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Friday, March 9, 2018

X-amining Wolverine #78

"Deathstalk: A Test of Mettle"
February 1994

In a Nutshell
Wolverine battles Bloodscream.

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inkers: Mark Farmer & Mike Sellers
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Wolverine rides his motorcycle, honor sword of the Clan Yashida outstretched, at Bloodscream. Four weeks ago, Wolverine travels on foot through the Canadian wilderness, unknowingly being tracked by Bloodscream & Cylla. Wolverine recalls how the honor sword was forged from a meteorite, while Bloodscream recounts his origin for Cylla. Wolverine eventually arrives in the town of Logan, to find his motorcycle waiting for him, having been shipped there because his name was on the shipping tag. Outside, a starving Bloodscream drains Cylla of her energy, then attacks Wolverine, who manages to slice him with the honor sword, seemingly killing him. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue fills in Bloodscream's backstory and his motivations for targeting Wolverine, revealing him to have been a naval surgeon serving under Sir Francis Drake who was injured and revived by a witch doctor as a vampiric undead being. He was told he would need to consume the blood of a fellow immortal to reclaim his lost life, and that the only thing which could kill him was metal not made by man. He later encountered Wolverine during the battle of Normandy in World War II, and when he bumped into him again in Madripoor decades later, realized he too was immortal.


It's also revealed that the Honor Sword of Clan Yashida was forged from a fallen meteorite, and hence is "metal not made by man". As a result, Bloodscream is seemingly killed when Wolverine slices through him with the blade.

This comes after Bloodscream has drained the life force from Cylla, and though the issue ends with both of them dead, only Cylla's death sticks, as Bloodscream will pop again in a few issues' time.


A Work in Progress
Bloodscream refers to Wolverine as "Master Patch"' as he first encountered him when Wolverine was using that alias in Madripoor. Normally, I'd be inclined to ding Hama (or Harras) for the lack of footnote (it's been awhile since anyone mentioned the whole Patch thing), but I kind of like it going unremarked upon a a deep cut for veteran readers. It's the sort of thing that doesn't impact the story for any readers ignorant of the reference, but adds some value for readers in the know.

Artistic Achievements
For some reason, the art in this issue is decidedly smaller than most issues, with a significant amount of negative space surrounding the panels on each page.

There's a clever bit of layout during the sequence where Bloodscream & Cylla are tracking Wolverine through the woods, in which the panels on each page mirror one another.


Austin's Analysis
In theory, this issue isn't a whole lot different than the previous one - Wolverine, battling an old foe, dealing with the loss of his adamantium. In practice, it doesn't really compare. For one, Wolverine's lack of adamantium doesn't really factor in to his battle with Bloodscream at all (here, the honor sword is a much bigger deal). For another, Bloodscream isn't quite on the same level as Lady Deathstrike. The pair have a history together, but it's not as long-standing nor as personal as the Wolverine/Deathstike feud, and it's been awhile since we've even seen Bloodscream. Hama continues to get some mileage out of Wolverine getting in touch with nature and his more animalistic side, and Kubert draws some particularly evocative panoramic vistas, but coming right after confrontation in the previous issue does this one few favors.

Next Issue
Next week: X-Men (vol. 2) #29, X-Force #31 and Excalibur #74.

13 comments:

  1. I thought that he has left the sword back at the Australian outback when he fled the Reavers. I think we even saw Lady Deathstrike holding it. How could it be with Logan? Or was this an editorial oversight or am I wrong?

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    1. Mariko had the sword in #57, the issue of her death. Lady D left it earlier to Wolverine's hiding place in the Outback to be found by him in UXM #252 and maybe grabbed it before escaping through desert with Jubilee in #253 while Lady D watched them through her sights. Unless he returned to pick it up at some other time.

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  2. Looking back at this stuff, I'm appreciating Adam Kubert's work a lot more. He deserved to have the star career that ended up going to his brother (who I think is much less deserving).

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  3. I feel like it’s a bit of a narrative cheat (or, framed another way, sloppy writing) to reveal that the sword is made of extraterrestrial metal and that such metal is Bloodscream's vulnerability in the very same issue where those facts become pertinent — but the reader would have had to be reminded of those facts here anyway, I guess, and it’s a neat twist, and I agree that the way the flashback material comes together is nicely done, so I magnanimously declare no big deal.

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    1. The fact that Bloodscream can’t be slain by “mortal steel” is established in the arc that first introduced him, all the way back in Wolverine #6, by Claremont and Buscema. Of course, if one remembers that, then the moment Logan reveals that the honor sword is “alien,” then BAM, you know where the issue is headed and there’s no real surprise either way. But I think the sweep of the storytelling makes the predictability a moot point. (After all, the content of the haiku at the very start tells us how things are going to end anyway.) I’d argue that the issue is more about the inevitability of the ending than about any attempt to surprise the reader.

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    2. I’m glad to hear the sword's origin wasn't just info-dumped at the last minute. Either way, though, no argument from me. And even had I not appreciated this issue’s craft, I’d be with Teemu on loving how much you love it.

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  4. I really adore this issue. For a number of reasons.

