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Feb 6

Wolverine Goes To Hell

Posted on Sunday, February 6, 2011 by Paul in x-axis

As I already mentioned on Twitter, I haven’t got this week’s comics yet, and so, in a fit of critical integrity, I’m not going to review them.  For once, however, this coincides with a weekend when I do have time to write some reviews, and so I’m going to take the opportunity to look at length at the first arcs of two recently relaunched titles.  Heavy spoilers ahead, by the way – I’m assuming that either you’ve read these arcs, or you’re not planning to.

Coming up in the next day or two, the first arc of Uncanny X-Force.  But first…

Wolverine Goes to Hell

Wolverine #1-5
Writer: Jason Aaron
Main story penciller: Renato Guedes
Main story inkers: Jose Wilson Magalhaes and Oclair Albert
Main story colourist: Matt Wilson
Back-up story artists: Jason Latour and Rico Renzi (#1 and #5), Steven Sanders and Ronda Pattison (#2), Michael Gaydos (#3), Jamie McKelvie and John Rauch (#4)
Letterer: Cory Petit
Editor: Jeanine Schaefer

The recent relaunch of Wolverine has been driven more by commercial than creative factors.  The last big relaunch, a little over a year earlier, misfired spectacularly – more through overly tricksy marketing than due to any fault of the creative team.  The idea was to soft-launch a new spin-off title featuring Wolverine’s son Daken.  But rather than just launch Dark Wolverine #1, some bright spark thought it would be a terribly good idea to turn the existing Wolverine series into a Daken title, and shunt Wolverine himself off into a new title, Wolverine: Weapon X.  Unfortunately, the way everything was timed meant that Weapon X, which was meant to be the lead Wolverine book, was universally perceived as his C-title, and sales duly crashed into oblivion.

While it may be heartening in some respects to see a needlessly complicated promotional stunt blow up in Marvel’s face, the result was rather unfair to Jason Aaron, who was writing rather good stories over on Weapon X.  He’s got a good handle not just on the character, but also on the style that makes his stories work – shamelessly over the top, but still sane enough to shift gears and carry some dramatic weight when it’s needed.  If nothing else, this latest relaunch gives him a well deserved second chance to find an audience.

But it also means that this isn’t really a fresh start for the character in any meaningful sense; it’s Jason Aaron’s Wolverine run, joined in progress.  Commercial reality, however, dictates that this has to be a particularly big story arc, something that’s manifest both in the unusually epic (or operatic) scale of the thing, and also in the decision to make it a crossover with the newly launched Daken and X-23 titles.

The less said about the crossover, the better.  The tie-ins are basically redundant to this story, and generally came across as unwelcome intrusions in the other two books as well.  As is often the case with Marvel crossovers, the actual story is contained in this book, and the other two titles are simply written in the margins.  (If you’re looking for any acknowledgement of events in the tie-in books, you’ll find them on page 8 of chapter 3.  In two panels.)  Actually, on one view the Daken stories shed some light on Mystique’s motivations in the main story – but evidently nothing that was considered significant enough to be worth repeating.

So let’s ignore the crossover and focus on the story itself.  It’s a high concept affair.  Aaron introduces new villains, the Red Right Hand – a sect out for revenge on Wolverine, apparently because they consider themselves his victims.  The general implication seems to be that these guys are the relatives of the assorted redshirts he’s casually despatched over the years.  In what’s eventually revealed to be merely the first phase of a master plan, they arrange to have Wolverine’s soul mystically hijacked to hell, while a demon takes over his body.  What follows over the next few issues is Wolverine fighting hordes of old enemies in Hell while resisting Satan’s attempts to break him, while the demon impostor wanders around attacking his associates on the surface, and his girlfriend Melita Garner hooks up with Mystique and some mystical guest stars in an attempt to sort it all out.  (Melita is a new character introduced earlier in Aaron’s run, who serves a variety of useful purposes – aside from having the traditional plot-driving profession of local journalist, she also gives Wolverine a connection to somebody in the real world who isn’t in any way linked to his insanely convoluted back story.)  Ultimately Wolverine overcomes Satan, learns that the whole thing has also in some way been engineered by the spirit of his late father (of which more later), and returns to the real world thanks partly to his own strength of will and partly to the assistance of Melita.

