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Friday, December 1, 2017

X-amining Wolverine #75

"Nightmares Persist"
November 1993

In a Nutshell
In the wake of losing his adamantium, Wolverine discovers he has bone claws.

Writer: Larry Hama
Penciler: Adam Kubert
Inkers: Mark Farmer, Dan Green & Mark Pennington
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
As Professor X & Jean Grey work to keep Wolverine alive, the rest of Xavier's strike team and Bishop fight to bring the Blackbird safely back to Earth. Despite their efforts, Wolverine is fading fast, but when damage to the plane causes Jean to get sucked out the hatch, Wolverine regains consciousness long enough to pull her back inside. Two weeks later, Wolverine orders the X-Men out of the Danger Room, determined to test his mettle in the wake of Magneto's attack on him. As the X-Men look on in growing concern, Wolverine battles a pair of robots, and when he instinctively pops his claws, he is horrified to discover he has claws made of bone. A few days later, he and Jubilee have a heart-to-heart, as each attempts to deal with the recent changes they've experienced. That night, Wolverine leaves Jubilee and the rest of the X-Men letters, explaining his decision to leave the mansion, then rides off into the night as a saddened Jubilee watches from her window.

Firsts and Other Notables
The penultimate chapter of "Fatal Attractions", this issue reveals, in the wake of the loss of Wolverine's adamantium, that Wolverine has bone claws (and always has ie when the Weapon X project coated his bones in adamantium, they coated his claws as well, rather than adding them). Though eventually writers will get lazy and the distinction between his bone claws and his metal ones will blur (ie the character will do things with the bone claws he probably shouldn't be able to do, like drive them into rock), for the most part, Hama will do an effective job of showcasing the limitations of having bone claws, at least initially.


This issue of course also marks the beginning of Wolverine's "adamantium-less" period in this series, a period that will last an astonishing seventy issues (after a feint in issue #100, Wolverine will get re-bonded with adamantium in issue #145). For all the (entirely justified) talk of the 90s being the time for crass, commercially-driven and marketing-mandated creative decisions, this change to Wolverine is arguably as creatively-driven as it is commercially. Sure, curiosity will spike sales, for awhile, but ultimately, the questions of what Wolverine is without his adamantium, and how he deals with not being the toughest guy in any room, or how he handles the massive trauma he's experienced, seem like questions poised to pay out as many creative dividends as financial ones, if not more. And while Marvel could have easily brought back the adamantium a few months after this issue, once the curiousity-induced sales spike began to decrease, but to their credit, they left the change in place far longer than anyone would have expected.

This issue also marks Wolverine's departure from the team, as he rides off on his motorcyle (along with what is presumably the honor sword of Clan Yashida) after penning goodbye letters to Jubilee, Xavier, Scott & Jean. Like the lack of adamantium, Wolverine's absence from the X-Men will last far longer than anyone expected (though he'll return to the team well before he gets his adamantium back).


Adam Kubert debuts as the series' new regular artist this issue. Brother of Andy and son of Joe, like Andy, he came up through Marvel's "Midnight Sons" line. He'll remain on the book through issue #100 (including the series' "Age of Apocalypse" issues), albeit with fairly regular fill-ins (like most series artists of this era).

Wolverine gets the hologram treatment on this issue's cover.


A Work in Progress
When Xavier enters Wolverine's mind, he sees a montage of his worst memories, including Sabretooth & Lady Deathstrike.


There's a neat bit where Quicksilver is able to use his super-speed to make the necessary flight adjustments as the Blackbird reenters the atmosphere.


Xavier declares that if Wolverine dies while Xavier is in his mind, Xavier will die too.

In another clever bit, when Xavier tells Wolverine that by heading into the light, he'll die, Wolverine replies "don't you think I know that?"


The person beckoning Wolverine into said light is Illyana, which doesn't make much sense in terms of "people with personal significance to Wolverine", but works in terms of her being the character who most recently preceded Wolverine into death.

Hama, who struggled writing Rogue in issues #69-71, as her here uncharacteristically crying out "help me Remy!" as the hatch is blown off the Blackbird, apparently forgetting that she can fly and is largely invulnerable, thus making her the one person aboard the plane who should be least worried about the craft breaking down around her (it is, of course, entirely possible that Hama legitimately didn't know the full extent of Rogue's powers at this point, as it seemed in the earlier story).


Jubilee is able use one of her fireworks to light Wolverine's cigar, display an increased control of her power in the wake of previous issues.

