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Wolverine by Paul Cornell vol. 2: Killable

April 6, 2014

I had high expectations for Cornell’s take on the title character and they weren’t quite met in the first volume.  The results, however, were serviceable enough and the story ended on a fairly dramatic moment for Wolverine as it was revealed that his struggle against the intelligent viral consciousness had cost him his mutant healing factor.  So now we find ourselves heading into a new era for the character as he has to cope without one of his defining traits.  (As opposed to the time in the 90’s when he went four years without an adamantium skeleton.)  Cornell has the difficult job of convincing us that this is something that we’d want to read about, and it’s something he ultimately accomplishes in the end.  Unfortunately, he also drags things out and emphasizes the character’s newfound weakness so much that the route to that point becomes a singularly depressing and almost unpleasant experience.

The volume starts off strongly with a one-off illustrated by Mirco Pierfederici, whose work goes down a lot easier when not being preceded by the likes of Alan Davis.  This story, entitled “Mortal,” shows us a day in Logan’s life as he adapts to not having his healing factor around to take care of everything.  Without that safety net, he feels the pain from wounds that haven’t healed, gets second thoughts about shaving when thinking about the cuts he may receive, winds up getting drunk after only ten beers, and bleeds from his hands whenever he pops his claws.  It’s a much quieter issue than you’d expect from one featuring the character, but his newfound sense of vulnerability is conveyed  extremely well here.  There are also some well-used cameos from Nick Fury Jr., Thor and Storm as they drop by to offer words of encouragement and offset the overall gloom of the story.

So far so good, right?  Well that starts to change once we get into the title story, “Killable.”  It’s a six-issue arc with art from Alan Davis who is on fine form here whether he’s asked to show us a firefight in a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier or a fight against ninjas in a darkened suburban mall.  Talking about S.H.I.E.L.D. is as good a place to start as any since the story picks up in the aftermath of the intelligent viral consciousness’ efforts to infiltrate the organization.  In light of its failure to do so, it’s thought that the consciousness will now try to spread as quickly as possible in order to take over the world.  After a rash of mysterious killings targeting people with virus-controlling superpowers narrows their options, Wolverine, Storm and S.H.I.E.L.D. are faced with infiltrating Wakanda in order to get at the last superpowered viral manipulator in order to stop the outbreak.

There’s some good material in that opening issue as Logan tries and fails to manipulate the Black Panther into losing his cool, but the story takes an abrupt left turn when he gets a message on his phone showing that Mystique has infiltrated the Jean Grey School.  This is what kicks off the main part of the story as it turns out that the shapeshifter has stolen a samurai sword that’s integral to his sense of honor.  Reasoning that the act is essentially challenging him to consider the idea of whether or not he deserves to get it back, Wolverine sets off in pursuit of them with Kitty Pryde inserting herself as backup.

Here’s where things start going wrong as Cornell really begins to drive home the idea of a weakened Logan being utterly out of his depth.  Initial encounters between Batroc the Leaper and a new supervillain acupuncturist named Fiber are dealt with cleanly enough, but when the scene shifts to a suburban mall and the antagonists become Mystique, Lord Deathstrike, the Silver Samurai and Sabretooth’s Five Aspects of the Hand ninjas things start getting much more complicated.  Toss in the fact that the two heroes have to protect the people in the mall and contend with its lead security guard calling them on the fact that they bring trouble wherever they go and you’ve got the Wolverine coming under assault in both body and mind.

All of the scenes set at the mall effectively become a gauntlet of pain and humiliation for the character as without his healing factor the fact that he could actually die while fighting these villains really starts to sink in for him.  So we see him scared, running away, and losing his cool in most unprofessional ways.  Seeing Wolverine like this really goes against the fundamental appeal of the character, and that’s even before Sabretooth shows up in person to drive it all home and get the last laugh.

Yet even though I didn’t like seeing all of this go down, I understood what Cornell’s point was with all of it.  Here we have a seemingly unkillable character suddenly made “Killable” and he’s going into what would normally be one of his run-of-the-mill storylines and acting as if nothing has changed after losing his ability to heal from nearly any injury.  Logan suffers for it accordingly and his long-held ideals take a beating along with his sense of self.  Cornell is breaking down Wolverine here in order to have him realize that things are not the same anymore and that a change has to be made.  The corollary to this point is that now that the character has been broken down, the rebuilding process can now begin.  At least, I certainly hope that’s the plan from here on out as I’ve pretty much had my fill of seeing him suffer at the hands of his enemies.

That being said, this isn’t the only storyline being featured in this volume.  As Wolverine and Kitty are mixing it up with Sabretooth’s crew, the men and women of S.H.I.E.L.D. are combating the intelligent viral consciousness.  It’s a bit jarring to see these two storylines in the same volume as one is a small-scale saga of personal destruction and the other is a giant fate-of-the-world epic.  Cornell does have a reason for giving it as much space as he does here since he ultimately ties it into the thrashing Logan’s body and mind takes by showing that as bad as things get for him, there are lines that even he won’t cross.  Even though the writer ultimately makes these disparate storylines work together, it’s really hard to shake the feeling that they didn’t belong together in the first place.

This is certainly a different kind of Wolverine story and one that certainly distinguishes itself in comparison to the previous volume as I had hoped it would.  It does so by doing a lot of things to the character that I’d rather not see as much of as I do here.  Maybe things would’ve gone down better if Cornell hadn’t stretched them over six issues, but the damage is done and his point is made.  In the end, I do want to see where he’s going with this and if we’re going to be seeing the character rebuilt -- even if the current speculation is that this is leading to his “death” in issue #12 of his current title this September.  You can’t see me, but be assured that my eyes are rolling at this possibility.  For now, I’ll wait for the next volume in Cornell’s run to see if he can make good on rebuilding the character he so painfully broke down here.

Jason Glick

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