Accompanying the whole thing is a series of back-up strips drawn by guest artists, most of which focus on members of Wolverine’s supporting cast.  They’re a handy way of allowing Aaron to break away for lengthy subplots setting up future stories without strictly cutting into his main story; the final one provides the missing exposition to explain how Wolverine ended up in Hell in the first place, but a couple of others appear to be introducing new villains or setting up dormant supporting characters for a role in future stories.

Often, when you re-read a completed arc, it’s an improvement.  You can see the shape of it more clearly than when you’re reading it in instalments over a period of months.  It’s easier to see when later issues are referring back to throwaway moments in the earlier ones.  And so forth.  But sometimes you re-read an arc and it doesn’t really seem to fall into place after all.  Unfortunately, this is one of those stories which seems to be missing a few elements to make it really work.

The idea has a lot going for it, for a number of reasons.  For a start, it fits in with Aaron’s subplot in which the atheist Wolverine appears to be discovering God.  Quite where you go with that in the long run, I’m not sure, but it does make some sense in character terms, and I’ll keep an open mind about it for now.  More importantly, though, if you want to confront Wolverine with the state of his life and give him a reason to try and make a change, this allows Aaron to make use of some of the major and minor characters who have been written out over the years.  Wolverine’s Hell is, from one perspective, essentially his life boiled down to its essence – an endless treadmill of fights against a sequence of basically interchangeable villains.  He wants to break that cycle, which is why (a) he rejects the idea of staying and trying to become the alpha male of that world, and (b) Aaron has equipped him with a love interest who thus far remains clearly separate from that world.  (The basic tension of their subplot is whether she helps him out of his rather narrow world, or just gets sucked in herself.)

All this is fine.  And the conceit of having the demon Wolverine race around going after supporting characters, some of whom are long un-used, helps Aaron to get some of these people back into circulation without just bringing them in cold.  It’s pretty obvious, for example, that he’s trying to set up a significant role for Amiko, Wolverine’s notional adoptive daughter who was banished to the backwaters of continuity years ago and barely ever gets mentioned.  (A happy side effect of never being used is that her history is also relatively straightforward, making her a good candidate for Aaron’s stories.)

So what’s the difficulty?  It’s two-fold, I think.  Firstly, while the themes are all present and correct, it doesn’t really coalesce into a satisfactory story.  Plot mechanics are glossed over; explanations are hand-waved through.  I’ll ignore the fact that this story’s Satan bears no resemblance to the normal Marvel Universe version; that’s artistic licence.  But how does Wolverine actually beat him?  The suggestion seems to be that Satan’s inability to break Wolverine’s spirit inspires rebellion among the inhabitants of Hell (both demons and damned), and that this in turn somehow weakens Satan so that Wolverine can beat him in a fight.  Okay, but the story kind of hints in this direction without really doing the legwork of showing it.  It’s rushed through in exposition instead of being dramatised.  In fact, the story never really gets to grips with what the inhabitants of Hell are doing at all.  There’s no real sense of it as a place.  Do they spend all their time being tortured?  If so, how come Wolverine’s father and the guest star Puck are apparently able to wander around freely?  How did they get to form a plan in the first place?  And since their spirits don’t seem to have been broken, why wasn’t that a similar challenge to Satan’s authority?  All of this is, if not outright incoherent, certainly too vague and protean to let the story build to an effective climax.

And secondly, there’s something rather literal about Renato Guedes’ rendition of Hell.  It’s not bad by any means, and it does manage an operatic sense of scale from time to time, but it’s very much your standard “demons and tortured souls on rocky outcrops” schtick.  I can’t help thinking that the story would have benefitted from a more surreal or dreamlike take.  The point is brought home by the selection of artists for the back-up strips, which are all set in the real world, but generally have a much woozier and off-kilter feel than the hell segments.  It feels a bit backwards.

