The years 1989 to 1990 were a weird time period for Marvel’s most popular mutant. Taking place in the aftermath of The Fall of the Mutants, Wolverine Omnibus Vol. 2 finds Logan without a team, a public identity, or even his name.
Wolverine Vol. 2
At this point in continuity, the world believes Wolverine is dead. This gives our furry murder buddy the perfect excuse to address some decidedly un-X-Men business in his life. And because these are comic books, the only rational choice is that he adopt a new identity. One he perfects through the ingenious plan of keeping a low profile alongside global crime syndicates and dictators, maintaining the same nondescript hairstyle, and only using his claws most of the time. Again, he’s a totally different person.
But this time period is much more than just this ridiculous premise. These nineteen issues of Wolverine, along with the rest of the collected material, represent a strange, rarely seen middle-period in a popular character’s publishing history. Wolverine Vol. 2 was published seven years after Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s four-issue miniseries. And issue #11, the starting issue for this omnibus, is the first ongoing Wolverine solo story to not feature either of those creators.
And like my terrible nickname up there, these works can be unforgettable or else cannot be forgotten.
Peter David & John Buscema | Issues #11-16
This run is everything I could hope for in any comic, let alone for this series. David’s skills on Incredible Hulk show his talent for working with bare-knuckle fan favorites, and he shows in spades how he can write a great story for a seemingly invulnerable character. Likewise, you couldn’t ask for a better artist than John Buscema. His work on Tarzan and Conan shows his affinity for classic, hairy-chested action. And glorious as those pages are, John is also the guy Stan Lee asked to help make How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.
Putting the two together results in this glorious arc I can really only describe as “perfectly comicbook-y.”
The Long Ghoul-Bye
The plot is a classic Raymond Chandler mystery, complete with a contested inheritance and dirty family laundry. But with vampires. Everything about these issues is an absolute joy, from David’s fast-talking, hard-boiled dialog to Buscema’s exquisite eye for both body language and motion to the way both creators beautifully collide into page after page of action and drama that had me feeling a way I haven’t in a very long time. That undead element also brings a little Warren comics aesthetics to the mix, which fits just grand.
Wolverine #11-16 is filled with surprises I’m actively trying not to spoil. The most I’ll say is: if you read nothing else from this list, please make it this run. Here’s a single chase sequence to convince you.
Archie Goodwin & John Byrne | Issues #17-24
These issues are a mixed bag. On one hand, there’s the art, with breakdowns featuring John Byrne’s distinctive brilliance and finished by the supremely talented Klaus Janson, fresh off his work on Frank Miller’s Daredevil. The panels are fantastic, clear, and energetic on their own. But it’s Jim Novak’s lettering that brings them alive, providing a vintage, high-heroics context to the book’s events. A context that would not come through with Byrne and Janson’s contemporary style alone.
The story is another matter.
Captain America Goes to War Against Drugs
For our purposes here, the militarization of the War on Drugs can be described as follows: The US Government tried to spend more money on drugs than drug addicts did. The bad news is that it made a mess out of things. The good news is, we spent a lot of money on it. And some of that money went to film, television, comic book creators, and, I suspect, these very issues.
After all, if you want to keep American elementary school kids sober, who better than a homicidal Canadian drifter?
Archie Goodwin is always great for a few lines, many of which work well here. But the overall narrative has a lot of problems, from plot holes to bad characterization to an over-reliance on hallucination sequences. There’s also a notable amount of stereotyping going on, which somehow doesn’t feel as racist as it does extremely rushed. As in, if it was someone’s intent to make this book a hateful, jingoistic screed then they need either six more rounds of edits or two fewer committees.
I Blame the Nun
Yes, the book has a sister of the cloth in it. Yes, she has superpowers. And yes, she’s a clear shorthand for the region’s stereotypical Catholic identity. The only thing is, I can’t decide if she’s included as an insult or as the book’s sole redeeming quality.
Was she Archie Goodwin’s idea? Or one of Byrne’s legendary script rewrites? Is Marvel editorial to blame? A government stooge? Who’s to say? All I know is that she kills more people than you’d think, but she’s also a nun the entire time. Extremely so. Also, she’s arbitrarily more powerful than Wolverine because that’s the only way to finish off this dumb idea.
Jo Duffy, et. al. | Issues #25-30
As I said at the top, this omnibus picks up during a very weird time in Wolverine, coming after a long hiatus, a cataclysm, and a psychedelic trip through the Outback. All of this on top of the exit of the series’ foundational creative team. In a lot of ways, it was a character and a series with a lot of popularity, but little direction or guidance.
As a general rule, Comic Book Herald tries to find something in every issue. Certainly, we never recommend a potential reader skip or even avoid things. But I’ve got to break that rule here.
Don’t read these five issues.