As Wolverine leaves the X-mansion, we see his room contains a picture of (presumably) he and Mariko, as well as the medicine pouch that represents his relationship with Silver Fox.


Jubilee is shown sleeping with Illyana's Bamf doll (or one like it). And Wolverine leaves her his cowboy hat.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
With his healing factor still overtaxed, Wolverine gives up smoking. I don't recall if this sticks; I know Quesada banned any Marvel characters from smoking on panel during his tenure as Editor-in-Chief, but I'm not sure if it was something Wolverine was still regularly doing at the time.


The Best There is at What He Does
In the wake of Magneto's attack, Wolverine's healing factor is overtaxed that it heals his wounds, but is unable to keep them healed.


To Hama's credit, immediately after the bone claw revelation, he has Wolverine wondering why he never knew he had bone claws, hanging a lampshade on the whole retcon.


Wolverine declares it hurts every time he pops his claws, which is, I *think*, the first time that particular detail is established (the idea that extending his claws essentially creates wounds that his healing factor later heals).


Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes
Listening in as the strike team attempts to get back to Earth, Cyclops notes the parallels to the events that led to the creation of Phoenix.


Young Love
Ultimately, it is Jean being in danger that pulls Wolverine back from the brink of death, and while I'm not the biggest fan of the Wolverine/Jean ship, I do like the moment where he wakes up and grabs her, especially the way Kubert frames it (going from the closeup on Jean to the full page splash revealing Wolverine as having saved her).


Austin's Analysis
In terms of "Fatal Attractions", this issue serves as a relatively quiet denouement to the story. Whereas previous chapters focused on big moments (the return of Cable and debut of Avalon, the return of Magneto, the joint maiming of Wolverine & Magneto), this is focused narrowly on the immedite aftermath of Magneto's attack on Wolverine in the previous chapter, with the first half of the issue handed over to, essentially, a disaster narrative, as the X-Men frantically work to both keep Wolverine alive and arrive safely back on Earth. Hama manages to wring a fair amount of tension from the scenario, with one thing after another going wrong, even though readers know full well everyone is going to survive (after all, just because you know the astronauts in Apollo 13 survive doesn't mean the story of their attempt to do so can't still be tense).

The second half of the issue is where the big revelation comes along, the second half of the one-two punch that is the changes wrought on Wolverine by this crossover. The Bone Claws retcon is rather fiendishly clever in its simplicity - whereas most retcons unnecessarily complicate readers' understanding of past events, this almost simplifies things. Wolverine was a character who had adamantium bonded to his bones, and also got claws as part of the process. Now, he's just a character who had adamantium bonded to his bones, because his bones happen to have included his claws as well. It even fits with the little detail from "Weapon X" in which Dr. Cornelius seemed surprised that adamantium was pooling around Wolverine's hands/forearms (while Barry Windsor-Smith didn't intend for that to be hint at the existence of the bone claws, it works to strengthen Hama's retcon nonetheless). And, of course, Wolverine, with his now-established history of mental implants and memory issues, is perfectly positioned for this kind of "everything you knew was wrong!" retcon. 

But even in the wake of that revelation, Hama keeps the focus quiet, on the interaction between Wolverine & Jubilee, which has been the central relationship of this series for much of Hama's run. Wolverine leaving the X-Men is a big deal, especially considering the commercial implications of both him and the X-Men at this point in time, but it's his goodbye to Jubilee that carries the most emotional weight, as he admits to leaving despite her needing his help processing the recent revelations about her parents, but also believing she's better off without him as he deals with his own traumas. The end result is an issue which, as much as it is the latest chapter in a big crossover event with a hologram on its cover, and for all it does to completely rewrite our understanding of Wolverine while setting up a rather bold new status quo for the series, still presents its big, "nothing will ever be the same!" developments within the context of the makeshift father/daughter relationship between Wolverine & Jubilee that has become the heart of the series.

Next Issue
Next week, Sabretooth gets the miniseries treatment. Sabretooth 1-4.

