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Mar 15

Wolverine: Black, White & Blood

Posted on Monday, March 15, 2021 by Paul in reviews, x-axis

November 2020 to March 2021

An anthology title! We haven’t had one of those in a while.

Marvel’s track record with anthology titles is patchy to say the least. X-Men Unlimited used to serve as the X-books’ anthology, and to put it politely, it was a mixed bag. But, different times. And in an age when the ongoing titles are tied into a big picture, perhaps there’s a gap for stories that are more freestanding.

Even so, Black, White & Blood seems uncertain about what it’s aiming for. The gimmick here is to tell Wolverine stories, drawn from any point in his history, but with the art in black and white with only red as colouring. So black, white and blood, you see.

And… is that a good idea? For a series?

This is surely inspired by Batman: Black & White, which has been a very successful format for DC. Batman lends himself well to the anthology format, because he’s a genuinely iconic character – he’s a template superhero that even your granny knows. Plus, the look of the character, his city and his villains lends itself to monochrome – whether played more or less straight, or more experimentally.

Wolverine’s got some of that going for him. He’s not Batman, but he’s got a long and flexible history that lets you draw on all manner of settings and periods. He’s got the depth if you want to go there. Or, you know, he can just do bloodbaths. He does that too. And if you name your book Wolverine: Black, White & Blood, you’re already leaning in that direction. Which is… not so interesting?

Red spot colouring is a more distinctive look than black and white, and one that generates a stronger impression. Black and white is vaguely artsy and technical; red spot colouring is more artificial and distancing. It can be very effective, but a whole batch of stories doing it in one go it maybe not the best way in which to see it – partly because the impact dims from repetition, but partly because you know you’re reading a batch of stories that started with the gimmick and worked back from there. That’s a difficult thing to shake.

Still, for a Marvel anthology title there’s a decent selection of creators at work here. Sure, a lot of them are from modern Marvel’s usual suspects – Gerry Duggan, Matthew Rosenberg, Vita Ayala, Saladin Ahmed, Donny Cates, Kelly Thompson, Ed Brisson – but that’s alone a more than respectable standard. We’ve got Adam Kubert, Declan Shalvey and Chris Bachalo here. We’ve got Khary Randolph and Leonard Kirk. We’ve got Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca. We’ve got… well, we’ve got a Greg Land story, but still. That’s a much, much stronger range of talent than we’re used to seeing on a Marvel anthology.

And the results are… fine to good. They’re short stories, three to an issue, and American comics have never really nailed this format. There’s certainly nothing here you need to read in order to see what it says about Wolverine – in plot terms it’s all fairly generic – but then that’s not the promise of the book. It’s about execution more than anything else.

On that level, the results are mixed. There are a fair few stories that go the obvious way, and just use red to highlight blood in an otherwise stock story. Vita Ayala and Greg Land’s story from issue #2 is in that category – it’s perfectly okay, and it’s actually some of Land’s better work, but it feels like a stock Wolverine story that’s doing the red thing because it was in the remit. The Sauron story in issue #4, by Steven S DeKnight and Paulo Siqueria, is a throwaway feels like it exists to get some blood out there. Matthew Rosenberg and Joshua Cassara’s story in issue #1 is a fiddly and convoluted affair that does at least try to deliver a full plot and a twist in the space available, but comes across as overly busy and a bit silly in the twist. And it doesn’t really find a use for the gimmick beyond pointing out the gore. Declan Shalvey’s story in the same issue is decently paced as a story too, and probably the best entry here judged as a piece of narrative – but whether the gimmick adds anything to it is highly debatable.

Moving on to stories that make better use of the colouring, Kelly Thompson and Khary Randolph’s story in issue #4 is little more than a fight scene that relies on continuity references to give it any context. But it uses the red to highlight Mystique (through her hair) as much as the blood. It brings out something passionate in her, at least. Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca’s story takes a similar tack – aside from the blood, the red is used to highlight elaborate patterns on the dresses of Kate Pryde and Tyger Tiger. It’s a striking contrast, presumably intended to suggest something about a contrast between violence and delicacy in Wolverine himself, and it looks pretty good. The plot’s basic, but visually it makes a mark.

