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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

X-amining Marvel Comics Presents #85-92: Blood Hungry

"First Scent" / "Two Scents Worth"/"Three Scents"/"Four Scents Worth"/"Five Scents Worth"/"Sixth Scents" / "Seven (And A Half) Scents" / "Eight Scents Worth"
September - December 1991

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Cyber

Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Sam Keith
Letterer: Clem Robbins, David Sharpe (issues #87-89), Steve Dutro (issue #91-92)
Colorist: Glynis Oliver, Pat Garrahy (issues #88-89)
Editor: Terry Kavanugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Detecting a familiar scent on the air, Wolverine meets with Tyger Tiger, and learns that General Coy is meeting with a new drug supplier. Wolverine proceeds to investigate, and learns that the supplier is his old foe Cyber. The two fight and Wolverine manages to escape, but not before Cyber gashes his abdomen, drugging Wolverine with his claws. As Wolverine suffers vivid hallucinations, Cyber meets with Tyger, offering to sell the drugs to her instead of Coy. After settling on a price, he double-sells the drugs to Coy, setting up a conflict between the two, while Tyger finds the delirious Wolverine and helps bring him back to his senses. However, he is too scared of Cyber to help her, and when Tyger arrives to take possession of the drugs, she finds Coy waiting as well. Cyber proceeds to kill their men, but before he can attack them, Wolverine arrives. As he and Wolverine resume their fight, Coy and Tyger retire to discuss matters in the wake of Cyber's attack. Though Wolverine is once again doused with Cyber's hallucinatory drug, he fights the effects, and manages to gouge out Cyber's eye before sending him crashing into truck full of the drugs. With the drugs entering his system through his eye injury, Cyber freaks out, running into the ocean, where he ultimately disappears, leaving a weary Wolverine to return to Tyger Tiger for some much needed comfort.

Firsts and Other Notables
This story features the first appearance of Cyber (he first appears in shadow in issue #85, then in full in issue #86, but I believe #85 is usually cited as his first appearance), who will go on to be a minor recurring antagonist for Wolverine, first in his existing solo series and then in the later Wolverine: Origins series. He is yet another heretofore unmentioned figure from Wolverine's past, albeit one who seems to genuinely frighten Wolverine (I've not read much of Wolverine: Origins, so I have no idea what their past together entails, if that ever gets detailed).

His big schtick is that in addition to a little adamantium claw on each fingertip, he has adamantium skin. I don't know how he received his adamantium implants, since he never really shows up amongst the rest of the Weapon X crew through the years, but given his later role in Wolverine: Origins, I'm going to assume Romulus has something to do with it. Notably, Cyber's adamantium will serve as the source material in the first attempt to rebond the metal to Wolverine's bones (following its forcible removal by Magneto in "Fatal Attractions"), an ultimately failed attempt that leads to the infamous Noseless Wolverine.


Aside from the introduction of Cyber, this story is notable for featuring art from Sam Kieth, who will go on to create the Maxx at Image Comics, in a series which will run for 35 issues (all plotted and drawn by Kieth) and inspire an animated series on MTV. Previous to this story, he also drew the first five issues of Neil Gaiman's celebrated Sandman series. He will provide interior art to a pair of upcoming Marvel Comics Presents stories, as well as a ton of covers for the series around this time. His work is surrealistic, with exaggerated figurework eschewing realism, but also with a very cartoony vibe.

This story ran concurrently with the Beast feature "Just Friends".

Creator Central 
Peter David writes this story, and is the credited co-creator of Cyber, who he'll also use in an upcoming X-Factor story.

The Chronology Corner
This story takes place between X-Men #3 and #4 (Wolverine is still in his brown and orange costume), and between issues #47 and #48 of his solo series.

A Work in Progress
Both Tyger Tiger and General Coy, mainstays of Wolverine's Madripoor setting, feature heavily in this story.

Issue #86 establishes that Cyber has a vague, psionic mutant ability, but the exact details of how it works aren't revealed.

There's a legitimately funny bit towards the end of the story where Coy and Tiger are negotiating the proper response to Cyber's incursion, all the while holding guns on each other, from the field to having coffee, to playing ping-pong.


Pun with Peter!
Upon being introduced to General Coy, Cyber proclaims himself to be shy in response.


When Tyger gives Cyber a counter-offer, he responds by saying if he wanted a counter, he'd be at a diner.


