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Friday, June 20, 2014

X-amining Wolverine #1

"SwordQuest"
November 1988

In a Nutshell 
Wolverine battles pirates in search of the Muramasa Blade. 

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: John Buscema
Inker: Al Williamson
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
On the island of Telambang, a group of pirates led by Banapur Khan brutalize the surviving passengers and crew of a crashed jet liner. As Khan fights the captain, Wolverine sneaks onto the island and tracks down a brutally beaten man named Kojima. As he frees Kojima, Khan and the pirates discover him, and a fight breaks out, during which Wolverine kills all the pirates. As Khan tries to escape, he's shot by one of the flight attendants. Returning to Kojima, Wolverine is told by the dying man, who is Mariko Yashida's personal sectratary, that the pirates were hired by the Cult of the Black Blade, who are after the Muramasa Sword. When they learned Mariko was transferring the sword from America, the cult hired the pirates to learn the identities of the couriers. Though Kojima doesn't know who the couriers are, he tells Wolverine they are arriving in Madripoor tomorrow.


The next day, Wolverine stakes out the Madripoor airport, and spots Lindsay McCabe, Jessica Drew's roommate, entering the country. When she attracts the attention of some local thugs, he decides to follow her. In Hightown, Jessica checks into her hotel room, but is attacked by three agents of the Cult, looking for the blade. Just then, Wolverine bursts into the room and takes out the thugs, being careful not to use his claws so as to keep his identity, and faked death, a secret. Wolverine tells McCabe he's a friend, and that Kojima is dead. She doesn't believe it, as she just spoke to him, but Wolverine assures her whoever she talked to wasn't Kojima. This worries McCabe, as her partner, Jessica Drew, has the sword, and is on her way to meet with whomever is posing as Kojima.  

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue introduce the Muramasa Blade (though we don't actually see it), aka the Black Blade, a mystical sword said to be imbued by the madness of Muramasa, its creator, which possess those who wield it (and grants them increased strength and durability), save for the warrior destined to be its master. It serves as the MacGuffin of the first story arc in this series, and is different than the later Muramasa Blade which featured heavily in recent Wolverine story arcs, which was forged with a piece of Wolverine's soul and was able to counteract his healing factor and permanently wound/kill him.  

The Cult of the Black Blade is also mentioned for the first time, which is, as the name suggests, a group dedicated to worship of the Muramasa Blade. The cult is said in this issue to have gained prominence during Japan's pre-war militarism, but was mostly snuffed out by MacArthur after World War II.


Claremont kicks off the series by importing some supporting cast members from other series he's written, starting with Lindsay McCabe, Jessica Drew, the former Spider-Woman's, roommate whom the X-Men met in Uncanny X-Men #206. Drew herself is mentioned, and will appear next issue.


As with Excalibur, this series is printed on higher quality Mando paper, is ad-free, and, as a result, costs $1.50 an issue rather than $1.00. Unlike Excalibur, however, this series wasn't direct-only (meaning it was sold in comic shops and newsstands, because newsstands still existed in 1988). The back cover features a Wolverine pin-up by John Byrne.

The cover of this issue has become somewhat iconic, though much of that just comes from it being the cover to the first issue of Wolverine's solo series, which, of course, commanded top dollar for a few years there during the speculator boom of the early 90s. 

As with Excalibur, this is a series that I didn't start reading regularly until around issue #70 (just before the "Fatal Attractions" crossover in #75) and thus, I am reading most of these issues for the first time rather than the umpteenth time. So smaller details or characters that seem minor but become important later on may get missed, and/or I may need to rely on outside sources more to catch certain things. As always, I expect everyone to call out things I may have missed in the comments.

The Chronology Corner
Thinks start to get dicey here, in terms of Wolverine's chronology, as he now shares appearances between this series and X-Men. For the most part, Claremont does his best to write each series around the other, creating opportunities for Wolverine to leave or arrive from one adventure or the other, thus creating touchstones to allow the appearances to fit together.

But Claremont won't stay on this title for long, and later writers are less concerned with coordinating their title character with his parent title. I will do my best to callout the chronology as best I can (with the help of the Official Marvel Index), but be warned: it may get confusing, and will get complicated, at times.

To wit, this issue follows on directly from Wolverine's appearance in Marvel Comics Presents #1-10, and thus occurs between issues #231 and #232 of X-Men. Wolverine then appears in issues #2 and #3 of this series, before returning to X-Men for issues #232-243, Annual #12, and all of "Inferno" before returning for issue #4 of Wolverine.   