    1. The artwork is beautiful. You pointed out two main aspects of it: The snowscapes and the way Kubert uses them to create striking images with negative space. That, and the symmetrical layouts, which enhance the “full circle” nature of the writing.
    2. The haiku framing device, and that the entire issue is essentially a flashback moving briefly through the climactic sword strike. The issue ends as it began, which is hardly that innovative, but the symmetry is very consistent. It is, again, present in many of Kubert’s layouts, and of course the syllable count of a haiku (5-7-5) is palindromic as well.
    3. The “Chekov’s gun” aspect of the “moon-metal” sword. It’s established early on during the “compass” moment, setting it up for the final climactic act, wherein the sword is used as the device that can finally “slay” the character that Claremont long ago established as unkillable by any “mortal steel.”
    4. Bloodsport/scream’s origin. Granted, Claremont was clearly suggesting with Bloodsport/scream’s speech patterns that he was an Asgardian, but Hama’s explanation for the character’s speech patterns is arguably better, in that he comes from a time and place in which people really did talk like that. (Whereas there really is no reason for Norse mythology figures to talk like Shakespeare characters.) The “piratical” origin is nice given Bloodscream’s origins in the “Madripoor” era, as Claremont always conceived of Madripoor as a “modern day Tartuga.”
    5. The use of past continuity is shrewd. Again, there’s Hama bringing back the “can’t be slain by mortal steel” thing, but also the flashback to Logan’s involvement in the Battle of Normandy is building on (or perhaps more accurately, partially reprising) the story Hama told in Wolverine 34. You didn’t mention this in your review, Austin, but I don’t want to assume that you don’t remember this … But, issue 34 was a favorite issue of mine as a kid, so seeing Hama return to it here was really cool to me when I first read this issue.

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  5. 6. Given my Claremont love, I enjoy that this issue sees the team-up of two Claremont creations, Sport/Scream and Cylla, and gives some closure to both characters (even though Hama reopened the Bloodscream thing a bit later). Plus, to see Bloodscream taken out by a macguffin that Claremont also created was great.
    7. In addition to the symmetrical aspects, the “closed loop” of this issue makes it a fabulous done-in-one. Even though the Bloodscream/Cylla alliance was teased in the previous issue, it’s not really all that important to have read that set-up. It’s just overall a really concise and precise bit of storytelling. Even though it’s wrapping up a couple long-running threads re: the villains, it very economically gives you everything you need to know in the issue itself. It’s probably the best done-in-one issue of Wolverine in the entire run, at least that I’ve read. (And if I recall correctly, while earlier issues set this one up via subplot pages, this issue itself has no subplots or cutaways to anything else, right? It’s just Logan, Bloodscream and Cylla, and no one else, and the whole issue is just watching the fuse between them burn down. Very tense, very dramatic. (In my opinion anyway …) (Part of the reason I feel this way is because I bought this issue off the stands at the time not having read the previous one, and without picking up the next one either, and felt like this was a 100% satisfying reading experience on its own.)
    8. Besides the economy of the plotting, the other thing I love about this issue is its overall stark tone (again, props to Kubert for adding so much to this with his art for this issue). The bleakness of Wolverine’s situation at this point in continuity feels tangible to me in a way that I hadn’t felt in other issues from this era (though, granted, as noted above, I did not read them all). This issue has a certain psychological heft to it, for me, that again is probably owing to how spare it is, narratively.
    9. There’s a great turn in this issue when Bloodscream betrays Cylla. Not only is the betrayal itself surprising, but the whole idea that (if I interpret this correctly), Bloodscream physically mutated as result of drinking the blood of a souped-up cyborg, is the moment when Hama explodes the tension he’s been building into a familiar comic-booky trope of a big, mutated monster. But because the tone of this issue is so controlled, the transformation is genuinely kind of scary. (In contrast to the later story in which Hama brings back Bloodscream still in this more mutated form, and he’s just kind of a leaping, almost comic-relief gorilla of a villain.)
    10. Wolverine acknowledging how well-made his Harley-Davidson motorcycle is, by saying “They build ‘em to last in Milwaukee.” (This point is not one I expect to be impressive to anyone except myself, as a lifelong Milwaukeean, but hey.)

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  6. If I had any quibbles, they are these:
    Taking the “honor sword,” which Claremont always meant to exist simply as a symbol for an aspect of Logan’s character, and turning it into a bit of borderline sci-fi technology, is arguably somewhat gauche, narratively speaking.

    The retcon of saying that Bloodscream recognized “Patch” from the moment he saw him has no real back up in those old Claremont issues. That said, Bloodsport in those early issues was so inscrutable and unshakable that it’s not that hard to believe that he recognized Logan and simply didn’t comment on it because he saw no need.

    While I love Hama’s Bloodscream origin here, the one slightly “off” thing about it, to me, is that in those early issues, Bloodsport made it clear that both he AND Roughhouse could “not be slain by mortal steel.” But Hama’s origin here only explains why it’s true for Blood … So, does Roughhouse have a completely different reason why he’s got that same immunity, and is it just coincidence that the two of them hooked up? Did they meet in a bar one night and realize over the course of their conversation that they both had the same immunity to “mortal steel,” and bond over it, becoming lifelong buddies?

    But none of that stuff really bothers me, because the issue has just so many strengths, and the sheer quality of the storytelling sweeps away any and all reservations, for me.

    I give this one ten out of ten snikts.

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  7. I love when man's love for a comic book issue just pours out. :)

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    1. I just couldn't stop, could I ...

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  8. So as my personal notion of cool thang, I appreciate how Cylla turns down Bloodscream's offer to devour the flesh of his travel lunch, still holding of the rags of her humanity while at the same time eating a bird raw.

    And writing that out, now I wonder if Hama did it on purpose, because it's Canada and, had she done it, she'd become Wendigo. Are we sure it was Cylla's cyborg juice that turned Bloodscream, or does eating human blood count as cannibalism?

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    1. Because, it would be kind of cool if Wolverine now in a way finished something that started in HULK #181 with the honor sword that got tagged along during his character, ha, arc.

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