We also get the old "surely you're joking?/Don't call me Shirley" chestnut later in the story.


The Reference Section
David hangs a lampshade on Tyger Tiger's name, reciting part of the William Blake poem that inspired the name (as well as a bit of the Romper Room song).


The Best There is at What He Does
In issue #85, Wolverine is "hunting" a wolf, just trying to get close enough to touch, which recalls a similar scene with a deer in X-Men #109.


Something that will get played up a lot in future Wolverine origin stories, Wolverine suggests that the exact details of what Cyber did to Wolverine in the past have been blocked from his memory by his healing factor, because they are too painful.


Austin's Analysis 
As Marvel Comics Presents stories go, especially Wolverine ones, this isn't half bad. It's amazing what a difference an established writer and an artist with a distinctive style and vision can make in elevating a story (also witnessed in the preceding "Weapon X"). Given that, along with the heavy use of Wolverine's Madripoorian supporting cast, this could easily have worked as a two parter in the Wolverine solo series (cutting out most of the hallucination stuff, which just seems like padding to extend the story to the usual eight parts while giving Keith a chance to flex his artistic muscles), and would have stood out amongst the post-Claremont, pre-Hama issues.

Aside from the Keith art (which is quite nice - certainly not approaching anything like realism or even traditional comic art, but with a fun energy that fits the more darkly humorous tone of David's story), this story is notable for its introduction of Cyber. On the surface, he is yet another "previously unmentioned figure from Wolverine's past", one who is playing the 90s game of one-upsmanship (Wolverine has three adamantium claws and bones; Cyber has five claws - laced with poison - and adamantium skin!). But what helps Cyber stand out is that Wolverine is genuinely afraid of him, which enables us to see a side of Wolverine we've never really seen before (even in his early battles with Sabretooth, Wolverine never seemed terribly afraid of the villain, even if he was presented as stronger and more fierce than Wolverine). We don't get much specific explanation as to why (beyond "he beat me bad once upon a time"), nor am I even going to attempt to try to find meaning in the extended Grease/Happy Days hallucination that finds student Wolverine fighting teacher Cyber for a girl's affections beyond "Sam Keith wanted to draw that", but the important thing is that, for whatever reason, Cyber is the first foe to truly frighten Wolverine.

It's not quite the artistic achievement of "Weapon X", or even as pulply-satisfying as concurrent issues of Wolverine, but as the immediate follow-up to the former story, in a title that all too often presents mundane Wolverine stories lacking any artistic verve, connection to the character's ongoing storylines, or development of his character, "Blood Hungry" is a pleasant surprise.

Next Issue
Next week: X-Men #3, Excalibur #45, and Wolverine #49

8 comments:

  1. Larry Hama thought it was ridiculous that Wolverine was scared of Cyber when he wasn't scared of Sabretooth or his own death. That's just PAD's way of making his pet character awesome.
    To further back that up, there's a scene where Cyber insults Coy by claiming that he would understand his psychic powers. You'd expect Coy to reply that his niece has psychic powers but no, that would take away from Cyber's awesomeness.
    There's a scene where Wolverine threatens to kill Tyger Tiger when he thinks she had sex with Cyber- no way would something like that be allowed today. (Not to mention that it makes Wolverine look like a sexist hypocritical abuser/stalker.)

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    1. In fairness, the "You were with Cyber! He had you, just like he had her!" line from Wolverine, literally right when Wolverine was just coming out of his trip where coach Cyber took his Janet would suggest that there was another woman involved in his and Cyber's common past. It's vague enough though to also suggest that the girl bit is just an apt symbolic form their beef is taking in his Fonzie hallucination.

      There will be a blond woman by the name of Janice from Logan's past with ties to adamantium showing up soon enough on the adjectiveless, but that's in all likeliness only a coincidence. And a bit of wasted opportunity.

      Ironically enough, back in the day things jumped the shark a bit for me with the introduction of Cyber, because at this point you just can't bring the baddest new nemesis from the past for Wolverine anymore. I took some undue enjoyment of a gang of third class villains making short work of him soon enough. Serves him right for walking around as a suspiciously sizeable adamantium reservoir.

      All things said, how big an editorial blooper this here really is: an essentially filler story with past nemesis with a hint of there being a woman there somewhere being put out exactly at the time when Wolverine's own title and the adjectiveless in unison are about to take a dive into Wolverine's past with Silver Fox having a role in the shenanigans. No wonder Larry Hama isn't a fan.