A Work in Progress
Wolverine wears his Patch costume in the first half of the issue, which debuted simultaneously in this issue and the concurrent issue of Marvel Comics Presents, though he isn't yet wearing the eyepatch that gives him his name, opting somewhat laughably instead for a strip of nylon over his eyes.  


He's able to brush off several gunshots from an Uzi thanks to his healing factor, continuing the gradual uptick of his power level.Wolverine also states that his healing factor is what makes his senses super acute, something that has long been implied, but is, I believe, made explicit for the first time here. 


While attacking the pirates, Wolverine makes it clear he's more interested in balancing the scales of justice than adhering to the X-Men's usual code of conduct ie he's going to kill people in this series.


In order to disguise himself from McCabe, Wolverine wears a bomber jacket and fedora, and covering up his wild spikes of hair proves to be a much more effective disguise than covering up his eyes. To maintain that disguise, during a fight, Wolverine refrains from using his claws, which would be a dead giveaway of his identity to McCabe.  


In Days of Yore
Wolverine mentions that Douglas MacArthur's counter-intelligence operatives were said to have wiped out the Cult of the Black Blade during America's post-WWII occupation of Japan, and includes himself in that group. Unlike some of the other cryptic hints about his past, I don't think we've ever seen a story featuring Wolverine working for MacArthur in Japan after World War II, and it doesn't quite gel with later stories that show him to specifically be a Canadian solider during the war. 

I Love the 80s
Lindsay McCabe says that she learned how to shoot from Clint Eastwood. 


Chris Claremont on the creation of Wolverine
"I had this big argument with the Editor-in-Chief...it was a philosophical disagreement. My feeling with Wolverine was, and still is, less should be more. He would be better served by a six-issue limited series every year that could be bundled into a trade paperback or a hardcover. You could get guys who normally wouldn't write X-Men and treat each Wolverine novel as an event. That way we satisfy the readers' desire for Wolverne during the peak sales period without supersaturating the marketplace."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p72

Teebore's Take
The cover of this issue proclaims "at last -- in his own monthly series" and while it certainly is a bit surprising, given the character's commercial viability even in those days, that it took Marvel until 1988 to give Wolverine his own series, this definitely reads like a continuation of previous Wolverine solo ventures. Of course, much of that comes from the series launching with the same creative team as handled the Wolverine feature in Marvel Comics Presents (making this feel as much like an issue #11 as a first issue), but it also continues the same tough guy, first person narration pioneered by Claremont and Frank Miller in the original Wolverine limited series, back in 1982, complete with the same film noir vibe that inspired that story, right down to the MacGuffin that drives the plot (the Muramasa Blade could be the Maltese Falcon or jade monkey or whatever).

Two things of note occur in this issue which help differentiate it from what's come before: Wolverine is forced to hide his identity, even to the point of not using his claws at one point, and he distinctly notes that while on his own, he won't be playing by the X-Men's rules. The former is more a necessary nod to the current "faked their death" status quo of the X-Men than anything, but kudos to Claremont for dealing with it (most modern writers wouldn't bother), and there is story potential in the idea of Wolverine needing to refrain from using his signature weapons even while it's largely laughable that he thinks an eye patch or a hat is enough to disguise him from people who know him.

The latter note, while not terribly shocking (the Wolverine of the Miller LS certainly didn't play by the X-Men's rules either), at least creates a clear demarcation between the Wolverine of this series and the Wolverine of X-Men. This will be less "Wolverine the Superhero" and more "Wolverine the Violent Vigilante", more akin to the Punisher than Spider-Man. He will kill, when necessary, and he won't always talk or angst about it. It's an obvious but important distinction to make at the start of a new series, one which keeps the character firmly rooted in what's come before while making it clear what makes this presentation of the character different.  

Next Issue
Marvel Comics Presents #10-17 finds Colossus trying to take a vacation, Excalibur #3 features the return of a familiar villain, and Wolverine #2 brings Jessica Drew and Silver Samurai onto the stage.

11 comments:

  1. I said it when you reviewed the MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS serial, but I'll mention it again here -- I just love the old fashioned "adventure serial" feel of these stories, and John Buscema was the perfect choice to draw them.