Collected Editions

  

21 comments:

  1. The idea of certin eras of the books acting like seasons (or series, if your across the pond) of tv shows has been discussed on this blog a number of times. In my mind, this issue acts as the end of season that began with X-Men #1, with X-Cutioner's Song acting as the mid season finale. It sets up a new status quo, and ends the tailspin that the Image X-odus created. You mention that stripping the adamntium from Wolvie functions as much a creative decision as commercial, which I don't disagree with per se, but I think the context of when this storyline was released should be addressed. DC had done the death of Superman story almost a year before, and the Knightfall story had just finished. Sales went through the roof, with Wizard (who basically controlled the entire industry at this point) hyping the events months in advance. Valiant and Image, which Wizard hyped relentlessly, were devouring market share. This is the absolute peak of the early 90s speculator boom, and the best selling books each month were doing around 800,000 to a million plus copies. I have no doubt that Marvel was attempting to create the same kind sales generating "nothing will ever be the same", must-have issues that DC had massive success with. With all that said, Wolverine had gone from a character with depth under Claremont, someone who evolved and grew, to a characture who was virtually one note. Breaking him down and fundamentally altering him offered a way to breathe new life into Marvel's golden goose. I was totally on board with this when it was announced. Then I bought this issue. I would assume that how you felt about this issue's revalation depended a lot on your age and how much history you had with the books. I had been a monthly X-reader for 7 years at this point, and bought Classic X-Men every month as well (Classic is actually what got me hooked), in addition to owning a pretty impressive back issue collection. Bone Claws were just a bridge too far for me. Haphazard retconing was not a thing at this point, and this violated too much established cannon. It seemed unnecessary. It was also a cheat in my eyes, as they were willing to make Wolverine's bones breakable, but weren't willing to go the extra step and take away his claws. I was not alone in feeling this way, as most all of my friends who had been long time readers thought this to be as ridiculous as I did. I also wish somebody had made Kubert redraw every bone claw panel. While the initial reveal is quite effective, his claws are comically huge every time he pops them. If your going to go with this retcon, at least have the internal logic to make it look like something that was hiding underneath the old claws. Instead, they became longer than his entire arm, and would only get more absurd going forward. I mean, where are they supposed to go when he retracts them? I apologize for being overly verbose on the subject, but Wolverine had been my favorite character for so long, and bone claws traumatized me at the time. It was the exclamation point on the post-Claremont era, and instead of being the beginning of new and interesting possibilities for the character, it was the first salvo in an increasingly silly evolution that remains controversial and mocked to this day.

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    1. I have no doubt that Marvel was attempting to create the same kind sales generating "nothing will ever be the same", must-have issues that DC had massive success with.

      Absolutely - my only point is, as commercially motivated as some of those events may have been, that doesn't mean they couldn't still pay creative dividends. DC committed strongly to the death of Superman and showing how that would impact their universe, even though anyone who had ever read a comic before knew he'd be back eventually, and Denny O'Neil turned "Knightfall" in a treatise on why a kewl 90s Batman would be terrible. Similarly, with this issue, Hama uses what TV would call a "ratings stunt" as the starting point for a new "on the road" setup for the series, which will do a lot to examine how Wolverine functions in this new status quo. He/the X-books/Marvel could have just ripped out the adamantium for the sales spike then gone back to business as usual but, to their credit, they don't (even if some of the later stories to evolve out of this event are...uneven, at best).

      I would assume that how you felt about this issue's revalation depended a lot on your age and how much history you had with the books.

      Definitely. I was buying (and loving) X-MEN CLASSIC and amassing my back issue collection at the time, but I'd only been reading for three-ish years at this point, and I ate this stuff up. It felt big and eventful and definitely all part of a big narrative master plan (which of course didn't exist)

      Haphazard retconing was not a thing at this point, and this violated too much established cannon.

      How so? I mean, yeah, we'd always been told his claws were pure metal, but that was always via an unreliable narrator (Wolverine). Other than "turns out they weren't pure metal" what canon is being violated? It's adding to what we already knew, but other than the exact metallurgical makeup of the claws, what previous stories are being wiped out or recontextualized by the knowledge that there was a core of bone inside those claws?

      "Weapon X" is really the only story at this point to even offer an objective take on Wolverine's origin outside of his own (unreliable) take on things, and if anything, that story (unintentionally) helps sell this retcon a little.

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    2. It was also a cheat in my eyes, as they were willing to make Wolverine's bones breakable, but weren't willing to go the extra step and take away his claws.

      That's a fair point. I would argue there's potential in "claws, but more breakable", but that argument is undone by the fact that the bone claws quickly become, functionally, no different than the metal ones, making it seem more like Marvel is trying to have their cake and eat it too.

      I also wish somebody had made Kubert redraw every bone claw panel. While the initial reveal is quite effective, his claws are comically huge every time he pops them.

      To be fair, his claws, in terms of shape and length, have been drawn inconsistently long before this issue, and will continue to be drawn inconsistently, be they metal or bone, long after this issue. Sometimes they're angled, sometimes they're round. Sometimes they extend a few inches past his knuckles, sometimes he can frame an entire human face in his claws (which would require them to be almost as long as his entire arm). Artistic license regarding Wolverine's claws is hardly limited to this issue/era.

      it was the first salvo in an increasingly silly evolution that remains controversial and mocked to this day.

