by Barry Windsor-Smith (Writer/Artist)
A lot of people can surely agree that there are some characters that are all over the place right now. Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America, Iron Man, Superman and countless other popular characters are kept in quite a high number of books, being members of teams and being the object of constant team-ups with less popular characters. It’s always due to a bit of marketing, of course, but there are always other factors that comes in with those characters, like movies and other such things.
However, if there is one character that keeps on appearing everywhere, it has to be Wolverine. Being the poster-boy of mutants in countless X-titles, possessing a few titles with his name in it and being in several other teams, James Howlett is perhaps the most overused character in Marvel’s staple. However, a lot of that is due not only to the movies, but also due to his popularity from prior titles, like Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men or Miller and Claremont first Wolverine mini-series.
There’s no doubting that the character can be written very well, that there is a certain appeal to the duality of Wolverine balancing through ferocity and peace. However, not every writers tend to balance things out evenly, which means there are a lot of books available with his name on it, with a few being actually worth the trouble.
Thankfully, fans of the man they once called Logan would be hard-pressed to find a better suitor for the title of great read featuring this character than Wolverine: Weapon X, the original miniseries by Barry Windsor-Smith. Tackling the actual process and experiment that attached adamantium to the very bones of the violent mutant, this is a story that can easily be qualified essential reading for those who envision themselves as fans of the character. Is it any good, however?
The short answer would be a resounding yes, but not for the obvious reasons. While it is a very important chapter in the life of Wolverine, it is the way that it is told that makes the story worth every single cents. First told in a semi-narrative way with Wolverine being the focus of the story, the plot soon twists its point-of-view around, switching with the scientists as the actual characters in the piece. With Wolverine being instrumental in the whole story, everything revolves around him, yet his motivations and how he perceive his current predicament is always left ambiguous to the readers.
This has the effect to create a very large amount of tension, which the comics uses in full as the story slowly progress through a large number of events. The pacing is slow in this book, but in a way that feels methodical more than actually teasing. Every changes in Wolverine and every single events has an impact on those characters, with their morality and their doubts showing as the experiment on ”Weapon X” goes along. With an unnamed scientist called the Professor, Dr. Cornelius and a woman named Hines being the trio of protagonists of this book, it makes the whole situation around Wolverine that much more fascinating as we get a very different point-of-view from what the character is going through.
The book isn’t perfect by any means, though, as it is a product of its time. There is an abundance of narration here, with multiple characters continually having a dialogue over the course of the story. While the dialogue does its very best to enhance the general dramatic effect and succeed most of the time in accentuating the morality and traits of the key characters, it does become a bit overbearing at times, leaving a certain heaviness to the story being told. The narration is effective, though too much present.
Still, perhaps the greatest strength in this whole book is the general debate of morality between the characters and Wolverine, which actually pinpoint the start of something that would go on for a long time with the titular character. What exactly qualify some as being human? How far can an experiment go even if the subject can heal back rapidly? What are the implications of basically enslaving someone against their will? All those questions are the very key behind this story, with everything revolving around Wolverine. With him being basically unable to act in any significant way in the story for a long time, it does leave the question as to when Wolverine might start getting back to his regular self, but also how and what he might do if he regain his senses. All those lingering questions makes for a fascinating read, as the story makes for a certain fascinating point thanks to a certain ambiguity and a carefully planned progression.
Still, this is also a comic book, which means that even though the themes and story can be good, it needs to have a presentation that fits with the rest. Thankfully, Barry Windsor-Smith is certainly a very capable artist, as the book can be absolutely gorgeous at times. There are several moments where the lines are suitably minimalistic in terms of appearances and other moments when there is a huge plethora of details, which creates some very striking contrasts. All the while, there are constant large panels and some panels focusing in very precise points up close, resulting in a balanced book in terms of focus and presentation. This is also the result of the panelling, which can be somewhat confusing at times, yet it does the job very adequately at putting a certain emphasis on movements of certain characters most of the time.
If there’s a certain weakness, though, it would be the overwhelming presence of certain details, particularly with technology. Some pages and panels are loaded with too much elements, creating a certain lack of precise focus for the readers as it indulges itself in a certain vision of what high-tech gear might look like, with the stereotypical amount of wires and others such things being apparent in a lot of scenes. Still, it is but a weakness in a sea of rather impressive-looking art.
The colorization is a weird beast, though, with some moments of sheer brilliance being balanced out by pure indulgence and chaos. While it does connect very well with the script in some instances, the heavy use of lighting and weird colors to provide a sense of panic does tend to mess things up in some panels, removing a certain sense of dread and fear that are otherwise very present in the art and narration. Other times, the heavy use of shadows and darker colorization makes for some strikingly effective panels and pages, leaving just enough room for other and brighter colors to shine in order to maximize the potential violence and the evolution of certain traits. It succeeds most of the time, but the colorization cannot be effectively said to be even in terms of quality.
Giving us a very ambitious and psychological approach to a beloved character during one of the most important and defining moments of the character, Barry Windsor-Smith impress quite a lot. With some great art and a fascinating exploration of the character and several themes, this book is very well worth the buy for fans of James Howlett as well as for those who are curious to know more about the character in the first place.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière