Review – Wolverine By Claremont & Miller
Wolverine By Claremont & Miller (Wolverine #1-4)
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Frank Miller
Inker: Jeff Rubinstein
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Cover: Frank Miller
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Wolverine is dead. No, I’m not talking about that cash-grab storyline, or the fact that he’s now a she, or an old man, or whatever Marvel is doing with him nowadays. I’m talking about the soul of the character. Wolverine’s soul is gone. Once upon a time he was just one of many characters featured in “Uncanny X-Men,” who quickly became a fan favorite and more than likely the reason X-Men became Marvel’s best-selling series consistently every month (after the “Amazing Spider-Man” of course). Marvel decided to test the waters and see if Wolverine could do the same sales numbers for his own solo mini-series. It was a gamble, but Marvel paired together Chris Claremont, the man responsible for pretty much every good X-Men story ever (sorry Stan Lee), with up and coming artist of the time…Frank Miller? Let’s go back to 1982 revisit the mini-series that took Wolverine for supporting character to a franchise.
Wolverine is the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice. This is evident when we find him in Canada entering the cave of a grizzly bear that has killed 15 people in two weeks. Wolverine puts the bear down, and notices an arrow in the bear’s back laced with an illegal poison, that drove the bear berserk instead of killing it. Using his tracking skills, Wolverine tracks the hunter to a bar and asks him why he didn’t kill the bear instead of leaving him to suffer. The hunter breaks a glass over Wolverine’s face, basically giving Wolverine all the excuse he needed.
Logan flies back to the X-Mansion, where he finds that his long-time girlfriend Mariko Yashida has flown back to Japan and will not return his calls. He decides to take the first flight to Japan to find her, where he’s picked his Japanese contact Asano Kimura. Asano tells Logan that Mariko’s father has returned to take control of the Yashida clan…and has arranged for Mariko to be married. Asano also lets Logan knows if he interferes and does anything illegal while in Japan the X-Men won’t be able to save him.
Logan sneaks into the Yashida Estates, and finds Mariko’s face bruised and battered. Her husband walks in, and Logan grabs him, then unsheathes his claws. Mariko begs Logan not to kill him, so he lets him live and leaves. Soon as he exits the room, he’s hit with shurikens that that knock him unconscious. The shuriken’s poison would kill any normal man, but Logan awakes later in front Mariko’s father Lord Shingen. Shingen challenges Logan to a wooden sword fight. Logan isn’t fully recovered, and Shingen connects strikes to Logan’s vital spots that would kill a normal man. Logan has had enough and attacks Shingen with his claws. It doesn’t help and Shingen still beats him pretty easily in front of Mariko. He wakes up in an alley surrounding by thugs who don’t take too kindly to “gaijin” (outsiders). Before they can show him how much they don’t like him, they’re killed instantly by a woman name Yukio who takes Logan back to her apartment.
Yukio tells Wolverine she is being hunted by Ninja assassins from The Hand and needs his help to kill the crime boss controlling them named Katsuyori. Wolverine agrees to go with her to the Kabuki theater event Katsuyori is attending, but only to run him out of town. They sneak into the theater and see Katsuyori, but Logan also sees Mariko and her husband sitting next to him. They’re watching a play of “47 Ronin,” and Logan notices the lead performer lunging towards Mariko and her husband. Wolverine jumps towards him and they meet midair. They both draw blood, but Logan is the only one to walk away. Every other actor onstage pulls out their swords and attacks Logan also, but it ends exactly how expected. What he wasn’t expecting was the look of horror on Mariko’s face as she sees him standing over a pile of bodies. Katsuyori and his wife manages to escape to their car, which is blown up by Yukio.
Some time has passed and Wolverine and Yukio have become really close, and he’s visited one night by his handler Asano, saying that he needs his help. One man is now ruling so much of the criminal underworld that he’s becoming a major threat to the entire country. Wolverine says it’s not his problem and leaves with Yukio. After waking up from his drunken bender in a train yard where he’s surrounded by 5 dead Hand ninja and Yukio nowhere to be found. He goes back to her apartment and finds Asano dead with a poison blade in his neck. He smells the poison and realizes it’s the same poison that almost killed him when he first came to Japan, meaning Yukio’s been working for Shingen the entire time, and he’s the one actually controlling The Hand. Logan corners her in an indoor garden, but can’t bring himself to kill her. At that moment the Hand ambushes him. Yukio gets away during the Hand struggle with Wolverine, but not before killing two members herself.