Duffy was an unexpected choice, to say the least. To begin with, she had no real experience with the character before. And second, she’d only helmed one series prior: a three-year stint on Power Man and Iron Fist, critically described as an upbeat, humorous departure from Marvel’s dark, brooding work on characters like Punisher, Blade… and Wolverine.
Outside of that, the next closest work she had was one other project. One she’d have to work on at the exact same time: an adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s legendary manga Akira for Marvel’s Epic imprint.
So, armed only with one polar-opposite experience and an already full plate, Jo was supposed to take the reins from names like Claremont, David, and Goodwin. And on #25, a milestone issue. After which the series would become twice a month.
Narratively, these six issues are a mess. But more importantly, they’re the exact kind of mess one would expect in this situation. Is there an issue in which a pre-teen Wolverine is saved by a pack of actual wolverines? Yes. Is that story also an “homage” to The Princess Bride, right down an extremely Peter Faulk-looking Logan that I’ve come to call Claw-lumbo? Also yes.
Duffy’s issues are filled with plot glue and contrivances. They’re the kinds of stories one would cynically suggest Marvel might come up with when out of ideas. Actual wolverines. All I can wonder is: “what does it take to make a professional writer turn in these issues?”
Also, what the hell was editorial doing that the scripts were this poor while the art was good to outright classic? As heartbreaking as these issues are to read, they’re mesmerizing to look at, with iconic covers by Jim Lee and Mike Mignola, plus Sal Buscema carrying the interiors for a while only to make way for some truly stellar work by Barry Kitson (who delivers some of the best work in the omnibus on issue #28). There’s even a gallery piece by Todd McFarlane in here!
Still, the end results are unavoidable. However good their art, these issues are the product of a writer drowning in the deep end every two weeks. The results are unsurprising, but still shocking. Wolverine #11-30 is decidedly within the “Patch era,” for good or otherwise. With hindsight, we can look back at Duffy’s contribution as the end of an indecisive era, existing between Claremont’s exit on #10 and Larry Hama’s storied entrance on #31.
Marvel Comics Presents
During the ’80s and ’90s, Marvel comics seemingly existed for a single purpose: to sell you more Wolverine. One of the many problems with this purpose has to be that to sell the miniature mutant murderer, they had to create more instances of him. That means more continuity. And, given time, that makes it harder to make more Wolverine to sell you.
Thus, series like What If…?, Nuff Said, and Marvel Comics Presents were born. Especially that last one. Because of this lack of continuity, creators were given room to experiment and express themselves. Sometimes this results in masterpieces like Barry Windsor-Smith’s legendary Weapon X. Other times… it does not.
In what is decidedly not Marv Wolfman’s best story, Wolverine has to face off and/or save characters we’ve never heard from before and never will again. This includes the titular Shadows. Also, every title ends with an exclamation point, which was either intended to kill Elmore Leonard or poor John Buscema.
Name me a more consistently excellent pair than Wolverine and Spider-Man. These three issues epitomize why Larsen was such a big deal in the ’80s and ’90s, as he leans all the way into the humble superhero team-up cliché—from his setup for the unnecessary misunderstanding that leads to a hero-on-hero fight, to the farcical villainy, down to his expressive, jaw-droppingly gorgeous art.
On a good day, Rob Liefeld is that rare artist with a truly identifiable style, game-changing books, and a fanbase that consistently shows up. On his best days, he’s still not a writer. His illustration work on this series is honestly quite good and filled with the dynamic posing that would make him famous while relying on a frankly restrained use of giant musculature. All of his indulgences seem to have been reserved for the story. This includes Liefeld’s inexplicable love of Wildchild and an ending that could be best be described as “…and no one knows what happened to him next…” complete with dramatic hand gestures.
Howard Mackie & Mark Texeira | Issues #68-71 – “Acts of Vengeance”
“Acts of Vengeance” was a line-wide crossover event during this time, a fact you’d barely know from this (or any) book. In fact, its total impact on the main title, Wolverine, comes to just a tiny handful of pages in the Goodwin/Byrne arc. In them, Loki, Doctor Doom, and a few others seem to loosely invite the arc’s utterly forgettable villain to join their team.
So, that’s how things were going for that event. I can’t quite decide if it’s shocking that the canonical event features within the non-canonical pages of Marvel Comics Presents, or telling that it does so for four issues. Or why this omnibus would collect them.
Depending on when you read this article, Wolverine Omnibus Vol. 2 may or may not be out on shelves. Either way, you should be buying and reading these issues. I really mean this so much, I’m doing things out of order just to say it.
“On the Road” is unaccountably good. Maybe it’s the creative freedom that MCP provided, or maybe it’s simply the reduced expectations, but either way I am dumbfounded why these issues aren’t better known. Superficially, I say this because it’s a Hulk/Wolverine story (which, okay, is maybe a more iconic pairing than Spider-Man. Which is sorta perfect for Parker, but I digress). But let me be more concrete: Higgins and Ross put so much heart into every page, making something funny, pulpy, and beautiful. It’s not perfect—it’s not A Mile in My Moccasins—but the two creators find time and space to make jokes work, establish an exciting style, and turn out the kind of thoughtful, joyful work usually reserved for top-notch indie titles at this time.