Now, I like Jason Aaron’s approach to the character, and while I’ve got reservations about the religion angle, it’s a perfectly valid thing to try.   I think he’s generally got the right idea when it comes to the big crazy ideas, and there’s nothing wrong with the idea of “Wolverine Goes To Hell” (even though there’s a lot wrong with the “Biggles Climbs a Tree” title).  Thematically, I can see where he’s coming from, and it’s a bold idea that might have worked.  It could still be a worthwhile part of Aaron’s bigger picture for the character.  The Red Right Hand are promising villains, and their anonymous leader is creepily banal in a way that’s very effective.  As a five-issue arc, though, this doesn’t click; the plotting isn’t quite tight enough to pull off the climax, nor is its version of Hell inventive enough to make up for that.

Fortunately, I’ve seen enough of Aaron’s Wolverine stories to know that this isn’t a regular problem, and this story does keep my interest in his broader direction for the title.  The Red Right Hand are clearly long-term villains for this book, and I’m glad to see him bringing some new antagonists who (at least from what we’ve seen so far) play off Wolverine without being weighed down by any continuity baggage.  The book needs some new blood in its supporting cast, and Aaron’s addressing that very well.  In all those respects, there’s plenty here to be optimistic about.

Bring on the comments

  1. Valhallahan says:

    Happy to see the storyline reviews back!

  2. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    There were several aspects of this storyline that kept picking away at its quality, the shoddy art being first and formost of its problems. It was like a slightly more scratchy Whilce Portacio. And Satan looked like generic monster #47, and that goofy giant bone sword brought back memories of the giant goofy sword from Brubaker’s “Uncanny X-Men in Space” run.

    And the plot itself was too overly convoluted. Minus the ‘Red Right Hand’ set-up, the story was rather straight forward: Logan goes to Hell, fights his way out. That’s maybe two issues worth of material.

    Then you add in another issue’s worth of the dangly, forgetable bits with Mystique and all the back-ups, which due to the non-linear chronology, are either vaguely related to the main plot or are set-up for a future story line. The whole thing together was just an ugly, chaotic mess.

    I’ve enjoyed what Aaron has done on Wolverine over the last few years, so I’ll hang around a bit and give him the benefit of the doubt, but this arc was a sloppy misfire.

    Strangely, the book I was kind of angry about when I heard it was being published (really, do we really need another Wolverine book?), “Wolverine: The Best There Is”, is doing the whole ‘hellish violence’ thing far more entertainingly. And with top notch art to boot!

  3. Travis says:

    Also, why was Colossus bleeding red blood in his armored form?

  4. AJ says:

    The header for the story arc in this post filled me with joy for some reason.

  5. mchan says:

    I agree with the points mentioned here, but I think that taking a broader reading of the Marvel Universe as it stands now really drives a deeper chink into the armor of the storyline. I grant that Wolverine going to Hell ties in with Aaron’s dubious notion of Wolverine as a religious man. At the same time, Hell is getting a little crowded in the MU right now. With the aftermath of Siege, OMD/OMIT, X-Factor, etc. (one might even argue Shadowland, Chaos War and X-Necrosha fit in here), Hell is pretty much turning into what the space opera storylines of the MU have been for the last few years: just a drab convoluted mess. It’s fine, I think, when Thor has Hela and Wolverine has the Devil and Spider-Man has Mephisto, as those limit the different “mythologies” within character lines. However, when you have universe-wide events that play on these notions of various “Hells,” it really makes the waters murky (besides making me wonder how characters like Puck fit into it all), and I think it’s going to take some major editorial sussing out or lots of No-Prizes to fix this one.

    Also, Paul, your initial comment on this subplot when you mentioned it awhile ago is right on the money: it seems that it’s a myopic limitation of Aaron that he cannot conceive of someone who can be spiritual without subscribing to a certain religion. It’s Wolverine’s general skepticism towards religion, while affirming notions of honor and moral codes, that makes him a very interesting character. I don’t see where this “Wolverine discovers God” subplot is going to go, unless it intends to saddle the character with another layer of religion-based morality and attempt to hold him accountable. Which, frankly, would undermine the individual morality that makes him so compelling to readers and estrange him from them. The mythos of Wolverine seems to be that he kills lots of people unless he has good reason not to, which seems to rely on his own personal ethics (Japanese notions of honor and a John Wayne mentality appear to serve merely as prescriptive guidelines). It seems that the addition of a religious context is too restrictive: it forces the character to be accountable to a higher power, which would dislocate the center of moral authority from Wolverine to, well, God. I think it would be deleterious to the character and displace him from the character archetype that does make him compelling.

