight. The space station is overrun with the Brood and Logan is meant to be helping to liberate the place. You know the routine.
As it turns out, after a while the other X-Men followed Logan to the space station to provide reinforcements. Jean promptly got taken over by one of the Brood and she’s using her psi-powers to make him see bad things. So he’s not in the Wastelands after all. Part three then plays out in a vaguely trippy way with Logan having hallucinations, largely focussed on the Hulk baby, in between trying to free Jean from the Brood by just cutting off the thing on the back of her neck. He wins. The upshot of all this is that Logan now feels worried about leaving the baby behind in the Wastelands, and he decides he needs to find a way back, if only to retrieve the kid.
That’s the simple job that I mentioned at the start. It gives Logan a quest for the next arc – get back to the Wastelands, and in the first instance, find somebody willing to help with that. But boy, it takes a roundabout way to get there, and a seemingly pointless one. All the stuff with the Brood seems to be just an excuse to bring about the hallucinations; all the stuff about Kang stealing the baby seems to have no purpose except to allow the baby to show up as an adult without getting too trippy too soon. Beyond that, is there any real point to all this?
My best guess is that it’s trying to remind us of some points that might be significant to the bigger picture. Perhaps it’s intended just as a way to keep the Wastelands in play as a major plot element, without actually going there. At some point we all know that the real Wolverine is going to come back and Old Man Logan will be politely packed off somewhere. Maybe he dies a heroic death, but that’s going to ring a bit hollow if another version of the same character is coming back from the dead at the same time. So heroically sacrificing himself by returning to the Wastelands to look after the kid… sure. That’s an ending of sorts.
In the short term, though, it’s a lot of running around to no great effect. I don’t much care for the Wastelands anyway – but like a lot of Mark Millar concepts, it’s cranked up to an insane degree, and so there’s a bit of a clash when you place it alongside the hangdog, elegiac tone that this book often seems to be going for. When artist Andrea Sorrentino goes over the top, it’s not so much by leaning into the melodrama as by going for unusual, striking images, so that you have lots of little elements of a Kang panel superimposed over a Brood fight, pages made up of broken shards, or a double page spread of Jean single-handedly defeating the Brood which is suffused in red. It’s memorable, but aesthetically it feels to me like it wants to be taken very very seriously, while the Wastelands concept is very very silly. Sorrentino wants to do visual bravura, and the extended dream scene is a way of letting him do that, but ultimately, does this story really have the content to justify the fireworks that Sorrentino is throwing at it? I’d say no.
“Gone Real Bad” works rather better, perhaps because it’s drawn by Filipe Andrade, whose art is more direct and exaggerated. Marvel’s attitude to artists is strange these days – they’re certainly not pressing artists to work in a house style, but instead we’re getting the other extreme where very different artists are treated as interchangeable and the jarring style shifts are just something we’re supposed to ignore. Sorrentino is meant to be the lead artist on this book, and if that’s the style you’re going for, then Andrade is a weird choice to alternate with him. But for me, Andrade’s cartooning has a tone that works much better for a series about a post-apocalyptic Wolverine.
These two issues consist of Logan first trying to get the magicians and scientists of the Marvel Universe to fix him up with some time travel. Everyone refuses on the grounds that this is a very bad idea, and so he resorts to breaking Asmodeus out of prison – a minor Avengers villain who once managed to briefly send Hawkeye and Wonder Man back to the past. Or that’s what the story says, anyway. I’ve never heard of him, but he’s identified as Charlie Benton, in which case he’s a minor Dr Strange villain from the late 60s (and he’s meant to be dead). Still, none of this really matters for present purposes; as far as this story is concerned, the important bit is that he’s a Z-lister who might nonetheless be willing and able to do what Logan needs. That leads to some quite funny scenes where Asmodeus has to take Logan to his collection of mystical artefacts, which he keeps in a lock-up because he can’t afford a mansion. It’s difficult to imagine that working with Sorrentino.
Of course, you’d have to be an idiot to trust a minor supervillain to send you through time, and by all appearances, Logan in this story is exactly that stupid. Fortunately, it looks like we’re not actually getting a storyline about returning to the Wastelands, but instead a trip through other parts of Wolverine’s personal history, which could be a bit more fun.
A mixed bag of issues, but at least we’ve got a clear direction taking shape, which has long been the book’s biggest weakness.