Gerry Duggan and Adam Kubert’s Weapon X-era story has put a bit more thought into the gimmick. It uses red partly for the blood, but also for the cutaways of the Weapon X trio of scientists, watching in their red-lit control room. Intercutting all those panels really is a good look, and it ties the trio subtly to the events they’re bringing about. More straightforwardly, Ed Brisson and Leonard Kirk go for blood, but in a big way – sharks, and blood in the water. It’s a story where highlighting the blood actually makes sense.

What does that leave? A few stories that either try to avoid the obvious altogether, or do it while playing up the abstraction instead of the gore. They’re a patchy bunch. Saladin Ahmed and Kev Walker do an Arcade story in issue #2, with the red being used to highlight things like Arcade’s hair and a filling meter. It doesn’t entirely work, but it does get points for avoiding the obvious and for having the levels of red build and recede over the story. It might actually have been more effective over a longer page count.

And issue #3 has three eccentric approaches. One is a Donny Cates and Chris Bachalo story where Cates brings in one of his pet characters, Cosmic Ghost Rider; it doesn’t do blood, but it doesn’t use the red for much else either. The Cosmic Ghost Rider leaves me cold generally, and this feels fairly pointless. “32 Warriors and a Broken Heart” by John Ridley and Jorge Fornés is a highly stylised account of Wolverine rescuing his foster daughter Amiko, and being more hurt by her disappointment in him than anything else. It doesn’t really fit comfortably into Amiko’s history, but it uses the red to create a sense of distance from the fighting. And Jed McKay and Jesús Saiz make the eminently sensible decision to do a story on Mars (which is red, you see), only to immediately put him in the Gardener’s jungle (which… isn’t). The guys in the red AIM suits work, though, because they’re so ridiculously unsubtle and out of place; the colouring works to highlight that.

It’s difficult to imagine Black, White & Blood having much of an audience outside the hardcore, and the gimmick may be undermined by repetition. But while there are no must-see classics, there are no duds here, and the overall standard is higher than we’ve come to expect from Marvel anthologies.

Bring on the comments

  1. SanityOrMadness says:

    I’ve never liked spot colouring, especially red. It reminds me of school textbooks where they were too cheap to spring for full CMYK, but weren’t sensible enough to just go B&W, so you had pages liberally sprinkled with pinkish polka-dots (because red was the go-to-colour for them, and they also used a course dot-screen).

  2. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    When Cosmic Ghost Rider inevitably shows up in Thor I’m going to burst a blood vessel.

  3. Si says:

    Yeah, Cosmic Ghost Rider is a decent enough joke that’s been taken way too far, and needs to be kept to the semi-canon land of Squirrel Girl and Gwenpool, not in prestige anthologies about Wolverine.

    But Thor? It’s hard to see how Cosmic Ghost Rider would make that comic any worse, for my taste. The latest Thor on Unlimited has Donald Blake as a real boy who’s more powerful than gods somehow, and he pulled the Thorness out of Beta Ray Bill, turning him back into an ordinary korbinite, even though Bill looks like that because of genetic engineering not magic, and all the Thor power gives him is a nifty hat, and he could turn into an ordinary korbinite because Thor gave him the magic that let him turn into Donald Blake, and I don’t know what happened next because I just couldn’t bear to read any more.

    That digression aside, I think all Wolverine needs is a couple of cartoons and a few more movies, and within a generation he’d be every bit the cultural touchstone Batman is. Maybe he’d even eclipse Batman, because he’s basically the same character type but less inherently silly.

  4. Luis Dantas says:

    Is there any technical advantage for printing in Black, White and Red instead of full color? It has been done twice with Grendel, and once each with Harley Quinn, Isaiah Bradley, Shi and now Wolverine.

  5. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Not a big Cates fan but I’ve pretty much enjoyed his Thor run so far, even if it kinda pissed on Aaron’s run a bit too quickly for me.

    Yeah the Beta Ray Bill stuff really doesn’t technically make sense, but he has such a dumb convoluted story I’m all for just ignoring it and calling him a cool space horse who got Thor powers.

  6. SanityOrMadness says:

    Uncanny X-Ben: When Cosmic Ghost Rider inevitably shows up in Thor I’m going to burst a blood vessel.

