Weekly Recommendation: Wolverine by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller

Of all the X-Men, Wolverine is by far the most popular, and for good reason. There’s something so appealing about the rebellious loose cannon of any team. Another big part of the Canadian mutant’s appeal is the air of mystery about him. For the longest time, the X-Men didn’t even know that Wolverine’s name was Logan. Wolverine is largely a man of action, leaving his thoughts and inner machinations a mystery to both his teammates and the reader. Naturally, on the occasion that readers do get a glimpse into Logan’s head, the results are fascinating. The mystery around Wolverine begins to unravel, as the reader learns what kind of a man Logan is. There is a tormented soul underneath that adamantium skeleton, after decades of torture and mind-control. Yet, despite Wolverine’s rather tortured life, he is a man of honor and decency. No matter the difficulty, Wolverine is constantly striving to be better in the face of adversity.

The ol canucklehead

No writer has captured the nuance of Wolverine’s characterization quite like Chris Claremont. During his sixteen year run on Uncanny X-Men, Claremont defined Wolverine as a character. No other tale has better exemplified the titular character’s solo adventures than Claremont and artist Frank Miller’s 1982 mini-series, Wolverine. Claremont & Miller’s mini-series is the basis for every Wolverine story, being the first to feature the character in his own series. Wolverine is quite self-contained, lasting only four issues, and telling one tightly-plotted narrative. Throughout the mini-series, Claremont & Miller craft many iconic moments for Logan. The beginning of the story even introduces Logan’s catch-phrase, “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn’t very nice”. Signature dialogue and moments such as this one illustrate why Wolverine stands out among the other X-Men.

The best there is

Wolverine himself is clearly given full focus, especially examining his unique mindset. Throughout the narrative, Wolverine is portrayed similarly to a protagonist in film noir. Narration boxes fill the page with Logan’s inner monologue, as our hero stoically observes the world around him. Claremont uses Wolverine’s thoughts to give the reader a morally gray, jaded hero, with much life experience. When confronted with a pair of guard dogs, Logan thinks, “I got no stomach for guttin’ animals. People though– that’s another matter”. Despite Wolverine’s calm, observant narration, an inner layer of ferocity resides within the mutant hero. This unhinged feral state emerges on occasion, revealing a side of Logan that he wishes to remain hidden. After brutally slaying a group of ninjas, Wolverine thinks to himself, “I lost control. I feel sick. I feel great”. The internal conflict with which Logan grapples throughout the story adds a layer of complexity to the character, depicting a hero at odds with his own nature. At the end of the day, Wolverine is a noble warrior, who fights for what he believes. Logan spends the entire narrative attempting to rescue the woman he loves, Mariko Yashida, from her criminal father. This pursuit of honor gives Wolverine a mission that compels him to move past his own animal urges.

He’s losing it…

The conflict between Logan’s animalistic side and his humanity takes center stage in this story. Wolverine is constantly being torn between his sense of what’s right and his base, animal instincts. At times, Logan gives in to his more primitive nature. One scene shows Logan choosing to get drunk with the seductive assassin Yukio rather than help his friend, the government agent Asano Kimura. Claremont excellently captures the appeal of relinquishing control, demonstrating Logan’s temptation to give in to his instincts. Yet, the guilt of losing control is shown as an immediate consequence to Logan’s behavior. When Logan slaughters a group of assassins in front of Mariko, he thinks, “It’s a side of myself I never wanted her to see”. Scenes such as this raise an overarching question of honor throughout the narrative. Wolverine constantly struggles to be honorable and do what is right, despite his baser urges. Logan must prove that he is worthy of Mariko’s love. Moreover, Wolverine must prove that he is worthy of his own humanity. The struggle to be an honorable man culminates in Wolverine’s ultimate journey of self-acceptance. In order to save Mariko and take down her father, Wolverine has to accept who he is and grow from this self-acceptance. In a key moment of reflection, Logan realizes, “An animal knows what it is, and accepts it. A man may know what he is– but he questions. He dreams. He strives. Changes. Grows”. In spite of his own failures and mistakes, Wolverine strives to be better, to be an honorable man for Mariko. Ultimately, Logan’s struggle between man and beast makes him a more compelling hero.

An honorable hunter

As far as villains go, Shingen Yashida is a formidable foil for Wolverine. Shingen opposes Logan under the guise of an established “tradition” of the Yashida clan. When Logan initially faces Shingen, the villain claims, “Our family is as old as the emperor’s, with a legitimate claim to the throne”. Shingen’s outward sophistication contrasts Logan’s animalistic exterior, as Shingen claims, “You are not worthy of a true sword”. Yet underneath this veil of superiority, Shingen hides his own depraved behavior. Forcing his daughter Mariko to marry another man, heading a criminal empire, and brutally killing any who get in his way, Shingen reveals his nature as a true monster. Shingen also has allies in the Hand, a mysterious ninja cult who he hires to kill Wolverine. The Hand add in an exciting, dynamic new element to the mix. The danger and intrigue of the Hand accentuates the power at Shingen’s disposal. Action scenes of Wolverine fighting ninjas are also always welcome.

