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Friday, May 6, 2016

X-amining Wolverine #48

"Dreams of Gore: Phase One"
November 1991

In a Nutshell
Unknowingly exploring the old Weapon X base, Wolverine is bombarded by memories.

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Marc Silvestri
Inks: Dan Green
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Wolverine and Jubilee are led to an abandoned nuclear facility in Canada, one which seems familiar to Wolverine. Exploring further, they discover an old car with a medicine bag attached to the key ring; this triggers a memory of Wolverine being abducted from that car by agents of the Weapon X project. Going deeper into the facility and spotting claw marks on the walls and doors, he flashes back to the simulation in which he attacked Weapon X soldiers, hunting for the Professor. When Jubilee presents him with a small handgun she found in the glove box of his car, he remembers a mission he ran with Sabretooth and Mastodon on his birthday, in which they attacked a gang of revolutionaries that included Silver Fox. In the memory, Wolverine transforms into a spiky version of his post-Weapon X self, and takes the medicine bag from his keychain off Silver Fox's neck. Waking up, he tells Jubilee they're returning to the X-mansion, as he needs Xavier's help sorting through his memories, and the pair leave without noticing the large man-shaped mold labeled "Shiva".

Firsts and Other Notables
Billed on the cover as a sequel to the "Weapon X" story which ran in Marvel Comics Presents (it completed about two months before this issue went on sale), this issue kicks of a story that represents the first concerted effort to explore Wolverine's past done in this series. The covers of this issue and the next refer to the story as "The Shiva Scenario", while the interior story titles are all "Dreams of Gore: Phase One, Two and Three".

Jubilee, last seen in X-Factor #70 getting some upsetting news from Wolverine (or in Wolverine #46, depending on the order in which you read them) and thus far completely absent from either of the two X-Men books, appears here, accompanying Wolverine with no mention made of their conversation in X-Factor.


Fellow Weapon X/Team X members Mastodon, John Wraith and Maverick all retroactively appear for the first time in this issue, though only Mastodon is mentioned by name (and his appearance, which occurs in a false memory, is inaccurate). The latter two "Morse" and "Carlisle", the mercenaries working with Silver Fox, as later issues will reveal that Weapon X, in part, play-acted the false memories. The Professor, from "Weapon X", is also part of Silver Fox's gang in that memory.


Mentioned for the first time but not seen (outside of large piece of machinery with its name on it) is Shiva, from which the story gets its cover title, a robotic program designed to protect the secrets of Weapon X.


Harry Tabeshaw, a minor recurring character in this series, appears for the first time this issue. It's revealed that he helped Ronald Parvenue track and capture Hunter in the Darkness prior to issue #45.

One of the flashbacks in this issue features narration from unidentified individuals discussing the importance of tying false memory implants to instances of pain, as the mind is less likely to remember specific details of events while dealing with pain. These false memories thus come to be known as the "painscape", and are usually visually represented by the presence of thorns/spikes in the scene.

A Work in Progress
The scene in which a pre-adamantium Wolverine is captured by agents of the Professor, as seen in "Weapon X", is revisited here.


Similarly, the scene in which a post-adamantium feral Wolverine attempts to hunt down the Professor is recreated, though as that scene as presented in "Weapon X" was of a simulation, the scene as presented here also contains the spiky thorns that indicate it is tied to an implanted memory.


Teased in issue #46, this issue shows Wolverine and Sabretooth as partners, in action on Wolverine's birthday against some revolutionaries, including Silver Fox, though once again, this seems to be taking place in the thorny "painscape".


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
It's not quite as egregious as the ubiquitous belts and pouches, but for whatever reason, Wolverine is wearing some kind of utility vest over his uniform throughout this issue.


Jubilee spends much of this issue on rollerblades.

Austin's Analysis 
This issue kicks off the first legitimate deep dive into Wolverine' past that this series has ever done. I know that the end result isn't generally regarded very favorably, as memory implants get layered upon memory implants, with nobody wanting to commit to anything concrete about the character, with his overall mystique getting watered down as a result. But I've always been less bothered by all that than many fans, in large part probably because the only Wolverine I've ever known is the one who was part of Weapon X and had a past with Sabretooth and Maverick and Silver Fox, and constantly struggles with determining which of his memories are real and false. That was the status quo in place for the character when I first started reading comics (albeit just barely, as I've come to realize; we're just about a half a year away, publication-wise, from my first issue at this point), so it's really all I've ever known. And I'm also one of those anal-retentive people who wants everything explained, who wants to know all the details, however mundane, of a character's past, even if that doesn't always make for a good story (this may also be part of why the Star Wars prequels have never bothered me as much as everybody else). Plus, if Wolverine's past was going to be explored (and, given his popularity, Marvel would have been commercially stupid NOT to explore it, at some point), it makes sense for that to happen here, in his solo book. Frankly, it's rather astonishing it took forty-eight issues to get here.