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  2. "His big schtick is that in addition to a little adamantium claw on each fingertip, he has adamantium skin"

    I always wondered how he'd be able to move with adamantium skin.

    Yeah, as much as I love PAD, he does tend prop up his pet characters a bit too much (see The Foreigner, as an example). Wolverine being scared of this guy, but not Sabretooth? The Brood?

    Overall though, despite PAD's tics, it's a good story. The unusual artwork by Kieth does give the story a different look than you'd usually see for a Wolverine story from this era.

    I guess at this point MCP is officially an X-title? Before you'd least have 2 or even 3 of the other stories be non-mutant related. What's the ratio on the series during this era?

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  3. Wasn't MCP always ostensibly a mutant title? I believe there was always an X-character feature to prop up the title, if not I remember hearing that was initially the plan.

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  4. Oh, I know there was always an X-character. What I meant was by now, all the characters featured are X-characters, no?

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  5. Peter David on the writing "Blood Hungry." (Austin, you called it with your "Sam Kieth wanted to draw that" assumption ...)

    'At the time that I was prepping the story, I had the bare bones of it in mind but there was still a lot of room in how I would actually develop it. And I asked Sam if there was anything he was particularly interested in drawing as part of the story.

    “I’ve always wanted to draw one of those big Oscar Mayer Wiener hot dog trucks,” said Sam. “You know, the ones that look like giant hot dogs.”

    I was utterly flummoxed. Remember, at the time Wolverine was having his adventures in Madripoor, the Terry-and-the-Pirates-esque city created by Chris Claremont. “A hot dog shaped truck? In Madripoor?” I asked.

    “Yeah. Oh, and also I want to do one of those 1950s style restaurants with waitresses on roller skates.”

    “In Madripoor?!?” I said again, thinking that perhaps my increased volume and incredulity would prompt Sam to realize that this was simply unworkable.

    “Yeah,” he said cheerfully.

    [...]

    Also at the time, I was very much burning the candle on both ends, working in the Marvel sales department and writing in the evening. Several times I had actually fallen asleep while writing, and woken up in the morning to discover totally freeform thoughts sitting on the paper in my typewriter (yes, typewriter.) Most of the time they were incoherent, but what fascinated me was that I would remember how much it made sense to me at the time that I was writing it. So I decided that with “Blood Hungry” I would do a variation on sleep-deprived writing.

    Whenever it came time to write a new installment, I would go to bed around 11 PM and set the alarm clock for three in the morning. I would then stagger out of bed, go straight to the typewriter with my mind still working to process the reality of wakefulness, and with only the vaguest of clues as to where I was going with it, I’d write the next installment. I’d then go back to bed and then, when I woke up again some hours later, I’d go back and edit the piece so that it would retain the dreamlike quality of sleep deprivation but also be at least somewhat coherent. Since I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs, it was the most effective way for me to obtain that surreal quality I wanted the story to have.'

    More here:
    http://www.peterdavid.net/2015/01/23/2002-oscars-wolverine-blood-hungry/#more-10157

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  6. I noticed Joe Madureira’s name as back-cover artist on #87 and per a chronological search of the GCD it appears to have been not just his first work for Marvel but his first pro comics work period.

    // “Don't call me Shirley" //

    And they’re tossing a paper airplane back and forth, to boot.

    // Wolverine is "hunting" a wolf, just trying to get close enough to touch //

    That bugged me for how much it was just basking in reflected glory from the iconic, much classier introduction of the idea in X-Men #109, without adding anything of its own — until he started cutting up the deer for the aging, ostracized wolf. I still think the panel you repro’d was a clumsy appropriation of one of my own personal favorite moments in comics, but I’m a sucker for the whole man/animal bonding deal.

    // Wolverine suggests that the exact details of what Cyber did to Wolverine in the past have been blocked from his memory by his healing factor, because they are too painful. //

    I kind-of want the drugs to have interacted with Logan’s memory implants so it turns out that his ridiculous teenybopper “hallucination” is exactly how it really happened.

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  7. In fairness to PAD, the deer-touch bit had been reprised before since it was first introduced. Manto used it in a Marvel Team Up. By the time I saw it here, it felt like it was just a "thing" we occasionally see Logan do, like the X-Men playing baseball, or something.

    Also, I liked seeing Logan succeed here, since James Hudson totally screwed it up that first time. At last, the screw up has been vindicated, see what I did there.

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