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Friday, April 16, 2021

X-amining Wolverine #105

"Faces in the Fire"
September 1996

In a Nutshell
Wolverine helps save people from a burning building. 

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Val Semeiks 
Inks: Chad Hunt with V. Russell and H. Candelario  
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft 
Colors: Chris Lichter and Joe Andreani 
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor: Bob Harras

Leaving Onslaught to the heavy hitters, Wolverine helps a group of fire fighters evacuate a burning building. Learning a boy named Sean is still inside, Wolverine has himself doused in water, then goes back into the building. He finds Sean, but their exit route is blocked. Just then, a mysterious old man appears, able to see through the smoke, and helps lead them out. Handing Sean to his mother, Wolverine goes back into the building to find the old man. He refuses to leave, however, and leads Wolverine to the roof, where he knocks Wolverine down with his cane. Wolverine realizes he is Stick, Elektra's ghostly mentor. Wolverine assumes Stick's there to help him regain his humanity, but Stick tells him only Wolverine can do that. He does, however, lead Wolverine away from the burning building, at which point Human Torch appears, telling him all the heroes are regrouping at Four Freedoms Plaza to plan their final assault against Onslaught. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Wolverine continues to re-evolve, appearing with something of his nose back here and donning his blue bandana cowl for the first time in this series (he had previously appeared wearing it in Onslaught: X-Men). 

The issue opens with Wolverine more or less declaring he's going to stay away from the "Onslaught" crossover, saying he is "better suited to cleaning up the collateral damage" than taking the fight to Onslaught himself. 

That said, at the end of the issue, Human Torch shows up to bring Wolverine to Four Freedoms Plaza, ahead of the big crossover finale in Onslaught: Marvel Universe (which is where Wolverine next appears). 

Elektra doesn't appear in this issue, but her mentor, Stick, who sent her after Wolverine in issue #100 and is some kind of quasi-ghost at this point in time, does.  

Stick tells Wolverine that only he can reclaim his humanity, neither Stick nor Elektra can do that for him. 

He also draws a line from Magneto ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine to Onslaught, an echo of the previous issue's revelations, and says that Wolverine and his friends needs to master their fear in order to defeat Onslaught. 

A Work in Progress
Wolverine compares his rescue of Sean to the time he saved Elsie-Dee from a burning building, a reference to issue #39 of the series (which goes un-footnoted here). 

There's a "rah-rah firefighters!" moment when Wolverine is thanked for his help and he responds that the firefighters are the real heroes, because they do it every day (which is a perfectly sentiment, but it's not like Wolverine seems to have much in the way of off-days himself). 

The Best There is at What He Does
Wolverine is able to heal his badly burned body in the space of about three panels (though he does note that he wishes he had a "pain suppression factor" as well). 

There's a running bit in the issue in which Sean, the boy Wolverine rescues from the fire, can't remember his name correctly, ending with Wolverine being called "Valvoline".  

Austin's Analysis
This is actually a better issue than I remembered it being. Despite the "Onslaught" tie-in trade dress on the cover, the first half of the issue literally tells the reader that, by design, this has nothing to do with the crossover: it's just Wolverine trying to rescue a kid from a burning building (it's a tie-in in as much as one of Onslaught's Sentinel's presumably started the fire), while his more powerful teammates actually do Onslaught-related stuff. Then, in the second half, Larry Hama brings in Elektra's mentor Stick and swerves, a bit, back into the crossover, tying the revelations about Onslaught's origins Wolverine discovered in the previous issue into his own immediate struggle to regain his humanity and making it clear it's up to Wolverine to do that work, not the characters who are destined to head off into their own spinoff series soon. The parallel doesn't quite work, and feels a bit forced, like Hama is reaching for narrative relevance between his book and the larger story, but the effort is appreciated. The end result reads something like one of the non X-book tie-in issues, a story told not about the crossover but against the backdrop of it, but with the added benefit of at least trying to move the title's character ongoing arc forward a bit in the process. It's not great, but for an issue I mostly remembered as "Noseless Wolverine plays firefighter", the execution of that (still mostly accurate) premise nevertheless elevates it a bit.  

Next Issue
Next Week: the heroes prepare for the final fight in X-Men (vol. 2) #56, and the Juggernaut finds himself trapped in X-Men Unlimited #12!

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  1. Why does feral Wolverine wear a generic X-Men costume? Initially he was wearing his regular costume, shredded, but at some point he changed into an X-uniform and just shredded it too? So weird. I mean, if he's feeling all feral and must wear some torn-up clothes, why not put on another of his normal outfits and shred that?

    Anyway. I've never understood bringing Stick back. Elektra, I get -- she was a popular character and I'm sure the Mighty Marvel Marketing Machine saw potential in her. But Stick? I liked him in Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL run, but he was a plot device. He died and he didn't need to come back.

  2. Hmm. "Valvoline" was also the name MAD Magazine gave Wolverine in its "Ecch Men" satire of the animated series.

    It's in ish #327 if you care to look for it. It's pretty corny, but it still gets a laugh out of me. (Sample.)

  3. It's a sad statement when the titles that don't tie-in to the main narrative are stronger than the ones that do. I think it's evidence that there just isn't enough meat in the main narrative to justify the amount of titles forced to participate. I think Onslaught might have been a stronger and more fondly remembered story if it had been done over one month instead of two.

    Hama continues to impress by getting in a smaller personal issue in the midst of a sprawling crossover.

    Val Semieks produces some competent art though it looks a little lumpy. It works fairly well for this version of the character but isn't a style I particularly enjoy.

    Stick is a weird choice here. I know it's because of Elektra but Wolverine has had other mentors that might have made more thematic sense. I know Ogun shows up later and this would have been a great place to start seeding him.

    And, as always, great review and break down.


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