Thursday, August 23, 2007

Evolution Chapter One: First Blood (Marvel comics)
Wolverine #50 When: March 2007
Why: Jeph Loeb How: Simone Bianchi

The story so far...
They used to be friends, but over the decades the bloody feud between Wolverine and Sabretooth has grown to be one of the most bitter and thoroughly twisted conflicts in comics.

Having carved his way through lies and deceptions, Wolverine knows he isn't Sabretooth's son, clone, time travelling counterpart, or any other relation -- but he still just can't put his finger on what is true.

With glimpses of an ancestral history as a backdrop, Wolverine confronts Sabretooth at Xavier's Mansion, where he's staying as a member of the X-Men, not for the first time. Wolverine's mission? To finally put an end to the bitter hatred that inevitably brings these two monsters together, time and again.

Previous Form:
Wolverine (#4): Solo victories over Silver Samurai, Blade, Punisher & Winter Soldier.
Sabretooth (#341): Suffered defeats against Iron Fist & Jubilee.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Sabretooth 4 (Steroid Popper)
Intelligence: Draw 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Sabretooth 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: Wolverine 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Sabretooth 7 (Born Fight)
Energy Powers: Draw 1 (None)

There are just some classic feuds that get a fanboy all kinds of tingly, and damned if this isn't one of them! As far as brutal, scrapping throwdowns go, Wolverine and Sabretooth produce among the best. Maybe it's because they're such efficient fighters, or maybe it's because their healing powers allow them to go all-out, but together they always promise fireworks!

The way I see the tooth and claw debate is something like a good Japanese hero, because I like to think Sabretooth just has a bit of edge, and certainly our numbers reflect that. He's stronger, he's a little faster, a little bit more feral, a little bit more vicious -- but a whole lot more evil, too.

Like those great Japanese superhero styled archetypes, I like to think it's the good in Wolverine's heart and his determination that always gets him across the line against the odds. It's that inexplicable fire inside of him that pushes him to defeat the more powerful Sabretooth time and time again.

We could bounce it around a lot of ways, but when it's all said and done, it's going to be Wolverine. On paper, I'd love to be objective to the point where I could honestly expect Sabretooth to win, but history just doesn't suggest that.
I'd love to have access to every Sabretooth/Wolverine clash just to test that theory, because I'm sure Sabretooth's gotten plenty of licks in there, but for now, this one will have to suffice.

The Math: Sabretooth (Meta Class)
The Pick: Wolverine (Meta Class)

What went down...
Having snuck his way into the mansion, Wolverine bypasses small talk with X-Men leader, Rogue, heading straight for Sabretooth, who's watching television and scoffing beer from the comfort of a couch. Something that clearly doesn't sit terribly well with Wolverine, what with the murderous past, and all.

Wolverine tosses Sabretooth out the window of his room, forcing the fight onto him in the snowy cold of the Mansion grounds. Determined to put an end to things, Wolverine pops his claws and the two raging beasts go at it!

They each tag each other with gashing swipes, but it's Wolverine who comes out of it with the first attack bonus. He knocks Sabretooth back with a shot, following quickly by burying his claws deep in Sabretooth's shoulder.

Sabretooth uses the close quarters situation to his advantage, turning his superior strength and leverage on Wolverine. Like a human hammer toss, Sabretooth swings Wolvie around, sending him on an unsolicited fast ball special with malicious intent!

Wolverine comes back with a diving drop kick, throwing himself boots-first at his arch-nemesis to smash him through a tree.

Using his speed and agility, Wolverine's quick to his feet. Moving in once again for the claws, Sabretooth, equally as fast, turns Wolverine's momentum against him, driving him fast first into another tree with bloody results!

Sabretooth presses the advantage, wrapping both of his mighty, clawed hands around Wolverine's throat.
Squeezing increasingly tighter, he manages to push Wolverine's healing capabilities to the absolute limit, choking the life out of the smaller mutant scrapper.

Wolverine fades into memories of the sordid past shared with his blonde counterpart, before coming back out of it as his mangled throat begins to repair itself.

Wolverine quizzes Sabretooth on details of the past, while resuming his attack with a clawed fist to the face, bridging into a combination. Another slash to the jaw, finished with a diving knee to the jaw.

Sabretooth strikes back, digging his own finger-tipped claws into Wolverine's defensively exposed chest. Explaining the words that have haunted Wolverine from his past, "Quod Sum Eris," Latin for, I am what you will be.