    Also, I'm laughing at that quote from Claremont, "I had this big argument with the Editor-in-Chief...", considering that, unless this series was in planning before Jim Shooter left, he is speaking to that very EiC for the interview.

    I agree with him, however, than an annual mini-series would've been a better way to go, at least for story and continuity reasons. But for commercial/sales purposes, it's hard to argue that Marvel wasn't right, since this series lasted for a very long time.

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  2. " I don't think we've ever seen a story featuring Wolverine working for MacArthur in Japan after World War II, and it doesn't quite gel with later stories that show him to specifically be a Canadian solider during the war."
    There were Canadians that were seconded to Macarthur's staff during the occupation of Japan, the most famous being Herbert Norman. Probably, Logan was one of them.

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  3. These issues look incredible in black and white in the ESSENTIAL reprint. It's obvious Claremont's trying to give Buscema non-superhero material that suits his tastes, which made the book feel unique in the early days.

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  4. "is different than the later Muramasa Blade which featured heavily in recent Wolverine story arcs, which was forged with a piece of Wolverine's soul and was able to counteract his healing factor and permanently wound/kill him."

    Yeesh, don't remind us!

    "Chris Claremont on the creation of Wolverine"

    With regards to that entire paragraph...if only...

    At this point, the line is a fully-fledged franchise. But at least it's a manageable one, and each book has it's own identity, more or less.

    Uncanny X-men - The flagship title
    X-factor - Original flavor
    New Mutants - The younger generation
    Excalibur - Cast-offs with a comedy feel
    Wolverine - Solo title featuring the most popular character

    Also interesting, at this point in time, CC and Simonson are pretty much running the franchise, so quality control and inter-title continuity is still around. Too bad things will change soon...

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  5. I always thought the Muramasa blade and the Yashida clan honor sword was the same blade. So, it was the Muramasa that Wolverine killed Bloodscream, the one invulnerable to earthly metals?

    Also, Lady Mariko was fooled to poison herself with "Muramasa Tanto", but that's yet another one by the master, perhaps the shorter sword in a samurai's set normally used for seppuku?

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  6. I know I bought #1 and #2 off the racks out of curiosity but I have no memory of the story.

    Since I'm reading online rather than digging out my copies, I also don't know if the digital version's coloring is consistent with the original, but if so: Yikes. The dark blue seen on the cover is how I think of this costume, and — apart from trying to ignore that it matches Logan's hair, thanks to the blue-for-black convention I've always despised — it's much better than the lighter blues and grays shown inconsistently inside, as the excerpted panels here reflect. (I actually don't mind gray, except for how it highlights Logan's hair as unmistakably bright blue.) Some of the clashes between the main bodysuit and belt, gloves, and boots are truly horrific as well.

    I think John Buscema, like Gene Colan, is less suited to out-and-out costumed superheroes than other genres. Save for the occasional ridiculously elongated points of Wolverine's hair, this is such an exception, although here as well I don't think the bright colors do his and Williamson's collaboration many favors. The art must indeed look good in the Essential reprint, although what I'd really like to see is a version in B&W with select graytones — maybe even washes.

    I'll readily believe that things get wonky with Wolverine's chronology soon enough, but apart from trying to fit this into Uncanny's timeline — which I didn't, trusting you'd share what the handbooks or whatever say — I'm actually pleasantly surprised by how, for this initial adventure at least, the reasons for Logan stepping away are entirely plausible in context. Logan hiding his identity from Lindsay with a hat, muttonchops out and no apparent attempt made to even disguise his voice, is of course far less believable.

    Also, I guess this is the place to say that I've seen this cover, and this identity of Logan's, periodically for decades now and I never realized that was supposed to be gauze or nylon over his eyes — just a smudge of dirt, I figured. Then again, I didn't really understand that Patch, or Logan-in-Madripoor in general, was supposed to be a secret identity, which is certainly not the impression you get from claws-popped Wolverine on the cover.

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  7. Wolverine chronology: I think CC did swell job that was carried by others for some time after his departure, in fitting in the Wolverine solos with the other X-Men books? At least, soon post-Inferno we'll see Logan take extended leave from the flagship title to go solo adventuring, which is something totally different I understand they do nowadays. Did they have one in both teams in A vs. X?

    Patching it up: the name was supposed to have some relation to Logan's intelligence service back in the day, judging by Logan and Carol calling each other Ace and Patch in Genosha? Was it only the later writers that really messed it up?