      I'm assuming you're referring to noseless feral Wolverine, and you're not wrong, but I also try not to hold later terrible stories against the stories that eventually lead to them. I mean, if Jean Grey hadn't died on the moon, then she never would have come back and led Cyclops to abandon his wife and child to be in those crappy early issues of X-FACTOR, but I don't blame "Dark Phoenix Saga" for that, I blame those crappy issues of X-FACTOR.

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    3. The only rub I have with the bone claws is that Wolverine has popped his claws during times when his mutant powers were suppressed. Example Uncanny 237 when he is captured in Genosha. He says something like, "Nothing mutant about these, my claws are mechanical." No prize explanations aside, that pretty much contradicts the retcon.
      The adamantium pooling line from Weapon X also doesn't make much sense. They wouldn't have taken xrays prior to that kinda procedure and known about the claws?

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    4. The full metal claws would actually be more nonsensical: he needs to have the natural muscles and tendons and stuff to make them pop out and back in again. The adamantium claws very much weren't fitted with operational mechanics.

      Obviously if they slided in an adamantium housing of some sort in his arm, S'ym wouldn't have been able to break on off of the dead Wolverine in UXM #160. (I'm afraid to actually go look #160 and especially #142 now).

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    5. And the physical mutations are always a special case when dealing with mutant power dampeners. Nightcrawler doesn't lose his tail even if he can't teleport; likewise Logan's claws would/will still work even if his special nose and healing power went off.

      Also, the Weapon X folks didn't as a plot point look too closely to his medical file, where the pre-available X-Rays (possibly tampered by the mystery boss) might have been. They sure should have X-Rays when specifically messing with his sketon, but maybe the X-ray radiation at that point would mess up the adamantium process.

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    6. Teemu, it warms my heart to see you defending plot developments from 90s X-comics.

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    7. Don't push it, Matt. :D I went to see #142 and I'm having hard time enough as is with the "looks like the Wolverine of distant future of 2013 had lost his right arm at some point forwards from now and it had to be replaced with a fake cyborg one" headcanon which the depelopments necessitate.

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    8. @Scott: // at least have the internal logic to make it look like something that was hiding underneath the old claws //

      That’s my issue with the bone claws. Yeah, Miller drew ‘em like flat blades where other artists had drawn them with girth that tapered to a point, length could vary, etc., but like Austin says you can chalk a lot up to artistic license even as reasonable people can disagree on just how much. The sort of thick, knobbly, gnarled bone claws I recall seeing later, though, are just ridiculous.

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    9. I think the original bone claws may have been thin and short and unusable, which is why pre-adamantium Logan didn't use them or even know of them, but then they got fully coated with adamantium stumping any possibility for organic growth, and after the adamantium was gone the bone core suddenly was able to be regenerated by Logan's healing factor to the proper gnarly bone ones.

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  2. This issue is easily my favorite chapter of "Fatal Attractions"; I love it. The first half has more tension and excitement in it than any other part of the crossover, and it's just the X-Men versus gravity. (Hama seems to be channeling his G.I. JOE roots here; this sequence could easily have fit into a JOE issue from the 80s.)

    I agree with you that I'm not a huge fan of the Wolverine/Jean pairing, but mainly with regards to Jean reciprocating Wolverine's affection as anything more than a friend. But Wolverine's one-sided love for Jean is something I have no problem with, and him snapping out of his daze to rescue her is a great use of those feelings.

    I have no problem with the bone claws; they seemed totally logical to me at the time. For whatever reason I thought they were always intended to be hard as diamond, so the fact that they more or less became exactly the same as the adamantium claws was fine with me. However I'm not sure where I got the diamond thing from, so maybe I was misinformed from the start.

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  3. "apparently forgetting that she can fly and is largely invulnerable, thus making her the one person aboard the plane who should be least worried about the craft breaking down around her (it is, of course, entirely possible that Hama legitimately didn't know the full extent of Rogue's powers at this point, as it seemed in the earlier story)."
    It doesn't make any sense, however you try to slice it. Hama obviously knew that Rogue can fly, since he had her flying in issues 69-71. And they're clearly in the lower atmosphere, since Jean is distracted by lightning and can breathe outside the plane. So why is Rogue worried about going out the hatch? Can't she just fly home under her own power once she gets outside? Bendis did something similar with Doctor Strange once. He tried to lamely explain it by having Strange say "My Cloak of Levitation doesn't work under these circumstances". Readers couldn't stand that one either. (What circumstances? Falling?) Once you establish that a character can FLY, you can get away with them being in danger of falling to their death when they're knocked out but it doesn't make sense to try to convince the audience that they're in danger of falling to their death while they're still conscious.