With Sabretooth holding on tight, Wolverine defiantly shoves his fist beneath his jaw. Sabretooth warns against popping his claws, but ever the rebel, Wolverine pops them with a "SNIKT!" to conclude this installment of the fight.

The hammer...
There might be an argument on points here, but given that we don't actually see the fruits of the closing sound effect, I'm going to have to call this one a draw.

This fight, of course, infamously continues over five excruciating issues, all of which have not been purchased by my good self.
Right now that isn't really much of a statement, but you can rest assured, these are not purchases to be made in the near future. Well, maybe #55 for the decapatative conclusion, but otherwise, it sounds like some very disappointing filler from Loeb.

We've alluded before to the ire Jeph Loeb's name can inspire [Superman/Batman #14] whenever he's tackling a new story. Having reached noteriety with work like The Long Halloween, more recent, simpler works have come under heavy, oft questionable criticisms. Superman/Batman is a good example of a title that has suffered heavy criticisms from fans, regularly criticising it under terms outside of the work itself. Many seemed to approach those stories with a discomfort or distain for fun, four-colour superhero stories without broad consequence.

Here, we have a very different situation, and I'm afraid many of the defenses I would have thrown up for his recent DC works are completely irrelevent.

Wolverine suffers from several immediate setbacks, largely inherent to the publicity received for both Loeb's involvement, and the character itself. The major offender here is the promise to deliver the definitive, be-all-end-all conclusion to the Sabretooth/Wolverine feud, closing the lid on many of the unanswered questions, putting their hatred to bed once and for all.

Audio and print interviews expanded on that, really building up the expected granduer of the event, which promised not only to deliver a major milestone in the history of this story, but also the reunion of two beloved characters.

Unfortunately, this first issue meanders it's way through page after page of scripted scenes of under achieving battle between these two. Simone Bianchi, painted style artist on the book, and also a point of promotion, really doesn't do anything spectacular with these pages, cramming in a lot of brown, similarly set scenes in a lot of awkwardly shaped panels.

With the exception of the utterly disappointing further complication of their history, introducing an ancestral history of feral-humanoid creatures, the first issue reads entirely inconsequential. While that was entirely acceptable in something like the Superman/Batman stories, here we've already been promised consequence.

It seems to be a case of giving the story the stage it deserves - six complete issues - without actually expanding the materials in a way that builds and honors that grandeuer. It's a case of a stage without a fitting show, instead delivering six unfortunate issues of boredom and spite.

Bianchi certainly doesn't do a lot to help. I'm sorry to say it, but introducing a painted finish to a comic is not a ticket-to-ride. If that were ever a novelty fitting of an instant top ten seller, it's been well warn out by the many contributions that have come and gone in an era of the iconic works of Alex Ross, and gritty stylized books by Alex Maleev.

The fairly uninspiring artwork fails to justify the story in a way that, perhaps, even Ed McGuinness might have. Of course, Ed McGuinness pencils would've struggled to justify such large wastes of panel space, and hopefully encouraged a denser approach to the content by Loeb.

This story was supposed to do what so many others haven't, clearing away all the muddy, garbled confusion and misinformation surrounding these characters, boiling it all down to a final confrontation. Instead, this story seems to add to the list, screaming out for any excuse to ignore, revive, and do it right another time, with another creative team. Hopefully without killing Sabretooth.

I'm not about to condemn Jeph Loeb and jump from the ship screaming, but I think it's safe to say that on the merits of what's between the front and back covers, this is a monumental embarassment and failure to produce. Ed McGuiness, who pencils a bizarre fantasy dream-tale with Wolverine, shows up his contemporary with shocking results.

So, getting away from all the negativity, I should throw some shout-outs.
I've got to give thanks to Rich @ ComicByComic, for the mention of The Kirby Martin Inquest, which has a second issue I've been hard at work lettering.

Pedro Cruz, artist on KMI, is doing some regular sketches that you can check out there, and we're talking about maybe working on a mini-comic side project, which should be a lot of fun. While KMI is a paced, character-driven crime/superhero story, this side project might be a bit more up the Infinite Wars alley.

Before we go, you'll notice I copped out and just went with the post today.
Rather than waste time stalling behind, we'll just play the entries I'd like to do by ear. Tomorrow, as always, we'll have a great review, and then who knows!
Keep hitting us up, read through some of the archives, follow your favourite characters through the tags, and stay tuned!

The Fight: 2.5 The Issue: 3.5
[An unfortunate misfire from Loeb! The score average is brought up by the back-up story, which is the only justification for the price of admission here. Sorry to say, but it's definitely the worst read of the year. Disappointing!]

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