These two give David and Buscema a run for the top spot.
Much like the David/Buscema and Ross/Higgins runs in this book, The Jungle Adventure is fun, fantastical encapsulation of everything right with the era. Wolverine kills at least two dinosaurs! Then he falls in love with an amazon warrior named Gahck! Plus Apocalypse goes full Tim Curry!
Simonson’s tale plays right to Mignola’s strengths and interests, giving the legendary artist room to experiment with a little Moebius. And with inks by Bob Wiacek and colors by Mark Chiarello, the pages just scream with a space-fantasy life usually reserved for European comics.
The book is filled with such clichés and even revels in them, someone turning the expected into the unexpected as it tops itself again and again. It’s a huge, beautiful cartoon of a book and a must-read.
Archie Goodwin & Howard Chaykin | Wolverine/Nick Fury: The Scorpio Connection
There’s so much to love in this book. Goodwin opens it up with a fantastic sequence that bridges the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories that so influenced X-Men at this time to the old, almost nostalgic sense of wartime that has long dominated Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. A story that was then given to Howard Chaykin, master of figure and blockbuster action sequence, to bring to life. Like The Jungle Adventure above, this book has a good amount of Moebius to it, particularly in the oversaturated colors that vibrate off the page. Still, there’s a ton of Howard to this too, right down to a touch of his iconic lettering work!
When I first came across this book in 1990, I found its story a little too difficult to grasp. This was my first dead stop from continuity as the book relied on some connection to another Scorpio, this one published in the ’60s. The book still can’t quite stand on its own. The events are great, and I can now recognize how much Jim Steranko is in Chaykin’s work here. But my one detraction remains the same: too much continuity, not enough Wolverine.
Alan Davis & Paul Neary | Bloodlust
This story takes an unanticipated, Jack Kirby-like angle on Logan’s corner of the universe as it spins a yarn about a utopian race of yetis in conflict with their satanic other halves, all set in the French Canadian Yukon. The crystal cities and ’60s spiritualism of the former along with the pollution-and-war-driven adversary make a pairing that feels more than a little like something out of Fourth World. And there’s even a very early reference to Wolverine’s healing factor fighting his adamantium bones, a clear man-made vs. natural-born allegory.
Unfortunately, the exposition is considerable. And given the crux of the conflict, that can give the book a decidedly preachy feel. Particularly when it gets a little too far up its own Alshra.
This stunning and surreal comic book is one of the absolute best examples of comic books in a post-Frank Miller industry. It’s highbrow art meets Red Dawn and Lethal Weapon.
According to the graphic novel’s backmatter, the project was born first between Muth’s desire to draw Havok, Williams’ love of illustrating Wolverine, and the unprecedented idea that they’d pass pages (or more specifically, canvases) between one another to make a book. According to the Simonsons, their only involvement was in contriving the thing.
The book would need a “mature” label on it, similar to the one that helped The Dark Knight Returns make it through DC’s standards, and practices. Having this designation meant the art could break with conventions. But obtaining it, Weezy implies, meant having Wolverine kill some people and then say “bitch” a half-dozen times.
And even now, you can feel that in the book. The paintings, charcoals, and mixed media work captures the dark cloud that hung over the world in a post-Chernobyl time. But the words feel like a much less realized vision. Weezy fought for her artists and provided them every opportunity to shine. And in cases like New Mutants and Meltdown, one gets the sense she gave a little too much, particularly in the middle six issues as they scramble to explain what’s on the many, many pages.
Even so, the work more than speaks for itself. The art is revolutionary. The writing can be fun and dramatic. And there’s a lot of unrecognized genius coming out of letterer Bill Oakley and designer R. S. Bozeman, both of whom are the unsung heroes holding the whole thing together.
Final Thoughts and One More Irony for the Road
Wolverine Omnibus Vol. 2 collects the solo series up to issue #30, one issue before Larry Hama began his historic run. It repeats the same trick with Marvel Comics Presents, collecting up to issue #71—the last issue before Barry Windsor-Smith begins Weapon X. Those two bookends tell you everything you need to know about this shelf monster, showing you a rare peek inside a series that’s struggling to find greatness in between masterpieces.
There are some fantastic stories in here. Issues that might be overshadowed by their more famous neighboring authors or artists. And it’s truly a joy to see them collected in a way that gives these creators and their efforts the space they deserve. But that’s only some of the page count. I would buy this book for The Jungle Adventure and Meltdown alone. Add in Peter David and John Buscema’s run and the total revelation of Michael Higgins and Dave Ross on MCP, and I’ve already spent the money. But the question is: can one enjoy what’s good in the presence of what isn’t? And also, just how real are those wolverines?