Wolverine spends the rest of the night busting up Shingen’s criminal operations all over Japan to get his attention. Shingen sends his elite Hand ninja to kill Wolverine, but instead he gets Hand uniforms delivered back to him with a message saying “tonight.” Wolverine also steals all of their weapons and plans to use them when he goes after Shingen. Yukio tries to kill Shingen the same night but ends up getting captured. Before Shingen can kill her, he gets word that all of his guards are dead and full of arrows. Mariko’s husband takes her and tries to leave but Wolverine is standing at the entrance. He takes his own wife hostage to stop Wolverine from coming to close to him, and shoots Wolverine anyway. Yukio puts three poison darts in Mariko’s husband’s back and helps Wolverine wrap up his gunshot wound. Since she saved Mariko, he just let’s Yukio leave.
Last time Shingen and Wolverine fought Shingen used wooden swords for their fight because Shingen claimed he wasn’t worthy of Steel. Wolverine enters the room and screams “SHINGEN! AM I WORTHY NOW?” They fight but Shingen is still Wolverine’s superior in the fight. Wolverine lets Shingen stab him deep enough to get him close enough so he can unsheathe his claws through Shingen’s face. Mariko walks in the room and sees her father dead by Wolverine’s hands. She pics up her father’s sword and Wolverine does nothing to defend himself. She tells Wolverine that the sword has been in her family for 800 years, but Shingen’s criminal activity made him unworthy of it. Had Wolverine not killed her father, she would have and committed Sepukku right after. She hands Wolverine the sword and they embrace. During the Spring the X-Men get an RSVP to Logan and Mariko’s wedding.
If you’re not used to seeing Wolverine killing ninjas, banging broads, chain smoking cigars, and getting drunk until he passes out, well in the 80’s this was just a Tuesday for Wolverine. Wolverine also was not some unstoppable tank he eventually becomes. He’s tough but he can still be put down. As violent as the summary sounds, the book was still approved by the Comics Code Authority, if barely. Even though Chris Claremont is the writer, the Frank Miller’s influence on the story is evident and undeniable. Miller pretty much single handedly popularized Japanese culture in American comics. Keep in mind he wasn’t aiming for 100% authenticity, but as long as there were ninjas comic readers were pretty forgiving back then. Remember this is the man that inadvertently created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were more or less a parody of his work. (The Hand = The Foot).
The entire story is also dripping with The 80’s, to the fashion, to the fact that Wolverine flies to Japan simply because Mariko return his letters (she doesn’t have email or an Instagram account?) to the fact that Shingen communicates with his guards through a walkie-talkie. I honestly forgot those things existed as well as how insanely popular they were in the 80’s before cell phones. Oh and did I mention he’s wearing the yellow and brown costume? That’s classic 80’s Wolverine right there.
Killing Ninjas is fun and all, but Claremont remembers to tell a story in-between stabbing people. At the heart of the story Wolverine is torn between two women. One woman wants to change him to grow into a better person and the other wants him just as he is. It’s Wolverine’s own battle as man vs animal. An animal accepts everything around them, while a man while always asks questions and tries to overcome his circumstances. He spends the entire arc accepting he isn’t worthy of Mariko’s love, but in the last issue he realizes he has to try, even if he realizes he truly isn’t worthy. What you see in this story is Wolverine’s growth. Yeah Wolverine with a bow and arrow looks cool, but it’s part of his arc as well. He recognizes his own limitations, and realizes maybe he should do something different. Running in with nothing but claws hasn’t worked to his advantage, so far so why not switch it up? Wolverine completes his growth by getting engaged to married Mariko, the woman who wants him to become a better man. Now of course we know they never got married. Hell more than likely she was probably killed like every other 80’s superhero girlfriend.
It’s been so long ago that most people forgot that Frank Miller at one time was the one of the hottest artists in the industry. Even though it’s set in Japan at its heart it’s a crime drama, and Frank knows how to draw strong characters without making them seem too comic-booky. This is Wolverine’s first solo outing, and even though Chris Claremont is writing it, Frank Miller’s art makes it feel like the X-Men wouldn’t fit in Wolverine’s world.
If this story sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s because the 2013 movie “The Wolverine” is a VERY loose adaptation. All of the major characters are there, but mostly with changes. Sorry, Silver Samurai wasn’t in the comic book. Hell, I’m STILL trying to figure out if Silver Samurai was in the movie…
It’s not the deepest story ever told. It’s basically a test to see if Wolverine can work as a solo character. He’s had better stories since then, but as an introduction to the character, it’s a worthy read on its own. For any die hard Wolverine fan or Frank Miller completionist, I say it’s a must read.