Throughout Wolverine’s long history, Larry Hama, having done more to develop the character than any writer aside from Chris Claremont. Blood and Claws, the third Epic Collection volume for Wolverine’s solo series, features the beginning of Hama’s storied run and showcases how the author put his stamp on the character right from the beginning. working alongside artist Marc Silvestri (who was also new to the series and became Hama’s chief partner on it) to transform the series as a whole from its history as a largely self-contained action/adventure book into a series with more overt comic book trappings and stronger ties to X-Men continuity, transforming Wolverine himself into a character that could support big story ideas and complex character development.
With that in mind, let’s break Blood and Claws down into its composite parts and look more closely at the stories collected in this volume.
Set in Madripoor, the fictional, lawless Asian island nation and recurring backdrop for this series, this story involves Wolverine busting up a Yakuza-backed drug operation. These three issues are chiefly concerned with tone over plot, reflecting the same action/adventure, Film Noir-by-way-of-the-Samurai trappings that had defined the series since the foundational Claremont/Miller mini-series.
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But that’s not to say they don’t dial up the intensity. Marc Silvestri is particularly effective here, bringing a horror movie vibe to a sequence where an antagonist — believing he can only be killed by a dead man — appears to slay Wolverine, only for the mutant to be seemingly “resurrected” (by his healing factor.) Silvestri gets some help here from longtime Uncanny X-Men collaborator Dan Green, whose inking really sells the 80s horror cinema imagery.
Ultimately though, while significant for launching the Hama/Silvestri run, this is a story more important for the way it transitions the series from one era to another than for anything it does itself.
Leaning even deeper into the horror movie vibes, this standalone issue follows Wolverine and a pair of Mounties hunting a serial killer through the Canadian Rockies and introduces the Hunter-in-Darkness, a sort of Bigfoot/Wendigo-esque cryptid that will make a few appearances throughout Hama’s run. Silvestri and Green’s art is moody and atmospheric, reminiscent of their earlier work in the “Earthfall” Brood story from Uncanny X-Men #232. Hama, for his part, showcases an ability to craft memorable one-off supporting characters like the more senior of the two Mounties, Doolie, who seems to recognize Wolverine from another life. The elderly lawman leaves an impression in this, his one and only appearance. Details like these will become a hallmark of the various done-in-one issues Hama crafts during his run, making this issue something of a template for those later stories.
Through Doolie, Hama also establishes for the first time that Wolverine served with the Canadian army in World War II and specifically parachuted into Normandy as part of D-Day. Far more than a line item in his biography, this detail is significant for the way it teases Hama’s willingness to play around with Wolverine’s long personal history, something he explores even further in the book’s next story.
This three-act story is the highlight of the collection, both hugely entertaining and significant for the series as whole. It features Wolverine and Alpha Flight member Puck being pulled back in time by Lady Deathstrike to the Spanish Civil War, where they team-up with Ernest Hemingway to battle Nazis. Dripping with machismo, it is the culmination of the adventure serial vibe the series has featured since issue #1, but the presence of Puck and Lady Deathstrike — as well as her fellow cybernetic Reavers led by Donald Pierce (all of whom were marquee X-Men villains during this era of stories) — pushes things beyond that vibe.
For the first time in its publication history, Wolverine the series begins significantly engaging with Wolverine the character’s own little universe of narrative history. Prior to this story, the book’s supporting cast mostly consisted of characters introduced in its own pages, or established characters largely unrelated to Wolverine before being pulled into the book; it’s villains were, again, mostly original creations of the series or pulled from distaff corners of the Marvel Universe. Up to issue #35, Marvel had essentially published the Wolverine ongoing series as an X-Men supplemental. If it could break new creators or add $1.75 to a few pull lists, so much the better. But it was going to stay in its own little continuity cul-de-sac (Madripoor) and not meaningfully impact (or risk) the universe of the main X-books.
But that changed with issues #35-37 featuring Puck, an established ally with ties to Wolverine (Uncanny X-Men #120), and again with Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers, villains culled from his personal rogues gallery. These guest appearances actually re-position the series as a book about Wolverine, and not just a book featuring adventures involving Wolverine; a seemingly minor but nevertheless important distinction.
Hama continues to show a willingness to play with Logan’s history here, as well as the final chapter of the saga involves Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike fighting each other across time, dropping in and out of past stories along the way. What this emphasizes is that Wolverine is independent of the “time twister” MacGuffin that sends the characters hurtling through time. It establishes that Wolverine is something of a time traveler himself, just by virtue of being a long-lived character with a rich personal history that stretches as far back as, say, just before World War II. Thus, in addition to being tremendously fun, this story represents an opening up of the series as Hama treats its central character as a protagonist in his own right, one with a complicated history filled with story ideas to mine.
