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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

X-amining Wolverine '96

"The Last Ronin"

In a Nutshell
Wolverine & Sunfire battle Red Ronin

Plot: Jeph Loeb (1st Story)
Script: Ralph Macchio, Joseph Kelly (2nd Story) 
Pencils: Ed McGuiness, Tommy Lee Edwards (2nd Story)
Inks: Nathan Massengill with Norman Lee, Rich Case (2nd Story)
Letters: RS & Comicraft, John Workman (2nd Story) 
Colors: Gloria Vasquez, Paul Becton (2nd Story)
Enhancements: Malibu
Editor: Bob Harras

In Japan, Wolverine visits Mariko's grave. He is approached by Silver Samurai, who wants his help freeing Sunfire from government custody. Meanwhile, Bastion meets with Japanese officials, trying to get their support for his anti-mutant Zero Tolerance operation. General Hirito tells him Japan as its own anti-mutant weapon already: Red Ronin. As Hirito executes the seizure of Red Ronin from the Fujikawa Corporation, he is watched by Yukio. Later, Wolverine frees Sunfire, who is struggling to control his powers, and Silver Samurai tells the pair the Hand is plotting to take control of Red Ronin for themselves. Working together, they stop the Hand, but Hirito orders Red Ronin's controller to activate the robot. As Red Ronin charges into action, Sunfire manages to create an opening to allow Wolverine inside, where he damages enough critical systems to stop the robot. Sunfire, however, almost loses control of his powers, prompting Wolverine to take him to Canada, in the hopes that James & Heather Hudson can help him regain control. Meanwhile, Red Ronin's controller is executed by Hirito, on orders from his mysterious benefactor, the government still intent on using Red Ronin to take control of the mutant problem. 

2nd Story 
Wolverine & Yukio learn that Wolverine's foster daughter Amiko has run away from her babysitters. Intent on finding the "Golden Temple" she visited as a child, she sets out on a quest, and encounters a mysterious beggar. The pair help each other along the way, but when they reach the temple, Amiko is disappointed by the bland reality of it. The beggar then reveals himself as Wolverine, and helps her realize she's learned a lesson about accepting both the good and bad in life. Together, they head back home. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Future superstar artist (and Deadpool penciller) Ed McGuiness draws this issue, his first full issue for Marvel (he previously shared credit on X-Nation 2099 #6). His style is pretty much on point with where it is in the future, perhaps a touch more manga-y which, of course, is fitting given the influence of Joe Madureira at this time. 

Sunfire, who last appeared in X-Men (vol. 2) #25 (for our purposes; he also appeared in Namor #45 and, of course, his alternate version was a fixture of Astonishing X-Men), guest stars in this issue; he has been detained by the Japanese government due to his powers flaring out of control after he was hit with Magneto's electro-magnetic pulse in X-Men #25.

The issue ends with Wolverine taking him to James and Heather Hudson in Canada; his story will continue in the second volume of Alpha Flight. 

The pair team-up to fight Red Ronin, a human-controller robot designed to battle Godzilla (who isn't directly mentioned by name here, due to lapsed licensing rights, but rather by a reference to Ronin battling a "time-lost dinosaur"). 

Bastion appears briefly, trying to press Red Ronin into service as an anti-mutant weapon.

General Hirito's benefactor will be revealed in X-Men (vol. 2) #63 to be the Kingpin (what isn't revealed is why McGuiness draws him to look like Stalin). 

The second story is fun if largely inconsequential, one of the rare instances in which we see Wolverine functioning as an actual parental figure to Amiko (in his own, outlandish, comic book-y way, of course) 

The Chronology Corner
References are made to "Onslaught" (Bastion tries to use it to sell the Japanese government on OZT), setting this after that story. Specifically, between issues #106 and #107 of the main series, and between Uncanny X-Men #337 and #338. 

A Work in Progress
The issue opens with Wolverine visiting Mariko's grave.

Wolverine is in Japan, so of course Yukio shows up. 

The time Sunfire broke Wolverine out of jail, in Wolverine #56, is referenced when Wolverine frees Sunfire. 

Wolverine acts throughout the issue like he's never encountered the Hand before, despite them being perennial antagonists for him at this point. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
It's noted that when Sunfire's powers flared out of control, he didn't actually hurt anyone, a distinction that probably wouldn't be made today (heck, today, he probably would have hurt people, in order to make his power struggle more angsty). 

Human/Mutant Relations
Even though Sunfire & Wolverine stop Red Ronin, the whole encounter is spun as something similar to Onslaught's attack on New York, leaving mutants to blame. 

Austin's Analysis
Most Wolverine annuals/one-shots are a chore to get through, extra long and usually covering the same kinds of beats again and again, all-too-often feeling like little more than the cash grabs they are. This one, though, is entirely more fun than it has any right to be. Much of that comes from Ed McGuiness' art, which is perfectly suited to a story involving Wolverine & Sunfire fighting a giant anti-Kaiju samurai robot. Even beyond the figure work, McGuiness does some fun stuff with the layouts, such as a series of pages that could function as a three page spread if lined up together, showcasing the size of Red Ronin. But Loeb & Macchio (the Hand flub aside) also manage to provide just enough of a thematic framework to support the pretty pictures, having Wolverine draw on his own recent (and ongoing) struggle to get his animalistic side under control to help Sunfire maintain control over his own powers. It is, frankly, one of the best uses of the "animal Wolverine" status quo, showing how far Wolverine has come on his journey by turning the student into the teacher. All in all, this is the best kind of story for an annual: something with big, larger-than-life art that connects up with the main narrative and character arcs of the series, without also being inextricably tied to ongoing events. It is not essential reading, but also, not completely superfluous. Best of all, it's a lot of fun. 

