Logan is back! And his first order of business is taking out the evil organization known as Soteira whose leader, Persephone, has manipulated his death to their advantage. Writer Charles Soule pretty much plays it straight here, giving us a(n only mildly) amnesiac Wolverine who has to reconnect with his lost memories in a way that’s cleverly realized in the story. That’s probably the best part about this whole “Return” as Persephone and Soteira come off as fairly generic by the standard of such organizations in the Marvel Universe. Also, the whole Wolverine vs. the X-Men fight either needed to be cut entirely or given much more prominence for it to have the emotional effect intended by the writer. Soule does have a pretty strong grasp on the title character, but the story he’s put him in is only serviceable. Maybe if Soteira had greater ties to Wolverine himself we could’ve wound up with something at least as interesting as the “Death of Wolverine.”
Got all that? Okay. Now let’s talk about stylistic consistency.
Whenever I bring up this term it’s to talk about whether or not the art in a trade paperback or graphic novel has a uniform look to it. The reason this is important in sequential art is to help draw the reader in. It’s a lot easier to focus on the story being told when your brain isn’t busy noticing that the art is now different and either better or worse than it was before.
Stylistic consistency has only become more of an issue in recent years as Marvel and DC have focused on shipping their biggest titles on a more-than-monthly basis. Where you could usually count on a particular artist sticking around for an entire arc, now you had two or more contributing to the same storyline. This wasn’t a problem so long as the artists had complementary styles. No matter how good the artists are, it’s going to be incredibly distracting if they possess styles that are diametrically opposed to each other. You’ll be yanked right out of the story by the artistic whiplash when something like that happens.
This is, as you might have guessed, exactly what has happened with “Return of Wolverine.” Two very talented artists have contributed to the Ol’ Canucklehead’s return: Steve McNiven and Declan Shalvey. McNiven is royalty at Marvel Comics thanks to his work on projects like “Civil War” and “Old Man Logan” and his many contributions to ongoing titles such as “Amazing Spider-Man,” “New Avengers,” “Uncanny Avengers,” and more. His work is characterized by meticulous detail that only accentuates the emotions of the characters he’s drawing and the frequently incredible action he’s been tasked with putting them through.
Shalvey, on the other hand, has been more of a cult favorite over the years. After gaining notice working on “28 Days Later” and “Northlanders,” he migrated over to Marvel working on titles like “Thunderbolts” and “Deadpool.” He didn’t really come onto my radar until his stylish collaboration with Warren Ellis on “Moon Knight” which led to their creator-owned series “Injection.” Shalvey’s style isn’t one that’s marked by detail. It’s marked by precision in the linework. He knows how to choreograph a fight for maximum impact or how to frame a character to make them look interesting even when they’re just talking. Efficiency and stylishness in the same package.
Both McNiven and Shalvey could’ve carried this project on their own. Putting them together on it is just distracting in the extreme. It’s worth mentioning here that McNiven is employing a style here that borrows a lot from Barry Windsor-Smith -- the legendary artist of “Conan” and one of the all-time great “Wolverine” stories “Weapon X.” The look of his art here is rugged and sinewy in a way that’s perfect for the character and what he has to do in the story. It’s impressive to take in all the detail McNiven packs into his pages, yet his work still has the story flowing effortlessly from page-to-page. You’re drawn in by his work until you reach the end of the first issue…
...and come across Shalvey’s comparatively simpler style. This artist is no slouch in the storytelling department either and he sells that X-Men fight as best he can, with Logan’s moment of berserker fury providing a memorable close to the third issue. Yet it’s really tough to get back into the story after coming from McNiven’s ultra-detailed work in the opening issue. The level of detail and style there was overwhelming and while Shalvey’s minimalist approach has its charms I found myself wishing that Marvel had waited for McNiven so he could’ve done the whole thing. Or just let Shalvey handle it all so that we wouldn’t be in this position and he could get a deserved boost to his profile.
While we all knew Wolverine would be coming back eventually after his death, I’m sure we were all hoping that he’d bring a good story along with him. Instead he brought with him one of the most glaring examples of stylistic inconsistency I’ve seen in recent memory. I’m sure McNiven and Shalvey will go on to do great work after this -- particularly with the latter artist now being free to work on the next volume of “Injection.” I just hope that they’ll do that great work in separate books from now on.