Marvel Comics September 2014 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Death of Wolverine #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

After years of fans lamenting Wolverine’s involvement in just about every Marvel book on the stands, Charles Soule and Steve McNiven are finally killing the unkillable X-man. And for all the hype around it, this one is a fairly quiet affair. We already know the ending - it’s emblazoned in big letters on the front cover. One would think that the appeal of this title would come from answering “How does he die?” But instead, the creative team does something that hasn’t been seen much in the past couple of years. They actually focus on the character.

Wolverine’s legacy is one of violence and bloodshed. His healing factor made it easy for him to throw himself into any fight and usually come out on top just by virtue of sheer endurance rather than skill. With that safety net gone, Logan has to come to terms with his reality. The facts of his life still mostly remain the same - he lives in a world where a lot of people want him dead - but now with the added caveat that he will die no matter how much he fights that inevitability. Soule is able to ground Logan. for once, he can’t be all things for all people. A Wolverine that is aware of his mortality proves to be an infinitely more engaging Wolverine than an invincible one. The actual threat presented to Logan in this issue only serves as one because of his weakened state. It feels like Nuke has been popping up a lot lately and if nothing else, having a character with an American flag tattooed on his face provides a striking visual.

And it’s an issue full of them. Steve McNiven lets loose on this one. There’s a weight in his renderings that gives this book a quiet intensity, much like Wolverine himself. Sparse dialogue and captioning allows the pages to breathe and it gives McNiven a chance to be more cinematic with his choice of panel layouts. It effectively conveys a sense of dread about the inevitability of Wolverine’s situation.

But at the end of the day, all we’ve gotten is a familiar set-up for a familiar final splash page. This is a comic book well-made, no doubt about that, but it’s not exactly breaking any new ground. Soule definitely shows an adept understanding of Logan and his situation. McNiven and the rest of the art team have clearly gone for a certain tone and they nailed it. But for an issue that represents a quarter of the “Death of Wolverine” story, there are absolutely no surprises thus far, and that’s somewhat disappointing.

Grendel vs Shadow promo by Matt Wagner
Grendel vs Shadow promo by Matt Wagner
Credit: Dynamite

Grendel vs. The Shadow #1
Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Matt Wagner and Brennan Wagner
Lettering by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Grendel vs. The Shadow #1 begins with some manipulations of logistics. In the past, Matt Wagner was able to easily pair together his Grendel and Batman as contemporaries and set them against each other in a game of cat and mouse. But here, Wagner wants to tell a story about 1930s New York, a familiar setting for Shadow stories but one completely alien for Hunter Rose, the first Grendel who was such a character of the 1980s. After the necessary rearranging of the chairs to get Hunter Rose into the NYC of the past, Wagner sets about the business of telling both a Grendel story and a Shadow story, giving each character the time and space to be the “hero” of their own stories.

Since the earliest Grendel stories, Wagner has always been a pulp writer. His explorations of heroes, villains, myths and crime have at heart been pulp stories. By setting this crossover event where and when he does, Wagner has a ball with all the crime and gangster elements that can be associated with a pre-World War II NYC. But more than just making this a tale of gangsters and their molls, Wagner sets Hunter Rose and the Shadow up as ideal opposites of each other; one wants to be the mob boss of the whole city and the other one wants to rid his city of all crime. Even more than the opposite nature of his old Grendel/Batman story, he creates an almost elemental opposition of these two characters. Both of them are storms sweeping through the city, set on an inevitable collision course.

After the opening’s messy contrivance of sending Hunter Rose into the past, Wagner cleverly uses the character’s time travelling to reveal the workings of Grendel’s mind. Even one of Grendel’s first thoughts, “In the distance… where are the Twin Towers?!” works to tell how even for us, Grendel is a character of the the early 1980s. In that way, he’s already a 30 year old character. He has his own pulp history that we should regard as contemporary. Looking at the state of the crime families or the mindset of early 20th century American authors, Grendel has the advantage of history on his side. Wagner’s Shadow is a classic take on the character, a driven man who sees other people as tools in his war on crime. It’s easy to see a man like that existing in a fictional past New York, where once the answers may have been an obsessed vigilante armed with a couple of pistols and a vendetta against crime.

The one thing that both characters have in abundance is confidence. They're confident in their missions. That is what lets Hunter Rose so quickly and mercifully insert himself into this time, proving once again that the Grendel spirit is timeless. Like the characters, Wagner's stories work best when he draws them because of his confident artwork. Wagner’s style exudes a self-assuredness of itself. Like the characters who are never at a loss, Wagner moves purposefully through this comic, knowing when he as to keep the story progressing forward and when to let the image just stop time, allowing his readers to soak in the moment. His artwork mercenarily serves the story but the story also gives a lot of joy to the artist. It allows him moments of quiet meditation and then follows it up with massive and bloody action.

Matt Wagner revels in the pulp roots of Grendel vs. The Shadow #1. With Grendel and the Shadow, Wagner gets to have a field day playing with gangsters, villains and antiheroes. Over his long career, those seem to be his storytelling passions as he continually returns to characters like Grendel. This comic gives him room to play around in the moral darkness that allows Grendel and the Shadow to exist. In Wagner’s stories, Grendel is the “hero” but in Wagner’s dark context, the word means little. The Shadow is a “good buy” but when you look at his thoughts and methods, the extremeness of them border (if not fully tip) into the realms of fascism. Neither of these characters are good guys but each are our protagonist. Wagner creates a story where it’s easy easy to get lost in their seductive ideologies and root for both characters.

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