In 1974, a small angry man fought a large angry man. A single panel in Incredible Hulk #180 spawned years of stories, resulting in a character that now has two ongoing solo series, one team-up, five + team books, costarring roles in major event mini-series, and approximately 25 solo one shots a year. That single panel and his first full appearance introduced the character, leading to his joining Marvel’s Merry Mutant band of Misfits, the X-Men. Then eight years later two all-star creators took this character and put him into his first mini-series, truly establishing the character.
The story by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller simply titled Wolverine is notable and exceptional for so many reasons, it’s almost hard to do any kind of summary. Pointing out all the great lines, the cool moments, and the firsts is nearly impossible. All in all, this is the story that made Wolverine cool.
The story starts off with a phrase that now seems overused, but then seemed the peak of hardcore: “I’m Wolverine. I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn’t very nice.” The rest of the tale is one of love, honor, and vengeance, as Wolverine cuts his way through Japan in a quest to protect and win the hand of the love of his life, Mariko Yashida. Unfortunately, her father, Shingen, does not find the hairy little Gaijin worthy, and does everything in his considerable power to stop him. The tale also introduces the ninja Yukio, who would go on to inspire Storm’s punk-rock makeover, and eventually help Logan raise his adopted daughter. The Hand show up a couple times as well (cause what’s a Frank Miller Marvel story without ninja hordes?), but only to be claw-fodder for the ‘ole canucklehead. The Masamune sword, which is now known to be a weapon capable of killing the nearly invincible Wolverine, was on display and used in this story as well. It showed back up in the early issues of Wolverine Origins.
The art in this story was shadowy, and used a lot of unique, disjointed panel arrangements. Looking at it now, it fits with the layout techniques used commonly in comics, but in 1982, it was something truly special. The major action sequences were done in what’s now frequently called “wide-screen” or “cinematic” style. The kung-fu movie mixed with noir sensibilities ruled the artwork, and carried over into the writing.
Chris Claremont has gained a reputation in recent years of holding on to the old storytelling methods of tons of exposition. However, here, at what many consider the height of his career, he did just the opposite. Perhaps it was a unique trust he had in Miller’s capability as an artist, but there’s much more description of how Wolverine is feeling than of what he’s doing. Never does it seem that Logan isn’t the gruff tough guy, yet at the same time, his real feelings, his real sense of loss, and his real sense of desire is all perfectly expressed. The fact that every caption in the book gives internal monologue rather than an outside narrator helps this along greatly. He let Wolverine go into Berserker rages, but not without consequence. The added depth to the character in this story likely saved the character from being a one-note song, allowing him to grow into the multi-faceted popularity juggernaut we know today.
At this point in the character’s life, very little was known about him. The plan was still to have Sabretooth as his father, which he makes an oblique reference to early in the book. He also displays the ability to get drunk to the point of passing out in this story, though now he’s been established as metabolizing alcohol too quickly for it to take any real effect on him. Those slight changes in the character’s background do absolutely nothing to affect the greatness of this story, however. Really, Claremont and Miller told a story that was unique, way ahead of their time, and truly timeless. This is quintessential Wolverine. If you find yourself struggling to see what the big fuss is about over this little healer with claws, I encourage you to track down this mini-series (or one of the several TPB editions of it). It will assuredly show you why Wolverine is cool.
So what do you think? Was this story alone enough to warrant 80 appearances a year? Sound off!