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    1. Ahh yes. "MY POWERS DON'T WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS!" People have mocked that scene for years. Write a story that creates a menace to the characters and uses their strengths and weaknesses appropriately, not just ignoring their powers. I can't say I'm going to miss Bendis.

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  4. This is not the first time about Wolverine feeling pain or bleeding for putting his claws out. That first Genosha story, drawn by Silvestri/Leonardi, was the first time in which Wolverine is shown to actually bleed every time his claws come out, and that he needs the fast healing to close the wounds.

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    1. Claremont himself certainly has publicly explicity and gushingly approved how in the scene in the first X-Men film Hugh Jackman pops out the claws and Rogue asks "Does it hurt?" and Jackman answers to that without words.

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  5. The scene of Logan giving up cigars has to be an intentional and awesome callback to UXM #196 where his other young protegé tries one to a similar reaction and we learn the healing power has a part in him doing it.

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  6. Yeah, I like this one. I didn't like it as much as X-Men #25 at the time, but I think it holds up a little better.

    "Readers know full well everyone is going to survive." I didn't! Granted, I was just a dumb little kid, but if they could kill Superman they could sure as heck kill Wolverine. I remember being very concerned that he might die, as I feverishly turned the pages :)

    One thing I could never figure out: what exactly is happening on that cover? Are the spikes supposed to be metal? If so why are they flesh-colored? Why does he still have the metal claws? Why is his hair so epic? Is it supposed to be an homage to Weapon X and/or Wolverine #48? Or is it just a graphic way to depict how much pain he's in? At any rate, it's certainly an eye-grabbing image. Kubert will produce a lot of those. The covers to Wolverine #79, #82, and #90 all jump to mind, offhand.

    -Jeff B

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  7. One of the thoughts that entered my mind reading this issue back then was "if the Blackbird could reach the orbit of Avalon, why did it have so much trouble making re-entry?"

    I mean, the Blackbird is, basically, a Marvel Universe modified SR-71, which is capable of high altitude flight, but would have had to be modified to leave the atmosphere at all. It certainly would need new engines, since it used, well, air-breathing engines, and the top speed of the SR-71 was Mach 3, which doesn't even come close to escape velocity. So it always struck me as interesting that the Blackbird was clearly capable of reaching orbit yet returning to atmosphere was a nightmare. It was like Nicenza just figured the Blackbird did double duty as a spaceship and Hama, the more military minded writer, went "Actually..." and wrote this.

    Blackbird related issues aside, my major reaction to the bone claws was "that actually makes sense" and "I hope they regrow fast, because he's going to break them a lot."

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  8. I’m not a huge Adam (or Andy) Kubert fan but this art was pretty good.

    // There's a neat bit where Quicksilver is able to use his super-speed to make the necessary flight adjustments as the Blackbird reenters the atmosphere. //

    And the neatest part of that bit, to me, is that it’s his mind as much as his hands that are required to handle the necessary on-the-fly computations.

    My guess is that the the guy in the ponytail with his kid watching the Blackbird “fireball” on reentry over New Jersey is Kubert, by the way, just from context.

    // entirely possible that Hama legitimately didn't know the full extent of Rogue's powers at this point //

    Which is where editors come in handy.

    // Quesada banned any Marvel characters from smoking //

    I seem to recall Marvel’s ban on showing characters smoking actually coming around this time, predating Quesada as editor-in-chief, with specific mention in the press made of Wolverine, Nick Fury, and Ben Grimm as the most prominent cigar aficionados (to not coin a phrase).

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    1. Aha! What I’m apparently remembering from around this time is a ban on depictions of Marvel characters smoking on trading cards —  but I still think mention was made back then of more than just trading cards, like other ancillary or licensed material with context-free “hero shots”. Funny I don’t recall hearing about Quesada’s ban on smoking in Marvel comics, although it did happen shortly before I stopped reading Marvel comics and only slightly less shortly before I stopped working in and following the comics press for a while…

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  9. We didn't yet note the spiffy intentional tandem the titles of XM #25 and this issue form?

    I appreciate when they do that. It nicely emphasizes the pairing of these two issues.

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