(This story also features one of the all-time great story titles in issue #36, “…It Tolls For Thee”, the rejoinder to the title of one of Hemingway’s most famous novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls. It also sounds like the kind of dry pun a Schwarzeneggerian action hero might utter after delivering a killing blow, making it perfectly suited to the tone of this story).
Prior to Larry Hama’s arrival to the series — and especially in the issues immediately preceding this collected edition — Wolverine tended to feature mostly standalone stories. They would run multiple chapters, in true serial/comic book fashion, and often coinciding with Marvel’s late 80s/early 90s experiment in bi-weekly summer publishing for its hottest titles, but each arc was largely unconnected to the ones preceding and following it.
Hama changes that here, carrying androids Elsie-Dee and Albert — a robotic five year old girl with a lisp and a Wolverine clone, respectively, both introduced in the b-plot from the last arc. Hama shifts these two characters out of the realm of subplots, making them the surprise driving narrative force. That shift creates a sense that each story, while finite in its own right, is still part of a narrative tapestry, something the “parent” Uncanny X-Men book (and, really, shared universe comics at their best) excelled at doing, and it’s another way that Hama is quietly transforming the series into a more traditional “superhero ongoing series”.
This story also shows us that horror-inspired noirish violence and manly-man action aren’t the only tones the Hama/Silvestri team is capable of striking. This tale is almost farcical amidst the ever-escalating twists and turns of its plot, all of which is centered on the core idea of Pierce using a robot designed to look like a child but programmed with full intelligence, whose name is a pun on the acronym “LCD”, to get close enough to Wolverine to explode the bomb in her chest, all while she fights desperately to save herself from exploding. In that, Hama also draws parallels between Elsie-Dee and Wolverine, two characters who find themselves constantly fighting their shared programming, an idea Hama will return to with Wolverine again and again throughout his run.
Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont reportedly resisted launching a solo Wolverine book for a long time, and allegedly only doing so to prevent Marvel editorial from assigning someone else to do it. But Claremont wanted the book to be completely separate from his Uncanny X-Men work, hence the Madripoor setting and the series’ initial hook of showcasing Wolverine’s “downtime” adventures away from the X-Men (complete with a since-abandoned “secret” identity as Patch who eagle-eyed viewers might notice is just Wolverine with an eye patch.)
As a result, Wolverine only rarely crossed over with or featured any of the X-Men characters. That started to change in the previous story, which guest-starred Storm and introduced Jubilee – already established at this time as the “Robin” to Wolverine’s “Batman” in Uncanny X-Men – to the series. This story, then, takes those embers of shared universe continuity and fans them into flames: it represents a turning point for the series, one in which the book essentially becomes the proper X-Men expansion it never was.
Nowadays, Wolverine and Sabretooth are intertwined like Batman and the Joker, but even in the early 90s when this collection of stories was first published, that rivalry wasn’t quite as well-defined. Prior to this issue, Sabretooth had made only one appearance in the series’ previous 40 issues along with a handful of Claremont-penned X-Men stories and the two’s rivalry wasn’t quite well-defined with those earlier stories hinting at the notion of Sabretooth being Wolverine’s father.
With this issue, Hama declares once and for all that Sabretooth and Wolverine are not related by blood in what reads, in hindsight, like a deck clearing exercise to allow Hama to more fully explore both Wolverine’s past and his relationship with Sabretooth in later stories.
But these issues also fully insert the series into the wider X-Men world: fellow X-Men Jubilee and Forge appear, as does X-Force leader and kewl new character Cable. Furthermore, Sabretooth’s appearance follows on directly from a story in New Mutants, something which is explicitly referenced in the text. The days of the series keeping the wider world of the X-Men at arm’s length are over.
Wolverine #43 and #44
The final two issues of the regular series collected here are both standalones. Issue #43 is by the regular creative team of Hama & Silvestri, but it reads very much like a fill-in with Wolverine hunting a serial killer in the Central Park Zoo (Hama apparently likes using serial killer hunts for his one-off stories). It does some work resolving dangling plot points from the previous story and setting up the story which begins in issue #45 (continuing the series’ newfound trend of interweaving plot points to create a richer narrative tapestry), but this is mostly another artistic showcase for Silvestri and Green, with Hama doing some light thematic work comparing Wolverine’s animalistic side to the captive animals in the zoo. It succeeds on both those fronts, but is nevertheless the weakest Hama/Silvestri issue in the collection.