    Of course, this is all speculation on how Aaron might develop this plotline, but it does raise some concerns.

  6. kingderella says:

    i really enjoy your reviews of entire storylines. i still remember your review of the x-factor time-travel story, which was really enlightening. please keep them coming!

  7. kingderella says:

    mchan: i think over at ‘new mutants’, limbo has been described as “the hell-dimension known as limbo”, implying that there are several hell dimensions, ruled by various entities. that works well enough for me.

    (i even think there might actually be an entertaining story in the idea of the various rulers of hell going to war against each-other.)

  8. Valhallahan says:

    “i even think there might actually be an entertaining story in the idea of the various rulers of hell going to war against each-other.”

    I think they did that already in a Captain Britain Annual.

  9. mchan says:

    kingderella: “(i even think there might actually be an entertaining story in the idea of the various rulers of hell going to war against each-other.)”

    Yeah, I definitely remember the New Mutants limbo hell-dimension (I vaguely remember this being thrown around the first time Illyana got taken there), but somehow I can understand that as another dimension amorphously-defined, and yet I can’t really shake out the different “Hells” in the universe when they become based in mythology or religion. I’m not really sure where one draws the line between Mephisto and the Devil, for example. You’re probably right: there’s ripe fodder for a kind of Chaos War-type storyline where the different Hell rulers go at it.

    I guess my point is that one thing that Marvel in the 80s and 90s did with Adam Warlock and the Infinity series was that they did subjugate the universe to more universal (heh) entities like Eternity, although the scale often got confusing and convoluted. It might just be for my own personal edification, but I think that Hell needs to have a hierarchy.

  10. mchan says:

    I should clarify that in post-Siege Thor there was a bit of exploration of this as Hela tried to carve out Hel out of part of Mephisto’s Hell, but I think that instances like this just serve to confuse rather than clarify the relations of the different Hell entities to one another.

    That being said, even I can tell I’m getting too wrapped up in this, so I’ll stop now ;p.

  11. Brendan says:

    Over in the Dark Reign arc of iHerc, there was a scene were Cho/Pak explained how the various underworlds work. Essentially, the various underworlds act as operating systems (i.e.: Windows7 or OS-X) able to access the same information (souls). It explained why the Wasp, Banshee and Elvis were hanging around in Tartarus when they never worshiped the Greek gods.

  12. Baines says:

    Though it would never stick, maybe someone at Marvel should just claim that all their Hells are one Hell and all their Hell rulers (even with their squabbling and fighting over territory) are just one ruler. It gets broken down into different realms based on different faiths and different rulers are perceived simply because humans cannot comprehend what it actually is. But the realms themselves don’t even really exist, it is just how people perceive and accept what is there. The same goes for Heaven.

    Although even that concept has problems in a universe where people can talk to things like Eternity.

  13. Paul says:

    Magik’s Limbo doesn’t really fit into this discussion; it’s never been presented as any sort of afterlife. It’s just a dimension where demons live.

  14. Valhallahan says:

    Its strange, because I love Wolvie as a character and I’m a big fan of Aaron’s work on Scalped, but his wolverine run just hasn’t clicked for me. I think it’s a combination of (to my eyes, I’m sure others would disagree) bad art, and a lacklustre start to Wolverine: Weapon X. The previews I read of Wolverine Goes To Hell looked pretty poor, and I don’t like the sound of the whole “Wolverine finds the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ” subplot, so I think I’ll maintain my distance. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to find old stories I haven’t read yet for my Wolvie fix.

  15. John G says:

    Yet another boring hell.

    Has no writer tried to write about a “heaven” dimesion yet? It would have to have its flaws too of course to make it interesting.