Now, all that said, I've only ever read ABOUT these stories, not the stories themselves (we're still much farther away from when I became a regular reader of this book), so I'm encountering them now for the first time. It's one thing to know about a story, and quite another to experience it. A convoluted past and false memories may be my personal status quo for Wolverine, but if the stories that establish that are bad, they're still bad stories. So it remains to be seen how the execution of all this works, regardless of whether or not the overall idea established by the stories is good or bad. I like the idea of learning more about Wolverine's past, and the whole "brainwashed and implanted with false memories" is one of those genre tropes I tend to personally like more than dislike, but it remains to be seen if these issues, on an individual story level, are any good.

This issue is itself is...fine. It's mostly just Wolverine wandering around the old Weapon X facility (him not knowing that's what it is) and having flashbacks to "Weapon X" and other events of dubious accuracy. Jubilee's presence is appreciated, taking some of the starch out of the otherwise grimdark material, and while Silvestri is no Barry Windsor Smith, he does an effective enough job at evoking some of the visual elements of "Weapon X" (I'm less certain what Wolverine's utility vest and headband add to the proceedings). As a first chapter, there's enough of a hook (I honestly don't know what elements of these memories are real or false, though I suspect they're all mostly false), and I was genuinely surprised when the issue ends with Wolverine and Jubilee heading back to the X-Mansion (I kinda assumed the whole story was going to unfold at this facility). This is all mostly setups, teases and flashbacks of questionable accuracy, but for a first chapter, that's good enough.

Next Issue
Next week, I take a break in anticipation of MSP ComicCon, and only review the curiously double-shipped Excalibur #44.

Collected Editions

19 comments:

  1. Have no fear Austin, this is the first issue of a very cool run for Hama & Silvestri & Green.

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  2. One of the flashbacks in this issue features narration from unidentified individuals discussing the importance of tying false memory implants to instances of pain, as the mind is less likely to remember specific details of events while dealing with pain.

    Conveniently color-coded with green, in this "sequel to Weapon X". I'm not sure about the purpoted non-identification. ;)

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  3. The trick is to compare this era of WOLVERINE to other stuff that was out contemporarily with it, and not to the 80's classics like WOLVERINE LS and KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE.

    I like a plenty of the continuous slipping back and forth from reality and the (false) memories in this one, and the now-starting arc is fine in itself when confined to the Hama WOLVERINE book. I think much of the bad name comes from the related stuff that starts happening on Jim Lee's X-MEN starting from #4. What we see here is more or less the sort of appropriate agent stuff that Claremont has hinted at previously. Not so with the carbonarium nonsense.

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    1. While we agree on WOLVERINE, we'll just have to agree to disagree on KITTY PRYDE & WOLVERINE, which I find rather dull and trite and cliche, made worse by some terrible, terrible art.

      I'm also a bigger fan of the Omega Red Wolverine arc in X-MEN than most people, though I can't argue that it suffers from issue-to-issue (and often panel-to-panel) continuity problems.

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    2. The point I was going after with the Omega Red story was that in WOLVERINE the false memory implant memories really doesn't contradict with Logan's previous history as a fully regular human intelligence operator which was established by Claremont, whereas the portrayal of his roaming around East Berlin in futuristic-for-their-time 90'sriffic tight black team outfits with a gang of other superhumans take something away from his later membership in the X-Men. I know it's the same exact setup in both books, but Jim Lee somehow manages to turn it more into being too 90's comic.

      Or maybe it's Maverick. Oh well, we'll get there.

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    3. Re: KP&W, in the 80's MAD did a parody on "Dirty Dancing", where they collected and named for every panel a cliche from the flick to form a coherent-ish followable entirely. It is possible to do engaging entertainment by doing it by the numbers. I have no scrubles with Milgrom and it got ninjas, so all good.

      Other than that, KP&W for me stands as the golden standard of continuity control, with Wolverine and Kitty Pryde being written out of the main title for the duration (and then some), and checking the Casket of Ancient Winters, Storm's losing her powers and Guardian's death at appropriate times.

      Mileage may vary on Ogun, but at least there we got one solid piece of Logan's history that would need to be acknowledged when delving with it.

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  4. Oh, and, gotta mention: in junior high I got a classmate who went onto a North American trip, and they stayed a while in Windsor, Canada. I shot my knowledgeable mofo cred to completely new heights with being able to comment on oh, it being there right across the river from Detroit, curiously south of it, courtesy of this very story.