The weakest issue overall, however, is #44, a genuine fill-in story by a different creative team of Peter David and Larry Stroman (who will shortly thereafter launch the “all new, all different” X-Factor to moderate acclaim.) It features an opening page by Hama & Silvestri, which tees up the rest of what was likely an inventory story that had been shoved in a drawer for future use. It involves Wolverine being compelled to take a cruise by a psychic fetus that is being stalked by an invisible monster, and the transition from the opening page to that is genuinely hilarious for how hard it stretches to justify the setting, with Wolverine gazing into a Central Park pond, the water of which makes him think of boats on water and thus that time he took a cruise at the behest of a psychic fetus. Larry Stroman’s art has its charms, but this is a mostly forgettable story.
Wolverine: Bloodlust and Wolverine: Bloody Choices
The collection is rounded out by a pair of one-shots. For whatever reason, Marvel didn’t publish numbered annuals for Wolverine until 1995, but they still put out as much Wolverine product as they felt the market could support. Though not numbered or titled as such, Bloodlust essentially serves as Wolverine’s 1990 annual. Bloody Choices, meanwhile, was published as part of Marvel’s premium Graphic Novel series. The best part of both issues is the art: Alan Davis, who also scripts the issue, on Bloodlust and John Buscema, who helped launch Wolverine’s solo series, on Bloody Choices (Tom DeFalco writes that one). Both issues explore the theme of Wolverine wrestling with his more bestial side (a theme Hama doesn’t shy away from in his stories, either.) DeFalco/Buscema’s Bloody Choices is a much more straightforward exploration of that theme, with Wolverine and Nick Fury teaming up to take down a Hawaiian mobster and child molester (it’s the kind of story that would fit easily in the series’ early goings.) Bloodlust is the more engaging of the story if just for being a little more bonkers. This comes in the form of the Neuri, a race of, essentially, highly-evolved, telepathic, New Age-y Bigfoots (“secret cryptids” is apparently the second under-the-radar theme of this collection, after “one-off serial killer hunts.”) Usually, the man-vs-beast conflicts Wolverine experiences are represented by putting him in contrast with theoretically-civilized characters and trappings, but Bloodlust does the opposite, showing the Neuri race that managed to evolve into a superior form while embracing their more animalistic sides. Backed up by the lush Alan Davis artwork, it’s the clear winner amidst this collection’s pair of one-shots.
All in all, Blood and Claws represents not only a fine collection of stories from arguably the definitive Wolverine creative team, but also the pivot point of the entire series. This batch of stories transforms the title from a standalone series on the periphery of the X-Men universe to a series firmly rooted in it. Moreover, Blood and Claws captures the moment where the series stopped being a variety of stories featuring Wolverine, and became a book about Wolverine instead. Giving the book a protagonist with established allies and enemies from outside the previously insular world of the series and a rich history primed for exploration.
Backed by the atmospheric & expressive artwork of Marc Silvestri & Dan Green, Larry Hama explores both a variety of tones, from the Film Noir-by-way-of horror trappings of the opening arc to the sheer machismo of the Hemingway/Spanish Civil War story to the farcical escalation of the Elsie-Dee & Albert arc to the traditional superhero beats of the Sabretooth/Cable mix ‘em up, all of which are anchored by a consistent turn from the title character, a Wolverine at constant battle with his animalistic urges and the programming of his past, a character just beginning to chip away at his own history. Even in a narrative vacuum, these are entertaining stories in which the writing and art (mostly) hit the same high level of execution and complement each other perfectly.
Yet the collection is important within the context of the X-Men’s shared narrative as well. The final issue of the regular series in this collection, #44, was on sale just before the entire line of X-Men books was relaunched in 1991, the same month X-Force #1 would become the best-selling comic of all time, with X-Men (vol. 2) #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee on the horizon, destined to obliterate that record. Closer to home, the “Weapon X” serial in Marvel Comics Presents, offering up a Wolverine origin of sorts for the first time (one Hama himself would mine for future stories in Wolverine), would conclude the month after Wolverine #44 went on sale. It was a time of rebirth for all the X-Books, and consciously or not, the Hama/Silvestri team was part of that, priming the book for a deeper exploration of its title character while solidly connecting it, for the first time, to the wider world of the X-Men For all intents and purposes, the issues collected in Blood and Claws represents the point at which Wolverine became the series an entire generation of fans would come to know it as.
I don’t think ‘distaff’ means what you think it means.
Altogether, a nice review of the beginning of the Hama/Silvestri run on Wolverine. I really like your observations and agree with your assessments regarding these issues. But that psychic fetus story, ugh.
Thanks! And yes, that fetus story is…not great.
(And yeah, I meant “disparate” when I wrote “distaff”; I’m not sure if there’s female corners of the MU, but if there are, the series wasn’t really pulling from them. 😉 )