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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

X-amining Logan: Path of the Warlord #1

"Path of the Warlord"
February 1996

In a Nutshell
Years in the past, Wolverine helps Chang of Landau, Luckman, & Lake stop the invasion of Earth by an extra-dimensional warlord.

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: John Paul Leon
Inker: Shawn Martinborough
Lettering & Design: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors: Gregory Wright
Editor: Mark Powers
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Years in the past, Logan is working for Landau, Luckman & Lake. He is tasked by Chang with rescuing Dr. Carling from a warlord named Kimora. Ultimately, Kimora bests Wolverine in a fight, but is beheaded by Carling. A few years later, Logan is learning the way of the samurai as a means to control his more bestial side when Chang tracks him down. Chang reveals that Kimora is alive and has re-captured Carling, prompting Logan to join Chang in rescuing him again. Chang informs Logan that Kimora is from another dimension, and hopes to use Carling's research to send his armies to conquer Earth. Together, they travel to Kimora's dimension, and meet up with Rose, Carling's now-adult daughter. The trio make their way to Kimora's castle, fighting his shadow assassins along the way. Inside Kimora's castle, they confront the warlord, who kills Carling, triggering the animal inside Wolverine. He fights his way to Kimora, but Rose helps him regain control before killing him. Instead, they use Carling's device to trap Kimora in a dimensional rift. Logan, Chang & Rose return to Earth, and Chang offers Logan a role as Rose's partner working with Landau, Luckman & Lake once more. Logan says he'll consider it, affirming that he needs to start changing the way he looks at the world.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is a double-sized prestige format one-shot with a cardstock cover, featuring one of the by now numerous tales from Wolverine's past, with this one set roughly in the late 40s and early 50s (following his years in World War II but before he fell in with the Canadian secret service and Team X).

As is usually the case with these kinds of one-shots, it features a bunch of characters and place we never see again, including the villain, Kimora, and his extra-dimensional realm, unnamed here but later called Kageumbra (a portmanteau of the Japanese & Latin names for "shadow") in a Marvel Handbook entry. Unlike most of these kinds of one-shots, it does include some actual recurring supporting characters, including Chang, the head of Madripoor's Landau, Luckman & Lake office who was introduced (and killed) in Wolverine #5 and Rose Wu, the shape-shifting one-time proprietress of the Princess Bar, killed in Wolverine #98, whom that same Handbook entry confirmed Rose Carling in this story to be (with "Wu" being her later married name).

For some reason, the final page of this story is presented in black-and-white and printed on the inside back cover.

Creator Central 
Regular X-Factor writer Howard Mackie pens this issue, while John Paul Leon, who will shortly draw the Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix miniseries, pencils it.

A Work in Progress
Landau, Luckman & Lake's later reliance on extra-dimensional travel is setup here, as the group is working with Dr. Carling, an expert in the field, and uses a rudimentary warp chamber to send Logan & Chang to Kageumbra

Austin's Analysis
Once upon a time, when I was reviewing every issue of X-Men at a point in the series' publication history when there was only one X-book, I had to decide whether or not to I would eventually expand my project to include ALL the various spin-offs, one-shots, and add-ons that would come to encompass an entire line of X-Men comics. When considering that question, this particular issue came to mind. My initial impulse was, of course, to review everything X-related. But I stopped myself for a moment, and made sure I realized that if I was going to cover everything, that meant everything, including all the bizarre, random one-shots released through the years, most starring Wolverine, especially that weird quasi-samurai one from the mid 90s that seemed to come out of nowhere and do nothing relevant or interesting with the character (aka this issue). Of course, I ultimately accepted that reviewing this issue and ones like it was the price of doing business, but this issue nevertheless briefly gave me pause, and may have led to very different X-aminations project (though in that world, I'd probably have completed my review of every issue of Uncanny X-Men, and just Uncanny X-Men, by now).

Reading it now, especially in the wake of the Archangel one-shot, it feels less worthy of its status as the issue which, however briefly, threatened the integrity of my mission. This issue is by no means a good, necessary, or terribly intriguing one, but it's not abjectly awful or anything. It's certainly better than that Archangel story, at the very least, lacking amongst other things that issue's pseudo-Vertigo pretensions and failing to match or exceed its level of "where did this come from?". This is, instead, much more akin to the average Wolverine one-shot, a seemingly-endless subsection of Wolverine stories which are rarely memorable or engaging, but manage to do their job of giving people who really love seeing Wolverine do Wolverine things the chance to pay Marvel an extra few bucks for another taste of what they love, often times in a slightly bigger package or with a unique/marquee artist at the drawing board.