  16. Paul says:

    Writers tend to steer clear of Heaven presumably because it’s seen as more religiously sensitive (broadly similar Hells being common to a number of religions, I guess). Mark Waid did a Fantastic Four story where they visit Heaven, but the religious dimension is somewhat sidestepped by having them meet Jack Kirby as their “creator”. I believe there’s a HELLSTORM story where he visits the Christian version of Heaven, though, and it’s depicted as a rather boring and conformist place where souls experience peace at the cost of individuality – or something along those lines, at least. Some rather unsympathetic angels also show up in Garth Ennis and Daniel Way’s Ghost Rider stories.

  17. moose n squirrel says:

    All of these various hells and demon-lords were introduced by different writers to correspond to different characters on different books, at a time when line-wide continuity wasn’t the overriding obsession it is today. The Marvel and DC “universes” were never created to be singular, coherent, cohesive worlds; they’re patchworks stitched together from the work of hundreds of different artists and writers, and they’re hardly going to make sense when you scrutinize them.

    The shrugging explanation/workaround for this in terms of multiple afterlives has always been that each of these various demon-kings has their own dimension, and at times they might squabble with each other for souls and real estate. No, this isn’t going to make sense when you nerd-pick it, either, but it’ll do – there aren’t all that many stories that call for the use of multiple, conflicting hell-dimensions anyway, and most of the ones that are out there aren’t terribly good.

  18. moose n squirrel says:

    As for the actual story of “Wolverine Goes to Hell,” the biggest problems I had with it were (1) yes, this hell is really, really boring – aside from Starlin’s realm of Death, it seems that every version of the afterlife in Marvel is just a bunch of demons and a bunch of fire; (2) the resolution makes Satan off to be either a total chump, or Wolverine to be an improbably superhuman badass. The former downplays the threat Wolverine faces; the latter is a portrayal of the character I’m getting really damn tired of. I can dimly remember the time when Wolverine was hardly a powerhouse – just a scrappy hairy dude whose outstanding attribute was the ability and willingness to take a thorough beating for his friends. On a team full of people who could easily demolish tanks, control the weather and shoot lasers from their eyes, he was hardly the toughest or scariest guy around; the charm of the character came from his determination in the face of typically overwhelmingly more powerful opponents. At some point, though, his healing factor was ramped up to nigh-invincibility, he was given a rogue’s gallery of cheap Wolverine knock-offs to put down on a regular basis, and he started wading through armies of redshirts like a threshing machine through a cornfield. At this point even Satan can be taken down – in Hell, no less! – in three or four issues.

    I liked the “this is your life” quality of Wolverine having to fight scores of dead enemies over and over again, prompting the obvious question of whether the only thing Wolverine’s ever done in his life is produce a mountain of corpses. That, more than any ploddingly literal religious awakening, is the most promising thing here – the suggestion that there could be some point when this character might experience something akin to growth. Of course, plenty of writers have teased this in the past, before moving on to what Marvel’s bottom line demands – issue after issue of Wolverine decapitating some unremarkable shlub who looks and acts like Wolverine.

  19. kelvingreen says:

    Has no writer tried to write about a “heaven” dimesion yet? It would have to have its flaws too of course to make it interesting.
    They touched on this in the Ellis/Grant run on X-Man, as I recall. They arranged the multiverse as a spiral, with worlds lower on the spiral being perceived as “Hell” by those from worlds above, and the opposite also being true, so “heaven” would be perceived as imperfect by those from even higher dimensions.

    Or something.

  20. moose n squirrel says:


  21. Tim O'Neil says:

    1) I was really disappointed to see, with all the other members of Alpha Flight having been resurrected in the Chaos War, that Puck has been left in Hell. Puck has always been one of my very favorite characters and I have been patiently awaiting his triumphant return for years.

    2) I may be mistaken, but in her earliest appearances wasn’t Melita supposed to be black? Because she’s looking awful white now.

    3) No one I’ve seen has mentioned the pretty glaring and shameless SANDMAN swipe from the end of the last issue. I mean, damn.

  22. Baines says:

    Watching the current Wolverine anime, it was nice that with the duel between Wolverine and Shingen, even with Wolverine’s insanely high healing factor, it looked like Shingen would have won eventually. You don’t get that much with Wolverine anymore, not unless his opponent is superhuman, and often not even then.