Wolverine vs ninjas. Nuff said.

Logan’s supporting cast consists mainly of the women in his life. On the one hand, there is Mariko Yashida, the woman whom Logan has come to rescue. Mariko embodies everything for which Logan strives. She is pure, decent, and she sees the man underneath Wolverine’s gruff exterior. In Logan’s words, “Mariko makes me want to change, to grow– to temper the berserker in me”. Logan strives to rescue Mariko from her father because he strives to be a better man. On the other hand, Logan is lured onto the wild side by Yukio. A shady assassin with a seductive lure, Yukio represents the temptation for Logan to release his inner animal. As Logan observes, “By nature, we’re both scrappers. We like it. An’ when the need arises, we can kill. Yukio wants me the way I am”. Yet Yukio walks a tightrope of morality. Initially hired to kill Wolverine by Shingen, Yukio’s feelings for Logan leave her conflicted. The dangerous path which Yukio walks acts as a cautionary tale for Logan, should he ever let his base instincts take over. Of course, not all of Logan’s supporting cast are love interests. Asano Kimura, a Japanese secret service agent, acts as a contact for Logan throughout the story. Asano gives readers a small look into Logan’s world outside of the X-Men. The reader is left to wonder how Logan even came to know a member of the secret service, and how many other mysterious contacts Logan has. Questions such as these maintain a curiosity around Wolverine’s life, showcasing the mystery that make Logan so appealing.

A little walk on the wild side…

Frank Miller’s artwork is phenomenal throughout the 1980s, and this story is no exception. Particularly during action scenes, Miller’s sense of pacing is perfect. Each panel illustrates a well-choreographed sequence, almost like a dance. Every individual movement carries a weight to it, as Miller builds suspense and tension around major fight scenes. Miller also has a beautiful sense of design when it comes to the setting of urban Japan. Shadows and alleyways are brought to the forefront, giving readers a dirty, noir-esque feel of Tokyo. Miller combines the dirtier aspects of Tokyo with bright neon lights for contrast, making the city feel real. Scenes in the Yashida household feel very traditional, as Miller renders old-fashioned Japanese houses expertly. The panel work is another stand-out feature. Miller uses panels like a camera, zooming in and out as the need arises. Miller’s close-ups give a great view of emotion, while zooming out provides a great sense of perspective.

Like a ballet of death

As much as I love Claremont & Miller’s work on Wolverine, there are certainly aspects of the series which might not work for everyone. Claremont is well known for his narration, and for the most part, narration boxes really adds to Logan’s character. Yet some narration boxes can be very exposition-heavy, providing needless background to recap the previous issue or facts about Wolverine. Exposition such as this can feel a bit heavy and dated. The ending, while amazing, sort of leaves off on a cliffhanger, which has to be picked back up in Claremont’s X-Men run. While I love everything about Claremont’s X-Men, tying the ending of Wolverine into such a lengthy run breaks into the self-contained nature of the story. I also personally would have liked more of a fleshed-out supporting cast in this story. Characters like Asano certainly add much to Logan’s character, but I think adding in one or two more characters that were not love interests would round out the cast more. Still, a large appeal of Wolverine is his nature as a loner, so maybe it’s for the best that his supporting cast stay limited.

Sheesh, Logan, we get it already…

It’s always exciting when a stand-out member of a superhero team gets his/her own solo title. Back in 1982, I can only imagine how excited readers must have been to see Wolveine in his own series. What makes this solo outing so special, however, is how little the reader usually got into Logan’s head beforehand. Given more focus, Wolverine is fully fleshed out in his titular mini-series. A mission as simple as Logan rescuing the woman he loves allows Claremont & Miller to delve into Wolverine’s character. The badass, strong-but-silent man of action finally has room to think, to feel, and to struggle. Logan is an honorable warrior, a samurai who fights for a just cause. Yet he still struggles with his own nature, fighting to be a better man. Logan’s internal conflict in this story sets the stage for future development, by Claremont and many other writers to come. More importantly, Claremont & Miller’s original take on Wolverine set the stage for nearly every Wolverine story afterwards. Exploring the Wolverine on his own for the first time, Claremont & Miller show that there is more to the ol’ canucklehead than meets the eye.

Fighting ninjas and animal urges simultaneously

Thanks for reading! If you happen to read/like this story, here are a few other Wolverine recommendations:

  • Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont
  • Wolverine & Kitty Pryde by Chris Claremont & Al Milgrom
  • Wolverine by Chris Claremont & John Buscema
  • Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith
  • Wolverine: Enemy of the State/Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.
  • Wolverine by Jason Aaron
  • Wolverine & the X-Men by Jason Aaron

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