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‘Wolverine: The Best There Is’ #1: Not for Kids! (or Adults)

I want to start of my review on a positive note: Taskmaster #4 by Fred Van Lente and Jefte Palo was an amazing finale to the best book Marvel’s put out all year. I’ve talked about it at length here already, so this is just another suggestion to go read it now before I move on to this week’s full review.

There’s a new Wolverine book out from Marvel, which is not as frequent an occurrence as it used to be in the days before Deadpool took over the mantle as the line’s most overexposed character. This series is titled Wolverine: The Best There Is, and it’s worth keeping in mind how the entirety of that catchphrase goes: “I’m the best there is and what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice.” That’s a fair summary of so many parts of the book. What is done to Wolverine is not very nice. What Wolverine does back is not very nice. And what the book does to the reader, at least in my case, was not very nice.I’m going to tell you a little story to illustrate how I feel about Wolverine: The Best There Is. In one of my recent travels across the vast wastes of the internet, I came upon an article on IGN discussing the writer’s favorite fatalities from the Mortal Kombat series. And I when I made the questionable decision of wandering down to the comments section of the article, I noticed someone criticizing said list for its inclusion of Friendships, or tongue-in-cheek finishing moves involving turning opponents into babies or filling the screen with rainbows.

Such things, this magi of cyberspace said, had no place in his serious game. His serious game of robot ninjas who fight women whose kisses make you explode who fight men with hats whose rims can cut you in half. Wolverine: The Best There Is feels like a book targeted squarely at a demographic that wants their comics to be equally as “serious.” Everything about this book, up to and including the “PARENTAL ADVISORY! NOT FOR KIDS!” warning on the cover screams “this is a serious book for grown-ups”. Except this actually is a book for teenagers who imagine this is what a book for serious grown-ups looks like.

To start with, there’s the swearing. There’s a lot of it, particularly as the book starts, and yet there’s also none of it, because every instance of cussing is bleeped out, usually written as “####”, “###”, “####”, “######”, “########” and the like (no “############” though). Nothing says “childish fantasy about what serious adulthood must be like” quite like dialogue where every third word is bleeped out.

Wolverine: The Best There Is feels like it wants to be a book in the Marvel MAX imprint so it can push its levels of profanity and violence to the extremes, but is in a weird compromise position because Marvel probably doesn’t want to let one of its most recognizable characters show up in a book it can’t responsibly sell to teenagers. And more than that it doesn’t want to release a Wolverine book that has the dreaded “outside of normal continuity” stink that so frightens away readers who only want to read “important” comic books.

Oh, there’s violence, too. Did I mention that? Wolverine: The Best There Is is drawn by Juan Jose Ryp, best known for working on Avatar’s No Hero with writer Warren Ellis, and he’s once again called upon here to illustrate ludicrous amounts of violence and gore. The story opens with Wolverine naked and imprisoned by a bunch of Northern California hillbillies who make him fight animals and other mutants for their entertainment. He escapes, hitchhikes and is picked up by a woman who’s earned the dubious honor of becoming the first potential Wolverine love interest I am actually rooting for to die as soon as possible.

Together they chat about hair styling before she takes him to a party. Which unfortunately turns out to be hosted by a particularly long-lived supervillain with a penchant for flesh-eating viruses and a desire to torment Wolverine physically and psychologically. Nightmarish hallucinations of gore and then lesser amounts of real gore follow. There’s something not quite right about the mix of Ryp’s art and the coloring of Andres Mossa. It’s particularly noticeable every time a woman displaying impressing amounts of cleavage bends over and faces out toward the reader because I don’t think breasts actually have that many tiny black dots all over them and it kind of bothers me. And yes, that is a thing you see a lot because in case you forgot this is a serious book for serious adults who like things like blood and boobs and swearing.

I usually like Wolverine but I’m not even a fan of Charlie Huston’s writing of the character here. There are little bits and pieces that make sense on their own. I can understand Wolverine as a heavy drinker, Wolverine as someone who likes to have a good time and doesn’t take the world too seriously. But the way it all comes together into scenes like the one where a drunk Wolverine uses his claws to cut a woman’s hair while complaining about American Idol judge Simon Cowell, the total effect of Wolverine as a kind of white trash James Bond, doesn’t work for me.

Yes, I know, look at the silly comics reader who’s upset the character isn’t being taken seriously enough, ha ha. But I’m open to new interpretations of familiar characters as a way for different writers to try something I haven’t seen before. It’s more that I don’t find the character who’s depicted here likable, I don’t care about what he’s doing because he doesn’t really seem all that invested in any of it himself, and I’m not interested in continuing on with the story to see what he’s going to do.

So there’s Wolverine: The Best There Is, what appears to be the product of an unfortunate compromise between wanting to tell a violent, adult story with Wolverine and wanting to be able to sell it to anyone. And I’ll also admit that maybe part of my feelings from this book stem from the fact that it’s kind of an anti-Thor: The Mighty Avenger. While that was an all-ages out of continuity book featuring a currently over-exposed character, this is a for adults only (but not really) book that’s in continuity featuring an over-exposed character. Marvel seems to feel that books like this will sell and books like Thor will not. I’ll sum up my feelings on that in language Wolverine: The Best There Is can understand: That is ####.

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