    Although I think that may have been as much a case of a Japanese animation company trying to make a Japanese sword master look even better. In a later episode, Logan fights to a draw with another sword-wielding guy. But bullets, explosions, and the like are nothing to his healing factor.

  23. The original Matt says:

    That’s cause ninjas are super mega tough, dude!!

  24. The original Matt says:

    All the talk about doing a Logan finds the Lord story got me thinking today. (I haven’t read this book since midway through the arc in the asylum, mind you…)

    At first I was thinking along the lines that Jason Aaron maybe thinks Jesus is awesome, and feels Logan should think the same way. It tends to be a major reason writers like to do stories like this. Either that or I saw a few too many of those religious brain-wash-the-children shows as a kid and that’s why I think that way. It should also be stated that I am not religious in any way. But now I’m getting sidetracked…

    Confronting Logan with Heaven and Hell, which he has now seen first hand, could challenge Logan’s fundamental belief system, but not in a religious way. Logan has gone through life, hacking people to pieces with his claws, but justifying it by it being “in the heat of battle”. That’s what made Sabretooth a compelling Wolverine villian. He was the Logan that gave into those beastial urges and bloodlust.

    Logan, on the other hand, is happy to get into fight after fight to satiate his lust for gore, without feeling too bad about it. It’s a bit easier to sleep at night knowing that if you didn’t kill him, he would’ve killed you. You can feel justified. You did the right thing, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be around to try and justify it. You’d be dead.

    By forcing Logan to acknowledge the afterlife, and God, you thereby force him to rethink his basic approach to the world. I’m not expecting any form of growth or change, nor would I really want it to happen. My own feelings towards religion notwithstanding, I read Wolverine stories for the claws and angst. I wouldn’t want to see a bunch of ninjas come running in to fight and Wolverine pulls out a bible.

    Even if it all turns out to be figurative and not literal, you can still tell fundamentally the same story. It’s a pretty basic one. Confront protagonist with ramifications of their actions. Have protagonist think way of life through. And, being an action book, protagonist will use gained knowledge to assist in thoroughly beating the piss out of nemesis.

    Better than turning an already convulted backstory into an over reaching conspiracy plot involving everyone the protagonist has sneezed in the general direction of, anyway…

  25. Paul says:

    Tim: A quick google says Melita’s supposed to be half black, half Mexican, although I don’t recall where that was actually mentioned. I agree that the colourists seem to be struggling to pitch it consistently.

  26. Baines says:

    Melita wouldn’t be the first non-white female to turn white due to colorists.

    I’d guess that Marvel doesn’t bother with any kind of “official” coloring guides for characters, and colorists either just look at other recent stuff or make it up as they go along. And anyone with a skin color not blatantly labeled can gradually shift to “white” in part because that is what the colorists assume most characters to be?

  27. Chief says:

    “Melita wouldn’t be the first non-white female to turn white due to colorists.”

    I seem to remember they did that with Locus (or was it Tempo?) in some mid-90’s X-Force issue.

  28. moose n squirrel says:

    I wouldn’t want to see a bunch of ninjas come running in to fight and Wolverine pulls out a bible.

    I totally want to see that.

  29. moose n squirrel says:

    No one I’ve seen has mentioned the pretty glaring and shameless SANDMAN swipe from the end of the last issue.

    It’s an HOMAGE!

  30. The original Matt says:

    moose n squirrel;

    Yeah, okay, reading it back it does sound like a rather funny little scene, doesn’t it.

  31. Adam says:

    “Though it would never stick, maybe someone at Marvel should just claim that all their Hells are one Hell and all their Hell rulers (even with their squabbling and fighting over territory) are just one ruler. It gets broken down into different realms based on different faiths and different rulers are perceived simply because humans cannot comprehend what it actually is.”

    Actually, I think they already took this approach, if only in an issue of… Son of Satan, maybe? Back in the 70s? In it, I think, the nature of the Son of Satan’s father is revealed, and the reader sees multiple panels of the different devils of the Marvel Universe, including Mephisto. But then Hellstrom just can’t mentally quite make sense of his father’s place in the universe. The clear implication, though, is that Satan, Mephisto, et al. are one. Anyone remember this?

    I’m not sure they ever mentioned it again, though.

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