Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Friday, October 17, 2014

X-amining Wolverine #9

"Promises to Keep"
July 1989

In a Nutshell 
In a flashback story, Wolverine stalks a group of mercenaries.

Writer: Peter David
Art: Gene Colan
Inker: Al Williamson
Letters: Bill Oakley
Colors: Mark Chiarello
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In the past, a group of mercenaries, on the run from Wolverine, rent a cabin, but he tracks them down, killing one of them then disappearing into the night. One of the remaining mercenaries, Rollins, takes first watch. As another merc, Malone, sleeps, he dreams of when this first started, back in Iraq. He wakes with a start to find Rollins dead. Malone, along with the remaining mercs Bruno and Needle, head out into the woods, recalling their job in Iraq, in which they helped a group of militants take over the American embassy, and how Malone tormented one of the female hostages until special forces retook the embassy and they fled. They suddenly realize Wolverine was amongst the operatives that freed the hostages, an operation which ended five years ago tomorrow.


Reaching the river, they steal a canoe and head downstream, but Wolverine follows and kills Needle. Bruno and Malone reach shore, but Bruno turns on Malone, offering to kill him if Wolverine lets Bruno live. But Malone kills Bruno instead and is confronted by Wolverine. He tells him the woman he tormented in Iraq was a Canadian nun, whom Wolverine promised to avenge. Refusing to give him the satisfaction, Malone kills himself before Wolverine can do it, but Wolverine considers that good enough. In the present, on the anniversary of the nuns death, Wolverine remembers his vengeance, and tells the waitress to bring him another drink, as it looks to be a long night.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is written by Peter David, who in addition to currently writing Incredible Hulk and eventually taking over X-Factor, will shortly write a multi-part story for this series. Art comes from Gene Colan, arguably best known for his work on Marvel's Tomb of Dracula series, as well as lengthy runs on Captain America and Daredevil.

A Work in Progress
Wolverine appears in the main part of this story, set in the past, in his old blue and yellow costume. 


The Best There is at What He Does
In one of those "badass action movie" moments, Malone tells Wolverine he can't kill him yet, because the anniversary of his attack isn't until tomorrow. To which Wolverine responds that he's forgetting the time difference; in Iraq, it's already tomorrow. 


Pun with Peter!
Back in the present at the end of the issue, Wolverine says he's remembering old friends and "X-Friends", but the waitress of course assumes he means "ex-friends".


Teebore's Take
When I first began considering whether or not I'd cover Wolverine, this is the exact kind of issue that gave me pause: the standalone fill-in/inventory story which doesn't add anything to the character or move the overall narrative along, usually featuring, as either a villain or supporting character, a heretofore unknown individual who we're nonetheless told is super-significant to the title character. Every series has issues like that, of course, but it's always seemed like Wolverine gets saddled with more than his fair share, and I worried that I'd never have enough to say about them to fill this space.

With issue #9, we hit the first such issue of Wolverine, but it's actually not all that bad. It is, of course, inconsequential to the overall narrative of the series or the X-Men books as a whole, and does little to advance Wolverine's character, but Peter David at least shakes things up by essentially making the villains the protagonists of the story, casting Wolverine, glimpsed briefly and only in part for most of the story, as the antagonist. This gives the whole thing a kind of stalker movie vibe, with Wolverine operating as a kind of righteous Jason Voorhees, that suits Gene Colan's atmospheric pencils well. Completely non-essential, but not without its charms.

Of course, now that I've burned through my "I was worried about writing up the standalone stories" spiel, I'm dreading writing about the next one even more...

Next Issue
Next week, Excalibur encounters mayhem in the Mojoverse in Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem, followed by the final "Atlantis Attacks" annual, X-Factor Annual #4.

16 comments:

  1. Looks like a good read, as far as fill-in issues go. And the whole "Actually, it's tomorrow in Iraq" is such a Peter David twist.

    The whole back-story is just...ridiculous. Well, about as ridiculous as it can be with all the other stuff going on in comic books, but still..."recalling their job in Iraq, in which they helped a group of militants take over the American embassy" (wait, what?), "special forces retook the embassy and they fled" (wait, what?), "the woman he tormented in Iraq was a Canadian nun" (wait, what?). I mean, if anything, it leads like a bad Delta Force sequel. Peter David, please stay away from foreign affairs please, it just isn't your strong suit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Peter David at least shakes things up by essentially making the villains the protagonists of the story, casting Wolverine, glimpsed briefly and only in part for most of the story, as the antagonist. This gives the whole thing a kind of stalker movie vibe, with Wolverine operating as a kind of righteous Jason Voorhees

    Has anyone idea if this trick been played anywhere in the popular culture previously? There was of course the Harry Palmer bit in the latest Brood story with the X-Men as the horror movie monsters, but other than that? Nice trick, I think. Made a memorable episode for Millenium where four demons disguised as grumpy old men met in a to compare their latest escapades and made a point of noting that Frank Black was always hovering around not far behind them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @wwk5d: Well, about as ridiculous as it can be with all the other stuff going on in comic books, but still

    It's a little less ridiculous in the story and not in plot synopsis form, but yeah...still pretty ridiculous. I mean, the idea is they're a group of mercenaries that did something Wolverine is avenging. All the Iraq/embassy stuff just seems like needless complications.