Next Issue
X-Force & Cable battle the Shi'ar in X-Force/Cable '96!

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  1. To this day I have no idea why Chris Claremont created Amiko. He did absolutely nothing with the character and it led to nothing new concerning Wolverine. The girl simply disappeared after her introduction and only came back (as far as I remember) in an Adam Kubert issue, only to vanish again. She is a great example of what should NOT be done, since it only made Wolverine look worse as a character. Something similar happened with Madeline Pryor, in which her fate made Cyclops worse as a character. At least in her case she was a real character for a while and was only ruined due to editorial interference and writers’ incompetence (yes, even great writers can be incompetent some times, and Claremont and Simonson made disastrous choices concerning Pryor). Lesson learned: don’t create a character if you have no idea what to do with him/her or no intention to do something meaningful to improve the story or the characters connected to him/her.

  2. I miss the days when comics make it explicit that no one was injured by superhero battles in the text. I know it's unrealistic but I enjoyed that aspect.

    I'm guessing the disconnect between the mysterious benefactor here and the one that shows up later in X-Men is probably a difference of intent. Perhaps Lieb meant it to be a new character while Lobdell decided it was Kingpin.

    Also, it's always fun, if a little strange, to see Amiko show up. She was certainly a character with great potential, even if it's never realized. I was surprised to see her in an issue of Wolverine: Black, White and Blood. It was a great use of the character and, to date, a logical conclusion.

    And Bastion showing up in the issues of this era was really getting me stoked for the upcoming OZT crossover. The build up felt much more consistent than it did for Onslaught.

    1. I'm with you on two points in particular, Drew -- one, I agree with you and Austin that there used to be an effort, however sometimes unrealistic, to downplay any collatoral casualties caused by super heroes going "out of control". I mean, it makes no sense that the Hulk never killed any bystanders in his various rampages, but that was the company line for years, and I like it. When you have heroes offing civilians, even by accident, it diminishes them considerably.

      And two, I agree that having Bastion pop up all over the place really did a good job of whetting the whistle for "Zero Tolerance", and that his appearances feel more thought-out than the Onslaught clues. That said, I do still maintain that the Onslaught stuff was more-or-less consistent if you were only reading X-MEN and UNCANNY -- but Bastion's appearances feel better conceived everywhere he appears.

      Though, that said, I also felt that O:ZT was a bit of a letdown, but I kind of wonder if it was botched on the back-end by scheduling problems. I mean, you have one of the two core X-books not even participating (aside from that one Spider-Man issue) because its cast is lost in outer space, and you have the main Earthbound team shunted off to have their story told in WOLVERINE for some reason, completely sidelined from the main conflict.

    2. Full confession: I actually enjoyed OZT. The structure was strange and I find that part of the appeal. Obviously, it has it's problems and I think it was an indicator of Bob Harras' iron tight grip on the line. Knowing what Lobdell was trying to do and knowing how Harras felt the X-Men should be viewed I'm surprised it went as far as it did. I think it would be more fondly remembered it the initial plans had been allowed to play out.

      I have never tried just reading the Uncanny and Adjectiveless X-Men issues leading up to Onslaught. I'm one of those people afflicted with the need for completion so I read everything when I reread all the issues. And, truth be told, I didn't really notice the conflicting set-up or dead ends until they were pointed out. I tend to be big picture more than details when I'm reading. I don't know if that makes me an idiot or just unobservant.

  3. Nice art by Edwards & Case on the back-up.

  4. I still wasn't a regular WOLVERINE reader at this time, but as with the prior year's annual, I decided to pick this one up -- and I remember really liking it. Unfortunately, my copy is in storage and it's not on Marvel Unlimited or available as a reprint anywhere, so I wasn't able to read along for this post -- but I'm glad to hear it holds up fairly well.

    Now, hear me out: this issue is a weird sort of perfect storm of the sort of continuity I like (or used to like) in comics. We have a main standalone story. But throughout, we have an oblique reference to a licensed comic from the 70s. We have an appearance by Bastion to set up next year's X-Men crossover. We also have a little set-up for the upcoming Shang-Chi/Kingpin story in X-MEN. We have Sunfire getting a new status quo, which will eventually lead to the creation of Big Hero 6. And we have references to Fujikawa Industries, who will very shortly take control of Stark Enterprises with Tony Stark shunted off to the "Heroes Reborn" universe (and Fujikawa hieress Rumiko will become a supporting characer/love interest in IRON MAN when he comes back to the main universe).

    Obviously not all of this was planned or intentional, but this is the sort of thing I love, and something I feel has been missing from Marvel for years: lots of cross-pollination of storylines, not even necessarily in related titles, but without the gratuity of having headliner characters from other series show up as guest-stars. If that makes any sense. It's really hard to explain what I'm getting at, but I know what I like as regards the presentation and handling of continuity, and this is pretty much exactly it.

    Now -- was this the first inkling of Silver Samurai going straight? Or am I forgetting something? I was annoyed when, as I recall, Bendis made him a bad guy again in NEW AVENGERS after he had reformed in the late 90s.


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