Like those earlier one-shots, this one features the usual tough-guy inner voice established by Claremont & Miller in the first Wolverine mini, an ongoing struggle between Wolverine's rationale and bestial sides, vague hints about his past, and interactions with characters who seem important but will never be seen again. Specially, this issue is a little bit like Wolverine: Killing by way of Rahne of Terra, with Wolverine crossing dimensions & unleashing his inner beast to stop an extra-dimensional warlord from invading Earth. John Paul Leon's art, despite its dark, cluttered, quasi-Sienkiewiczian look, is fairly easy to follow from a storytelling perspective, and Mackie, who rarely reaches highter than "bog-standard superhero story", peppers in enough little bits like Chang & Rose and the development of Landau, Luckman, & Lake to give it a small dash of narrative relevance (especially when read in close proximity to Wolverine #98). So by no means a classic, or anything I'd ever feel compelled to revisit, but certainly not the worst thing I've read in the history of this project, or even the worst Wolverine one-shot I've read, or even the worst thing I've read that was published in this month.

Next Issue
Next week: Generation X #12, Excalibur #94 and Cable #28

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  1. This sort of book always bugged me. I don't think I've ever read this one in particular, but the 90s writers (possibly along with editorial mandates?) were obsessed with replaying the original Wolverine mini-series over and over. Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne developed the "Logan is a man who must constantly struggle to keep the animal Wolverine under control" theme, but after the Claremont/Miller miniseries, it became a distinctly background trait, only arising under extreme situations (UXM #205) or for specific reasons beyond just "he's an animal" (UXM #215-6). That miniseries came out in 1982, and for the next decade, Wolverine was - for the most part - a guy who had his shit together. In the publisher's defense, I agree with you that they were probably just giving the fans more of what they wanted. But that doesn't make it any good, or worthwhile, even if it's largely "harmless."

    As a side note, I've been thinking about these types of characters a lot in recent years; characters like Wolverine, Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven," Sam Jackson in "Pulp Fiction," or John Wick... men who have mountains of rage inside them and who struggle to contain it. It's an interesting character, but too often the fans of these guys are really there to revel in the moments when the character loses control and goes HAM on the bad guys. (let's be honest, we all kind of love it once in a while.) But it's become increasingly tiresome since 2016 when I had to listen to countless men - men who undoubtedly love Eastwood and Wolverine's epic struggles to maintain control - reject the idea of a woman President because her period might make her susceptible to mood swings and she'd end up nuking someone.

  2. Hey Bob, I was just thinking about your last paragraph and kinda feel that part of the problem is the appeal of Wolverine used to be the tension of can he keep it together, not "yeah, he'll go postal in 3... 2... 1...". Hence he slowly went from my favourite character (and one that can still be interesting with the right writer) to, yeah, well, a bad version of the lead in Crank 3. But I think its this latter version that the kind of men you are talking to are unfortunately latching on to.

    Admittedly the odd loss of control is, as you say, damn fun, but it shouldn't be the focus.

  3. To me the most interesting time in Wolverines life Pre-X-men is when he was part of Team X. You had Sabretooth and Wolverine, both guys with this animal instinct whoe rarely if ever showed it in the few missions we have seen them part of. Why were they able to control it so much better at this point and if it really was that close to the surface, why would the government ever send them in these undercover missions? It's like, is there not a special agent that is calm that we could send, No, okay, send the complete crazy guys on the missions we want no one to know about.

    At this point, did we really need more Wolverine about to lose control books and if you have seen his regular series at this point, it only continues to devolve into a mess. I hated that period of Wolverine.

    These were cash grabs in the 90's by the X Office, that Archangel book is beyond bad and completely pointless. This book isn't much better, it's rehashing Wolverine books that have already happened.

    Mackie often can start strong or give interesting concepts but has no ability to continue it further beyond his starting idea. I believe he's the man behind Mutant X and X-Men 2099 and both of those start strong but lead NO WHERE. I bought the full series of Mutant X and after the first six issues, it falls completely on it's face, it doens't help that the art is terrible for most of the rest of the series.

    His work here is okay as mentioned but it's not interesting. It's not like he's adding another layer to Wolverine where you are appreciative about the extra knowledge and backstory you got, it's just another thing that feels like other other things.

    The art is interesting and different for the time, so there's at least something nice to look at.


  4. I’m a big fan of the Leon & Martinborough team, whose credits include Static and one of the many revivals of Challengers of the Unknown. What a disappointment that the colors here work overtime to just ruin the effect of their line art — not all the choices of hue in and of themselves but the gradation overkill, along with such would-be enhancements as the mist on the opening double-page spread, typical of the era. The story itself is, as you say, largely forgettable but not the absolute worst of these one-shots; had the interior been black-&-white, perhaps with spot red like the cover, I might’ve actually sought out a physical copy. When I see that last page and think of what might have been… sigh. An even better question than why the Archangel one-shot wasn’t in color is why that wasn’t in color and this was.


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