    @Teemu: Has anyone idea if this trick been played anywhere in the popular culture previously?

    I can't think of a specific example offhand, but this can't possibly be the first time that trope has been used in pop culture. I wouldn't call it cliche, exactly, but it's certainly not rare.

    ReplyDelete
  4. When I first began considering whether or not I'd cover Wolverine, this is the exact kind of issue that gave me pause: the standalone fill-in/inventory story which doesn't add anything to the character or move the overall narrative along, usually featuring, as either a villain or supporting character, a heretofore unknown individual who we're nonetheless told is super-significant to the title character.

    Well...the '90s are coming up. Get used to it. :)

    So, now, we've reached the "transition" year for this book. I have a lesser recollection of what was going on in this book during this period, so I'll look forward to reading these. Claremont had one foot out the door. He's back next issue to close out his run. Then, Peter David, Archie Goodwin, and Jo Duffy would all write arcs before Larry Hama settles in for the long haul (along with Silvestri and Green, who get transplanted here when Jim Lee takes over X-MEN).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Peter David was "Mr. Self-Contained Wolverine Fill-in Issue" for a while. He did this one, then one for issue 24, and then ... one in issue 44.

    Ok, I guess that's fewer than I thought.

    I'd say this one is his best, though.

    I don't understand what makes the backstory ridiculous, but ... foreign affairs are not my strong suit either. *shrug*

    Gene Colan has definitely lost a step at this point, since his peak period in the 1970s. (I remember a panel in which Wolverine slices the canoe in half, and it is egregious.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Also, I was never persuaded by the "It is tomorrow" twist, because 1.) The whole anniversary was just a bit of poetic justice ... it's not like Wolverine *HAD* to kill him on the anniversary. There was no magic spell in place or anything. And 2.) Even if there were, Wolverine could have just knocked him out, and woke him up 24 hours later if he was a day early.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Pun with Peter!

    First of its kind? Nice. Initial thoughts take one to one Peter Parker, who though wasn't at all so punny as his alter-ego, which in turn reminds one of Spider-Man 2099 also by P. David, where au contraire the civil person of Miguel O'Hara is the sarcastic one while his alter ego is pretty serious-faced.

    I felt was pretty nice as stories for someone premiering goes, and not at all punny like the latter work of Peter David, excluding of course the hilarious exchange where Peter Parker after the trial asks how Matt Murdock can look himself in the mirror, and Matt acknowledges it is kind of hard.

    So before his role as the prominent good Marvel writer presumably goes up to his head soon enough, judging by his handling of any affront at his characters, Wolverine here falls nicely in the continuity as someone who is not totally avert to play a bit with his prey (Jubilee in the recent annual, presumably) and who takes people's last requests for himself to fill (Amiko's mother in Tokyo). Judging by the results he's probably not the best there is in the nurturing end of the last wish spectrum, though in hindsight and knowing Daken "seeing to it that she’s raised as if she were his own" is pretty much word-perfect for "leaving her to be screwed over by some unknown people".

    There being Latverias and Symkarias and Ruritanias and Ultron-bots-screwing-up-the-whole-of Slorenias and whatelse around, the foreign policy portrayal here is not something I personally would have words with someone.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Duh. "I felt Death of Jean DeWolff was pretty nice as stories for someone premiering goes". I must have done poorly with my italic tags.

    (captha is claiming "which ItsNort" for the post. The AI's either pointing out it wasn't Peter David's first story or arguing over the merits of it. And Scottish.)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Teebore: I can't think of a specific example offhand, but this can't possibly be the first time that trope has been used in pop culture. I wouldn't call it cliche, exactly, but it's certainly not rare.

    I actually would welcome any example from any time because I have hard time coming up any myself where the titular character would be used as the antagonist for the point-of-view character(s), recurring or one-time. Flash Thompson being chased by Spider-Man demon during Inferno doesn't count.

    For the historic angle one would in any case expect the first time to be in some form of serial entertainment but I can't think of anything of 1980s or before. Knight Rider didn't do it, MacGyver didn't do it. I'm not sure about Buffy, but that would be afterwards anyway. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes didn't. Columbo gets close though.

    Older Doctor Who could perhaps be possible. Old Batman comics?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Teemu -- Batman would've been my guess, if anyone did it. Or maybe some pulp character like the Shadow or the Spider.

    Though you mention Conan-Doyle's Holmes and he sort of did do something like this in "His Last Bow", a rare third-person narrated story in which Holmes unmasks himself at the story's conclusion to a German agent we'd been following up to that point. Though the difference there is that the German wasn't living in fear of Holmes before he reveals himself.

    ReplyDelete


  11. Examples, where the titular character would be used as the antagonist for the point-of-view character(s):-

    During Denny O'Neil's run on Daredevil, Frank Miller did a fill-in issue, in which, Daredevil was used as the antagonist.