    Wolverine characterization: he wasn't playing by the "X-Men" rules, he was playing by the Shooter rules that got the Hellfire commandos that became Reese, Cole and Macon (and the one that left before they became famous) retconsurrected after DPS and couldn't snikt people, or rather wasn't put into non-superpowered people snikting situations, in the flagship title.

    Well probably the others would have bitched about it too, if he killed people on their watch.

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  8. "though he isn't yet wearing the eyepatch that gives him his name, opting somewhat laughably instead for a strip of nylon over his eyes."

    You say he isn't "yet" wearing the eyepatch, but he never wore the eyepatch when wearing the blue Buscema suit. And I would dispute that he is actually wearing anything over his eyes. I never saw that confirmed in text ... even the letters pages at the time seemed cagey about confirming whether it was some sort of mesh or just an artistic choice by Buscema. In any case, after issue 5 it becomes far less prominent ... being drawn instead as just a darkened, shadowy area rather than something cross-hatchy.

    " I am reading most of these issues for the first time rather than the umpteenth time. "

    Whereas for me, I'm still unfamiliar with a lot of the concurrent New Mutants and X-Factor issues, but these Wolverine issues are drenched in "umpteenth times"-brand nostalgia.

    "I Love the 80s
    Lindsay McCabe says that she learned how to shoot from Clint Eastwood."

    I'm not going to lie, I'm starting to have issues with this feature. :) Suddenly Clint Eastwood, Batman and movies with "wolf" in the title are all apparently the exclusive province of the 1980s.

    "(the Muramasa Blade could be the Maltese Falcon or jade monkey or whatever)."

    In this issue, I suppose, but it is not quite so passive an object in the next two issues.

    That said, I actually have always been confused by the plot established here, given how things proceed in issue 2. Maybe I should wait until that entry before going into it. Suffice to say for now that when I was a kid, I think I chalked my confusion to "I'm a kid and this is too complicated." But now even as an adult, there's some plot stuff in this issue and the next that still gives me difficulty.

    "Also, I'm laughing at that quote from Claremont, "I had this big argument with the Editor-in-Chief...", considering that, unless this series was in planning before Jim Shooter left, he is speaking to that very EiC for the interview."

    Teebore condensed the quote for economy's sake, but yes, the full version of that section of the interview has Claremont and DeFalco joking about that. It's rather endearing, actually. :)

    "it's hard to argue that Marvel wasn't right, since this series lasted for a very long time."

    ALL GLORY TO BOB HARRAS



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  9. Jason -- "ALL GLORY TO BOB HARRAS"

    I appreciate the sentiment, though in this case I think we have Marvel's marketing department to thank. :-)

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  10. @Jason: // I'm starting to have issues with this feature. :) Suddenly Clint Eastwood, Batman and movies with "wolf" in the title are all apparently the exclusive province of the 1980s. //

    Yeah, I scratched my head at putting the Warwolves' posters here too. And I nearly mentioned that the Clint Eastwood reference could be evergreen. Might I suggest something like Sign of the Times or, inclusive of non-period/perennial allusions, Get the Reference?

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  11. Alright guys, I've spent the past three months after discovering this blog, reading through it all and catching up to this point so lets start talking.

    As a back story to myself, I've collected X-Men since issue 280 (I was ten) that I picked off the stands and fell in love with, I've had a hold for every X-Book since then and have every issue of X-Men since 1963's #1. Have I read them all, not yet, eventually, but the blog here has taken me through a lot of my childhood and great memories. I never fully read Wolverine - started at 47 and Excalibur - started around the Joe Mad issues.

    So that's just a brief overview of my history with X-Men.

    Now for Wolverine #1 - I can't stand it. I really don't like the art. I was expecting as I was reading through it that you guys would say something about it but it appears to be almost all love. There are books that the art looks better to you as an adult than as a kid but this art has never done it for me. I remember trying to figure out if I wanted to get the full run of Wolverine as a 15 year old and instead got all of X-Factor because I loved and still love Walt Simonson's art where as this just looks so bland. This looks like something that would be in DC at the time and not mighty Marvel.

    Anyways, yeah, my Wolverine experience doesn't really start until nearly 50 issues in when Marc Silvestri was drawing it and I was getting Googly eyes over how great it looked. That and Jim Lee is how I like to see Logan drawn, not like this, ugh.

    Hopefully the stories pull it up some, even to this day, I can't make myself go back and read these early issues of the series even though I've had them for years.

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