Every other week, Jason Shayer highlights an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
After seeing The Wolverine and being disappointed with its wasted potential, I thought a look back at the source material might cleanse my pallet. The Wolverine was Marvel’s second limited series (put out in tandem with the Hercules: Prince of Power limited series in 1982) and featured the creative talents of the legendary X-Men scribe, Chris Claremont, and a young up-and-comer named Frank Miller.
The first issue kicks off with this classic monologue: “I’m Wolverine. I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.”
Logan makes his way to Japan when he’s unable to contact his lover, Mariko Yashida (who first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #118, Feb. 1979). He then blusters his way into talking to Mariko and discovers that she’s been forced to marry because of family obligations and is suffering abuse at the hands of her new husband.
Logan then challenges Mariko’s father and head of the Yashida clan, Lord Shingen. And of course, this is the first issue of a four-issue limited series, so Logan is defeated. What makes that scene so memorable is that Shingen looks down on Logan, refusing to fight him with a steel sword, but rather a wood one because he sees Logan as unworthy. Logan is left defeated and humbled, which is always a great place to tell a story. He picks himself up and his pride thanks to a young ninja named Yukio.
The theme of this limited series is Wolverine struggling to come to grips with his animal, berserker side. Sadly, this thematic element was what was missing from the film. It captured the characters and the setting, but didn’t really have that internal struggle that defined the character of Wolverine for years.
Another complicating factor was the romantic interest, Yukio. While she served as a double-agent for Lord Shingen, she genuinely fell in love with Wolverine and felt that they were kindred spirits. But, Wolverine never really abandons his love for Mariko. In fact, the Logan-Mariko relationship exemplified everything about Wolverine’s transformation. Under a code of honour, Logan restrains the beast that rages within him and his love for Mariko was the perfect symbol for his success.
As the storyline approaches its climax, Wolverine attacks Shingen’s illegal business interests, strategically dismantling his empire and forcing a confrontation. And in that climatic battle, Wolverine asks Lord Shingen if he’s now worthy and Shingen draws the family sword and attacks. Wolverine kills Lord Shingen and expects to have to now face Mariko as she will be honour-bound to take up the fight against Wolverine. However, Mariko does take up the sword, but presents it to Wolverine as his reward for cleansing the Yashida clan of Shingen’s corrupting influence. This stunning decision validated Wolverine’s being and struggle as Mariko accepts him for what he is, having witnesses him at his most savage.
The limited series wraps up with a lead into Uncanny X-Men #172-173, which as they say, is a whole other story and a whole other blog entry. But that last page is wonderful as it shows the wedding announcement for Logan and Mariko and there’s a hand-written note from Wolverine to Nightcrawler: “Hey Elf, Don’t Forget the Beer! –W”
The Wolverine limited series featured the first appearance of Lord Shingen and Yukio. Another interesting bit was that in issue #1, Wolverine mentions that he knows the identity of his father.
I really felt this story was timeless. It’s over 30 years old and still resonates with a lot of great themes and sequences that show Claremont and Miller’s fascination with Japanese culture. Joe Rubinstein does a wonderful job inking Miller’s pencils, making them feel uniquely smooth and finished.
Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.