Now that my “Frank Miller Daredevil” discussion is nearing the end of Miller’s first run, I find myself in the mood to read the 1982 Wolverine limited series, also by Miller (with Chris Claremont). Wolverine was only Marvel’s third limited series (following Contest of Champions and Hercules). I remember Rich Lane saying that this series should have been the end of Wolverine’s story, but when I tried to verify that with him over the weekend he didn’t remember. I haven’t actually read the story myself in 20 years, but I’m going to read it with an eye toward determining whether or not that’s true.
In 1982, I had only recently entered a comic book shop for the first time after three years of collecting only three titles via subscription. Frank Miller was the new “Big Thing” at the time, and I was only just discovering his work. Miller’s Wolverine inker was Josef Rubinstein (as opposed to his Daredevil inker, Klaus Janson). Rubinstein is neither better nor worse than Janson; just different. I read Wolverine’s first appearances in Hulk #181 and Giant-Size X-Men #1 in “real time,” but this may have been my first time seeing him without his mask. Wolverine walked out of X-Men #168 into the first issue of his own (limited) series. As the story opens, Logan is tracking a rogue grizzly bear that has killed seven men, three women and five kids. He finds it driven mad by a poisoned arrow in its back. He tracks the hunter who didn’t confirm the kill and brings him to justice.
I think this issue may be the first use of his csatch-phrase, “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice.”
He soon discovers that his lady love, Mariko Yashida, has returned from Japan. Furthermore, all his recent letters to her have been returned unopened. He follows her to Japan and is met by Japanese official Asano Kimura, also an old friend, at immigration. He learns that Mariko father, missing since her childhood, has returned, and that now she is married. He goes to her ancestral stronghold, where he finds her bruised and beated. She is bound by Giri, however, and will not leave. Wolverine confronts her husband, but ultimately admits defeat and intends to leave Japan. He is ambushed from behind by poisoned shuriken.
When he awakens, he is maneuvered into a dual with Mariko’s father with wooden practice swords. Her father cheats, however, and Wolverine is defeated. He wakes up in a Tokyo alley where his is about to be mugged. Suddenly, an unknown woman comes to his rescue.
I remember being really excited for this series when it came out. X-Men was my favorite comic at the time and Wolverine was my favorite character. And I was really loving Miller's Daredevil so this seemed like the perfect book at the perfect time.
And in a way it was. It was hugely influential. It's also an entirely new and completely different character than the one who had been appearing in X-Men. So maybe it should've been the end of Wolverine's story. But to me it's the beginning of Wolverine Mark II. And I'm sure the biggest reasons for that are:
1. The absence of Byrne, who had taken him on as a pet character and played a huge role in developing him and..
2. The overpowering presence of Miller who has never been content to just respect existing characterization.
Your comments dovetail nicely with my thoughts on…
The woman’s name is Yukio. When Wolverine awakens, he is in her room about to be killed by a group of assassins from The Hand. Wolverine and Yukio crash through the window, but there’s a cadre of The Hand waiting outside. After a hard-fought battle, The Hand are defeated. Wolverine and Yukio leave as the police arrive. In Wolverine’s hotel room, they have definite chemistry, but Wolverine can’t stop thinking of Yukio. Shingen, Mariko’s father, is after Yukio.
Yukio is actually Shingen’s assassin. Their ploy was to get Wolverine on her side by her coming to his defense. It was supposed to have been a mock battle, but the Hand were playing for keeps. Yukio slips away and confronts Shingen. He says Wolverine would have known if their attack wasn’t real. Yukio’s next assignment is to kill Katsuyori, one of Shingen’s rival, while Mariko and her husband negotiate with him. The thought is that Katsuyori, not expecting Shingen to put Mariko in danger, will be at his ease.
Yukio enlists Wolverine’s help, telling him just enough truth about the matter that he will believe her. The meeting takes place at a Kabuki theater. Wolverine is surprised to see Mariko there. When the performance turns into an assassination attempt, Wolverine intervenes. As Katsuyori attempts to flee, Yukio has rigged his car to explode. “Gotcha.” Meanwhile, Wolverine goes into a berserker rage. Mariko, never having witnessed one, is horrified. She turns her back to him and leaves in disgust, much to Yukio’s delight. “Gotcha.”
This story is steeped in Japanese culture, and Frank Miller is the perfect artist for this series.
At the time. this story seemed to me that they were totally re-inventing the character, giving him all sorts of back-story that he had not been intended to have originally.
This issue features all-out war between Wolverine and Shingen. Yukio is after Shingen, too, in atonement for killing Asano. Mariko’s husband flees, using Mariko as a shield. He shoots Wolverine, but Yukio kills him from behind. “Gotcha.” Then she leaves. After a bloody, silent duel which lasts four pages, Wolverine kills Shingen. Honor demands that Mariko kill Wolverine. He is willing t let her, but she takes Clan Yashida’s “honor sword” and gives it to Wolverine. If Shingen had won the duel, Mariko would have killed him, then herself. The last panel of #4 is the basis for the cover of X-Men #172.
When I first read this series, I liked that it was four issues and Wolverine was gone from X-Men for those same four months those issues were published. (Continuity was tight in those days.) But when the limited series was done, I didn’t think Wolverine’s story was over. Looking at it now I can certainly understand why Rich once thought so. The epiphany he achieves at the end of #3 and the rewards he reaps at the end of #4 represent the culmination of what he has been seeking all along. I agree with Detective 445 that the end of this series marks the beginning of “Wolverine Mark II.”
CAPTAIN AMERICA ANNUAL #8:
Separately, Captain America and Wolverine have a run-in with TESS One, a WWII era robot, and its controller, Overrider, a mutant ex-SHIELD agent who rides an air sled and can control machines. TESS One was authorized by FDR in case of a super-soldier uprising, but when Professor Erskine was killed and Steve Rogers was the only one, the project was abandoned. The fanatical scientist who created the robot kept it in his basement all these years. Overrider’s son is afflicted with “nuclear psychosis,” a debilitating fear of nuclear war. Overrider’s plan is to activate the robot, coat it with adamantium, and use it to destroy the world’s nuclear arsenal.
The story is written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Mike Zeck. Cap and Wolvie team up to defeat Overrider and TESS One, but their alliance is an uneasy one. At the end, Captain America admonishes, “As for you, mister, you’d better hope the X-Men never get tired of putting up with you, because I guarantee you that the Avengers would never have you.” (Oh, would that that were so.) This is not the first time Captain America and Wolverine have met, but it is the first time they teamed-up to solve a case… or is it?
I own, but to my shame have not read, Weapon X. I really need to make a concerted effort at this one, if only because of the rare Barry Windsor-Smith artwork.
I guess this was set in the time that Fury was in the CIA, before his eyepatch?