Thee Comic Column #82: Larry Hama’s Wolverine

image courtesy of Marvel.wikia.com

It hardly ever rains in Southern California. It’s one of the more irritating things I’ve had to acclimate to in the nine years since I moved from my Midwestern birthplace, where every spring and every fall thunderstorms would roll in and punched out the sky, replacing ho-hum reality with a charged and ethereal atmosphere that perfectly complimented the many late night comic book reading sessions of my early adolescence. One of the most vivid memories I have of an example of this was reading two very specific issues of Larry Hama, Marc Silvestri and Dan Green’s run on the original, on-going Wolverine solo book.

Though I was a fan of Wolverine from Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men I remember thinking after the first few issues of that ongoing solo series that Wolverine was awesome as one part of the larger ensemble of Claremont’s X-Men stories, but even just a little bit of extra exposure every month didn’t quite sit right with me. You have to remember, while today I am fairly certain there are at the very least half a dozen appearances of the berserker mutant every month, back in the late 80’s/early 90’s there was Uncanny X-Men and, minus the occasional guest appearance* or special format series a la Meltdown, really nothing else until this solo book, which launched as late in the popular character’s existence as 1988 – a full fourteen years after the Wolvie’s legendary first appearance in The Incredible Hulk #180/181. And even though I read the book off and on out of an initial curiosity and commitment to the character, Wolverine (Volume 2) seemed to water the ol’ Canucklehead down a bit for me. This despite the fact that initially it was Claremont himself writing the book. It’s simple really; I liked seeing Wolverine in a team setting more than a featured spotlight because honestly, he simply works better in the context of others – especially those with conflicting points of view on integral matters such as to kill or not to kill. Spotlighted I felt he sometimes came off a bit one-note.

As I said above, despite any misgivings I read the book off and on, buying it for a few months and then lapsing, so that my subsequent ‘collection’ has massive gaps that I’ve never really felt the need to go back and remedy. However, sometime in mid to late 1991 I picked up an issue and found that not only had my beloved artistic team from Uncanny - Marc Silvestri and Dan Green – taken up duties on the visual side of the book, but legendary GIJOE scribe Larry Hama had begun writing the book with issue #31. If you read this column you know I grew up a big fan of Hama’s GIJOE, and the prospect of having him team up with Uncanny’s artistic team intrigued me to no end. I started to buy Wolverine on a somewhat more regular basis -money was always a factor in those pre-employment age days and there were other books that sometimes kept Logan’s from making the cut every time – and as I suspected, Mr. Hama began to win me over. With a wonderful supporting cast that regularly included Jubilee – possibly my favorite supporting character during this era due to the relationship Claremont crafted in the visceral Uncanny X-Men 251 – as well as some strange but very well-written characters like Tyger Tiger, Archie Corrigan and the deadly but ultimately lovable constructs Albert and Elsie Dee, plus repeated appearances from adversaries like Lady Deathstrike, The Hunter in the Darkness and, of course, Sabretooth, Wolverine began to feel a lot more inspired and I became considerably more accustomed to the character off doing his own thing, without the X-Men to challenge and accent his personality.

image courtesy of uncannyxmen.net

And then issue #41 came out. To this day it is still the single best issue of a solo Wolverine comic I’ve ever read (apologies to the Claremont/Miller mini that preceded this). It was July 1991 and the book was bi-weekly at the time. I’d missed a week or two at the shop so on the night I sat down to read #41 I also had #42 in my pile. The windows in the house were open and it was one of those mid-summer thunderstorms in the Midwest where the heat from the day falls graciously away and the storm takes complete control of the air, the sky, the breath that shapes and colors your perception of the world around you. With a window open beside me, the wind pouring the ozone from the storm into my lungs and the rain beating on the glass I worked my way through this two-parter that would set the stage for this creative team’s subsequent journey into Wolverine’s past.

It was incredible. The book holds up, but that initial experience was almost an altered state. Let me set the stage a bit:

Jubilee and Forge – a somewhat underrated X-character I always really liked under Claremont’s hand – search the East River frantically for Wolvine, who has disappeared after a plane crash at the previous issue’s climax. A storm batters New York, the same way a storm battered the forested suburb just outside my window, and mine and the characters’ worlds seemed to rub together a little more than usual. As the issue progresses we get into a lot of great subterranean action and honestly, this is what I love best – those twisting tunnels that, in the Marvel Universe, seem to go on forever beneath the city, a veritable world in their own right, populated by strange characters and all manner of nasty, evil things. A lot of the ideas that form these two issues would later become somewhat ho-hum with Wolverine, but at this time we’d not had a heck of a lot of direct confrontation with the character’s past in regards to his ‘origin’, so this felt important. And Hama carried the weight passed on by Barry Windsor Smith’s Weapon X perfectly. In fact, it’s always been my opinion that he surpassed it.

image courtesy of marvel.wikia.com

Sure, we have guest stars galore here but all of them meant something. Well, maybe not Cable, who admittedly is kinda thrown-in because he was relatively new and a mega-popular character at the time, but it’s done well and honestly, like Wolverine’s past, Cable had not yet been done to death, so again, even his appearance in the story felt important. This would subsequently become one of the things that drove me off X-books within a few years of this issue – nothing felt important again for a long time, and every snippet of Wolverine’s past became just another piece in a seemingly never-ending, often contradictory puzzle. But for a few months in 1991, boy did these stories grow to silently define this character.

Larry Hama, Marc Silvestri and Dan Green’s Wolverine #41 and 42, and a few months later #48, #49 and #50 began a unceasing march into the Logan’s past, and they did it for the sake of doing it and the love of the story – much like the aforementioned Chris Claremont and Frank Miller did with Wolverine (Volume 1) – not for the sake of sales or sensationalistic hype. This is pure comics genius and an absolute pleasure to have had this experience with. It’s defined much of what and how I read and love comics, and I thought that was definitely something worth writing about.

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*Occasional by today’s standards

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

2 Responses to Thee Comic Column #82: Larry Hama’s Wolverine
  1. […] he deserved: good. Great after Hama picked it up, both in content and sales numbers. I’ve writ... joup.co/for-the-love-of-comics
  2. Tommy Reply

    Excellent article Shawn. One of my favorite Thee Comic Columns I’ve read in a while…maybe because I vividly remember reading these same books (the cover to #50 with the claw tears was one of my favorites as a kid), or maybe because there is just something so visceral about reading while it’s storming outside. Growing up in west Texas, we had a lot of long stretches with no rain followed by massive downpours, flash floods, and tornados. Something about the sky’s and the atmosphere’s color scheme sticks in my mind like an old photo and pairs with my recollection of reading comics while my family gathered in the hallway (the center of my house) during particularly violent storms. You just made me nostalgic my friend, which really is the point of all this stuff we write about for Joup. It’s like I’m 12 again. Well done.

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