In which Taylor and Liz both have a read of the same comic and write about it. Sometimes they agree. Lots of times they don’t. This week, it’s Wolverine #312.
One of the things creators will often say is that as long as fans are responding, positively or negatively, to what they’re doing, they know they must be doing something right. We all nod along, sagely agreeing with this self-evident wisdom, until we don’t like something that creator does. Then we either say they’ve lost it, or we invent a good reason for the disappointment; “Editorial were all over that title, it wasn’t his/her fault”, “Oh, well, they’re doing creator-owned stuff now so their heart isn’t really in it”, “That title was never going to last”.
But sometimes a creator does something so shockingly new and different that we can’t overcome our fear of change quickly enough to appreciate their genius. Months or years later we look back and go “Ooooh, riiiight. THAT’S what they were doing, how brave!”, and then evangelise about something we used to dismiss.
So [SPOILER ALERT] it turns out in Wolverine #312 that Wolverine was actually behind the Weapon X programme all along. Crazy, right? So when he got his memories back, he didn’t actually get them back. It was a lie. And that time he killed Sabretooth? Well, it kind of felt wrong even as he was doing it, but sometimes that happens with beheadings, so he trusted his gut and let the head roll. Turns out it was right to feel wrong because it was the wrong Sabretooth, right? Oh, and he knows this because Remus told him so. Who’s Remus? Romulus’s SISTER, of course. One half of the power pair who built an Empire no-one’s ever heard of but that is INTEGRAL to Wolverine’s entire history.
Whether these revelations turn out to be true or [even more genius] colossal red herrings with great flapping gills, ask yourself some questions. Hasn’t it always seemed unfair and sexist to you that Romulus and Remus were BOYS? Wouldn’t it be great if Wolverine suddenly remembered he was an evil mastermind? If he was, wouldn’t he try really hard to forget it when his grand plan failed? Wouldn’t that be a great motivation for a Marvel hero, to redeem the past wrongs he can’t remember? Don’t you wish more creators would just throw the established continuity of their chosen work-for-hire universe aside, and rewrite that reality? Christos Gage half-stepped in this direction with X-Men Legacy by writing Rogue into a different dimension, just so he wouldn’t have to abide by tortured AvX crossover continuity! But Loeb takes it all the way. This is Wolverine: Full Retard.
Loeb is surely giving us what we want from comics, isn’t he? We don’t want the same old stuff over and over, we want fresh ideas, new interpretations, “bold new directions”! So what if they don’t make sense, fundamentally alter the lives of characters you’ve invested in (both emotionally and financially) for the sake of an arc that may never be revisited, or are just plain dumb? That’s the kooky unpredictability of a truly creative mind at work! These guys have to be allowed to try things! Sometimes bad things. After all, Sometimes good people do bad things and bad people do good things. That’s comics morality for you. Right?
It’s easy to hate this comic. But it’s worth analysing why you do, when really, it’s no dumber than a bunch of other stuff I guarantee you’ve loved.
A while ago, Lost creator J. J. Abrams gave a TED Talk on the subject of mystery in storytelling. As the showpiece of the conversation he used a prop he referred to as the ‘Mystery Box’- a simple cardboard box with a question mark on one side. The box contained a variety of magic tricks. Abrams bought the box when he was a child, but never actually opened it. The thrill of not knowing what was inside outweighed any excitement the tricks could provide.
The greatest success of Lost as a series was that it kept viewers flummoxed from beginning to end, providing just enough information to allow for perpetual theorizing but not enough to give away the answers. The point Abrams made with his Mystery Box idea was that people actually prefer to use their own imaginations to fill in the blanks, and that no idea, no matter how fantastical, can match the power of the unknown.
Let it be said that I really like Wolverine. He’s rough around the edges, he drinks beer and smokes cigars, but underneath the grunty exterior he’s a heroic character who sticks his neck out for the people he cares about and does the dirty work when it needs doing.
One of the coolest things about Wolverine back when he was first introduced (back in 1974, in an issue of Incredible Hulk) was that he’d had his memories wiped, and his past was a blank page. Though the writers dropped clues and titbits of information, the fact that it was largely left to the reader to speculate and make up their own back-story was far more fun than any straightforward character history could have been.
The writers succeeded in keeping most of his past under wraps for many years, which went a long way toward maintaining his status as one of the most enduringly popular characters in comics. Unfortunately, after nearly forty years of Wolverine books, everyone and their mother has now had a word in edgewise, and the result is a big hot mess. It wasn’t until fairly recently that the Origins story endeavoured to provide a full, canon back-story, which (should have) changed the game when it comes to continuity. And, one would hope, put the past-delving to rest for a while.
During their last run on Wolverine, Jeph Loeb and Simone Bianchi introduced the big twist that Wolverine was part of a race called the Lupine who were descended from actual wolves. Now they’re back on the book to introduce the next big twist, which is that… he’s not descended from actual wolves.
Fine, I’m totally cool with that. However-
For Loeb to introduce the Lupine idea and then take it all back so that he can drop an even bigger clunker at the end of this issue is frankly just offensive to my sensibilities. Especially when said clunker is:
The Weapon X program was actually LOGAN’S IDEA. THE WHOLE TIME.
*Cue the sound of me slamming my head against the wall. Repeatedly.*
It’s not that I’m against big, crazy, game-changing ideas; quite the opposite in fact. But why keep back-pedalling? Why not move things forward? The best Wolverine stories of the past ten or so years haven’t bothered with his past, or with any of the tropes that started off interesting but have turned stale over time. Jason Aaron’s awesome Astonishing Wolverine and Spider-man and Wolverine and the X-Men kept the character fresh and fascinating by giving him other characters to bounce off and new things to do. Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan was an alternate future story which gave readers new things to guess at, new chunks of untold history to mentally play with.
I think one of the great misapprehensions Loeb may have here (aside from the notion that this is in any way a good idea) is that Wolverine’s past needs even more tweaking/rehashing/retconning. Especially if it means that some new character (a foxy redhead, no less) is going to show up to tell us all that what we thought we knew about Logan’s past isn’t actually the truth, but was in fact the fourteen-billionth lie-about-Logan’s-past we’ve been fed. And if this is the direction this book is going in: Weapon X, redheads, Wolverine’s past, freaking Romulus… … well.
This is one mystery I’d like to see shoved back inside the box.