    He already did, though not in a major role. He was one of the heralds of Galactus who showed up in the first arc.

  7. SanityOrMadness says:

    Luis Dantas</b: Is there any technical advantage for printing in Black, White and Red instead of full color? It has been done twice with Grendel, and once each with Harley Quinn, Isaiah Bradley, Shi and now Wolverine.

    It’s cheaper. But mostly in these cases it’s being done for a gimmick rather than cost.

    (The “Black, White and Blood” thing seems to be becoming an ongoing series of sorts. Starting with Wolverine, then Carnage, then Deadpool.)

  8. Luis Dantas says:

    I suppose this is the Marvel Comics Presents of this day and age. A low-expectations, low-cost plataform for a little showcase that might or might not lead to further work from the creators involved.

    I don’t expect it to succeed. Relying on already thinly spread Wolverine in order to boost sales is probably more of hindrance than help, and having the stories be twice crippled by an unusual color scheme and a very limited page count won’t help either.

  9. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Oh God he did!?

    Maybe I burst a blood vessel and forgot.

  10. Joseph S. says:

    Hm, totally missed that this was an anthology. Maybe I’ll give it a browse on Unlimited.

  11. Joseph S. says:

    And apparently there was a Harley Quinn Black + White + Red in 2020?

  12. Karl_H says:

    Writing stories that work well in a giant shared universe, like writing stories that work well in an 8 page format, is a skill that not every good writer possesses. Maybe I’d like Cates’s Marvel stuff more if it came out under Image with his own characters.

  13. Sol says:

    As Luis Dantas says, Grendel did the Black, White, and Red anthology thing back in 1999., a few years after the first Batman: Black and White. However, got to thinking about it, and of course Sin City was a very prominent title that was black and white purely for stylistic reasons before Batman: Black and White, AND also got to the three color thing before that book: That Yellow Bastard was black, white, and yellow.

    Was looking over a few of those Grendel pages again just now. I feel like black, white, and red look really amazing when used well; or it can totally look like the publishers were just too cheap to hire a real colorist. (Also, just discovered that Comixology Unlimited has Grendel Omnibus #1, which has the original story and the two three color series, and now I’m reading it again, and here, at least, the first complete Hunter Rose story from the 80s is also in black, white, and red? But I’m suspicious that may be a DE-coloring job?)

  14. Sol says:

    (“As a backup story in his other series, Mage (1984–1986), appearing from issues 6 to 14, Wagner reworked and retold Hunter Rose’s story in its entirety. It was collected by Comico in 1986. A new edition, recolored by Bernie Mireault, was published by Dark Horse in 1993. In 2007, it was released in hardcover colored only in black, white, and red.” So if I’m understanding that correctly, the first two versions of Devil by the Deed were in full color, and the black, white, and red version is the third “coloring” of the story.)

  15. Dave says:

    “there are no duds here”

    Which was a pleasant surprise to me.
    Of course now these stories all have to be edited in to the Incomplete Wolverine, right?

  16. For what it’s worth, in my limited experience* there is no cost difference in printing black/white/red versus full colour; from a printer’s perspective, you are still printing in full colour, even if you’re only using one, and they will charge you accordingly.

    *(This is based on book publishing, rather than comics. It’s very possible that the mechanics and cost are quite different.)

  17. Luis Dantas says:

    It may well be cheaper in comics, which are often processed with sophisticated color techniques these days.

    Or at least the time spent, quality control and losses coming from mistakes in the color use should be all be at least slightly cheaper, come to think of it.

    How significant those factors are I have no clue about.

  18. Daibhid C says:

    When I were a lad, UK comics were “duotone” (usually red, sometimes blue) on the inside (on the select few pages that weren’t just line art) and only had colour on the cover and middle pages. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t doing it for artistic reasons, so I assume there were some cost issues involved.

  19. Luis Dantas says:

    @Daibhid C: sounds very similar to how traditional manga is published in Japan’s anthologies (before the most succesful series are eventually collected in Tankobon form).

  20. […] Paul O’Brien reviews the repetitive gimmick of Marvel Comics’ Wolverine: Black, White & Blood.  […]

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