    I also vaguely remember a fill-in issue of Thor, which was set in the Wild West. That would have been around the end of Walt Simonson's run on the title.

    I'm sure there are loads more.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Cerebro: Well...the '90s are coming up. Get used to it. :)

    Ugh, I know. At least the Hama run doesn't restore to it too often (I've actually read most of that).

    along with Silvestri and Green, who get transplanted here when Jim Lee takes over X-MEN

    I've always heard that Silvestri wanted Wolverine, as he liked the character and not drawing a team book, and that his departure opened the door for Lee to eventually take over (since five issues pass before he comes aboard). I'll have to see if I can find a quote on that either way.

    @Jason: Gene Colan has definitely lost a step at this point, since his peak period in the 1970s.

    Yeah, it's not great art. Definitely down a tick or two from his heyday.

    Also, I was never persuaded by the "It is tomorrow" twist

    I didn't take it as a twist so much as a badass action movie one-liner, a la "Get off my plane!" or "it's just been revoked!"

    I suppose your criticisms still apply even in that context, but then, badass action movie one-liners don't have to make as much sense as narrative twists. :)

    @Teemu: First of its kind?

    Yup. I figure we'll encounter more such uses when he takes over X-Factor, and I wanted something that was a bit of pun itself.

    I actually would welcome any example from any time because I have hard time coming up any myself where the titular character would be used as the antagonist for the point-of-view character(s), recurring or one-time

    As others have said, Batman *has* to have done it prior to this point, probably several times, but I can't think of specific examples. Maybe Chris Sims knows (of course Chris Sims knows)?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Teebore: Maybe Chris Sims knows (of course Chris Sims knows)?

    Hilariously, in the very latest installment of Ask Chris ("What major superhero can be most effectively dropped into a horror plot without causing it to stop being horror?")
    the matter kind of comes up, but annoyingly he does not go there. He explicitly mentions the idea of using a superhero as the "villain" and of course proposes Batman for the role, but if such a story existed I would think he would have mentioned it.

    I got thinking though that some Spidey stories may have had elements or short glimpses of it. ASM #262 "Trade Secrets", where Spidey chases Dirty Jake Jones, who succeeded in taking a maskless photograph of him, or the PAD classic ASM 267 "The Commuter Cometh".

    Of course a little bit later Barry Windsor-Smith will clear the table with his Weapon-X.

    ReplyDelete

  14. I know that things eventually got out of hand in terms of Wolverine's history, but really if any character was ripe for glimpses of one's past like this it's him. The problem is more with contradictions (and I gather with attempts to reconcile those contradictions) than it is with — unlike say the accreted adventures of Batman or even Daredevil — how all this could have happened to one guy.

    Anyway, I thought this was a fine little piece. My only objections: (1) The yellow costume is distracting, particularly since it's rendered unnecessary if not outright undesirable given that, in-story, Wolverine is both operating covertly and not even wearing his mask (although, granted, he's killing the men he confronts) and, real-world, Gene Colan is on pencils, which, like with a Buscema, unlike with a Liefeld or even your more accomplished artists who learned to draw from looking at superhero comics, is exactly when you should stick with real clothes. (2) The punch line is just as silly, not only for the reasons Jason points out but because at no point does Wolverine actually state that he's waiting for the clock to properly strike the anniversary, and that last guy who protests on those grounds has already seen his buddies get taken down.

    Nice early coloring job from Mark Chiarello, if not as special as his work will soon become.

    ReplyDelete
  15. The rest of the goons aren't so important, it's Malone mostly whom Wolverine is after, so the time of their killing is of no importance. Also, it's Malone who makes a big deal of the date and maybe Wolverine is just obliging. They don't tell what day it is so it may have been a holiday of some importance which is why it sticks to everyone, perhaps a Christian one so it had a meaning to the nun too/mostly. They might in that case rather talk about the name of the holiday, yes, but just a suggestion. The date has stuck on to Wolverine too, judging from the last panels.

    Dates are such bitches. I personally can't hear anyone say "September 1st" without making a shocked face and remembering in my thoughts "But that's the day when Jean Grey died!"

    Re: yellow uniform: I don't know what Wolverine wore in Iraq, but she was a Canadian and he was tagged along the Delta Force as the Canadian liaison, so it's unofficial official Weapon-X business. He clearly wants his prey to know the reason why they are hunted and maybe in the process let also the Canadian government know where they can stick their views on the acceptability of collaterals.

    In the end the date has become so important that it's Malone's last straw of hope. Which Wolverine then proceeds to take from him like Malone had taken the ability of forgiveness from the nun.

    Plus, Stalag 17. It's never wrong to pull a Stalag 17. You silly sods, it's not an action film one-liner, it's a war film one.

    Also it has nice resonance to the previous issue where grey Hulk goes to the wrong plane and hilarity ensues. Wolverine knows this stuff, probably from having a girlfriend on the other hemisphere.

    ReplyDelete
  16. (and before Matt can ask about it, yes my first touch to Stalag 17 indeed was in the Alf comic story where Brian went to the summer camp and where the Great Evolutionary made his "Evolutionary War" Annual crossover appearance)

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!