    The town was probably chosen for homage reasons to the Weapon X creator, though a border town is also very appropriate for more questionable sort of agent shenanigans.

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    1. And, of course, Michigan is the wolverine state. :)

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  5. I've always been confused about the status quo of Wolverine's memories. When I began reading the comics in the 90's I was under the impression that he has no memories of ANYTHING prior to the Weapon X project. Later I learned that he has prior memories, but they may be implanted false memories. Then when I read the original Cockrum and Byrne runs he made reference to past events that he surely remembered, but we as readers weren't clued into what they meant to keep him mysterious. I even remember in the first Wolverine mini-series there was a reference to his parents. I'm assuming he was meant to have no amnesia at all first, but as time went on the false memories/amnesia aspect was ramped up to make him even more of a mystery.

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    1. Yeah, the biggest takeaway of this story, moreso than specific details it may or may not reveal about Wolverine's past, seems to be the idea that his past being a mystery is as true for the character as for the readers, which wasn't always clear prior to this.

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    2. Prior to this, he seemed to remember somethings and not others. I remember during the last days of the Byrne era in Uncanny, for example, there was a flashback to Wolverine having a conversation with Jim and Heather Hudson over not remembering how he got his claws and bones.

      I guess it was selective enough to fir the needs of whoever was writing the story, and how much Logan needed to remember for that particular story.

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  6. That annoys me as well. WE didn't know about his past, but Logan did. That was the status quo of the classic version of the character. This is the start of the "he doesn't remember his past" thing, and the memory-implant stuff that ... Well, it probably could have been made to work if it had been done coherently, with someone having a road map of what was real and what wasn't, and a satisfying conclusion to it all. Instead, things just got more and more incoherent as time went on. Personally, I was able to put up with it for a while, because I liked Hama and Silvestri and Green. Even once Silvestri left, I still had optimism that it was all heading somewhere satisfying. I remember the exact issue where I finally threw up my hands. But it will be a few months before this blog gets there ... so I will shut up.

    At this point, it was exciting to see BWS's very self contained Wolverine story being integrated into the solo ongoing.

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    1. I'm sure I'll get into this more as the story (and others that follow it) go along, but I think the big problem with the memory implant angle is also it's advantage: anything a writer doesn't like can be written off as an implant, but at the same time, nothing that's established as being "real" has any permanence because, see above.

      Also, even in these early goings, it seems like nobody at Marvel wanted to commit to anything, so very little gets established as being "real" from the outset, leaving everything in this nebulous, stakes-less realm of "maybe it's real, maybe it's not!"

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    2. It was better that way, if you think that then they committed and now everyone's going around insisting that Logan is some kind of James Howlett like for reals.

      I liked that MCP story much better which had Wolverine fighting a big worm thing with a bunch of Native American a couple of centuries back and left you with some serious questioning about everything you ever knew about Logan.

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  7. This issue was the first solo Wolverine I bought since issue #4 (!!). The promise of digging into his past was too good to pass up. I know I was familiar with the Weapon X series, though I hadn't bought them at the time. (That was maybe the first time I decided to "wait for the trade", since each issue only had like 8 pages of story.) So I bought this through #50--had to get the die-cut cover--and then never bought another Wolverine book.

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    1. Was the story that bad, or just a case of you got what you came for and didn't need anymore?

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    2. Too bad, you missed some really good Wolverine story lines.

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    3. I had never been terribly interested in Wolverine outside of the context of the X-Men. I always felt he made a great character on a team, where he could play off/against his teammates. Without that context, I didn't see much to distinguish him from the rest of the grim n' gritty heroes populating the comic book world at the time. This was a large part of of why I stopped buying after the first four issues--imagine my surprise when I found myself bored with my favorite character's solo series! (Buscema's art didn't help, for me.) The exception was his original 4-issue mini-series, which I still love, and the few stories like this that attempted to explore his origin. It also wasn't too much longer that I first abandoned the X-Men, and then comics entirely.

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  8. // It's mostly just Wolverine wandering around the old Weapon X facility (him not knowing that's what it is) and having flashbacks //

    And that’s fine. Except in the absence of, like, hallucinogens being pumped into the facility, or some kind of antagonist using mental powers on him, or most to the point the chemical-&-computer framework in place in the Weapon X serial, it’s weird for the memories to overcome him to so great an extent it’s as if they’re literally happening to him and he repeatedly needs to snap back to reality. Of course we’re talking science-fiction/superhero fantasy, so it’s not like one can say this would never happen, but we could still be shown what he’s seeing without him going through those motions, simply being stopped in his tracks or withdrawn into himself instead of reciting dialogue from the memories out loud. Just seemed overkill, I guess. Could be that it’s perfectly consistent with his implants or whatever.

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