Jason Aaron and Ron Garney have given us a lot of good stories together at Marvel over the years. Most of them involving Wolverine. For a writer and artist who like working together so much, it was only a matter of time before they decided to work on something creator-owned to show what they could do outside the superhero genre. The result of that is “Men of Wrath.” It’s the story of the angriest, meanest, and most downright dastardly hitman alive. No, really. He is one tough character and someone you don’t want to have on your case at all. If I’m seeming somewhat facetious in my praise of this man’s abilities, then that would be because Aaron tries so hard to sell this particular type of character that he winds up missing the mark.
The character in question is one Ira Rath. He comes from a long line of killers that started when his great-grandfather knifed a man in the neck over an argument about selling sheep. Since then, every man in the Wrath family has killed more than their parent and in more brutal ways. Except for Ira’s son, Ruben, who ran off when he was a teenager. Never once looking back, he has now found himself in trouble with some bad men after a horse-killing job goes wrong. Now Ira has been tasked with tracking his son down and taking him out. For a bad enough dude like him this should be easier than wiping his own ass, right?
This would seem to be particularly true since we’re introduced to Ira as he’s having a young couple walk out into a mudpit to save him the trouble of dragging them out there himself. After shooting them both, he realizes that their baby is still in the car. So he just tosses the kid into the mud after them and stands there as he listens to its final cries.
If you’re not completely put off by the fact that the main character of this story is an unrepentant childkiller, then that act presents a whole other problem for the story to contend with. Namely, where do you go with the character and his story from here? Redemption isn’t going to work for this guy and there’s going to be no question that he’s up for the terrible task of killing his own son. Aaron doesn’t really find a solution to this issue in his narrative. We see Ira going to great lengths to take out Ruben -- kidnapping his pregnant wife, starting a gunfight during a church sermon -- which makes his eventual decision not to do so more puzzling than anything else. Near as I can guess, our protagonist was more offended by his son’s stupidity in their final confrontation. It also leaves Ira without a real character arc in this miniseries. He’s still the same bastard he was at the beginning of the story. I’ll admit that Aaron’s decision not to force a redemption arc here is refreshing. Unfortunately the writer fails to find a suitable bit of character development to fill its place.
It’s not a complete loss on the writer’s part. He still grounds the story in a distinctive Southern aesthetic with the locations and hard-bitten dialogue. There are also some well-staged action sequences as well. The aforementioned church shootout gets a sacrilegious thrill from the blasphemy of such an act, and the final shootout between Ira and the thugs who descend on his home is quite thrilling. In short, Aaron clearly wasn’t phoning all this in. Miscalculation regarding the arc of his protagonist aside..
As for Garney, there are no such issues. The artist turns in great work from beginning to end, from the action to the drama. After all of the superhero stories the man has done with Aaron, his action chops are not in question. Garney renders the many shootouts in this series with style and plenty of drama as well. He makes each stanoff a visibly tense moment on the page, whether it’s a minor conflict like Ira trying to shake a sharpshooting preacher’s confidence or the angry bullet-ridden confrontation between Ira and Ruben near the end. What I’m saying is that the drama always feels credible in Garney’s hands. Most impressive is how the artist makes Ira cut an imposing figure on the page. The character’s imposing look does more to sell the ideal that Aaron is pitching more than what the writer has on the page.
“Men of Wrath” ends with Ira summing up his story in terse, bitter, and profane fashion. The way he does it feels pretty dismissive of everything we’ve seen up to this point in the miniseries. I can’t say I disagree with that particular sentiment. It’s good that Aaron and Garney are trying to expand their collaborations beyond the superhero genre, but this isn’t as engaging as their past works. A list of them is provided at the end of this volume and I’d recommend checking them all out. Maybe Aaron and Garney’s next creator-owned project will be as entertaining and memorable as one of them.